Sunday 11 December 2011

Pinch me. I'm dreaming

Like many other Cheltenham fans, I suspect, I have been walking around with a stupid grin on my face since about 4.50pm yesterday afternoon.
I mean, let's face it, this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen, is it?
Cheltenham Town teams don't welcome the 17-games unbeaten League leaders to their territory, play them off the park, restrict them to one shot in the 91st minute and send them packing with their tails between their legs, do they?
Hmm. Apparently they do.
I would hope that, after seeing that display yesterday, even the most hard-hearted and pessimistic Cheltenham fans out there (you know who you are) are even starting to believe that this team could be the real deal.
As I stood outside watching the fans leave and speaking to a few for the BBC Gloucestershire breakfast show tomorrow, I got emotions from disbelief to excitement with everything in between.
Paul Collicutt, our former skipper, walked past me and said it was the best football he has ever seen at Whaddon Road, a thought echoed by a couple of other fans on the mic I waved under their noses.
But maybe the most pertinent comments of all came from the manager at the final whistle, shown on that excellent Mark Clemmit piece on the Football League Show.
The cautious Yatesy we have seen all season was replaced by a more bullish Yatesy, a manager who looks like even he is being fully convinced by what he has in front of him.
Of course he has been convinced by it since July, one would suspect, but it seems to be dawning on everyone finally that this may not just be a good start, it might be something special in the making.
Also on that piece, Yatesy said this team is better than the side which he was a part of nine years ago, which took us out of League Two on that never to be forgotten day in Cardiff.
High praise indeed. The team that day was Book; Griffin, Duff, Walker, Victory; Williams, Finnigan, Yates, Devaney (Grayson, 76); Alsop, Naylor... some big CTFC names there.
But there are similarities.
Sido Jombati could be the new Jamie Victory - the same athleticism, claw-like tackling ability and forward forages; Russ Penn is the Mark Yates - all action, work-rate, heart on the sleeve and the odd crucial goal.
Kaid Mohamed could be Martin Devaney - an enigma; brilliant one minute, frustrating the next, and is Darryl Duffy the nearest thing we have had to a Tony Naylor, for finishing ability?
It is always difficult to compare past and present, but I have to say Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott have to be on their way to matching Chris Banks and Mark Freeman; Marlon Pack could be the man to lay the ghost of Grant McCann and Luke Summerfield is probably the closest thing we have had to Lee Howells since that broken leg at Bristol Rovers effectively ended his career.
Am I getting carried away? Maybe. Do I care? No.
I'd also like to put to bed the idea being floated in some quarters that this success has been 'solely' down the loan signings.
Yes, Jack Butland has done well. But who has kept the strikers quiet so he has hardly anything to do in the majority of games he has played? Elliott and Bennett, our players.
What has been the major tactical switch from Yatesy which has sparked the run of success in the past two months? Three in midfield, Penn, Summerfield and Pack, our players.
Our top scorer has 10 goals. Our player, Darryl Duffy.
So there we go. It is not just down to the loans, and not bound to implode (as some doom-mongers continue to maintain) when (or if) Luke Garbutt and Jimmy Spencer join Jack Butland in returning to his parent club.
Butland's final game was probably his quietest, and was the easiest clean sheet he will have in his career. 
The only save he had to make was from his own player, Garbutt, and Southend did not have a shot on target, such was the dominance of our display.
We started well, and Russ Penn did fantastically well to set up Spencer for the opener. 
Steve Elliott could have headed a second, but we went in at the break and waited for the Southend response in the second half.
It never came. Russ Penn and Luke Summerfield continued their combined attempt to cover every blade of grass, Marlon Pack ran the game and waged his own personal battle with the Whaddon Road goalposts while Jack Butland got the pipe and slippers out.
Penn and Pack rounded the game off and we were left to wonder where the real Southend United we had seen every week on the FLS sweeping teams aside had vanished to.
As a statement of intent, it was pretty major.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Finished with a clean sheet, and let's face it, that was never in doubt from the early minutes of the game. Leaves with our thanks, and probably won't be back, although he would like to be. Everyone wants it to happen, Yatesy, Jack, his coach Dave Watson. Go on Mr Hughton, you know it makes sense...
Sido Jombati - Continues to confound and astound in equal measure. Had some tricky customers in Hall and Mohsni to deal with, but just takes it all in that languid, loping stride.
Luke Garbutt - Solid on his return after a week off. An asset going forward but can defend as well, and some decent set-pieces.
Alan Bennett - Nothing against Keith Lowe at all, but Benno just looks happier with Steve Elliott alongside him. Dickinson never had a sniff.
Steve Elliott - Back in harness with his mate Benno, and was like he had never been away with another consistent show, winning just about every header available.
Marlon Pack - Ran the game. If those two efforts which hit the post had gone in (especially the first one) we would have been talking about it for years. Fully deserved his goal.
Russ Penn - Attitude, commitment, work rate and no little skill rolled into one. Incredible signing. Deserved his goal as well. Will be interesting to see how we cope without him at Barnet on Friday,after his fifth booking, and can also rest his dodgy hamstring.
Luke Summerfield - The unsung hero. Had a great game, but overshadowed again by Pack and Penn. Quickly become a very important cog in the machine. Fantastic pass to Pack for the third goal.
Josh Low - Moved from left back to right wing and had some good flashes but also had to deal with his full-back getting forward which he did well. Played vital part in the second goal.
Kaid Mohamed - Sometimes brilliant, sometimes frustrating, more often the latter. One great run nearly set up a goal but didn't chance his arm enough against their back four.
Jimmy Spencer - Took his goal well and would have had two more but for a great block before Penn's goal and his being inches from Kaid's cross. Seven goals now - hope we can keep him for the season, indications are promising I understand.

Junior Smikle (for Russ Penn, 82) - 20 out of 20 now from the bench for Junior, and helped us close the game out. Will he get that elusive league start on Friday?
Jeff Goulding (for Jimmy Spencer, 84) - Like Junior, has been relegated to a cameo role this season, and came on to provide a late outlet.
Bobby Reid (for Kaid Mohamed, 89) - A few decent touches and looked a tenacious little player in the few minutes he was on. Also a contender for Penn's role at Underhill.

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