Saturday, 1 October 2011

Putting out the Gas

When I saw the team sheet at the Mem at around 2.20pm this afternoon, I was worried.
For the life of me, I could not work out why Mark Yates had picked the team he had - especially why Kaid Mohamed had kept his place and why Jimmy Spencer was playing as the lone striker.
The Cheltenham fans I texted the team to could not work it out either - one replying that it was a 'terrible team selection aimed at damage limitation'.
All week before the game, fans I had spoken to and tweeted agreed that Kaid should have out of the side, and either Junior Smikle or Bagasan Graham in, and that Darryl Duffy should be in the side somewhere.
On the Radio Glos commentary, Pete Matthews and I debated it for the first 15 minutes of the game, saying it wasn't working, and how Mark had got it wrong.
Shows what we know. Egg on the face, humble pie, whatever - we'll take all of it, turn round and say well done Yatesy, you got it absolutely spot on.
As away performances go, it was superb. I have not seen us play as well as that and win as comfortably as that away from home for a long time. Today's performance, would, I think, have beaten any side in League Two.
Yes, Rovers were poor, but let's not have that detracting from our display. Let's give our team some much-deserved credit, and the same to the manager who made some brave calls.
He made the decision to drop Danny Andrew from the 16 completely - a player who has played just about every game for a season and a third, and bring in Sido Jombati for his first start - and he was excellent.
He made the decision to keep Kaid in the side, when the majority of fans would happily have seen him left out - and he scored a fantastic goal, and many of us thought wrongly that he added a second later.
He made the decision to play Jimmy Spencer up front on his own, and he was tireless and held play up superbly, being credited with that third goal, it seems after Kaid's flick hit him in the chest and went in.
It wasn't a surprise that he played the three central midfield players - that seemed on the cards from the moment Luke Summerfield didn't play in the reserves on Tuesday, and that decision paid off as well.
I thought Summerfield was superb, and my man-of-the-match. He broke up so much play in midfield and then made great runs and what a fantastic strike for what will become known as the Olympiakos goal after Neil Howarth saw the set-piece move in their Champions League game with Arsenal, hence the big celebration with Neil after it came off.
Summerfield's display was backed up by the energetic Russ Penn, the more advanced of the midfield trio and the quietly effective Marlon Pack. They bossed the midfield totally.
Sido's pace negated the threat of Mustapha Carayol out wide to such an extent that he went off at half-time, and Keith Lowe did the same with Joe Anyinsah.
Rovers' efforts to take advantage of what they saw as a lack of pace in our defence was a failure as Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott were immense and then coped with a different threat when Matt Harrold came on.
Kaid and Josh Low were an outlet on the wings and Spencer a good target down the middle as it all came together perfectly.
We were on the back foot for about 15 minutes, and Chris Zebroski looked lively - but that was it as far as Rovers' threat.
Jack Butland hardly had a save to make all game, and was beaten by a deflected shot through a crowd of players which he could not have seen until very late indeed.
By then, we were three up and they were all fantastically worked and superbly taken goals.
Kaid got the first after a corner was cleared and played into Jimmy's feet, he laid off to Kaid, just inside OUR half, and he weaved his way through to finish superbly. A stunning run and a cool finish.
The second goal was even better, a corner from Marlon into the edge of the box and Luke ran onto it and smashed it into the top corner. A great set-piece and a thumping finish.
That was half-time, and I was a bit worried they would come out strongly and if they got one it would be one of those away games we have seen before where we are hanging on grimly and defending deeper and deeper.
But no - two minutes after the break and we got the third. It was also from a corner, Marlon playing it into the near post, and Kaid flicked it goalwards - we thought straight in, but Yatesy said afterwards it hit Jimmy and it's his goal. Fair enough, as he deserved a goal.
They got their goal back and put a bit of pressure on, but when Wayne Brown was carried off (the second stretcher case of the day) and they had to play with 10 as they had made three changes, that was that. Game over.
So that means we have now beaten Crawley, Swindon and Bristol Rovers this season - arguably three of the automatic promotion favourites at the start of the season.
Add that to a win at Northampton, a place not many sides go and take the points, and a decent draw at Torquay, it makes you wonder why we are only 11th in the table.
Results like Gillingham, Aldershot and AFC Wimbledon are especially frustrating after a display like today's, because it shows the potential we have when the players get it right - but if our players performed like today all the time, they wouldn't be League Two players.
Imagine if we had beaten Hereford 3-1 and drawn 0-0 with Rovers - people would say that's two good results, but it was the other way round, so the reaction has been different.
We were organised, committed and clinical today, and as someone rightly said to me after the game, this win was all about attitude. Ours was spot on, there's was not.
Mark Yates made the changes, the players bought into it and made the changes work with their performance.
Let's not have any more of this 'they don't care' or 'they don't listen to the manager' nonsense, I think playing the way they did today in 80-degree heat and the reaction afterwards showed quite clearly that they do on both counts.

Player by player
Jack Butland: Not many saves of note to make as Rovers were so poor in attack and we defended so well. Beaten by long-range, deflected shot through crowd of players.
Keith Lowe: Did well against Chris Zebroski and then Joe Anyinsah and got forward as much as he could. Usual solid display.
Sido Jombati: Replaced the dropped Danny Andrew and did not look out of place. Pace an asset against Carayol and played some good balls forward late on. Can be pleased with his first start.
Alan Bennett: The more I see him play the more I like him. Doesn't get flustered and just gets the job done.
Steve Elliott: Great reception from Gas fans and by the end most will be asking why they let him go. Barely put a foot wrong all afternoon.
Josh Low: Much improved display, was a good outlet wide on the right and set up a few counter-attacks and had a few shots wide or saved.
Russ Penn: All-action performance as the more advanced of our central midfielders. Made some great runs but went off after getting a slight knock.
Marlon Pack: Quietly effective performance. Two corners set up goals and was happy to play a lesser role while Penn and Summerfield ran the game.
Luke Summerfield: Superb performance, and showed why we signed him. Won just about every tackle, broke play up on countless occasions and scored a superb goal.
Kaid Mohamed: Answered his critics (me included) in fine style. Fabulous run and finish for the first goal and  ran himself to exhaustion by the end.
Jimmy Spencer: Another player who was a surprise selection but justified inclusion with a great lone striker display capped with a goal.
Substitutes
Junior Smikle (for Penn 65): I thought he did well when he came on, carrying on from where Russ left off with great energy, tackling and some intelligent off the ball runs.
Jeff Goulding (for Spencer 70): Again, picked up the mantle from Jimmy and did well. Nearly scored, only denied by a superb save from Scott Bevan.
Darryl Duffy (for Mohamed 90): Only on for a few minutes.

Positives: The whole team performance. The manager got his team selection and tactics absolutely spot on, and the team responded superbly.

Negatives: None at all.

Summary: Fantastic performance, great goals and great noise and support from the terraces - all made for a perfect day.