Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Derailed by the Railwaymen

Those of a certain vintage (like me) will remember the character from Monty Python's Flying Circus who would appear just as things were getting a bit too wacky.
It was played by Graham Chapman, dressed up a soldier, who would walk on randomly in the middle of a sketch, and announce 'Right, stop it now, it's getting a little bit silly.'
Tonight, that part was played by Dario Gradi, whose Crewe side decided that for Cheltenham to win six games in a row was just a plainly ridiculous thought, and that it should be stopped right away.
I felt after tonight that we did not deserve to win the game.
We were the better side in the first half, and but for Steve Phillips would have been ahead.
Then we gave the penalty away (more on that in a minute) and I felt Mark Yates got the substitution and subsequent formation and tactical decisions wrong, and we never looked like getting back into the game.
Apart from Scott Brown's enforced return, the rest of the 16-man squad was the same as Friday night's win at Accrington, and there could be no complaints about that decision.
That group of players had done the business in recent games, so vindicated Yates' decision to go with them again.
It started well, with Jimmy Spencer clearly wanting to prove a point after being hauled off at the Crown, and his early hold-up and link-up play was back to how it was at Bristol Rovers and Burton.
Russ Penn was making good runs and winning some decent tackles, with Luke Summerfield backing him up - but the wide men, Josh Low and Kaid Mohamed, did not come to the party at all.
They quickly developed the annoying habit of drifting infield, so when we had a promising position and a good tempo going, the move broke down as we had no-one offering a wide option.
When Low did get the ball, he was only able to cross from deep and that was meat and drink for Dugdale and Martin, or for Steve Phillips.
Phillips was the reason why we went in at 0-0, with great saves from Spencer and Summerfield and a good gather from Pack's shot through a ruck of players.
Once again, Crewe had done their homework. It is a sign of our progress that their system was set up to negate us, with Byron Moore sitting deep on Marlon Pack, while Antoni Sarcevic and Nick Powell set out to stop Garbutt and Jombati getting forward, and Low and Mohamed running from deep. It worked.
Pack had a very quiet night, Garbutt barely crossed the halfway line, and as I said earlier, Low and Mohamed were peripheral figures at best.
But after that bright first half, we never imposed ourselves on the second half in the same manner, and after the penalty we failed to react in a positive manner, as we did a few times last season, and in a way we thought was out of our system.
So to the penalty award. Firstly, we should have cleared the danger about three or four times before the ball came to Luke Murphy.
Then, when Murphy is facing out of the box, not posing too much danger, Jombati did not need to go through the back of him to get the ball, so it was a rash challenge, and gave the referee and his assistant the chance to give it.
Scott Brown had no chance - he did go the right way though - and from then on it was a test of our character, and we failed it.
We got involved in arguing about the penalty decision, then got wound up by the antics of some Crewe players trying to dive, especially Shaun Miller and Nick Powell, rather than just concentrating on getting back into a game we should have been winning comfortably by that stage.
Yates opted to throw Darryl Duffy and Jeff Goulding on, and decided to take off Mohamed and Penn. I think I would have left Mo on and taken off Low, and I thought Russ was slightly unlucky.
On performance, if you were taking a central midfielder off, then it would have had to be Pack, the most disappointing of the three on the night. Alternatively, he could have taken Spencer off and gone to a 4-4-2.
But we kept the same formation, with Duffy, our poacher, playing on the left wing, and Spencer, our hold up man, in central midfield, and we looked totally lost.
It was square pegs time, and it seemed like a panic change, which was a surprise as most things Yates has done recently have been decisive and well thought out. This change seemed a bit on the hoof - almost saying 'the fans will want strikers on, let's do that'.
Crewe had a few breaks, but we never tested Phillips and never created a clear cut chance. The ball didn't go wide and we started being too direct which was meat and drink for their back four.
Duffy was ineffective out wide, and was finally moved central, while Goulding never got going and then missed a glorious chance at the death. That summed up our night.
But let's put it in context. Our first defeat in seven games, and we still sit sixth in the table.
However, it was a shame that, when it seemed that the people of Cheltenham finally turned up, we were a bit flat again and dropped into some old habits, undone by wily Dario.
So Plymouth come to town on Saturday, and I wonder if the time will come to change personnel, and formation? We await with interest.

Player by player
Scott Brown: Back in the side, and secure on crossing and handling. Had few direct saves but beaten from the spot despite going the right way.
Sido Jombati: Rash challenge for the penalty. Still not totally convinced by him at right back as he looks to prone to mistakes.
Luke Garbutt: Unable to make great strides forward and had a few dicey defensive moments. Mixed free-kick and corner delivery.
Alan Bennett: Usual solid self at the back. Won most of his headers but got a booking for clash with Miller after he felt the forward dived.
Steve Elliott: Won headers and din't do much wrong at the back, but was done for pace a couple of times when caught upfield as we chased the game.
Josh Low: Very poor. Crosses disappointing, touch was casual and kept drifting inside off his wing. Place in doubt for the weekend I would think.
Marlon Pack: Closely marked in first half and subsequently unable to have an impact on the game. Quietest of the midfield trio.
Luke Summerfield: Probably our best player. Especially good in first half, and tried to provide a spark in the disappointing second half.
Russ Penn: Started well, looked to support Jimmy Spencer, but taken off after an hour, I felt slightly unluckily.
Kaid Mohamed: Frustrating performance. Never ran at defenders despite a few opportunities. Like Low, kept drifting inside, and kept cutting inside with ball rather than going at people.
Jimmy Spencer: Thought he was excellent in the first half and so unlucky not to score. Change of role on the hour then negated his influence on the game completely.

Substitutes
Darryl Duffy (for Kaid Mohamed 60): Started on the left wing, then moved central, but too late. Unable to impact on the game.
Jeff Goulding (for Russ Penn, 60): Thought he was poor. Touch was off, hold-up play weak and missed a golden chance at the end to get a draw.
Junior Smikle (for Josh Low, 87): Low should have come off earlier... but anyway Junior finally got his inevitable run-out, and came very close to scoring but for a last-ditch challenge.