The England Challenge Vol II, Part Two: The Ballad Of Fat Drake

In the previous episode (here), I returned to the England set up after Big Sam’s undignified exit. I managed to beat Portugal in an unimportant friendly, but was made to look stupid in the games that mattered against Slovakia and Malta. So business as usual, really.

But hey, it’s bound to get easier now, right? It’s only Scotland up next. I can’t imagine how that could possibly go wrong.

Scotland, away, World Cup 2018 Qualifier, March 2017

024. Scotland squad announcement.png

The squad gets moved around for the big game. Luke Shaw is injured for a change, and Danny Rose and Jordan Henderson are suspended already. In come Ryan Bertrand, Aaron Cresswell and James Ward-Prowse. I’m as excited by that sentence as you are.

Troy Deeney keeps his place, of course. He might look like a fat version of Drake, but I still have faith in him to become the New Dion Dublin. He might end up the New Carl Cort (the other time I became obsessed with giving a player an opportunity when all facts suggested it wasn’t going to work), but it’s worth a shot. It’s just Scotland, after all.

026. Scotland pre match 2.png

The opening fifteen is an end to end slugfest, one that we come out on top of when Harry Kane blasts home from an Adam Lallana cross. It all feels easy, which is why I’m not at all surprised when Stuart Armstrong bursts through a gaping hole in our defence and squeezes the ball inside Joe Hart’s near post.

The next fifteen minutes are all Scotland, and they hit the woodwork twice in three minutes. Luckily, Marcus Rashford launches a blistering counter attack to tee-up Kane for his second just before half time. 2-1, we find our confidence, and we do enough to see us through until the end. But that was far tighter than it should have been.

027. Scotland post match.png

Turkey, home, friendly, March 2017

I picked Turkey as an opponent as they’re the exact kind of team I want to face now. Enough of a challenge that I can test how good some of my fringe players are, but easy enough we should roll over them without too much difficulty.

A nice, boring 2-0 win with a brace from Troy Deeney would go down very nicely, thank you very much.

029. England v Turkey_ Preview Line Ups.png

That didn’t happen.

Instead of a nice, boring 2-0 win, we lost 1-0, had fewer shots on target, less possession, AND they hit the post. Twice. That was… not good.

030. England v Turkey_ Overview Overview.png

Slovenia, away, World Cup 2018 Qualifier, June 2017

We hit June and the league season is over. Man City win the title, with Arsenal pushing them right until the end. In a totally unrealistic turn of events, Man Utd finish outside the top four, but qualify for the Champion’s League when they win the Europa. Pfft. Like that’d ever happen.

033. Slovenia squad announcement.png

I have another qualifier and friendly to prepare for, so the squad is messed with again. I leave out the suspended Rashford and drop Daniel Sturridge, who in a turn of events no-one could have predicted, is injured again. I also drop Raheem Sterling or the crime of just being a bit sh*t on this game.

I find room for Henderson, Rose, Shaw, Butland and, somehow, Michail Antonio. Also finding his way in to the squad is Callum Wilson, who is on a remarkable scoring run for Bournemouth at the end of the season. Play well=rewarded with a place in the squad. That’s how we do things here at England, and not just because there are very few other options out there. Cough.

034. Deeney decision questioned.png

Troy Deeney, on the other hand, is on a terrible run of form. Laughably so, in fact. But so too was Big Dion in the original challenge. I stuck with him when it seemed silly to do so, and he ended up rewarding me. So no, Troy Deeney will not be dropped following an average rating of 6.4 in his last eight games.

035. Wenger backs me over Deeney.png

I don’t care if the press hound me over it to the extent Arsene Wenger has to stick up for me for some reason. Troy Deeney will be picked again, this time as the focal point of our attack. Sink or swim, Deeney. Sink or swim.

038. Slovenia v England_ Preview Line Ups.png

So that’ll be sink, then.

It started so well. Within 30 seconds of kick off Harry Kane perfectly teed up Deeney, who smashed his unchallenged shot against the post from six yards out. Fifteen minutes later he was played clean through on goal, but hit it straight at the keeper.

From there, it all went downhill. Two catastrophic mistakes from Chris Smalling and John Stones (I know, I’m as shocked as you) put Slovenia through, and were it not for Jack Butland’s heroics we’d have been behind. But we didn’t heed the warning.

On the stroke of half time a simple passing triangle drew our entire team out of position (maybe the even the subs too) and Ollic scored. We were 1-0 down.

The players received the half time b*llocking they deserved, and seemed to respond. The tempo was upped, the passion was back. And yet it was for nothing. When Harry Kane went off injured on the hour the writing was on the wall. We knocked on the door, but no-one was home. Despite finishing the match with the four-man-attacking dream team of Michail Antonio, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Callum Wilson and Troy Deeney, we couldn’t score. I know, I know, as shocking as John Stones and Chris Smalling making a mistake.

We lose 1-0. To Slovenia. We’re really quite sh*t, aren’t we?

039. Slovenia v England_ Stats Player Ratings.png

Croatia, home, friendly, June 2017

Normally friendlies are an opportunity to try something new, but we can’t afford to risk another loss, even in a nothing friendly. I stick with the same team.

Except for Troy Denney. That Drake-looking motherf*cker isn’t even making the bench, purely out of spite.

041. England v Croatia_ Preview Line Ups.png

*sigh*

I know I should be happy with a great performance, a clean sheet and a comfortable win, but this is what the England job does to you. You become unable to see the joy in anything. Beat Croatia 2-0? Spend the whole match getting gradually more annoyed they couldn’t do this in the match that actually mattered four days ago.

Vardy opens the scoring by tapping in to an open goal, and Wilson gets his name on the scoresheet less than five minutes later. We’re fantastic, not giving Croatia a kick, and deserving more than our two-goal win. But after losing to Slovenia, it’s a hollow victory. Why couldn’t they do this when we needed them to?

Maybe Troy Deeney dragged everyone else down. F*ck that guy.

042. England v Croatia_ Overview Overview.png

And with that, we hit the summer break. So far we have been outperformed by Malta, drew with Slovakia, scraped past Scotland, lost to Turkey and lost to Slovakia, with just one comfortable win over Lithuania and two meaningless friendly victories against Portugal and Croatia to show for it.

Make no doubt about it, anything other than five straight victories in the next five games and we are in a whole heap of trouble.

For Episode One, click here. For the previous Championship Manager 2001/02 version of this challenge, click here.

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