Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #9 – Que Será, Será…

The Sky Bet League One Playoffs are here; our captain Gary Sawyer has (at most) three games left of his playing career and we could face our first trip to Wembley since the debacle against AFC Wimbledon five years ago. If you missed the last part of this story, you can catch up here.


Heading back into the tunnel in the newly-renovated Mayflower stand, Dominic Telford threw his shin pads at the media team, blurting a number of expletives out as he stormed into the changing rooms. The rest of the eighteen-man squad followed, many slamming the door against the wall on their way in. After finishing up giving my thanks to the Devonport end and the Green Army, I tentatively opened the door to speak to my players.

“Look, lads. All we can do is put this disappointment behind us and put things in perspective: all we were expected to do was survive this season. We’ve surpassed that, and we’re only gutted because we have our own ridiculously high standards to uphold!”

The crestfallen look on Mike’s [Cooper] face changed to one of deep thought. “He’s right, you know. We know how good we can be, don’t we?”

Are you f***ing kidding me? We’ve just bottled it against b**tard Donny Rovers who had absolutely sh*t all to play for!” replied an increasingly frustrated Luka Racic, throwing his boots across the room, where they would land in front of an oddly silent Yann Songo’o.

Luka, give it a rest,” Yann began, cutting through the tension in the room like a knife through hot butter. “Look, Gaz [Gary Sawyer] has been there. Nothing will probably make him forget the disappointment against Wimbledon five years ago. But he is a winner because he never gave up. So, quit your whining, we need to start looking to the future rather than the past.” A stunned silence came over the room: Yann was a silent assassin, a man of few words, but all of the younger lads knew to shut up and listen when he spoke.

Yann’s right. We’ve got to start planning now as the first semi-final against Sunderland is in just three days time. I can’t fault any of your work ethics; however we can’t afford to rest on our laurels now.” The rest of the boys began to lift their draping heads as I spoke, showing that typical Argyle grit and determination that we needed to get through the next two matches.


Sunderland vs. Plymouth Argyle, Wednesday 5th May 2021

314 members of the Green Army would make their way on the 806 mile round trip to the Stadium of Light.

The three day gap between the final game of the normal season against Doncaster on the Sunday and the first leg of our playoff semi-final against Sunderland on the Wednesday seemed to go by in a flash: the analysts had a report on The Black Cats on my desk by 7am on the Monday. What followed was a complete re-jig of our training priorities. The play-offs are a different kettle of fish; we had to look into harnessing any advantage possible. The lads reported in for some light training and tactical briefing after lunch, and then Tuesday was spent working on our shape in and out of possession before heading up to the North East ready for Wednesday’s match.

Sunderland were always going to be tough opponents, and therefore in the first leg away from home I wanted to keep things balanced and tight. I wanted to take a result we could build upon back to Home Park in the second leg. The easiest decisions to make were of the defensive kind: Mike Cooper, Perry Ng, Luka Racic, Scott Wharton and Adam Randell had worked like a well-oiled machine for the majority of the season and were the most reliable players to do a job when out of possession. Adam Lewis had come up with a cracking 6 assists from left wing-back since joining on loan from Liverpool in January, yet right wing-back was a harder decision to make.

Liam Shephard offers more defensively than Zak Mills does, however Shephard hasn’t really hit any kind of good form since joining in January. I still decided to go with my gut and stick with Shephard and leave Mills on the bench should I change my mind during the match. Conor Grant had picked up a little niggle in training so Matt Butcher would go on to deputise for him, and I hoped that the very experienced Danny Mayor would pull out the stops in this big game. Sam Smith was in excellent goal-scoring form up top and I chose Telford to partner with him as he always seems to show up in matches like these. Tayo Edun and Danny Rose were both players I could rely on to come on and change the game if needed from the subs bench.

Not long after the sun began to dip, the boys left the tunnel and stepped out in front of a gigantic crowd of almost 46,000 fans. (Surely both of these teams are too big for League One football?) They knew what I’d asked of them: stay in the game, and take a decent result back home to Plymouth. Andy Haines’ whistle blew, and off we went: our play-off journey began. Sunderland were almost immediately on the front foot, with Will Grigg going close before [Adam] Randell would go and earn a yellow card after just 2 minutes – possibly a sign of the young midfielder’s inexperience. Despite this, we would ride out the storm of the first 5 minutes where Sam Smith arguably should have scored on the counter-attack but pulled it wide after a deflection.

The ball would go out for a thrown in on the right-hand side, where Liam Shephard would take on a quick one-two before floating a cross into Smith’s battling head, who would direct it towards the awaiting foot of the midfield maestro Danny Mayor. Waiting on the edge of the box, Mayor would hit Smith’s header on the volley, straight past Jon McLaughlin and into the back of the net. 1-0. The upper tier of the North Stand erupted, breaking out into the familiar tune of ‘We’ve got Mayor, Danny Mayor…’. Of course, I was delighted, but I screamed at the lads to calm it down and keep their concentration. There was still over 80 minutes left of the match and a lot could happen in that time.

20 minutes later, [Adam] Lewis would give away a free kick in our half on the wing. Lynden Gooch would take it quickly, with [Perry] Ng heading it away to Lewis before he would clear it to the open Adam Randell. What happened next can only be described as a complete brain fart: Randell would dither with the ball just outside the box, opting to turn around on the spot and try to pass back to [Mike] Cooper in goal instead of clearing the danger. This left Gooch with enough time to nick the ball off of him, lay it off to the clinical Will Grigg and you can guess the rest. 33 minutes gone, 1-1. We would hold on until the end of the first half, and half time could not come quickly enough.

After some words of advice and a re-iteration of the message I sent to the boys pre-match, Argyle went back out in the second half with one change. Randell would be substituted off for Conor Grant after the difficult 45 minutes the young midfielder would have, with Butcher heading deeper into defensive midfield and Grant taking his place. Grant would make the difference initially, putting a number of fantastic set piece deliveries into the mixer and creating chances, however it was Sunderland who would strike first. Following a goal kick, Jordan Marshall would play a simple ball over the top, catching Shephard and Racic out. Grigg would run through onto the ball, take a touch and pass it past the helpless Mike Cooper. It was 2-1 to The Black Cats.

Following our opening goal, Shephard had struggled against the pace and power of Sunderland, so I opted to bring on Zak Mills in his place. [Dom] Telford also seemed to have a non-existent presence leading the line for the Greens; perhaps the pressure of captaining The Pilgrims for the first time was affecting his performance. Danny Rose would be substituted on for him as I knew that Rose would at least run like hell for the remaining 20 minutes of the first leg. Unfortunately, we’d spend the rest of the match prying and searching for an opening in Sunderland’s defence, although Grigg’s constant well-timed runs and movement caused us absolute nightmares on the counter-attack. The match would ultimately finish in Sunderland’s favour, and we would have to take a one goal deficit back to Plymouth.


Plymouth Argyle vs Sunderland, Sunday 9th May 2021

Just four days later, we were back at Home Park for the second leg of the playoff semi-final.

“Right, lads. We did alright up in Sunderland, now we’ve got to get a result here. The difference here is that we’ll be going much more attacking than we did in the first leg. I want you to be aggressive, I want you to press and I want every single one of you using every ounce of energy in your body to completely outrun them. We’ve got the advantage here of 16,000 fans singing us on; we’ll have that 12th man in our squad.”

A sell-out crowd of 17,904 would fill the Theatre of Greens, with a pre-match display by PAFC Displays.

As I explained to the squad, we’d chase Sunderland’s lead from the first leg and go slightly more attacking. Two changes would be made, with the more attacking Zak Mills coming in for Liam Shephard at right wing-back and Matt Butcher being dropped for Tayo Edun. Butcher would drop out of the squad entirely due to injury and Joe Edwards would return to the match day squad (perfect for if Randell falters again). Apart from that, it was the norm and the boys knew exactly what they had to do.

As the familiar trumpets of Semper Fidelis piped up over the tannoy, there was a tangible atmosphere of nerves and excitement in the tunnel. Walking out onto the plush green pitch at Home Park was like being hit with a tidal wave of hopes and dreams: all across the Lyndhurst Stand a mob of green and white stared back, singing ‘Argyyyyyyle, Argyyyyyyyle‘ as loud as their lungs would allow them to.

The ref’s whistle blew and the boys were off: we were going the traditional way of attacking the away fans in the first half and shooting towards the Devonport End in the second half. Argyle would instantly keep possession a lot better than they did in the North East, orchestrating some decent chances in the opening 20 minutes.

Luck came the way of The Pilgrims first, when in the 24th minute Adam Lewis dispossessed Max Power on the left wing and got yet another assist when he laid an excellent through ball into the box for Sam Smith to run onto and slot cooly into the bottom right corner. 1-0, and 2-2 on aggregate. It was all square. Smith took no time celebrating; he knew I wanted all out attack until we were in control of the game.

Argyle would continue to dominate and Sunderland seemed impotent to fight back, yet we couldn’t find another way through before the half time whistle blew. As things were going well, I opted against making any changes at the break, instead deciding to just remind the boys that we were in control and just one more goal would allow us to achieve the unthinkable at the start of the season.

At the start of the second half, Sunderland came out with a bit more attacking intent – Will Grigg (once again) seemed to be their biggest threat in behind our defence. However, the Black Cats were taken aback when in the 55th minute they would concede a free kick more or less on the left of the penalty box. Without our specialist Conor Grant on the field, Tayo Edun would step up. A whipped cross to the far post would meet the head of Smith, deflect off the crossbar, fall to the feet of Luka Racic (who would get his feet in a bit of a mess and knock the ball off of the near post), and finally – unconventionally – be bundled in by Danny Mayor. IT WAS 2-0! As it stood, Argyle were through to the playoff final, 3-2 over the two legs. It wasn’t neat, it wasn’t pretty, but it was getting the job done.

Sunderland really pushed for a reply, and so I opted to go slightly more defensive and bring Shephard on for Mills at right wing-back. Although Sunderland were coming more into the game, we were still continuing to create chances on the counter attack. Telford was snatching at his chances yet again, so Danny Rose came on for him just after 75 minutes. [Yann] Songo’o followed him on for [Perry] Ng to get some fresh legs in the defence as well.

The substitutes would make an almost instant impact: Songo’o would clear the ball in defence to Edun, who would ping a ball over the top of The Black Cats’ defence and Danny Rose, the King of the goal late in the game, would run onto it and smash it into the bottom left corner. 3-0, and 4-2 on aggregate. Home Park erupted as Rose sprinted over to the Devonport End to celebrate with the fans. It seemed like the entirety of Plymouth broke out into the familiar ‘Que será, será…’ chant, as it was almost confirmed that we were, indeed, going to Wembley. The full time whistle 10 minutes later initiated a party atmosphere, as the team danced and sang with the fans – we were to go to London to face Fleetwood Town in the final of the SkyBet League One Playoffs.


In preparation for the huge game in two weeks time, we returned to the training ground to prepare efficiently. In came the training sessions to practice our set pieces – in particular our penalties – as I wanted us to take any fine margin as a potential advantage. Lilian [Nalis] and I had also planned to take the lads over on the ferry to Brittany for a one-off match against French amateur side Crozon. I’m a big advocate of not just the physical side of getting a good footballing team together, but also the mental. Through the three days away in the North of France, I hoped to improve (even further) the strong bond between my squad.

All members of the squad that weren’t injured had at least a 45 minute run-out at the Stade Municipal. As expected, we nailed an 8-0 win against the amateur side, with goals from Conor Grant, Adam Lewis, Liam Shephard, two goals apiece from Danny Rose and Dominic Telford and finally an own goal from Denis-Will Kerleoux. Despite the clear gulf in class, the team’s general shape throughout the match was encouraging and we left Brittany with a strong sense of hope.


Plymouth Argyle vs Fleetwood Town, Sunday 23rd May 2021

An incredible 51,766 spectators flooded Wembley Stadium, with an even more outstanding Green Army making up over 40,000 of that crowd.

