January. The chance to usher in new beginnings, clean the slate and set yourself fresh resolutions.
Off the back of a mildly positive Christmas period, new goals and new challenges for my Wolverhampton Wanderers team should mean pushing towards automatic promotion.
As 2017 begins, we sit only five points off the top two.
The misery that unfolds in this opening month of the year, though, leaves that ambition but a distant pipe dream.
It started well enough with, a comfortable victory over Sheffield Wednesday. 18 year-old Connor Ronan, starting in the absence of Magnus Wolff Eikrem, impresses with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win.
Bids then start flying in for right-back Dominic Iorfa. They’re tempting at first – Southampton throw £7 million at him, Everton £7.5 million, but we push them back hoping for higher offers.
Sure enough Saints come back and bid £8.5 million, rising to £10.5 million. We don’t need the money, really, but with backup in the form of Silvio and Matt Doherty, I decide it’s too good to turn down.
In a busy week, I also make another bold move by bringing in Mikel Merino. Not bold in that it’s a risk – he comes with no fee and no wages – but because it’s a completely unnecessary signing.
As a playmaking central midfielder he will be competing directly with Eikrem, one of our star performers so far this season. There are, with the gift of hindsight, bigger holes worth filling.
Still, we cruise past Southend 4-0 in the FA Cup (yes, it’s only Southend, but we truly obliterate them – it’s a joy to watch).
The remainder of the month, though – not so joyous.
We fall 2-0 to Norwich City, the only team in the top two we can realistically catch. The very definition of a six-pointer, we play well in phases but ultimately prove ineffective in front of goal. That problem again.
We follow it up with another lousy performance against Huddersfield, scoring first and then succumbing to a 2-1 defeat.
I could throw out excuses – my two first choice goalkeepers are unavailable, for example – but, in reality, I’m just getting something wrong.
The balance has gone a little. Trying to squeeze Merino into midfield has meant dropping the more resolute and dogged enforcer-types that have kept our defence protected. Leaving Romain Saiss and Jack Price out of the team has left us porous.
Tottenham Hotspur away in the FA cup comes next and despite a gutsy showing we lose 3-1. By gutsy I simply mean we did well to keep them out until the second half.
All the while, Ben Marshall continues to prove a point by missing training. I’m pushing hard to get him gone but, funnily enough, nobody seems all that interested.
Andi Weimann – on loan from Derby County – also starts kicking up a fuss and complains about lack of games. I let him go and bring in Oliver Burke as a temporary replacement. Not a bad swap by all accounts.
We then crumble to the most demotivating loss of the year, falling 3-2 to Barnsley. On this occasion, tactics are nothing to do with it – we capitulate in way I’ve never seen before and it well and truly kills our automatic promotion hopes.
The defeat rounds off a rather haunting month. We sit fifth, 12 points off the promotion spots. 2017 is beginning to look like a stinker of a year.