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League One

Andy Ritchie's Blog 1

22 August 2012

Back in the dark, distant past when I was still a player, I used to love the start of a new season but the beginning of a new campaign when I was a manager was a totally different proposition.

As a player, the sun always seemed to be shining for the first few games of the new season, I was chomping at the bit to get back into the action and I could almost smell that first goal. True, I was usually breathing like an asthmatic after 20 minutes because the full match fitness wasn't quite there, but I loved it all the same.

As a manager, however, the overriding feeling was usually one of trepidation and fear. It was a leap into the unknown in terms of how the team would perform and I learned quickly that however well pre-season had gone, it could all quickly fall down around you as soon as the real action started.

The problem was that it sometimes didn't seem to matter how much time you had spent on fitness and tactics and working on the team's shape. Once that whistle went for the start of the first fixture, absolutely anything could happen and just two games into the new npower League 1 season, I'm sure plenty of the division's managers have already experienced a sense of bewilderment and surprise at how their team have performed.

It will obviously be a few weeks before we get any real clues about how the season will unfold, but I must say I'm delighted to see Portsmouth still alive and kicking after the cloud of uncertainty that hung over the club during the summer.

Pompey's future is far from resolved but I'm sure Michael Appleton will be delighted to have kicked-off with a couple of decent draws against AFC Bournemouth and Colchester United, and considering the number of young players he's had to draft in at the eleventh hour just to put a team together, I'd say it was more than a steady start.

Another club experiencing the stark reality of money matters are Sheffield United, who were forced to leave Nick Montgomery and Richard Cresswell out of their squad to play Coventry City on Tuesday night. They were overlooked because of 'financial reasons' and after missing out on promotion last season, it looks like the Blades are going to have to cut their cloth accordingly, focus on younger players and move their highest earners on.

I'm sure it's desperately frustrating for the fans, who just want to see the strongest XI out on the pitch, but I can see where United are coming from. The financial fair play rules are just around the corner and surely it's better for the club to experience some pain now rather than serious agony in the future.

On to purely football matters, and I notice there's already been a fair few red cards in the division this season. Alan Smith got his marching orders for Milton Keynes Dons on Tuesday at Bournemouth, making it three sending-offs in three games for the team, and it obviously raises the question of discipline at such an early stage of the year.

If I was Karl Robinson I wouldn't be unduly worried right now but if the trend continues over the next few matches, he will have a problem on his hands.

I was faced with a similar situation when I took the Barnsley job in 2005. We'd had a poor season the year before in terms of discipline and I had to meet FA officials in Manchester to set out what we were going to do to address the issue over the coming season.

I must have been reasonably convincing because we got a £5,000 fine but another £20,000 was suspended.

What I actually did was warn the players that all bookings that they picked up for dissent would automatically result in a fine of two-week's wages. I told them that what I considered 'silly' bookings would also be looked at and I drafted in a league referee from the Barnsley area to take charge of all our practice games in training so he could explain his decisions to the players and get them thinking more clearly about their actions.

I'm not saying we were angels that season but it did reduce the number of bookings.

Finally this week, I'd just like to say how relieved I am to hear that Bury's David Worrall didn't break his leg playing against Doncaster Rovers. It didn't look good initially but he's had scans on the leg and the diagnosis is severe bruising rather than a break and he should be playing again sooner rather than later.

You wouldn't wish a break on any player at any time but to have picked up that injury at this stage of the season would have particularly cruel.

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