Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Not dancing on ice...

Sometimes, you just have to hold your hand up, and say 'fair enough, we were beaten by the better side' - and, however unpalatable that may be when Steve Evans manages that side, this was one of those occasions.
It was a strange day - I got to Crawley at 4.30, had some food, got into the ground, set up the radio kit, then overheard the chief steward telling the ground staff that there was a pitch inspection at 6.40pm.
Great. All this way for nothing - and all the work of those Crawley fans who cleared the pitch of snow was all going to be in vain as well.
I stood at the front of the main stand as the referee Graham Scott said game on - and although the second half saw the pitch resemble a skating rink, the game finished, we lost and are no longer top of the league.
I am sure there are some Rubies fans shaking their heads, thinking this is now the end of the world and forecasting a quick plummet down League Two, never to be seen again.
So, for them, and anyone who wants it, some perspective.
That was our first defeat away from home since September.
It was the first time all season we have lost after taking the lead in a game.
It was the first time since Torquay away that we have let a goal in inside the first 20 minutes of a game.
We are still joint top of the table with 18 games left.
The first two Crawley goals were two of the best you will see anywhere, and Jack Butland would not have saved them either - in fact if Jack Butland AND Scott Brown had both been in goal, they wouldn't have saved them.
Luke Garbutt's opener wasn't bad either, and I am sure everyone enjoyed his Adebayor-like dash to the away fans, even if it then did take him a few minutes to recover from it...
So should the game have been played? Probably not, as the side of the pitch near the main stand got trickier as the game wore on, but it was the same for both sides, so, no sour grapes from me - they were better than us, period.
Alan Bennett said he asked the ref about the pitch throughout the second half - so did we let it get into our heads at the detriment of our concentration on the game?
Maybe - but again I will say it, same for both sides and I don't feel the pitch had any effect on the result, they were the better side.
In Tyrone Barnett, Billy Clark and Sanchez Watt, they have three players who patently should not be playing in League Two.
Barnett has been the subject of six, or seven-figure bids depending on what tabloid you read, Watt is one of Arsenal's seemingly endless line of talent who, while he may not get a look-in at the Emirates wouldn't look out of place in the Championship, which is where Clark has just come from.
And it doesn't stop there. Torres was signed for 250k, Bulman has played at Championship level, McFadzean is also wanted by clubs higher up, and in Mills and Davis, they have two of the biggest centre-halves you will ever meet.
So, whatever you, I or Mark Yates thinks about their manager, they are a very good side and will probably fill one of the top three slots come May. Sorry about that, but it's the way it is.
Whether we will be there with them is still a big possibility, and this defeat alone will not stop us getting there or signal an immediate slide.
After the game, Mark Yates said there are irons in the fire with regards to strengthening the squad.
A midfielder seems to be a target. The other irons could be a centre-half, a forward, and yes, the hardy perennial that is Jack Butland, who seems to be the Cheltenham Town version of Coronation Street, so long has the soap opera been going. Not quite going on as long as the Kristian O'Leary saga of a few years back, but it's getting there.
To be honest, it's all getting rather boring.
Yes, he is a very good goalkeeper and would make our squad stronger, but it's all down to Chris Hughton whether we can have him back or not.
So Chris, can you just tell us once and for all if we can have him back?
Just say yes, or no, then everyone can accept it, and we can move on. Thanks.
Anyway. Back to the game.
We started well with Luke's cracker, then Watt and Barnett scored from somewhere in the vicinity of Brighton and we were behind.
15 minutes in, three worldys (copyright, R Milton) and we knew we had a game on our hands. Suddenly it didn't feel like my toes had dropped off.
But Crawley took a grip on the game, and our midfield - the big strength in the amazing four-month run - was our Achilles heel, they seemed to be chasing shadows.
All of a sudden, Luke Summerfield and Marlon Pack looked laboured and tired, Russ Penn seemed not to be fit, Kaid Mohamed couldn't get into the game and Jeff Goulding was ineffective and isolated.
Jermaine McGlashan had set up Luke's goal by chasing a lost cause and nearly conjured an equaliser out of nothing, but we were second best all over the field - even Alan Bennett was being bulled by the beast Barnett.
Clarke was dropping into space where we couldn't pick him up, and Watt was flitting around with Howell and Hunt getting forward at will and it seemed inevitable that a third would come, and it did, just before half-time, and that was the killer blow.
If we had got to half-time at 2-1, we could have regrouped and come out stronger - 3-1 seemed to be too big a mountain and now it was about pride.
Garbutt had a free kick saved, but then Watt added a fourth just after Yates made a triple change.
Smikle, Duffy and Spencer came on, and Goulding and Penn could have no complaints about coming off, but I felt McGlashan could - I would have taken Kaid off, as I felt McGlashan was more likely to produce something.
We went to 4-4-2 and played quite well for the last 20 minutes - it was good to see some grit and determination - all too often we have seen Cheltenham sides fold when they go 3 or 4 down in a game, like at Crewe for example, but not this time.
Darryl Duffy poached a goal and we put some crosses in, but by now the pitch seemed so tricky that it was a bit of  lottery for those last few minutes before the last rites.
Yates and Evans were sent to the stands as a little sideshow - Evans apparently claiming Yatesy and Neil Howarth were trying to get the ref to abandon it, and Yatesy said afterwards he 'fell for the old one-two'.
But we move on to Hereford now and look to get back on track - maybe with some new additions to freshen things up and maybe end our horrendous record at Edgar Street.
Now that really would cheer everyone up.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Let in four goals, but no chance with any of them. First two were brilliant strikes and other two poor defending from those in front of him. Other than that, no saves of note to make.
Sido Jombati - Unable to get forward and had his hands full with Watt and rampaging full back Howell. Not his best game.
Luke Garbutt - Thought he was our best player. Great goal, unlucky to have a free kick saved, and some quality crosses.
Alan Bennett - Barnett gave him his biggest test of the season so far. Gave his all as usual but found it very tough. Picked up a booking.
Keith Lowe - Also found it tough coping with the movement of Clarke and Barnett. Nothing against Keith who always gives it 100 per cent, but we are missing Steve Elliott.
Marlon Pack - Looked tired. Struggled to have any impact on the game, often being dispossessed or giving the ball away. A few neat touches and passes yes, but not enough.
Luke Summerfield - As above. Luke's poorest game for a while. Didn't have his usual energy and looks in need of a rest - after all this is his first long spell of regular football for a while.
Russ Penn - Started well but seemed to fade very quickly and became anonymous by the time he was taken off. Does not look fit to me.
Jermaine McGlashan - Better of the two wide men and I was a bit surprised he was taken off. Had a part in our goal and nearly conjured a second.
Kaid Mohamed - Thought he had a poor game. No real opportunities to get at the Crawley defence and was kept very quiet.
Jeff Goulding - Deserved to keep his place after goal at Macc but was too easily dealt with by Mills and Davis, and became isolated as our midfield could not get up in support.

Substitutes
Junior Smikle (for McGlashan 59) - Usual work rate but didn't really get into the game.
Jimmy Spencer (for Russ Penn 59) - Thought he did well and had a good chance to score but shinned it wide.
Darryl Duffy (for Jeff Goulding 59) - Good to see him back on the scoresheet and looked lively when he came on.