We moved into the latter stages of the 2021/22 campaign, our third in the Premier League with Leeds United, embroiled in a very tight mid-table battle.
We began the year by selling centre-back stalwart Pontus Jansson, who’d been overtaken by youngster Benoit Badiashile in the pecking order, to Bournemouth for £4 million. In his place came young Serbian defender Filip Todorovic for just £110k, along with a host of other young players.
But the main arrival was the signing of Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Harry Winks. Premier League rules now state that the squad is only 17 non-British players and we were running dangerously low on home-grown talent, so I decided to bring in the transfer-listed Winks to bolster both that and our midfield options.
The new year began with a 6-2 thumping of Mansfield in the FA Cup, with Konrad de la Fuenta opening the scoring then braces from both Ahmed Zahran and Rodrigo De Paul.
We resumed the Premier League with a 3-2 defeat at Arsenal, which we’d led 2-1 until the 89th minute thanks to a Patrick Bamford brace only for the hosts to score twice in the last minute. Pretty annoying.
But we bounced back with a 2-1 win at home to West Ham United, thanks to Bamford and Badiashile, then managed to avoid defeat against Liverpool for the first time with Leonel Larrahondo scoring a late equaliser.
That began a run of six league games without a win, with that draw followed by defeats at Norwich City and Watford then home losses to Stoke City and 4-3 against West Bromwich Albion.
Bizarrely, a 1-0 FA Cup fifth round win over Southampton then sparked a complete turnaround in form that saw us only lose one more league match until the end of the season. That began with a mad 5-3 win at home to Everton, in which we led 4-0 through Jamie Shackleton, Jack Clarke, Larrahondo and a De Paul penalty, Alexandre Lacazette got one back, we bagged a fifth through Zahran then Everton added two late consolations.
A De Paul second half brace sealed a 2-0 win at Wolves, then he repeated the feat before a Clarke goal sealed a 3-2 win at home to Southampton. We then moved into the semi-finals of the FA Cup by gaining revenge on Norwich City, who’d knocked us out of the Carabao Cup, with a 3-1 win thanks to an Alejandro Marques brace and a third again from Clarke.
Another beating from Manchester United, 4-2 at home this time, was followed by an FA Cup semi-final against West Ham. It was 0-0 until Marko Arnautovic fired the Hammers ahead, but we hit back with a goal from Armin Djerlek in the 88th minute then Shackleton ensured a first FA Cup Final since 1973 for Leeds United.
That win inspired us to go on a superb run of five straight wins and concluded the season with a seven-game unbeaten streak. That included not one but two wins over big six teams with 1-0 victories at Spurs and Chelsea thanks to goals in both games from De Paul.
That strong end to the season saw us come out on top in a really tight battle for the European places, jumping above Spurs and Everton to claim sixth place in the Premier League. That saw us qualify for the Euro Cup for the 2022/23 campaign.
Only the top three of Liverpool, Manchester United (who both scored 100 goals) and Manchester City scored more than our 73 goals. While only the bottom two clubs Cardiff and Southampton, Leicester and West Ham conceded more than the 68 we let in – so that’s a bit of a concern.
The season concluded with our appearance in the FA Cup Final. We were up against Manchester City so I went into it with absolutely zero hope, and came out of it pretty unsurprised. It was a fairly tight affair but in truth City were much the better team and eventually won it with two late goals from Gabriel Jesus and Federico Chiesa, whose transfer fee of £62 million is more than our entire squad cost.
Our performances led to me being named the Premier League Manager of the Year. While individually, De Paul was our top scorer with 23 goals and had the most assists with 12, which has led to heavy interest from Juventus given he has a £30.5 million minimum fee clause.