Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Flying the nest

Days after we said farewell to Andy Gallinagh, the other flag bearer for the Cheltenham Town youth policy, David Bird, has today left the club.
I remember being at Cinderford's Causeway ground covering a game for the Citizen one dank Tuesday night when Steve Cotterill and Mike Davis walked in.
The 16-year-old Birdy was playing for his home-town club, where his dad Alan used to run the youth team, and a few games before Dave had scored a hat-trick against Evesham in a 4-1 win.
I wondered why Steve and Mike had ventured so far into the wilds, and found out soon after when Birdy joined our youth set-up in 2002.
And so today marks the end of an era - and severs the final link in the squad to those days, as the only player left at the club who was here under Cotterill's management departs.
At only 27 years old, Bird played 329 times for Cheltenham after Bobby Gould gave him him much-documented debut at Huddersfield when Antony Griffin was injured in the warm-up.
That was at right back, and he played most of his early games there but played his best football in the 'holding' midfield role, twice being voted player of the year, in 2007-8 and 2008-9.
He only scored eight goals, but some of them were memorable - one at Elland Road and a last minute winner against Bournemouth spring to mind.
He will have a testimonial which I hope will be well supported, and he leaves with thanks and will be remembered as someone who always gave 100 per cent for the shirt - and it is a shame to see the only really 'local' player in the squad depart.
But if we are honest, the writing has been on the wall all season as Dave has struggled to get into the side, kept out by the form of Russ Penn, Marlon Pack and Luke Summerfield, and the cut to five subs also meant that avenue was closed to him as well.
The same can be said for Gallinagh, who, like Bird, was a whole-hearted performer every time he pulled on the red and white.
But he too struggled this season with Steve Elliott and Alan Bennett, and with Keith Lowe and Harry Hooman backing them up, and was left in the same limbo as Birdy.
Last season, they were regulars in the side, and the fact they are not this time around is an indication of how Mark Yates and Neil Howarth have looked to move to the next level - nothing against the pair of them, but this is the reality.
Time moves on, and I am afraid there is no room for sentiment these days, sad though it is to see loyal club servants move on.
Both have been with the club a long time, and so would no doubt be on decent money in relation to the rest of the squad - and in harsh economic terms, that money should not be being paid to players who are sitting in the stands.
With a week of the transfer window to go, Mark Yates needs that money freed up to try and bring in players who are going to threaten the first 11 or the 16 a bit more.
Despite Gallinagh's departure, we are OK for cover at the back with the four I mentioned above - but Bird's departure does leave us short in the centre of midfield.
We now have no one who could come in and play the 'holding' role - for example if Pack or Summerfield were to get injured or suspended (or sold...) we would surely be forced into a change of formation to 4-4-2 as there is now no like-for-like replacement.
Penn's absence at Barnet saw Josh Low play in his role - but we have Junior Smikle, Theo Lewis or even Kaid Mohamed who could stand in.
So while Mark Yates is clearing the decks, he may now find he needs three players - a goalkeeper to succeed or back up Scott Brown - well, to challenge him at the very least - a midfielder to cover the central trio and a big, powerful target man.
The postponement of the County Cup game tonight meant we were denied the chance to see Matthew Barnes-Homer, who trained with us on Monday and was a star for Yatesy and Neil at Kidderminster and earned them a £75,000 fee from Luton.
It didn't work out for him at the Kennel or Rochdale on loan and he is now a free agent, so we could wait until after the window ends to make a decision, and hopefully we will be able to give him a trial game soon.
The departure of these two players, while a shame, may give us the breathing space to further strengthen our squad for the challenges ahead.