Sunday, 31 July 2011

Making a splash at Bath

IF this turns out to be (thanks to West Brom preferring Greece to Whaddon) our final pre-season run-out, then it ended on a good note at Twerton Park.
After a slow start we gradually moved through the gears and scored some well-worked goals against a Bath side who seemed to wilt in the sunshine after a promising start.
Mark Yates started with the same side which opened up against Walsall, bar a rest for Kaid Mohamed, maybe to save him from the baying Bath hordes still angry at his departure, replaced by the returning Russ Penn.
It was Penn who was the focal point for those early exchanges as he looked determined to make up for his absence in recent games by leaving his mark (at times fairly literally) on the game.
His running battle with the equally bald and equally battle-hardened Lewis Hogg brightened up a drab opening to the game and showed us what Penn is about and what he will bring to our side.
He lined up in midfield alongside Marlon Pack, who was also not backwards in coming forwards early on with some spicy challenges, Luke Summerfield and Josh Low, the four of them flitting around left, right and centre.
Summerfield was having his third game for us and in a conversation with some of our fans afterwards Yatesy compared him with a guy who spent the game in the opposing dugout, the great Lee Howells.
High praise indeed - and yet more evidence of an impending contract offer - 'watch this space' was the answer my post-match question on the subject received.
Defensively, we lined up with Keith Lowe, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott and Danny Andrew in front of Scott Brown, so that looks nailed on for the back five at Priestfield in a week's time.
They looked solid enough.
The clean sheet (a first of pre-season) was a welcome boost, and there were signs of the Elliott-Bennett partnership dovetailing well, three one-on-one blocks the sum total of Scott Brown's work being evidence of the good job done by those in front of him.
Up front, Jeff Goulding started with Jimmy Spencer and these two are favourites for Kent with Darryl Duffy having not yet had 90 minutes - though it was good to see him come on and score.
Apart from all the Penn-Hogg shenanigans, a shot wide from Marlon Pack and a Bath substitution forced by Gethin Jones' injury was about it for the opening 40 minutes, until we took the lead.
Keith Lowe's deep cross was headed back from the far post by Jeff Goulding, and Josh Low controlled it and finished from about eight yards.
Danny Andrew had to go off early in the second half with a bit of blurred vision, with Sido Jombati coming on against his old club and not looking out of place.
The second half was one of pretty much total Cheltenham domination and I thought at times we played some good stuff, putting some slick moves together.
Jimmy Spencer headed on to the roof of the net before he went off along with Russ Penn on the hour mark, Junior Smikle and Darryl Duffy coming on.
Soon after Keith Lowe had a goal disallowed for offside then Duffy should have done better with a free header from a Jombati cross - it seemed a second goal and more had to come.
It took until the 76th minute though, Keith Lowe and Junior Smikle linking up with Josh Low, who sent Marlon Pack away to round the keeper and slot in.
It was good to see Marlon get a goal, but I thought, of the Pack, Penn, Summerfield trio, he was the least effective overall.
A minute later, Jeff Goulding's diagonal ball sent Darryl Duffy away, and he intelligently waited for support, which arrived from Josh Low, who smashed in the pull back for his third in two games.
Goals from midfield were sparse last season, so hopefully this is a sign that we may get some more from these areas this term.
Players like Low, Pack, Penn, Summerfield and Smikle should definitely aim for at least five goals each - more in some cases.
A very pleasing half ended well when another good move saw Goulding find Jombati on the left and another good cross from him was headed back by Smikle for Duffy to tap in from a couple of yards.
A significant moment for the Scotsman, who said afterwards that we should not expect him to score his goals from much further out than that - to be honest, he can score as many as he likes from two yards out!
Summerfield, Low and Goulding went off just before the end, Theo Lewis, Dave Bird and Bags Graham coming on, and four goals and a clean sheet made it just about the perfect afternoon.
So if that is to be the last pre-season outing, then it is good to go to Gillingham with two successive wins and seven goals under our belts having fielded what looks like our season-starting side for the majority of the games.
The back five, as I said before, looks nailed on, with Alan Bennett as captain.
Goulding and Spencer are probably the front pair for Kent - the only dilemma left being in midfield I would guess.
If Luke Summerfield signs this week - and the indications seem to be strong that he will - then Mark has to decide whether to play him with Pack and Penn, or go for two of them with Josh Low on the right, and either Kaid or Junior Smikle on the left.
Decisions, decisions - I would go for Low, Pack, Penn and Kaid to go there and have a go at Gillingham, but I am worried about Kaid tracking back enough to help out Danny Andrew, and maybe leaving him a bit exposed.
Whatever happens, by this time next week, the ruby-clad Robins will have had their first proper outing, and we will get the first inkling of what we can expect in the next 10 months.
The countdown begins now.