The current Irish Premiership season is one of the most exciting of recent times, but let’s see what happens when you use the football management simulator video game, Football Manager 2020 to see what the league will look like at the end of the season.

But before I hit continue for the first time – one of the most exciting times for any person playing Football Manager, I need to lay down some ground rules for those that know the game. I have started the game unemployed and will remain unemployed throughout and I have not purchased the in-game editor so I will obviously not be using that.

The media give their predictions

At the start of the save, which is the beginning of the 2019/20 season, the media predict the Danske Bank Premiership at the end of the first season to look at little like this:

Linfield are expected to win the title with Crusaders finishing as runners up. Glenavon surprise everyone by being expected to finish in 3rd place while Glentoran round out the top four. Larne on their return to the top flight are expected to finish 6th with Coleraine rounding out the top half of the table. Down towards the relegation end of the table, Cliftonville just miss out on a top-half finish with Ballymena behind them in 8th position. Dungannon finish 9th while Carrick just avoids relegation in 10th. Institute are expected to face the relegation/promotion playoff, finishing in 11th while Warrenpoint are expected to be automatically relegated to the Championship, finishing last.

 

The media have also had their say and have created the ‘Media Dream Eleven’ for the upcoming season – basically, the media saying what they think the best possible team is from all players in the Danske Bank Premiership. It looks a little like this:

The media have gone with a 5-3-2 formation. Coleraine’s Chris Johns takes his place between the sticks, Larne’s Shane McEleney, Linfield’s Jimmy Callacher, and Crusaders’ Colin Coates take the three centre-back spots. In the right wing-back position, we have Crusader’s Billy Joe Burns, with Ben Doherty on the opposite flank. In midfield, we have a trio all from different clubs. Linfield’s Bastien Héry, Glentoran’s Hrvoje Plum are given midfield positions along with Glenavon’s Rhys Marshall who is given a midfield spot instead of his usual right-back spot. Upfront we see Linfield’s Shane Lavery and Crusader’s Paul Heatley.

The managers take up their positions for the start of the season

The database of Football Manager is one of the most accurate out there, where even the Irish League is mostly accurate, and the game developers have done their job correctly by placing the managers at their correct clubs, as of November 2019 when the game was released. I will go through these in order of the media predictions above:

ClubManager
LinfieldDavid Healy
CrusadersStephen Baxter
GlenavonGary Hamilton
GlentoranMick McDermott
LarneTiernan Lynch
ColeraineOran Kearney
CliftonvillePaddy McLaughlin
Ballymena UnitedDavid Jeffery
Dungannon SwiftsKris Lindsay
Carrick RangersNiall Currie
InstituteSean Connor
Warrenpoint TownBarry Gray

 

Surprise at the top of the goalscoring charts, but a four-way for the assist crown

I don’t think anyone could have predicted this top three in the goalscoring charts at the end of the first season, with Dungannon Swift’s Daniel Hughes taking the crown with 20 goals, but despite his goals, the club has transfer listed him. Glentoran’s Curtis Allen and Ballymena’s Cathair Friel finished as joint runner’s up with 16 goals each, along with Linfield’s Shane Lavery.

There is a four-way tie at the top of the assists chart with Linfield’s Bastien Héry, Glenavon’s Josh Daniels, Crusader’s Paul Heatley and Larne’s Lee Lynch taking the joint top spot.      

 

Glenavon take their fair share of the ‘Stat Awards’ but Linfield outscore the rest

If you have a look at the detailed team stats from the 2019/20 season, there may be a few shocks. Linfield were the most clinical in the goal-scoring front, scoring 70 goals last season, helped with their 39% shot accuracy, the best in the league. Cliftonville had the best crossing completion but weren’t able to connect with the crosses with only the 8th highest goals scored last season. Carrick Rangers also have caused a surprise with the highest passing accuracy with 67% of passes reaching their intended target. Crusaders were the dirtiest side in the league, causing 505 fouls, averaging just over 13 fouls a game.

Glenavon clean up the rest of the ‘stat awards’ with the Lurgan Blues having the best average possession with 56%. They have also got the best tackling completion, with 78% of their tackles being successful. Their final two accolades are for the most clean sheets, with 15, and this is down to them conceding the least amount of goals with only 31 goals in 38 matches going past the Glenavon goalkeeper.

Three different clubs for the three big award winners

The manager of the year award was one that was tightly contested, but it was Glentoran’s manager Mick McDermott that come out victorious winning 60% of his games in charge, with his Glen’s side scoring 66 goals with 42 conceded.

