Back to the Footture: E21

I’ve no time to mope around. Frankly reaching the last 16 of the Champions League is a gross overachievement. That said, it’s always frustrating to lose. Particularly off the back of a recent defeat to Celtic in the league as well.

We have a chance to avenge this as the Scottish Cup rolls around and we welcome them to Rugby Park. They’ve picked a very similar side to the one that beat us at Celtic Park, and I go with our strongest lineup. Simone gets the nod ahead of Ante give how shit-hot he has been so far, with Justin moving to the right hand side of defence with Williams central.

They start the better and Kyogo blazes a chance over in the opening ten minutes as Simone is booked for poleaxing Abada. However a long ball towards their penalty area causes chaos and the loose ball is scooped up by Osame, who hits a shot past Siegrist to give us the lead. It gets better on 25 minutes as Kenny Dougall gets a sharp pass from Enzo and moves wide, taking on Abada and getting to the byline, where his partner in crossing Guus Til leaps to nod home our second and give us a strong advantage.

Just before half-time Celtic go long and Chris Wood wins a header above Williams. The loose ball falls to Kyogo, who goes inside out, up and down, spins Simone round and wallops a shot home past Coniah. 2–1 at the half.

We get a let-off after the break when the linesman dubiously chalks off a goal for Celtic when Karamoko is ruled offside. From another offside a few minutes later, Coniah careers out of his goal and hits it long with Simone heading it down to Gilmour. He turns and plays it into Guus, who flicks the ball up over the last man. Enzo steams onto it and hits a volley first-time past Siegrist to make it 3–1 and cap and excellent move.

Annoyingly, Karamoko reduces the arrears just 5 minutes later as we inexplicably fall asleep at the back and give him room to run through on goal. We push for a 4th and Mikkel and Guus go close before an onslaught of pressure in the closing stages from Celtic leads to a chance for Wood which Coniah tips behind. The corner comes in and Wood flicks on at the front post across the 6 yard box…but it evades everyone and goes behind as the referee blows the final whistle. 3–2.

Our reward — welcoming Lee Clark back to Rugby Park with his Ross County side. I may play 6 right backs in his honour. Hibs appoint Craig Conway as their new boss, taking him from Hamilton, languishing in 6th place in League 1…bizarre.

We head to Prestwick on the Monday for a flight to Milan. After settling at the hotel and having a look around the San Siro, we head out into the town, taking residence in a trattoria and drinking with some fans until the wee hours. Tuesday is recovery and a lot of coffee whilst Ante Palaversa takes us on a tour of Roman architecture — and then its Wednesday. D-Day. Custer’s last stand if it was Scottish and had a lot more Burberry hats. We stack the engine room and see if we can get through to half-time 0–0. I can’t really think of any other way we can do this.

They have the first chance with a Zapata header wide, but we get the better of the early possession battle and a long run from Osame sees a shot flash across goal…and past the far upright. Close! Unfortunately we then get a sucker punch as Kostic gets away and puts a cross in from the left, and Barella has acres of space to fire home. I scream at the defence until I see a prone Williams on the ground — he’s caught his knee in the turf chasing Barella back…He’s carted off and Kosta comes on.

Osame is proving to be a menace for the Inter defence to handle and Ante gives him another opening, only for his shot to be deflected wide. A further breakway sees him get fre again, only to be met by a challenge from Stefan De Vrij, who takes his tonsils out with both feet. The referee runs over and brandishes a red card — giving us a precious window back into the game.They withdraw Zapata and Dumfries and replace them with defensive players and we have far more possession — but we can’t get an end product as every move seems to end in a foul and Inter mop up any set pieces with ease. 1–0 at half-time.

A good move at the start of the second half sees Ante sting the hands of Brazao in the Inter goal. I bring Guus on for Simone and tell the boys to push on for an equaliser. And they do just that as another scintillating move finds Billy in space and he fires home…but is offside. Fucking bullshit he is. He nearly does it 10 minutes later but the knockdown from Enzo bounces into his path a little high and he can only clip it onto the bar.

Mikkel comes on for the last 20 minutes and he gives the ball to Billy in an advanced position up the park. He looks up and curls a ball across the backline where Osame runs in….AND FIRES IT HOME!!! The staff jump on top of me whilst the jeers and whistles of the home fans ring out…whistles? OH FOR FUCKS SAKE…OFFSIDE AGAIN…

UEFA can eat a big bag of shit.