Despite not changing too much over the course of the two legs of the semi-final, the coaching team and I decided to make some wholesale changes as well as having some decisions be taken out of our hands. Although we clearly dominated the second leg against Sunderland with a more attacking side, I wanted to at least start off at Wembley with a more balanced side. Shephard and Conor Grant came back in after featuring previously in the semi-finals, while there would also be three new starters: Danny Rose’s goalscoring antics last time out (and Dom Telford’s lack of form) meant that I felt he earnt a spot in the first XI; Joe Edwards came in for Randell in the DLP role as Adam was injured; and our captain – Gary Sawyer – would make his final appearance in a Green shirt leading his boyhood club out at Wembley.

For many of the lads, this was their first time playing at the home of English football, and I must admit that the thought of taking my hometown team out onto the hallowed turf gave me a sleepless night. Before the game, I made sure to let the lads know that no matter what, this season we have defied expectations. If this as far as we can go, so be it. But at the same time, why not carry on defying expectations? Confound the critics, silence the doubters. Become heroes.

At the start of the match, Fleetwood dominated possession, using the expansive pitch at Wembley to pass the ball around in what seemed to be a tiki-taka style 4-1-2-3 DM wide. We didn’t roll over in the early periods however; we’d hit them on the counter repeatedly with balls from the midfield floated over the top to the energetic Smith and Rose at the spearhead of our attack. The first time this paid off was in the 38th minute: Edwards picked up a loose pass in our own half and cleared it to Rose, who would take a touch, dribble past a defender and send a long ball forward to he on-running Smith. The young striker on loan from Reading would then cut past Eastham and Roberts in central defence and slot the ball coolly into the bottom left corner past Alex Cairns in goal 36th minute. 1-0. Sky cameras shook as 40,000 members of the Green Army erupted and cheered.

While I believed that this was a fantastic position for us to be in going into half time, the boys clearly thought it wasn’t enough. As we continued to dominate attacks (while Fleetwood’s front man Ashley Hunter seemed impotent with every chance he had) we earned a late corner on the right-hand side just as it was announced there would be two minutes added time. Taking his time, Conor Grant corner sent an unsuccessful cross into the box which was headed straight back out to him. Grant would then confound critics as he dribbled past Wes Burns and floated a cross into Danny Mayor (who was stood on the penalty spot). What happened next was exactly what you’d expect from a player like Danny Mayor. Our midfield wizard didn’t even take a touch to control Grant’s cross; instead he would swing his right foot at the ball and volley it with pace and power into the top left corner. 2-0. The mood as the boys went back to the dressing room was incredible, but we knew we had to keep our focus and application in the second half.

Although we could say that we dominated the first half, we had to expect a Fleetwood fight-back – and they did. Wes Burns, Ashley Hunter and (later) substitute Ched Evans would carve out attack after attack, but we would defend well and put in strong blocks to defend our lead. As usual, our first substitute in the 67th minute came in the form of a straight swap in Shephard coming off for Mills. Although Mills is the more attacking option at right wing-back, Shephard was struggling with Conor McAleny’s runs and a change of personnel may help. As the second half progressed, we found ourselves starting to see out the game with dangerous counter-attacks that should have put the game to bed completely. Our final substitutes came in the 81st minute: Songo’o, possibly making his last appearance for the club, would take the place of Joe Edwards as a bit of a half-back to see the game out; while Tayo Edun would deputise for the tiring Adam Lewis, who hadn’t quite been up to the same standard as usual.

The assistant referee raised the board to show there was to be 4 minutes added time, just as the travelling Green Army broke out into a chant of ‘We’re on our way, we’re on our way, to the Championship, we’re on our way!’. Just as I stood there, thinking that the day could not get any better, my expectations were surpassed once again. Sam Smith – who had worked exceptionally hard all game – won possession from Sheron on the left wing and sent a perfectly-weighted pass into space for Danny Mayor to run onto and smash the ball past Cairns into the bottom right corner. It was 3-0! With less than 3 minutes left to play, surely this was it now, right? Wrong: pretty much straight from the restart, Tayo Edun repeated Smith’s feat and won the ball high up the pitch and sent a low, uncontested cross into the box for Smith, who buried it into the back of the net on 93 minutes. I couldn’t believe what I was watching – Plymouth Argyle were about to win 4-0, at Wembley, in the playoffs to get back to the Championship!

The last action of the game fell to Smith, who would run offside as the whistle blew for full time. An almighty roar erupted around Wembley as well as from the live beam-back at Home Park. We’d done it! As Fleetwood players collapsed to the floor, the boys hugged and jumped around, singing along with the incredible fans who travelled for this special day out. The only Pilgrim who didn’t do this was Gary Sawyer: he instead went straight over to the opposition defence, picked up 19-year-old Haydon Roberts off of the hallowed turf and whispered some words of advice in his ear. Gaz, in his last game, was a true gentleman and a professional to the end.

As it was confirmed that we would be making our way back up to the Championship once again, we received messages of thanks from Simon Hallett and the rest of the board in the form of the initial budgets (which was fairly decent for a team of our stature) and a new contract extension until 2024. Although this was the case, the board expected more from as a result of their generosity: whereas before they wanted entertaining, attacking football and for me not to sign players over the age of 30, they also wanted me to play high-tempo pressing football. Luckily, we already play with a much higher tempo and always look to press and counter-press with intensity. Finally, the board only expect us to fight bravely against relegation next year – as a result of this, my job security might well be a lot safer this year.

Following the open-top bus parade around the city centre three days after our Wembley win, the end-of-season awards ceremony was held. Scott Wharton won the prestigious Fan’s Player and Young Player of the Season unsurprisingly, as he was our most solid defender throughout the season. Edun won goal of the season after his free kick against Ipswich and Perry Ng was deemed our signing of the season. I was also very surprised to win Sky Bet League One Manager of the Year, seeing as I didn’t win automatic promotion like Adam Barrett of MK Dons or Nigel Adkins and his Barnsley side. Mike Cooper seemed to flow under the radar a little this season, although his 20 clean sheets would be a new team record and he would also be in the League One team of the year in his first full season as our first choice ‘keeper. Some more of our young players, Ryan Bevan and Alex Fletcher, impressed on loan as well, with Bevan winning Vanarama National League North Player of the Season and Fletcher coming second in the hunt for the Vanarama National League golden boot.


Now all of the excitement is over, it’s time for the rebuild ready for our first season back in the Championship.

Next time: Our new transfers and pre-season, which this year will take place in Scotland!

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #8 – The Captain’s Log

The second half of the 2020/21 season is here and I thought we’d try something a bit different in the form of the diary of our captain, Gary Sawyer. If you’ve missed the last part of the story, you can catch it here.


Saturday 7th November 2020

Well, it’s not very often that I pop up to score! In today’s FA Cup match against Macclesfield, we didn’t have [Conor] Granty or Adam [Randell] playing so I thought I’d step up and show the rest of the lads there’s still life in these old legs yet… We had a free kick on the edge of the D, and I pinged it first time into the top bins! I’m hoping the gaffer has seen what I can do still; I want to make the most of this season, despite the talented young lads playing like Luka [Racic] and Scotty [Wharton].


Tuesday 24th November 2020

The boys were of a different class today. We all knew how tough Barnsley away would be – especially on a Tuesday night – but they played them off the park! Dom [Telford] was ‘standard’ Dom, but Joe [Edwards] had probably his best performance in an Argyle shirt. It’s always nice seeing the lads who have been here a few years now still pulling out big performances. Apparently, Stoke came in for the gaffer the other day. I can’t see him going, no matter what Jeff Stelling has been saying – RPW bleeds green.


Saturday 26th December 2020

It’s been a very Merry Christmas! Although RPW hasn’t been playing me quite as often as I want to, I understand why: the lads have been fantastic; they’ve racked up half a dozen more wins and the boys at the back have been solid. It was a shame to see Neco [Williams] go, but with the board putting in for the youth academy to be developed, it might give some more of the local lads a chance. (After all, that’s how I started.) Fletch [Alex Fletcher] and [Kelsey] Mooney have been smashing it out on loan. I reckon that if we weren’t topping the table like we are right now, the boss would probably give them a chance.


Monday 1st February 2021

Our form’s fallen off of a cliff. We had a rough January, losing to the Gas, MK Dons and Donny in poor fashion. Some of the younger lads in the dressing room were fuming after the Bristol Rovers match; saying that ‘We’ve blown it‘ and ‘we might as well give up on promotion now, we’ve f**ked it.‘ I’d played the last four matches and I have to admit, conceding that Bradford equaliser felt like a kick in the teeth.

I had to have a word with the boys in the dressing room; many of them hadn’t been here for the lows of relegation two years ago. I told them all about putting things into perspective: we weren’t supposed to be in the position we find ourselves in right now. Back at the start of August, we were expected to be scrapping it out at the basement end of League One. We’d already defied expectations of what every media journo had said we were capable of – why should we give up and throw our toys out of the pram at the first sign of things not going our way?

Anyway, I still trust the gaffer and the fact that he brought in another talented right back in Liam [Shephard] and some more gifted youngsters in Adam [Lewis] and Miguel [Arias]. Ryan [Taylor] said he saw two more youngsters arriving late last night too, avoiding the trials and tribulations of the standard Deadline Day newscast.


Saturday 27th February 2021

I told the boys to keep the faith, and we’ve proven ourselves! Apart from the Gas again at the start of the month, we’ve notched up five straight league wins and are back up into the automatic promotion places. Fleetwood and Bolton were tricky ones, but we really had the mettle to dig in and grind out some fantastic wins. The only downside is that I’ve been out of the team due to Perry [Ng], Scotty [Wharton] and Luka [Racic] being absolutely solid at the back. I know I’m coming to the end of my time here at Argyle, but it is still difficult not being able to be out there every week playing my heart out. On the bright side, if it means that we’re smashing it in the league then I’ll sacrifice my own playing time for the good of the team.


Monday 22nd March 2021

We’re still in the hunt: three points separate us from MK Dons in first place and four from Barnsley in third. The gaffer and Paul [Sturrock, Director of Football] have been talking with me lately more and more about where I see myself next year. Since twisting my ankle a couple of weeks ago, I’ve only really been able to support the lads from the backseat. I’ve been considering calling it a day at the end of the season and seeing as I already have my UEFA B License, I’ve been looking into potential coaching jobs next year. The new crop of youth candidates came in for trials the other day and the boss and Mickey [Evans, Head of Youth Development] took me down to Harper’s for the match. I was really impressed, and Nick [Chadwick, U18 Manager] told me about his experiences this year. He said that Bristol City had given Ian [Durrant, U18 Assistant Manager] a ring the other day and offered him a job at their academy. Watch this space: hopefully, I’ll have something in the pipeline by the end of this season.


Friday 2nd April 2021

All of us can see that we could actually do it: earlier we smashed Ipswich 4-1 and that’s probably the hardest match of our run-in. If we can keep this up for the final four games, we’ll be going up. We’re unbeaten in ten, morale is high and there’s a real buzz around Home Park recently. I also now know what’s happening to me on a personal level next year: it’s time for me to hang up my boots. No matter what happens this season, it’s been one to remember, and my three years in charge of my hometown club have been full of ups and downs. The relegation to League Two was heartbreaking; the promotion as champions to League One last year was incredible, and this year we could make more memories. I’ve been very proud to wear the green and white and I won’t be leaving permanently: the gaffer offered me the role of assistant manager to Nick Chadwick in the under-18s. What better place to start the next chapter of my career.


Sunday 2nd May 2021

I’m not gonna lie, I’m gutted. We’ve fallen at the final hurdle.

It could have been the perfect ending, but I have known Plymouth Argyle as a football club for too long to know that we never do things the easy way. We bottled it against Wigan, the Posh and Donny. Barnsley leapfrogged us, and the rest was history. The Tykes went up in our place, behind MK Dons (the eventual champions). The play-offs awaited us: Sunderland, over two legs. Last time we were in the play-offs we had the memorable nights against Pompey but didn’t show up to Wembley in the final against Wimbledon. The boys have just got to believe: believe we can do it. We have shown it all season; a blip at the worst time should not define the amazing achievements we have managed this year. The hard work starts tomorrow: we recover, analyse where we’ve gone wrong in the past couple of weeks and reward the best fanbase in League One with a day to remember at Wembley.


Next time, we take on Sunderland in the play-offs to try and make our long-awaited return to the Sky Bet Championship.

