There are guest bloggers this week as I missed the Dagenham game. First, Alun Parry's take on the game...
This week has been a week of great optimism for Cheltenham.
Three wins in a row for the second time this season and finally Mark Yates has got this team playing some real flowing attacking football.
This is the kind of form that really gets on my nerves though as we did the exact same thing last year. We go on a good run, get ourselves within striking distance of the play offs and then we have the inevitable fall away. But for some reason this time I think it is going to be different and the performance against the Daggers backs this up. It was a mixture of attacking flair and good old fashioned defensive grit, in many respects the perfect combination. The team itself was actually a surprise because we were expecting a start for Duffy who was outstanding at Wycombe and for us to revert back to 4-4-2. But Spencer got the nod up top and we stuck with Jombati and Garbutt at full back. Summerfield deserved to keep his place in midfield and to be fair that was probably the reason Duffy did not get in. It is very brave going 4-5-1 at home but Yates took a chance and it paid off.
The match itself was a game where Cheltenham exhibited an array of sporadic attacking football in what I think is Yates' preferred formation. The 4-5-1 enables us to have an extra midfielder when defending, but it also releases the likes of Mohamed and Low to spring forward and help the striker up front. Spencer was that lone striker but he worked the line and ran his socks off. The game actually started on the scrappy side and Dagenham had the better of the possession with Cheltenham not getting that much of all the ball but that didn't stop Jimmy Spencer firing a shot wide via a deflection after a good move involving Penn and Low around the 15th minute mark. At this point it was starting to get a little more open and it ended up with Gavin Tomlin striking the bar a few minutes later. Daggers were always going to dangerous with Tomlin and Scannell on the wings and it was evident to see. Another reason why Yates stuck with Jombati/Garbutt was probably to nullify that threat due to their speed and athleticism. After another period of about 10 minutes of good passing from both sides Daggers did have another chance but Troy Hewitt didn't strike an effort properly and it landed in Brown's arms. It was then Cheltenham sparked into life and it came from an unlikely source. After Pack was fouled 40 yards out on the right, Garbutt swung in a dangerous free kick and bennett connected with a clinical header into the far corner, the first goal he has scored for us and a perfect 30th birthday present. We then dominated the play up to half time but were caught cold in the 45th minute when Scannell wriggled free of Jombati on the left and cut in. His shot deflected off Bennett and landed at Jon Nurse feet who slotted it home. A rare lapse in a half where we actually defended quite well.
The second half was more of the attacking flair I was talking about before. Yates had them in at half time and was obviously disappointed with conceding so late into the first half. You can only assume he expressed his wish for our midfield to stamp their authority on the game and for us to get forward more. We needed to express ourselves more and one player that took this advice on board was Marlon Pack. His range of passing was starting to get into full flow and he was pinging them all over the park now. By the time the game was out it was very near to a 10/10 display and it had some fans around me agreeing that this guy is destined for better things. We can only hope it is with us but we fear another Grant McCann situation where you know a player has the potential to go on up but does it without the team that has kick started his career. 49 minutes had elapsed when Spencer picked up the ball in his own half, he off loaded to Pack who carried it on about 20 yards and then slotted it back to Spencer weight perfect and he went on and fired it into the top right hand corner. Quality finish. This was now 2-1 and cheltenham were starting to twist the knife, as the passing was getting too the point they were chasing shadows. More chances for us came and went as flowing attacking football involving Mohamed/Low in-sued. This led onto a chance for Spencer who headed a cross into the top corner once again but credit to the Daggers keeper who made a fantastic finger tip save. A Low chance mid half and then two Dagenham yellow cards later and we entered the final 15 minutes. The usual part of the game Cheltenham get very nervy and usually defend too deep. These old habits nearly cost us again when Tomlin got free again just inside the area and sent in a shot that Brown got finger tips too and deflected wide. To be fair it was a great save and all credit to him because he is responding in the way we all hoped after being dropped for Jack Butland. Brown has upped his game but you just get that horrible feeling a mistake is just around the corner. Maybe this corner will be after christmas though because if Butland has his loan extended by Birmingham City this week he will surely be back in goal. He has also been helped with the Bennett/Elliott partnership at centre back which is really starting to flourish. These 2 are full of the defensive grit we sorely missed from last season and this was fully on show in the last 10 minutes as they got in the way of virtually everything. The Daggers did push on and were still dangerous but we dealt with the threats and after a few shots flew wide in stoppage time, the ref blew up.
The display from Cheltenham deserved the three points and it showed how far we have come in such a short space of time. It was just about the right mix of attacking football and defensive grit. A lot of changes were made in the summer but these are now starting to bear fruit as confidence grows with these kind of results. We have learnt how to win dirty, we have learnt how to win scrappy and now we are learning how to win with some attacking fluency and flair......I will end by saying now watch us lose to Burton Friday with Justin Richards inevitably scoring in the process...