Football’s Coming Home

So here we are, the summer of 2006. Britain basks in a heatwave, the Queen celebrates her 80th birthday, Gnarls Barkley is number one and the World Cup finals are being held in England. The scene is set for the first English triumph in 40 years, and yours truly has been tasked with making it happen.

Not a great start

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It’s OK though, plenty of cup triumphs have begun with false starts, right?

Our Doncaster connection puts us back on track in the second group game at Highbury

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We’re still waiting for a big performance to announce our arrival in the tournament. It came a few days later

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With those 4 goals, Scholesy draws level with Jimmy Greaves as England’s all time third top scorer.

A comfortable passage through an easy group. Most of the big names made it into the round of 16, except from group H

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Four years ago Spain made the final in Japan, this time around they were on the plane back to Madrid on the back of 3 straight defeats.

World Cup fever was gripping the country, and the draw for round 2 only increased the excitement

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Brazil hadn’t won the trophy since 94, but they had an attack which could outscore anyone on their day. Ronaldo, still the best striker in the world; Denilson, formerly the world’s most expensive player; and the current highest valued player in the world Joilton

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Gulp… tough draw for us. We won our group but the fact is that it doesn’t matter how well we play if those three turn it on

Here’s our starting line-up

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Our attacking four can rival anyone in the world. We’re a bit light in centre-midfield though, and Matty Upson is no-one’s idea of a world class full-back (I actually dropped him on the day of the match!)

In the end it was a comfortable 90 minutes. Michael Owen turned provider with 2 assists. A goal in each half sent us into the quarter-finals and the Brazilians to Heathrow for an early flight homeengbra

The other big story in round 2 was France, dispatching Holland with ease and starting to look ominous

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Trezegoal, Anelka and Kanoute are a frightening prospect.

Who will we get in the quarters?

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The auld enemy! On paper quite an easy draw, but imagine being knocked out in our home world cup by the Scots. Germany Italy should be a good’un too.

After days of hype, the game began and we had a catastrophic start. Just 7 minutes in, Doncaster midfielder Paul Barrett brought down Alex Martin in the penalty area, penalty to Scotland and red card to Barrett!!

Star Scotland fullback Euan Bradford made no mistake from the spot

We played OK for the rest of the half, but we were missing the injured Paul Scholes and despite creating a few chances we never looked like scoring.

With time running out, we turned to Robbie Fowler off the bench and Rangers forward Carl Samways, playing arguably the biggest match of his career.

With 10 minutes left, Samways pounced on a Scottish mistake to pull us level. At full-time the momentum was all on our side, despite having played most of the match with 10 men

Sure enough, in extra-time Alex Notman scored a dramatic golden goal winner (from a Samways through ball) to send the country into riotous celebration and the Scots into misery

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As you can see, we rode our luck and had Richard Wright to thank for a series of great saves in the first half

Germany Italy was as tight as we expected

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John Toshack’s first tournament as Italian manager ends in the quarter finals but he can’t be too upset with that. In the words of Gary Lineker “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

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An emotionally and physically drained England squad made the journey up to Manchester a couple of days later.

This time we managed to last until the 9th minute before a red card and penalty decision went against us. Today’s villain was Barrett’s team mate Riccardo Ludlam

Trezeguet buried the penalty and from that moment on, there was only one winner. France were a different proposition to Scotland and with an extra man they dominated from start to finish

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1 shot on goal versus 19. Even with 10 men that’s pitiful. Riccardo Ludlam becomes the number one hate figure. Following Sven’s footsteps I urge the nation ‘not to kill him’, although to be honest I feel like strangling myself… should’ve started Michael Duberry and Rio in the centre instead..

With the home nation out, all eyes turned to Germany. They won the last international tournament in England and were favourites to do so again

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Sure enough, Anderlecht striker Jorge Seitz scored a golden goal in the first minute of extra-time to send the Germans to a final date with France

Before that, there was the 3/4th place play off to get out the way. A bit of an anti-climax. Only 4 shots on target in the whole 120 minutes. David Beckham ballooned his penalty in the shoot-out (sound familiar?) and the Belgians took bronze

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Germany vs France in the final had all the makings of a classic. The two best teams in the tournament by far, and it lived up to its billing.

Lars Ricken had a penalty saved by Christophe Revault early on.

