Welcome to my review of the season managing Torquay United in the Vanarama National League. The season turned out to be an absolute epic that had just about everything.
National League 2019-2020 Part One
I was pretty excited for us to start the season after a good summer of getting the squad fit and improving team cohesion. I have never really got in to lower league saves but I now can’t see me doing anything but in the future.
I had decided on a 442 with a positive mentality playing to our strength of having two good forwards who can get the goals if they get the service. We had started the season with games against two of the weaker clubs in Chorley and Woking winning 2-0 and 6-0 respectively with forward Jamie Reid getting an hat trick against Woking. We followed our two opening wins with a 2-1 defeat against Dagenham and Redbridge with Armani Little getting our consolation goal.
Jamie Reid and Armani Little were both on the scoresheet sheet when we beat Maidenhead United 2-0 before drawing 0-0 away to Barrow. A 2-0 win in the Devon derby against Yeovil Town after a Jamie Reid penalty and a Kalvin Kabala goal in the second half.
Misplaced passes, slips and trips, missed chances, defensive errors and wild tackles welcome to non league football but not forgetting sweeping moves, last gasp tackles, 30 yard screamers and the journeyman players making it a very enjoyable experience. I am hooked on the save and embark on a session that starts with a 3-1 defeat against Bromley that ends with 5 away games on the bounce ending with a goaless draw at Ebbsfleet United.
In between we record wins against Boreham Wood, Dover Athletic, Hartlepool United, Harrowgate Town and Barnet, but it was a 2-2 draw away to Notts County that will live long in to my memory as being one of the best matches that I have had on FM. We started the game going 2-0 down within the first 10 minutes against the favourites for promotion. A 17th minute Virgil Gomis goal sparked us in to action and although we went in trailing 2-1 at the break we had forced some incredible saves from the County keeper. The second half was akin to an heavyweight boxing match with both clubs going toe to toe landing blow by blow on each other but it was us who landed the killer blow when Connor Lemonheigh-Evans put us level with an 18 yard drive. At 2-2 again both sides pushed for a winner without success with both clubs defence standing firm. The final whistle brought a fantastic match to an end that was so enjoyable to watch.
With six wins from our next eight matches we topped the table after theo first half of the season all be it by 3 points from Aldershot who have two games in hand.
A 2-0 win against Chesterfield saw Virgil Gomis grab a double and Jamie Reid hit an hat trick against Dartford in the FA Cup 4th qualifying round however we lost in the 1st round when we faced Cheltenham.
Virgil Gomis also hit an hat trick aginst Sutton United in a 3-1 win. The first half of the season had gone better than expected with us definitely looking like a club who could mount a serious promotion challenge.
It was far from just the Reid and Gomis show with Joe Lewis and Robbie Cundy looking very good in the centre of our backline and Armani Little and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans developing a solid partnership in central midfield. Our widemen were also looking good with Jake Andrews on the left the pick of the bunch.
National League Table
National League 2019-2020 Part Two
If the first half of the season was that good the second half was incredible starting with a 3-0 win against Woking that saw Reid 2 and Gomis score the goals that gained us another 3 points. Jake Andrews scored on the hour in a 1-1 draw against Dagenham and Redbridge.
Jake Andrews was on target again this time in the FA Trophy 2nd round 3-0 win against Bath City. We needed a replay against Barnet to win in the 3rd round winning 2-1 after a 1-1 draw. We fell in the 4th round to Aldershot losing 3-1 to the Shots who are becoming a thorn in our side this season and it wouldn’t be the last time.
The TV cameras were at Huish Park for our short journey for the derby against Yeovil Town and what a night we had in store for them winning the game 5-0 with goals from Armani Little, Jamie Reid, Joe Lewis and a double from winger Aaron Nemane delighting the Gulls fans.
Aldershot had slipped a little in the league meaning that going in to March our destiny was in our own hands with the Shots failing to take advantage of their games in hand and slipping to a couple of defeats we were in pole position for promotion even after a 1-0 loss at Solihull Moors the first of 11 games that would decide our fate.
An injury time winner by Robbie Cundy gave us all 3 points in a 1-0 win at Chesterfield before we hammered Sutton United 4-0 with goals from Cundy, Lemonheigh-Evans, Reid and Whitfield.
We then ended the month with two draws against Bromley 0-0 and mid table Dover Athletic 2-2 thanks to a Nemane double. With just six games remaining we still had an advantage so April was about to get interesting.
We opened April with a very good 1-1 draw against Notts County with a goal from Jake Andrews but despite the draw this was our third consecutive game that finished level but with a trip to face relegation candidates Boreham Wood surely we would would get back to winning ways?
No we draw again this time 4-4 after a game that we led 3-0 after just 33 minutes and then required a fourth to get a point. 4 consecutive draws and just four games remaining we are getting desperate for a victory and when we turn up at Halifax Town we need a 94th minute equaliser to rescue a point from Jamie Reid.
After five consecutive draws we finally get a win away at Stockport County when a Jake Andrews goal after 52 minutes, a 1-0 win and another Jake Andrews performance that goes in the offer new contract section of my notebook.
