Thursday, 29 December 2011

2011 - that was the year that was

I debated long and hard about whether to do a review of the Cheltenham Town year.
It has been a strange one - it opened with optimism after our 4-0 win over Bradford at the end of 2010, but failed to deliver early on as our slump in form sent us careering down the table before our late rescue act.
Then a summer of change has been followed - after a slightly stuttering start it has to be said - by us riding the crest of a wave since October and with the real prospect of a promotion push in 2012 and an FA Cup trip to one of the country's biggest clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, a little over a week away.
Right, that's the year summed up, but now, just for a bit of fun, here are the CTC Awards for 2011, so dust off those tuxedos, write those tearful speeches, and let's go...

Playing record (all competitions): Played 55 Won 23 Drawn 11 Lost 21
Jan- May P 26 W 5 D 7 L 14
Aug-Dec P 29 W 18 D 4 L 7
Biggest win: 3-0 v Southend, December 10
Heaviest defeat: 1-8 v Crewe, April 2.

Leading goalscorer (all competitions)
This is a straight fight between the man who wore the number nine shirt until the summer, and the man who took it from him. Between January and his departure for his short spell at Crawley, Wes Thomas scored nine times, but on this occasion he is edged out by Darryl Duffy, who has hit 11 goals between August and now.
Full list of goalscorers, Jan 1 to Dec 31: Duffy 11, Thomas 9, Spencer, Goulding 7, Mohamed, Low 6, Pack 5, Summerfield 4 , Andrew 3, Penn, Elliott, Smikle. Artus, Gallinagh 2, Bennett, Jombati, Thomson, Pook 1.

Signing of the year
This is a very tricky one. Obviously, it has to one from the summer, and I have narrowed it down to a shortlist of three. I considered Russ Penn, Luke Summerfield, Marlon Pack, Darryl Duffy, Kaid Mohamed, Alan Bennett and Sido Jombati. All seven have contributed massively to the upturn in form this season, but I narrowed it down to Russ Penn, Alan Bennett and Sido Jombati.
Penn's energy and drive and really sparked our midfield into life and he has been the heartbeat in there we have been missing.
Bennett has been our leader - the man who has really driven our team on from the back, on and off the field, and has also brought the best out of Steve Elliott, and those two in tandem have solidified our defence.
Jombati has been a great find, and it is a testament to how well have has done that l;ast season's player of the year, Keith Lowe, cannot get a look in.
But I have to make a decision, and from the three above, I plumped for Alan Bennett, as leadership is something we badly lacked until May, and he has brought that in spades, You build a team from the back, and Bennett is our rock.

Loan of the year
Only really three to choose from here, as Shaun Jeffers and Robin Shroot left last January, and you just cannot even consider Jake Thomson, Matt Green and the returns of Ashley Eastham and Medy Elito in the mess that was the end of last season - and we have not seen much at all of Marlon Jackson and Bobby Reid.
So the award is between Jimmy Spencer, Luke Garbutt and Jack Butland - and, let's face it, there only has to be one winner - Jack Butland.
Eight clean sheets and one defeat in his three months, and seeing a Cheltenham Town player (well, sort of) wearing the Three Lions is certainly something many a Rubies fan thought they would never see.
His presence has also given Scott Brown a much-needed nudge - and we still hold out a faint hope that Jack may be back in 2012 as his meteoric rise to the top, and full England honours surely, continues.

Victory of the year
Again, down to shortlist of three. The first half of this season has provided two, and I have picked one from the back end of last season.
From this season, we have the 3-1 win over Crawley and the 3-0 win over Southend. Both were massive in their won way and both send a message out to the rest of the division.
The Crawley win was, of course, very sweet as it was good to get one over dear old Mr Evans and the manner of it was a surprise as, in the first half especially, we were so dominant.
Southend was a demolition of a side unbeaten in 17 games who seemed to be steamrollering sides left, right and centre. But they ended up getting some of their own medicine as we comprehensively beat them.
From last season, I have picked the 3-2 win at Bury. The Shakers were on a good run, with Ryan Lowe up front on fire, while we were in the middle of our slump. But we went there and played superbly, led by Josh Low's two goals, and came away with a superb win.
Before coming up with this shortlist, I also considered last years win at Lincoln, and this year's wins at Oxford and Tranmere in the Cup.
But the winner in this category is Cheltenham 3, Southend 0. As good a home performance as we have ever produced in the Football League.

Defeat of the year
A strange category you may think, but it is really so I can get Crewe 8 Cheltenham 1 out of my system. It was April 2, 2011 - yes, only seven months ago - when we were pulverised at Gresty Road on one of the most embarrassing days ever to be a Cheltenham fan.
I had the joy of interviewing Mark Yates live, post match on BBC Gloucestershire and he was ashen faced as I asked him if he was still the man to turn things around after such a capitulation. He insisted he was, and seven months on he seems to be proving that.
The board could easily have used that as a catalyst to make a change, but they stuck behind Mark and have been vindicated up to now.
This was the game which finally rammed home that we needed radical change, and saw the likes of Frankie Artus and Michael Pook sign their CTFC death warrants with woeful displays.
Happily, the recent results have made this day a fading memory. Hopefully it can be forgotten for good.

Substitution of the year
From time to time, and especially at the end of last season, Mark Yates comes under fire for tactical decisions and his use of substitutes so I decided to highlight what I think was the best move he made from the bench in 2011.
It came on August 20, at Sixfields, and it was the decision to bring on Josh Low in the 3-2 win at Northampton.
We were trailing 2-1 when Josh Low came on for Luke Summerfield after 64 minutes - and four minutes later set up the equaliser for Darryl Duffy.
Then, with 10 minutes left, another sub, Junior Smikle, got down the left and crossed for Josh to finish with amplomb for the winning goal - and against his old club as well.