His miss was punished when David Trezeguet scored yet another goal to put the French in front. When Martin Djetou scored a second after 56 minutes, France had one hand on the cup. Until…

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Substitute Marcel Ketelaer, a full-back plying his trade at PSG was the unlikely hero as Germany completed a remarkable turnaround

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Jorg Seitz had a season for the ages. Belgian League, Belgian Cup, Champions League and World Cup Winner. He scored in the World Cup Final too. Still can’t get into our team ahead of Erik Nevland though

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He didn’t win European player of the year award though. Oddly this honour went to a player beaten in the World Cup Final and the Champions League semi-final by Jorge Seitz and co

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(How is Anelka winning those awards ahead of Ronaldo & co?)

With that, I’m off on a well-earned summer holiday!

 

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Champions of Europe

Here we are again, the 2005/6 season is done and dusted and there’s a lot to talk about…

ITALY

Starting in Serie A, we pulled out a big performance to defeat Inter and knock them off the top spot in early Feb

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We were still alive in Europe after a tight two legs against Derby

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We also got arguably the best draw in the Semisuefasemi

But we were beginning to struggle with a crippling injury list. Games like this didn’t help

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A monumental effort to grind out 3 points with 9 men on the pitch by the end

The injuries and suspensions were beginning to take their toll. We were one up in Holland until our goalie was sent off and Paciorek put away the penalty

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Two more injuries and we were struggling to put a fit team out. In the end we fell short

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Juve didn’t have much problem with Feyenoord in the final, although the red card helped. (Florio was released on a free at the end of the season despite his heroics. I put in a generous contract offer, but he ended up at Inter – like everyone else)

Talking of Inter, another cup win for the neroblu

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Our crippling injury list and fixture backlog meant that Inter narrowly beat us to the league. Another double for Luigi Simoni’s unstoppable force

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Still, year-on-year improvement for i grifoni…maybe next season…

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Freddie Kanoute is the goalscoring superstar we had needed to take us to the next level

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The likes of Christophe Eberl, Daino, Valois and Sandreani missed large parts of the season through injury. Hopefully keeping them fit next year, our youngsters getting a year older and a couple of big signings will be enough to win us the scudetto

ENGLAND

Man United reached their sixth league cup final in nine years. A tight match was decided by penalties. Alex Martin, ex-Anderlecht striker missed the decisive spot-kick

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As expected, we cruised to promotion, a run of defeats near the end made it look closer than it was

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The real excitement for us came in the FA Cup. After seeing off three Premier League Clubs (Boro, Birmingham and Hull), this happened

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A semi-final against my old team. Doncaster were well clear at the top of the Premier League, and still had basically the same XI which I left them with.

A massive task was made even harder when we got a red card after just 8 minutes

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Despite being a man down and a goal down at half-time, we fought back in a courageous second half90mins

Extra-time couldn’t seperate us, so it was up to the Stadium of Light for a replay

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Doncaster’s class told in the end, but a hugely encouraging cup run showing that we can mix it with the best in the Premier League already.

Rovers made short work of Spurs in the final

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Remember Alan Shearer took over at Liverpool? Let’s check in on him quickly

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The less said the better

Joe Kinnear completed a double in his first season in charge. A first league title for Cup specialist Kinnear

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Under Bryan Robson’s management, Spurs have established themselves as a power in the Premier Leaguespuors

Not sure about his first transfer market move of the close season though. What has Eidur ever done to justify that fee?eidureidur3

We’ve got a few good players (mostly Doncaster bench warmers) who will definitely be good enough for the Premier League, we need to strengthen our defence though and Mikael Landreau has been a real disappointment in goal

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BELGIUM

Excitement in Brussels was building about our European cup run. Arsenal were dumped out at Highbury thanks to a late goal from German striker Jorge Seitz

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PSG have knocked us out before, but we’re a better team now and I don’t think they are as good..

As it turns out, we battered them at the Parc des Princes. Our captain Dmitri de Conde ran riot

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A memorable night, and even better than one of our few Belgian players made the difference

The second leg was a formality, and of course we all know who we will be playing in the final

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The League and Cup were wrapped up with minimum fuss

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De Conde again, as Aalst are blown away in 5 first-half minutes

So it’s Belgian double-winners against Italian double-winners. A fitting climax to the club season.

