Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Unseating the Chairboys

The Johnstone's Paint Trophy can often feel like taking a step back into the land that time forgot.
For some unknown reason, I arrived at Adams Park at 5.15pm for a 7.30pm kick off, and was practically the first person there. Don't ask.
Even the Wycombe manager Gary Waddock wasn't there by then - he arrived just after me, and was also the last person I saw before I left at about 10.30pm, but he had lost the cheery smile he had on his face a few hours before... and I am not surprised.
The game had a similar pattern to Saturday's game at Bristol Rovers - we were under the cosh a bit for the first 15 minutes or so, then gradually wore Wycombe down with three well-taken and well-worked goals.
We could have been two down, but Scott Brown made a superb point-blank save from Kevin Betsy and the same player then missed an absolute sitter.
Both of the chances were fashioned by Kadeem Harris, who gave debutant Luke Garbutt an uncomfortable start, but the Everton loanee won the battle in the end, and looks a promising player. Another one.
Gradually we felt our way into the game but didn't create many chances until the 34th minute, but Jeff Goulding won't want to see his attempted chip, which didn't get off the ground and rather embarrassingly became a back pass for Nikki Bull.
Just as Darryl Duffy came on two minutes later, I was starting my first update for Radio Glos - by the end of the update I was proclaiming Duffy's fantastic goal.
He ran on, Sido took a throw, Jeff flicked it on, and Darryl smashed it in. It was as quick as that, and the CTFC fans around the press box went mad, and were heard all over the West country!
Scott Rendell sent a header wide soon after, but we came out after half-time and totally dominated the game.
Junior Smikle, whose finishing can often be flaky to say the least, added the second within five minutes of the re-start as he played a one-two with Darryl and smashed home.
He nearly headed home Bags' cross seconds later and it seemed that it would be plain sailing from then on.
But Wycombe made a triple change and got one back through Betsy and that of course got their tails up with Brown making a quite brilliant save from Ben Strevens.
He seemed to be going the wrong way and twisted back to keep the header out one-handed - drawing an extra cheer when the Cheltenham fans saw the save replayed on the big screen in the corner of Adams Park.
It would have been an utter travesty if Wycombe had got it back to 2-2, and that was just about their last chance.
Marlon Pack burst through two challenges with his usual shoulder-drop and hip-swivel and after Bull saved the first shot Darryl put away the second. Thank you and goodnight.
Jeff Goulding could have added a fourth, as could Marlon and then Danny Andrew at the end, but everyone knows we just settle for winning away games 3-1 at the moment. Anything else is just greedy.
The Wycombe keeper Nikki Bull was not impressed with his own team's performance, as he tweeted: "They say that things have to get worse b4 they get better so hoping last nite was our Rock Bottom Made Cheltenham look a Premier League side"
Not quite Premier League yet Nikki, but we will settle for the Area Quarter-finals, and we are in the hat on Saturday to face either Southend, Brentford, Swindon, Bournemouth, Oxford, Barnet or AFC Wimbledon, the other Southern sides left in.
Once again, we showed the potential in our squad, making six changes and seamlessly being able to play the same system and the same brand of football we did at the Mem last Saturday.
It shows that Mark Yates has probably got 19 or 20 players he could put in his first-choice 11 and emphasises the headache he must have choosing a 16 every week.
But that is a good thing and something we have not had for a very long time - if ever since we have been a Football League side - did Steve Cotterill or John Ward have this much depth? I would doubt it.
Remember, Russ Penn, Josh Low, Steve Elliott and Alan Bennett got the night off.
Players like Harry Hooman, Bags Graham, Junior Smikle and Luke Garbutt, plus the likes of David Bird, Theo Lewis and the on-loan pair Andy Gallinagh and Kyle Haynes all want a regular game too. 
But I would rather have that than an 11 which picks itself and a bench which would not change anything, which has been the case far too often down the years.
Performances like the two we have seen in the past four days raise expectations. Let's hope this squad can deliver.

Player by player
Scott Brown: Back in the side with Jack Butland out, and did little wrong. One slightly hairy moment, but two brilliant saves, one in the third minute and one from Ben Strevens at 2-1 which was stunning.
Sido Jombati: Not as impressive as he was at left back on Saturday, and was beaten easily by teenager Jordan Ibe to set up Wycombe's goal.
Harry Hooman: Another assured display and helped keep Elliott Benyon and Scott Rendell quiet. Distribution is good and cool under pressure.
Keith Lowe: Moved the centre-back and took it in his stride. Couple of storming forward runs and even had a 25-yard shot just over the bar.
Luke Garbutt: Grew in confidence as the game went on, Kadeem Harris gave him something to think about early on but he dealt with it.
Junior Smikle: Busy performance and took his goal well after a one-two with Darryl Duffy. Always involved and always working.
Marlon Pack: Ran the game. Pinged passes back and forth all game and set up Darryl Duffy's second goal with a great run past two players.
Luke Summerfield: Carried on from Saturday's man of the match display with another effective game. Happy to play second fiddle to Marlon.
Bagasan Graham: Luke Luke Garbutt, grew in confidence as the game went on.  Couple of good runs and crosses which re-affirm his promise.
Jeff Goulding: Given captain's armband and a new deeper role. Justified both with a good display, linking play well and nearly scoring with a late header. Less said about attempted first-half chip the better, however...
Jimmy Spencer: Busy cameo appearance in lone striker role before giving way and being overshadowed by Darryl's performance. Might miss out Saturday.
Substitutes
Darryl Duffy (for Spencer, 36 mins): Not a bad first touch - and never looked back. Made Smikle's goal and showed persistence for his second. Deserved a hat-trick. Five goals, all away from home!
Theo Lewis (for Marlon Pack, 78 mins): Came on to give Marlon a rest after our third goal and helped shore things up.
Danny Andrew (for Bagasan Graham 88 mins): Brought on to play left wing, and nearly set up and scored a goal in the time he was on the pitch.

Positives
It's not bad to be able to make six changes and still turn in a superb performance against a League One side, albeit a struggling one. Plenty of players put their hands up and sent a message to the manager, especially Darryl Duffy and Junior Smikle, I thought. Confident full debuts for Bags Graham and Luke Garbutt and more evidence of Harry Hooman's promise. Credit to Scott Brown too for two fantastic saves - it can't have been easy for him in recent weeks. Great support as well, massive credit to those who made the trip.

Negatives
We gave a goal away. That's all.

Summary
Another excellent away performance, with the attitude of those brought into the side spot on, as was that of those asked to play a second game in four days. It shows the close-knit spirit of the side, and good to see Alan Bennett there supporting the team against his old club - and on his birthday too. A favourable draw in the area quarter-finals is needed now.