If you enjoyed the different writing style of this post, let me know! It was inspired by the creative excellence of FM Stag and Seattle Red over at From the Cheap Seats– please do check out these excellent blogs for some great content!

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #7 – Injury Woes and Familiar Foes

Our second season is finally here, and it’s our first in League One in two years! If you’ve missed the last part of the story, you can catch it here.


“What do you mean there’s nobody we can replace Tafari [Moore] with?!” The words exploded out of my mouth; furious droplets of saliva hitting the boardroom table, unfortunate enough to be in my vicinity during my tirade.

“Come on, RPW. You know we’ve looked – we just couldn’t find any quality that fit your ‘DNA’ and could replicate what Tafari brought to the team. I mean, if we were able to verge slightly away from your search parameters, there are plenty of talented pla-” Paul Sturrock was unfortunately cut off as I interrupted,

“No – we have already had to compromise more than I’d expected we’d to. If we’re spending money to sign this right wing-back then he needs to fit the bill in terms of what the team needs, and he won’t fit into the team if he doesn’t have the DNA! The season starts tomorrow and all we’ve got in that position is a youngster who doesn’t fit the DNA and a defensive midfielder who has struggled whenever he has had to cover there!”

Sheepishly, my Chief Scout and former Argyle midfield maestro, David Friio, put a stray arm across Paul, pulled him back to his seat and slid a file across the table towards me. “Boss, this is the only player we could find that was of decent quality and fit your DNA, please, take a look. We’d probably have to pay more than we’d like for him – and it’s not 100% whether he’ll be able to make the step up – but he may be our only option.”


August 2020

Considering it was my only choice (and I had to bring someone in), in came Zak Mills from League Two Oldham Athletic for a fee of £190k. Although this was less than the fee we received for Tafari Moore, if push came to shove I probably wouldn’t have spent as much, if I could have helped it. Relatively experienced in comparison to the rest of my young squad, Zak offers more of a defensive edge than the very attacking Neco Williams and can act as a solid backup/rotation option.

The First Game of the Season

(You may notice in the graphics above, I’ve redesigned the kits for this season! The home kit would be inspired by a classic 1960s design, while the away kit would be a homage to the ‘Tangergreen’ days of away kits when I first got into Plymouth Argyle. The third kit, alternatively, is purely a thing of imagination!)

The opening day of the 2020/21 season was to be held in Essex, away to fellow promotion winners Colchester United. Although preseason had not been too bad, we were thrown a curveball in first-choice goalkeeper Alex Palmer suffering a lower back stress fracture the day before the season started. He would be out for at least 6 weeks – not the best of starts!

Luckily, Mike Cooper was a very apt replacement and would be one of very few players in the starting lineup that were here last season; Neco Williams, Perry Ng, Luka Racic, Scott Wharton and Tayo Edun would all make their debut in the opening fixture. About 30 seconds into the match, Calum McFadzean would go down to a [insert injury here]: once again, not the best of starts… Joel Grant would be substituted on as his replacement, with Argyle going on to dominate.

While debutant Williams and (the normally reliable) Ryan Taylor would disappoint and be substituted early in the second half, defensive midfielder Adam Randell was a force to be reckoned with from a deeper midfield position. The young prospect sprayed several key passes to the wing-backs and strikers to create a whopping 6 chances, however the Greens could not find their way through Colchester’s back line. At last – in the 94th minute – a through ball from Conor Grant would find the feet of last season’s top scorer Dom Telford, who would slot it cooly past Dean Gerken. 1-0!

You may have also noticed that on the bench for the Colchester match was a surprise addition in youth striker Kelsey Mooney. This was as a result of a very unfortunate leg break suffered by (arguably our best player in pre-season) Jamie Proctor. I would immediately cancel the loan, and so began the hunt for a new pressing forward.

The rest of the month would go very well, with Argyle picking up form straight away. A home win against QPR would follow the opening day victory, and trips on the road to Gillingham and Millwall in the first round of the Carabao Cup would go just as well. In the first few fixtures, Ryan Taylor shone, scoring 3 goals in 2 games, however it was the performance of youth pair Kelsey Mooney and Ryan Bevan. The young players would turn the Millwall game on its head, with Bevan (playing at right wing-back) feeding two chances to the energetic Mooney, who would be clinical when given these opportunities. The only downside of these matches would be that young right wing-back Neco Williams would be out for at least 4 weeks with a foot injury, leaving Zak Mills the opportunity to shine. Just before the Millwall match, we would also bring in our replacement for Jamie Proctor…

While not exceptional in any particular area, 22 year-old striker Sam Smith (on loan from Reading) would join the squad. Smith had a decent season last year, netting 12 goals in 41 appearances for League Two side Cambridge United. Smith had not taken part in a full pre-season for the Berkshire outfit so it would take a fair few games with our U23s to bring him up to fitness. Smith would net twice in his first two games, scoring in wins against Bradford City and Tranmere Rovers. Dom Telford would also shine in the fierce 2-1 win against Bristol Rovers.

Our fortunes would unfortunately change in the second round of the Carabao Cup at home to AFC Bournemouth, where an early goal from Jefferson Lerma would consign Argyle out of the competition. This had clearly knocked The Pilgrims’ confidence: Ipswich Town (a potential playoff contender) would trounce us 2-0 at Portman Road in a very poor performance. It was another match that new signing Zak Mills would not impress in.

Before the transfer window would end, impressive duo Kelsey Mooney and Ryan Bevan would go out on loan to Vanarama National League side Macclesfield Town and Vanarama National North side Kidderminster Harriers respectively.

Argyle would shoot straight to the top of the League One table, with the board very happy with the way we had started the season. The ever-impressive Adam Randell would come third in Young Player of the Month and I would win my first League One Manager of the Month award. Our month would then end with the good news that the board had agreed to develop our training facilities!


September 2020

In contrast to August, September was an entirely different animal.

Since the beginning of the save, this was probably the worst month of form that we have had. We’d initially go down to ethereal sh*t-housers Wycombe Wanderers in the Mickey Mouse Leasing.com Trophy, would grind out draws against Burton, Blackpool and MK Dons, and would bottle a 2-0 lead away to Grimsby, where a Jan Zamburek hattrick would send us the 345 mile drive back home with nothing to show for it. Argyle seemed to have a bit of fear factor this month, most prominently shown in the away trip to Coventry City: Argyle would be 3-0 up at half time, but would be lucky to salvage a 4-4 draw at the end of 90 minutes. In this month Mike Cooper and Danny Rose would impress, but Zak Mills and Matt Butcher would have a torrid time. The poor form was not helped by the injury recurrence of Callum McFadzean, with Joel Grant out of form and Tayo Edun doing his best to cover the position. A tactical change was needed, as we were being constantly caught out by long balls over the top of my back line.

Tactical Changes

As previously stated, our defence was constantly being caught on the back foot by long balls over the top and through balls splitting my slow defence. Equally, analysis showed that in midfield we were losing a lot of possession, and considering we have the majority of our players playing through the middle there was clearly something up. As a result, I added the instructions ‘mark tighter’ and ‘play out of the back’ to my centre-backs in an attempt not to lose possession as much, and pulled my high line back to make it easier to defend on the occasions that we would lose possession. Although this system had clearly served us well last season, the increase in quality due to the step up to League One proved that we had to adapt and improve.

As a result of our poor form in September, Argyle would slip two places down the League One table to third, level on points with 2nd place Ipswich and behind league leaders Barnsley. Despite this, Simon Hallett and the rest of the board continue to back me, although I would have liked to have been scored higher than a C+ in terms of match results and fan transfer opinion.

Despite this, there were some positives: Versatile midfielder Ryan Bevan would impress in his first month on loan to Kidderminster Harriers, scoring a cracking 4 goals from a right-back position! Danny Rose would also be unlucky to miss out on League One Player of the Month, coming second to Ipswich Town’s Kayden Jackson (who gave us a torrid time at the end of this month). In terms of personal accolades, I would finally acquire the highest coaching badge in my Continental Pro License.

The need for an upturn in form was abundantly clear, with the above message popping into my inbox following the Ipswich game. Everything was crossed for some sort of improvement in October.

October 2020

As an answer to my prayers from the previous month, we did see a bit of an improvement! We started off at home to Shrewsbury Town, completely dominating from the outset after an early Dominic Telford goal put us ahead. Unfortunately, we would concede a late set piece goal and were very unlucky to end up with just the one point. I risked rotating the squad against Arsenal U23s in the Leasing.com Trophy and it paid off: Perry Ng would get his first Argyle goal, Telford would grab another and Taylor would score 2 to beat the youngsters 4-0. We’d continue this dominant form against Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland due to big performances from Perry Ng and Danny Rose, but would unfortunately go down to two 1-0 losses against Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United due to silly mistakes. We were performing well, and consistent results had to be close by. Perry Ng in particularly stood out in October: the ex-Crewe Alexandra captain bagged 3 goals from centre-back this month.

Ultimately, we were heading back in the right direction; we’d leapfrog Ipswich to 2nd place in the League One table, but it was tight at the top. Clearly the match performances were picking up and the new signings were impressive, as reflected in this month’s Manager Performance Summary.

I was also very surprised at the end of October: one of the youth candidates from last year’s intake, left wing-back Eddie Barry-Murphy, would get his first call-up to international duty. The youngster would play in three fixtures for Republic of Ireland U19s; it will be interesting to see how he does next time!


It has been a mixed start to the season but one that we can definitely be proud of. The board’s expectations were of course just to survive our first League One season without the threat of relegation, and we’re definitely far from that currently.

Next time: we evaluate the squad in preparation for January, we go for a cup run and we see if our tactical changes work long-term…

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #6 – Summer Transfer Special!

The season is over and we’ve reached our first proper transfer window after winning promotion to League One! If you’ve missed the story so far, you can catch up with the rest of The Pilgrimage here:

My first FM20 save: ‘The Pilgrimage’

Part 1: Welcome Home (to Home Park)

Part 2: Meet the Squad

Part 3: The Season Begins

Part 4: Cup Runs and Festive Fun

Part 5: The Run In


1st May 2020

“Right, so these are the positions that we’ll need to fill/improve upon this season after our promotion and the departure of some of this season’s squad. Where would you like to start?”

“The back – goalkeepers?” Paul Sturrock replied, “Coops [Mike Cooper] has done well this season – do you think he’s ready?”

“Well,” I replied, “He did impress whenever he played, however I think he still needs another season working on his game before we can consider him as our first-choice ‘keeper. Over the window we need to either find an experienced goalkeeper in the later days of their career to take that role for one season or get another loan in like Alex Palmer if the quality isn’t available.”

“Got it. How about the rest of the back line? Tactics this season have been a success and Niall [Canavan] and Gaz [Gary Sawyer] bring a wealth of experience, but we kept getting caught out defensively. Long balls over the top and many mistakes were made bu the players we’d hoped would be reliable.” Sturrock was experienced, and his roles in management and as a Director of Football provided me with a valuable aide to the big decisions as manager.

“That is where the problem lies – we need to make a big improvement at the back. Although we scored the most goals in League Two this season, we made some silly mistakes that I know we’d all like to cut out. With the departure of Scott [Wootton] and Will [Aimson] – as well as talented loans in Josh [Grant] and Sylvain [Deslandes] – we’re going to need some more permanent signings of real quality as well as some up and coming prospects from some of the bigger teams.”

“Luckily the affiliate link we sought out with Manchester City during the season should help us out there,” Sturrock began, before being interrupted.

“Very true, but remember that they have to fit ‘our’ mould. They can be as talented as you like, but if they’re the wrong type of player, they aren’t coming here.” Lilian [Nalis] interjected. (He had clearly seen how our collective football philosophy had worked this season).

“Exactly! I think we’re fine at left wing-back; Fadz [Callum McFadzean] has been great when avoiding injury and Joel [Grant] did absolutely amazing considering he’d never played wing-back before. On the other hand, Taff [Tafari Moore] did brilliantly at right wing-back but we will need to improve there. Again, maybe a talented prospect from the Premier League/Championship could do a job there as long as they’re physically ready for League One.”

Sturrock scribbled this down, before adding “What about in the middle of the pitch? After releasing Sarce [Antoni Sarcevic] and Jose [Baxter], we don’t really need to add too many bodies?”

