Welcome back to my trip down memory lane and my quest to finally jump that last hurdle to Premier League greatness! As a reminder, we’re catching up to December 2020 and my current tenure with a Leicester City that never left the Championship and never won the Premier League. This first series of updates are broad season-to-season updates to bring you, the reader, up to speed with what’s happened in the seven years since we started the save and to help me recollect some faded memories.
If you’re new to the series, you can click here to go back to part one and the 2013/14 League 2 season overview.
In this update, we’re going to be covering the 2014/15 League 1 season in charge of Oxford United. You’ll remember that in the previous update we finished the League 2 season with a glorious double, securing the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in a Wembley showdown against Walsall, and we finished first in the league by a narrow margin to secure our promotion to this division.
Back during my FM14 days, I was still learning about soccer as a whole as I said, and after 300 hours of continuous failures, I found what I needed in a 4-2-3-1 formation to get some much-needed success and motivation to keep going with my newfound passion for the sport and for this game as a whole. Not sure what to do, I made the decision to keep faith in what worked before. I kept the 4-2-3-1 formation, and while I made a couple of signings to fill out some depth for both fullback positions and found some new starters, I largely relied on the team that won me two trophies the previous season.
As you will see from the 2014/15 League 1 table, my faith in my men was repaid in full. Despite expecting a battle to survive or optimistically hit the mid-table, we ultimately finished in the top four on our first season in League 1. After 46 games, we had 78 points coming from 21 wins, 15 draws, and 10 losses, and we were comfortably behind the top three who secured promotion to the next division.
Our cup runs were not quite as good, however! Despite winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (admittedly with some pure luck on more than one occasion), we failed to defend the trophy and lost to Millwall in the south quarter-final on penalties. Our Capital One Cup run started off easy enough against League 2 and League 1 opposition, but in the third round, we would fall to Aston Villa in a 0-3 home defeat in the third round. The FA Cup saw us face off against FC Halifax and then Hayes and Yeading before suffering a 4-2 defeat to Swansea City at our home ground.
I never once expected that I would have the quality to defeat some of England’s top teams, so that I lost was not particularly upsetting to me, but losing our chance at defending the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on penalties after a scoreless match stung my ego a bit, considering our league success at the time.
As a whole, I can’t consider the season anything other than a resounding success, because we stepped up immediately from League 2 to challenge the top for the right to advance further in the league, even if we ultimately fell short in the end.
The 2014/15 Best Eleven for Oxford United is a testament to the fact that I felt at the time like I had some of the best players I could have found at my level. Max Clayton replaced Sean Rigg at the left wing, Carl Tremarco and Paul McGinn took the two fullback spots, and Mark Oxley took the GK spot from Ryan Clarke, but as a whole, the core of my best eleven is the same as the last time around.
Just like I did in the previous update, I’m going to go over a few of the players who have left a good impression on me over the course of the season, starting with Oxford captain Jake Wright.
Jake Wright joined a newly promoted Oxford United on a free transfer in the 2010/11 season after spending the previous season with the club on loan from Brighton. He started for almost a whole season in that first year after making only 22 appearances on loan during the 2009/10 Conference Premier season, and by the 2013/14 season, he was the captain of the squad when I joined the team.
For me, personally, he really stepped up during the League 1 season and going by the numbers, that first season in League 1 was his best year for the club. After 45 appearances, he was responsible for 3 goals and was named the man of the match on 5 occasions.
A natural-born leader, he was able to successfully guide the team to many of our victories in league competition, and he was always willing to get his jersey dirty for the team… even if it meant grimacing in frustration a couple of times when he was sent off. It’s curious to me that looking back on his average rating across all matches, he found himself most comfortable in League 1. He had a strong 6.99 rating in League 2, but it was in League 1 where he had a 7.05 and then a 6.97. After a bad year of soccer for everyone in the Championship, he came back to a strong rating in League 1 after I had departed from the club before it tapered off under new management in League 2 again after back-to-back relegation’s.
In December 2020, Jake Wright is still with Oxford in League 2, and he’s the only player from the 2013/14 season who is still with the squad.
Max Clayton was brought into the team during the preseason to be a replacement to Sean Rigg, who despite his excellent performances last season, seemed to me to be a weak link in League 1. He came in on a free transfer from Crewe and would score 12 goals and make 15 assists across 48 league appearances in what was the best season of his career by a long shot.
It was really Clayton’s effort on the left wing that enabled Constable to have so many excellent chances at goal, and if it was anyone else, there’s no telling what our league position would have been because the link-up on the left side of the pitch was so strong under my management that season.
Despite doing all that I could to retain him, Hibernian was calling from the Scottish Premiership, and he was demanding to jump ship for that bigger opportunity. After one season with Oxford United, he was turned around for a $1.6m transfer fee.
After two reasonably well seasons and a third as a rotation option, he would move to Dundee United for $2.3m midway through the 2017/18 season, and to this day he still plays with the club.
The third signing of note for me was a young Elliot Lee from West Ham, who joined us on a free transfer. He was brought into the club in line with the board’s philosophy that I should develop and field younger players, and he was being trained and slowly eased into the club as a potential replacement for James Constable. Though he would only appear 7 times for the club this season, he was responsible for 2 goals and an assist. Following the departure of James Constable at the end of the season, he would take a more prominent role in the squad, appearing 25 times, though he could only score 9 and assist 6 across the season. With competition from one Nathan Eccleston, he would ultimately only remain a fringe player for the next two years as the club fell from the Championship to League 2 in consecutive relegation’s after my departure.
He left the club for Exeter in the 2018/19 season and would be a reasonably regular member of the team. Following a 2019/20 season that saw him score a personal best of 12 goals in league competition, he was signed to St. Mirren in the Scottish Premiership.
As I said, we had a successful season all things considered, and with this season completed, it was time to prepare to prove we belonged on the path to greatness under my management. In the next update, we’re going to go over my battle to push for the top and ultimately win, as I realise an image in the previous update would have spoiled! Nonetheless, we’re going to go over in more detail our results, signings, and best eleven for what would be my third and final full season at Oxford United before moving on.