Category Archives: Challenges

Aiming for marvellous football in League Two: progress report

In the first part of this series, Bringing Attractive Football to League Two Newport County, I outlined how I would measure my success. The end goal was to play beautiful football but we have to build up to that point. What exactly beautiful football is is subjective so I listed the statistics I would aim for:

  • Achieve the best pass completion ratio over a season
  • Achieve the best average possession percentage over a season
  • Be in the top 10 for goals scored over a season
  • At least one player in the top five for dribbles per game for a season

After seven competitive games, let’s see if Newport fans are any closer to exclaiming, ‘It’s like watching Brazil!’

The League Two campaign begins

We’re expected to struggle to stay up so a 0-1 loss after a late goal in our first league game didn’t worry me too much. It’s very early days in terms of developing our play style but it was at least an entertaining affair.

Stats League TwoWe just shaded the possession and had a good number of shots but failed to score. Our Josh Sheehan was joint second for dribbles. We only completed 65% of our passes but that’s unsurprising as our best passer only has a 13 rating. That player, Mark Randall, completed 64 passes out of 78 attempts. Randall has an average pass completion percentage of 82%. And, although we played a 4-1-2-2-1 with a DLPD and two IFS’, we have used a 4-4-2 in most games. This is partly due to my general lack of goals in FM17 when using one up front. Also, I think 4-4-2 might be better-suited to lower league football. Another reason is I don’t have a striker I trust to be a lone ranger. Jon Parkin lacks mobility and Rhys Healey is quite weak.

Average possession

Hartlepool lead League Two for average possession and pass completion ratio, however they’re languishing in 22nd. Newport are 22nd for average possession with 46.40% so I’m probably going to have to make some adjustments or just get better passers, even though I’m quite happy with the way the team is playing and creating chances. We’re 11th for pass completion percentage, which is reassuring and, although this wasn’t one of my targets, we have the best cross completion at 16%.

Goals scored

We’re joint 16th for goals scored in League Two, with five in five. I imagined being the top scoring team would be the most difficult target to reach and I still think that. Scoring a goal is surely the hardest thing to do in a football match, while anyone can pass the ball from side to side in midfield and have 60+% possession … can’t they?

Dribbles per game

We haven’t a single player in League Two’s top 20 for dribbles per game (players must have played at least four games). However, Jennison Myrie-Williams has made an average 6.92 dribbles per game, which is pretty impressive but that’s out of only two appearances. Let’s see if he can break in to the top five once he’s played more games.

I predict it will be extremely difficult to achieve every target I’ve set for Newport County but I feel we’re going in the right direction. Tracking certain statistics is giving me a clearer picture of any progress we’re making which is satisfying. For now, we dream of the day we treat the Newport fans to sexy football.

Bringing attractive football to League Two Newport County

I’ve only been to one Newport County match (in the 2015/16 season) but once was enough. I also saw fellow League Two sides Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City play in the 2015/16 season and it was a similarly scrappy story where physical strengths seemed more important than technical skills. I thought Exeter played comparatively decent football though. Shrewsbury, in League One, weren’t a lot better, however, they did have one or two players whose quality in attacking areas highlighted their teams’ slight superiority.

The brutal-ful game

It’s not easy playing beautiful football at that level. Players are on the whole not as gifted and pitches are usually harder to play on. Trying to pass the ball out from the back would be a particularly risky strategy as defenders are unlikely to have the technical and mental attributes for it and the ball could bobble horribly and fall to an opposing striker. That isn’t to say no players at this level are good passers or there aren’t any great playing surfaces – there are always exceptions; for example, semi-professional Nantwich Town FC always have a fine pitch – but for the most part, you notice a difference between Premier League football matches and matches in lower leagues.

It’s like watching Brazil

So, I’m not criticizing these teams, it’s just unrealistic for them to aim to play like Arsenal or Barcelona and still win games in largely physical, pragmatic divisions. Having said all that, I’m going to try to achieve what I think is almost impossible. I want to get League Two Newport County playing attractive football in FM17. But what is attractive football? Isn’t it subjective? To know if I’ve succeeded in my attempt, I must set measurable targets. So, as a club we must endeavour to (if you think there’s more to beautiful football, let me know):

  • Achieve the best pass completion ratio over a season
  • Achieve the best average possession percentage over a season
  • Score more goals than the average number of goals scored over a season
  • At least one player in the top five for dribbles per game for a season

To achieve these targets, I will need the right players, system and some luck.

The Players

mark randall

Our best passer is Mark Randall with a 13 rating. At this level, it’s decent but we’re going to need more players at least as good a passer as Randall if we’re to play attractive football.

reece grego-coxOur best dribbler is Reece Grego-Cox – on loan from QPR – so we’ll need someone better who can be relied on to run at defenders at almost every opportunity.

john parkin newportI’m excited to have a folk hero among us. John Parkin is well-known in English football after playing for nearly 20 years at a high level. He started at Barnsley before playing for the likes of York, Hartlepool, Hull and Stoke. Parkin is our second best finisher after Grego-Cox and I expect him to bag a few goals for us. I’m not convinced he can be relied on to bang them in consistently over a season though so I’ll be looking for another striker to chip in. We also have Rhys Healey, on loan from Cardiff. He has 12 finishing and, at only 21, he can improve.

Well, I’m keen to get stuck in to this challenge. It could be the most difficult test I’ve set myself yet on Football Manager. Follow me on Twitter @fmscrapbook to find out how Newport’s season progresses and if we can play ‘like Brazil’.