Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Saddlers are unsaddled

Repeat after me ... pre-season results don't matter... pre-season results don't matter... pre-season results don't matter...
That may be the case, but after three defeats and two draws in the first five games, there will have been more than a tinge of relief around following the 3-2 win over Walsall.
We scored three good, well-worked goals and despite conceding a couple we could have had a few more and I would hope that some who have formed their opinions of the squad from the pre-season results alone have at least started to change their opinions.
Of course, one win over a side who will once again be down at the bottom end of League One does not turn us from bookies' relegation favourites into certs for the top three - but it will hopefully show some people all too quick to write us off that they may have been a little hasty.
Thanks to Ed Young hitting the winning six to see off Essex at the College at around 7pm, it turned into a double winning evening as I was able to rock up to the Theatre of Shattered Dreams in time for kick-off without missing the end of the cricket.
Mark Yates' team selection was an interesting one, with the back five of Scott Brown, Keith Lowe, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott and Danny Andrew likely to be the quintet to start at Gillingham in a couple of weeks.
Josh Low and Kaid Mohamed were out wide, with Marlon Pack and trialist Luke Summerfield in midfield - again a good indication for Priestfield, with maybe Russ Penn for Summerfield the only change here.
That is of course unless we sign Summerfield before then - and the indications I got from Mark's post-match interview and from conversations with others within the club that they will find out what sort of deal he is looking for, and will try to find the money to do so if possible.
Jimmy Spencer and Jeff Goulding were partnered up front, and showed they can play together, so throw Darryl Duffy into the mix, and you can perm any two from those three for the Medway mayhem coming up.
Interestingly, youth teamer Brad Poole was in the bench as the backup keeper, and we found out afterwards that Mike Green was playing for another team, and that the Premiership loanee (rumoured to be Lee Nicholls of Wigan) is 'still in the pipeline'.
Absent from the bench was Andy Gallinagh (ill) and Michael Pook - 'not in my plans' were the manager's words on that one -
Summerfield for Pook in the squad would be a very welcome switch. He showed some touches of class - notably one superb 40-yard crossfield ball to Kaid Mohamed - but also wanted to get stuck in with good box to box energy and is clearly fit after his second 90 minutes in four days.
There is no doubt that he would greatly improve the quality and competition in central midfield - being able to choose from him, Marlon Pack and Russ Penn would be just the competition Mark wants - and has in other areas of the team.
The other stars of the night were on the flanks, with Josh Low having his 'game head' well and truly on, and Kaid Mohamed providing pace and trickery down the left.
They both got a deserved goal, and were at the heart of creating the rest of our best chances, even though it was Danny Andrew's cross which set Jimmy Spencer up for the opener.
That was a trademark whipped-in left foot centre, and Spencer got there to take advantage of some suspect keeping from David Grof to slide the ball home. Yes, a striker called Spencer scored a goal for Cheltenham...
As at Newport on Saturday, Spencer was all hustle and bustle, showing good strength and awareness - it is hard to think he is only 19 as he looks like and plays like someone much older.
On the current evidence he is a cut above some of the other loanees we have had of a similar age.
The Walsall equaliser came from a cross again, well finished at the far post, and I am sure some will use it as another chance to criticise Scott Brown, but the ball was lost in midfield, then we failed to stop the cross and Alex Nicholls had enough time to control, cut inside, and finish. Collective responsibility...
But it didn't put us off our passing, movement and quick-tempo game.
Spencer could have had a second after great link-up play between Goulding (hard-working and impressive again) and Pack (his usual languid self - he just seems to have so much time on the ball), while Kaid could have had a goal if he had a left foot... but he soon made up for it.
On the stroke of half-time he danced into the box and tricked his way past a couple of challenges to score a goal which I am sure will be a big confidence boost to him.
It certainly fired him up for the second half as he was almost unplayable down the left, leaving defenders for dead on several occasions to set up chances, one of which was laid off by Spencer for Josh Low to finish well.
Kaid's signing had a few critics - myself included - but judging by the fantastic ovation he got when he came off, his performance certainly impressed most of those watching, and it was his name on peoples' lips in the bar afterwards.
However, I remain to be convinced he will start at Gillingham, mainly because he does not seem to be keen on tracking back, and that may leave Danny Andrew too exposed to the flying right wingers who caused him so many problems and cost us many goals last season - I still feel Junior Smikle may get the nod on opening day.
Darryl Duffy came on for Jimmy Spencer and put himself about well again. He nearly set Josh Low up for an audacious goal - his chip hitting the bar - before Jamie Paterson threaded in a shot with a good finish for a slightly flattering 3-2 result.
While Kaid and Josh Low got the plaudits, it was a good performance from everyone - difficult to find a weak link.
Defensively we were okay. Scott Brown's handling and kicking were fine, Keith Lowe defied his new 1960s comb-over hairstyle to have another good game, with Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott solid enough and Danny Andrew was also steady, setting up the first goal.
All in all, that performance will have greatly raised the optimism levels on the terraces, and Mark's wheeling and dealing this summer, backed well again by the board, has definitely left us looking stronger.
But most importantly, it has left us with a proper squad - we now seem to have 19 or 20 players who could all do a job at this level, not 11 or 12 backed up by bits and pieces players who will just have to slot in.
A good night yes, and good performance with some good goals. And we won the cricket too.
But remember... pre-season results don't matter... pre-season results don't matter... pre-season results don't matter...