Monday, 26 March 2012

All we are saying... is give us a goal!

Cheltenham Town have now not scored for 435 minutes.
That is 7 hours and 15 minutes, or put it another way, 14 and a half episodes of Coronation Street.
That's how long it is since Darryl Duffy put us in front at Morecambe, and seemingly on for another away win.
Things were rosy then, the automatic promotion bid was looking promising.
Now, four and three-quarter games later, we ended the run of four defeats, but still couldn't find that elusive goal, and now sit six points outside the top three.
To be fair though, in this little run of games, only in the last home game against Gillingham have we not posed much in the way of goal threat, and on Saturday we again did everything but score.
Mark Yates and the board cannot be accused of sitting on their laurels and not reinforcing the squad where it is needed.
I know there have been moans in some parts that it should have been done earlier, but these things can take time.
Players take their time to decide, clubs can change their minds from one day to the next about letting players out so there are many factors, but it has been done now and we have Ben Burgess and Steve MacLean for the run-in.
I spoke to Ben after the game, and he lives in Blackpool - a long commute. He had, in his own words, three or four League One and about six League Two clubs to choose from after Notts County said he could go out on loan, and he chose us.
He told me he heard good things about the club and manager, that the gaffer sold the club to him, and that he spoke to a few players who had played against us this season and they told him we play decent football.
So a feather in the cap for Yatesy there, and also signs that our club is getting a good reputation around the divisions.
He also said that after the 90 minutes he didn't regret the decision - and his arrival definitely gave us a different dimension and his link up with Darryl was definitely a plus from the afternoon - clearly they haven't forgotten those three games together for Hull six years or so ago!
In the first 10 minutes, he set Darryl up for a couple of good chances, and his occupation of defenders created a lot of space for Darryl and others to capitalise on.
I was pleased we didn't just resort to humping it forward to him, and kept trying to play, mixing it up well.
Most observers before the game expected 4-4-2 with Burgess and Duffy up front. We got that, but maybe not in the way we expected.
It was 4-4-2, but saw the return of the diamond, with the usual midfield trio supplemented by MacLean, playing at the 'point,' in the hole behind Duffy and Burgess.
MacLean looked a bit ring-rusty for a player who hasn't played any first-team football for a while, but he made some good runs to support the front two, but did lose possession a few times.
I am sure some will moan about 'square peg in round holes' - why play a striker in midfield etc etc - but again I spoke to him after the game and he told me he has played that role for Plymouth, and Oxford in the past so it is not alien to him.
He said he has something to prove to a few people (I suggest the manager of Yeovil is top of that list...) and wants to put himself in the shop window by doing well for us.
What I thought he did well was to stop Oxford's main playmaker Peter Leven from getting on the ball and having a real effect on the game.
Clearly Mark wanted to freshen things up. Having brought these two players in, he wanted to use them, and modified the system to accommodate them. Bar that elusive goal, it worked.
Yatesy resisted the temptation, with the big man in the side, to use two wingers, presumably Kaid Mohamed and Jermaine McGlashan, which would have mean dropping one of the midfield three.
I wonder whether he thought there was a little bit of 'safety first' in the formation - whether Yatesy thought the two wingers would have left us a bit open, but I thought by and large it worked.
We looked solid, and created plenty of chances with Sido and Luke Garbutt getting forward well and giving good service from wide areas.
Garbs' diagonal balls to Burgess pulling off his defender at the far post gave us some joy, his knockdowns almost bringing us a goal or two.
The formation also brought better out of Marlon Pack - he seemed to have a bit more room and was able to have more of an influence on the game than he has in recent games.
He came the closest with that superb free-kick which hit the bar right on half-time, and had a great second-half chance which he put wide.
Add that to Darryl's early shot and header saved by Ryan Clarke, Luke Summerfield's free header in the first half, Ben's volley in the first half and his second half chance when he diverted Marlon's cross-shot past the post - you can see how many decent chances we had.
As for Oxford, I thought we contained them well. Bennett and Elliott were back to their best and dealt with Scott Rendell and James Constable fairly comfortably.
Constable had one header in the first half when Jack Butland came out for a cross and was beaten to it, and then there was the penalty shout - it looked like one on live viewing, but the referee was in a decent position, and apparently felt Dean Morgan dived (so why no booking...)
That was about it. They didn't threaten much in the second half bar two free-kicks from Leven, neither of which forced Jack into a save, and it always looked more likely that we would get the winner.
Jimmy Spencer was sent on for MacLean, but that change didn't work, then Kaid replaced Darryl and was tried through the middle in an interesting move and Josh Low was the final man used - but I am sure some would rather have seen McGlashan.
I am not so sure. That's the 'he's a winger so he can put crosses in' theory, but I thought Sido and Garbs were doing well providing the width, so there was no reason to change it.
As for Jermaine, for me the jury is still out on him slightly. Yes, he did well against Burton, but how many other games has he had a real effect on?
Some good patches yes, but he is inconsistent as wingers are by their nature. At times, his crossing has not been fantastic and the end product still needs some work.
I don't buy the 'we paid decent money for him so we have to play him' argument. Like every other player, he gets picked on merit - horses for courses and on form.
His time will come in the last seven games - but once again I suspect the Low decision was a 'we can still win it but let's make sure we don't lose it' move.
As it was, we didn't win it, but it was a point, and a small step back to where we were a few weeks ago, and I feel we will go to Southend - the last of this horrible little run of games we have had in March - with our confidence revitalised.
Last but not least, a word for the fans - superb. There was good noise and backing for the team from all parts of the ground, everyone stuck by the players and gave them a good ovation when the changes were made and then at the end. It was good to hear, and that's how it needs to be for the last three home and four away games.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Clean sheet will do his confidence some good after Shrewsbury error. No real saves to make and kicking was much better.
Sido Jombati - Excellent again, and a real threat coming forward, which the formation allowed him to do a lot. But maybe a slightly rash challenge could have given a penalty away, and he has to watch that side of his game.
Luke Garbutt - Much better game after a rocky few weeks. Again enjoyed the freedom to come forward and good deliveries got Ben Burgess into the game for us.
Alan Bennett - Much more solid after his form dipped for a few games. Dealt well with Constable and Rendell.
Steve Elliott - Steady game. Has been excellent this season in my book and shown what a valuable player he is.
Marlon Pack - Best game for several weeks. Dictated our tempo and passing and so unlucky with that free-kick that he didn't get a 21st birthday goal.
Russ Penn - Linked up well on the right with Sido and set a few chances up for the front two.
Luke Summerfield - Another who was better than in recent games. Shooting was a bit wayward however and he should have scored with a header in the first half.
Steve MacLean - Looked a bit rusty but I thought he grew into the game and did better in the second half before coming off.
Darryl Duffy - Again did everything but score. From the start he looked happier to have a big man alongside him and thrived on it. Looked very sharp, got in great positions and deserves a break in the box.
Ben Burgess - Gave us a different option and a new dimension to our play. Did well in the air and hold up play was good, and unlucky not to grab a debut goal.

Substitutes
Jimmy Spencer (for Steve MacLean 68 mins) - Came on in that 'hole' position for MacLean and I didn't feel it worked as he didn't look happy there at all.
Kaid Mohamed (for Darryl Duffy 79 mins) - Interestingly sent on alongside Ben Burgess to try and use his pace to stretch a tiring defence but was unable to really run at them.
Josh Low (for Russ Penn 85 mins) - A '50-50' change, could have unlocked them but also there to keep our solid shape for the last few minutes.