Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Sombreros and masks

Back in a previous time when Cheltenham Town used to go away from home and win a few times, Steve Cotterill described one such victory as 'a bandit  raid where we put on our sombreros, masks and rode away with the points.'
Yesterday's trip to Vale Park was a similar scenario - we were pegged back for the best part of an hour, broke away, scored twice, and got the victory, before getting on horseback and riding away into the sunset.
After the game, I spoke to some fans outside the ground and they were all of the same opinion - we didn't play well, dug in, and came away with the win.'
Rather disappointingly, one fan told me that there were a few fans booing at half time.
I am sure it was only a few, but even so - come on...!
But let's gloss over that and talk about the positives, as they are plentiful.
Our 15th league win of the season, our ninth game unbeaten, our seventh league away win of the season, goals from a centre-half and a squad player, no red cards... the list goes on.
We were not at our best in the first half, especially from an attacking point of view, this is true.
I am sure there were a few tired bodies around after the Christmas schedule.
Alan Bennett told Radio Glos afterwards that he woke up very tired and stiff before the game. If he plays like he did when he is tired, how good is he when he is fresh...
The pitch looked like a carpet pre-match, but within a few minutes, the central area was very rutted and cut up.
Same for both sides, I hear you cry - yes it is, but it seemed to affect us more and we could not get our passing game going and could not make use of the wide pitch.
But we defended superbly, and Vale, despite having more possession in the final third and more territory overall, did not manage to test Scott Brown with any meaningful efforts.
Marc Richards should have scored with a couple of headers - one was blocked by Captain Marvel Benno and the other went over and was a poor miss.
Junior Smikle told us after the game that the dressing room consensus at half-time was that they would have taken a 0-0 - most of us on the terraces and in the press box would have agreed.
The second half started much as the first, until the hour mark when Mark Yates introduced Jeff Goulding and Smikle into the proceedings, for Josh Low and Russ Penn.
Whether it was an exercise to rest some weary legs or an attempt to change the game, it certainly had the latter effect.
Within two minutes of coming on, Junior had won a free kick, and Benno glanced it in at the far post.
The second goal was all about Junior. A much-maligned figure in his time at Whaddon, Junior is a willing worker and the sort of squad player every club needs.
He may miss a few chances, he may not be the most skilful, but he is reliable and never lets the side down.
His goal yesterday was started by a lung-busting 50 yard run, aided by a decoy run from Marlon Pack, a lay-off from Darryl Duffy, and then a great finish.
Sean Rigg pulled one back to become the only Gloucestershire boy to score in the match (he is from Wotton-under-Edge...) after Browny made his only save of the match but Rigg put away the rebound.
They pushed three men up, we matched them with Keith Lowe coming on, and never looked like conceding a second.
So another win, but maybe a slightly fortunate one - however, as is said so often, the hallmark of a good team is one that can keep on picking up points even though they don't hit top form.
I don't think we have hit top form since Southend, and we have won twice and drawn twice with Barnet, Shrewsbury, Rotherham and now Vale.
At one time yesterday we were within a goal of top spot, which is nothing short of remarkable considering where we have come from.
So on to the next game.
Sorry... who are we playing again...?

Player by player
Scott Brown - Only one save of note to make and was unlucky when the rebound fell nicely for Rigg to score. Protected well by his defence and his handling was much better than in previous games.
Sido Jombati - Unable to get forward as had to contend with first Rob Taylor and then Rigg who pushed him back well.
Luke Garbutt - Had his hands full with Jennison Myrie-Williams, who was a threat but luckily for us has got no better with providing end product than when he was with us. Defended well.
Alan Bennett - Captain Fantastic one again. Won just about every header against Tom Pope and came up trumps with a crucial goal at the other end.
Steve Elliott - Also very solid against tough customers in Pope and Richards. Picked up a booking, but otherwise another excellent game.
Marlon Pack - Unable to run the game as Vale kept him quiet very well. Heart in mouth moment when he went down at the end, but walked to the team bus afterwards.
Russ Penn - Quiet game by his usual energetic standards. Looked a bit leggy to me and good decision to bring him off after an hour.
Luke Summerfield - As with Russ, Luke wasn't his usual self, but still did his bit to keep Vale at arm's length in the first hour.
Kaid Mohamed - Very quiet. Had our best first-half chance but shot wide. No real chances to use his pace and run at Vale.
Josh Low - Also very quiet and also rightly taken off. Did some good work defensively but no threat going forward.
Darryl Duffy - Battled away against two big centre-halves and got nothing from the referee. One chance in the second half was saved and played a part in Junior's goal.

Substitutes
Jeff Goulding (for Russ Penn, 60 mins) - Did well when he came on. Won some flick-ons and was a bit of a nuisance for the centre-halves.
Junior Smikle (for Josh Low, 60 mins) - Won the free-kick which led to the first goal and scored the second. Can't ask for much more than that!
Keith Lowe (for Darryl Duffy, 85 mins) - Brought on when Vale went to three up front to match them man for man. Helped us see the game out.