Wednesday 7 August 2013

Creeping past Crawley

As far as Cheltenham Town fans are concerned, the League Cup in its various guises is just something that happens to other clubs.
It usually consists of that game, rather inconveniently chucked in after the first league game, usually at bloody Southend, and resulting in a defeat.
Not this time - although for most of the game it did seem that was going to be the way of it once again.
A goal down after chasing shadows for 20 minutes, then 3-1 down with 20 minutes left - it looked like this was going to be another fruitless League Cup campaign, but then, what a comeback!
And it is amazing that - a week after a performance rightly described as 'shocking' at Aggborough by Mark Yates after tonight's game - Byron Harrison was at the fore again.
Before Saturday's game he was a worry. Even more so maybe during and after Saturday's game, when Jamie Cureton's injury thrust him firmly into the limelight as the focal point of our attack.
But now, maybe, some of those worries have gone after a display which saw him win a penalty, then score the two goals which earned a victory which will go down as one of the best in our recent history.
The touch and finish for the winner was sublime - a stark and very welcome contrast from the frankly disinterested figure we saw ambling around Aggborough last week.
Credit for Mark and Neil Howarth - clearly someone has been in his ear after that game - and credit to Byron for listening to the management and acting on what they have said.
Now the test - more of the same, and consistently. That is always the difficult part, but after a sticky start last night, Byron bullied their centre-halves and got his rewards.
Centre-forwards are always enigmas. They are marmite men - think Spencer, Connor and Guinan from our recent past, players who have worn that number nine and not always realised their full potential.
Only Byron (with a bit of help from us fans) can make sure that he doesn't fall into that category.
It was a shame that only 1,562 were there to see it - but I am sure that number will rise to about 10,000 in future years when CTFC fans sit in the pubs and bars of the town and talk about this - a real 'I was there' kind of night.
When Byron headed that equaliser and then hit the winner, it sounded like there were 10,000 in the ground (yes, I know it only holds 7,000 but you get the drift...) as the noise and atmosphere was fantastic. It was great to hear the place rocking.
Make no mistake - Crawley are a decent side. Some of their passing was crisp and accurate, their movement off the ball was sharp, and Nicky Adams took his two goals (especially the second) superbly well.
But our lads had spirit, character, desire, heart and commitment in spades, and displays like this augur well for the season ahead.
That was led from the front by Byron, but also typified by our midfield terriers Russ Penn and Matt Richards, who overcame Crawley's good start to stamp their authority on the game.
They are becoming a very strong partnership, with Penn's tenacity and Richards' comfort on the ball and range of passing complementing each other very well.
Alongside them, Sam Deering had another good game, his pass finding Harrison for the penalty challenge, a good cross providing Terry Gornell with a headed chance and then his corner for Harrison's equaliser rounding off a good night for him.
I also thought Jermaine McGlashan played well - more so when he moved over to the left where, once again, he and Craig Braham-Barrett showed very promising signs of an effective and hopefully productive partnership down that flank.
I have covered Harrison's performance extensively, and but for his goals, my man of the match would have been Terry Gornell.
He is not a player who has ever stood out in games when he played against us, despite a goal or two, but over the past two games he has impressed me immensely.
On Saturday, he linked the play well, and did the same last night with the added ingredient of being a real goal threat - the header he had saved straight after Crawley's opener, a couple of long-range efforts and the rebound after Penn hit the bar being close calls in addition to his goal.
His goal summed him up. He battled for a lost cause against Kyle McFadzean, won the ball, broke away and when the goalkeeper saved his first shot, he did not panic, stayed calm and slid home the rebound.
Much deserved, and I am sure a big relief to him to get his first CTFC goal on the board - and on the evidence of his first proper 210 minutes in our colours, there are more to come.
Despite their performances, I still think we are an out-and-out striker light. Ashley Vincent is not, and never will be, a central striker, and I still hope Yatesy will get a loan. Doesn't seem like he is a busting a gut to do so, however.
But (and yes, there has to be one of those) while it was fantastic to win the game, there are concerns defensively.
Troy Brown and Steve Elliott were again superb and very commanding in the air, but as a unit, after letting in two goals on Saturday, another three went in last night.
Some may feel I am nit-picking, but after so many clean sheets last season, our new-look back four is still bedding in.
CBB allowed the full back to get down the line a bit too easily for their opener, and then when he dug the cross out, Gary Alexander was not tracked and was able to dive in for the header.
For the second goal, we had chances to clear before Nicky Adams drilled his snapshot in, and for the third, Crawley were allowed to play a triangle on the edge of our box and Adams waltzed in to score.
Behind them, Scott Brown didn't have a chance with any of them, but did make two fantastic saves from Josh Simpson when he was called upon, maintaining his brilliance from last season.
In front of him, we have to tighten up. Yes, I know Crawley play a division higher, and we may not face the same quality every week, but we cannot afford to give two or three goals away every game.
A season of 4-3s might bring the crowds back, I am not sure mine or Mark Yates' blood pressure would survive it!
CBB is a left-footed Sido, and both will have their moments of brilliance, but both will no doubt give us the jitters as well.
Yatesy has decided for now that CBB is the man in possession and Billy Jones must wait for his chance to get back into the side, and that sort of competition can only be healthy.
On the evidence of the first two games, going forward CBB will be an asset but he looks a bit raw defensively and still needs work in that department.
Our new faces have settled in well, and made a big impact on the team - CBB, Troy Brown, Richards, Gornell and Cureton (in the 18 minutes he has played!). We are waiting for Ashley Vincent to join them, but he is a bit behind fitness-wise and will need time to get up to speed.
He got a few minutes last night and struggled to get into the game, but he will play his part.
Young Zack Kotwica was trusted again by Yatesy for the last 15 minutes or so and nearly got himself into a goalscoring position again.
Such promise, but that's all it is - let's hope he signs that contract and realises that potential with us.
But while we wait for that to happen, we can look forward to Thursday lunchtime's draw.
We could play any Premier League club not in Europe - so Liverpool, Villa, West Brom and West Ham could be on the agenda.
At just after 9pm last night, when Crawley's third goal went in, you'd have got good odds on us being in the draw - now let's hope it is kind.

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