Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Clawed back by the Gulls

I love Plainmoor.
After Whaddon Road and Vicarage Road, it is my favourite ground in the Football League and I have happy memories there.
My journalistic career started there, covering Torquay for the Sunday Independent back in the late 1980s and early 90s, with the late Cyril Knowles as the first manager I dealt with.
There were players such as Matt Elliott, Paul Hall, the mercurial Mark Loram, Tommy Tynan, Wes Saunders and former CTFC hero Jimmy Smith, as well as our current physio Ian Weston.
The highlight was a Wembley play-off win over Blackpool, and Torquay away is always a highlight of my calendar.
It means a meeting with old friends in the press box, and last night was no exception - everywhere I looked was a familiar face - freelance superstar Ross Reid (follow on Twitter @swsportsnews), BBC Devon's Brent Pilnick (follow on Twitter - @brettpilnick), my old Evening Herald colleague Nigel Walrond, Sky's Martyn Dean, Guy Henderson and that doyen of local sports writers, Dave Thomas of the (sadly) now weekly  Herald Express.
But the rickety old main stand at Plainmoor is coming down, and it was the last time I will sit in that press box, with the pillars in the way which stopped me seeing it was Josh Low who put our first goal in last night.
That came after an eventful trip down to South Devon, which saw me stupidly run out of diesel on the M5 but still make kick off after a 15-minute wait for the AA man - brilliant service and thanks very much!
Note to self: when the diesel indicator beeps, put some in...
But it was worth the stress as the Rubies more than played their part in a thrilling game, and a great advert for League Two.
Josh Low, a player usually criticised for his lack of bravery, was certainly that when he was sent flying by Bobby Olejnik in putting us in front.
Quick thinking from Russ Penn and Marlon Pack saw them take a free-kick quickly, through to Jeff Goulding and his great lay-off found Low clean through for a good finish.
Unfortunately we didn't hold the lead for long, as Billy Bodin made it third time lucky in scoring against us but was allowed to run a long way before shooting past Jack Butland, who had no chance. A preventable goal as I thought Marlon Pack and Danny Andrew were beaten rather too easily.
Torquay had a good spell with Rene Howe the focal point and Butland had to make a save, but we weathered that storm well and finished the half strongly.
We went back in front at the perfect time - right on half-time with Jimmy Spencer and Goulding linking well and Kaid Mohamed going through on the left to score.
I thought his first touch was heavy to start with but he was able to jab it past Olejnik at his near post, with his right foot, for the perfect end to the half.
After the break, I expected Torquay to come out strongly and have a real go at us.
But I was pleased to see us come out positively on the front foot and look to take the game to them and try to kill it off.
We probably should have done - Low had a chance, Lee Mansell made a brilliant block from Russ Penn and Goulding had a brilliant finish chalked off for offside - the flag went up quickly and it looked the right call from my vantage point, but very tight, although Mark Yates feels the DVD shows he was onside.
At the other end, we were playing Howe and Taiwo Atieno (who was eventually taken off) well and the main threat was out wide with Bodin and Eunan O'Kane, who forced Butland into a superb save low to his right.
Butland was beaten, and how, after 71 minutes when Kevin Nicholson's shot fizzed in off his far post for the equaliser - you don't save those, as our former striker Andy Gray would have said.
If was being pernickety, I would say we were caught a bit cold from a throw-in and the ball reached Nicholson rather too easily, and we were also a tad slow closing him down, but it was a fabulous strike by the former Forest Green man.
In the past that would have signalled the Alamo and probably a late winner for the home side as we would have defended deeper and deeper and invited the pressure before cracking in the last few minutes.
But that was not the case this time - yet more proof that this Cheltenham side is made of sterner stuff, as it was with some comfort that we shut up shop and I went back up the M5, happy with a point - and with enough diesel in the tank...

Managers' views
Mark Yates: "It was a really good point - it's a tough place to come in really tricky conditions. It was probably a fair result but the disappointing thing is is that we were winning. But I'm delighted with the players' performance, the effort and attitude."


Martin Ling told BBC Radio Devon after the game that was very impressed with Cheltenham and thought it was the best Cheltenham side he has come up against for a while. He admitted his Torquay side were slightly disappointing and only six or seven players come out with credit, but felt it was a fair result.

Player by player
Jack Butland: No chance with either goal, handling was good, as was kicking and made a superb save from O'Kane in the second half.
Keith Lowe: Had tricky customers in Bodin and the overlapping Nicholson to deal with and did it well I thought.
Danny Andrew: Defending is definitely better this season, as is his positioning, But needs to work on corner delivery as it was again patchy.
Alan Bennett: Another good display. Looked after Rene Howe well, and had a good headed chance as well as a piece of quick thinking which helped set up the first goal.
Steve Elliott: Has had a good start to the season, and seems happy playing alongside Bennett. Also stood up strong against Howe and Atieno.
Josh Low: Great bravery to score his goal and an improved display from Saturday. A threat on the counter attack and good tracking back.
Russ Penn: Unlucky not to score, and linked the play well in midfield. Looked happier with Marlon back alongside him.
Marlon Pack: Up there for our man of the match. The focal point for our best moves. Got booked again though, and maybe fortunate not to get a second.
Kaid Mohamed: Good finish for his goal and was busier and more involved than Saturday. Was an outlet and made some good runs down the left but needs to work on final ball.
Jimmy Spencer: Man of the match for me. Started slowly, but grew into the game showing great strength to hold the ball up, and linked well with Jeff. Downside was another needless booking.
Jeff Goulding: Set up both goals, and unlucky to have one chalked off for offside as it was a great finish. Led the line well.
Substitutes
Luke Summerfield (for Goulding 84): Brought on to solidify midfield and secure a point - did just that.
Junior Smikle (for Mohamed 87): See above.

Positives: Taking the lead twice, with two well-worked and well taken goals. Again solid at the back and breached only by two long-range efforts, one unstoppable. Good to see goals from midfield agaion, this time the wide areas. A decent point at a place where not many sides will get anything. We closed the game out well to ensure we did not concede a third and throw away a point.

Negatives: Losing the lead twice was disappointing, and we did not close Bodin down quickly enough for the first goal. Spencer and Pack both booked, and both were needless, indeed Pack could easily have got a second one. Competitive yes, reckless no is the mantra.

Summary: Good performance and we deserved a point, in fact overall a draw was a fair result. We started well, Torquay had a good spell, we came back, then Torquay dominated for while, and so it went on. They are at a similar level to us I feel and it was a good point in a biting, swirling wind at a tricky ground to win at.
One good thing is the credit we are getting from (some) opposition managers. Dean Holdsworth praised us after the game at Aldershot, and Martin Ling did likewise last night. Teams will not taking us lightly any more. Take note, Mr Evans...