Sunday, 11 September 2011

Seeing off not so mighty Macc

One of the biggest disappointments of recent seasons following Cheltenham around is that we have lost the art of winning ugly.
This weekend, we found it again, because as ugly wins go, this one was huge buck teeth, warts on the nose and  enormous specs - but who cares, the record books say we won 2-0, and we are 5th in the table.
We were terrible, especially in the second half, and Macc somehow contrived to be even worse, and did not, in my memory at least, have a shot on target.
Therefore, it was the easiest of league debuts for Jack Butland in goal, and turned out to be the perfect game for the Birmingham City teenager to be pitched in.
That was the main talking point before the game, and I must admit to some surprise when I got a text around 2pm to be told he was playing.
I can understand why he was put into the side, as he has come from a higher division with a big reputation, and politically it will help our relationship with Birmingham to extend the loan or maybe borrow other players.
They want Butland to come here and get experience, but I doubt even he did not think he would be straight into the side.
My main worry is what happens to Scott Brown's confidence. Butland is here for 93 days, then what happens? Do we go and loan another goalkeeper to go into the side, or do we turn to Brown again, and say 'we haven't got anyone better, so you better play again' having discarded him for 3 months when, to be honest, he hasn't done much wrong this season.
But Mark Yates has shown he will not shirk from tough decisions, and it is a sign of his increasing ruthlessness and determination to make us better that he has made this choice.
Yesterday, Butland did not have much to do at all. A few crosses to catch. kicks to clear and one slightly tentative tip over, such was the lack of Macc's attacking threat.
But he was also helped by superb displays from Steve Elliott and especially Alan Bennett in front of him, who gave him superb protection and won just about every header.
It was also good to see them patting him on the back and congratulating him after every cross he caught - good for his confidence.
Danny Andrew and Josh Low tried to test him out with a short back pass apiece but he dealt with them, while Macc's centre-back Scott Brisley helped the clean sheet with a dreadful miss early in the second half.
At the other end, we started off quite well but failed to sustain any sort of momentum.
The penalty was stonewall and Jeff Goulding finished it well, but it took until the 88th minute for us to get behind Macc and put in a decent ball, and Jimmy Spencer finished it off.
Otherwise, the front two had scraps to feed off, our wide men were poor again, especially Kaid Mohamed, while Josh Low was frustrating with powder puff passing and poor decision making.
We tried to walk the ball in instead of taking the bull by the horns when the chance opened up for a shot and when we did shoot, the efforts were tame and easy for the goalkeeper.
But the main thing is that we ground out the result and won the game. Last season, we would probably have drawn that game or lost it - think about the game with Barnet, where we conceded a late equaliser, or Accrington, where we lost it late on.
This win was back to the Steve Cotterill days - no frills, just getting the job done, and the points are in the bag, so happy days.


Managers' views 
Mark Yates: "We found a couple moments of quality to win the game but overall we huffed and puffed and didn't get going in the second half. After last week's scrappy game where we came away with nothing, we're happy that we came away with a win and a clean sheet after an equally scrappy game. We comfortably won the game even though we didn't play well but we know we need to improve the performances."
Gary Simpson: "Second half we've had all the play, all the pressure without really dominating them. To be fair to them at the end they've got the second, but I felt it was a game we shouldn't have lost. I thought George Donnelly did okay. He tried hard, worked hard and he gives us another option."
Player by player
Jack Butland: Easiest league debut he could have hoped for, as Macc did not force him to make a save. Caught his crosses and cleared his lines, but bigger tests to come.
Keith Lowe: Defended well, but maybe slightly below his level of last season so far this term. Failed to get forward and support the attack.
Alan Bennett: A captain's performance. Turning into an excellent signing, don't think he missed a header.
Steve Elliott: Backed up Benno very well, and also solid in the air and good on the ground. Partnership with Bennett looking promising.
Danny Andrew: Is defending better on the whole this season but has not found range at the other end with set pieces. Only downside was one short backpass which was nearly costly.
Josh Low: Frustrating! Time and again got into promising positions, then pass was under-hit or shot lacked power. Good pass to Jimmy Spencer however for second goal.
Russ Penn: Good first half, poor second as Macc's three-man midfield dominated us after the break.  Seemed to miss his pal Marlon.
Luke Summerfield: Same as Penn, good in first half not in second. Didn't really take his chance to shine in Marlon's absence and will probably be back on the bench on Tuesday.
Kaid Mohamed: Poor again. Ineffective going forward and not always a help defensively. Would think his place is coming under threat.
Darryl Duffy: Very quiet game. Worked hard as usual for the hour or so he was on, but things didn't come off for him.
Jeff Goulding: Good penalty but like Darryl was quiet. Partly because service was poor and partly because I didn't think he worked hard enough.
Substitutes
Jimmy Spencer (for Duffy, 59): Didn't change much up front when he came on, busy as usual and took his goal well, but that was about it.
Junior Smikle (for Mohamed 75): Usual substitution and usual Junior performance, full of energy and made a few tackles to firm us up in the last 15 minutes.
Sido Jombati (for Goulding 90): Came on to waste time at the end and I don't think he touched the ball.
Positives: The three points after a poor display in the second half, and the fact we showed resilience to see the game through and take the win. The performances of Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott were superb, and helped Jack Butland's league debut go swimmingly. Good to see Jeff Goulding put the penalty away well, for his fourth of the season, and Jimmy Spencer off the mark in the league for us too. 5 wins in last 7 in all competitions.
Negatives: The second half performance was poor. We never got going and were rarely seen as an attacking threat. Our wide men were poor throughout I felt, and offered us nothing from an attacking viewpoint, hence our strikers were also little threat. The attendance of 2268 was atrocious, and this team deserves more support.
Summary: It's a win, and that's the main thing. 4 wins from 7 so far, a decent start, but in the games we have lost we could easily have taken something, maybe should have done in all three. Now we have two tricky away games at Torquay and AFC Wimbledon which will both be good tests and we should find out a bit more about our team.
Facts:
Jimmy Spencer's goal was our 100th in all competitions under Mark Yates' management.
Jack Butland is the seventh player to play in goal for us in the Football League, after Steve Book, Carl Muggleton, Shane Higgs, Scott Brown, Will Puddy and Damian Spencer (!). 
Scott Brown's absence ended a run of 98 successive league appearances, seven short of Shane Higgs' record of 105.
Jeff Goulding's penalty was our first successful spot-kick at home since April 24, 2010, scored by Justin Richards after 14 minutes of a 2-1 defeat by Aldershot.