Monday 24 December 2012

Shambles at Spotland

Since Mark Yates took over as manager three years ago, I have seen maybe 90 per cent of our games, and been present at the vast majority of his post-match interviews.
But I have never seen him as angry as he was after stomping up the Spotland stairs to talk to us after Friday night's game.
With good reason too. He felt let down by his players, along with everyone else of a Ruby persuasion who had the misfortune to witness one of the most limp Cheltenham performances of his reign.
Think 4-0 at Stevenage, 8-1 at Crewe. Yes, it was that bad.
While I was out Christmas shopping, I had at least four CTFC fans come up to me and ask the same question - was it as bad as it sounded on the radio? Yes it was. Worse, probably.
It ranks right up there on the abject scale, and refreshingly there were no excuses, no platitudes from the manager, he gave it out with both barrels.
I had gone up the M6 in an optimistic frame of mind, based on the 1-1 draw with Port Vale, which I thought was one of our best performances of the season, definitely our best at home.
We created more chances in the 90 minutes than we have in a game for a long time, and but for Darryl Duffy's late miss we would have taken the win we deserved.
Coming on the back of the win at Hereford and the feelgood factor around the upcoming Everton game, everything in the garden seemed rosy to me.
Rochdale weren't in great form, we seemed to be in a buoyant mood, and I was confident of a point of three coming our way. Oh well.
The team sheet wasn't a great surprise, with an unchanged 18 from that decent Vale performance, keeping the 4-4-2 and the narrow midfield which had worked well against Vale.
But this time it didn't work at all.
The writing was on the wall early on as Scott Brown had made about six fantastic saves before Rochdale scored, and seen a shot thud against his bar.
Bobby Grant and Ashley Grimes were rampant on the wings, and once again we were outnumbered in the centre, as we had been at Rotherham and Chesterfield. What is it with four-goal hammerings when we go north of Birmingham...?
As with those two sides, Rochdale had one player sitting and two running, with Grimes and Grant out wide.
Every time we lost the ball (which was often) they broke quickly, we lost the runners and were immediately in trouble.
With no natural width, when we did get forward, we were forced to play through the middle, meat and drink for the defenders and a barren night for Shaun Harrad (especially) and Chris Zebroski, who was probably the best of the outfield players.
Russ Penn and Jake Taylor were too often forced infield to help Marlon Pack and Darren Carter, so that gave Grimes and especially Grant free rein to isolate Sido Jombati and Billy Jones, both of whom had nights to forget.
Also throw into the mix Dele Adebola, who gave the perfect 'lone striker' performance, giving Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott arguably their most difficult time this season.
We never got to grips with him, or Rochdale, at all, and but for Browny we could have been looking at another Crewe result. Or worse.
The triple save he made early on was incredible, and Andrew Tutte was still shaking his head minutes after he turned his shot over the bar.
He blocked two one-on-ones from Adebola, the first after our defence was caught horrendously square, and it took three long-range efforts to beat him.
The goal we 'scored' summed up our performance to a tee - an utter mess.
I could see how cross Yatesy was from about the 10th minute in. He was gesticulating at his midfield especially and by the time half-time came he was incandescent.
The main surprise was that it took Rochdale 38 minutes to score (all down to Browny) and we were within seconds of going in at half-time one down, but he stomped off down the tunnel.
He often gets flak from fans (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) over his substitutions, saying that he leaves it too late, and a half-time change, let alone two, is almost unheard of. That's how bad it was.
Jermaine McGlashan and Jeff Goulding came on for Marlon and Shaun - but to be honest any of the outfield 10 could have been in the firing line.
Jermaine gave Sido a bit more protection down the right hand side, but they still had carte blanche to attack poor Billy down the left and he had a torrid time of it.
We were gifted the own goal and missed another good chance from a corner and for a few fleeting minutes there was a small chance we could have got something from the game.
But that would have been an utter travesty and normality was resumed with Rochdale's third and fourth goals, another long-range effort where the player was waved through for a shot and a tap in after Grant was invited to cross and Adebola was the only one awake to the rebound.
By the time their fourth goal went in (20 minutes to go) Rochdale had had 19 shots on our goal. By the end, as they more or less took the foot off the gas and let up on us a bit, it went up to 22.
15 of those were on target, more evidence of how well Browny played. - for the goalkeeper to be man of the match in a 4-1 defeat shows just how abject the other 10 were.
Yatesy was right. They need that rocket up the backside, they need to be told that performances like that are not acceptable.
But Yatesy needs to hit that drawing board and find out why we have become a soft touch away from home.
Rotherham, Chesterfield, Rochdale. Three four-goal defeats on the road for side supposedly among the candidates for automatic promotion is just not good enough.
Look at the stats - first six away games, four goals conceded, and the next six 17 conceded - including a clean sheet at Gillingham.
Early in the season, we were resilient. Remember the games at Aldershot, York, Wycombe and AFC Wimbledon - two wins and two draws eked out with gritty, hard-working performances.
A sharp contrast to the last few (Northampton excepted) lazy, wafer-thin, and times gutless showings we have had to endure. It needs sorting.
I do not hold truck with those who say the squad is not as good as we think it is. It is good enough.
These players have performed well and shown guts and resilience as recently as the Northampton and Hereford games, where they dug in and showed the guts and desire to get the result when it mattered.
But then we get tame surrender like we saw at Spotland, and (to a slightly lesser extent at the New York and the Proact Stadiums) we are again left wondering whether our players really have the bottle and the desire to roll their sleeves up and achieve what we (and their manager) think they are capable of.
All over the field, it was powder-puff. It was weak. The passing was lackadaisical, complacent. The tackling was half-hearted, the closing down was lazy, the defending naive, or to quote the manager, like pansies.
The same team won't be sent out again on Boxing Day if we get to face Wycombe, or on Saturday against Bristol Rovers, that is for certain.
Some players deserve a chance, and some others deserve to sit in the dugout and think about how much they want to wear the ruby shirt.
Lawson D'Ath and Sam Deering are two players who surely must be given an opportunity to show what they can do.
D'Ath has not played since Yate because of his injury, and along with Deering must have been sat there on Friday wondering how on earth they were out of an 11 performing as woefully as ours did.
Keith Lowe is another knocking on the door, along with a fit-again Kaid Mohamed, and Yatesy has to shake it up, and send another message to the under-performers and the complacent that there is no such thing as an automatic place.
So all in all it was a low note on which to reach the halfway point of the league season, and after most of Saturday's games were washed out, we managed to stay in third place with a goal difference of zero...
We have won 11 , drawn six and lost six, with a real mixed bag of performances, but we are still in a good position with plenty to aim for in the New Year.
Yatesy has scope for January reinforcements with the FA Cup money, and we can  still achieve our dreams in 2013 - if performances like Friday's are quickly consigned to history.

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