Sunday, 6 November 2011

Remember, remember...

I desperately wanted to avoid all the cliches about November 5th, but I am afraid it was just too hard to resist.
Make no mistake, this display at Valley Parade was a sparkler, has started the month off with a bang and sent us up the League Two table like a rocket, into third place.
Sorry. I will stop now. Promise.
I could now go on about how Bradford were not very good, didn't make Jack Butland make a save until the 70th minute, and were being booed by their own fans after about 20 minutes.
But that would just detract from an away performance which manager Mark Yates quite rightly described as the best of the season.
We should have won the game by about four or five, as we were utterly dominant in all areas from Butland's secure handling, through Bennett and Elliott's winning of every header, via Penn, Pack and Summerfield winning tackles they had no right to, up to Spencer and Duffy's non-stop running.
It was scarily reminiscent of away wins in the Conference title-winning season, when we went to places like Hereford and Morecambe, dominated, kept a clean sheet, won the game and went home.
No fuss, just got the job done, and that's what happened here.
Just like last year, we rolled up and started well, with Kaid's goal after eight minutes putting us in front, as Josh Low's early strike had done last season.
But unlike last season, we didn't cave in, we didn't sit back and I am even starting to get less nervous now about us closing these games out...
A look back at the game at Valley Parade a year (and three weeks) ago shows only two survivors in the starting line-up, Elliott and Pack.
Lowe, Low, Smikle and Goulding were on the bench, Gallinagh is on loan at Bath, Brown, Andrew and Lewis are out of the 16, and the 11th member of the starting side, Michael Pook, has just joined Brackley Town ...
Of the bench that day - Shroot, Jeffers, Artus, Melligan, Lee, Haynes, Lloyd-Weston - only Haynes, nominally, remains at the club.
And it is that bench which starkly tells you just why things have improved so much in a year.
After the 4-4-2 experiment against Plymouth last week, it seemed inevitable Mark Yates would go back to the 4-5-1/4-3-3 which works so well away from home.
But when the team sheet arrived with no Josh Low, but Jimmy Spencer and Darryl Duffy included, it wasn't easy to work out, but it turned out to be Duffy in the central role, and Spencer on the right.
Hence it was more 4-3-3 that 4-5-1 and, as we are becoming strangely accustomed to away from home these days, it worked perfectly.
From the moment Marlon Pack had acres of space in the second minute to shoot over from 30 yards, the pattern was set and I got the feeling we would get something from the game.
Mo scored his goal five minutes later, not the greatest connection or the best bit of goalkeeping by Matt Duke, who was then barracked by his own fans for the rest of the game.
Pack shot wide, Spencer had a shot saved, Pack had a shot brilliantly tipped round, then on the half-hour Spencer had a double chance.
Duffy did what he does best, chasing lost causes and creating something with a cross which Jimmy just failed to connect with, then when the ball came back in, he sliced wide on the stretch.
The reaction of the home fans was amazing. A very loud chorus of boos and whistles came from the 9500 so-called Bantams 'fans'. It was music to our ears.
After that they had a bit of pressure and won some corners, but Jack Butland was never called into action.
The second half was one-way traffic. Duffy had a shot saved, then Marlon Pack nearly wrote himself into folklore.
We won a free-kick about 30 yards from OUR goal. Marlon grabbed the ball and tried a shot, which Duke had to tip round for a corner. It was incredible and if it had gone in they would have been showing it for years.
Then Mo had a shot cleared off the line, Sido shot into the side netting and Russ Penn was fouled on the edge of the box, or just inside it, after winning about four successive 30-70 tackles, but the referee waved play on.
Kyel Reid had a shot in the 64th minute for Bradford and was roundly booed for it, and bar a save for Butland after 70 minutes from Ross Hannah, that was that.
There was no gung-ho home pressure for the last 20 minutes, no desperate defending, no sitting back on our own 18 yard line as the home side swing cross after cross and corner after corner into the box waiting for us to buckle.
It was comfortable, even quite relaxing, and dare I say it, enjoyable to watch rather than anxious and nervous.
So that's four successive away league wins, three clean sheets in a row on the road, and a 10th league win of the season - only 3 less than the whole of last year. We have 32 points, only 15 less than Lincoln went down with last year, and only 20 less than we got in the whole of last season...
Yes, I know people are still going to wary about what happened after Christmas last season, but this squad of players is made of sterner stuff and I think we have the depth of squad to cope.
However, we have not been hit yet - touch wood - by any sort of serious injury, and there would have to be a worry as to how we would cope without players like Bennett, Pack or Penn for a period of time.
Then there is the problem of whether we will lose Jack Butland, Jimmy Spencer and Luke Garbutt at some point when their loans run out - but they are all playing regularly and while the team is doing well there is more chance of their clubs leaving them with us, and, perhaps more importantly, the players wanting to stay.
But let's cross those bridges when they come and just enjoy what we have at the moment, a committed group of players giving their all for the club and getting the results.
The next few weeks are very important with the two Cup games followed by some big league games against teams around us - between now and January 7, we play Port Vale (10th) twice, Oxford (7th), Southend (top), Shrewsbury (4th) and Crawley (2nd), as well as Rotherham and Barnet.
We think we have a good squad here. By January maybe, we will know just how good.
Finally, on the drive back, I listened to 6-0-6 and all I heard were fans moaning about their teams 'not getting any credit' from pundits about playing well this season - Newcastle, Southampton, Charlton and Southend fans mainly.
That drives me mad. Getting credit from pundits, most of whom talk nonsense anyway, does not win matches. I would rather stay under the radar and just prove people wrong in a quiet, under-stated way.
Mark Chapman did mention us and asked for CTFC fans to ring in, and none did. I am glad about that.
If we are still up there in May and if we do achieve something, that's the time when we will deserve credit.

Player by player
Jack Butland - After last week's mistake, he was faultless. Caught everything, stayed alert when he had nothing to do. One take from a corner through about five players was fantastic.
Sido Jombati - Another good game. His ball forward started the move for the winning goal and he kept Kyel Reid quiet.
Luke Garbutt - Dealt superbly with a tricky customer in Michael Bryan very well and also got forward well to give us width on the left.
Steve Elliott - Is now the player we thought we signed last season. Won everything in the air and on the ground.
Alan Bennett - What a signing, and what a leader this guy is. No fuss, no nonsense. Leads from the back and always gives his all. Has brought the best out of Elliott.
Marlon Pack - Ran the game for the first 20-25 minutes, and helped us dominate in midfield from then on. Nearly scored an incredible goal which would have been the best CTFC goal ever.
Russ Penn - My man of the match. Epitomises the 'new' CTFC with his non-stop energy and commitment. Won tackles he had no right to win all over the field.
Luke Summerfield - Ran Penn close as he too was throwing himself into tackles and was just working non-stop all game.
Kaid Mohamed - Took his goal well and unlucky to have one cleared off the line. Better than in previous games.
Jimmy Spencer - Also a man of the match candidate with his non-stop running until he could give no more. Unlucky not to score and more than justified his recall.
Darryl Duffy - Worked very hard and gave the Bradford defence plenty to think about in that central role.

Substitutes
Josh Low (for Darryl Duffy 73): Rightly left out in my opinion, but did well when he came on, offering an outlet as we closed out the game.
Junior Smikle (for Kaid Mohamed, 83): Usual Junior cameo. Effort and energy, and also had time to get caught offside...!
Jeff Goulding (for Jimmy Spencer, 88): Came on to close the game out and did the job perfectly. Seems to be third choice now of our three strikers...