The Football Manager Random Number Challenge – The Hawthorn in your side, ep 3.

If you didn’t read the first two instalment of this grand adventure, pre-season and our first 5 league games, here’s how this whole thing goes.

I have 8 formations

  • 2-5-3
  • 3-4-3
  • 3-5-2
  • 4-2-4
  • 4-4-2
  • 4-5-1
  • 5-4-1
  • 5-3-2

A random number generator (random.org, henceforth known as RANDOM) picks one for me before each game. The idea is that I’m not great at this game anyway, so how much worse can I be if I pick a system out of the hat each week?

Pre-season didn’t go well, winning against the reserves, but losing to Leipzig and drawing with Chaves (second division Portuguese side), Morecambe, and Alfreton.

Our start to the league didn’t go much better. In fact, quite a bit worse. We got trounced by Norwich, drew with Swansea, before further trouncings by Manchester City, Spurs, and Everton. In between we did get a win in the League Cup, but only against Bury.

I’ll be honest, this is going to be a bit of a whizz through till December as I’m a) not sure how interesting this is b) in trying to concentrate on creating the tactics, I forgot in places to take screenshots of them.

We start off against Crystal Palace and I decide it’s wise to ask my staff for some advice. Hoddle (remember how I hired him as Director of Football) reckons I should try and control the game, and who am I to argue.

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We established in episode 2 a trend of conceding early, and we’re true to form here. Pocognoli inexplicably fails to put any pressure on a marauding Kelly down Palace’s right flank, and he puts in a wonderful cross for Adebayor to nod in at the far post. 5 minutes and we’re 1-0 down.

An insight into my notes: “6 – Jesus it nearly happened again”. HOWEVER, in the 17th minute we strike back and score just our third league goal of the season – Rondon (again with Rondon scoring our goals) gets across his man to knock in from a Pritchard cross.

After 20 minutes, we’ve already picked up 3 yellow cards. I tell our wide forwards to mark Palace’s full-backs out of possession, and allow our wide midfielders to stick to their wingers, and this makes a bit of a difference. Within the space of a couple of minutes after the half hour mark we miss a sitter and hit the post.

However, we then start to stop tracking players again, and Bolasie scores. Berahino equalises in the second half and in the 65th minute we go ahead for only the second time in 6 league games. It didn’t last. Bolasie equalises in the 79th minute. A win would’ve been huge. But we go on.

RANDOM gives us a 5-4-1 for the League Cup game against Chelsea.

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It’s only the cup, so I’m not too fussed with losing 2-1. For once, I wasn’t ashamed of the performance – Chelsea’s second came from a blocked cross which Myhill bizarrely decided to dive for, leaving an open net for Hazard to tap in to. Berahino got injured towards the end and would miss the next game against Newcastle, for which RANDOM gave us a 2-5-3.

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There was a slight change from the previous 2-5-3, this time with twin false 9s and this worked well. For a bit. By half-time we were 5-2 down, and we’d been out of it since the 38th minute when Newcastle got their 4th. Olsson had an absolute shocker of a half, but the rest of the side joined in and we ended the game scoring a consolation penalty to bring the score to 8-3.

Losing 8-3 to Newcastle. Bloody hell. (Bizarrely, on the shot stats, we were down 20 to 24 on all shots and 9 to 13 on shots on target).

Against Bournemouth we had to play a 5-3-2.

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After the terrible goal-fest of Newcastle, this was a terribly dull game which we drew 0-0. I think it was the first time we actually out-shot a team though, so in a sense it felt unfortunate that we didn’t get a lucky bounce to give us some hope for the season.

RANDOM gives us a 4-2-4 (for Dickens’ sake) to work with against Watford.

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Evans is playing through a strained wrist. Not that it makes much of a difference, as we’re 4-1 down before half-time. After getting one back to have made it 2-1, Deeney scored a small worldie from 25 yards and then, well…

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See, what happened here was that a long ball came across to Deeney, who Evans apparently took out. The ball rolled to Jurado who *shrugs*. Rondon scored in the 65th minute and it finished 4-2.

