Monday, 14 May 2012

Halfway there

When you are playing at home in the first game of a two-legged tie, what is the ideal result?
If you had asked me before yesterday's game, I would have said it would be nice to have a two-goal lead and to have kept a clean sheet, so you can say it was job done for the Rubies for the first part of the play-off master plan.
To see Torquay's leading striker and probably their man danger man limp off after 20 minutes, presumably out of the return game, was merely some icing on the cake.
Now, I am trying not to get carried away, count any chickens and other farmyard animals - as we are merely only cutting up the half-time oranges.
We still have a nervy 90 minutes to come in the English Riviera on Thursday night, but we have given ourselves a great chance of a day out in a couple of weeks' time.
In my preview piece, I picked two scenarios for Mark Yates' team selection - the 'let's go for it' 4-4-2 and the more conservative 4-2-3-1, and when I saw the teamsheet, it was possible to work out the approach to the game.
It included some big calls - Jermaine McGlashan given a start, Russ Penn on the bench with Marlon Pack and Luke Summerfield paired together, and Jimmy Spencer given the nod up front.
Such are the options for Yatesy with the 'luxury' of being able to leave your leading scorer on the bench...
Luke Garbutt's absence couldn't be avoided - Yatesy said afterwards he was never going to make it after he came off at Plymouth, Luke himself said pre-match that he aims to try to run on it today, so we will see how it goes for Thursday.
The inclusion of both Jermaine and Kaid Mohamed showed our intentions. We were going to have a go at them, get the ball wide, set the tempo. The right call as we needed a lead to take to Plainmoor.
But the midfield call did worry me. Their trio of Damon Lathrope, Lee Mansell and Eunan O'Kane make them tick, and I was a bit anxious that Marlon and Luke, without Russ, would be outnumbered and so that battle would be lost.
However, Jimmy did a good job of dropping in and keeping Lathrope quiet, and Luke produced a fantastic display, one of his best for us, just at the right time.
He took on Russ's mantle, driving us forward and pulling out some great tackles and interceptions as we more than matched their industry.
For the most part, Jermaine and Mo kept their full-backs from bombing on as they like to do - although Kevin Nicholson did have a few chances to get crosses in, notably when Ryan Jarvis hit the bar just after our second goal.
At the back, we had a few scares, but did look more solid than in recent weeks.
If anything, and this is nothing against Luke, but we did look more compact with Keith Lowe in there and Sido switched over.
This is because Keith is a more defensive-minded player and doesn't bomb forward as often as Sido, and with Sido on the other, more unfamiliar side, he had to concentrate more on his job than on marauding up the wing.
Also with Jermaine and Mo ahead of them, they maybe weren't required to go up and provide that width as often as we had it in the side anyway.
To be honest, if Luke is in any way still doubtful on Thursday, I would be tempted to leave that back four as it is - solidity will be the order of the day down in Devon.
But we did have our scares. The first couple of minutes when Howe rolled off Steve Elliott (quite literally) and fired over, the first corner which Browny flapped at a bit, then he made a great save from Jarvis when he seemed certain to score, and another from Ian Morris, turning it round when the ball leapt up of the turf.
Then in the second half, Jarvis hit the bar and Taiwo Atieno's header at the far post was beaten away.
A clean sheet yes, but it was a hard-earned one, with Benno back to his best and Steve Elliott keeping up his consistent performances.
Keith Lowe was the usual Mr Dependable, and Sido, once he got his bearings on the 'wrong' side, was fantastic, with tackles, blocks, runs and ... you know, the usual box of Sido tricks.
The wide men grew into the game gradually. Both started slowly - I don't think Jermaine touched the ball for about 10 minutes or so - but they gave their full-backs some problems.
Mo, especially in the second half, turned on the after burners a few times to see off Joe Oastler, and we nearly had a Bristol Rovers moment all over again. My only criticism would be the usual one, sometimes he didn't put his head up and use the options around him, and when he did look to pass it lacked some conviction or precision, but he will be a key man on Thursday.
Jermaine made the breakthrough of course - and that was a bit of heart stopper as the ball seemed to take an age to cross the line via the post.
He showed some great trickery and also some bravery, taking one in the chops and also some better delivery, none better than the one straight on to Big Ben's head for the second goal.
The front two were also excellent.
Torquay's strength this season has been in their back four - they have won a lot of games 1-0 this season, but Mark Ellis and Brian Saah had their hands full with Ben Burgess.
He won his first header inside the first 30 seconds and from then on the centre-halves were facing a losing battle, and Jimmy was lively, showing great touch on a couple of occasions to make chances for himself.
All in all, a 2-0 win was everything we could have asked for. Yes, we can be greedy and say it would have been good to have scored one more, and the clean sheet was crucial.
So off we go to Plainmoor, and we know that Torquay will have to come at us so there may be chances for us on the counter attack, with Jermaine and Mo - assuming they are selected.
I suspect they will be - and I would expect us to go for solidity and maybe revert to our usual 4-5-1 away formation, with Russ Penn coming into the side - but who do you leave out?
Ben Burgess was a real handful for the centre halves, but he can't really do that lone role - Jimmy Spencer is the best man for that position, however I would like to see Ben in the side... Decision time.
Ben had an ice pack put on his calf when he came off, so we will have to see how that one goes this week.
Then as I touched on earlier, there is Luke Garbutt. Does he come straight back in, or do we stick with Keith and Sido... Another decision.
Keeping another clean sheet has to be the priority - we do that, and we are off to Wembley... sounds simple but it won't be as Torquay have threats in the air (even if Howe is out) and from set-pieces with Eunan O'Kane and Kevin Nicholson able to pose questions for us.
I spoke to Steve Cotterill after the game and it was great to see him there and he was having a long chat with Yatesy (who still calls him Gaffer...) afterwards.
Steve summed it up perfectly to me when he said 'clean sheet, keep it tight for the first 20, quieten the crowd, try and nick a goal as the team has goals in it.' If he says it, must be right. Now let's just go and do it.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Made three great saves to keep the clean sheet and looked secure bar one slight flap early on
Keith Lowe - Never lets us down. Good to have someone like him to come in, and he was excellent.
Alan Bennett - Back to his best at the right time. Led from the front.
Steve Elliott - Won just about every header as he has all season. Nearly got a goal too...
Sido Jombati - Dodgy first few minutes, but otherwise superb. Linked superbly with Mo.
Luke Summerfield - Outstanding. Drove us on and a brilliant pass for the first goal. Has to stay!
Marlon Pack - Overshadowed by Summers but still played a massive part with his passing and calm ball retention - but did try and over play in bad areas a couple of times.
Jermaine McGlashan - Scored one, made one and can't ask for any more than that.
Kaid Mohamed - Had some great runs, especially in the second half, but if I am being greedy, maybe he could have made more of them.
Ben Burgess - Bullied the centre-halves and scored a fantastic header. Would love to sign him but I think he is out of our price range. Came off with slight injury.
Jimmy Spencer - Dovetailed superbly with Ben. Has great touch - brought down one high ball superbly and created a chance for himself. Unlucky to hit the post too.

Substitutes
Jeff Goulding (for Jimmy Spencer 81 mins) - Brought on to link up play as he does so well and was effective in helping to see the game out.
Darryl Duffy (for Ben Burgess 84 mins) - Ben had a slight injury so came on to allow him an ovation and to see the game out.
Junior Smikle (for Kaid Mohamed 90 mins) - Time wasting exercise...