They’re fearsome opponents

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My Doncaster team last year were the only team to beat them in Europe for 5 years.

We’re not bad either though, we came into the game on the back of one defeat in 47 matches.

Here’s my starting eleven. More or less at full strength, bar an inury to Rio Ferdinand

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Jason Revelles is the rock of our defence, 25 years old and captain of France. Angelo Sala is just 23 and often captains Italy. Erik Nevland scores close to a goal a game and you’ve all seen what De Conde is capable of. Kim Ottesen in goal has developed into a world-class player (as you’d expect from Schmiechel’s regen)

In a season of unfortunate red cards, we got another on in the second half. Andrea Gennari against his compatriots (I end up selling him to Inter in the summer).

Not only is it a red card, but a penalty and a chance for Ronaldo to put his side one nil up..

Incredibly he skies the penalty! Then when multiple European player of the year Morten Carlsen does have the ball in the net five minutes later, it is disallowed.

Is this going to be our year? After 120 minutes, this is the final score120minscl

And so to penalties.

I’m fairly confident with our penalty takers, the only issue is who will take the all important 5th kick. In the end I go for Jason Revelles, he may be a centre-back but he’s got a shot on him and I think he’s the man to turn to when we’re under pressure

Inter’s penalty takers are just as good. The first three up for them are Ronaldo, Carlsen and Trezeguet. Ronaldo doesn’t miss a second penalty, but Kim Ottesen pulls off a great save from countryman Morten Carlsen!

Our penalties are flawless, and with the score tied at 4-4, Jason Revelles has the chance to win us the cup with big ears for the first time.

What was I doing giving a centre-back the responsibility?clfinalwinners!

Champions! Kim Ottesen and Revelles are the heroes of the shoot-out as we become the first Belgian team ever to win the biggest trophy of them all!

Here’s the squad which led us to glory

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De Conde was our star performer, but everyone played a part.

And here’s my new man crush…revelles

When it comes to goal-scoring, it’s all about one man

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All this and a World Cup hosted in England still to come! Before I leave you, I nearly forgot the Cup Winners Cup. cwcsemicwcfinal

AIK continuing the strong Scandanavian showing in Europe, but Sporting Lisbon winning the final in Glasgow in a role-reversal of the Lisbon Lions..

Here’s the squad which I hope will emulate the legends of 1966 and take us to World Cup victory

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Stars of CM9798 – No. 3 – Man United’s Youth Team!

The class of ’92 were in many ways a one-off, but the creators of CM97/98 weren’t to know that. They evidently assumed that every young player coming out of Man Utd in the following years was going to be as good. This means that at the start of the game there is a group of potentially world class players sitting in the stands under Alex Ferguson. If you’re managing a small club, they might not come to you straight away, but give them a year or two of festering in the United reserves and you can pick them up at a decent price. They’ll be stars for a decade or more

WHO ARE THEY?

Macclesfield Town's Graham Tomlinson
Graeme Tomlinson

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Erik Nevland

Alex Notman - Manchester United Youth 12/4/97 Pic : Stuart Franklin / Action Images
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Wes Brown

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John Curtis

Curtis, Notman, Tomlinson and Nevland between them only played a total of 15 league matches for United, while Wes Brown of course was a regular in the United defence for years. There are a few other decent young players at United when the games starts: Wellens, Brebner, Pilkington and Cooke to name a few, but these 5 are the players who can go on to become world class.

WHAT ARE THEIR VITAL STATS? notman nevland curtis browntomlins

In CM9798, Tomlinson actually starts on a free transfer, make sure he’s the first player you sign up when you load the game for the first time…

HOW’RE THEY DOING IN THE CURRENT GAME?

The moral of this story is that you have to give them the game time. The longer they go without playing, the more their ability will drop and the less chance they have to fulfill their potential. My current game is evidence of this, Erik Nevland has gone on to become one of the most feared strikers in Europe

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Wes Brown, on the other hand is languishing in League 2

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But take a look at his stats for this season…the first time he gets a regular run in the team he dominates..

