Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Too few Shots

If a team has gone 14 games unbeaten at home, and only lost one of their last eight games, you might think that that team's fans would be quite happy with their lot.
But this is Cheltenham Town, and (by and large) they are not. Despite those stats it's not exactly hard to see why.
I wrote about inconsistency last time out, and if the Dagenham and Southend games showed up the team's inability to string two decent results together, then this game only added to it.
We saw the inconsistency in two very differing halves. The first 45 minutes was a bit of a mess all round, and the second was one-way traffic, but without that killer instinct.
Anyway, back to the stats. Here's another.
Only three times this season have we managed back-to-back league wins - Morecambe and Bristol Rovers; Plymouth and Exeter; Barnet and Northampton.
Yet more evidence of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the team's form.
Even the manager knows it. We have scraped and scratched our way through the season.
But so has everyone else, and that is why we find ourselves sat fourth with 13 games to go, without playing like promotion contenders for any great spells of the campaign.
Pitching up at Whaddon on Saturday, to face the side in 23rd place, it was no surprise to hear all the talk was merely about how many we were going to win by.
Such is the rise in expectation - 3rd (as we were at kick-off) v 23rd. A must win - simple. So when it doesn't happen, it's no real surprise that the reaction is akin to a defeat.
As ever, some of it is hideously over the top - I even saw the first 'Yates is not the man to lead us to promotion' comment on the Nest. Hmm.
Very premature - but most of the other comments I have ready are understandable as it is only natural that the pessimists will have their day after results like this.
The team sheet was not a great surprise. No changes to the 11 which saw off Southend, the poorly Billy Jones coming off the bench in the only alteration to the 18.
It seemed a simple selection for the gaffer, but (not for the first time recently) he would be admitting he had got it wrong before the clock struck five.
The first half was Dagenham-esque. Aldershot need every point they can get, and were not simply going to roll over and kick their legs in the air, allowing us to walk all over them.
They would roll over. Frequently. Far too frequently in fact, using some slightly underhand ways of keeping the game very stop-start.
Referee Keith Hill booked four Shots and gave us plenty of free-kicks, penalising centre-halves Brown and Bradley for grappling with Paul Benson and Byron Harrison, but our delivery and decision-making from them was pretty woeful.
Marlon Pack tried a hugely-ambitious shot from one, as did Keith Lowe from another, but apart from that they were meat and drink for goalkeeper and defenders.
That was also true for the rest of our build-up stuff. It was too direct, too hurried and played into the hands of the visitors. Benson and Harrison never got a look-in.
Then we committed what even Neil Howarth described in his Echo column this week as 'the cardinal sin' - we let a goal in.
It summed up Aldershot's first-half display perfectly - a messy, scruffy, untidy goal.
A cross was skimmed off Hector's head to Vincenti, all alone at the far post as Lowe had been sucked inside. He mishit a pass to Danny Rose, who didn't connect that well with the finish either.
Lowe's free-kick and Michael Hector's early shot against the bar were it as far as a 'goal threat' came for us.
We had also seen Elliott limping from the first 15 minutes, yet it took until the 45th minute for Luke McCullough to come on, and we made another change at the break.
The 'lop-sided' midfield which did so well at Roots Hall had simply not worked. Aldershot were much more in our faces, less 'open' than Southend had been.
I suspect that midfield approach might work away or against the 'better' sides who want to play rather than frustrate and slow down (or just keep stopping) the game. We shall see if it returns at any stage soon, but the second half line-up gave us balance.
I am not sure Russ Penn was fully fit either. He didn't look on the pace to me, so, in the first 45, he and Jason Taylor couldn't give Marlon as much room to breathe as he had at Southend.
Kaid Mohamed looked eager from the off when he came on. He's had some stick for his on-off displays of late, but even his critics would have to admit he was more 'on' this time.
He got us on the front foot with a shot which goalkeeper Young had to finger-tip round the post, and seemed to bring us energy.
Although Aldershot eventually went down to 10 men, they should have done earlier when Herd appeared to kick out at Harrison off the ball. No one in officialdom saw it apparently although it happened about five yards from the fourth official.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Harrison, who never seemed to click with Benson in the same way as he had at Roots Hall. This was partly due to the poor service, but I also felt his movement was not the best and he seemed to be on his heels a lot.
