Sunday 21 July 2013

The present and the future

Today was a unique chance to see the future of Cheltenham Town this morning, before hot -footing it to see how the first-team squad's preparations are coming along.
Russ Milton's under 18 side were playing Notts County, who didn't deserve anything out of the game simply for wearing a hideous orange and black hooped kit.
As it turned out, they were not given any chance by an excellent display from our youngsters, who gave even more evidence that there is a lot of talent bubbling under the surface.
Their numbers were bolstered by young pros Joe Hanks and Ed Williams, who were 'loaned back' as it was felt that they would be better off getting the best part of 90 minutes in, rather than playing a 15-20 minute bit-part later on against Gloucester.
The decision was vindicated as Hanks and Williams were both very impressive playing in a midfield three alongside second-year scholar Harry Williams, who scored a well-taken third goal and looks another fine prospect.
Harvey Rivers was in goal, with first-year Callum Craddock at right-back, Elliott Keightley and Spencer Hamilton in the centre and James Bowen at left-back.
Outside Hanks and the two Williams' were Zack Kirkpatrick-Jones on the left and a triallist on the right with Bobbie Dale up front.
Of the second-year scholars who joined Dale in Wales with the first-team, Adam Powell  was injured and Zack Kotwica was with the first team. More of him later...
Dale's goal gave us a half-time lead, and we could have had more with Bowen having one chalked off for offside and Kirkpatrick-Jones hitting the post.
Eavesdropping Russ's half-time team-talk, he was happy with his boys, but wanted them to be a bit more clinical and maintain their intensity in the second half.
Dale added a second and Harry Williams finished off a good move for the third, and there could have been more goals, with Ed Williams having a shot saved amongst other chances.
The late minutes gave a chance to see some of the new first-years, including Jamie Goodwin up front, Reece Daly in midfield and defender Liam Sheppard, and second-year Keiron Whitehead, and apart from conceding a goal they also came out with credit.
Russ was delighted after the game, and with the three midfield starters plus Powell, and the wide men Bowen, Kirkpatrick-Jones and Kotwica, the future in those positions looks very bright indeed. Apparently there are more jewels in the lower age groups too...
As Russ put it, if things go well "this club might not have to buy a winger or midfielder for a few years to come..." Let's hope he is right!!!
If I get the chance, I will definitely go back to Seasons on a Saturday morning to see these lads play and would recommend anyone who gets the opportunity to go and take a look.
So now on the afternoon, and I already had an inkling of the formation we were going to play, as Hanks and Williams' absence meant there had to be a big role for our other four central midfielders Russ Penn, Jason Taylor, Sam Deering and Matt Richards.
So it proved, as they were deployed in the diamond, with a back four of Keith Lowe, Billy Jones, Steve Elliott and Troy Brown, and a front two of Jamie Cureton and Byron Harrison.
Having worked out that the best way to tell Penn, Taylor and Richards apart was the colour of their boots (white, orange and green respectively) that midfield quartet was the most impressive part of the first-half display.
For the most part, the passing was good (we can forgive the odd sloppy pass - it is pre-season...), the movement and interchanging of positions was slick and it yielded two goals.
The first was from Deering, who I feel is up there as the most impressive performer in the three pre-season games so far.
He fired home from 20 yards, a low shot into the corner after Cureton laid the ball back to him, and he was always busy, finding pockets of space, and playing well 'between the lines' with Gloucester playing a more rigid 4-4-2.
The second was from Richards, a superb 25-yard strike which topped off an excellent energetic performance. He was up and down constantly, his passing and movement was very good, and on this evidence he looks like an excellent signing.
They almost overshadowed the performances of Taylor and Penn, but those two also more than played their part, both coming close to goals.
Defensively, Troy Brown and Elliott continue to bed in well as a partnership. Brown, like Michael Hector, looks comfortable on the ball, decent in the air and happy to play out from the back.
With the diamond being deployed, it meant that Jones and Lowe had to provide the width from full-back, and they were able to do that to good effect.
Up front, Cureton was again lively and missed one good first-half chance and his movement was good, as was his work-rate. More evidence that he will score goals if we get the ball to him in the right areas.
His partner, Harrison did a lot of work in the channels and dropping deep, but, unfortunately, did not look a big enough threat where it mattered - in the box.
There was one incident in the second half where Cureton rounded the goalkeeper and put the ball across the box, but instead of busting a gut to get into the box he was still 20 yards away.
On the hour, Mark Yates made seven changes, and the team for the rest of the game was a 4-4-2 line-up of Connor Roberts; Sido Jombati, Danny O'Donnell, Keith Lowe, Craig Braham-Barrett; Jermaine McGlashan, Jason Taylor, Sam Deering, Zack Kotwica; Ashley Vincent, Byron Harrison.
It gave us a first look at CBB ( as he is from now on!!) who looked solid enough but will have more time to bed in over the remaining three friendly games, and heralded the return of Vincent, who played through the middle, could have had a goal and has clearly lost none of his pace.
But most of all it gave another chance to Kotwica, a 17-year-old second-year scholar, who, it has emerged, has been handed squad number 19 and will be part of the first team for the forseeable future.
He had three decent chances, all of which were saved by James Bittner, and he linked well with Vincent especially, and also got some protection from Taylor, who took unnecessary exception to one tackle on the youngster.
After the game, Yates praised his display but was equally keen for people not to get carried away. I would expect him to head out on loan so far, but if he is being fast-tracked into the squad, he has a chance, so now it is all down to Zack.
It is clear that we have good competition and good flexibility in the squad. The only player who did not play a part was Terry Gornell, who was on the bench but not risked due to a slight knee injury, picked up in Wales on the white-water rafting, but he should play on Tuesday.
Mark said that there is one player he is hoping to bring in, another loanee, but seemed to suggest it would not be a forward, as Vincent can play down the middle, left or right hand side.
CBB's arrival gives us left-back cover, we are well stocked out wide and in central midfield, but if there are concerns I think we need one more forward and a centre-half.
O'Donnell is not the answer as cover, and I know we could put Keith Lowe there and he would not let us down, but I feel we need another player there as it will be a big ask for Steve Elliott to do another 46 games.
But it seems the last jigsaw piece is one or the other - and a defender is my guess.

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