We fly back to Edinburgh as a UEFA statement is released, supporting the referee and his staff and banning me for two games for telling them to all take their faces for individual, massive shites. From there, it’s a short trip up to Dundee where we face the bottom of the table Dark Blues. Fresh off a 5–0 humping by Rangers, I’m not expecting much from them at all, and I decide to gamble by swapping most of my attacking personnel.

The first half is all us, with only Dmitri doing his best Malalay impression preventing us from building a big lead to add to Billy’s early effort. He eventually gets his act together when a free-kick isn’t cleared and the ball drops 6 yards out for him to lash home on the turn on the hour mark. Guus adds a third just minutes later and then puts the icing on the cake in the dying embers — finishing from Mikkel’s glorious through ball. Gerry Cushions went of early, meaning a switch in formation — giving us this curious little narrow number. It’s food for thought.

I’m not a fan of the narrow formation but I won’t deny it possibly fits some personnel slightly better. I make a mental note of it as we carry on to our next game against Hibs. I field questions from the press midweek about the impact of Simone Panada and I have to praise him. I mean, what an impact the boy has had!

Craig Conway disembarks the Hibs coach on Saturday evening wearing a tracksuit two sizes too big and wanders up with a gait resembling John Wayne after being rogered by a hippo. His squad look a little bewildered at the sight of him and I decide I’m not going to ask. The crowd are expectant of a good performance and I tell the boys to win, and win well.

Osame takes this to heart and a long ball from Kik in the opening minute bounces through the defence as he sprints forwards. He picks it up, cuts inside onto his right foot and curls it home, giving us the perfect start. Dmitri gets another run out and misses an easy chance when he sclaffs one wide, but its not long before a loose ball is rammed home by Billy to give us a 2–0 lead.

Osame and Bilal are in spectacular form and seem to be trying to outdo each other with increasing numbers of stepovers and nutmegs as they rinse their markers of any soul they have. It’s almost a surprise when Hibs break at the end of the half and Gogic fires ina shot which Coniah does well to save — and maintains our 2–0 lead. Enzo and Tino come on after an hour and its the former who scores next, finishing a pass by Billy yet again. He hits the bar with time running out, but a free-kick from Billy isn’t dealt with and Justin Che swings a loose boot at it in injury time to send it past the keeper and give us 3 more points.

And in massive bonus news, Rangers beat Celtic in the Old Firm Derby on the Sunday, giving us a 7 point lead in the table with 8 games left. Fuck aye!

Buoyed by this, we set off to Madrid in high spirits, with an open top bus tour round the city capping off a lovely Tuesday afternoon before retiring to the hotel for some tapas and pool. Yet again, my scouts have identified the danger of link up play between Neymar and Neymar, so I set up my team to sit deeper than the Marianas Trench. Pray for us.

We get an early chance when Osame gets away past his man and fires it to the back post where Bilal meets it with a header but Courtois saves well. Neymar gets a free-kick not long after which Coniah turns away before he runs at the defence, beating 5 men until Williams clears him out with a legal, if violent challenge. Kik Pierie has gained a reputation of late for his raking crossfield laser guided passes and he finds Bilal in space. He attacks the full-back and crosses…WHERE BILLY MEETS IT WITH A HEADER….WIDE…damn.

Luka Jovic is next with a chance but his diving header is parried well by Coniah. Then Dani Carvajal goes on a mazy run which ends in another cross which Neymar fires at Coniah, who can only turn the ball into the path of Casemiro to tap in. 1–0 Madrid.

Jovic has another good chance and we venture forwards through Ante and Osame but we can’t find an end product with the Madrid backline resolutely miserly. And then distaster. Carvajal gets away again and Pierie has to bring him down…not realising he’s the last man. A red card is shown and we are down to ten men. I haul off Bilal and chuck Kosta into defence and rearrange into a bastardised narrow formation. Remarkably, we look galvanized and Osame shoots over, Ante has a shot blocked on the 6 yard line following a free-kick and Arlind rises highest from a corner to get a header on goal, but Courtois saves well on the stroke of half-time.

