Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Unable to tame the Shrews

What is that funny noise coming from the Cheltenham Town bandwagon... is it the sound of the wheels coming off?
Of course we all hope not - but after a toothless display at the Meadow, it if four defeats in row, and 345 minutes since Darryl Duffy scored to put us ahead at Morecambe... seems like an age ago doesn't it?
So when your confidence is low, you need to feel your way into a game, get a firm footing, conceding after 43 seconds is not the ideal scenario, is it?
Once again it was preventable, a long ball down the line, James Collins cut it back and Nicky Wroe ran through unchallenged to fire past Jack Butland.
Mark Yates had tried a new line-up with Keith Lowe back, Sido Jombati further forward and Jimmy Spencer as the lone striker.
I can understand the decision to drop Jermaine McGlashan - his crossing was poor on Saturday and Sido was more of a threat wide right coming forward.
Again it was harsh on Darryl, although when we were flying before Christmas Jimmy was doing well in that lone role, and seems more suited to it than Darryl.
Wroe's goal, however, didn't give us the chance to bed that new personnel in, and we looked shellshocked for a few minutes, they had a couple of other half-chances but gradually we got into the game.
I would say that between the two Shrewsbury goals, we were the better side, but for all the possession and neat build-up, we never looked like beating Chris Neal, and never really extended him, exacerbating our problems in the opposition's penalty area at present.
Luke Summerfield came closest with a free header from a corner, but it summed up our night that from that header, Jon Taylor broke away and found himself in our half in a flash, but with no support we were able to deal with it.
It was an amazing statistic that we had six corners in the game to Shrewsbury's none - for a home side not to win a corner in a game must be very rare - but corners don't win games or score goals, and that is the bottom line for us at the moment.
Shrewsbury are a very functional team - solid at the back, two attacking full-backs galloping forward, two ball-winning midfielders, a couple of flying wingers and two decent forwards. Simple 4-4-2 and it is very effective for them.
Every time we lost the ball deep in their half, they bombed forward, got it wide and looked dangerous, and you just never had the conviction that we were going to create anything.
Summerfield, Kaid Mohamed and Jimmy Spencer were bright for us, working hard and competing well - it wasn't a case of a lack of effort for us, that and the attitude were there in spades, but Shrewsbury were very solid and very organised.
The second goal finished it, Taylor's cross should have been gathered by Jack Butland but it squirmed out and it was easy for Terry Gornell to tap in.
It was slightly disappointing after that goal that the substitutions took so long. I suspect the timing of that second goal threw Yates and Howarth a bit.
But Darryl, Josh Low and Jermaine never stood a chance of being able to make any impact on the game, and as soon as Gornell scored, that fourth defeat in a row was always on the cards.
So what now? One point from 15, goals have dried up, we have dropped from second a matter of weeks ago down to 6th now, with Oxford, Gillingham and Crewe ganging up behind us.
All a bit depressing isn't it - and the games don't get easier with Oxford and then Southend to come, and we still have to go to Crewe as well, so we have to hope Yatesy can turn it round.
Yes, I know, bigger picture, perspective, but it would be so frustrating to see such a good position go to waste.
Still I believe some of the reaction has been OTT but it is understandable, much of it is borne of the frustration at seeing the top three, where we looked odds on to finish a few weeks ago, tantalisingly slipping out of sight, and even the top seven now not being a dead cert.
Talk of wanting Yatesy to go, saying he can't take us any further is, I feel wide of the mark and very knee-jerk. Yes, this is a bad run, but our tiny squad has hit the wall after 33-34 games, that dip co-inciding with the run of games against the sides in and around us.
But tomorrow is the loan deadline and it is imperative that Yatesy brings one, or preferably two, players in. One has to be a forward, and we have to play two strikers now.
This is his last-chance saloon and it will be a big day. If he can bring the players in, everyone will be reinvigorated and it could breathe fresh hope into everyone for these last eight games.
If he doesn't, then that feeling of deflation will go into Saturday.
He has to look at the tactics though.
The 4-5-1 has worked very well for us this season. In the heyday of the Autumn we were flying along with it, but teams have worked it out.
Everyone has played us once, watched us a few times and learned to combat it, so it is time for a change, or at least a bit of a tweak.
A variation of 4-4-2 has to be the way forward - or at least something-something-2... and yes, that will mean dropping one of the midfield three, or one of the 'wide' men, but the bullet has to be bitten, and it has to be done.
Maybe Yatesy should have another look at the diamond.... he used it a lot last season and it worked quite often, maybe with the personnel he has now it can be effective.
Oxford is now a massive game for what have become our play-off aspirations. Lose it and they will move above us and we enter a three-way battle for seventh place.
Win it, and we can start to look up again and the confidence in the camp may well return, but the key will be tomorrow's loan moves if they happen, and some work on the training ground.
In Yates we trust...

Player by player
Jack Butland - Error for the second goal, but made an absolutely unbelievable save just before half-time, so a mixed night. Still doesn't seem to have the same confidence and authority he had in his first spell.
Keith Lowe - Tentative start, but got better as the game went on. Had his hands full with Mark Wright but felt he held his own overall.
Luke Garbutt - Also had a tough battle against Jon Taylor. Did well coming forward and put some good crosses in which deserved better. Corners and free-kicks still a bit 'off' though.
Alan Bennett - Can't put my finger on it, but not the dominant leader he was a few games ago. Seems a bit nervy and unsure. Hope he gets his mojo back.
Steve Elliott - Held the defence together at times with interceptions, headers and blocks a-plenty. Decent game, pick of the back five.
Russ Penn - More energetic performance than we have seen in recent weeks and only surprise was that it took him 93 minutes to get booked...
Luke Summerfield - Overall, thought he was the pick of the midfield three. Won a lot of challenges but should have done better with that free header chance in the first half.
Marlon Pack - Like Benno, another who seems to have lost his edge a bit. Maybe playing a bit too deep, or teams are stifling him well but a more advanced role could bring him into his own. Thought he was rightly taken off again.
Sido Jombati - Looked a bit lost at times in his new role further forward and made some good and bad decisions. Couple of times he crossed when he could have shot and vice versa. Worth persevering with in that role I feel.
Kaid Mohamed - Better display than of late. Was a threat when he got the ball down and ran at them, touch was better but only letdown was again lack of end product, be it shot or cross, after many of his forays.
Jimmy Spencer - Thought he worked hard and got under the skin of the centre-halves. Not afraid to try a shot but suffered from the problems of isolation and lack of support on many occasions.

Substitutes
Darryl Duffy (for Marlon Pack, 72 mins) - Should have been on earlier, but still gave usual effort but no time to influence the game.
Jermaine McGlashan (for Luke Garbutt, 76 mins) - Few chances to run at the defence, but got no change out of them.
Josh Low (for Kaid Mohamed, 76 mins) - Couple of decent touches, but I wonder if Junior Smikle, who is becoming the invisible man, might have been a better option.