Saturday, 20 August 2011

Not a load of Cobblers

Mark Yates has come in for a lot of stick from Cheltenham fans in the past few months.
Some of it has been justified after poor defeats and some strange tactical decisions, and some of it has been pretty ridiculous.
But after this game, he deserves nothing but praise, as he got his tactics, approach to the game and substitutions absolutely spot on.
His performance was the key to this victory, and he was more than backed up by his players who showed that resilience and appetite for a battle that we fans have been crying out for for so long.
When Adebayo Akinfenwa scored his customary goal against us early in the second half, it seemed that the game was going to take the same course as so many away games have over the past two seasons.
We take an early lead, are pegged back, fall behind and then tamely roll over, and lose the game 3-1 or so - think Barnet and Bradford last season and you get the picture.
But not this time.
After a dodgy spell, Mark make three excellent substitutions at exactly the right time of the game, and saw all three new men play a part in the comeback.
Josh Low made the equaliser and scored the winner - which in turn was made by Junior Smikle, while Sido Jombati's arrival saw dangerman Lewis Young moved to the left hand side, which nullified his threat immediately.
Low had been quite rightly left out of the side after four ineffective displays, but it is testament to the spirit in the squad that it adminstered the kick up the backside which he needed, and he responded magnificently.
His replacement was Luke Summerfield, who lined up in a three-man central midfield with Marlon Pack and the more advanced Russ Penn.
Darryl Duffy and Kaid Mohamed started on the flanks either side of Jeff Goulding with an unchanged back four of Keith Lowe, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott and Danny Andrew.
We made a great start with the penalty after 11 minutes, Duffy running on to Scott Brown's long kick and the referee Mark Heywood adjudging that Kelvin Langmead brought him down.
It looked a penalty on 'live' viewing, but to his credit, Darryl came up for an interview afterwards and admitted he was surprised it was given as Langmead had cleared the ball before he caught him - but we'll take it!
Having seen it again on SSN I would agree with Darryl's version - but the ref gave it, and Darryl put it away confidently.
However, Northampton gradually started to build up a head of steam with big Bayo at the heart of it, and Young causing problems down the right hand side.
But the equaliser was a disappointing goal to concede. A diagonal cross and Bayo headed it down for Arron Davies to tap in.
Keith Lowe could have stopped the cross, Scott Brown could have claimed it, Steve Elliott could have stepped up to catch Bayo offside and Alan Bennett could have tracked Davies' run - a bit of corporate responsibility there.
Jeff Goulding was a toe away from putting us ahead then Kaid hit the bar right on half-time, but not surprisingly, Northampton had their tails up and they took the lead five minutes after the break.
Danny Andrew lost the ball to Young, and his cross was headed in by Bayo. Too easy, and I feared for us at this point.
Young had the run on Danny, Michael Jacobs was coming into it on the other side, Bayo was finding a lot of space and we just seemed to go missing again for about 15 minutes.
But credit to Mark for making some decisive changes - first Low for Summerfield then shoring up that left side with Smikle for Kaid and Jombati for Andrew.
Those changes gave us more solidity on both sides -  but ultimately also the key to our two goals which won us the game.
The equaliser came out of nothing, Goulding sending Low away and his cross was perfect for Duffy to smash in his second.
Hopefully this two-goal show will help atone some worries that Duffy might not score enough goals - his workrate was excellent again and the finish was superb.
The winner was made by a great run by Smikle and a cross for Low, who dummied his man and finished with so much composure from about eight yards. It really was coolness personified!
They chucked everything at us, and Scott Brown made a couple of great flying saves and we defended superbly against a few corners and long throws as even 6' 6 goalkeeper Sam Walker went up a few times.
But we held on, and the celebrations afterwards showed how much the win meant and, more importantly, the unity in the squad and their sheer determination as well.
We definitely would not have won this game a year - maybe even six months - ago. That we won it now means hopefully that this squad is a different animal to the one we had last season.

Managers' views
Mark Yates: "The manner in which we won showed tremendous character, belief and commitment. We coped with them admirably and got what we deserved. Both of the goals were disappointing on our part but I'm not going to criticise any of the players because the performance was outstanding today. The right winger was getting too much joy so I changed the formation after 25 minutes and we showed that we are made of sterner stuff and pulled it back."
Gary Johnson: "We were very poor defensively on the break and that was the team as a whole. I thought at 2-1 we were in control of the game. I'm really disappointed, the lads are really down. It's a long old season and we'll see where we end up."

