Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Never mind the quality, take the points

This was the first time this season we had scored four times in a League Two game at home - but it didn't feel like a 4-1 performance.
After the game my over-riding emotion was one of relief, as we managed to overcome what could have been a banana skin, got past the 70-point barrier having been in the 60s for months and closed in on a top-seven finish.
In the end, this game will probably now be best remembered as Jack Butland's swansong in a Cheltenham Town shirt, as he returned to Birmingham 48 hours later as his loan spell was cut short.
His first spell with us coincided with our fantastic run of form in the Autumn, and when he returned, everyone seemed to expect that form to miraculously return along with Jack, but it didn't happen that way.
His second spell was trickier, both for him and the team as whole.
Despite flashes of brilliance, notably the save from Izale McLeod against Barnet, there were the mistakes at Southend, and overall he hasn't reached the same consistency of performance.
That could be down to the players in front of him also struggling at times, but there is no doubt that he will be a top goalkeeper, and when he wins the first of his England caps and stars in the Premier League, we can be proud that we played a part in his development. Who knows, we may even see him line up this summer for Team GB in the Olympics.
It was interesting that in the Stanley goal was Lee Nicholls, the player we were also linked with before we signed Jack first time around.
He was Jack's understudy at under-19 and under-20 England level, and they seemed poles apart as goalkeepers.
But Jack is not our player, and he has gone, and now it is time to throw our support behind Scott Brown, who did not let us down in the games earlier in the campaign, and he will get the chance to avenge his worst footballing day on Saturday.
With his goalkeeping choice made for him, Mark Yates will only now have one tricky decision to make - does Sido come straight back in...?
Keith Lowe had been steady enough against Barnet, but had a trickier time at Rotherham - then became goalscorer and goalmaker against Stanley.
It is a choice between Keith's steadiness and Sido's pace, Keith's unflappable defending and Sido's claw-like tackling and occasional rash lunge... my gut feeling tells me that Sido will get the nod, possibly for his greater threat in the attacking third - but then Keith was lethal on Saturday!
He was helped by the fact that Stanley's defence looked pretty clueless at set-pieces from the off, and we must have won the first header at just about every corner or free-kick we put into the box.
But it was a good header after great work from Russ Penn and Alan Bennett, and just the early goal we needed to settle any nerves flying around - well I definitely had a few even if no-one else did.
Despite their set-piece hopelessness, I have to give some credit to Accrington, as they did not park the bus, but actually came and tried to have a go at us.
Their manager Paul Cook had made a few changes, giving some young lads a chance and they wanted to impress him, and I did feel the scoreline was a bit harsh on them.
Bobby Grant was excellent and along with Will Hatfield and Bryan Hughes they gave our midfielders something to think about - but we did keep them largely at arms length and restricted them to long-range shots.
Our next aim, after the early goal, was to try to kill the game off, and we did that with a couple of goals in the space of four minutes, Ben Burgess heading the first from a Keith Lowe cross, and then Marlon Pack's free-kick creeping out of Nicholls' grasp.
It was good to see Big Ben get off the mark - a goal has been all that has been missing from his displays in the five games he has had for us.
Two of them were hard work, the away displays at Southend after Sido was sent off, and Rotherham in the wind and rain when we were on the back foot, but we have seen effort, commitment and some good flick-ons and hold-up play which has given us a different dimension when we have needed it.
At home we have had two wins and a draw since he came in, and he is also a course and distance winner in the play-offs - I know he has already inspired the boys by telling them about the feeling of winning at Wembley with Blackpool, so he will be a big asset.
At 3-0 we should have been cruising, but Stanley got one back, and everyone seemed to get jittery for a while for some reason, but we made some changes, with the J-team of Jermaine, Jimmy and Junior coming on, and things calmed down a bit.
However, Jermaine got little sight of the ball, Jimmy tried to fight the centre-half and Junior was all bustling energy, diagonal runs, five-yard passes and closing down.
For the second game running, Junior had a calming influence on us, and although I know he polarises opinion along with so many of our players, but it remains a mystery why he has not been used much over recent weeks.
His cameo roles before Christmas and just after helped us kill off and win several games, but then he disappeared and we hardly saw him in March.
While I am not going to claim his absence was one of the reasons for our mini slump, I feel it would have been worth trying him out in a few of those games, as the formula we had was not working - but that is hindsight now.
I did not have any particular quibbles about the substitutions at the time, but in the few days since the game, I felt it was a chance missed to give Steve MacLean a go up front at the end of the game.
We have seen him for a total of 155 minutes in his loan spell, both times in the hole.
Now, as someone who has played all of his career as a striker, and scored goals, it would have been nice at some point to see him given the chance in his favoured role. Maybe we will in the next three games ...
Anyway, back to those who were out there, and Kaid Mohamed made it 11 league goals with a late tap-in to seal the 4-1 win and he is now joint top league scorer with Darryl, and that is an excellent return for a first full season in League football, and for someone who has not played as an out-and-out striker.
Another Marmite man, but amongst the frustrating blind running up dark alleys, he has produced some great moments this year and some very important goals.
So that was that. At this stage of the season any win is welcome, and it was good to see us back in the goals.
Now for the next test - Crewe away. Just those two words make me shudder at the thought of last season, and the unforgiveably meek slaughter we witnessed on April 2 last year.
Only five of the 17 who rocked up last season and looked good for about two minutes will be present on Saturday - messrs Brown, Elliott, Pack, Goulding and Smikle. The first three are the only ones likely to start.
The other 12 - Bird, Riley, Andrew, Pook, Artus, Thomas, Gallinagh, Green, Melligan, Lewis, Eastham and Lloyd-Weston - now ply their trade in various places between Greece, Grimsby and Gloucester.
That was a harrowing day, and it would be very apt if we could book our play-off place with a win at Gresty Road, and go some way to exorcising that ghost.
It will never go for ever as I am permanently scarred by just how abysmal it was. It should never be forgotten as the lowest of the low - a benchmark for an utterly unacceptable performance by a Cheltenham Town team.
But a win there would put into a nutshell just how the club had turned round in 12 months and 19 days if we can pull it off.
After that game, I had to ask Yatesy live on the radio if he was still the man for the job at CTFC.
He said he was, and I think most will agree this season has proved him right.
Saturday would see objective one completed.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Shame he didn't get a clean sheet on what looks like his final CTFC appearance.
Keith Lowe - Made one and scored one. Perfect way to stake a claim to keep his place. Will it be enough?
Luke Garbutt - Solid enough, and the best set-piece delivery for a while as well.
Alan Bennett - Seems to be getting his confidence back slowly but surely after a rocky few weeks.
Steve Elliott - Once again, won just about every header he went for in both boxes. Immense.
Marlon Pack - Back from suspension, and got a goal, but looked a bit rusty at times.
Luke Summerfield - Not his best game but set up Mo's goal and tried to keep us ticking over.
Russ Penn - Good cross and awareness for Keith Lowe's goal and never stops working.
Kaid Mohamed - 11 goals from wide on the left. Thought this was his best home display for a while.
Ben Burgess - Deserved his goal and he seemed to enjoy it. Height and flicks gave Stanley problems.
Darryl Duffy - Buzzed around Ben and denied by a good save in the second half. Needs a goal.

Substitutes
Jimmy Spencer (for Ben Burgess, 66 mins) - Worked hard as ever, but I would have liked to have seen MacLean.
Jermaine McGlashan (for Russ Penn, 73 mins) - Barely touched the ball, and, despite flashes, for me the jury remains out.
Junior Smikle (for Darryl Duffy 79 mins) - Did well again, calming us down and keeping things nice and simple.