We have reached the end of February and I am pleased to say the takeover saga as ended with a new consortium taking over the club. It’s the fourth attempt of a takeover in 18 months. So how have we done so far in our return season to the Premier League.
We couldn’t have wished for an harder introduction to life in the Premier League with our first two games against Manchester City and Chelsea. The visit of Pep Guardiola’s City side to the City Ground saw us get a well deserved point from the game after a 1-1 draw, Saido Berahino getting the goal on his league debut for us. We played well throughout and gave a good City side a run for their money. Chelsea away next and as good a performance in the previous game this was the exact opposite and bringing back down to earth as you could imagine. Chelsea ran wild and hammered us in every respect that made me glad we escaped with just a 1-5 defeat with our consolation coming from Robert Snodgrass. With our pride dented we lost our next game at Selhurst Park going down 2-3 with our goals coming from Moussa Dembele and Britt Assombalonga. EFL Cup action next a welcome break from Premier League action and a good 3-0 win against Doncaster Rovers raised morale with goals courtesy of Berahino, Cohen and Assombalonga putting us through to the next round. We ended the month on a high with a fantastic performance in a 2-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur, new signing Zach Clough with a 2 goal man of the match performance.
With our pride restored we went in to our opening game of the month in a more positive frame of mind however we failed to break down a stubborn West Ham United 5-2-2-1 formation so ended up with a 0-0 draw. They more than parked the bus and it worked really well for them. A trip to Turf Moor returned a resounding 5-1 win with 5 different scorers on the sheet Berahino, Cohen, Clough, Osborn and Mancienne. EFL Cup 3rd Round next and the goals kept coming with a 4-0 win with both Clough and Assombalonga getting a brace. An away trip to Middlesbrough followed with Michael Mancienne netting a winner in an hard fought 1-0 win. A tough game at Stoke to end the month ended in a 1-1 draw thanks to a Berahino goal. A decent month for us see’s us end the month unbeaten.
The first game of October saw Champions and current League leaders Arsenal visit the City Ground and they raced in to a 2-0 lead before half time. The second half we gave them more of a game but only managed a Britt Assombalonga consolation goal. Eddie Howes Bournemouth were next to visit Nottingham with the game ending in a 0-0 draw. Arsenal next for a midweek EFL Cup 4th round game which saw Mr Wenger send a rotation side to the City Ground which we dispatched in style beating them 6-0 with the in form Berahino netting 5 along with a Chris Cohen goal.
We went in to November with some pretty decent form behind us and it continued with a 4-1 win against Southampton thanks to two own goals plus strikes from Dembele and Snodgrass. Fellow Premier League new boys Newcastle United up next on Tyneside and another 3 points for us with Damarai Gray and Saido Berahino giving us a 2-0 win. Up next Everton were the visitors to the City Ground and for a long period looked like they might pinch the points until Henri Lansbury and Saido Berahino grabbed two late goals to give us a 2-1 win. We ended the month with the EFL Cup Quarter Final against Huddersfield which resulted in us advancing to the Semi Final after returning from injury front man Britt Assombalonga netted a brace in a resounding 2-0 win. With just 1 defeat in the last 15 games in all competitions we have put together a good run of form has we enter the winter period.
We continued our unbeaten run with 3 draws and a win in our first 4 games of the month including a thrilling 3-3 draw at Anfield against a on song Liverpool side. A 4-0 win at home against Sheffield Wednesday kept us in touch with the top 6. Our unbeaten run came to a halt with a 2-5 hammering at Leicester City. Next up a visit to the City Ground by Chelsea ending in a lot gasp win for us with Dembele scoring two injury time goals in the second half for us to steal all 3 points. A busy month ended with a trip to play Pep Guardiola’s City side which produced a a fantastic performance culminating in a 1-0 win after a Dembele penalty.
We started the month with a 3-0 win against Crystal Palace with Assombalonga, Clough and Dembele all hitting the back of the net. FA Cup 3rd Round next and a tough 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns against a Andre Villas Boas West Bromwich Albion side. The last thing we wanted was a replay in a very busy month. EFL Cup Semi Final action next and a good 2-0 win against Aston Villa in the 1st leg at the City Ground puts us one foot in the final thanks to a double from the in form Moussa Dembele. Another Dembele double helps us to a 3-1 win against Burnley with Berahino netting our other goal. FA Cup replay next against West Bromwich Albion which we lost on penalties after 120 minutes failed to produce a goal. Not ideal the players are looking a little jaded for our next game against Middlesbrough but a rotation side took us to another 1-0 win with Mancienne getting the crucial goal. Semi final 2nd leg action next and thrilling 4-3 win at Villa Park puts us in to the final, Dembele netting an hat-trick and another Berahino goal. We end the month on the receiving end of a 1-4 defeat at the hands of a dynamic West Ham performance.
A 0-2 defeat kicks off February at the hands of current leaders and last year’s Champions Arsenal. Another North London trip this time to White Hart Lane against 3rd placed Tottenham and we come away with a 3-1 win with another Dembele brace and a Berahino goal. We followed the superb performance at Tottenham with another 3-1 win against Stoke at the City Ground again Dembele getting 2 of the goals with Chris Cohen grabbing the other. Next we beat AFC Bournemouth 2-1 with both Dembele and Cohen scoring the goals against a managerless Bournemouth side who had just sacked Eddie Howe. We end the month with a trip to Wembley to take on Manchester United in the EFL Cup Final. The game is a cracker with us ending up lifting the trophy with a 4-2 victory. We had Osborn, Berahino, and a Demarai Gray double to thank for us lifting the trophy.
EFL Cup Final
The Birth Of The Red Diamond
We have been using the following system to good effect based on the vision of Diego Simone with a touch of Arrigo Sacchi.
A number of players have left the club the first Forward Apostolos Vellios has joined West Ham for £18m. Winger Mustapha Carayol has joined Swansea City for £8.5m. Two Goalkeepers Vladimir Stojkovic 500k to Brann and Dimitar Evitmov 1.5m to Wolves have both parted company after failing to dislodge the in form Jordan Pickford. We have also said goodbye to Henri Lansbury who as joined Watford for £15.75m.
I have signed transfer listed Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone from Manchester United for 850k. Johnstone will come in to the first team squad has back up for Pickford. I have also added Midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah to the squad for £1.5m from Chelsea.
Net Transfer Spend For The Season £13m
At the start of the season I invested in the first team squad has I felt we needed more quality and depth to compete in the Premier League. With the above sales I have only spent £13m of the club’s money during my time at the club and took advantage of the rising player values after our promotion season.
I am pleased with our scouting network who are trawling the World for promising youngsters, I have also identified a few squad positions in the first team that I am looking to improve at the end of the season either from within the club or during the transfer window. I have also identified a couple of key player roles that I will be recruiting from out side the club. The first being the ball winning midfield role, I have got my scouts looking at a number of options however my main target is Leander Dendoncker the 22 year old Belgian midfielder from Anderlecht.
The next position is that of Right Full Back and again my scouts are scouting a number of players however my main target is 24 year old English full back Sam Byram.
Both players would fit perfectly in to our system and also meet our recruitment policy.
Well that brings you up to date with our first season back in the Premier League, I am more than happy with our performance so far that as taken us up to 4th in the league and took us to Wembley were we lifted the League Cup which as qualified us a place in the Europa League. With just 3 months left of the season we are in with an outside chance of a Champions League spot. Thanks for reading and hope you will be back soon to see how we have finished the season.