And it was Jake Andrews who got the winner in the penultimate game of the season when we beat Barnet 1-0 to set up a final day showdown with Aldershot Town who have finished on level points with us but we have a better goal difference.
Last Day Drama
We entered the final weekend of the season at the top of the table on level points with Aldershot Town who we play on the final matchday at Plainmoor. The maths were simple all we needed was to avoid defeat and we would be crowned Champions and promoted to League 2.
Plainmoor would see our biggest attendance of the season with 5609 turning out for the visit of Aldershot. The Gulls supporters confident that we could get the draw that we needed to get promotion back to the Football League it is a big day in the clubs history but Aldershot have already beat us twice this season and a win for them and they will get promotion and be crowned Champions. We started the game strongly and both Gomis and Little came close to giving us the opening goal but Aldershot hung on and by half time we had gone close again with top scorer Jamie Reid glancing the post. We looked in control at 0-0 and just 45 minutes away from promotion on goal difference from todays visitors. The second half started with tackles flying in from both sides that saw Reid, Wynter and Nemane all picking up yellow cards. We were having the better of the chances and looked comfortable and then things changed when Ben Wynter received his marching orders for a bad tackle reducing us to 10 men. I immediately made a change taking one of our forwards off Virgil Gomis and bringing Mamadou Kone on at right back giving us a 441 shape however from the resulting free kick Aldershot took the lead with a back post header. We had twenty minutes or so to find an equaliser but Aldershot parked the bus and made the man advantage work but we had one last chance in the dying second but Jamie Reid who we would choose to get a chance blasted over. The whistle went for full time Aldershot had pipped us to promotion meaning that we would go in to the playoffs.
National League Play Offs
After the last day drama we had to dust ourselves down and prepare for our Semi Final against Notts County who we have had two extremely close games against already this season and after a well deserved break to recharge our batteries we dominate from the beginning and go a goal up after 34 minutes with a Connor Lemonheigh-Evans goal.
We continue to dominate and when County go down to ten men we look like we are going to cruise in to the final however a Pierce Bird equaliser in the 85th minute sends the game in to extra time.
It takes a 119th minute penalty from Jamie Reid to get past a brave Notts County side who played for an hour with 10 men.
And so we presented with a second bite of the cherry at reaching the Football League with the Playoff Final against Solihull Moors who finished the season in 3rd place and who we beat 3-1 and lost 1-0 in the League.
I made two changes from the Semi Final bringing both Wynter and Andrews in but it was Solihull who went in to an early lead going 1 up after 9 minutes but in the 13th minute the Moors were reduced to ten men. We got back on level terms when Armani Little equalised in the 32nd minute with well taken effort.
We piled the pressure on in the second half but for all our possession and shots we could not force a winner and then in the 86th minute a complete lack of discipline and a horror tackle from Jamie Reid gets a straight red heading in to extra time.
We could not force a breakthrough in the extra 30 minutes meaning a penalty shootout to see who gets promoted in to League Two.
- Solihull up first and Waite scores 0-1
- First up for us Whitfield who sends Boot the wrong way 1-1
- Beesley makes no mistake 1-2
- Davis steps up for us and Boot saves 1-2
- Reckord dispatches his penalty in to the roof of the net 1-3
- Gomis for us and its saved 1-3
- Bajrami makes no mistake and its over 1-4
Solihull Moors win 4-1 on penalties
Solihull Moors are promoted to League Two
An epic season is over we will be competing again in the National League next season after coming close on two occasions to clinch promotion.
Jamie Reid was our top goalscorer with 23 goals followed by Virgil Gomis with 14 goals ahead of Armani Little who netted 12 goals from midfield closely followed by three players who each scored 10 goals each wingers Aaron Nemane and Jake Andrews and utility man Ben Whitfield.
In the Assist department Armani Little leads the way with 14 ahead of Jake Andrews with 13 and Jamie Reid with 11.
Forward Virgil Gomis spent the most time in the medical room with 77 days in total picking up 3 injuries during the season.
Well I think you will agree that we have had an epic season narrowly missing out on promotion in the League and then defeat on penalties in the Playoff Final, but it is time now to look forward to another season in the National League with an increased expectation from the board who expect us to reach the Playoffs. Practically the whole squad were on 1 year contracts so its time now to decide which players if any will be offered a contract and who we can bring in to the club on free transfers and on loan who I think can not only improve the squad but who can take us to the next level. I am only bringing in players who my scouting team can scout or who can come in on trial which then produces a scouting report. We have no youth intake so we have to rely on free transfers with short term contracts and loans.
I will be looking to build a squad around our current 442 formation and one area that I am looking at first is in the centre of our defence which I am looking to bring in a combination of physical presence and pace. Once this post goes live I expect to spend a long session looking at the scout reports to identify the players that will fit in to the system that I have installed.
There is nothing more satisfying in my FM universe than building a squad of players who compliment both the players around them and the system that we play whilst working within the budgets set.
Thank you for reading and big thanks to all the non league managers who have been in contact to advise and talk non league FM.