Graeme Tomlinson should never have left Doncaster the first time around. I resigned him when I reached the Premier League, but he never established himself in our starting line-up

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Alex Notman is England captain and a star for his club

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He’s now worth 9.5 million and has still got years ahead of him

John Curtis is the most frustrating. He often turns out to be the best of the lot, a defensive colossus and long-term captain of England and your club team, but he never got a run of games this time around

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I’ve signed him for Chelsea in the hope that it’s not too late for him to blossom. Only 86 games in 9 seasons though…sad waste of talent (serves him right for ditching me for Liverpool back in 2001)

For what it’s worth, two other United youth players, Richard Wellens and Grant Brebner have also had decent Premier League careers

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So in conclusion, sign Tomlinson on a free and play him. Keep an eye om when the other youngsters become available, buy them and play them. You’ll either turn them into world-beaters or sell them at a decent profit..Or of course you could start the game at United, take over from Sir Alex, and try to create a class of 97 as succesful as the predecessors from 5 years previously

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And so the decision was made, the dice were cast. Here is my new squad

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Yep, turning my back on a young, motivated world class group of players for this lot… At least there’s a couple of decent central midfielders, and Isiah Rankin played for me at Doncaster during our rise through the divisions. The only player left from the original Chelsea squad is, weirdly, Bernard Lambourde

Who would replace me at Doncaster? A media frenzy ensued, but in the end there was only one choice…

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To be fair he did a great job at Wimbledon and has had some cup success at Anfield. He plays a 4-3-3 direct system, which will be interesting to watch with the likes of Owen, Mattar and Sirakov up front

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And look who takes over from Joe at Anfield…

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Big Al at Liverpool. It didn’t take long for him to start selling their best players

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Shocked that I got him for such a great price to be honest. He’s a nailed on starter in the centre of our defence.

Talking of managers, early in the next season this happened

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Yep that’s Neville Southall, back to back UEFA cup winner in the Old Trafford hot-seat. After Sir Alex’s failure in charge of the Azzuri, the Italian FA controversially turn their back on domestic managers and go for Ferguson’s replacement at United. Hmm…

So the English big 3 are now managed by Southall, Shearer and Kinnear, who would’ve predicted that 10 years ago? Also Sir Alex is unemployed, so there will be a few managers around the world looking nervously over their shoulders

And those managerial changes aren’t even the wackiest thing to happen

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Yep that’s Steve McManaman, still a regular in my England squad. The prospect of being managed by Shearer must’ve *really* frightened him. I’m not picking him for England again, out of principle

Oh yeah I forgot the end of season awards

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An Anderlecht clean sweep, and Anelka’s Champions League record winning him the prestigious European award

Another record-breaking transfer in the summer

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Josico’s a striker with a goal a game record for Spain. Real need someone to bring back their glory days. They’ve been knocked out in the CL group stage in 6 of the last 7 seasons

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Meanwhile we had another flying start in Italy

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We’ve finally got a proper striker, so we’ve got a better chance of keeping our form going

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(Not all those goals were for us mind, we bought him 6 games into the season)

Let’s quickly drop in on the Championship, first time I’ve been managing there for a few seasons, and hopefully we won’t be there for long

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We’ve brought and sold half a squad so far, channeling my inner Harry Redknapp

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A few returning old boys in there, including Champ Man regular Tom Youngs, as well as Justin Slade, Alec Barron, Kris Pihaama and Mikael Landreau from Doncaster

Anderlecht were, inevitably, drawn against Doncaster in the Champions League group stage… with surprising results

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Not an easy group, but we dominated it. Our reward is a home time against the English champions

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Oh and we navigated the first few rounds of the UEFA cup easily enough as well

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Neil Warnock’s Derby are second in England and will be a stern test in February.

Meanwhile, the excitement was building for the 2006 World Cup Draw. England, you remember, are hosting and I’m the manager tasked with winning our first international trophy in 40 years.

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I’m not sure if that means we’re the 3rd best team, or in the third group of seeds.. Either way, we got lucky when the names were drawn out

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There’s no easy games at this level and all that, but seriously, if we don’t win that group then I need to resign.

Before I go, a few managerial changes in Italy to update you on

laziosack lazionewmanager torocarlo

Toro have been a much better team in recent years than Lazio, so I’m surprised Silvio made the move. Even more surprised that Carlo was managing Norwich. When did that happen? And how did that happen? Back in a big job now though with back-to-back UEFA Cup Winners Torino as they attempt to regain some ground on runaway leaders Genoa…

Titles decided, managers moving on?