Straight from the restart, Madrid attack through Mendy and he gallops away before pulling the ball back to Neymar, who rockets a shot past Coniah on the angle to give them a 2 goal advantage. Not that this discourages us, as Ante and Osame both get further chances but Courtois is immovable in the Madrid goal, saving everything we throw at him. With a sense of grim inevitability, Madrid break after another attack and Camavinga finds the bottom corner and bury us finally. It’s a shame, but I cannot fault the boys. It’s a sterling effort.

Bleary eyed on Saturday morning after a late night celebrating Adam El Abd’s birthday, I set about picking the team for the Ross County game. Whilst they are flying high in the Championship I don’t care. I’m rotating. And I’m expecting a palate cleanser.

The script is ripped up when they take the lead after 16 minutes through their star striker, 32-year-old Roman Pocotny. I’m all set to absolutely rinse the team at half-time until we finally put something together through Justin Che and Tino Anjorin and Justin’s ball into the box is finished powerfully by Guus.

We continue to chase and Simone has a goal disallowed as we search for a winner. They make our Marianas stance against Real Madrid look adventurous and offer absolutely nothing. I bring on Osame with 20 minutes to go for the ineffectual Coric, and he looks to have given us the lead just 5 minutes later but its fucking ruled out again. Mikkel tries to pick the game up in the centre of the park and plays a nice ball to Jacek Goralski. He looks up and sees Guus sprinting to the right hand side of the penalty area and plays him in, and Guus hooks it back over his shoulder where Dimitri meets it and powers it past Ross Stewart in the County goal for the winner and a passage into the next round.

We get the Inverness Monster Botherers in the semi-final draw, but I don’t have time to worry about that given I have our Champions League finale at Rugby Park.

The fans are out in force despite our 5 loss from 5 record in the second stage. It’s Man United visiting Rugby Park and in a much better position that last time we played. They are now 3rd in the Prem and are now powered by Eddie Nketiah up front, who signed for £39m in January. I can’t be bothered greeting any of the visitors so I set the boys up in full Marianas formation and hope for the best, telling them as they go out to give it their all. A raucous Rugby Park greets them as the Champions League anthem rings out. God I’ll miss these nights.

Its a very quiet opening 20 minutes with Bilal and Wilf Zaha taking it in turns to run down blind alleys in promising positions. As usual is Osame causing danger and he plays a delicious ball for Billy who strikes at goal, seeing his effort tipped over by De Gea. From the corner, Kosta rises high and heads towards the near post, but De Gea reaches it and grabs it before it can bounce out. I’m tempted to say we are the better side as Osame creates a shooting opportunity again and fires just over, and as we reach half-time we’ve managed to restrict them to just one wayward shot from our nemesis, Bruno.

We stick to the Marianas for the second half and a burst from Ante gives him the room to tee up Billy, who shoots straight at De Gea from 16 yards. Minutes later they get a corner in their first meaningful action of the game, and the cross finds Zaha, who heads home. This is brutal.

Guus and Mikkel come on as I look to give the home fans something to cheer. Guus gets the ball midway inside the United half and finds his progress halted illegally by Aaron Wan Bissaka 25 yards out. Mikkel puts the ball down and hits a dipping, swerving effort….WHICH NESTLES IN THE TOP CORNER!!! ITS 1–1!!! I jump into the stands as Rugby Park goes ballistic and Mikkel has to be dragged out the fans by the stewards, his top ripped almost in two.

Suddenly they are awake and Bruno and De Le Cruz take it in turns to bamboozle our defence and fire in shots narrowly off target. Then it’s our turn as Simone finds Enzo, who nods it down for Osame to shoot, but De Gea saves and holds onto it. With 5 minutes left, a corner comes in and Guus heads at goal but it’s blocked out to Arlind…WHAT A SAVE BY DE GEA! He tips the ball wide from 6 yards. Guus is next and his shot is blocked and then turned behind by a defender — the resulting corner leading to nothing as well. A half-hearted shout for a penalty on 90 minutes sees the stands in uproar as the referee turns it down — and the final whistle follows. WE GOT A POINT!

And more to the point, we put them out of Europe. I cannot, and will not, ever stop laughing.

And we still have the league…

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Writing about Championship Manager 2001–02 with no regard for my own personal sanity.

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@CMOnTheRocks

Writing about Championship Manager 2001–02 with no regard for my own personal sanity.