“You’re right. Adam Randell really stepped up this season and arguably did better than Joe [Edwards] in the defensive role; I reckon all we need is someone who can push Danny [Mayor] and Conor [Grant] in the more offensive positions. They smashed it last year, and if we can get them playing even better again, then I’ll take it. Finally, I reckon we need someone to come in and play the role that Zak [Rudden] did last year – Ryan [Taylor] is good but inconsistent in that same position. Someone to also keep Dominic [Telford] on his toes too will be great. I’m sure Dom will still be first choice, but knowing there’s someone there to step in if needed is vital for us to do well next season.”

“Okay RPW, I’ll get straight on the phone to my contacts and get the scouts out there.”


June 2020

14th June 2020

Our first signing – and very rarely for me – involving a transfer fee. As stated earlier, our back three is what worried me the most and I wanted the best defender I could get. Former Crewe Alexandra captain Perry Ng came in for an initial £325k, a relative bargain for a young player with excellent attributes at this level. RPW DNA score = 57

15th June 2020

Next through the door, as reported by Sky Sports (see above), was another talented centre-back, this time on loan: Scott Wharton, on loan from Blackburn Rovers. Wharton spent time last season on loan at League Two Northampton Town, but is arguably way above that level. Wharton probably makes the starting line-up alongside Ng and another centre-back. RPW DNA score = 56

16th June 2020

Another loan centre-back – clearly Sturrock listened well! Luka Racic, a 21 year-old Danish defender came in on loan from Brentford, where he made 4 league appearances last season, scoring a single goal. Luka is another amazing young player at this level, and after this signing I can see my back three being Wharton at DCL, Racic at DC and Ng at DCR. RPW DNA score = 55

19th June 2020

Announced on the BBC Sport website (see above), we solved our problem with lack of quality depth at right wing-back by bringing in Wales under-21 international Neco Williams in on loan from Liverpool. Although his technical and mental attributes aren’t amazing, his physical attributes are phenomenal for this level. Due to a lack of quality options available, I had to bring in Neco despite him not really fitting my DNA philosophy. RPW DNA score = 41


July 2020

1st July 2020

By the start of July, the squad was back for pre-season with even more additions…

Jamie Proctor came in on loan from Rotherham to fill the role that Zak Rudden played last year: a striker to put pressure on the back line while also popping up with a few goals. Last season he was out on loan to Scunthorpe United in League Two but only managed a measly two league goals in thirty-eight starts. I’m hoping that in a team not struggling quite as much he can score and create a bit more this season. RPW DNA = 56

Last season, Alex Palmer impressed on loan at Home Park. After looking at a wide range of potentially more experienced ‘keepers in the twilight of their careers, none stood out as having the quality that ‘keepers like Palmer did at League One level without paying extortionate wages. Palmer is a safe pair of hands to hold the first-choice position while [Mike] Cooper continues to develop this season. RPW DNA score = 40

The second of two former captains to come in (after the arrival of Perry Ng), I found what should be my final centre back in the powerful Nathan Cameron. Formerly of Macclesfield Town who were relegated last season, Nathan was able to leave on a free to join Argyle. By no means the best centre-back in our squad, his attributes are better than his scout reports suggest and he could definitely do a job stepping in. RPW DNA score = 54

After doing the classic ‘hunt through the U23 squads of Premier League teams to see who has quality and an expiring contract’ I found the best pick was 23 year-old box-to-box midfielder Matt Butcher from AFC Bournemouth. Matt comes in as rotation for Conor Grant on the rare occasion he isn’t fit and firing and has some decent potential too. RPW DNA = 50

Coming in on a free is Danny Rose, a former Mansfield Town striker who has been very dangerous on former iterations of Football Manager. A versatile player, I brought Rose in to play second fiddle to Telford up front but the Yorkshire-born forward could also play the pressing forward role as well as being a great advanced forward. RPW DNA score = 63

Later on the 1st of July, the signing of Tayo Edun was announced on the official site, with the young Nigerian midfielder coming in on a free from Fulham. The 22 year-old had formerly won the U17 Euros with England but had not played very much football for his parent club since then, spending the 2018/19 season at Ipswich Town before being released from Craven Cottage at the end of last season. RPW DNA score = 51

Later on in the day, we received an offer of £125k from Rotherham United for what was our 5th choice centre-back, Niall Canavan. I would be foolish not to take the money for a player who had never been anything other than average, and the strength in depth that we had brought in should help fill that hole. However, despite this I wanted to at least have another player available for rotation to play as rarely as Canavan used to; I couldn’t see 35 year-old Gary Sawyer managing to play as regularly as he used to.

Therefore, in came the second of two former Pilgrims returning! Yann Songo’o signs on a free from Scunthorpe United, who he had only joined from us last season anyway. A tenacious and powerful centre-back with an incredible DNA score, Yann can also play in the defensive and central midfield positions should we face any sort of injury crisis during the season. RPW DNA score = 77

5th July 2020

Although Fletch [Alex Fletcher] had impressed in the second half of last season, it was important that he got some footballing experience at the appropriate level to continue his development. He joins Aldershot Town in the Vanarama National League until the end of the season.

9th July 2020

Another youngster goes out on loan! Luke Jephcott, a talented forward who scored his first two league goals IRL recently, goes to get some more first-team experience at Barrow in the Vanarama National League.

10th July 2020

As announced by BBC Sport, we picked up former Spurs academy graduate Brandon Austin on a free transfer. Before this, we only had Palmer and Cooper as the only available goalkeepers in the whole of the club, so it was handy getting a talented youngster in to the U23 squad as backup should anything happen to our first team ‘keepers. RPW DNA score = 44

24th July 2020

The majority of our senior signings were complete, and barring any last minute changes before the season starts, I was aiming to try and pick up talented youngsters who had slipped through the net. One of these was young Welsh midfielder Ryan Bevan who had come through the ranks at Swansea City. RPW DNA score = 50

28th July 2020

Perhaps I spoke too soon. League One big boys Sunderland had shown an interest in right wing-back Tafari Moore throughout the summer but after offering £210k I couldn’t help but let him go – I liked Moore but he wasn’t worth that much! The transfer window closing date has now changed back to the end of August, so I luckily have the first month of the season to bring in an apt replacement.


Pre-Season

Finally, I leave you with our pre-season form; while we weren’t quite as free-scoring, defensively we were a lot better. We kept clean sheets in 7 out of the 10 matches we played, while we were unlucky not to keep out a rampant Man City side for 90 minutes.


Next time: We look for a replacement for Tafari Moore; we start our season and we hope that no other heads are turned before the close of the transfer window…

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #5 – The Run In

It’s 2020 IRL and we’ve finally finished our first season! If you’ve missed the story so far, you can catch up with the rest of The Pilgrimage here:

My first FM20 save: ‘The Pilgrimage’

Part 1: Welcome Home (to Home Park)

Part 2: Meet the Squad

Part 3: The Season Begins

Part 4: Cup Runs and Festive Fun


Last time out, we made our first signings and encountered a period of poorer form. Could we keep the promotion push going as well as pursuing a cup run and potential trip to Wembley?


February 2020

As mentioned previously, we ended January in fairly indifferent form. Of course we still had the joys of playing against a side we struggled with all season in our first February fixture – Newport County – the one difference here was that we were finally playing them at the Theatre of Greens rather than on a rugby pitch. Despite Argyle rising to the occasion, Dominic Poleon put Newport ahead not long after the half time break, before our Dominic (Telford) equalised with a great finish in the 88th minute. We naturally deserved more and dominated the game, yet we couldn’t get past that mental block of The Exiles seemingly having us figured out. Next, Argyle turned over Northampton Town 1-0 in the Southern quarter final of the Mickey Mouse Leasing.com Trophy, with a semi-final clash against previous winners Walsall later on in the month. Arguably the most important match of the month came in the form of a top-of-the-table game against high-flying Colchester United. Both teams went in level at halfers, 1-1. Cometh the hour, cometh the man: Danny Mayor would then excel in the second half, scoring a 20 minute hattrick to win the match 4-2. You could almost smell the league title coming down the A38.

Two more wins came against Salford City and Cambridge United with an in-form Ryan Taylor and youngster Alex Fletcher getting the pick of the goals while Telford and Rudden went through a bit of a goal drought. Argyle drew twice more in February against two good footballing sides in Bradford City and Crewe Alexandra – two games where we should really have done better but had to rely on the blossoming strike partnership of Taylor and Fletcher to even pick up any points on both occasions. The Leasing.com Trophy semi-final against Walsall was a fiery affair; Argyle went in at half time 1-0 down before pulling two back through the Grants (Josh and Conor). Hope would soon be torn from The Pilgrims’ grasp though as Niall Canavan would be sent off for a professional foul in the 67th minute. Argyle looked like they were to hold on to their lead until the end, but in the 94th minute Alfie Bates popped up for Walsall to equalise 10 seconds before the whistle was blown. The match would go straight to a penalty shoot-out, where despite the heroics of young Mike Cooper in goal, captain Gary Sawyer would see his penalty saved and Walsall would be the lucky team going to Wembley. Despite the disappointment, we would achieve a different feat: Argyle smashed the Sky Bet League Two unbeaten streak, going 28 games without defeat after drawing with Newport early on in the month. The board were very happy and rewarded me with a brand new contract that would now run until the end of the 2021/22 season. Our lead at the top of the table now stretched to 15 points. Surely we couldn’t bottle it now?

Also this month:

  • New contracts for Ryan Taylor, Alex Fletcher and most importantly, Conor Grant
  • An agreement in principle to improve our youth facilities over the end-of-season break
  • A new youth signing by Mickey Evans in the shape of Mylo Hall, a 20 year-old midfielder formerly of West Bromwich Albion

March 2020

March was…mixed. Plenty of highs and lows were had as the new group of youth candidates joined our ranks for the first time. First up was the visit of Macclesfield Town, still bottom of the league and having a torrid time of it. In the reverse fixture, we disappointingly only drew with The Silkmen. Luckily, we stepped up at home and beat Macclesfield 3-1, confirming our place in the Sky Bet League Two Playoffs at worst. Next was an away trip to the Globe Arena to face Morecambe, who had recently gotten a new manager in the inexperienced George Boateng after ex-Argyle boss Derek Adams was poached by Hearts. Despite this being his first game and first management job in England – we finally lost, 2-1. The run of 34 league games undefeated was a hefty one, at least. We managed to pick ourselves up on a Tuesday night trip to Leyton Orient, beating them solidly 2-0 with Adam Randell – one of the surprise stars of our squad – scoring his first league goal for the Greens. Then there was the big one. The visit of ‘them from up the road’, the Devon Derby: Plymouth Argyle v Exeter City at Home Park. If the game wasn’t big enough already, there was the added stipulation that we’d win the league title if we won. Eek.

A mammoth crowd of 17,904 flocked to watch the pivotal match. In true derby fashion, it was a scrappy affair. Chances were few and far between, with niggly fouls from both sides breaking up any real play. At half time, it was still 0-0, with no side really edging it. I gave the classic ‘do it for the fans…’ and one player made it happen. In the 67th minute, attacking the Devonport End, Conor Grant sent a corner kick outswinging to the near post. Jayden Richardson would lose who he was meant to be marking as Josh Grant leapt like a salmon and hit a thumping header straight into the top left corner of the goal. LIMBS.

Argyle would survive a late Exeter fightback and when the whistle left the lips of referee Neil Hair’s mouth in the 95th minute, we knew we had done it – and in style too!

With nothing left to play for apart from Argyle’s 102-point season record, I decided that for the remainder of the fixtures some of my talented youth players would get a chance to impress. That brings me nicely onto…

YOUTH INTAKE 2019/20

Considering Mickey was very much pessimistic about the prospects coming through this year, this wasn’t half bad! Five candidates were instantly signed:

  • Brandon Brown – A left back/left wing back with excellent attributes: none of his key attributes for the role I want him to play were below a 7! An RPW DNA score of 39 also wasn’t bad for a 16 year-old youth prospect.
  • Adam Burton – A pacy striker that would fit very well into the Dominic Telford mould; although a fickle personality wasn’t ideal. RPW DNA score = 46
  • Kyle Horne – Natural in the central attacking midfield and central midfield positions, I decided to re-train Horne as a central defensive midfielder due to his excellent mental attributes. RPW DNA score = A whopping 56!
  • Noah Delap – A 6-foot left-footed centre-back, Delap doesn’t quite have the proficiency for long throws that his namesake does, however his very good defensive attributes and cracking leadership attribute (14) makes him a potential captain of the future (should we manage to keep him for that long…) RPW DNA score = 49
  • Eddie Barry-Murphy – Never trust a man with three first names for his whole name. Barry-Murphy is naturally a pacy left winger, so I have started re-training him as a left wing-back as his attributes aren’t too bad for the position (not quite as good as Brown, naturally, but decent). RPW DNA score = 46

Following the youth candidates match against my under-18s, Evans suggested I also sign Chris Chaplin, Jim Rodger, Richie Hale and Everton Lastic (E.Lastic for short) to bolster the numbers in my youth squad.

