Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Three in a row

Whisper it quietly, but Cheltenham Town seem to be on a little bit of a roll.
After coming from behind to win an away game (never happens), beating a title favourite (never happens) we have now completed the hat-trick of things which never happen - a win in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
Last season, we lost to Plymouth, and the season before Torquay passed us to death; the season before that Walsall beat us at home - so we have to back to 2007-8 and a 3-1 win at Swindon to find our last win in this competition.
Kaid Mohamed was in the Swindon side that night, but four years on he played a big part in our first half display which paved the way for our victory.
He wasn't alone - we made a few changes and conformed with the rule that you have to start six players who started the last game - they were Scott Brown, Keith Lowe, Danny Andrew, Marlon Pack, Jeff Goulding and Kaid, while in came Sido Jombati, Harry Hooman, Like Summerfield, Junior Smikle and Jimmy Spencer.
It says a lot for the strength of our squad these days that we could rest Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott, Josh Low and Russ Penn, and still have a decent bench with Andy Gallinagh, Theo Lewis, Bags Graham, Dave Bird and Darryl Duffy on it.
That's what Mark Yates wanted in the summer - a squad with options in it in all areas of the field, and a group of players all busting a gut for that opportunity.
Of the players who came in tonight, I felt Harry Hooman and Sido Jombati definitely took their chances.
Hooman impressed me in pre-season, especially in the game against Bristol City, where he did not look out of place against Nicky Maynard and Jon Stead.
Tonight he was up against Rene Howe, who may not quite be as big as Mr Akinfenwa at Northampton, he would definitely give David Haye a run for his money, and Harry more than held his own - in fact he was our stand-out performer.
He looks good in the air, seems to read the game well and confident on the ground. After the game, assistant manager Neil Howarth was glowing in praise for him, and said he would have 'no qualms' about throwing him into the side if needed. Stay on your toes messrs Elliott and Bennett...
Not far behind was Sido Jombati, who played in his favoured role at right back. He is unlucky that our most consistent player, Keith Lowe, has made that position his own recently, but Sido will be giving him a run for his money.
He is very quick, which got him out of trouble a couple of times, but his positioning was good for the most part, and he looked to get forward and make runs to support the attacks, and also uses his long legs to his advantage in the tackle.
Of the others who came in, Summerfield was neat and tidy, but I felt we missed Penn's bite in midfield as Torquay were able to run through us a bit easily at times, especially in the second half.
Smikle was his usual self, hard working, linking up well in midfield, putting in the odd decent cross, but not showing any signs of making anything happen.
Spencer was desperate to make an impression after his ban, and did so with his first Cheltenham goal, a good near-post finish from an excellent cross from Kaid.
Goulding added the second, a superb volley past the keeper to take him top of the scoring charts with three for the season, and it's good to see all our strikers scoring.
Someone said to me after Saturday that he was worried they would not score enough goals. The three forwards, Duffy, Goulding and Spencer, now have six between them - a good start.
Kaid came off at half-time and Bags Graham came on - Neil Howarth saying afterwards that was always the plan and Kaid only started because we had to adhere to the 'six starters' rule.
Bags found the going a little tricky, and Joe Oastler, his ex-QPR team-mate, did well against him and Bags struggled to make much of an impact - but his time will come.
It is refreshing to see that we have the makings of a squad where if a player comes in, the side does seem to be appreciably weakened - for example Hooman and Jombati at the back, Summerfield in the middle and Spencer up front all slotted in seamlessly.
The days seem to be gone when we had a decent first eleven, then the rest would come in and there would be a worry about weakening the side.
The only place we don't have that element of competition is with the goalkeeper, and we hope that may be resolved tomorrow.
I say 'hope' as Neil Howarth said after the game that a 'little crease' needs to be ironed out that they had not been expecting before the deal can be done, so let's hope it is sorted for tomorrow.
Neil said it was nothing to do with the England Under-21 squad - who called up one of our rumoured targets, Birmingham youngster Jack Butland - but that doesn't necessarily mean he is not the man we are after.
It was another good win against a decent Torquay outfit, who pressed hard in the second half, but we defended well to keep them out and Scott Brown did not have many saves to make - the best he did have was a first half effort to deny Billy Bodin.
But another positive evening and we go into Saturday's draw and then on to Aldershot with confidence.

Manager's view
Neil Howarth: "It was a good performance and we've got exactly what we wanted. We've scored a few good goals and it's all about breeding good habits sometimes. We've turned up tonight wanting a win and we got the performance too. It was a good night's workout for us."

Player by player
Scott Brown: Fantastic save in the first half from Billy Bodin, and was again more convincing in his decision making and safe under the high ball. Kicking was better too. Needs to keep it up though, if loan keeper arrives...
Sido Jombati: Got his chance at right back, and did well. Good in the tackle, got forward well and rarely wasted a pass. Slight question mark over letting cross come in for Torquay's goal though, but good full debut.
Keith Lowe: Moved inside to centre half, and carried on in his normal, dependable vein. Never lets us down, consistency never seems to waiver. Dominant in the air and organised the back four well.
Harry Hooman: Excellent game, and my man of the match. Looked after tricky customer Rene Howe well. Doesn't seem to get flustered by anything, and I think he could develop into a top prospect.
Danny Andrew: Not so good coming forward tonight with a few stray passes, but did ok defensively against Lloyd Macklin, but lost him for the goal he scored. Overall though, he has improved defensively this season.
Junior Smikle: His usual busy self, giving his all and working hard, but does not possess the same attacking threat as someone like Kaid Mohamed or Josh Low, hence why he is behind them in the queue.
Luke Summerfield: Goes about his work neatly and tidily and will develop into an unsung hero. I like the way he gets into shooting positions 25-30 yards out and is not afraid to have a go, coming close a couple of times.
Marlon Pack: Was a bit surprised he started but had another decent game. Only downside was a fourth booking of the season, so he is one game away from a ban.
Kaid Mohamed: Good 45-minute cameo and seems to be becoming more dangerous every game. Set up first goal with an excellent run and cross and should have scored himself with an early header.
Jimmy Spencer: Back with a bang and his first CTFC goal. Busy, hard-working performance and I still cannot get my head around him being 19. Sending-off and ban do not seem to have affected him, a good sign.
Jeff Goulding: Another good performance and another great goal. Started the move for the first goal and then smacked in the second with a great finish. Seems to be forming partnerships with both Spencer and Duffy.
Substitutes
Bagasan Graham (for Mohamed, half-time): I thought Bags struggled a bit to get into the game and got few chances to show his pace and trickery against Joe Oastler, who dealt with him well.
Darryl Duffy (for Goulding, 70): Didn't get any scoring chances but did his usual shift of running as we were mainly on the back foot with Torquay pressing.
David Bird (for Pack, 70): Added some steel to us as we were hanging on a bit near the end with a few blocks, tackles and interceptions. Loyal servant but will seemingly struggle for game time this season.

Positives: The displays of Harry Hooman and Sido Jombati on their full debuts were the biggest bonuses for me, showing the strength of the squad and how the competition for places is working. Good to see Jimmy Spencer off the mark, and it's good to see the strikers firing. Also a big positive of course to be in the hat for the next round, having rested some front-line players.

Negatives: Can't think of any...

Summary: A third win in a row, and it's been a couple of seasons since we achieved that, which can only be good for morale and momentum. We seem to have a hungry squad for players who want to work hard for the club and each other, which is also very refreshing. We scored two good goals tonight, and again dug in and Torquay improved in the second half but again Scott Brown was protected well by the back four.