Monday, 27 August 2012

Thunderbolts and lightning... very very frightening

Driving along the road from Bracknell towards Aldershot on Saturday afternoon, it started raining.
That precipitation was then joined by thunder and lightning - then the radio told us that the game between Sunderland and Reading was called off.
In August.
Things seemed to have cleared up by the time we reached the EBB - but it was a false dawn, as no sooner had the game started than the heavens opened.
And how. All that was missing was the grey-haired bloke building a boat.
By the 20th minute of the game, it was stair rods, and the thunder and lightning had moved across, so referee Darren Bond's decision to call a halt was not a great surprise.
I was told afterwards that some fans were moaning about the decision - but there is no sense in taking any chances, so safety first is a sensible way to go.
The break of around 15 minutes, however, disrupted us as we had started the better of the two sides.
Steve Elliott had a header well saved, and down the right hand side, both Sido Jombati and Jermaine McGlashan had got into promising positions and wasted them both with poor crosses.
We had gone into the game with one change - Jeff Goulding keeping the 'hole' position in place of Sam Deering, while Alan Bennett and new boy Darren Carter came in on the bench.
The Goulding-Deering switch was an interesting one.
Sam didn't have a great game at Torquay, while Jeff did well when he came on - but also Aldershot's more 'direct' style and added physicality and height in midfield could also have tipped the balance.
We did start brightly, but the unscheduled break obviously gave Dean Holdsworth a chance to get into his side and they came out a bit more fired up.
Adam Mekki caused problems down the right hand side and was given too much space on a couple of occasions, notably once when he flashed a cross right through our six-yard box.
In that spell up to half-time, Michael Rankine, another off the production line of bulky League Two strikers, which also produced Rene Howe, Bayo Akinfenwa and our old favourite Kayode Odejayi, missed a real sitter and Peter Vincenti forced the only save of the afternoon out of Scott Brown.
Yes, his only save.
That was testament to those in front of him, and especially Harry Hooman and Steve Elliott. Skipper Benno was back on the bench, and he will be there for a while if Harry carries on like this.
Going forward, Sido and Jermaine are a real force down the right hand side, and on his return to the EBB, Jermaine won a few free-kicks and managed to upset his former fans by doing so.
I accept that on occasions he may go down too easily, but some of the challenges were, shall we say, robust - notably the one which got the completely inept Jordan Roberts a booking after Jermaine had run about 50 yards skinning three defenders on the way.
He has started the season very well indeed - along with Hooman I would say he has been our most impressive player in the first three league games.
As the game wore on, the chances were becoming fewer and fewer and the yellow cards were growing - the tally ended up on seven.
One of them had gone to Russ Penn, so Mark Yates opted to take him off and bring on Darren Carter - whose first two touches alone were enough to showcase the quality he will bring for at least the next six months.
Another plus point from the afternoon, and the season as a whole, has been Billy Jones' set-piece delivery.
His free-kicks and corners brought a goal at Torquay and some of our best chances yesterday, and in a tight game like this it was going to be our best chance of opening the door.
And so it proved - a near-post delivery was met by Shaun Harrad, his header hitting the post and going over the line.
The assistant confirmed it, no Shots players complained about it, so that's three out of three for 'King' Harrad, who apparently scores when he wants, but only if they are inside the six yard box at the moment...!
Three goals from a combined distance of about 11 yards - but so far he has been the difference in taking those half-chances and he couldn't stop smiling about it afterwards.
He is the sort of striker we have needed for a while - a player who fed on scraps for 89 and three-quarter minutes, but was alert enough in that split second to make the difference in a knife-edge match.
We never looked like surrendering that lead, and at last we managed to win one of those ugly games we have lost so often in similar circumstances in the past (notably at Aldershot last season around this time...).
And so for the fourth time in our league history we are unbeaten after three league games.
One of those seasons ended in promotion under John Ward, but another, under the previous manager in 2009-10, did not, so not much can be read into the embryonic table.
But there are good signs - Hooman and Elliott's partnership, Billy's excellent set-pieces, the Sido-Jermaine right-hand side axis, Shaun's goals - and also the strength in depth.
Yesterday, our bench had Keith Lowe, Darren Carter, Sam Deering, Alan Bennett and Darryl Duffy on it - I would argue that all of those players would get a starting place in the vast majority of League Two sides (and quite a few in League One).
Add the still-injured Kaid Mohamed to that list too, and Yatesy will be reaching for the headache tablets a lot this season when it comes to picking a starting 11.
Accrington at home next week gives us the chance to make it four unbeaten, then we have three of the pre-season fancied sides in Wycombe, Southend and Oxford which will provide a decent test, and by the end of those games we might have an even better idea of how things will pan out.
The atmosphere in the squad, around the club and among the hardcore fans is superb at the moment, the best it has been for several seasons - long may that continue.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Not much to do as he was so well protected, but made one decent save late in the first half. Has made a great start to the season.
Sido Jombati - Still gives me heart failure at times, but links up well with Jermaine. Got into some good forward positions, but needs to work on crossing and his final ball.
Billy Jones - Some tricky moments defensively against Adam Mekki, especially in the first half. His delivery from set-pieces is excellent and brought us the winner.
Harry Hooman - Continued his strong start to the season. Seems to have taken it in his stride and kept the fit-again Benno on the bench, which is no mean feat.
Steve Elliott - Dominant as ever and after having one cleared off the line at Torquay, he nearly got a goal again. Looked after Michael Rankine well.
Marlon Pack - Best game of the season so far. Broke play up and looked to get us moving with his calmness  on the ball in a frenetic midfield. Also won important defensive headers on many occasions.
Russ Penn - His sort of game. A bitty, scrappy game suited his combative style. Got a booking and was a sensible decision to take him off.
Jeff Goulding - Thought Jeff did well. He gave us extra height and a physical presence in midfield and linked well with those around him.
Jermaine McGlashan - Another good game. Always our biggest threat and made some great runs and showed excellent work rate. His old fans were booing him, so he must have done well.
Chris Zebroski - Not his most effective game, but he worked very hard again. Remember he is playing out of position and will be an asset for us over the season.
Shaun Harrad - What can you say? Three goals in three games, all poachers' efforts, and this one in a game where he fed on scraps. Hold-up play excellent again.

Substitutes
Darren Carter (for Russ Penn, 66) - Looked good when he came on. Good passing and calm under pressure.
Darryl Duffy (for Shaun Harrad, 89) - Allowed Shaun to get an ovation from the travelling fans...
Keith Lowe (for Jeff Goulding, 90) - Extra insurance policy in midfield to shore up the win.