Sunday, 6 May 2012

Return of the Mac

TEN years ago, we went to Plymouth for the last game of the regular season with a very narrow sniff of automatic promotion.
They were celebrating the title, and beat us 2-0, and we ended up in the play-offs.
This time they were celebrating still being in existence, and staying up, and we came away with a 2-1 win, our first at Home Park.
After that trip there in 2002, we went on to beat Hartlepool and Rushden en route to play-off glory at Cardiff.
Yes, I am clutching at straws but as little omens go, I will take it as we look forward to two games with Torquay in the play-offs.
In the grand scheme of things, this game was pretty irrelevant.
Most of it was played at the pace of a training match and the only thing which kept it remotely interesting was the sparring match between Steve MacLean and the Argyle fans.
The background to it is that MacLean cost Argyle £500,000 and let's just say that the fans don't feel they got value for money from their outlay.
He was there when the club were starting to struggle financially and, not surprisingly given the size of the transfer fee, was also on a big contract, so he is not flavour of the month.
That was made patently clear by the Devonport End yesterday as he was jeered, and songs like 'what a waste of money' and 'you must be s..t if you've got Steve MacLean' rang out.
In fact, we were not 's..t because we had Steve MacLean' - far from it in fact. We were pretty good.
On the way down, we were discussing the likely side and I must admit I was surprised when I saw the scale of the changes Yatesy had made.
I knew Darryl Duffy was out after the arrival of his baby son and thought Steve Elliott and Russ Penn would sit out as well to keep them in cotton wool.
I was also a bit surprised Luke Summerfield didn't start and that Marlon Pack did, and I thought Alan Bennett might play as well as I must admit I didn't fancy the prospect of a Keith Lowe-Harry Hooman partnership.
But as it was I need not have worried as they were superb, backed up especially well by MacLean, Jeff Goulding and Jermaine McGlashan.
MacLean was like a man possessed. He was clearly very fired up by the stick and keen to prove a point and shut the fans up.
He also wanted to show Mark Yates and us Cheltenham fans what he can do in a striking role, having played twice 'in the hole' at home. The answer is he can do quite a lot up there.
He sent an early shot wide and was straight on the scene when we won the free-kick on the edge of the box. It was deflected and he ran straight to the Devonport End, ears cupped, to a chorus of boos.
Yes, it was maybe a bit childish and provocative and in hindsight he will feel he shouldn't have done it.
However, I can understand why he did it, given the vitriol coming down at him from the stands.
It's the usual question - fans can shout what they like, but sometimes they don't like getting some back, and he answered them in the best possible way, by scoring.
The referee gave him a ticking off, and Yatesy also gave him a bit of an earful, suggesting he might have been better off running to the Rubies fans at the Barn Park End instead.
We deserved that lead at half time, as MacLean and Goulding had linked up well, McGlashan looked a threat as the left-back resorted to a rugby tackle to stop him at one point, and we had been solid at the back.
Argyle only played Warren Feeney up front on his own and that helped Keith and Harry, and they looked composed and won just about everything in the air.
To their credit, Argyle changed it after the break and were more of a threat when the giant Juhvel Tsoumou came on, and he equalised.
The goal came after our central defenders - for the only time all afternoon - lost two headers in the box.
They failed to react to the rebound when Scott Brown saved the first effort as Ladji Soukouna had the first header then was able to retrieve the ball for Oni Bhasera to cross for Tsoumou to score - all a bit sloppy from us.
But there was nothing sloppy about the reaction as we went straight back in front with MacLean's cross being headed in by Marlon Pack at the far post despite a defender's effort to clear it.
No need for goal-line technology - I could see from the commentary position in the Mayflower Stand that it had gone in.
The only slight minus was the withdrawal of Luke Garbutt and we hope that injury isn't too bad.
But it did give us the chance to see Junior Smikle playing at right back as Bags Graham came on, and the youngster did okay, with some decent runs and a couple of nice crosses which could have led to something.
In some ways it was very heartening to see us able to make so many changes and still turn in a decent display.
There were several players out there who enhanced their chances of having a role to play in the play-offs, and some might even have given Yatesy some food for thought for his starting line-up on Sunday - and could even have swayed decisions about new contracts.
So that's the regular season done and dusted, and what a rollercoaster it was. A slow start, unbelievable middle bit, a slump and then a little revival at the end, to finish on 77 points, having won half of our matches, 23, drawn 8 and lost 15.
To put that in perspective, we won 13 League games last season, and 10 the year before, so we won as many games this season as we did in the previous two combined.
Anyone still think it's a disappointing season?
No, thought not.
And so to the play-offs, and Torquay home and away.
I am quite pleased that we avoided Southend, as I didn't fancy Roots Hall on a Thursday in front of 10,000+ if  I am honest.
Our game at Torquay this season was just before they started their great run, we led twice and were pegged back by two long-range efforts, from Billy Bodin and Kevin Nicholson.
At home, we let in a poor goal and couldn't break them down - so it is imperative that we do not concede the first goal next weekend, and we do go into the game in a bit of form at home, with four games unbeaten and nine goals in those games.
The Gulls come into the game having taken three points from the last 15, so let's hope that scratchy form carries on and we can take some sort of lead to Plainmoor on the Thursday, as I think we will need it.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Couple of decent saves but no chance with the goal.
Sido Jombati - Started on the right and ended on the left. Usual rampaging runs and occasionally ill-timed tackles.
Luke Garbutt - Thought he had a good game. Dangerous going forward and defended well. Slight concern when he limped off, fingers crossed.
Keith Lowe - Excellent game, won most of his headers and marshalled Harry Hooman through well.
Harry Hooman - Superb on his full debut, didn't look nervous or fazed by it at all, which is a good sign.
Theo Lewis - First league outing of the season and looked steady enough. Tough battle against the massive Soukouna.
Marlon Pack - Good header for his goal but had a quiet game otherwise. Hope he is saving it all up for a big game next week.
Jermaine McGlashan - Few decent runs and unlucky not to score. He will have a part to play in these two games.
Junior Smikle - Usual steady game without really standing out. Is not a right-back however.
Jeff Goulding - Excellent game, linking very well with Steve MacLean and showed he should have been more involved recently.
Steve MacLean - Relished the role of pantomime villain, and deserved a goal for his effort- touch and work rate. Could be a useful asset in the next few weeks.

Substitutes
Bags Graham (for Luke Garbutt, 61 mins) - Some good runs, used his pace and tried to provide an outlet, but still looks tentative at times.
Jimmy Spencer (for Steve MacLean, 75 mins) - Brought off so Steve could get his standing ovation from the home... oh no, sorry. Jimmy nearly got a third at the end.
Luke Summerfield (for Theo Lewis, 80 mins) - Sentimental change to give Luke a chance to play against his old club. Got a better reception than Mr MacLean...