Even when a tactic brings overwhelming success, it can still be a useful exercise to sit back and analyse what has been going right and what hasn’t. Despite only losing 4 times in the league during a season that my Glentoran side claimed a total of five trophies, there are still obvious elements which I would like to improve.
I’ve talked about my thought process when setting up the current 4-4-2 tactic and now I want to look at two matches that show its Jekyll and Hyde.
Firstly, let’s look at an occasion when things didn’t quite go to plan.
Larne were our closest rivals for the league title in Season Four and, at this point, were the source of our only league loss in our 28 league games played so far. I’ve discussed previously how Larne have had similar real life investment to ourselves and as such have a massively inflated wage bill by Irish League standards. Only 8 days prior to this fixture they had made a deadline day swoop for our own Conor Bradley for a huge sum of £500k. This is added to the free signing of our youth goalkeeper Andrew Hughes on the same day and a £76k signing of Markus Assarsson from us in the summer transfer window’s deadline day rush.
Larne started all three signings they’d made from us this season with ex-Liverpool trainee Conor Bradley probably the one I feared most. Larne’s starting XI were a fairly youthful side with only three players over the age of 20.
With this game delicately poised midweek during a busy period, four days after an Irish Cup 6th Round tie and three days before the NIFL Cup Final, there was some slight rotation in the side. Paddy McClean deputised at left back and Liam Maguire was called upon to fill in for top scorer Niklas Haugland. Experienced pro Antonio Candreva started on the right side of midfield.
The statistics don’t provide the full picture of any match but, as below, there are a few areas which gave great concern. While possession may have been even, Larne were most prominent in their passing of the ball, attempting a full passes more than us over 90 mins (and completing an additional 56), they were more successful in the tackle and won more of the aerial duels. Of the 13 shots we managed on goal, almost half of those were not on target (with a further 2 blocked en route).
When we look at the average positions, it looks largely as I would expect it to. Perhaps the telling aspect of this image is the heat map. I’m not particularly concerned about the large periods of possession on the edge of our own box – we are comfortable with the ball here and build a lot of attacks from goalkeeper/defence. What stands out for me is that We have held the ball a lot more out wide on the left than the right. This is contrary to the roles I have selected of an inverted winger left and a natural winger right – this is a first warning sign for me that we just weren’t able to play our designed game.
When looking at our figures, we had 5 key passes noted. The passmap shows that all of these passes were going wide and away from goal. This was an area we were having very limited success in as 16 of our 22 cross attempts were intercepted by Larne.
The goal that won it for Larne was as simple as they come. A long ball from the goal kick, over the top of the defence and slotted home neatly.
What can the takeaway from this performance be? It was one of very few losses over the course of the season so perhaps we mark it down as an anomaly. Maybe it was the fault of the rotation, the fatigue of a hectic playing schedule or just maybe a 36 year old Antonio Candreva on the wing isn’t quite the dynamism you need to take on a youthful opposition.
There’s more to be gained by analysing what went wrong rather than what went right but what is the point of playing Football Manager if you can’t bask in the glory of those games where everything just goes right?
Linfield are the most successful club in Northern Ireland. They’re also the most hated club in my household. Traditional rivals to Glentoran, the Blues make up the other half of what is known as the Belfast Big Two… or the Belclasico if you’re so inclined.
I’m not sure why Linfield have struggled throughout my save but having finished 4th in 2019/20 they then narrowly escaped relegation on the final day of the following season. A 6th place finish in 2021/22 got them back into European competition via the playoff but a 7th place finish this season has put them right back into the bottom half of the league.
This is it. Our strongest XI. A few games before Pavel Macej’s season ending injury, he partnered the equally prolific Niklas Haugland up top. Conn-Clarke, Hunt and Collum give plenty of forward running while Palmer sits deep to dictate the play. Doherty and Pepper provide support on the flanks while McKenna and McClean are resolute in their defence. Beautiful.
Linfield’s XI doesn’t strike any fear into me whatsoever. Ben Paton was on trial with us before he signed for Linfield and I decided he wasn’t up to the standard. If that’s the sort of club they are now then so be it…
We dominated from start to finish, so much so that we only actually had 10 tackles to make in the whole game.
This heatmap and average positions is much more like what I want to see! Both forwards working in tandem, Jake Collum (10) becoming more involved centrally. I’d possibly like to have seen Conn-Clarke (7) play a bit wider but it’s hard to be critical. Let’s just enjoy this.
Let’s get straight into the goals now!
The first offering is a well taken headed goal from Mackenzie Hunt (Mezzala – Attack) courtesy of an inch perfect cross from Cammy Palmer (DLP – Defend)
Conor Pepper (Full Back – Support) has become a bit of an assist king for us, perfectly illustrated by this cross from the right, headed in by Pavel Macej (Pressing Forward – Attack)
The benefits of having a 6 foot 4 inch winger are many, not least of all this headed goal from Chris Conn-Clarke (Winger – Support). A near carbon copy of our first as Josh Doherty’s throw is received by Palmer and crossed to the edge of the six-yard box for the headed finish.
Cammy Palmer turns from provider to scorer with our fourth successive headed goal. Conor Pepper getting his second assist of the day from an expertly delivered wide free kick.
I’ve had to speed the play up here slightly to convey the true majesty of this goal. Mackenzie Hunt takes the ball on a familiar run toward goal, passes to substitute Conor Bradley (Pressing Forward – Attack) who supplies top scorer Niklas Haugland (Advanced Forward – Attack) for a sublime cross goal finish.
The cherry on the top now, watched in glorious 2D. Winning the ball in our own box, two passes later the ball is at Hunt’s feet. Our mesmerising mezzala goes on a trademark run before his through ball is met perfectly by Macej for the Czech striker’s second of the day. In truth there are questions to be asked of the defence and goalkeeper here but at 6-0 they were probably looking forward to just getting home…
What more can be said? A rout against our most bitter of rivals. Everything went right, goals from crosses, goals from set pieces, perfect build up and incisive counter attacking. This is the Fleming 4-4-2 at its absolute finest.
This tactic has been a revelation for me and, in my fourth season, has now truly just bedded in so perfectly. With the right template of player in each role things have landed so well.
103 goals scored in 38 league games with only 25 conceded. 29 wins and 5 draws giving us a final tally of 92 points.
Aside from the Irish Premiership we also secured all three domestic cup competitions along with the All Ireland Champions Cup. We reached the group stages of the Europa League, qualifying from our group in 2nd place.
Alexander Fleming, you bloody genius. Perhaps some day there’s a Nobel Prize waiting for me…