Saturday, 14 January 2012

We are staying up...

So that's that then.
52 points in the bag, and the relief is palpable that we are staying up.
Thank goodness for that.
What? We have still got 21 games to go?
Ah. Ok then. So we can get some more points then...
In fact, for 71 minutes of the 90, we were top of the table - I know we didn't play like a top of the table side, but getting the points is what it is all about.
However, it was nice to hear the Wymans guys singing 'We are top of the league...'
Aldershot had more of the possession and territory, I would wager, but how many times did Scott Brown have a save to make? I can remember only one, in the second half, down by his post.
That was again testimony to the sterling displays of our centre-halves, skipper Benno and the Bilston Cafu himself Keith Lowe, coming in for Steve Elliott and showing that we really do have decent back-up in the squad.
That's now five successive clean sheets at home, with Jack Butland's drop on to Steve Elliott's foot against Plymouth the last goal we let in at home - back on October 29.
Further forward, there were a few more problems.
Marlon Pack's touch and passing was a bit off, and Russ Penn didn't seem to have the same drive - the runs to support the front two were missing, hence we struggled a bit to create much.
Jimmy Spencer and Darryl Duffy were not able to get much change from the Aldershot back four, and were isolated a lot of the time, while the hold-up play was not what it has been, hence we could not bring others into play.
Then there is Kaid Mohamed - the enigma himself.
For 89 minutes, he frustrated the life out of me.
His runs were getting nowhere, he chose blind alleys, got crowded out, and when he did pass, the option was wring and the move broke down and allowed Aldershot to break on us.
When I saw Jeff Goulding and Junior Smikle getting ready to come on, I was waiting for the number 23 to go up. Wrong.
Then, when Josh Low got ready, again I waited for the number 23. Wrong again.
Then up pops Kaid in the last minute with the sort of run and finish we want to see more often, and that we have seen more often away from Whaddon Road and we all went away happy.
So despite the shortcomings, we won the game - and in the position we are in, that's all that matters.
Perhaps we were a bit fortunate to be playing an Aldershot team which looked utterly bereft of confidence in the final third.
A more potent side would have caused us more problems and probably taken something from the game, but we rode our luck a bit and the first goal came at the right time.
Jimmy Spencer will surely win the award for assist of the season as he was sat on his backside when he shovelled the ball for Luke Summerfield to hit another of his piledrivers for his fifth goal of the season.
Marlon Pack would have taken goal of the season with his late free-kick - some people suggested to me after the game that it actually hit the stanchion inside the goal and came out, but having slowed it down about 20 times it definitely hit the upper part of the post - but what a strike!
Kaid's goal ended any lingering doubt, and so we get to 52 points. We are still averaging more than two points a game and I am sure that in any other season we would be away from the rest.
But it shows how well Southend and Crawley have done too, and also the sides just behind, notably Swindon and Shrewsbury, that our start only sees us locked in a tight battle.
Last season, 68 points made the play-offs, and 80 points won automatic promotion, but since we joined the league, the highest points total needed for a play-off place is 78 points and 88 is the highest for third place of higher.
Therefore I would suggest that 80 points has to be our minimum target for an automatic promotion spot, which is 28 more points - ie a minimum of 9 wins and a draw from 21 games.
Sounds easy, but we know it won't be, especially as we have to play the rest of the top five sides all away from home in that programme of games.
We know it's still going to be a bumpy ride from her on in, with lots of twists and turns still to come, but we are in there fighting.
Finally, I have to mention two more things  firstly the attendance - 3,147 was, to put it mildly, pathetic after the number of people who went to Spurs last weekend. This team deserves so much more support.
Secondly, the pitch. I know Terry and his team do a great job, but it was very bobbly and looks very bare in places. I am not going to blame the tenants but it would be a shame if it derailed our bid for the top.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Not many saves to make despite all of Aldershot's territory. Made one fantastic take in the second half, but did have some jittery moments when he stayed on his line.
Sido Jombati - Decent game without really shining. Did his defensive work well, but didn't have an impact going forward.
Luke Garbutt - Had his hands full with Jermaine McGlashan but came out just about even in their battle. Set-pieces not great.
Keith Lowe - Shows the strength of our squad when a player like Keith can come in for Steve Elliott and have a stormer of a game, Won just about every header and got important blocks and tackles in.
Alan Bennett - Usual big game from the skipper. Helped us to our fifth successive home clean sheet.
Marlon Pack - Thought he was slightly disappointing, passing was off and touch not what is usually is, but had that late shot from 40 yards gone in, no one would have cared.
Russ Penn - Seemed to lack his usual energy today. Whether he is carrying a slight injury I don't know, but again came off around the hour mark.
Luke Summerfield - Best of the midfield three. A great strike for his goal and continued his good run of form that got him player of the month.
Kaid Mohamed - To be honest, he was pretty terrible for 89 minutes. Ran up blind alleys, passing woeful, no end product... but what a finish...
Jimmy Spencer - Thought Jimmy was poor today. Hold-up play let him down and when he was out wide, his movement was not great either.
Darryl Duffy - Also didn't have a great game. Couldn't impose himself on the Aldershot centre halves, and was fighting an uphill battle all game.

Substitutes
Jeff Goulding (for Jimmy Spencer 62) - Thought he did okay when he came on. Held the ball up better and helped to set up the second goal.
Junior Smikle (for Russ Penn 62) - Usual energy and usual commitment.
Josh Low (for Darryl Duffy 75) - Barely had an impact as we saw the game out.