Player by Player
Scott Brown: A mixed day. Some good flying saves late on but maybe a question whether he should have come for the first goal. Handling was also mixed - one ill-judged punch late on could have left us in trouble.
Keith Lowe: Beaten by Jacobs for the cross for the first goal but stuck to his task well against the winger coming out just about even. Little chance to get forward.
Alan Bennett: Did well against Jake Robinson but failed to track the run of Arron Davies for the first goal, leaving him with a tap-in. Stayed strong during late onslaught.
Steve Elliott: Literally had his hands full with Big Bayo. Beaten by him in the air for both goals but gave as good as he got on the ground against the big man.
Danny Andrew: Difficult afternoon against Cobblers' stand-out performer Lewis Young topped off by losing the ball for the second goal. Few chances to get forward - although one great run set up Goulding's chance - and rightly taken off.
Kaid Mohamed: A threat going forward and hit the bar after a great run and pass just before half-time. But neglected defensive work at times, hence his replacement. The Northampton fan sat in front of me was happy to see him go off as he was impressed.
Luke Summerfield: Quiet but effective. Broke the play up well, and although not prominent did an important job. Unlucky not to score in the second half with a 20-yard shot.
Russ Penn: Once again the driving force of the team. Never let Northampton's central midfield players settle on the ball and linked up play for us well.
Marlon Pack: Mixed it well with the Northampton midfielders and earned a booking - in fact maybe a bit lucky as the challenge was studs-up, and trod a fine line at times - but that's no bad thing.
Darryl Duffy: Excellent throughout. Non-stop running, harrying and working, topped off with two goals. Took the ball off Jeff for the penalty and stuck it away well, and a great finish for the second. Off and running...
Jeff Goulding: I thought Jeff was good today. Worked hard and linked with Darryl well, which bodes well for the season. Close with a couple of long-range efforts and a toe away from converting Danny Andrew's great run and cross.
Substitutes:
Josh Low (for Summerfield 64): Rightly left out after first four games, but the perfect response. Great ball for Darryl's equaliser and class finish for the winner. Did more in 26 minutes that previous four games, which sums up the enigma that is Josh Low!
Junior Smikle (for Kaid Mohamed 72): Great run and cross for the winner, and did some good defensive work in the late onslaught. Always gives everything for the team and is a valuable squad member.
Sido Jombati (for Danny Andrew 73): Debut appearance for Sido, and he shored up our left hand side, which forced Lewis Young to be switched to the other flank. Popped up at centre forward at one point...!
Positives: Plenty. Coming back to win the game being the main one, which would never have happened last season. Great to see Darryl Duffy getting two goals, and he and Jeff Goulding linked well. Josh Low's response to being dropped was exemplary - no sulking, he just came on and helped turn the game around. Mark Yates' initial selection, set-up and substitutions were absolutely spot on. The midfield trio worked very hard and are growing in stature every game.
Negatives: Both Northampton goals were preventable - the first being a collective bad goal while Danny Andrew and the centre-backs must hold their hands up for the second. Both goals again came from crosses and we have to find a way to stop teams either getting behind us or being given enough space to deliver quality balls - then we have to defend them better, either through the centre-halves or by the goalkeeper coming to deal with them. Until that happens, we will not keep clean sheets and will keep letting goals in.
Summary: A fantastic win, especially on the back of Tuesday night's disappointment. I don't think many sides will go to Sixfields and win this season and the manner in which we did it - going ahead, falling behind and then coming back - was very pleasing indeed. Good to see us scoring a penalty at last, and I wonder when 
was the last time we won a game without having a corner in the whole 90 minutes...

Facts:
Darryl Duffy's penalty was our first successful spot-kick since Justin Richards scored against Aldershot on April 26, 2010.

It was the first time we have come back from behind to win a game since the 2-1 win over Burton at Whaddon Road on August 28, 2010. Russ Penn was in the Burton side that day - as was Lewis Young, who lined up for Northampton yesterday.

Cheltenham did not have a corner in the game.

Marlon Pack picked up his third yellow card in the game - the same amount as he was shown in the whole of last season.


Josh Low is still Northampton's record signing, having cost them £165,000 from Oldham in 2003.