The final match of March would be a long trip to Cleethorpes to face a talented Grimsby Town side. Only 6 of the players that played that day were on senior contracts, with the rest of the lineup being made up by some of my U23s and U18s that had trained well that week. Unfortunately I think I made one too many changes: Argyle were trounced 3-0, with young centre-back Mike Peck at fault for two out of the three goals conceded. A rating of 4.8 reflected this. Next month, I knew I would have to perhaps play slightly more experienced players alongside debuting youth players.


April 2020

Although performances weren’t amazing, we managed to go the remainder of the season unbeaten! Against Forest Green Rovers, Ollie Tomlinson and Mike Peck would retain their places in my back line while Joe Lynch (one of the signings by Mickey Evans) and striker Scott Crocker would feature from the youth ranks. Our play was encouraging, and we were unfortunate to draw 1-1 with Forest Green (although Mike Peck had another awful game). Against Walsall, I’d drop Peck in favour of right wing-back Finley Craske who showed a lot more promise in a 2-1 win against Walsall. Zak Rudden would return to scoring form and Danny Mayor would score the pick of the goals with a standard long shot from the midfield wizard. The promise of Walsall disappeared against Northampton Town in a boring 0-0. Words were said, and the next match certainly showed that with a bit of effort, my players can really pull their finger out and go for it.

A 7-2 win against Oldham Athletic was particularly enjoyable due to an incredible FOUR goals from young striker Alex Fletcher (in just the first half, may I add) as well as two from Rudden and one from Conor Grant. The final match of the season would be at home to Port Vale, and was the last opportunity for the lads to send the fans home smiling until next season in League One. Another tradition of mine is if there is nothing to play for by the last game of the season, I will basically sort the squad by average rating throughout the season and play what is essentially my ‘best team’ from the season to send us off in style. Naturally, my two top goalscorers would show up, with Dom Telford and Zak Rudden each getting a goal. Gary Sawyer would return to the starting lineup to lift the trophy in front of a huge 17,284 smiling fans. Not only that, but my Pilgrims side would break a couple of records too: the amazing record of 102 points in the 2002/03 promotion season was smashed and we also set a record low number of defeats with just three league losses in the whole of the season.


End of 2019/20 Season Review

A very good season, right? If I had to judge it against my goals at the start of this save, so far I’m doing ok. We’re playing exciting, attacking football, we’re winning and winning promotion back to where we should be, and I’ve started bleeding some of the youth squad into the first team; local lads who know how important it is to be a Pilgrim. However, the Hungarian link was not here yet, bar a couple of coaches. Luckily, due to my successes this season, the board agreed to expanding the scouting network to the rest of Europe, as well as providing me with these budgets for the 2020/21 season:

Now it’s time for some awards!

Telford would unsurprisingly win the Fan’s Player of the Season AND Fan’s Young Player of the Season, with Mayor and Conor Grant in second and third respectively. Although not winning the favour of the fans, Danny Mayor would win Sky Bet League Two Player of the Year for a second time. Rudden’s Goal of the Month winner would come in third, behind two excellent long shots from Dean Parrett and Scott Cuthbert of Stevenage. Although Telford started the season in potent form, his lack of goalscoring after Christmas resulted in him falling to third in the race for the Golden Boot. Amazingly, six players would get into the Team of the Season: Alex Palmer, Niall Canavan, Josh Grant, Tafari Moore, Danny Mayor and Conor Grant.

In terms of what the board expect from me next year, not much had changed. Their original expectation in the 5 year plan was for us to get promoted in my second season in charge. Having achieved that earlier than expected, the board have asked that we avoid relegation next year and then start to establish ourselves. Personally, I know that the gulf in quality between League One and League Two teams is very small, and therefore I would rather try and achieve more; a mid-table/upper bottom-half finish could definitely be achievable.

One major difference that the board have asked though has been added to the five year plan: to sign players to turn a profit. Naturally, I usually have a habit of buying younger players with a lot of potential who then get snapped up by bigger teams, therefore it will be interesting bringing this into my transfer policy over the summer. This finally leads me onto the next most pressing matter, transfers. While a lot of my squad have admirably done a job this season, many don’t really fit into how I want to play or my style of player. Therefore, I’ll end this post on what will be our list of players that I will be releasing upon the completion of their contracts on the 30th June.

Some of these were easy decisions to make (a lot of the youth players) whereas some of the senior squad took a lot of thought. Byron Moore had a good goals per 90 ratio but didn’t play enough; Scott Wootton never really showed any quality when he played; Joe Riley was very good but essentially more injury prone than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Will Aimson was a great vice-Captain but too short for a centre-back and didn’t play enough; and I will never not love Antoni Sarcevic as a player but he played less than 10 matches this season and was poor whenever he did – I couldn’t justify giving him another contract.


Next time: we make our summer signings.

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #4 – Cup Runs and Festive Fun

Before we begin, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! If you’ve missed the story so far, you can catch up with the rest of The Pilgrimage here:

My first FM20 save: ‘The Pilgrimage’

Part 1: Welcome Home (to Home Park)

Part 2: Meet the Squad

Part 3: The Season Begins


Devon is green and white tonight, and it always will be.

Derek Adams, former Plymouth Argyle manager, Saturday 17th September 2016

As the final few revellers were escorted away from St. James Park, the cries of ‘there’s only one team in Devon’ echoed among the (now deserted) streets of Exeter. For the team boarding the coach back home, this was a great, exciting, new feeling for a lot of the squad: elation at beating Argyle’s closest rivals. Dominic Telford took a last glance through the blacked-out windows of the chartered Target Travel coach before settling down in usual seat: it had been a good day at work for the young striker.

“Well done Dom. I think you could see how much that meant to so many fans,” I told him, shaking his hand.

“Cheers boss, I just want to keep on banging them in now – I reckon this could be the result that kick-starts the rest of an amazing season…”


November 2019

As evidenced above, Dominic Telford was in absolutely electric form. 13 goals in 20 games (and a sneaky one year extension clause put into his contract by previous manager Ryan Lowe) meant that by the start of November, I knew I had to hold tight onto our master marksman. Traditionally, I only normally look to extend contracts around Christmas time so as to avoid any nasty surprises in the January transfer window, however I knew this one could not wait.

The excitable atmosphere that followed the Green Army back down the A38 carried into the month’s fixtures, with no game able to be described as a bore. Although it seemed like the Pilgrims were destined to suffer a post-Devon Derby hangover after finding themselves 3-2 down at half time to Grimsby Town, a completed hattrick from the in-form Dominic Telford in the second half turned the tables in Argyle’s favour. Stevenage were trounced 5-1 but Argyle were then brought back down to earth by a defeat in the Mickey Mouse Leasing.com Trophy by Oxford United. Despite this, we still qualified for the next round and were given a tie against Arsenal U23s. Two tricky fixtures rounded off the month, with both Forest Green Rovers and Bradford City suggested as potential promotion candidates in the real world this season. Expectations were confounded though, as Telford hit four past Bradford in a 5-0 decimation and backup striker Billy Clarke scored his first goal of the season to round off a great performance away at Forest Green.

As you could easily assume, the board of directors were very happy with Argyle being 10 points clear of second place Colchester United by the end of November. Our successes on the pitch were reflected in another (almost) clean sweep of awards: Dom Telford won another Player of the Month award, I won my 4th consecutive Manager of the Month award and Zak Rudden‘s goal against Forest Green Rovers duly won the Goal of the Month award.

It was a cracking goal, with Rudden picking up the ball just inside Argyle’s half, running all the way to the outside of the penalty box and lashing a shot straight into the top corner. Beautiful.


December 2019

An exciting month! December got off to a bang with a televised match against local rivals Bristol Rovers at home in the 2nd round of the FA Cup. (Another slight bit of deja vu in relation to real life: on that occasion, we lost 1-0 in a game that we dominated.) My Pilgrims side fared better than Ryan Lowe’s; a scrappy game against The Gas ended in a 2-0 win which saw Telford and Danny Mayor getting on the scoresheet, Zak Rudden miss a penalty and Rovers’ Luke Leahy be sent off for a professional foul. Spicy. Its a shame the 3rd round draw didn’t result in a money-spinning tie against a Premier League big boy; of course we were given another tricky away trip to Rodney Parade to face Newport County.

A pair of 2-0 wins followed in the league against Cambridge and the league trophy against Arsenal U23s, with the creative midfield talents of Conor Grant and Danny Mayor starting to rear their heads. Scrappy results in the same vein of the FA Cup match would follow until the end of the month: former manager Derek Adams would return to Home Park and his Morecambe side would succumb to a tight 3-2 loss; the Argyle players already seemed to be on their Christmas holidays following a 1-1 draw away to bottom of the league Macclesfield Town and the best result of them all came on Boxing Day away to Cheltenham Town. Dom Telford hadn’t scored in quite a few matches but scored in the 12th minute for a smash and grab against a decent Robins team.

The best result of December however came on the grand re-opening of the renovated Mayflower Grandstand, expanding Home Park to a whopping capacity of 17,904 – a very good size for a meagre League Two side. Stevenage were the visitors once again and lightning struck twice: instead of losing 5-1 like earlier in November, they lost 6-1 to a rampant Pilgrims attacking side, with Byron Moore getting a hattrick, Josh Grant bagging two and a returning Joel Grant finding the back of the net as well.

With the January transfer window looming, I finally got to have my first look at the updated youth intake system on FM20. I wish I hadn’t looked! If I can continue the gain the board’s trust, I would like to then request that they continue to pump funding into our youth academy.

The board would finally reach the A- level of satisfaction with my job performance and I hoped that January’s transfer window would allow me to prove my worth further. It would also be five-for-five in terms of Manager of the Month awards, and a top three full of Argyle players in the Player of the Month award. Taylor and Moore, both normally backup strikers, impressed in December and stepped up as the form of the usually reliable Dominic Telford and Zak Rudden wavered.

Finally, I decided to give out some contract extensions to some of the major players of this season so far, as well as players who had started to show some good potential. Mike Cooper, Joe Edwards, Joel Grant, Danny Mayor, Callum McFadzean, Tafari Moore, Adam Randell and veteran captain Gary Sawyer all received contract extensions until 2021. Jose Baxter had his short-term contract extended to the end of the season and the loan contracts of George Cooper and Josh Grant were also extended until the end of the season.

Going back to the subject of the January transfer window, the main area of the squad I wanted to improve was our centre-backs. While Josh Grant had impressed on loan and the evergreen Gary Sawyer had adapted his game to a central role, Will Aimson was talented but too short (and injured too often), and both Niall Canavan and Scott Wootton were mediocre at best. I didn’t plan on making any permanent signings as a £50k transfer budget would not buy much quality in January for a League Two side.


January 2020

I’m so glad Boris didn’t win the election in this FM universe…

After a strong 2019, the new year almost appeared with a whimper. While January would start with a strong 2-0 showing against promotion contenders Swindon Town, a disappointing 3rd round tie in the FA cup against our bogey team Newport County ended in a 3-2 defeat at home. Ex-Argyle loanee Jamille Matt would score twice against his former team and Dom Telford would miss a crucial point-winning penalty late on. This was disappointing, yet Argyle would continue to struggle: a bore draw, 0-0 against Scunthorpe United and a lucky 1-0 win against Carlisle after Joe Riley went off injured early and was replaced by goalscoring Tafari Moore.

