Wednesday, 13 July 2011

All a bit sour at Stour

It was a strange evening from the off at the War Memorial Ground.
From the moment the man on the tannoy asked for helpers afterwards to 'demolish' the ground ready for tomorrow's cricket game, it was never going to be a normal evening.
Due to the cricket, they very rarely play home pre-season friendlies, which is probably why they were 'up' for it, and why a decent crowd of 328 were there to witness it.
We last played there in the Southern League in April, 1984 - and after the 2-0 defeat tonight, I am sure there are a few doom-mongers predicting that we will soon be back there again.
I was probably there in 1984 but can't remember it. Hopefully come May after a season where we defy the bookies again and maybe have a decent Cup run, the memory of this visit will have faded as well.

The main stand at Stourbridge's Amblecote ground
The cricket pavilion and square on the other side of the
unique three-sided War Memorial Ground

It would be fair to say that we weren't very good. People will look at 'Stourbridge 2 Cheltenham 0' printed on the net and in the papers and immediately jump to ridiculous conclusions that relegation is in the offing.
But it's July. No points were won and lost - all that matters is August 6, and what happens from then on. Keep telling yourself that and everything will be fine.
Yesterday, the team had a three-hour training session in the morning, then went to the Prince of Wales Stadium and ran eight lots of 800 metres round the track. That's four miles.
For the past two weeks, as Mark Yates had warned them, they have been worked very hard indeed, with daily double sessions and no days off, building up the core fitness that will see them through until May, and hopefully avoid a repeat of that slump we suffered after Christmas last year.

Former West Brom and England
striker Cyrille Regis was
watching the game - I resisted
the temptation to ask if he
fancied a game up front ...


As I took up my position at deep fine leg (for the right-hander), the team sheet showed that our first half line up was Scott Brown in goal, Dave Bird, Alan Bennett, Andy Gallinagh and Danny Andrew across the back, Brian Smikle, Russ Penn, Marlon Pack and triallist Bagasan Graham across the middle, with trialist Nathan Elder and Kaid Mohamed up front.
Sido Jombati (ribs) was the latest absentee as he followed Ethan Moore (ill) and Steve Elliott (knee) to the sidlelines, but Kaid Mohamed got his first taste of action.
Following on from his little cameo at Cirencester, triallist Bagasan Graham was the bright spot of the first half, with three of four decent runs from deep.
What I like about him is his directness, and his being left-footed is another advantage.
He is very raw, but when he gets the ball, his first thought is to run at people and take them on.
One of his runs ended with a great cross which Brian Smikle just failed to reach with his head, although he was offside.
There were more good signs of a partnership forming between our quarterback Marlon Pack and the all-action Russ Penn, who was popping up everywhere before - slightly worryingly - going off with a thigh injury.
Interestingly, they were again paired together while other combinations were chopped and changed, more proof (if any were actually needed) that they will be the central pairing for Gillingham and beyond.
We fell behind to a 14th minute goal from Josh Craddock, who glanced in a corner but should have levelled when Elder was put in by Bird, but he very disappointingly failed to finish.
Elder, as with the other triallists, will be given another chance on Saturday at Telford, but he will have to show a lot more I feel to extend his stay beyond then.
Alongside him, Mohamed looked off the pace, not surprising after his slight injury, but did have one good run and shot early on.
Our other new arrival Alan Bennett was solid enough at the back again, while Penn's injury gave an earlier than expected outing to another triallist Luke Bottomer as Smikle moved more central.

Jeff Goulding's appearance
was brief before he suffered
a hamstring injury


Bottomer again showed his feistiness and fearlessness, both putting in and receiving some meaty challenges but was not as effective as on Saturday - he has a bit of the David Huttons about him and you wonder whether he will have the physicality for League Two.
The second half line-up saw Mike Green, formerly with Bristol Rovers and a loan spell with Gloucester, in goal with Kyle Haynes, triallist Harry Hooman, Keith Lowe and Josh Low across the back. In midfield Bottomer was on the right with Theo Lewis, Michael Pook and second-year scholar Jacob Morgan making up the midfield and Jeff Goulding up front with triallist Scott Wilson.
But early in the half, Goulding suffered a hamstring problem and went off, so we played the last 30-35 minutes with 10 men, which left young Wilson, from the Bristol City Academy, up front on his own.

Scott Wilson, on trial
from Bristol City


I felt sorry for the lad - a slightly smaller version of Shaun Jeffers - as his big chance to impress now saw him ploughing a lone furrow, but he battled on gamely and I hope he gets a better opportunity at Telford.
At the back, Hooman did little wrong, as this time it was Josh Low's short back-pass which proved costly as Aaron Drake rounded Green for the second goal.
Theo Lewis was guilty of an incredible miss, finding the side netting after rounding the keeper, and no-one shone at all in the second half.
Morgan on the left tried hard, and credit to Josh Low for encouraging him throughout and almost talking him through the half. It was good to see a senior pro helping out a youngster in that way.
So that was that, and there is no getting away from the fact that is was a sluggish performance - although interviewing Marlon Pack afterwards you could see by looking at him that he was absolutely exhausted from the two weeks of double training sessions, running and games they have had.
After the game, Yatesy revealed the eight lots of 800 metres at the Prince of Wales that they had been subjected to yesterday, admitting that maybe they had got that a little wrong, and that they had gone into this game having been worked a little too hard.
But fitness and getting players time on the pitch is what these games are all about, so a 2-0 defeat is not the end of the world and should not mean too much in the grand scheme of things.
Doubts remain about the goal threat up front, especially as we have yet to see Moore this pre-season and now Goulding has limped off, so the news that our loan striker's arrival had been delayed is a disappointment.
But Mark said afterwards that he hopes it will go through this time next week, as it has all been agreed with the club and the player, but a couple of injuries mean he gets a pre-season tour with his club then should be heading this way.
So it's not all doom and gloom. Honest...
A team in red and white stripes did win the game, after all.