Heathens resurrected 16: a European (mis)adventure

I can remember clearly that hazy August morning at 6am when when we all met at Bank Street, climbing on the Charabanc to go to play Grasshoppers in Switzerland in our first ever Europa qualifying round. Xherdan Shaqiri had bagsied the front seat, ready to speak stuff, Gabby Barbosa was doing pull ups in the aisle with everyone munching on one of Betty’s Breakfast baps. All the lads were singing along and waving the green and gold, it was bloody fantastic. Little did we know the cost come the end of the season, when ultimately our great European adventure would almost cost us everything we had achieved so far, leaving us clinging to the premier league humming the ‘self preservation society’.

To recap, we ended up in the Europa because the previous season we had incredibly won the Carabao cup against Spurs in possibly my best tactical victory of the save, winning 1 nil after weeks of prep in game time (2 hours IRL) and a sending off on their part just 30 minutes in – if you didn’t witness it, you can read the whole thing here: Heathens resurrected 15: Carabao cup pre-match preparation and analysis).

It was all the more special because we have been punching above our weight since we arrived in the Premier League and apart from beating City several times (wahey) we had never won against another top four team and our best placed finish was 12th.

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So onwards to this year, with me knowing that I had to increase the squad depth and quality to cope with European competition alongside the regular schedule. My youth programme was only just starting to bear fruit with a cracker of a striker called Fabian Ischia and a couple of others, but the rest of the team was still packed with improved championship players, poor youngsters and cast offs from other prem clubs. I was also facing the loss of my magnificent 4* keeper Kamil Gabrara due to an 11mil release clause – I had loaned him back for a year but he was due to go.

That said, I made a new keeper my main priority. I also wanted to delve into the released players after missing out on some fading stars a couple of seasons on the run and thought this was a good way to spread my meagre 25 mil budget. At the end of the transfer window I had achieved these aims with the highlights being a new 4* goalie, Evan Horvath, the previously mentioned Shaquiri on a free (33), James Rodriguez (34) and the ex-Real Madrid stone wall of a DM/DC, Casimero (33):

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My reasoning was, yes they’re aging but they give me the experience and depth to cope with the extra games.

Initially it was a great success, with wins home and away in that Grasshopper debut and an easy qualification into the second qualifying round. We then met Arsenal as our first league game just three days later and with those guys rested for the next European fixture just a week later in came my second string and we lost 3-1. This wasn’t a surprise but sadly it was a pattern that would continue after every European result, with us being totally unable to recover.

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The blame is all mine of course, as caught up in the romance of this Heathen adventure I was completely biased towards us doing well in Europe, thinking I could pick up the league form later on. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and by the time we got to Christmas we had only won 4 / drawn 2 in the league, despite winning our Europa league group with two games in hand and amazingly defeating Celtic both home and away:

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So all well and good, with qualification in the bag we moved onwards and I started to prioritise the league, winning a couple and getting a couple of draws, but soon Europe started again and my biased management kicked in once more, overcoming Celta Vigo to set up a dream tie with Benfica, linked so much as I’m sure you know with the real life romance of Manchester United’s 1968 cup final. We lost, of course, but more importantly our league form suffered yet again as Europe kicked in:

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I have to say at this point that there was also quite an extreme issue that I had to deal with in my personal life (if you follow me on twitter you know the story) but instead of putting the save to one side I tried to use it as a coping mechanism and carried on, but this time hammer continue much more than before and preparing little for games.

This was my fault entirely and predictably the wheels came off our campaign big style and we started to lose in dramatic fashion on the league run-in, finally surviving by the two points we managed to scrape in these last two draws:

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Looking at the final table, all I’ll say is thank God it was the lowest points scoring season I’d ever seen, as any other year we’d have gone down:

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So in summary, this is how our season finished:

  • LEAGUE: 17th
  • EUROPA: won group, knocked out in 2nd rd by SLB (Benfica)
  • CARABAO: knocked out in 4th round by Brighton
  • FA CUP: knocked out in 5th round by Spurs

Saying that, here’s the summary with the board expectation above, showing that despite the board only being half happy on the slider we actually managed to achieve their expectations:

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Of course the same can’t be said for the league as they wanted mid-table but hell, we’ll always have the alps, eh boys?

Onwards and upwards, barring any more family disasters the Heathens will return next year. Thanks for reading and if you liked it please give it a share and watch out for those bends in your charabanc.

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Altogether now ..

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