Wait did he just say season 3? Why is this the first we are hearing of things?
Well…..I had every intention of blogging this save, but for one reason or another I’ve just not got round to it or felt the vibe of creation, attempts will be made at going backwards, but there wont be much visual content.
Anyway where was I, we go into the 3rd pre season having qualified for the Europa League Qualifiers, starting in round 1 we would have to see ourselves through 4 games to get to the group stages, never in a million years did I expect us to make it but hell I’m gonna try.
It has taken a season and a half to gain support from my players and truly get the dynamics of the squad ticking. It was not made easy by a group of influential players, luckily for me in 18 months no one really impressed so I have taken the bold decision to remove them from the squad, this could backfire but it could also be the start of building my own team that all believe in me, remember, I’ve got no badges and Sunday league exp still.
At the point of writing this the pre season has just ended but included no fewer than 13 games, some of which included Europa League and the NIFL Charity Shield, Its been a hectic but fun journey.
My Assistant Manager sets up my friendlies for me and it would seem this year saw a tour of England and Scotland, first 2 games would see us play Scottish opposition in Dumbarton and Partick Thistle, we won the first but saw a tough 4-1 against Partick, our pre season games were very broken up by European competition but that gave me time to try out some of the youngsters in the squad, with each time of asking we saw the team grow on the pitch, this peaked with a 7-0 battering of Stenhousmuir and also saw victories vs Stoke and Newcastle U23 squads.
We were not expecting big things coming into this competition, but the board wanted to see us make the next round, no pressure then, first up to the plate was Shkendija from Macedonia, the trip there was nerve racking, 3 years ago I had no job and here i stood in a continental competition. In what was an end to end game, we flew home having just scraped a 4-3 win on foreign soil, an advantage that gave us confidence in the next leg. Once we got them back home we took a further 1-0 victory and the boards expectations were met, but we were not done there.
The next round saw us paired against Belgian team KV Mechelen, my first reaction was that this would be the end of the road, this time the first leg was at home, it was important to keep tight at the back, any away goals would cripple us, thankfully we finished the 90 minutes 2-0 up and we went to Belgium with a clean sheet. Even with a 2 goal advantage I was not confident with the away leg, again a first choice team were sent out to our surprise we ended up winning the tie 3-2 on the night 5-2 on aggregate.
If the 2nd round wasn’t a tough enough ask, a tie vs Steuea Bucharest was really going to stretch us. As you can imagine spirits were high in the dressing room, no one really knew where we could get with the competition. A 5-1 rout in Romania saw us comfortably beaten by our opponents and left us all but out of the tie. Even resting all my players in the charity shield didn’t help and another 3-1 loss at home saw us thrown unceremoniously out of the competition, but the money made and the experience gained was second to none.
As if the schedule wasnt hectic enough there was the small matter of the season opener between league and cup winners, the task of beating Linfield was a reward, as mentioned above we had no choice but to play a fully rotated squad, my fringe players all given one last shot to impress me before the league began, boy did they respond no less than a 5-1 victory saw us storm home and bring back the first bit of Silverware of the season.
Sorry this has been an unorthodox blog, mine normally are, its been a really busy pre season but i feel really confident for the season ahead, we need to get a solid start, but we did that last year we need to put in the effort all season long if we want another crack at Europa qualification, this year we will do it by league position not via the cup win, not that i would complain at the added Silverware.