Lawes had taken a twenty-point hit, but a sleepless Friday night resulted in a Free Hit and a complete change of strategy. Would Lawes live to regret his impulses?
We left the story with an almighty gamble: the taking of a twenty-point hit, to ensure a full squad (assuming Watford beat Crystal Palace in the cup) for gameweeks 31 & 33, with the intention of using the Free Hit in gameweek 32. The logic behind this was, assuming that the players brought in played 60 minutes in both GWs 31 and 33, the hit taken would be negated by the points scored, with the potential for even greater hauls with goals, assists and clean sheets. The starting XI was:
Boruc; Alexander-Arnold (vc), Van Dijk, Robertson; Tielemans, Hazard, Fraser, Almiron, H.Barnes; Wilson, Vardy (c).
The total gameweek score for GW 31, for this team, was 30 points. Factoring in the twenty-point deduction, this team scored just 10 points for GW 31. This is exactly what FPL Nightmares are made of.
Except, that wasn’t the team the Last Stand put out. Unable to sleep on Friday night, tossing and turning and breaking out into cold sweats, I realised that it wasn’t sleeping in until 2pm that had rendered me temporarily insomniac, no. It was Sadio Mane’s performance against Bayern Munich. Why, oh why, had I taken a twenty-point hit to transfer him out? Was I going insane, again? Fearing a trip back to the Whitehaven mental hospital, I made the only decision available to me, and I played the Free Hit.
This had two positives. The first was the obvious, that I would be free of the twenty-point hit previously taken. The second was that I’d revert back to my GW 30 team, which (assuming Watford beat Crystal Palace in the cup) was much better equipped for the rest of the season. Following the Free Hit, the Last Stand entered GW 31 with this team:
Fabianski; Rice, Azpilicueta, Alexander-Arnold; Almiron, Hazard, Salah (vc), Mane (c); Perez, Vardy, Wilson.
There were a lot of similarities with other GW 31 teams, but, looking through the League of Gentlemen, there was one key differential: only Big Steve and I had captained Mane, with the majority of the other contenders electing to hand the armband to the woefully-underperforming Mohamed Salah. This gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, this week could turn the Last Stand’s season around.
I was at work on Saturday, which left me unable to keep up-to-date on the football scores. The first chance available to see what was happening was at 2:45pm, when the starting line-ups were checked and every member of my starting XI had been selected. This was a positive, but as the afternoon progressed, the frustration built. First, Huddersfield – the Premier League’s lowest-scorers – put three past West Ham, rendering Rice and Fabianski as useless. Then, none of Perez, Vardy or Wilson returned at all. To make things worse, Rondon – who I had gone to sleep with in my team, but switched to Perez upon awakening – returned 8 points, and King – Wilson’s strike partner – returned 13 points. Two minor decisions, but a 17-point difference in returns. Here we go again.
Sunday brought a morning of fretting and worry. What if the rumours were true – what if Mane had sustained an injury in Munich? While I still had Salah against Fulham as vice-captain, Salah has been anonymous in big matches for Liverpool this season, and these remaining league matches are the biggest in Liverpool’s Premier League history. I needed Mane to be fit, because the advice of the Simpsons was reverberating in my head:
Turning on the match on Sunday afternoon, and the news was confirmed: Mane starts! This meant the Last Stand were still in the game. Both Dinga’s Ringers and Jeeves’ Jugganauts had captained Salah, which meant that, should Salah do what Salah does in big matches this season, there was every chance of clawing back ground.
The match went on, and Mane scored. 10 points in the bank already. With my heart in my mouth, I saw Salah waste glorious chances. It all got too much, and I decided to take a nap. The cries of the commentary awoke me, deep in the second half. Surely I’m dreaming, Fulham couldn’t have scored. But they had, that pink-haired goon Babel ruining my Alexander-Arnold clean sheet. Salah went through again … another miss! I went to make a brew, and I heard the commentator’s shouts again. Penalty! I looked at the replay and saw it was a foul on Mane! This was great news, made even better by Milner, rather than Salah, taking the penalty.
The match ended with Salah getting 2 points, and Mane getting 13 or, for those who captained him, a massive 26 points. In the context of a gameweek with only Everton getting a clean sheet, with five of the six most-transferred in players blanking and with only one big-name player producing, this was a gift from the FPL gods.
The gameweek ended with the Last Stand recording their first positive performance since gameweek 12. While there have been three gameweeks of decent scores since then, they were rendered meaningless in the League of Gentlemen due to the performance of the Ringers and Jugganauts in those weeks. But not this week. In this week, the Last Stand made up 17 points on the Ringers and 19 points on the Jugganauts. At long last, the Last Stand had won the head-to-heads. The gap to Big Steve extended slightly, but even that is irrelevant, due to Big Steve drawing level with Who Horner, who only registered 25 points. The gap was extended on Jie in seventh. Instead of looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack, the Last Stand are focusing their hungry eyes on fourth place.
And, miracle of miracles, Watford beat Crystal Palace in the cup.
The last-minute use of the Free Hit means, not only did the Last Stand end up with 45 points instead of 10, but we now have seven players with a double-gameweek in GW32, and we have ten players in the squad for GW33. It’s going to be a tough run-in, hits will have to be taken and bravery will have to be displayed. We remain 34 points off fourth place, 43 points off the Jugganauts, 53 points off the Ringers and 72 points off the new League of Gentlemen leader, the hope-inspirer Flash. Fourth place would be a remarkable achievement. Overhauling the Jugganauts would reverberate through time. Clawing back the Ringers would be our greatest achievement in FPL history. Winning the League of Gentlemen seems an impossible dream. But all dreams are impossible until they become reality.
The Last Stand are back in the green arrows. Maybe, just maybe, this is the start of a miraculous comeback.
As it stands:
'The FPL Nightmare: How to Lose the World's Greatest Mini-League in 38 Simple Steps'
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