Here we are! The Premier League! After only fourteen seasons we’ve climbed from the twelfth tier to the summit. I predict a difficult season having to juggle a European campaign in the Europa League as well as our Premier League and domestic cup obligations, but we have a good young squad and with the right additions I think staying up should be a very realistic goal, as well as reaching the group stage of the Europa League. I won’t be placing much emphasis on the FA Cup nor the EFL cup this season, especially if we go anywhere in Europe – we just don’t have the squad depth.
These were the minimum expectations from the board. Whilst I felt we could achieve a better League finish, I didn’t want any added pressure with the Europa League games as well to contend with.
Sabo came in on a free as a backup striker. Macleod, Viera and Dunlop were signed on loan to provide cover without blowing a hole in our transfer budget.
Bogdan Cojocaru has potential and will start in central midfield.
Chris Claudel is our record signing and even at the tender age of 18 is ready to start games.
Fager, Larsson and Kaya were found during a Scandinavian scouting trip and all had foreign club release fees so I took advantage of that! Fager will be a starter at RW, whilst Kaya and Larsson will provide support from the bench.
I thought it strange that Chelsea wanted to loan Cutlan, but he wasn’t going to get games here so I may as well let them pay his wages. It hurt to let Keita, Farid and Hristov go, they were founding players and were key players in the early days. Keita still holds the record number of league apps for the club with 390. Only one original Wicker now remains as a player, record scorer and icon Jeff Idemudia, whose contract is up at the end of next season.
The big question is, can we survive with the big boys?
Well, could we? Lots of very tight scorelines, despite the many losses and draws, showed we can mix it with the best in England. We didn’t concede many goals, in fact we had the 4th best defence in the league and our ‘keeper was runner up in the Golden Glove award for clean sheets! Our biggest issue was with scoring goals, though there were flashes towards the end, against Fulham and Derby, that it was something that could improve without major intevention.
So where did we finish?
Smack bang in the middle! This was most unexpected, even by me. I thought we’d avoid relegation but not so emphatically. In my mind we were looking at 15th-16th so to finish 10th was wonderful!
Well who’d have thought it, little Hackney Wick in Europe already! And not only did we qualify for the group stage, and in style, we qualified from the group stage with a 2-2 draw the only blot on the copy-book! I thought Sporting would be the team to beat, so I didn’t expect to smash them 4-0 away in the first game!
I expected more, far more, from Zinedine Zidane’s Bologna in the first knockout round, but we tore them to shreds, with a respectable 2-0 away win, and a conclusive 6-1 home win to carry us into a big second knockout round tie against Portugese giants Benfica.
I knew this was going to be a real test, and a 1-1 draw at home did us no favours, leaving us with it all to do at the Estádio da Luz. We came, we saw, and we were conquered. We tried our best but we just couldn’t find the one goal to take it to extra time, and so we went home. I wasn’t disappointed. We went far further than anyone could have reasonably expected, and we can take this experience away with us ready for the next time. With no European football next season we can rebuild and focus on trying to get into Europe again, either via the domestic cups or the league.
We didn’t fare too much better in the EFL Cup, but to be fair we were playing Group Stage Europa League ties around these games so to even reach the fourth round and meet the board’s target was good enough for me.
Despite only playing half the season as first choice, Ryan Punter was the club’s top scorer. Smith again was top for assists. I’m surprised Bailey made the Team of the Year over Cojocaru, who played more games and played well.
No-one signed again though we keep pouring money into facilities and coaching, as well as recruitment, as fast as we can.
We move back to our home borough of Hackney, into the brand new Kasanga Park stadium, with another season of Premier League football to wow the 14,198 fans. The plan is to strengthen where we are weakest, and with a provisional budget of £70m, we should have no issues with that! I’d like to get into Europe again, most likely with an assault on the domestic cups, as I’m not sure we’re ready to really challenge the top six yet.