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 9: Das Hoot
Captain's Log, 4 February. "There's only one Will Sharp, one Will Shaaaarp!" the away fans sing proudly in anthemic fashion as they stream out of the DW Stadium and into their coaches, ready to embark upon the 80-mile journey back home to Sheffield.
Well, that's probably what they were singing. I didn't actually hear them. At the time I was busy beating my chest in front of the lads in the away changing room, bringing to light the promiscuous sexual habits of every one of the Sheffield United player's mothers, in exuberant chant form. But as our superb 3-1 win extends our unbeaten league run to seven games, and lifts us to 5th in the league, quite frankly, it'd be weird if they weren't singing that.
Initially we fall behind to Wigan, as early as the 6th minute, some truly schoolboy defending allowing the perpetually ablaze Will Grigg to give his 18th place team the lead. But we respond in emphatic fashion, some immaculate passing football on show for all three of our goals, João, Matias and then Lee all adding their names to the scoresheet.
Unfortunately our excellent win does come at a price, a brown lining if you will, in the form of a groin injury to João. He'll miss around a month of football. Time enough, perhaps, for Hooper to show there's life in the old dogg yet.
At home to Birmingham a few days later the feeling of deja vu is palpable: another excellent 3-1 win but another brown lining in the underpants of our season.
Before Forestieri's brilliant solo goal, Marco Matias seems hell bent on completing his one-man mission of carrying us to victory; two stunning efforts within the space of 10 first half minutes giving us the most comfortable of leads at the break. Sadly a late consolation penalty from Birmingham proves to be the least of our concerns as an injury to the day's man of the match, Matias, is confirmed to keep him out of action for two to three months.
It's a blow for the squad, no doubt, but we're capable of moving on quickly. You won't see the Wednesday boys adorned in any "get well soon Marco" t-shirts in a pre-match warm-up anytime soon. We've a promotion push to focus on. Besides, what are the chances any clothing shop around here is going to have thirty shirts with as specific a message as "get well soon Marco" emblazoned on the front? And it’s not like you can print your own messages on the fronts of t-shirts. If you could everybody would be doing it, and everybody isn’t doing it, so clearly you can’t.
We start our home game against Blackburn, on 14 February, exactly where we left off against Birmingham: on the front foot. Although balanced on a knife edge, goalless all the way up to the 70th minute, it is our Mr Consistent, Kieran Lee, who provides the cutting edge, finding the back of the net with a fierce half volley, enough to give us all three points. His winning goal the edible underwear and early night our Valentine's Day fixture was hoping for.
Three wins in a row, five in seven, and unbeaten in nine league matches, the mood is positively jubilant. What's more we find ourselves perilously close to the league's peak, overlooking almost our every competitor, flying high in second behind only the replicant Magpies.
After the Blackburn game the mood online swells and soon becomes a melting pot of feverish excitement and unreserved optimism. No fear whatsoever of potential mockery should they be proved wrong at the season's end, Wednesday fans Dan Wood and Gus Bowler tell it exactly like it isn't. "Can't wait to see how we get on in the Premier League" writes Wood. "We're actually going to do it aren't we! Premier League here we come!" declares Bowler.
In my notebook I make a record of both names. I say aloud, to both enforce the severity of my feelings and to inform Oscar of my plans, the two of them shall face severe repercussions should we fail to achieve promotion. They ought to know how I feel about jinxes.
At The City Ground sadly our long unbeaten run comes to an end as we're out-thought and outplayed by a disciplined Nottingham Forest side. A sublime free kick from Chris Cohen and a Mathias Autret tap in putting us to the sword.
Back in my notebook once again, the names Dan Wood and Gus Bowler each receive two firm, angst-filled underlines. I ask my assistant to find out what he can about the pair; jobs, marital statuses, addresses. He tells me “that type of thing isn't even nearly within the parameters of my job description” and says he “won’t participate in a witch hunt.” I add his name to the list.
On the plus side other results go our way and we're able to cling onto second for another week. If I die unexpectedly in the night at least I'll do so in second place. If they have me stuffed I hope they employ whichever taxidermist saw to Oscar. He really did a wonderful job.