Argyle’s fortunes would improve however with a comprehensive 3-0 win at home in the Dockyard Derby against Portsmouth in the 3rd round of the Mickey Mouse Leasing.com Trophy and were unfortunate to drop points at home to Mansfield in a 1-1 draw. Luckily, next up was an away encounter against Stevenage who the Pilgrims had already trounced twice this season. Argyle would go 3-0 up at half time – completely dominating – yet the Greens completely capitulated in the second half, conceding twice around the 70th minute and then conceding a third in the 96th minute. It’s fair to say the laptop almost went out of the window. I expected the last match of the month, a home encounter against Crawley Town, to hopefully act as an improvement. All I received though was a poor performance with Dominic Telford once again bailing us out late in the second half.

Despite the disappointing form compared to earlier in the season, the board were still pleased with my performance, in particular the recent moves in the transfer window, which we will speak more about below. It is interesting to note that this was the first time since the start of the season that no Manager of the Month, Player of the Month, Young Player of the Month or Goal of the Month awards would be sent in the direction of the South West.

January 2020 Transfer Window

I said that I wanted an improvement to my backline, and Sylvain Deslandes, a 22 year-old French defender on loan from Wolves, answered my call. A versatile player, FM20 describes his best position as left-back. However, used as a ball-playing defender in the same role as Gary Sawyer, Deslandes has a number of attributes that stand out to be successful. Although he gave away a penalty in his debut against Mansfield, he would go on to score in the draw away to Stevenage. An RPW DNA score of 52 is not too shabby should we wish to pursue signing him permanently at the end of the season.

Normally, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to transfers for the first team, U23 and U18 squads. This year, I’ve put a lot of trust into my Head of Youth Development, Mickey Evans, to improve what currently is a mediocre/poor youth squad. Evans would use his new responsibilities a lot and sign an eye-watering four players to the U23 squad – luckily for no transfer fees at all. Here’s some quick summaries of each of his signings:

Rahis Nabi – Free transfer from Alvechurch

A twice-capped Pakistan international, 20 year-old Nabi was signed from Southern Premier League Central side Alvechurch. A creative, attacking central midfielder, he has some interesting attributes in key areas but an RPW DNA score of 35 means he needs a lot of improvement to fit into my squad.

Kelsey Mooney – Free transfer from Hereford

Coming through Aston Villa‘s academy, 20 year-old Mooney shows a lot of promise as an advanced forward and had already impressed scoring 8 in 23 for Hereford in the Vanarama National League North so far this season. With great physical attributes and great finishing, another low RPW DNA score of 33 is the only point of contention for the young striker.

Lewis White – Free transfer from Dulwich Hamlet

Another talented striker from England’s sixth tier, 20 year-old Lewis White came through Millwall‘s academy before scoring 8 in 25 for Dulwich Hamlet this season. Again having excellent physical attributes, his technical skills don’t quite compare to Mooney’s. The lowest RPW DNA score yet of 31 makes me consider what Mickey Evans sees in this young striker.

Joe Lynch – Free transfer from Morecambe

A second midfielder that Evans brought in, the 20 year-old box-to-box midfielder has actually already featured 6 times in League Two this season, scoring a single goal. A well-rounded player, he is the first of the U23 signings that shows a lot of potential in my RPW DNA policy: a score of 56 should take him far in the game.

I’ve covered the ins, now for the outs: at the suggestion of my backroom team, I sent some of my young players out to get some first team experience. Firstly, Luke Jephcott and Ryan Law would be recalled from the inferior Truro City and loaned back out to Chesterfield and Southport respectively for more of a challenge. Young Greek striker Klaidi Lolos would join Law at Southport and Tom Purrington would also join a sixth tier side in Hungerford Town. New signings Rahis Nabi and Kelsey Mooney would be sent straight back out on loan to Vanarama National League sides Eastleigh and Solihull Moors respectively. Finally, my first permanent departure would be made with backup striker Billy Clarke being released at the end of his short-term contract. While Clarke had scored twice in four appearances for The Pilgrims, he never really fit into the way that I play and could not compare to the bountiful options I already have in the squad.


Going into the final three months of the season with a solid 10 point lead at the top of the table gives me a lot of hope, however I also look forward to an upturn in form that will allow The Pilgrims to gain the promotion that was a best-case-scenario at the start of the season and potentially even a continued cup run if luck favours us in the Leasing.com Trophy.

Next time: the season one run-in; we see our youth intake properly for the first time and we could have a trip to Wembley…

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #3 – The Season Begins

If you’ve missed the story so far, catch up with the rest of The Pilgrimage here:

My first FM20 save: ‘The Pilgrimage’

Part 1: Welcome Home (to Home Park)

Part 2: Meet the Squad


‘Twas the night before Crewe away and the new season was almost here. Not a Pilgrim was sleeping, probably due to that same old fear: since I started watching Argyle (all the way back in the 2003/04 season), the mighty greens had only won 37.5% of their opening day fixtures. Considering this was the start of a new regime, I wanted to get off to a winning start. I’d decided my team (the usual RPW FM method of starting my ‘strongest’ possible squad for the first five matches before considering any changes) and was feeling cautiously optimistic about the tactic. As I walked out into the packed Gresty Road stadium, the huge away following reminded me of the immense expectations of each and every Argyle supporter. Lilian and the team took seats in the dugout; I preferred to anxiously stand, suited and booted, hoping and praying for a blessing from the footballing gods.

The whistle blew, and Argyle dominated from the outset. Many set piece opportunities were provided but even more ended in a blocked shot or a rushed clearance by The Railwaymen. The breakthrough came in the 19th minute, and it was a strange one: An in-swinging free kick from the right wing by Josh Grant met the head of on-loan Rangers striker Zak Rudden, resulting in the ball hitting the crossbar, bouncing off of the line, hitting the far post and bouncing back into the goal. I couldn’t complain, despite the strangeness of it! The first goal of the RPW FM reign had been scored, and it wasn’t to be too long before the score would be doubled. Tafari Moore knocked a through ball forward from Argyle’s half to a great run by Dominic Telford, who out-muscled Christian Mbulu before rounding a stranded Will Jääskeläinen and knocking the ball into an empty net in the 54th minute. The Pilgrims would continue to dominate, offering a number of dangerous attacks and would comfortably win 2-0. Away from home. On the opening day of the season. It already seemed that this Argyle side would buck many an unfortunate tradition.


August 2019

August went far better than I would have predicted. An opening day win at Crewe continued with a packed-out Home Park crowd watching an entertaining 2-1 win against Colchester. We were brought back to reality away at Newport where we were completely outclassed for 90 minutes, scraping two lucky goals but ultimately being defeated by the better team on the day. The Pilgrims would then put a welcome end to another tradition – losing when playing on Tuesday nights under the lights – by defeating Salford and then Walsall, keeping two clean sheets in the process. August ended with a very comfortable away win at Sixfields Stadium where Northampton succumbed to a 3-0 rout.

The Plymouth Argyle board wanted me to at least reach the second round of the Carabao cup to try and get one of the Premier League ‘big boys’ back to Home Park. League One AFC Wimbledon would be Argyle’s first scalp of a potentially lucrative cup run, yet a disappointing bottling happened in the second round when Colchester got their revenge for earlier that month: a comeback for The U’s from 2-0 down followed by a win on penalties. Despite this, I was very pleased with my first month as Plymouth Argyle manager. A spell of strong early season form saw us shoot straight to the top of the table, and it was my full intention to make that spot our own.

The board were also pleased with my first month, satisfied that I was keeping on track with the club vision and the strong teamworking culture I had cultivated in the dressing room. I could only hope that the good form continues and morale does not plummet.

To add to the achievements, Zak Rudden’s free-scoring August resulted in a League Two Player of the Month award to go alongside my Manager of the Month award.

Tactics – The RPW FM 5-1-2-2 DM WB

As evident from my August form – the tactic seemed to be going well. However, despite dominating a lot of games we did not seem to win comfortably over a 1-goal margin. My attacking tactic of getting the ball wide to the wing-backs and crossing it into the box for my strikers to finish was evidently working, however many shots were blocked or misplaced. As a result of this, I decided to try adding the instructions ‘work ball into box’ to improve shooting opportunities and ‘higher tempo’ so that my players shoot as soon as the perfect opportunity arises rather than dithering on the ball.

I am naturally a perfectionist and so I couldn’t see past the performance against Newport, despite an almost-perfect August. As you can see above, the Exiles completely dominated, scoring many goals from set-pieces and took full advantage of poor positioning from my defenders, in particular Tafari Moore at right wing-back.

In the first set of images you can see a goal scored as a result of a free kick by Newport. Zak Rudden has been given the instruction to mark Joss Labadie but pretty much runs for the hills as soon as the kick is taken, leaving Labadie completely unmarked to poke it home past Palmer. In the second set of images, Tafari Moore is in the completely wrong position following a short corner, leaving Ryan Haynes completely unmarked again. Over the next month, I will be attempting to resolve my defending from set pieces and find that difficult balance between my attack-at-all-costs style wing-backs and some resemblance of defensive positioning.


September 2019

What’s that saying about form is temporary, class is permanent? Argyle during October could definitely argue that both form and class are permanent: an unbeaten month led to another Manager of the Month award and the board continuing to be pleased with what the team were doing on and off the pitch. A young Hammers side were completely dominated in the Mickey Mouse cup Checkatrade Trophy and Argyle would go on to improve throughout the month, with the highlight being a tricky away trip to promotion contenders Mansfield Town resulting in a 3-0 win, with Conor Grant, Tafari Moore and club captain Gary Sawyer getting the goals.

However, there was always going to be that one niggling problem that I would see through a sea of positivity: Danny Mayor. A player that I had highlighted previously as being one of our vital assets and arguably the best midfielder in League Two had just not gotten firing yet. Up until this point, I had played Mayor in as close to his real life role as I could, a mezzala on support duty to link up with Callum McFadzean on the left wing. Unfortunately, while the front line and defence shone in my 5-1-2-2 DM wide system, the midfield were often getting a bit lost – none more so than Danny Mayor. The midfield maestro would frequently receive 6.6 match ratings and would just seen uninvolved. I even experimented with changing him into a mezzala on attack duty but he still went missing in games. Looking at his key attributes, Mayor would also very much suit an advanced playmaker on attack duty. I decided to give the large role shift a try and observe it over the following month.

The board continued to be pleased with what was happening at Home Park, and my efforts were recognised again with a League Two Manager of the Month award.


October 2019

The tactical change certainly paid off: Danny Mayor had finally arrived, and did it in style with some stupendous rockets from outside the box against Carlisle in a 5-1 obliteration, in particular. A personal highlight for myself though had to be the Devon Derby. A match that in ‘real life‘ ended in a 4-0 capitulation by Argyle ended very differently under my control. Argyle dominated from the outside, with an early Dominic Telford goal setting the tone and the Pilgrims were unlucky not to score more.

The good form would continue; Argyle would remain at the top of the SkyBet League Two table for a third straight month, and suddenly dreams of something more than just a simple play-off push seemed far more achievable.

The board were even happier. Getting into the second round of the Mickey Mouse cup Checkatrade Trophy meant that another objective had been ticked off for the season, with only a league play-off push and reaching the second round of the FA Cup remaining. I was very pleased to make it a hattrick of Manager of the Month awards but arguably more pleased with the recognition of Dominic Telford as SkyBet League Two Player of the Month. Telford and Rudden had been a lethal parternsip so far, scoring over 20 goals between them by the end of October! If they continued this rich vein of form, there would be no reason why we couldn’t make this a season to remember…


To summarise the first three months of the 2019/20 season, it’s safe to say I didn’t really have cause for complaint yet.

Next time: the start of the FA Cup; the Christmas run-in and the excitement our first transfer window in January.

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #2 – Meet the Squad

You can find the introduction and part 1 of The Pilgrimage here:

My first FM20 save: ‘The Pilgrimage’

Part 1: Welcome Home (to Home Park)

Not long after Gaz [Sawyer] left the room, Lilian, Ákos, Rory and I re-convened in one of the many modern meeting rooms of the redeveloped Mayflower Grandstand to meet with my Director of Football, Paul Sturrock, about the state of our squad; strengths and weaknesses, etc. My aim was to have players that are capable of reaching the play off berths we were expected to meet by the end of the season. I also wanted to start off playing exactly how I do with Plymouth Argyle on every new Football Manager edition: I try to best recreate how the current Argyle manager in real life is playing; in this case Ryan Lowe’s attacking 5-3-2/5-1-2-2. I don’t like to keep a large squad, but to have at least enough depth to have the possibility of two players per position on the pitch (with a couple of youth candidates sprinkled on top).

