Diamond Geezers, Episode 9: The Battle for Bakircioglü
We start with some bad news. Hammarby are forced to accept my offer for Kennedy Bakircioglu, but he is just so damn loyal that he won’t leave. I show him my contract-signing pen, which I’ve brought all this way, and even give him the opportunity to use it — but it’s no use. He’s determined to remain on his part-time, £625 per week contract. I admire his integrity to stay with the team he loves rather than just chase an enormous payrise. I also quietly note his lack of ambition and head back to Stockholm for my flight home to East Midlands airport, via Nottingham. Should have gone BA to Luton. Whoever books my travel is fired.
It’s time to welcome 9th-placed Southend to Nene Park. We are superior in the league at the moment, and I’m not worried about this lot, so I don’t mess around. I drop Ronaldo for Ferdinand, whose suspension hasn’t started yet, and decide to see how Kah fares in the DMC role instead of McKinlay. Mustafa comes in at right back and Paul Underwood gets a menacing look after his 5 in the last game. It’s clobberin’ time.
Peter Møller has really stepped up recently and he’s twice on the scoresheet in the first half. Underwood gets an assist and fires me a hopeful glance as he trots back for kick off. I slowly smile and nod back at him. He gets it.
Southend put up a fight in the second half and Pinheiro is called into action, but like a mighty Portuguese… uh… wall, he’s equal to everything they send his way. I’m never happy when my goalkeeper is on an 8, because it means he’s having to work for it, so I hook Plummer (75%) and replace him with my war horse, Mark Peters. Farnerud is also tired, and he has homework due tomorrow, so I take him off and throw Bubb into the mix.
We are allowing Southend too many chances. Pinheiro ends up making four excellent saves in the second half, including a world-beating double stop from Hutchings and then Pitts on the follow up. We are grateful to him. A reliable keeper makes such a difference in this game, and that was one example — on another day, we wouldn’t have won that. As it is, we can’t extend our lead despite Møller’s best efforts, and it ends 2–0.
Things are looking peachy in the league. We’re undefeated, and lead Hull City by five points and a frankly absurd goal difference. As long as we stay healthy and happy, this division is ours for the taking.
I submit a couple of loan bids for right backs from Man City and Crystal Palace. As I do, Mustafa gets injured for another week. Someone at Maine Road hears his hamstring snap, takes pity on us, and accepts my offer for Simon Colosimo, a versatile Australian who would be a very useful temporary addition. A swift click of continue, and we’ve got him. I note that he has caps for his country, but wasn’t in their last squad, so hopefully they’ve just sort of forgotten about him. He will go straight into the squad for our next game against Lincoln.
There’s news from Norway. Hannu Tihinen, a long-time centre-back target, complains to the media about the performances of his team-mates. I check his Transfer page and we’re the only interested club — and he Wants to be Transfer Listed, Wants to Move to a Bigger Club, and Hopes to Impress the Visiting Scouts. I’m already impressed, Hannu. You’re golden. Let’s just try to convince Viking to let you go for a pittance and we will welcome you warmly to Northamptonshire.
Christian Kalvenes rejects my third consecutive contract offer. I’ve relented to his £8k a week wage demands, but he wants a £150k release fee, and he can sod off. I then watch in horror as Sheffield Wednesday bid £35k for Mike Duff. If that goes through, I’m calling the police.
The blow is softened by my other loan bid being accepted and Wayne Carlisle swaggering through the revolving door at Nene Park. I’m excited about this guy. He can play as a full back on either side, though he’s very right footed; he’s fast as all hell, and boy can he cross. Ryan Giggs only has 16 for Crossing. Welcome, my lad.
Kalvenes rejects my contract offer for the final time and he can get stuffed. We don’t actually need him — I just want him. For £8k per week, I don’t think I’m getting value out of the deal anyway. I’m not crying, it’s just been raining… on my face.
Lincoln City away. They’re 14th in the league and they look crap. New signing Carlisle has immediately twisted his knee, so Colosimo comes into the starting team to make his debut. Ferdinand has started his one-week community service for attempted murder, so he drops out, and young Ronnie comes back into the starting team with Duane Darby on the bench.
The game starts quickly with both sides having chances. On 27 minutes, Bubb feeds Ronaldo just outside the area. Ronaldo passes it into the six yard box, and… goal? Goal, yes. We’ve scored. I’m not sure what happened but Ronaldo appears to have scored. Well done! 1–0 to the good guys.
Colosimo, obviously eager to impress, waits for his moment. It comes in the 29th minute, when he clatters Kingsley Black in the box for no reason and gives away a penalty. He is booked, and I facepalm so hard that it leaves a permanent hand print on my big stupid face. Tony Battersby converts, and we go in 1–1 at the break.
I pat Colosimo on the head and tell him not to worry, he’s got the whole second half to sit on the bench and never speak to me again. Kah replaces him. I should have got Matthew Adams’s phone number.
