Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sunk by the Shrimps

I suppose many Cheltenham fans would have gone home from the Theatre of Shattered Dreams cursing the name of Jock Waugh after his decision not to give a foul as Kevin Ellison burst through for the winner.
Yes, it looked to me too like he blatantly shoved Russ Penn out the way before going through and firing a blinding shot into the corner, but that was only part of the story.
It was a great finish by Ellison, whose arrival at half-time was a tactical masterstroke by his manager Jim Bentley, who in an instant negated our best attacking threat in the first half - Keith Lowe.
Lowe had been marauding almost at will down their right hand side and fired in some decent crosses which we failed to make the most of, and ultimately paid the price for wasting. In the second half, with Ellison to deal with, he barely crossed the halfway line.
Territorially we had the better of the first half but we failed to score when we were on top, frequently over-elaborating around the box, and seemingly lacking the conviction to pull the trigger.
Yes, we sent balls across, played some nice moves around their box, hit the bar with a deflected Russ Penn shot, but how many times was Barry Roche properly tested?
In the first half, the only goalkeeper to make a real flying save was Scott Brown - a brilliant effort to keep out Phil Jevons' header.
Darryl Duffy came close a couple of times, as did Marlon Pack, and we nearly got on the end of a couple of corners, but we didn't really extend Roche.
After the break we continued in the same confident vein, and it seemed that surely we had to go in front. But no - as so often happens in these situations - we fell behind.
Jeff Goulding missed his kick on the edge of the box, then criminally pulled out of a challenge with Izak Reid - and his cross was headed in by Nick Fenton.
How would we react to this? Well, the answer was to completely lose our shape, drop the work rate and start shirking challenges all over the field.
Goulding lost the ball on the halfway line then bizarrely appeared to almost walk off the pitch, while Josh Low and Kaid Mohamed were equally culpable - and Scott Brown's save stopped Danny Carlton putting us two down.
Mark Yates withdrew Low and Mohamed and Goulding woke up sufficiently to fire an equaliser, and that woke us back up again - in fact we looked like we might snatch a winner but Bagasan Graham's cross was inches away from Duffy's toe.
Then came that late sucker punch. A great run topped off by a brilliant finish - albeit with a foul in between, and let's hope it was also a wake up call for one or two of our players who think they can coast casually through games that you can't, not in this league.
Games in League Two are won with application, effort and work rate for 90 minutes, like they displayed on Saturday. You do not win games playing pretty stuff for an hour and you certainly cannot carry any passengers.
Blame the referee all you like for not giving the foul - and I thought it was the only thing he got wrong all night - but some of the keys to this defeat lie a bit closer to home.

Player by player
Scott Brown: Superb save in the first half from Jevons' header and in the second from Carlton's shot. No chance with either goal.
Keith Lowe: Excellent in the first half with some great crosses and good defensively all night. Threat negated by Ellison's arrival at half-time and hardly crossed halfway line after the break.
Danny Andrew: Did well but got ragged towards the end. Set pieces still not of same quality as last season. Not to blame for winner - left exposed and tried to force Ellison wide.
Steve Elliott: Very good again, winning his headers and looking after Jevons and Carlton well. Again a threat in their box as well from set-pieces.
Alan Bennett: See above.
Josh Low: Still not started the season. Four games now, and contribution in each has been at best negligible. One or two flashes but that was it. Most of the time too casual and ineffective.
Marlon Pack: Superb in first half, winning tackles and prompting our best moves. Shaky in second as midfield lost shape after their first goal.
Russ Penn: Also excellent in first half, breaking up play with usual commitment. Deflected shot hit the bar and fouled for the winner, also set up the equaliser. Picked up third booking.
Kaid Mohamed: One-trick pony whose trick (to get the ball and run head long at defenders) is not working at the moment. Needs to cut out the fancy dan stuff and up his application and work rate.
Jeff Goulding: Horrendous air shot followed by bottling out of a challenge led to their first goal. Then lost the ball on halfway line and seemed to almost give up and walk off the pitch. Good equaliser, yes, but needs to cut out the petulant stuff. Fortunate that Jimmy Spencer has 2 games of his ban left and we have no other strikers.
Darryl Duffy: With a bit more luck could have had a hat-trick. Good awareness and movement and I am convinced the goals will come, just needs one to set him off.
Subs
Bagasan Graham (for Josh Low 74): Good to see Bags getting a  run out. Looked a bit overawed at times, but one great turn and cross was inches from being turned in by Darryl Duffy.
Brian Smikle (for Kaid Mohamed 79): More effort and application in 11 minutes than Kaid showed in 79. Not everyone's cup of tea I know, but at least he battles and puts it in for the team.

Positives: The first hour, when we put together some great moves and were unlucky not to be a goal or two up. Darryl Duffy was bright again, and in the first half, Keith Lowe, Russ Penn and Marlon Pack were dominant.

Negatives: The way heads went down and some players disappeared between their first goal and our equaliser, which was sadly reminiscent of some games last season. We just lost our shape and, more disappointingly, our appetite for those 20 minutes or so. Lack of threat from our wide men throughout. We relied too much on our full-backs to give us width. We created lots of openings - but sometimes seemed to lack the conviction and confidence to pull the trigger and have a shot, almost wanting to score the perfect goal. Crowd was 2035, our lowest ever FL attendance, with 44 from Morecambe. Not a great reward after Sat's win, but I suppose it was the third game in a week at home.

Summary: A real kick in the teeth after the way we played for the first hour. But you have to take your chances, or it will come back to bite you. Worried by the way our heads dropped and with it the work rate and application after their goal - some players definitely need to buck their ideas up quickly or Mark needs to take some action and bench them. Over the 90 minutes, we did not deserve to lose the game, but we have to be prepared to battle throughout the game, not just for parts of it.