This time last season we were sitting in 2nd place with top of the league very much within our reach. This year it’s a different story with a much more realistic scene set as we start the end of season run in 7th place with our focus on securing a chance at Europe via the playoffs.
After our KNVB Beker exit to PSV we stumbled into February ever so slightly with draws against De Graafschap and FC Utrecht. A 3-0 win over Vitesse marked loanee Capanni’s first, second and third goals for the club! Heracles put us to the sword in an uninspiring performance before we bounced back to beat FC Twente thanks to Brahim Diaz. Shall we call that month a ‘mixed bag’?
15th of March is known as the Ides of March and, due to the assassination of Julius Caesar, is often seen as the turning point in Roman history. Without wishing to be too dramatic, I feel that 14th March was our very own Ides of March this season. Toothless performances against AZ and Feyenoord were the last straw for the flat 4141 this season. The wide midfielder moved up to the AML/R positions and this was the key in our victory over Willem II. We couldn’t quite follow it up against PEC Zwolle but the wheels of tactical change had been set in motion.
PSV stole the points at Philips Stadion thanks to a Maxi Romero strike after a mere 13 seconds – we fought well for the next 89+ minutes but found Jeroen Zoet in inspired form in the PSV goal. Hamit Altintop missed a late penalty against VVV-Venlo to deny us a superb comeback victory before Brahim Diaz almost single-handedly destroyed MVV. The MVV game was also notable for a first senior league goal for Sjoerd van der Lei – I’ll resist the chance for a second ‘sword’ pun in this post. The victory over N.E.C. secured 6th place for us in the league and a spot in the European Playoffs.
We went one step beyond our achievements last year by reaching the final only to be outdone in a Noorden Derby by sc Heerenveen. We went into the final having to rotate our squad thanks to an injury to Brahim Diaz and U20 international call ups for Ludovit Reis and Gabriele Cappani – three players who have been integral in our squad this season. A 90+3 winner from Morten Thorsby in the first leg left us chasing it in the second leg. Worse still, by half time in the second leg we were 3-0 down on aggregate. A late fight back was not enough and I didn’t even bother t celebrate our summer signing flop Simon Makienok’s first goal for the club – in the 90th minute of our last game of the season.
So a 6th place finish – 2 down from last season – but we were just one step away from European qualification this time. I’ll count that as progress on the league front. We need to be more clinical in the second half of the season though, that’ll be key to how we progress from here.
Three players were released at the conclusion of their contracts: Gerald Postma, Daniël van Kaam and Julian Chabot. None of them ever really came close to being first team regulars so this barely counts as news, does it?
19-year-old striker Anders Faester had the 1 year contract extension clause in his contract triggered midway through the season but I now regret this as I don’t feel he’ll ever feature for the seniors. Back up goalkeeper Jan Hoekstra signed on for another year in more uneventful news. Sorry.
There was no ‘golden generation’ this time around in the youth intake. It was actually fairly disappointing and, as such, I only signed up 3 players to provisional pro-contracts. Defender Stan Tol, midfielder Roy Vink and striker Levy Smith. When it comes to youth intakes, I will only offer provisional full-time contracts – not youth contracts – and only to players who I feel have potential to be off youth. I don’t see any benefit in padding out my youth team at extra cost with players who will almost certainly be released in due course. Not at this point in the process anyway.
End of season stats and awards
It’s hard to argue with the game’s interpretation of our Best XI for 2019/20. Warmerdam was missed at full back while I think if Capanni had signed on earlier in the season he would almost certainly have replaced Dôan. Our midfield was rotated heavily and Altintop was perhaps just edged out by a trio that worked very well together in parts.
An incredible season for new signing Varela between the sticks as he managed an incredible 3,780 minutes of play – every single minute we played this season. Tim Handwerker led the way with 16 assists despite only creating a chance on average every 2.5 games. Isaac Mbenza was the standout performer, notching up 19 goals – an increase of 11 from last season’s top scorer Reis.
Sadly there was no place for me on the podium of the Manager Of The Year award this year!
Once again I’ll look at my season through the medium of SWOT.
Our Strength might seem quite general here but it’s a key point, progression breeds confidence breeds success… I hope. Our Weakness could also be seen as an opportunity (forgive me for what sounds like nonsense business chatter) as it gives me the nudge to have a look and make changes to something that will see us become a more solid unit again.
It will be interesting to see whether our Opportunity or Threat is the winner in this one. Loaning players in is one of those necessary evils but there comes a time when it is no longer a sustainable transfer strategy.