The second half is an absolute sh*t show. Billy McKinlay is, for some reason, on a 5. Brandon, Mills, Risp and Plummer are not helping at all. Lincoln are creating chances and Pinheiro is apoplectic with the players in front of him. I replace Mills with Farnerud and put Bubb in the centre of the midfield three, as he’s the only one of them who’s actually shown up to play. My shining lights are my two Portuguese lads, Pinheiro and Ronaldo up top, who’s an absolute menace. He’s having an intense one-on-one battle with Lincoln keeper Tom Phillips, who is on a 9 and could really do with suddenly going blind — but he doesn’t, and we’ve dropped more points on the road. We remain unbeaten, and we outplayed Lincoln, but it’s another draw that feels like a defeat. Eventually we’re going to be made to pay for our lapses in concentration and profligacy. My entire back four can’t keep not showing up for games. I feel like some changes are needed.
Maybe Risp and Plummer don’t get on, because in the five games Freddie has played with him, he’s averaged less than 7. Before that, he was a mountain at the back. Plummer has actually done OK, with a couple of 8s in his last five games, but their consistency as a partnership isn’t great. I decide to give them one more game together and see what happens. Perhaps showing faith in them will come good. It had better.
We’ll see in our next encounter against Plymouth at home. The Pilgrims are 9th in the table and have club legend David Friio in central midfield, other club legend Romain Larrieu in goal, as well as maverick Irish striker Mickey Evans up top. They play 4–4–2 with flying wingers, so I’ll need my full backs to concentrate and not be complete berks. Sadly, there isn’t a Team Instruction for that.
I drop Mills for being inconsistent and bring back Pflipsen, while also replacing Brandon — who I love, but might need to be benched to keep him keen — and replace him with Farnerud, who I also love. Ferdinand comes back into the team and partners Ronaldo, who deserves to keep his spot after impressing last time out.
It’s another madcap game, and for the first time possibly ever, we reach half time with fewer shots on target than our opponents — but we are leading. Plymouth swarm us for the first 20 minutes and Martin Phillips puts them ahead, but we manage to establish ourselves in the game and start showing our teeth. Bubb wins a header on the edge of the box and nods it down to Pflipsen, who loses his man and unleashes a hellish half volley that ploughs past a motionless Larrieu. It’s Pflipsen’s first goal for the mighty Diamonds, and we are suddenly playing better. We win a corner, which Underwood swings onto the head of CR7 for 2–1. It’s the 45th minute, but there’s still time for bloody Underwood to flatten Evans in the box and give away a penalty. For the second game in a row, if I had a sharp object nearby, I would be stabbing one of my own full-backs in the leg. Evans steps up and slots it right into the outstretched hand of Pinheiro! Yet another miracle save, and we just about scrape into half time with the lead.
Plymouth are playing well here, and David Friio is doing far too much footballing for my taste, so I tell Billy McKinlay to put him in the third row every chance he gets. All four of my defenders are on 6s yet again, and I’m getting just about sick of this now. They can’t just keep refusing to show up. I give them all the shellacking of a lifetime and send them back out to do everything far better.
Early in the second half, Kah becomes my first defender to reach a 7, then immediately injures himself and has to come off. I roll my eyes at the bench as I realise I’m going to have to put Colosimo on in his place. I swear to god Simon, if you lose this game for us, they will never find your body. In a far less sinister change, I also pop Brandon on for Farnerud.
Putting Mad Dog McKinlay on Friio pays off completely. He’s like a cruise missile, making sure the Frenchman barely registers on the commentary for the whole half — he only does once that I notice, and that’s to give the ball away to Les Ferdinand. He plays the ball out wide to Colosimo, who has retired from giving useless penalties away and instead swings in a near post cross, which Sir Les rises to meet ahead of Larrieu and puts us 3–1 ahead.
Mickey Evans is on the ball constantly but can’t seem to keep his shots on target. We are playing well, however, and in the 68th minute, Chris Plummer wonks the ball into the area for Bubb to chase, which he does, he reaches it, and then powers a low shot past Larrieu for four. There are still 20 minutes to go, but that’s the last of the commentary. The clock rolls by and full time arrives, and we’ve gotten there in the end. That was a genuinely breathless game.
Post-match, Kah is ruled out for two weeks with a twisted knee, and Farnerud is also injured for a fortnight. It’s not great preparation for our next game, which is going to be a big test. We travel to second placed Hull City for a massive top-of-the-table clash that could see us extend our spot at the top to an almost unassailable level, whereas defeat would see our lead cut to just two points. There’s a lot riding on it. Hopefully there’s no foreshadowing.
Our reserves lose 2–1 to Hull’s reserves at Nene Park. Mike Duff moves to Sheffield Wednesday for £35k.
I need a drink.