Saturday, 22 October 2011

Leaving Stanley flat

The mark of a good side, so these pundits say, is to win ugly, and Friday's fare at the Crown Ground was about as ugly as you are going to get. With the exception of the pies anyway, more of which later.
I took the trip up on the supporters' bus, happily full and in good spirits as you would expect after a four-match winning run.
I didn't detect much in the way of complacency about this game, which was a good thing, as we endured a frustrating stop-start journey up the dear old M6, extending to four and half hours.
It meant there was no pint in the Crown for me, but my BBC Glos colleague Pete Matthews made it, and had the most expensive pint in there, for £2.40. Don't you love the North...
But I did arrive in time for some stereotypical Northern food (copyright Phil Ruck) and at £4.50 for meat and potato pie, chips and mushy peas, you couldn't go wrong.
The pie was the best of the season so far with good flaky pastry and decent filling, and the right temperature so my mouth was not like a blast furnace, perfect chips topped off with mushy peas.
In fact it was so good I went back for another helping, but the chips were cooking, so second time around it was just pie and peas. But just as excellent.
Unfortunately, then the football broke out to deny me the chance for thirds, and it was more like one of those soggy pre-packed pies with mushy pastry and artificial filling... not very appetising.
Accrington had done their homework and matched our formation with two sitting midfielders stopping Russ Penn getting forward and our wide men also being negated for much of the game.
They had the only decent chance of the first half with Jack Butland making a good save, but we hung in there and defended well without being able to get much going up front.
Jimmy Spencer was left isolated and without much of the ball to feet that he has had in previous games, and that may have led to the rash challenge on Kevin Long which ultimately changed the game.
It was right in front of our commentary position and was one of those where he caught the player just as he played the ball upfield.
The player stayed down and the Accy fans bayed for blood, but a yellow was right, even if the guy in front of us decided I was a 'knobhead' for saying so and had an animated conversation about it with Jon Palmer and James Brown afterwards. Chin up son.
Jimmy then commited another foul quickly after and had a chat with assistant about his decision to flag, and in an instant Jeff Goulding appeared on the touchline and Jimmy's evening was over.
It was another example of Mark Yates' more ruthless management style, and a very sensible decision. It was a tight game and a red card would have ended any hopes of us winning the game.
As it turned out, the substitution won us the game.
From our throw-in seconds later, the ball was lofted forward by Sido Jombati, and as Ian Dunbavin came out rashly, Jeff's first touch lobbed it over him and it bounced into the net.
44 minutes, perfect time to score, supersub,  we had weathered the storm, grabbed a goal with sucker punch.... roll out the cliches...
We started better in the second half and as the game wore on, Luke Summerfield and Marlon Pack became more influential.
We should definitely have had a penalty when Kaid Mohamed was fouled, and Russ put a shot into the side netting after Jeff ran 70 yards and gave him a perfect pass - that was Russ's last act as Junior Smikle came on and I thought we looked more dangerous going forward with him on the field.
Accrington tried to go more direct but Steve Elliott and Alan Bennett won everything, with Elliott outstanding at the back as that partnership continues to go from strength to strength.
The biggest compliment I can pay is that it could easily have been Chris Banks and Mark Freeman back there - I think they are on the way to becoming the best central defensive pair we have had since those legends.
Bennett plays the Banks role, organising, reading the game, sweeping up and bringing composure and leadership, while Elliott is Freeman, not always pretty, going to win that first ball, 100 per cent effort to go in where it hurts.
Accrington had one chance, a daisycutter which Jack Butland dealt with, but it was fairly comfortable as we made it five wins in a row, four of them away from home, and now go into two home games with Crewe and Plymouth.
They won't be easy - Crewe could be anything given our games with them down the years, while Plymouth have picked up and if their takeover happens finally they will come up in good heart.
Six points would be brilliant, but four would be a good return and keep the momentum going.
As someone tweeted to me after the game last night, we are halfway to avoiding relegation - that may sound a bit negative to some, but it is only October and we are only building foundations.

Player by player
Jack Butland - One superb save in the first half, but little else to do despite Stanley's possession. Otherwise just crosses and coming out to kick away danger.
Sido Jombati - Usual mix of good defending and heart in the mouth stuff but played his part by setting the goal up with a long ball for Jeff.
Luke Garbutt - Did well against Charlie Barnett on the right who was Stanley's best player. Another steady game.
Steve Elliott - Outstanding. Won just about every header and denied Stanley's forwards any space or time with perfectly-timed tackles.
Alan Bennett - See above. Nearly scored in the second half with a shot cleared off the line.
Josh Low - Quiet game. Struggled to get space and time out wide and only had sporadic influence on the game.
Marlon Pack - Quiet first half but grew in influence as the game wore on as he got more space with Stanley chasing the game.
Luke Summerfield - As above. Had to defend more in the first half but was able to get forward more after the break.
Russ Penn - Ineffective game as Stanley's two central midfielders denied him space and time to get forward and support Jimmy. Missed a golden chance before coming off.
Kaid Mohamed - As with Josh, only sporadically managed to get into the game. Should have been given a penalty after being fouled in the second half.
Jimmy Spencer - Isolated and frustrated in the first half, got a booking and was walking a tightrope, so good management by Mark Yates to take him off.

Substitutes
Jeff Goulding (for Spencer 44) - Perfect arrival, scoring with his first touch. Was more effective in holding the ball up and nearly set up a second goal.
Junior Smikle (for Penn 67) - Thought Junior did well and brought a bit of a spark when he came on with good runs and movement.
Keith Lowe (for Mohamed 90) - First touch was to head the ball 20 yards backwards, so not as good as Jeff's, but helped see out the result.