It wasn't a surprise when Harrad came on, and like Mo and McCullough he had a positive impact on us.
He nearly created a goal for himself, and might have done had he hit it left-footed rather than trying to curl it with the outside of his right.
Aldershot were sat back for the second 45, and it was basically a game of attack v defence for the period - yet Mo's shot and a late skimming effort from Taylor where Young's only saves.
The goal came from an unexpected source. Not that the scorer, Benson, was unexpected, but the build-up was as I have been increasingly exasperated with our use of the long throw on a regular basis with very little reward, until now.
Hector's flick had led to a goal in the first-half and he repeated the dose for Benson to loop a superb header in for a second goal in two games.
Now surely we had to go on and win, even more so when Tonkin saw red, but to be honest they kept us out quite comfortably.
It never felt to me that we were going to go on and win it. Our quality from wide areas was poor, as it has been for much of the season, and we were never going to batter them down by going through the middle.
Jermaine McGlashan won his customary sponsors' man of the match award, and even tweeted later in an exchange with former team-mate Danny Hylton that he 'doesn't know why he always gets them'. Jermaine, I have to agree with you this time.
As a winger, his main job in the team is to provide width, beat a man, get to the by-line and get crosses in. He does the first two very well.
But how often does he get in that telling cross? Not enough in my book. Too often it hits the first man, or too often he gets into a good position then lays it off or goes down for a free-kick.
He is frighteningly quick, a great weapon to have, but he needs to work on the rest of the package. He needs better decision-making, crossing and also finishing as I don't think he scores enough goals.
Look at Mo - he got 11 goals last year and has six this. Jermaine has scored three this season and three (including his play-off pair) last term. Yes, he only came halfway through last season, but I still feel he underachieves in this department.
I know the argument - If he is crossing was consistent, and he scored more goals, he wouldn't be in League Two... but he is for now. If he could go up a notch in a few areas, then the clubs really would be sniffing after him, and we would have a real asset.
Pack was the fans' man of the match, and this was correct, as I felt he and Mo were the pair who spurred us on in that second half.
With Paolo di Canio's resignation, it seems that Marlon will now be here for the duration and the last two games show that we don't have anyone in the squad who can control a game like he can.
But even he couldn't pick the lock a second time, and so (despite coming from a goal down) it is another two points dropped, and an 11th draw of the season.
With the tougher tests to come, games like this one (and Saturday's at Accrington) have to be seen as victory opportunities. These are games where teams purporting to be promotion contenders need to show their mettle.
We came up short on Saturday, as we had at Dagenham. The failure to win games such as these could come back to haunt us. It certainly increases the pressure on those games against our fellow hopefuls that are on the horizon.
There were some small positives. McCullough's debut was largely encouraging. He looked decent in the air and tried to use the ball well with his feet.
However, playing for much of that half against Jeff Goulding as a lone striker is not the toughest test he will face in his career.
I doubt if we have had such a young central defensive partnership in a League game for a while, McCullough 19 and one day old, and 20-year-old Hector.
Benson has two in two, and took his header very well, and Marlon looks happier with life now, it seems, he knows what is happening between now and late April.
But we need to cut out a lot of the direct stuff. Distribution from the back has been poor for a few games now, and set-piece delivery on Saturday was pretty abysmal.
It didn't give the front two a chance at a time when they are still bedding into the club and we need a few more calm heads in the side to avoid the 'harum-scarum' panic which seems to set in occasionally.
Dagenham and Aldershot have been examples of poorer sides scrapping for what they can get, and dragging us down to their level. Accrington will be the same, and we have to rise above it. Easier said than done.
The pitch at the Crown Ground (or whatever it's called now) won't be great, I am sure. That can't be an excuse for us not going there to try to get the ball down and pass it, so the onus is on the manager not to 'get it wrong' this time.
We supporters have to try to keep our nerve. The big tests against every other team around us are still to come - but when teams at the bottom end are not beaten at home, it can be hard to keep the glass half full.
Tonight, we could be knocked down to sixth. But there's no panic - there will be many more twists and turns ahead. We just have to stay on the straight and narrow...