Wednesday, 19 March 2014

So that's that then...

Ah well, it was good while it lasted. Hope you enjoyed it.
What, I hear you ask...?
Those 11 brief, unforgettable, tantalising minutes when Cheltenham Town had a chance of getting into the play-offs.
Those 11 minutes between Byron Harrison's 68th minute goal, and Dean Morgan's 79th minute penalty, where there was that little crack of light into the promised land of the top seven before it was slammed shut again.
I know we can mathematically still make it. We are six points behind with nine games left, but take away the sentimentality and heart-ruling-the-head thinking and we all know it isn't going to happen.
We know it especially after this, another curates' egg of a performance, another to put into the 'sums up or season' bracket, and consign to the 'quickly forgotten as a spectacle' pile.
I thought we started off okay, lost our way for a bit, then got a bit better, and finally lost our way again. Seven months summed up again in 90 minutes, something we have seen far too often.
We are just not good enough. Not enough quality, not enough ruthlessness in key areas, not enough players who can change a game by taking it by the scruff of the neck and dominating it.
The effort is there. Troy Brown, Steve Elliott, Sam Deering and Terry Gornell epitomised that for me. Brown and Elliott are a decent pairing looking reasonably solid each game, Deering and Gornell both try very hard, but neither has the quality to really affect a game, and make tight encounter into a comfortable win.
I feel sorry for Gornell. I am a fan of his, like his work-rate and he has ability. But nothing is going his way. He needs a goal desperately, but I am not sure he is being helped his role in the system.
All of his career, he has played up front and now is being asked to do a different job which is alien to him, and while he does it wholeheartedly he must be frustrated when he looks 10-15 yards up the field and sees Jamie Cureton missing chances he must wish were falling to him. I am convinced that if he played further forward, Gornell would be a success.
Cureton has been a great player, and has a great goalscoring record, but we have not seen that.
We have not seen the 20-goal man from Exeter last season, we have not seen enough of the instinctive finisher and goal poacher from Bristol Rovers, Norwich, QPR and Reading.
Is that down to lack of service? Partly maybe.
But lack of service wasn't why he missed those golden chances at Scunthorpe, Tamworth and Northampton to name three, or why last night he found himself one on one with the last defender on three or four occasions but was easily dispossessed each time or why that late header from Deering's perfect cross was closer to the corner flag.
Have we expected too much? Maybe, but I think we are entitled to expect more of a player with his record and pedigree - but ultimately I am afraid we have another Bob Taylor scenario here, a player with past glories who has come here as he is heading down the other side of the hill.
It was always a gamble for us to put our goalscoring faith in the hands of a 38-year-old, but this is, I am afraid, like most of my gambles at the races last week. A loser.
Once again, it took a change up front to bring us a goal, and once again it was Byron who provided it. He has 13 goals now, a decent return in a struggling, mid-table side.
On the flanks, Ashley Vincent looked leggy. Seven games in a row after four or five months of nothing is taking its' toll, while Jermaine McGlashan had a wretched first half and improved slightly when the diamond came back and he moved more central. But only slightly.
Post-match he said there had been 'brief discussions' about a new contract and didn't want to talk about the situation. For someone who usually find it difficult to stop talking in interviews, this is very telling.
Everyone knows he won't be here next season. The club will try to keep him, but his agent is, I am sure, already hard at work, but judging on performances like last night will he be missed?
His pace will, but has there, over the past 100 or so games he has played for us, been enough end product?
He has undoubtedly won us matches down the years, but has he done it often enough?
I say no, in terms of goals and assists, and if he goes up a level to League One that is something he needs to work on if he doesn't want to join Kaid Mohamed in the 'quickly discarded' file.
I don't see him as someone like Martin Devaney or Marlon Pack - someone who will go on and forge a career higher up and play a decent number of games in League One or the Championship.
It was good to see David Noble again and he definitely brings a calm to us - although his introduction did mean we saw that diamond again. It is not a loved formation and is blamed by many for this season's travails.
Noble is not fully fit, and it showed at times. His passing though was good, bar one vital moment, when he gave the ball away in the lead up to the mess which resulted in the penalty.
Another interesting area at the moment is our full-back positions. At right-back, we have Mitch Brundle, who in his four games has played well in three of them and discovered he has a long throw into the bargain.
He has never played right back before, and has displaced another out-of-position loanee in Michael Ihiekwe, and has out-performed him with better distribution and better aerial ability.
Brundle, we are told, is effectively on trial with a view to next season, and on the evidence of three of his games so far might have a chance. I'd like to see him at centre-half though, if that is his number one position.
His introduction has shifted Sido Jombati to left back, and pushed CBB out (not before time, a large number of fans would say), and we have looked a bit more solid since that happened.
The club has an option for another year on CBB's deal, but his recent axing must mean the writing is on the wall there. As for Sido, he is still nowhere near the player who burst on the scene two years ago, and there is still a decision to made for me about whether he gets another contract.
In fact, Scott Brown is the only 'must-keep' player for me on the out of contract list. Jombati is 50-50, while I cannot see Deering, Elliott and Cureton being retained along with CBB.
I would keep Connor Roberts but he might want to go and find regular games somewhere and no-one could begrudge him that, while we haven't seen Joe Hanks or Ed Williams. I'd keep Joe, but think Ed will go.
Troy Brown, Jason Taylor, Matt Richards, Zack Kotwica, Harrison and Gornell have another year.
One or two of them could be made available, who knows for example if Taylor would want to stay if he isn't going to get games, but these players will form the basis of  the summer rebuilding job.
With nine games left, and mid-table mediocrity all we have to play for now, I want to see Zack given some starts, and maybe the odd run-out for some other youngsters.
There is one other thing that we definitely needs resolving, and very quickly please - the manager's contract.
If he is going to stay on, then can we please just get it signed, and be done with it, so we can all move on. If he isn't going to sign it, then let's just say so and give someone else these last few games in charge to bring down a very welcome curtain on this difficult and ultimately forgettable season.