Sunday, 18 September 2011

Game, set and match...

I am not having much luck at the moment when it comes to car journeys.
After the trials and tribulations of Torquay, it seemed like plain sailing as I reached junction one of the M3 at 12.30pm on Saturday, with no more than 10 miles to go to Kingsmeadow.
An hour and 55 minutes later, I finally took my seat at the ground - and by around 4.10pm was thinking that the traffic jam was a better place to be. In fact, anywhere would have been a better place to be.
In fact, I was wishing that our team coach was also still in that traffic jam with me, then maybe I could erase the whole afternoon from my memory.
We were OK for the first half an hour - in fact we looked the better side.
Wimbledon were coming off the back of a 3-0 home defeat, and looked like it, with poor passing and only one threat it seemed, Keiran Djalili on the left wing.
I was pleased to see him go off just after half-time, but it didn't make any difference.
We missed a few chances, Jeff Goulding with a couple of headers over and Danny Andrew couldn't capitalise on a couple of free-kick chances, and we wasted some other promising positions.
That gave Wimbledon some heart and once Ricky Wellard scored from a header which wasn't that Wellard to put away thanks to our non-existent defending, firstly of the overlap and then the subsequent cross, it was downhill all the way.
It was sadly reminiscent of some of the awayday surrenders of last season, you know the ones, those we thought were banished to the history books by our new, resilient bunch of players.
Maybe not.
I wasn't at Stevenage, but am told it wasn't as bad as that. I was at Crewe, and nothing will ever be as bad as that.
I was at Bradford and at Barnet, and it had some parallels with that.
The soft centre was back in defence, the vanishing central midfield returned, as did the non-backtracking wide men and the lethargic front men - things we thought were consigned to history.
Wimbledon were not world beaters - not on the evidence of that first half-hour, but by the end they were able to knock it around like Barcelona, such was the paucity of threat from those in ruby.
Mark Yates went with the same side which had performed so well at Torquay on Tuesday night, and I couldn't argue with that decision.
We had played well at Plainmoor and no-one deserved to be dropped after that game - but some will be looking over their shoulders now, as the second half display was not acceptable.
Whether it was the end of a long week, three games in seven days etc is irrelevant.
These are professional players and should be used by now to playing a lot of games in a short space of time, and if we are going to change the mindset of the club and the mindset of those floating fans, these results have to be extinguished.
But as I said we started well, and got worse.
The first goal saw Sam Hatton and Christian Jolley allowed to work an overlap when Danny Andrew was left exposed two on one by a lack of cover from Kaid Mohamed, and then Wellard was allowed a free header.
Then Alan Bennett made an error to allow Liam Minshull to cross, and Steve Elliott got in a mess, turning the ball past Jack Butland for the second.
In between those goals, Jimmy Spencer missed a golden chance to equalise - if that had gone in, you never know, but in the end we got what we deserved. Nothing.
The third goal sealed it, Jack Midson (who else?) all alone to volley in at the far post from Rashid Yussuf's cross.
Yussuf came on at half time, and ran Marlon Pack and Russ Penn ragged in midfield, virtually running the game, while Midson up front was a constant threat and I couldn't help thinking what he would have done for us had Mark managed to sign him.
On that display, and that of our forwards, I would gladly have swapped him.
Yussuf got the fourth, and although Darryl Duffy deserved credit for a good header, as consolations go it was very scant.
Next weekend, we play Hereford at home.
They lost 6-1 at home on Saturday, and might not even have a manager by next weekend, which is hardly the best mix for a side which seems to have such brittle confidence as us.
We thought, on the evidence of displays like Northampton and Torquay, like Crawley and Swindon, that this was a different Cheltenham side to the one of seasons past.
Gone were the flaky away displays, we thought. Even Gillingham and Aldershot were tight, narrow games that we had chances in, not like the steamrollerings of days gone by.
Was it complacency? Were they starting to believe they were the finished article? Hardly, after eight games.
Whatever it was, it has to be eradicted, as any display like that next Saturday will be pounced upon, because if we thought Wimbledon were a wounded animal after their 3-0 home defeat, then Hereford will be even worse next weekend.
All of a sudden, that becomes a very big game. They seem to have a knack of turning up at Whaddon like Bulls in a china shop and walking all over us. Better not happen this time ...

Managers' view
Mark Yates: "We conceded two poor goals and then had to chase it, but made too many bad decisions. I thought Josh Low was outstanding, and apart from that there were maybe two more, but that's not going to win games. They passed the ball and made the pitch big, and credit to them they deserved the win."

Player by player
Jack Butland: Let down by the four in front of him. Made a good save at 0-0 but don't think he can be faulted for any of the goals.
Keith Lowe: Tricky start against the speedy Djalili and never got any better. Rare off-day for Keith, and ended up being taken off - another rarity.
Alan Bennett: Made a mistake for the second goal and looked shaky at times against Midson.
Steve Elliott: Own goal for Wimbledon's second capped a day to forget.
Danny Andrew: Difficult afternoon as Christian Jolley and Sam Hatton were a big threat down his flank. Only plus point was cross for Duffy's goal.
Josh Low: Our best player. Was a threat in wide positions and bursting through centrally  but no-one capitalised on his good work.
Russ Penn: Very quiet game. Started well but virtually a passer-by in the second half as Yussuf ran the game.
Marlon Pack: Also started well, but also faded. Seemed a bit reserved in the tackle - is he worried about picking up more bookings?
Kaid Mohamed: Non existent against his old club. Little or no threat going forward, and no help tracking back.
Jeff Goulding: Missed two headed chances in the first half and hardly had a kick in the second. Overshadowed by the performance of Midson.
Jimmy Spencer: Spurned a golden chance in between the first two Wimbledon goals, and that seemed to dent his confidence. Taken off before the hour.

Substitutes
Darryl Duffy (for Spencer, 57): Struggled to get into the game, mainly due to lack of service, but got on the end of Andrew's cross for third goal of the season.
Junior Smikle (for Mohamed 64): Not in the game after coming on for the usual substitutes' appearance.
Sido Jombati (for Keith Lowe, 71): Brought on to get forward and did his best but crossing was poor.

Positives: Darryl Duffy took his goal well and we were ok for the first half an hour. That's about it.

Negatives: The second half performance was as bad as we have been for a while. Our back four were, as a unit, poor, while our midfield (bar Josh Low) and front two disappeared when we went 2-0 down, which is reminiscent of some away games last season.

Summary: A worrying throwback to last season, and the 'soft centre' we thought had been eradicated, but it seems there is still work to be done. Too many heads dropped after the first goal and never got back again. In the second half we never got started at all and that 45 minutes was unacceptable.