The tactic I will begin with, along with the ‘Best XI’ judged by my AssMan, Lilian Nalis

First up (naturally), the first team squad.

First Team

My ‘RPW DNA’ view is used here to analyse how players fit into my philosophies as well as dynamics

As stated in the caption above, I am a very demanding manager: not only do I expect enough depth to have two players per position on the pitch, but I also would prefer players to fit my ‘RPW DNA‘ (inspired by real life club DNA and the excellent ‘fibra’ from FMGrasshopper). These are all mental attributes that I believe are most important for us to create the perfect, cohesive unit in which players will put their bodies on the line for each other and play with a relentless drive for success. These are bravery, determination, teamwork and work rate. Just like FMGrasshopper, I wanted my more experienced players (25+) to have an total of 60 across the four attributes, while players between the ages of 18 and 24 require a total of 50 across the four attributes. Players from the Argyle academy have until the age of 21 to reach the magic 50 marker otherwise they will be sold or released. Secondary to this are other things I consider important, which include height (I love a team of giants, yet can never explain why), leadership and place of birth/favourite clubs. This final area is key to one of my aims outlined in The Pilgrimage’s introduction: bring through youth that are from the local area and are as die-hard fans of the Greens as their manager is.

Ones to Watch – Zak Rudden

Zak Rudden, a 19-year-old Scottish striker on loan from Rangers, is the player who fits my required RPW DNA attributes best: a total of 63 across the four attributes is not too shabby at all, especially for a player at the relative start of their career. Through pre-season, Rudden seemed to be the ‘danger man’; playing as an aggressive pressing forward he was the top scorer during the preparatory matches.

Ones to Watch – Danny Mayor

How do you solve a problem like Danny Mayor? Arguably the most talented (and definitely the highest paid) player in League 2, Mayor has gained a reputation of being a creative, game-changing midfielder who linked well with the attacking wing-back system at Ryan Lowe’s Bury last season. However, playing Mayor in the role he plays in real life for Argyle – a mezzala-esque drifter linking well with McFadzean at LWB – has been fairly uneventful so far. I will continue to try and find the best position for our star player but with an RPW DNA score of only 43 and a huge contribution towards the collective wage bill, it may be that I consider getting rid of the magician before I’d originally expected.

One for the Future – Mike Cooper

‘Super Cooper’ has been one of Argyle’s greatest young talents on the past few iterations of the Football Manager series; twice he has taken me to the glory of the Premier League and has often found more immediate success at Championship level football. Strong RPW DNA is a good foundation for the young goalkeeper to build on and a first season as second-choice goalkeeper should allow the Exeter-born player to grow throughout my first season in charge.

Summary

There is a clear lack of depth kn the left wing-back position and more strikers than I can shake a stick at

This season’s squad is not a bad one by any means. 62.5% of the first team squad fit the RPW DNA mould and there is a lot of promise in a lot of the key positions in my tactics. However, there are clear and obvious areas that the previous manager, Ryan Lowe, missed out on. There is no one apart from Callum McFadzean to play at left wing-back apart from Gary Sawyer and he is far too old and slow to play the constant up and down the pitch game anymore. We also have far too many strikers than we need; Ryan Taylor and Zak Rudden fit the bill as far as pressing forwards go and Dominic Telford and Byron Moore are talented advanced forwards. The other strikers (Billy Clarke and Joel Grant) unfortunately just don’t fit my tactic and aren’t particularly strong in RPW DNA. For now, I have Grant training as a backup left wing-back and Clarke is rarely playing at all.

Under-23s

The under-23s were described as a ‘decent’ squad by my backroom staff: there are definitely some players with some potential but it will be interesting to see who makes it. Across the board, most players have excellent RPW DNA and I can definitely see good potential in these players:

One for the Future – Adam Randell

Filling in for an injured Jose Baxter during pre-season, Randell filled the hole left by the defensive midfielder seamlessly and slotted straight into the first team squad easily. Following these talented performances, under-23 manager Kevin Nancekivell recommended that Randell be given a chance in the first team, while also making him available for U23 matches.

One for the Future – Luke Jephcott

Currently on loan at Southern Premier League South side Truro City, Luke Jephcott is a player that in the past has featured more prominently as a striker but more recently can be found on the wings playing as an attacking midfielder. The image above raises a number of questions for me: 1. If Jephcott is one of my top prospects, is he making enough progress at Truro? and 2. Where should I retrain him, as I don’t play with attacking midfielders at all?

Under-18s

To quote my backroom staff again, there is little to no quality currently in my small under-18s squad. Therefore, I have left Mickey Evans, my Head of Youth Development the task of hunting for talented youths to fill the ranks, make offers and negotiate contracts before I have the final say on whether the player will make the cut. The only issue is that I set up the save with the first transfer window disabled, and therefore will not see any new young player appearing in the academy until January 2020 at the earliest.

Pre-Season – A Summary

Pre-season left me feeling optimistic: over the space of 10 matches, Argyle only failed to score in 1 of the matches (against the might of Dynamo Kyiv) but I would have liked to have kept more clean sheets. I had noticed that while we had little trouble scoring, the high defensive line and my slower centre-backs often left my goalkeeper exposed to one-on-ones (which luckily are so awful so far on FM20 that my goalkeeper hasn’t conceded too many from these opportunities.)

Thanks again for reading – next time, the season begins.

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #1 – Welcome Home (to Home Park)

If you missed my introduction to this series, you can find it here:

My first FM20 save: ‘The Pilgrimage’

“Morning gaffer,” cried the unmistakable cockney/Devonian hybrid accent of Gary Sawyer, my club captain, as I walked into my brand new office in the depths of the renovated Mayflower Stand. Gaz had been a long-serving soldier of many past Argyle regimes, and I saw it fit for a player of his experience and understanding of what it is to play in the green and white to be able to pass this on to some of the newer and younger lads less familiar with this in the dressing room.

“Good morning Gary, and thank you for coming in for this meeting. I thought it would be useful to give you the low-down of what I and the board of directors expect from us this year, which you can then pass on to the rest of the squad.”

“Firstly, as you know I am RPW FM and I have been a life-long Argyle fan like yourself. I am 22 years old and despite being young and inexperienced, I know this club inside-out and know what we need to do together to bring Argyle back to where they belong. In terms of qualifications, I hold the Continental A License and do plan on pursuing the Pro License when Simon [Hallett, chairman] gives me the opportunity to. I’d say that my strengths can be found in a number of areas, in particular coaching defending and nurturing and developing youth. I want you and the lads to know that you can come to me with anything, because us being cohesive as a team – staff and players – is what will make Plymouth Argyle Football Club successful again.”

“In terms of tactics, I am very much a fan of the ‘score more goals than them’ mentality; I love attacking, entertaining football and equally it is exactly what the board want to see happening during my time at this club. Regarding our targets this season, I know that you should not have been relegated last season. A team with that many star players like Graham [Carey] and Ruben [Lameiras] should not have gone down. I won’t stand for players ‘downing tools’ like a lot of you did. We need to make our way back up the pyramid and fast: therefore, the board of directors and I expect us to at least qualify for the play-offs this season. If we can supplement this with a couple of decent money-spinning league cup and FA cup runs we’ll be in a fantastic place for achieving our targets.”

At least they aren’t expecting anything from the Mickey Mouse cup (Checkatrade Trophy)

“Thanks for letting me know, boss,” Gary replied, before pulling a quizzical face and asking, “Just a quick question though, how come I saw some familiar looking cars in the car park this morning? I could have sworn one of them was Ákos’s and that Range Rover looked just like Lilian’s?”

A wry smile appeared on my face upon hearing the question. “Well, I grew up adoring the teams you used to play with when Argyle were back in The Championship. While you’re still playing, a lot of your former teammates are starting to pursue their own careers after hanging up their boots and so I brought a few in to form my backroom staff! I’m sure you’ll see the familiar faces of Lilian, Ákos, Rory, Krisztián, Romain, Nick and Lee around Home Park over the next couple of days – they all seemed just as excited as me to get started!”

“Cheers boss, it will be great to see them again!” he replied, “I’ll go and speak to the lads now, thanks again for taking the time to let us know your plans for this season. I’ll see you in training later!” With that, he shut the door to my office and walked back over the road to the Life Centre.

My Backroom Staff

Assistant Manager – Lilian Nalis

I believe it was the great B.A. Billy Gunn entrance theme that said ‘I’m an AssMan’, of course, referring to the second most important role behind the scenes at a football club, the assistant manager. After looking through a long list of Argyle legends, I had to go for the one man who had experience in this role while also being a hypnotising midfield metronome in his playing days.

Director of Football – Paul Sturrock

Despite being out of the managerial game since 2015, I had to bring back one of Argyle’s most successful former managers as a DoF to mentor me through my first years as a manager. While I will take control over the majority of club responsibilities, ‘Luggy’ will ease me through the more tedious jobs such as staff contracts, managing scouting etc.

Head of Youth Development – Mickey Evans

The first of two manual additions to FM20’s database is ‘Trigger’ himself, Mickey Evans. One of my aims in this save is to bring the local lads through, like Mickey himself, and link the emerging first team with the local community. ‘Trigger’ embodies all of these things and he justifiably becomes my HoYD.

First Team Coach – Ákos Buzsáky

I had to, didn’t I! The former Hungarian international and man that I once (and still) idolised joins the RPWFM background team as a coach, after an unsuccessful first stint in management in the third division of his native Hungary. Hopefully Ákos will be able to find better luck back home at Home Park, especially coaching with a former teammate in…

First Team Coach – Rory Fallon

…former New Zealand international, Rory Fallon! With this being his second stint as a coach (after a short time as player/coach for Truro City), Rory leaves behind his fledgling ice cream business to get back into the game that he truly loves.

First Team Goalkeeping Coach and First Team Fitness Coach – Rhys Wilmot and Chris Neville

Completing the ‘inner circle’ of my coaching team is Rhys Wilmot, one of the remaining members of staff from the previous Argyle regime and Chris Neville, a former England fitness coach.

Other notable staff members:

  • Chief Scout – David Friio (former Argyle midfielder and Forest, Man U and St Etienne scout)
  • U23 Manager – Kevin Nancekivell (the only other remaining member of Argyle staff before my time)
  • U23 Assistant Manager – Krisztián Timár (former Argyle defender and Hungary international)
  • U23 Goalkeeping Coach – Romain Larrieu (former Argyle goalkeeper and President of the the Argyle Fan’s Trust)
  • U18 Manager – Nick Chadwick (former Argyle ‘striker’ and former Wigan U18 manager)
  • U18 Coach – Lee Hodges (former Argyle utility man and former Truro City manager)

Thank you for reading – next time, the squad details.

My first FM20 save: ‘The Pilgrimage’

“Same old bleddy Argyle”

A frequent saying, heard during the stresses of many a Plymouth Argyle match

It had to be done, didn’t it?

Predictable – I know – yet after considering for a long time what team I could possibly manage for my very first ‘blogged’ Football Manager save, there could only be one team for me: Plymouth Argyle; the Pilgrims; my beloved Green and White Barmy Army. Traditionally, Argyle are my usual Beta save for each new game in the Football Manager series. Seeing as I am not starting FM20 until its full release, I felt I had to go for something familiar, while also making sure I picked a team that I knew I could feel passionate writing about. The reality is that the relationship you have with the football club you follow through thick and thin goes far further than passion – each game leaves you feeling a multitude of emotions. And boy, being a Plymouth Argyle fan has left me feeling so many highs and low(e)s in recent years.