After the match, Jeremy Peace calls me into his office.
“What went wrong against Watford?” he asks.
“The players.” I say.
“Yeah, fair enough, they were ****”. I’m warming to, and grateful for, Peacey.

Against Leicester, I decided to go above and beyond what a normal player of a video game should have to do to come away with 3 points.

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Behold, my masterplan (below, in FM version).

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AND. IT. WORKED.

The combination of Yacob as deep-lying playmaker and Berahino as poacher just made Wes Morgan feel like a very old man indeed. We scored going over him for our first, from a new corner set-up for our second, and from a fantastic team goal for our third, all before half-time.

Leicester came into it a little more in the second half, having some genuine chances, but we were far enough ahead that I didn’t care. Our first win of the (league) season. We’re now in touching distance of other clubs, after looking like we might have been 6 points off safety after ten games.

We could build on this in our next game against West Ham, RANDOM giving us a 3-4-3.

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Our central midfield pairing didn’t have a good game at all, but it was 2-2 until the 51st minute, when McManaman, subbed on for an underperforming Pritchard, got the wrong side of his man in chasing back and gave away a penalty. Most of our long balls were ending up with West Ham, maybe in hindsight a symptom of Sessegnon and Berahino being 2 of our 3 up front to aim for. In truth, we couldn’t really complain about losing, but after the start we have it was very tough to take.

To make it even tougher, our next three games were not particularly easy. United at home, Arsenal away, and Liverpool at home. However, our previous run of games gave me a little bit of hope. In our first 5 in the league, our shot difference per game was -8.6 and shot on target difference was -6, from which we understandably only got 1 point. Abysmal.

In the 6 league games since there was barely any difference at all, -0.1 shots per game and -0.6 shots on target per game from which we got 4 points. You know what, I feel like 0.66 points per game isn’t a fair return from that. Maybe we’d pick up some unexpected points against the big guns.

Spoilers: We didn’t.

RANDOM, quite nicely for once, gives us a 5-4-1 to play United with.

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It looked alright for the first half hour, but United hit the bar off a corner, and Smalling gets to it on the other side of the goal to head it across the face for Martial to tap in. We have a small handful of good chances in the game but none go our way. We were soundly outshot though, 8-19 on all shots and 2-6 on shots on target.

4 points off safety now, and Arsenal (and, thanks to RANDOM, a 4-2-4) are unlikely to get us any closer to 17th. I forgot to take a screenshot of it, but it was similar to the one against Watford, which I’ll repost below.

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This time though I decided that I’d turn the two ‘main’ strikers into a defensive forward and a false nine, hoping to drop into the hole between the lines and cause some trouble, and allowing the attacking inside forwards to overlap.

Jonas Olsson, playing this time in the 4-2-4 instead of Craig Dawson, had another shocker, responsible for Arsenal’s first and gifting them a penalty which was mercifully saved. We were in the first half, but not the second, conceding a second on the hour. The game only finished 2-0, and we did manage to limit Arsenal, but we also didn’t muster a single shot on target.

Peacey wants to speak to me again. My virtual Movembered face stares back at me as I click my way into his office.
“What went wrong?” he says.
“Arsenal were just really good,” I lie.
“Nah,” Peacey’s not having it.
“They were!” I lie again.
“Yeah, alright.” Peacey’s a sound bloke.

RANDOM gave us a 4-5-1 against Liverpool, and quite frankly I’ve never been able to work that formation into anything good. I’m not entirely sure why. I tried a Christmas tree. It was a bad idea.

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Liverpool exploited the gap we left down the flanks all game, even if the score doesn’t reflect it. Foster was out, somehow, with a neck strain, but for once Myhill wasn’t responsible for either goal. Liverpool were up 2-0 at half-time. With 20 minutes to go I stick ‘early crosses’ on the team tactic, and it pays off with 5 minutes left, but it’s only a consolation.

Our next game is a six-pointer and local derby against Villa, but first Peacey calls me into his office again.
“Why are the team playing so ****?”
“I’ll improve things, mate.”
“Alright, good to hear.”