Welcome back! Loads to update you on, so let’s get the League Cup out of the way

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A sign of United’s ongoing decline. They never lose domestic finals, let alone getting outplayed by a team like Derby. To be fair to the Rams, they’ve established themselves as a top-6 side under Neil Warnock, so the result shouldn’t come as a massive surprise

Meanwhile, Rovers were getting ready for the big one. A Champions League semi against this

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Multiple European player of the Year Morten Carlsen was injured for the two legs, but that’s still quite a team. Internationals from 1 to 16, led by Italian captain Roberto D’Aversa. Luigi Simoni’s men had won the last three Champions Leagues and were looking to become the second team since the legendary Real to win 4 in a row

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I felt we could match them. Sure, not quite the same star quality, but our midfield and forward line is as good as anyone.

At half-time, it was going well. Daniel Sirakov had latched on to a Zizi Mattar knock down to put us one-up, a vital away goal

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But then..

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Two yellows and Zizi is taking a long lonely walk down the tunnel. We played on with no recognised attacker on the pitch

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A fantastic, and well-deserved win! Ronaldo & co barely got a ick

The focus on the Champions League was affecting our league form however

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The second leg was even better

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Our right and left-back both went off injured, and one of our centre-backs Riccardo Ludlam took a bad knock but soldiered on. Michael Owen started in place of suspended Zizi Mattar and scored a memorable hattrick. Four goals from English players too…

Milan await, we’ve got to be full of confidence after becoming the first team in 4 years to knock their neighbours out of the Champions League

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Our Italian cousins showed us how it was done

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AZ pulled off a shock in the UEFA semis, thanks to a little known player by the name of Ruud Van Nistelrooj

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And Birmingham continued their push for back-to-back Cup Winners’ trophies, while AGF shock Bologna

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An injury crisis was threatening to tear our season apart

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A series of shaky results left us on the edge

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Arsenal and United’s game in hand was against each other. A draw or United victory would have been ideal

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Hmm, Brian Little’s men are one game away from an incredible come back

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Fair play. An amazing turn around by Brian Little. Arsenal had been muddling around in mid-table under Arsene Wenger. A watertight defence and some quality up front was enough for them to finish above us and win the league

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We threw it away really though

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Losing at Orient!

At least matters went smoothly in Belgium

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That was Bruges’ Orient moment!

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Whoop!

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Finally….Oh and make that a double

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Talking of throwing things away, let’s take a moment to admire the UEFA Cup Final

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Guidolin has to be worried about his job. He has taken Lippi’s all conquering team and taken them to top-6 UEFA Cup wannabes.

Atalanta won a crazy Coppa Italia final

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With Genoa looking good for a top-6 finish, Atalanta were going for a double. They had finished 2nd five years ago and had their team picked apart by the traditional big clubs. Modonico had rebuilt though, and they looked even better 5 years on

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Last game agony for the Bergamaschi though, Italian international Bellucci’s miss cost them the title

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Inter win the Scudetto again, some consolation after their defeat in the CL semis

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Not bad for Genoa eh? By far our best performance and hopefully something to build on next season.

The FA Cup Final is a League Cup re-run, trophy to Toshack this time though

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And the Euell-Ikpeba double act do it again

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And so, here we are

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Anelka suspended, same as our number one striker Zizi Matter. Here’s our XI

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Mattar, Notman and our right-back Piacentini all miss the game. Michael Owen is just back from injury and only at 80% fitness, so it’s certainly not our strongest line-up

The first-half is eventful

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I’m hopeful there’s another goal there if we keep playing. Trouble is, there’s not much on the bench to replace Owen when he starts to tire

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Mikael Landreau gives away, then saves a penalty. In the end it is beyond us, it could’ve been a different story with a full strength 11

Runners-up in Europe and England. In the aftermath, this happens

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Chelsea had crashed to a 4-1 defeat on the final day of the season and were relegated as a result. Could it be time to move on from Doncaster?

chelseamanagerWhat to do?! It feels like an obvious time to leave Doncaster and take up a new challenge. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare without me, but will I be stuck in Division 1 for the next three years watching my Doncaster boys rule Europe?