Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A few green shoots

After the shadow boxing of Cirencester, Stourbridge and Telford, it was time for the first visit to the Theatre of Shattered Dreams, Whaddon Road.
Time for the first big test.
Bristol City brought along a strong line-up and we started with, on paper, probably the strongest line-up available to us.
Steve Elliott was still out, Ethan Moore still sick and there was also no Russ Penn, while Sido Jombati was on the bench, but not risked as we opened up with a 4-2-3-1 formation.
It was a system which had served us well at times last season, particularly at Accrington, but on this occasion it was rather forced on us with our paucity of out and out strikers.
Scott Brown was back in goal (more of him later...) while Keith Lowe, Harry Hooman, Alan Bennett and Danny Andrew made up the back four. Marlon Pack and Theo Lewis were the two 'holders' with Josh Low and Kaid Mohamed out wide and Junior Smikle in the middle just off the lone front man Jeff Goulding.
But the start was not encouraging as we seemed to sit off City a little too much in the opening quarter.
This, of course, gave rise to some discontented mumblings around me in the Paddock - yes, at the FIRST pre-season friendly, and against a side two divisions above us.
It took ONE MINUTE for the first moan about Scott Brown, coming after his misjudged a clearance... 'nothing has changed then, you are bloody useless Brown' ... the helpful comment from our so-called fan.
Thanks for nothing.
Then when Damion Stewart's long ball was brought down and finished superbly by Nicky Maynard (a £4million rated striker) the criticism continued... 'I suppose you will blame the pitch for that one' was the verdict from nearby.
Honestly, does every club have fans like that? It does make me despair.
In truth, we were sluggish early on as City pinged the ball about nicely and pegged us back, but as the half wore on we gradually came into it.
A superb run from Kaid Mohamed down the left, showing his turn of pace for the first time in pre-season action, nearly carved out a chance - but a quick counter-attack saw Marvin Elliott score with a header from Jamal Campbell-Ryce's cross.
Jeff Goulding was then guilty of a bad miss - although in his defence I think he was expecting an offside flag, then Josh Low burst through and should have squared for Goulding before the chance was snuffed out.
At half-time I went up stairs and was told that the Echo's live text was lively in the first half as the doom mongers were having a field day.
One comment was apparently that Mark Yates should be sacked if we are in the bottom half after 10 games and I was told there was a healthy debate about his successor. Incredible.
By the end of the game, I would hope that they were shut up well and truly as we turned in our best pre-season display to date in what I thought was a hugely positive second-half display.
It was led by Kaid Mohamed, now pushed up front alongside Jeff Goulding.
Kaid had not pulled up any trees in the first three games, but he showed good pace and skill, with one superb turn on the edge of the box.
Goulding worked very hard all game as he played most of it as a lone striker and - having taken a lot of flak for his work rate last season, he more than answered those criticisms.
He was unlucky with a header from a Marlon Pack free-kick but stepped up to beat David James with a well-taken penalty after Keith Lowe was fouled.
Defensively, after the two goals, Lowe was his usual dependable self and I thought Danny Andrew has a decent game against a tricky winger in Albert Adomah.
Alan Bennett and triallist Harry Hooman worked well together keeping Jon Stead and Nicky Maynard quiet in the second half.
Bennett looks a good signing to me while Hooman has promise - but I do not think our budget will spread that far.
In midfield, Marlon Pack oozes quality and Theo Lewis worked hard alongside him without really standing out before giving way to Dave Bird.
Andy Gallinagh replaced Alan Bennett, while we also saw Kyle Haynes on the right wing when Josh Low went off - and Kyle had a decent effort which flew wide of the far post.
Michael Pook was the last sub to come on, more proof - if any were needed - of his position in Mark Yates' pecking order.
Junior Smikle was busy, and moved from central midfield out to the right after Josh Low went off and ended up in the attack after Goulding was replaced.
Theo Lewis was replaced by Bagasan Graham, the star of pre-season so far, who once again did himself no harm, and will have picked up a few more admirers among those seeing him for the first time.
He made one good run down the left - then when the ball came to him subsequently the noise grew appreciably - people sensing something could happen.
The other unknown arrival in the second half was Boubou Diallo, who replaced Goulding up front.
He is a rangy striker, spindly, yet tall and athletic and he produced one great turn and a howitzer of a shot with David James turned around the post.
His name just suddenly appeared on the team sheet with no warning, and assistant manager Neil Howarth served only to prolong the mystery afterwards when quizzed on his background.
'He's French' was all Neil was prepared to offer, saying that an agent had recommended him and that there was the feeling he could play at our level.
He didn't even want to tell us how old he is - 'he says he is 18 but his passport says he's 32' was the tongue in cheek response.
A Google search on Boubou Diallo unearths a left back with one game in the French fourth division and one goal for Le Havre B. Who knows whether that's our man or not.
Neil did not want to give much away - suggesting maybe that he and Mark think they might have found something, and maybe something will transpire in the coming days or weeks.
So that is an interesting one - my conspiracy theory mind even wondering if Boubou Diallo is even his real name - a spot of the Scottish 'A Trialist' maybe... who knows?
Elsewhere, Bagasan Graham was again spoken of highly by Neil, who said that Mick Jones, assistant manager at QPR to Neil Warnock, said they came very close to offering Bags a contract, and they felt he could go on and have a career somewhere.
I honestly do hope it is here as every time I see him I get more convinced that there is a player  there somewhere and it would be a shame if he proved that somewhere else. A year's contract is, in my view, definitely a risk worth taking.
The much-famed loan striker is, we were told by Neil, still in the pipeline, while he also said that the name of our former loan winger Jake Thomson, the subject of a cryptic Twitter exchange earlier today with Marlon Pack, is still under consideration as another iron in the fire.
But we won't be able to sign the loan striker, loan keeper, Bagasan Graham, Boubou Diallo, Harry Hooman AND Jake Thomson as the budget will never stretch that far - unless someone comes in for Michael Pook.
All in all, an interesting evening which started in negativity and ended in optimism and a tinge of mystery.
So now off to Wales, and it will be fascinating to see who boards the coach, and what transpires when we take to the field at Newport next Saturday.
Things are definitely hotting up...