Saturday, 15 October 2011

One in the eye...

October 14 is the 945th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.
As any decent history book will tell you, it was poor old King Harold who got one in the eye that day on Senlac Hill at the hands of the marauding invaders - tonight it was Cleveland Taylor's turn.
Now, poor old Clevey had said a few things about Russ Penn in the run up to the game, basically alluding that Penn had made an error in swapping Burton for Cheltenham, how Burton didn't miss him, and how their side were better off without him, and so on.
Hmm.
Sorry Clevers, think you might be a bit wrong there, me old son.
Put quite simply, bar a spell of about 10 minutes in the first half, we were superb from number 6 to 25, with our second half reminiscent of some of the displays under the new Nottingham Forest manager in days of old.
Apart from Mr Taylor's words of wisdom, the other sub-plot was apparently going to see Justin Richards add to his nine-goal tally.
Wrong again. Alan Bennett let him out of his sight once all night, and even then Jack Butland's chest got in the way, and Mr Richards disappeared back into Mr Bennett's pocket, where I believe he still resides.
I must confess I was wary about this game as Burton had not lost at home all season, scored in every game and seemed to be a team in form.
In the past when we have come up against teams like this away from home, we have under performed on the whole, and seen the end of a decent run - but maybe we should stop thinking about what has happened in the past and think positively about our team and realise just what exciting times could be on the horizon.
We sit third in the table, before games tomorrow which will, more than likely, see us drop down a few places, and while it is important not to get carried away and start making wild predictions, the evidence is there to see that we could be going places.
That is now four wins in a row. We haven't done that since a run under Keith Downing - who incidentally was in the crowd at the Pirelli, one of 55 scouts from various clubs, also including his WBA colleague Dean Kiely, Nigel Spink and Luke Summerfield's dad Kevin.
Three of those wins have been away from home, all three of them by two clear goals, and all as comfortable as that victory margin would suggest.
Unsurprisingly, Mark Yates kept the same outfield 10 from Saturday's win over Dagenham but restored Butland between the sticks, and I would imagine it was Butland who the majority of those scouts came to see.
I watched the first half with the Cheltenham fans in the seats and we witnessed what I thought was quite an even half.
Sido Jombati was denied by a superb save from their goalkeeper and we had most of the pressure, but towards the end of the half they came back into it, culminating in Butland's save from Richards, and one superb defensive header by Bennett.
After giving up on the long refreshment queue, I saw Scott Brown (who had also given up) and we both felt it was an even half, and that the game could be decided on one goal, a la Gillingham and Aldershot.
Now, both of those games fell the wrong way for us, but from the moment we stepped out, there was only one winner.
I managed to make my way in to join the fans behind the goal for the second half, and there was a superb turnout and fantastic noise throughout.
That noise was ramped up within a minute of the restart as we went in front with a goal which saw the ball go from centre circle to goal in four touches.
Marlon Pack played a superb ball to Luke Garbutt on the left, he controlled it and crossed to the far post, where Josh Low headed home. Yes, Josh Low. A header. These are indeed strange times.
Jimmy Spencer went close, as did Kaid Mohamed with a 35-yard howitzer that just went over and the Rubies seemed to be cutting through them at will.
Butland tipped a shot from Jimmy Phillips over, and from the corner we made it 2-0. Yes, the Burton corner.
Marlon Pack volleyed the clearance to Mohamed on the left wing, and he went off on one of his Bristol Rovers-style mazy runs, weaved his way to the byline and squared for Jimmy Spencer to score.
That takes his goal tally to five, the same as Darryl Duffy, with Jeff Goulding on four - so the strikers between them have one less than Mr Richards managed in his season with us.
Makes a bit of a mockery of the conversation I had with one fan before the season who told me our strikers wouldn't score enough goals...
Add to that the fact that Kaid and Josh Low have three apiece, while Marlon Pack has one and Luke Summerfield two, and it leaves Russ Penn of our first-choice midfield-striking options as the only one without a goal.
On the subject of Mr Penn, he came in for some rough treatment from his former club, and stood up to it well with no sign of reprisals, which clearly was the idea - get him riled as sent off. Sorry Mr Peschisolido, backfired on you that one.
After the second goal, Burton barely troubled us bar one brilliant Bennett tackle on Billy Kee and a Calvin Zola header which went wide.
It was as comfortable and nerveless a second half as I can remember since those days under Stevie C when we used to go to places like Hereford and Morecambe in the Conference and take home routine 2-0 wins.
We could have had more, notably a Goulding overhead kick which hit the bar, but let's not be greedy, eh?

Player by player
Jack Butland: Fabulous first-half save from Richards which turned the game back our way. Also tipped over in the second and made a good late stop from a deflected shot.
Sido Jombati: Nearly scored with a header and effective coming forward. Got booked (after a terrible Marlon Pack pass put him in trouble) and maybe should have been taken off but had a good game.
Luke Garbutt: Very impressive in defence and attack. Dealt well with Cleveland Taylor and set up Josh Low's goal with a sumptuous cross.
Alan Bennett: Just immense at the back all game. Kept Richards quiet, bar one lapse, and won every header, notably one brilliant first-half clearance, driving the team on and leading by example.
Steve Elliott: Backed up Benno superbly as he kept Zola quiet, barely losing a header to the giant striker. Had a shot saved in the first half and headed wide in the second.
Josh Low: Scored with a header, which is a rarity in itself. But had a good game, always a problem for his full-back.
Russ Penn: Glorious return to his old club, with a few big mouths silenced. Had a superb game in the face of some heavy treatment and helped us get the right result.
Luke Summerfield: Again showed he is the perfect foil for Penn and Pack. His industry allows them to play and tackle, while he mops up and keeps us ticking over.
Marlon Pack: Superb pass for first goal, and clearance started move for second. But overall, so high was the standard of the team's display, he was probably the least effective of the midfield three.
Kaid Mohamed: Struggled early on to get the better of Kevin Amankwaah, but got there in the end, with his superb run to create the second goal. Did some good defensive work too, supporting Luke Garbutt.
Jimmy Spencer: Excellent again and seems to relish the lone role in this system. Deserved his goal and now has scored in our last three league wins.

Substitutes
Junior Smikle (for Mohamed, 79): Came on as Mo got a knock for his habitual appearance, and was his usual busy self, nearly getting on the end of a good move.
Jeff Goulding (for Penn, 82): Hit the bar with an overhead kick and made a good clearing header from a Burton corner as we closed out the game.
Darryl Duffy (for Spencer, 89): Not much time to make an impact, but did almost set Junior up for a chance.