RANDOM gave a 4-2-4 against Villa, and I played the same system as against Arsenal, which I again forgot to screenshot. Attacking full-backs, 2 CMs doing something or other, 2 attacking forwards, and a defensive forward and false nine.

We’re down 1-0 within the half hour, Foster saving a shot and parrying straight to Gestede. Ten minutes later Rondon has a shot saved and then his rebound saved, but in the 41st minute we equalise, Sessegnon with a wonderful cross across the six-yard box to Berahino.

We get a warning just after half-time, lucky that an Ayew goal is offside. On 55 minutes Lambert goes off injured with a torn groin, meaning Brunt gets subbed on for him at defensive forward as I’d already taken off an underperforming Rondon at half-time.

But on 70 minutes, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Our centre-backs part like the Red Sea for a pass to be played through to a surging Harrison Reed, Ben Foster decides not to do a thing, and Villa are ahead, seeing out the game 2-1.

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(This is how far Reed managed to get *without even touching the ball* on that pass, and it rolled about another yard before he shot).

Sunderland are up next, another key game in the relegation dogfight, winnable points for us to try and get our head closer to the surface. We’re 7 points away from safety, Sunderland just above the drop zone. Must win.

But before we can get RANDOM to pick our formation, the squad comes knocking on my door. They’re not happy with my management (neither am I). I apologise for being crap, and some of them accept this and some don’t. James Chester comes to me a little later, asking for more game-time – I promise it to him, and it turns out that he’ll start the next game anyway after Olsson gets an injury.

RANDOM dictates that I must play a 2-5-3, and I’m hopeful. Sunderland aren’t good and I think we can pull them around a bit with twin false nines either side of a more advanced forward again (though, again, I fail to take a screenshot of the tactic pre-match). Due to some injuries I’ve promoted another couple of youngsters; Tahvon Campbell starts as the right-hand forward as a false nine and central midfielder Samir Nabi is on the bench.

We start well, Pocognoli slicing a cross from the left into the top corner on the 24th minute. Campbell has played the ball cross-field to him, so technically that’s the youngster’s first ever assist on his debut. On the half hour, my assistant says that we’re lucky to be ahead given our lack of shots, and he’s right. But ahead we are.

Up until the 56th minute, when Khazri gets on the end of a cross. We’ve had a lot of the ball in advanced areas but just haven’t managed to create enough chances. Just under 10 minutes later Berahino scores an offside goal, and in the 73rd minute Tahvon Campbell *so* nearly scores his first career goal. A minute before the end of the game, James Chester scores, but it’s offside.

In the 91st minute, Pocognoli renounces his defensive duties, failing to track Seb Larsson who puts Sunderland ahead.

In the 93rd minute, the entire team renounces their defensive duties and N’Doye (WHO IS CARRYING AN INJURY) grabs Sunderland a third. It ends 3-1.

I resign.

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I leave the Baggies 10 points away from safety after just 16 games, and I truly am sorry. I learnt things about setting up sides from the exercise, but stand by my bitter opinion that Football Manager is virtually unique in gaming in terms of the lack of help it gives you to succeed (though I am aware that switching tactics every week and playing 4-2-4 doesn’t help).

We possibly deserved an extra point here or there, taking the nearly half-season as a whole, but truth be told we were crap.

Apart from the losing, this is a fun (if time consuming) challenge, though I’ve thought about taking 4-2-4 out of the formation list given that you can’t play wide players any further up than the attacking midfield line. Interestingly, my last attempt at this challenge (with DC United) ended after 3 blog posts too, though at least then I made it into a second season.

I had been planning on ending this third post after the tough run of games, but had played on to the point where I’d resigned and couldn’t bear prolonging it any further. I’m gone from the Hawthorns, but long may my myth live on.

One of these days I might do one of these that goes beyond three posts in a series.

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One thought on “The Football Manager Random Number Challenge – The Hawthorn in your side, ep 3.

  1. Pingback: From me this month… – December 2016 | Every Team Needs A Ron

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