Moment of the year
There is only one winner here, and it didn't happen on the field.
It came on Sunday, December 4, at around 2.45pm, when the former Everton and Sheffield United midfielder Li Tie pulled out number 52 in the FA Cup third round draw, and sent us to White Hart Lane, thus becoming an instant hero and guaranteeing himself the Freedom Of Whaddon Road whenever he wants it, and the gratitude of every Rubies fan for ever.

Villain of the year
Two candidates here, and it is impossible to separate them, so we have joint winners.
If I was to tell you they have a link to the same club, and its' initials are the same as Cheltenham Town Football Club, you might be able to hazard a wild guess at who I am talking about.
The first winner is, of course, Wes Thomas, who was rescued by Mark Yates from the football scrapheap in the summer of 2010, when no one had ever heard of him, and he was headed back to non-League, where he had come from.
He was on a one-year contract and an oversight had not put in a clause giving him another year after a certain number of games, and efforts to get him to re-sign were met with rejections.
An impending baby increased the reluctance of Wes to move his family from London, and from January onwards it was obvious that was off.
This impasse coincided with our slide down the league, and even though he scored nine goals after January he was never the same player who burst on the scene early in the campaign.
He did leave, heading for Crawley and returned to Whaddon Road on August 27, as we swept them aside, but lasted 45 minutes and was roundly booed for playing on after the ball was put out for an injury, but we got our revenge as we scored seconds later.
He was taken off at half-time and that more or less signalled his exit from Crawlety as he was packed off to Bournemouth - even further from his home than Cheltenham - while we have brought in hungrier, more committed players.
So no prizes for guessing the other winner - yes, it's our favourite manager Steve Evans.
After that same 3-1 win over Crawley, Evans said that his team had lost to 'a poor side' and has continued to go through the first half of his side's first Football League season making enemies around the division which his boorish behaviour and graceless comments.

Disappointment of the year
Again three candidates for this award, starting with a player who many hoped was going to be the future of Cheltenham Town, and the big star to come out of our youth team.
I saw Ethan Moore in the youth team and reserves last season, and thought that finally we had unearthed a real talent.
Ethan was at Southampton and Aston Villa as a schoolboy, and after a mysterious departure from Villa he came to us as an unpaid trainee, and we offered him a contract.
I was excited about him signing it, and thought he stood a good chance of really pushing for a first team place this season, but it didn't happen, and amid talk of illness or a poor attitude, whichever you want to believe, it was all over by September.
But whatever happened, it is a shame both for him on a personal level or for Cheltenham Town that he has not realised his potential.
The second candidate is also a player, and someone who came back to the club this year after a successful previous spell.
Medy Elito had made 12 appearances and three goals in March and April 2010, including that unforgettable strike at Burton, and practically every Cheltenham fan was delighted when Mark Yates re-signed him in February.
But the Medy we got back was not the same player who had lit the team up a year before.
He came on as sub in the 3-0 defeat by Chesterfield, and started the 2-1 home defeat by Aldershot, coming off at half-time, and turned in a lethargic display in the County Cup against Gloucester.
He was packed off back to Colchester and we were told that he had just become a father, which seemed to have made him homesick and we were left wondering why he came back in the first place.
But the winner is the size of the crowds at Whaddon Road.
The people who come to WR week in, and week out are fantastic fans, and are the ones who keep the club going, and the ones who go away to Accrington on a Friday night deserve all the success that the club are bringing at the moment.
But we just need more of them. Another 500 or so at every home game would make a massive difference and would help us to compete even more.
The players deserve more support, as does the club.

Away trip of the year
In previous years I have spent most games on the terraces giving it large with my fellow CTFC fans, but for most away games this year I have been on BBC Glos duty in the press areas, but that hasn't stopped me enjoying some good days.
I think the best of them this year was the 3-1 win at Oxford, as the team played so superbly and it was great so see 800 of the Ruby Army opposite enjoying the day and making it into a Ruby Saturday.

Goal of the year
Now then... we have scored some great goals this year - free-kicks, long-range efforts, solo goals, good team moves, but I have narrowed this one down to five.
Marlon Pack v Southend - our second goal of the year, and a fantastic 30-yard strike from Marlon.
Josh Low v Bury - his second goal of that game, a sublime lob from the edge of the box
Frankie Artus v Morecambe - a superb free-kick, Frankie curling it into the net for our equaliser
Luke Summerfield v Bristol Rovers - brilliantly-worked set-piece which ended with Luke smashing the ball into the net first time.
Darryl Duffy v Wycombe - first touch after coming on, a brilliant first-time shot.
My personal choice from these would be Luke Summerfield v Bristol Rovers.


Player of the year
I thought this final award was going to be the most difficult of all to decide on, but in the end it has turned out to be quite easy...
2011 was divided into two parts, the not so good bit until May, and the good bit from August onwards, and there are only three people who have featured more or less regularly throughout the year - Scott Brown, Marlon Pack and Steve Elliott.
They are the only three players who started both our first and last games on 2011, but I did also consider some from this half of the year, Alan Bennett, Russ Penn, Darryl Duffy, Sido Jombati and Luke Summerfield, who have all made a massive impact since August.
But I have plumped for the man who scored our second goal of 2011, and our last - a loan star in the troubles of the end of last season and now an integral part of our success this time around having been snapped up permanently.
Step forward Marlon Pack...


So that's the CTC Awards of 2011, as we say goodbye to an up and down year and look forward to what could be one of the best in Cheltenham Town's history if we carry on this upward curve we have embarked on recently.
If I could have three wishes for 2012, they would be promotion, either automatic or through the play-offs, a few more supporters coming regularly through the gates and the shelving for good of the Racecourse move plans.

Happy New Year everyone!