In late 2008 a young and innocent Will Sharp tossed aside his well-worn copy of FIFA 09 in favour of Football Manager 2009, eager to test himself against the juggernauts of managerial simulation. What he envisaged being a simple transference of skills and a continued domination of the digital football world soon descended into chaos as he found himself unable to even compete. Unsuccessful save after unsuccessful save cut short, the intervals between hopeful attempts grew exponentially until eventually, he stopped logging on altogether. Truly vanquished, he vowed never to attempt to conquer Football Manager again. Until now.
Chapter 10: The Silence of The Owls
Captain's Log, 26 February. What a wonderful feeling it is: being alive. The sunshine is cascading through the blinds, gently encouraging me to wake up and enjoy this warm Sunday morning, and enjoy it I do, by reminiscing over last night's events. Last night, of course, being the night we completed our league double over local lightweights, Leeds.
Being away from home I contemplate playing it safe, sticking with Jones and Lee, but with Leeds' confidence low I see fit to start with the attack-minded Abdi and Bannan in centre midfield. Far from a classic follows but my decision is vindicated when Bannan's goal carries us to a disciplined 1-0 win, seeing us bounce back from defeat in Nottingham in the most pleasing fashion. This one need not have been a classic to last in the minds of the Wednesday fans. You're welcome. You're all welcome.
On 1 March the Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month is named as new Aston Villa boss Karl Robinson, awarded for his 100% record in February, five wins from five.
My four wins from five are only enough to earn me second place in the vote, but I'm not bothered. Seriously, I don't even care. Why would I want a stupid award? What's the point? Ooh, let's just give out prestigious awards in recognition of achievements. Where would I even put the thing? I'd have to put it on the mantelpiece in the living room where everyone could see it and anytime somebody came round they'd ask me about it and I'd have to tell them why I'd won it even though I'm not one for fuss. I'm better off well out of all that nonsense. I should be awarded for my nonchalant attitude toward awards. Mind you, I wouldn't even be bothered if I didn't win that either. That's just the kind of bloke I am.
Against mid-table Norwich, I am made to feel frustrated for the first time this month. We start well, keep our shape, dominate possession, and make our pressure tell in the 79th minute with a coolly dispatched David Jones penalty.
But the moment the goal goes in the Wednesday lads see that as a reason to presume the game is won and Norwich punish our lack of awareness twice late on, the first an unfortunate Liam Palmer own goal, the second a long-range strike from Alex Pritchard.
Admittedly, at 1-0, the thought of reviving the Canary bit from the coach earlier on in the season did cross my mind. The loss, however, expunges any plans of a celebratory improv session. All I can do is remind the lads of the importance of staying concentrated for 90 minutes, not just 79. I bet Karl Robinson's players concentrate for 90 minutes.
After their game on 7 March it is announced that Newcastle United have won the Championship title—just the 31 points clear—with an incredible 10 games to spare.
Meanwhile, on the same day, we fail to find a single goal at home to 20th place Burton Albion, despite the fact the biggest cheer from the away fans came when a stray plastic bag was given life by a gust of wind and flown into the face of referee Bond, Darren Bond, who appeared unduly shaken—not stirred—by the incident, and we are forced to settle for just a point against the strugglers.
On Saturday I come up against the Championship's poster boy for February, Karl Robinson, Robbo, Big Rob, whose reinvigorated Aston Villa side now find themselves in 3rd place, while our recent blip has seen us dragged back into the mire, now occupying 5th.
At Villa Park, we get off to the worst start possible. As I attempt to shake Karl Robinson's right hand I fail to notice he's holding his Championship Manager of the Month award in it and am forced awkwardly shake his upper wrist. I personally look towards Robinson for the blame—does he really need to be holding it on the touchline?—but still, it is I who is left red-faced by the debacle.
Throughout the game that follows my face is made to sample a whole spectrum of scarlet shades as we slip to another defeat against Aston Villa; Andre Ayew's quick rebound from a speculative Ashley Westwood effort, five minutes before half-time, enough to see Robinson's side attempt to rub salt in a non-existent wound because there isn't a wound because I don't even care because I didn't even want to win the stupid fucking award.
The next Friday night we host Reading, hoping desperately to find ourselves on the other side of the uphill climb we've been cycling up this past month. Our seven-game unbeaten spell well and truly a thing of the past, a win against Reading could be exactly what we need to spark another fine run of form.
Instead, we're given a 3-0 thrashing. Despite an incredibly even game, on the face of it, on a less than ideal evening for our keeper Westwood, Reading score with all three of their shots on target and leave us seriously concerned with the state of our promotion push.
With games against 23rd place Barnsley and 24th place Rotherham awaiting us in early April, it is hard to think that anything less than two wins could be seen as satisfactory. Now as many as six points off of Villa in 2nd, we're also only four points ahead of 14th and if we find ourselves anywhere near there, in eight games time, no doubt I'll be back to my customary sleepless nights cursed by constant email checking.
And to think, some say working in football is a privilege.