The last update took us through to early February, where we were positioned just slightly off the pace in 4th, but had reeled off seven straight wins. The final of those being a 7-2 flogging of Carpi.
Things continued to go well, very well. We didn’t lose a game in the month of February, stretching the winning streak to 11 games. After the streak broke, a further 11 games went without defeat.
The change in formation to the 4-2-3-1 outlined in the previous post was the driving factor behind this quite stunning run. Stunning because I certainly hadn’t experienced anything similar with Barnsley earlier in the save or in any other modern FM version.
We were fortunate to keep a level of consistency with eight of the squad missing at most 2 games in this final block. With these players being in hot form, it was simply a case of keeping everything pointed in the right direction.
Despite this hot run of form, we didn’t finish in the top 2 spots where promotion was guaranteed. We smashed the points objective, finishing with 90 points good for top spot in nine out of the last ten seasons. Empoli and Catania kept up as we each cycled through the top three positions.
In the end though, we put a gap so significantly on fourth place, the play off game was cancelled and the team secured automatic promotion back to Serie A.
So we met the general expectation of promotion. The board had hoped to go up as champions but they were happy in the end to take the third place finish. In the end promotion never really felt in doubt as we continued to pick up wins and really just embarrass oppositions.
It’s certainly out of the three performances in a row, Parma, Avellino, Pisa, where we scored 14 and conceding 2. Pisa was the pick of the bunch, given they finished up in fourth but we completely dismantled them. Nicola Ciccone bagging the match ball and Serkan Bilir chipping in with one. Tim Ehnert pulling the strings in the hole behind the striker with a couple of assists.
Can’t go past Bari, given it was the only loss! I’d given the lads a whack after a poor performance against Lecce despite winning. That caused some unrest with Antonio Fiordilino coming past for a chat, unhappy with how my team talk was delivered. A 1-3 smacking at the hands of Bari had me concerned the team could have lost its mojo, but it ended up being a blip on the radar.
The Catania draw was frustrating as a win would have likely provided a top two berth, particularly given we had a goal advantage going into the last ten minutes.
Nicola Ciccone came on strong in the last block with an average rating of 8.01, scoring 10 and assisting on 9 in 16 appearances. Tim Ehnert built through the season increasing his average rating in each block . Miguel Angel Galiana on loan from Southampton starred at left back replacing Milic easily and really reducing the need to call on Reece James.
Player below expectation
As we trimmed the sails going for promotion and form remained solid, we had few poor performers. Thalles and Fiordilino came off the bench regularly but never hit great heights.
Tim Ehnert – Verona Supporters Player of the Season, Verona Signing of the Season, Verona Young Player of the Season, Serie B Team of the Season, Serie B Midfielder of the Year, General all round nice guy – 9 goals, 19 assists, 7.86 avg rating.
Alex Jones – Serie B Team of the Season, Serie B Goalkeeper of the Season – 38 games, 35 conceeded, 14 clean sheets, 7.02 avg rating
Miguel Angel Galiana – Serie B Team of the Season, Serie B Defender of the Season, 25 appearances, 2 assists, 7.71 avg rating.
Nicola Ciccone – Serie B Team of the Season – 31(7), 15 goals, 15 assists, 7.78 avg rating
Andrew Tickle – Manager’s Manager of the Year
A special shout out to Juan Iturbe. The only prize he won was my heart. 41(2) scoring 23 goals with 9 assists, rating a 7.6. Every goal he scored felt crucial. I’ll continue to have visions of him ducking in at the far post to knock in another Ciccone or Ehnert pass.
Into the offseason
So we move into the offseason have secured Serie A football. Critically we lose the weekly wage cap, significantly increasing our ability to recruit. In fact if we hadn’t gone up, I would have quite happily moved on.
One of the side effects of the wage cap was us leaning on the loan market. Alex Jones and Miguel Angel Galiana made the team of the season but return to Everton and Southampton respectively.
Serkan Bilir struggled at times but ended up appearing 36 times for 17 goals including cup performances. He split time with Alex Sekyere who dealt with a dislocated shoulder but managed 18 games and 10 goals. A first choice striker is high on the list.
The midfield behind Ehnert was largely loaned in, Naz de Fretes, Nicola Galli and Erik van Driel moving back to their home clubs.
We have a long list of permanent signings to target so that we have a squad able to fight relegation. The board reduced the available wage budget, no doubt in response to the fact I hardly used it this year. We do have the best part of 20m to go out the door though.
Other than loanees, I don’t see any critical players moving on. Ciccone and Iturbe both raised their want to play at a higher level towards the end of the year but we have delivered this as a club.
The style of play won’t change either. In reflecting on my time at Barnsley we tried to play too defensively and not in the manner in which we went up. The right signings with a similar philosophy should hopefully be enough. If not, I’ll take my second division promotion record off somewhere else!