Plymouth Argyle – A History

Plymouth Argyle squad 1903-04, courtesy of Greens on Screen

Founded in 1886, Plymouth Argyle are a professional football club based in the South-West of England in Plymouth, Devon (The biggest city in England yet to have a football club feature in the English first division). Traditionally floating between the second and fourth tiers of English league football, ‘Argyle’ are a club that found their best successes during the late 2000s under the stewardship of Bobby Williamson, Paul Sturrock and (the often divisive amongst the Argyle fanbase) ‘Hollowords’ – Ian Holloway. The club plays at Home Park, otherwise known as ‘The Theatre of Greens’, an 18,600 capacity stadium in Central Park, Plymouth. Known as ‘Argyle’ to anyone from Plymouth and bearing the nickname ‘The Pilgrims’, Plymouth Argyle are a club with huge potential despite being stuck in a peninsula away from the footballing hubbub of the rest of the country.

Plymouth Argyle first formed in 1886 under the name Argyle Football Club and first played a competitive match in October 1886 against Caxton, a team from Cornwall. In true Argyle fashion, we lost our first match 2-0. After mixed fortunes on the pitch, Argyle FC disbanded and reformed numerous times until reforming under the name ‘Plymouth Argyle Football Club’ and turning professional in order to join the Southern League in 1903. The Pilgrims would then go on to win the Southern League in 1913 and entered the Football League Third Division as a founding member in 1920.

Argyle famously toured South America in the mid-1920s, going toe-to-toe with the Uruguayan national team and winning 4-0 (a mere six years before La Celeste would go on to be world champions) as well as pulling off a shock win against the emerging Argentinian national team, 1-0. The Pilgrims would later go toe-to-toe against Argentinian giants Boca Juniors, drawing 1-1 before pitch invasions results in the match being abandoned.

Gaining a reputation as a ‘yo-yo’ club for the next 50 years, Argyle would rise as high as 4th in the Football League Second Division (to date their highest ever league finish) and yet frequently turn back into a third division side; a league cup semi-final loss against Leicester City in 1965 was a rare highlight. A monumental crowd of 37,369 witnessed arguably the upset of the century when a Pelé-led Santos lost to Argyle in 1973 at Home Park 3-2; an event that my dad, 16-years-old at the time, still talks about now.

Gaining a reputation as a ‘yo-yo’ club for the next 50 years, Argyle would rise as high as 4th in the Football League Second Division (to date their highest ever league finish) and yet frequently turn back into a third division side; a league cup semi-final loss against Leicester City in 1965 was a rare highlight. A monumental crowd of 37,369 witnessed arguably the upset of the century when a Pelé-led Santos lost to Argyle in 1973 at Home Park 3-2; an event that my dad, 16-years-old at the time, still talks about now.

The highlight of the 1980s was an FA cup run in 1984 (while Argyle were still in the third division), culminating in a semi-final loss against Watford, a feat that would only be equalled once more in the ‘modern’ era of Plymouth Argyle. The 1990s were full of ups and downs for The Pilgrims, with Argyle continuing to fluctuate between the second and third divisions of English football under the leadership of England’s all-time record cap holder, Peter Shilton. Argyle would go all the way to Wembley Stadium for a play-off semi final (to be promoted to the second tier) against Burnley – the Clarets would go on to win and a rivalry would start between the two clubs.

Neil Warnock would go on to be the next ‘major player’ in Argyle’s history, taking over in 1995 and bringing play-off glory in his first season, returning to Wembley and winning 1-0 (along with promotion) against Darlington; a result which wrote midfielder and goalscorer Ronnie Mauge’s name in Argyle history books forever. A year later, ‘Colin’ was gone – sacked – and managers Mick Jones and (club legend and all time appearance holder) Kevin Hodges followed as The Pilgrims would be relegated back to the basement of the football league, what was at the time known as the Third Division.

Argyle found themselves suddenly in footballing and financial turmoil until Scottish manager Paul Sturrock took control of the Greens in November 2000 and saved Argyle from relegation out of the Football League. The next season, they would go on to finish the season with a club record 102 points to clinch the Third Division title and would even narrowly miss out on promotion via the Second Division play-offs the following year. Sturrock would surprisingly leave for Southampton before the end of the 2003/04 season, with Bobby Williamson taking over for the final promotion-clinching game of the season against Queens Park Rangers at Home Park: a 2-0 win and the very first time I watched Plymouth Argyle.

The Pilgrims finished 17th in their debut season in the newly-branded ‘The Championship’, yet a lack of success at the start of the 2005/06 season resulted in a P45 for Williamson, with Tony Pulis taking over and playing what many fans considered ‘boring’ yet functional football, steering The Pilgrims to a 14th place finish. Pulis would soon be off back to previous club Stoke City though, opening the door for ‘Ollie’, Ian Holloway. Holloway immediately swept fans off their feet, saying all of the right things and proving it on the pitch: Argyle were playing attractive attacking football and would finish the season in 11th place. The Pilgrims would go on to make an excellent start to the next season, with ‘Ollie’ re-stating his love for Argyle and his intention to have a long and successful reign at Home Park. Then:

Holloway resigns as Plymouth Boss

BBC Sport, Wednesday 21st September 2007

shortly followed by:

Leicester appoint Holloway

BBC Devon Sport, Thursday 29th September 2007

The Green Army were furious. To add insult to injury, Holloway’s free-spending in combination with a lack of due diligence from the boardroom spelled financial turmoil again for Argyle. The one positive: the ‘larger’ club that Holloway left us for, Leicester City, would later be relegated under ‘Ollie’s stewardship; it seems karma does exist. However, the damage had already been done. Luggy – Paul Sturrock – would return for a second spell in charge of Argyle and keep them adrift of the Championship relegation places over the next two years before another club legend, Paul Mariner, took over for the 2009-10 season. Argyle would fight admirably but ultimately finished 23rd; relegated from the second tier of English football after a six-year stay.

One former England international would replace another, with Peter Reid taking over from Mariner for the 2010-11 campaign. The season would start brightly, yet inconsistency would kick in quickly, followed by troubles off the pitch. Argyle were provided with a winding-up petition by HMRC before Christmas, followed by the club issuing its intention to appoint administrators in March 2011. The Pilgrims would find themselves docked 10 points for going into administration. The final nail in the coffin would appear a few months later, with Argyle’s relegation to League Two confirmed. Reid was sacked, with club captain Carl Fletcher taking over as caretaker player/manager. This was a new low for Argyle, and a huge hangover after a decade of progress and highs.

James Brent’s Akkeron Group would be the club’s saving grace: the businessman completed his takeover on Halloween 2011 and Argyle would go on to narrowly avoid relegation out of the football league completely, finishing 21st in League Two – the lowest finish in the club’s history. Fletcher’s next season in charge would be just as inconsistent and he was replaced with John Sheridan, a manager who managed to steer the good ship Mayflower away from relegation-threatened waters over the course of three seasons. The highlight coming in Sheridan’s third season where a late play-off push would result in a pair of play-off semi-finals against what we discovered were the masters of the footballing dark arts, Wycombe Wanderers.

Sheridan would leave by mutual consent before the start of the next season, with relatively-unknown Scottish manager Derek Adams taking charge of the Green Army. Crucially, Adams would bring with him some hidden gems of players with him from the Scottish league, the most important being Argyle’s talisman and playmaker Graham Carey. Inspired by Carey’s magic on the ball as well as the defensive structure built up previously by John Sheridan, Argyle would go on to compete in the League Two play-offs, drawing the first leg at Fratton Park 2-2. The second leg at Home Park would prove a cagey affair, with both sides going close for 90 minutes, before centre-back Peter Hartley (who had been described by Pompey’s Gary Roberts as a ‘yard dog’ in the build-up to the match) bundled in a header from a 91st minute corner. Cue what many call ‘absolute limbs’. Argyle were going to Wembley, was this the start of Plymouth Argyle’s resurgence? To put it simply, no. 34,023 Argyle fans would travel to Wembley stadium to watch Argyle try to win promotion against an over-achieving AFC Wimbledon yet the Pilgrims did not seem to turn up at all. They lost 2-0, and many key players of the Sheridan era left following the disappointment. Adams would have to be more ruthless next season to go one better.

‘Del Bey’ would do better next season. Argyle would go on a tremendous run, winning promotion with an incredible 6-1 win against Newport County and have the opportunity to win the title on the last day away to Grimsby Town. Of course Argyle did an Argyle though, losing to Grimsby while the previous season’s play-off semi-final rivals, Portsmouth, would go on to win the league on goal difference despite Argyle being in the driving seat.

Argyle’s first season back in League One in 7 years started badly – Argyle went without a win for a long stretch at the start of the 2017-18 season but turned their form around after Christmas to fall just short of a League One play-off place, finishing in 7th. American-based yet Plymouth-born businessmen and Argyle fan Simon Hallett would later take over from James Brent, becoming majority shareholder, offsetting previous debts and paying for the refurbishment of the Mayflower stand at Home Park.

You’d like to think Adams would learn from the shortfalls of the first half of the season and re-do whatever went right in the second half of the season yet Argyle started dreadfully in the next season too. It took them 12 matches before getting their first win of the season. However, the 2018-19 season did not take a miraculous turn like the previous one; a combination of poor recruitment, alienating man management and stubborn tactics led to a complete team breakdown, with players that previously seemed to ‘fight for the badge’ downing tools under Adams, resulting in an appalling must-win match against Accrington Stanley turning into a brutal 5-1 defeat. Hallett pulled the trigger and sacked Adams and assistant manager (and formed club captain/legend) Paul Wotton in order to stand any chance of defying relegation on the final day of the season against fellow strugglers Scunthorpe United. In what resulted in a very controversial match, Argyle triumphed against adversity to win 3-2. Despite this, AFC Wimbledon and Southend finished on equal points yet above Argyle on goal difference; Argyle finished 21st, relegated as a result of their poor goal difference.

Argyle’s playmaking powerhouses Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras would soon follow Adams and Wotton out of the door; Carey would move to Bulgarian First League mainstay CSKA Sofia to play in the Europa League and Lameiras would return to his native Portugal and play for a team called FC Famalicao, a club not expecting to pull up any roots yet at the time of writing are 3rd in the Primeira Liga. The Pilgrims had a summer of rumour and speculation about who the next manager would be, with the bookie’s favourite being young Bury manager, Ryan Lowe. Lowe’s Bury side had just won promotion to League One, however the Shakers’ financial troubles were very public and by the start of the 2019-20 season, Lowe was now the manager of Plymouth Argyle and Bury were expelled from the English Football League due to unpaid debts and poor ownership. Lowe would bring many of his Bury squad to Home Park, as well as an attacking ‘we’ll score more than you’ philosophy that would rely on the attacking wing-backs in his tried and tested 3-4-1-2 to batter teams into submission.

My Aims

In this save, I have a few core aims that I will be looking to achieve that will shape the way I manage Plymouth Argyle:

  1. Bring back the good times

‘Bringin’ on back the good times, takin’ away the pain’

The Love Affair, 1968, a song often played after many a win at Home Park

My very first memory of Plymouth Argyle is the promotion party of 2004, and my childhood was filled with the joys of seeing my team play fantastic football in the Championship, unearthing absolute gems of players such as Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Yannick Bolasie and coming very close to the ‘promised land’ of the Premier League. Therefore, my main goal is to make sure that Argyle at least return to where I believe they should traditionally be: the second tier of English football. Despite this goal, I do not want to make the awful mistakes of the board at the time of these ‘glory days’, I will not financially mismanage the club and will continue Simon Hallett’s philosophy of self-sufficiency.

2. Develop youth

Although Argyle have never had the most fantastic youth academy, Argyle went through a period of promoting many youth players to their first team throughout my childhood, with captains such as Wotton and Nelson coming through the youth ranks to lead their boyhood clubs. With the last few IRL managers neglecting youth, my management should (hopefully) bring a new dawn and a focus on bringing through talented youngsters from around the South West.

3. Restore the Hungarian link

My favourite EVER Argyle player is Hungarian midfield maestro Ákos Buzsáky. Argyle went through their ‘glory days’ of the Championship with a core of three Hungarian players playing for the club at different times during the 2000s: Ákos Buzsáky, centre-back Krisztián Timár and winger Péter Halmosi. This link to the Magyars seems to have been severed, and it is my full intention (when possible) to expand my scouting range to Hungary and pick up some unheard of diamonds in the rough.

In summary, thank you for reading my very first (and very long) blog post. I’m very excited to start this save and hopefully show you why I love this little old club on South-West coast. I’ll leave you with the profound thoughts of Paul Whitehouse, and his viral (in Plymouth, at the least) advert from 2009: