Thursday 6 December 2012

Same old story...

And so it goes on...
The saga of when Cheltenham Town will beat Hereford United moves on to Edgar Street next Tuesday after we threw away our first chance to do it.
We actually got in front this time, something we have not managed to do much against our friends from up the road in the recent past, but then failed to finish the job off.
We let them back into it, surrendered the initiative then lacked the nous to kill them off when they sat back and invited us on to them.
For all the possession we had after the break, two shots, one corner and never getting behind them to put in a decent cross is not good enough.
Credit to Hereford - as usual against us, they raised their game, and fully deserved their draw for their resilience, commitment and shape.
In Harry Pell, they had what we were lacking - a driving force in their midfield. His enthusiasm, tackling and non-stop work ethic epitomised what Hereford were all about. A bit like Luke Summerfield did for us last season.
We have someone who can do that , but he was sat on our bench, Russ Penn. Once again it was a surprise to see him there, while the Marlon Pack-Darren Carter dynamic once again showed why it doesn't work for me.
We started the game well - just as I had wanted us to, setting the tempo, getting out of the blocks well, passing, pressing and not allowing Hereford to settle.
The ball was going out wide, where Jermaine McGlashan gave Joe Heath a torrid opening 20 minutes, while Kaid Mohamed was keeping Andy Gallinagh on his toes and forcing Junior Smikle to come back and double up.
We got the goal from a nice move. Pack to McGlashan, nice low ball and Shaun Harrad flicked it in. But that was the only time we got in behind them, and gave Harrad the kind of service he so obviously thrives on.
They gradually worked out how to stop McGlashan, who hardly got a kick in the second half before being taken off, and we seemed to lack the nous or the invention to break them down. They also doubled up on Mo and he couldn't affect the game too much - although he did have our second half shots and showed a bit more drive in the second half than several others.
We had lots of the ball, lots of passing, but it was sideways and backwards. Then after 10-15 passes, impatience would kick in, and someone would try the 'Hollywood' pass, and that would be that.
Much of the criticism for this has fallen on Marlon Pack, as he is usually the man who tries these 'eye of a needle' passes. More often than not, they came off last season. This season they have, on the whole, not.
I feel some of the flak heading his way is a bit harsh. He isn't totally blameless, but he must share the rap with those around him, as a lack of movement, intelligent runs and inflexibility left us looking toothless and predictable.
We know he hasn't hit the heights of last season, and I will put that down to the breaking up of the partnership he built with Penn and Summerfield.
He hasn't got the same understanding going with Carter, while Penn has been in and out of the side, so they haven't been able to build that continuity.
We also have to remember he is still only 21 years old. In some ways, I think we fans expect too much of him - we think he is going to go out there and win matches on his own sometimes.
If he could do that, he would not have been released by a Championship club, and now plying his trade in League Two.
On Monday, we were set up with Pack and Carter deep, and Jake Taylor nominally the man to help out Harrad.
Unfortunately, this transpired to leave a 30-yard gap between Pack/Carter and Taylor, so there was little or no link-up play, bar the move for the goal.
Contrast that with Hereford, who had Pell and Will Evans hunting in packs, linking with Sam Clucas coming off the left flank, Junior Smikle off the right and Josh O'Keefe dropping deep - with no massive gaps.
They were able to exploit the space we were leaving them as the first half wore on, and benefited from our lax attitude to tackling at times, notable when Clucas ran in off his flank about 25 yards and fed Pell, whose shot just went over the post-bar angle.
The five of them worked together - our midfield seemed to be in two seperate unites, Pack and Carter in one, McGlashan, Taylor and Mo in the other.
Pack should be our quarterback. He should dictate the way we play, but at the moment he can't seem to do that in our system, or with the personnel we are using.
Whether that means a change in tactics, maybe to 4-1-4-1 with Pack behind a flat four, in a 'free' role where he could affect the game more, or whether Yatesy might revisit the 'diamond' with Marlon at the base of it... who knows?
Mark certainly has the options to shuffle about and refresh his midfield, with Pack, Carter, Taylor, Lawson D'Ath, Penn and Deering to choose from now in central areas.
Many fans want Mark to play 4-4-2 - but I am not convinced we have the correct balance in the squad to make it work. Look at the Accrington home game...
This is not based on the middle pairing - of those six mentioned above, there must be two who would dovetail nicely in the centre - but it is out wide that I would worry more, especially on the left.
This is because Mo is not an out-and-out winger like Jermaine. We have seen that he does not always have the discipline to keep the shape, as he likes to flit into the middle and across the line to the right, and this could leave us lopsided at times.
Many of those wanting 4-4-2 automatically think it would lead to us scoring more goals. They look at the '2' and think this means attack after attack, but neglect the effect that can have on the rest of the team
We didn't play 4-4-2 for much of last season and scored plenty of goals - not many were complaining about us playing one up front when we were on that good run last Autumn.
The other second-half disappointment from Monday was when we made the changes. Our shape didn't seem to change at all.
Penn, Sam Deering and Jeff Goulding came on, but we didn't commit any more men forward - there didn't seem to be any increase in urgency or, most disappointingly, desire to assert the authority given to us by the possession we had, take the game by the scruff of the neck and really put pressure on Hereford.
They spent most of the half with nine behind the ball, but did have one or two dangerous breaks, only testing Browny once with an Evans long shot which he tipped over.
A draw was fine for them - they were delighted to take us back to Edgar Street and have another go at us, but we should not have settled for it as we seemed to do - we had to go out and try to win the game but seemed to be lacking the energy and the impetus to do so.
So now we go to Edgar Street on Tuesday, in a match which could be worth about £200,000 to the winners. Not much pressure then.
Hereford will have to come out, and the onus will be on them this time to try to win the game, and hopefully we can take advantage of that and book that TV date with Everton.
First though, and arguably more important, is the trip to Northampton on Saturday, and another clash with a certain Mr Akinfenwa...

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