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 20: Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Scoring)
Captain’s Log, 3 February. Brentford. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and you can’t take three points off of a summer’s day.
Back in London for our next fixture, away to Brentford, a rejuvenated Forestieri is on another level. Two goals and an assist to his name with barely a third of the game gone, the hour that followed might as well not have been played. We’d won our points already and with them we climbed up to to third. Now unbeaten in ten games—seven wins and three draws since our loss to Leeds—conceding just once in that time, I’m visibly stunned by our response.
I’m also pleased by the sight of a Wednesday quartet in the Championship Team of the Week; Taylor, Hector, Hourihane and Jones making the cut. How Forestieri didn't make it in I've no idea but if that’s our biggest issue right now then we’re obviously doing something right.
In mid-week we host Norwich, keen to pick up where we left off and we do just that. It takes João until just after the hour mark to give us the lead, with a slick near-post finish, before Forestieri gets himself involved again with a stoppage time clincher that takes his goal tally into double figures for the season. Also Danny Williams is sent off for Norwich for two of the most avoidable cautions you’ll see all season. That was fun.
Another three points takes us up to second. Even if it is just to be for a few days, until our closest rivals gain ground on their games in hand, I’m determined that the lads and I enjoy it. On an altogether unrelated note, I wonder how much confetti cannons cost.
In the lead up to their trip to Hillsborough, Cardiff win 1-0 away at Birmingham to give themselves some hope of another positive result against us Owls in the following fixture. That said, whether they journey to Sheffield on the back of a positive result or not, the gap between the two sides is a poorly kept secret when the odds for the game are placed at Wednesday 1-6, Draw 5-1, Cardiff 10-1. I can only hope we’re not made to look stupid.
Then the game goes ahead, we lose 4-1 at home to a mid-table team with ambitions of finishing tenth at best and, lo and behold, we look stupid.
I feel like ringing the bookies and demanding they tell me face to face—or, rather, mouth to receiver to speaker to ear—why they ever thought it appropriate to make us such clear favourites (and Cardiff as such clear underdogs) when doing so would quite obviously do nothing but inveigle a by then-inevitable Cardiff win. But the phone’s all the way over there so… I shan’t bother.
Thankfully we have the chance to bounce back immediately as we travel to bottom-by-some-way Charlton. London has treated us fairly well so far, this season. Long may it continue.
The charm of the capital proves to last for at least another game. A gorgeous passing move; Jones into Forestieri, Forestieri into Fernandes, Fernandes into João then bang, the ball flies past the keeper at his near post and we have a deserved lead. Twenty minutes or so later Fernandes, albeit accidentally, turns from provider to scorer as Harrison Reed’s shot cannons off his thigh and spins beyond the keeper.
At the break my assistant implores the lads simply give us more of the same and João happily obliges, as he so often has, with a fine strike a little way beyond the hour mark. The chance put on a plate by a sumptuous back heel from Forestieri and smashed into the roof of the net by our prolific Portuguese prince. 3-0, game over, surely?
When Charlton’s Ceballos meets a Tony Watt pullback and fires it in off the bar I'm almost tempted to clap, such is the quality of what I'm certain will only be a consolation strike. Then two minutes later Watt scores, it's suddenly 3-2, and we're hanging on for dear life. Much to my delight, though, hold on is exactly what we do, we’re most dangerous when we’re backed into a corner are us Owls, and we soar north from London with another win.
Just a few days later we’re preparing for another fixture as we’re required to host Sunderland. Together we share a game of very few chances. Perhaps to be expected, what with our close proximity in the league and so much to lose should either side over commit and pay the price, but disappointing nonetheless for those who turned up hoping to witness an interesting game of football.
In the end the points were decided by a single looping header from our goalscoring centre back extraordinaire Michael Hector, his notch one of only two shots on target we mustered all game. Though the post-match report claimed we “bossed [the match] from the start” I can’t help but feel we only really bossed it for about five seconds either side of Michael Hector nodding the ball beyond Vito Mannone. Still, another three points closer to the 100, eh?
As the calendars tick over into February news breaks that I’ve been named runner-up in the Manager of the Month awards… again. Unlike last time though, when I wrongfully lost out to the insufferable bore that is Karl Robinson, this time I’m content. No qualifier or clause. No ulterior motive. I’m genuinely pleased to have been recognised for my efforts and for having finished second to a great and thoroughly deserving winner: the actual real life giant Jaap Stam. As I watch on, from my sofa, as he gratefully grasps the accolade with his two hands, each larger than my entire head, I’ve no single desire to rebuke or reproach him. I can only think I must simply have grown as a person in the months since.
Our first match in February sees us slump somewhat, held to a rather drab 1-1 draw with an underachieving Hull team. Having laid claim to the majority of the game’s chances it is ultimately a disappointing afternoon that sees us only fall two points further behind the runaway promotion chasers. But I must see the silver-linings if we’re to move on, in high spirits, to bigger and better things.
We did well to respond to going behind; another important goal from Fernandes underlines the newbie’s growing influence here at Wednesday and reassures me his loan signing was a worthwhile one; and Oscar’s due to be restuffed next Thursday—he’s begun to sag a little in recent weeks and it’s begun to affect his grin—so it’s not all doom and gloom. I can’t wait to see the joy brought back to his feathery little face.
Catch the end of Season 1 (and other posts) here. The start of season 2 is here with chapter 13 and here's Chapter 14. Catch up on Chapter 15 here. Chapter 16. Here's chapter 17. You guessed it, Chapter 18. Click here for Chapter 19.