The young player of the year award was won by Linfield’s Shane Lavery, who scored 16 goals in 30 matches for the Blues. He also managed to grab four assists and averaged a rating of 7.26 throughout the season.

The player of the year award was one by the Danske Bank Premiership’s top goalscorer and Dungannon Swift’s striker Daniel Hughes. He scored 20 goals in 38 appearances for the Swift’s, along with picking up eight assists, averaging a rating of 7.33 per game.

Four points separate the top four, but it’s Annagh United who come out on top in the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League

If we drop down two division to the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League, we can have a quick look at what has been going on there. It was Annagh United who come out on top in the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League, losing only two games all season. Bangor finished in second and got promoted to the Championship through the relegation/promotion playoff beating their Championship opponents PSNI 4-2 on aggregate. Lisburn Distillery and Armagh City close out the top four, with only four points separating the sides. Dollingstown, Moyola Park and Tobermore United complete the mid-table pack, with Limavady, Banbridge Town and Portstewart making up the bottom three in the table.

Player of the Year = James Wright (Lisburn Distillery)

Top Goalscorer = John Uprichard (Annagh United)

Ards promoted while PSNI and Ballyclare get relegated from the Championship

If we have a quick look at what has been going on in the Bluefin Sport Championship, Ards have been promoted as Champions, losing one game all season. Portadown finish as runners up and along with Newry City, they go into the promotion playoff. Harland & Wolff Welders, Dundela, and Dergview round out the top half. Ballinamallard and Knockbreda finished with more points than Dergview but they were in the relegation group and therefore are locked to the bottom half of the table, finishing in seventh and eighth respectively. Loughgall and Queen’s University stay in the division while PSNI and Ballyclare get relegated to the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League. Ballyclare were relegated automatically, while PSNI lost in the Championship relegation/promotion playoff to Bangor.

Player of the Year & Top Goalscorer = Jordan Hughes (Dundela)

Only the three managerial changes throughout the season

The first managerial change of the season was at Larne with Tiernan Lynch, after his players lost confidence in him, being replaced by former Puerto Rico manager Colin Clarke in October. In November there were two further changes. Crusader’s Stephen Baxter was next to leave, with supporter pressure leading to Derry City manager Declan Devine taking over at Seaview. Institute’s Sean Connor was the final managerial sacking of the season, with Cliftonville assistant manager Harry Fay taking over at the Brandywell.

Glentoran very active in both transfer windows

With teams able to make transfers in both the summer and January transfer windows, here are my top five moves that I think are worth noting.

Chris Gallagher – Glentoran to Crewe (£8.5k)

Elliot Morris – Glentoran to Chesterfield (Free)

Cameron Stewart – Glentoran to Warrenpoint (Loan)

Ciaron Brown – Cardiff to Linfield (Loan)

Charlie Owens – QPR to Glentoran (Loan)

Linfield retain the Gibson Cup, with Warrenpoint being relegated to Championship

Linfield have retained the Gibson Cup beating their closest title challengers Glenavon by four points. The Lurgan Blue’s earned a place in the Europa League Qualifiers as a result of finishing second.  Glentoran finish in third, three points behind the Glenavon. Coleraine are a little further back in fourth, 12 points behind the Glens. Ballymena United and Cliftonville round out the top half group.

Dungannon Swifts finish in seventh with Crusaders in eighth, both with more points than Cliftonville in sixth but both were locked into the relegation group. Crusaders also qualify for the Europa League due to winning the Irish Cup. Larne finish in ninth after their first season back in the top-flight with Carrick also staying up in tenth. Institute survived after having to face Newry City in the relegation/promotion playoff, with Stute winning 3-1 on aggregate. Warrenpoint missed out on survival, being relegated to the Championship after losing 23 matches all season, notably two less than Institute but picked up five more draws, being four points behind the Brandywell based side at the end of the season.

Linfield do the double, while Crusaders win the League Cup

The Bet McLean League Cup was won by Linfield who beat Glenavon 2-0 at Solitude with goals from Jordan Stewart and Bastien Héry. The Irish Cup was won by Crusaders who beat Ballymena United 2-1 at The Oval, with goals from Paul Heatley and Jamie McGonigle for the Crues and Cathair Friel for the Sky Blues.

This is only the beginning

Next time I will be forwarding on through another season of the Northern Ireland Football League and see what Football Manager holds for football in Northern Ireland at the end of the 2020/21 campaign.