Monday, 14 April 2014

Which way is the beach...?

So now it is pretty much official - the season is over with four games to go, and we can get the travel brochures out.
The weather is telling us that at least, and there wasn't much at St James' Park on Saturday to persuade us that these last 360 minutes (plus stoppage time...) is going to be much other than a last chance for those without contracts for next season to change the manager's mind, bar a total collapse in form and some freak results below us.
By far the best part of Saturday was the debut of Harry Williams. Overdue in some eyes, including mine, after 38 goals at 'junior' levels this season and a succession of underwhelming loanees in his position in the side.
He didn't have to come in and rip trees up immediately. All I was looking for him to do was not to look out of place - the rabbit in the headlights effect (copyright Bagasan Graham, Swindon, March 2012).
I think he passed that test. He got involved, tried to keep it simple, made some good runs off the ball without getting the pass he should have, and without being spectacular, played his part in the side calmly and effectively.
I think the manager did the right thing, taking him off after an hour, and I now hope that he will keep his place on Friday and beyond, rather than giving Billy Daniels some time to get match practice for a side he won't give two hoots about in a few weeks' time.
It is good to see a truly local boy in CTFC colours. Cheltenham-born, a former Southside Tiger and Balcarras boy who has come up through the Academy all the way to the first team.
I am prepared to be corrected, but I can only think of Martin Devaney as another Cheltenham-born player who has played League football for us, as Dave Bird, Zack Kotwica and Joe Hanks were all born at the other end of the Golden Valley.
In these days where fans say there is a lack of connectivity with the side, to see players like Harry come through can only be a good thing - but only if they are good enough. It cannot be done for the sake of it.
But I don't think Yatesy is the sort of manager to do that. He will not put young players in unless he feels they deserve to be there on merit, so let's hope Harry can go on from here.
We started the game slowly, and were deservedly behind. Neither full-back covered themselves in glory defensively all game.
Exeter's threat came from out wide, and was always present. We never clamped down it with the restored CBB saved by his pace on more than one occasion, and Sido forced to resort to needless fouls with monotonous regularity which only served to put more pressure on our goal.
Neither of these two have contracts. This display won't have done them any favours on that front, and I am sure there will be better full-backs going spare in the summer meat market.
I know. There is a better right back playing in the centre of York's defence. Please. Let's not go down that road again...
Steve Elliott was back in central defence and had a very good game alongside Troy Brown. Apart from the messy Exeter goal, they looked pretty much untroubled, and I think Steve's presence just calms everyone down - including Scott Brown.
I wish Steve was 25, not 35. He is a true warrior, and one of the few players (if not the only one) who would want next to you in a battle - someone who would go through brick walls.
It seems inevitable he will go, and he has looked his age at times this season - but I wish we could keep him here somehow.
Coaching and playing the odd game, helping out the young centre-halves in the Academy maybe? I don't know, but it will be a shame to see him go. I am glad I have got his white shirt!
We struggled early on in midfield, until David Noble got hold of the game after the Exeter goal, and he ran the show until half-time.
That again has re-ignited an argument. Do we try and sign him for next season, and try to build a team round him?
I still say no. This is based on two things - money (I have no idea what he is on at Rotherham and would ask as a wage, yet I think he will be too expensive) and injury record.
He looks brittle, and we need players who will give value for money, ie the potential to play 35-40 games a season, and on the evidence we have seen we probably will not get that from Noble.
I can imagine the 'sicknote' barbs on everyone's favourite internet forum if he signs and then spends a lot of time in Ian Weston's company. Not worth the risk in my view - good player that he is.
What Noble's impact on Saturday added to the collapse against Southend after he went off does tell us however is that we need a 'passer' in the team - a quarterback to dictate things.
Matt Richards is certainly not that, and neither is Jason Taylor. Add that to the shopping list Mark...
Up front we had the same old problem - lack of service - so fair play to Byron Harrison for making a silk purse from a sow's ear with a goal from not even a half-chance.
That's 15 now, 13 in the League (all single goals) without penalties. A very good effort, only bettered by Sam Winnall (22), Scott Hogan (17) and Reuben Reid (16), and matched by Rhys Murphy, Luke James and Jonjo O'Toole.
As I said last time, in a mediocre side who barely creates a chance, he deserves a lot of credit. His job is to score goals, and he has done just that, and even if a lot of his performances are languid and bordering on the lazy, I have decided my player of the year vote will go to either him or Scott Brown.
Why? Because those two are the reasons why we are not right in the mire - without Byron's goals and Scott's saves we could be Torquay right now.
Byron played alongside Jamie Cureton, who also got little to work with, but while Byron took his quarter-chance, Jamie badly missed his more clear-cut one.
After the game he was brutally honest about that and the other chances he has missed. Not good enough basically, should have scored them, and can therefore understand why he has not started as many games as he would like. If only all players were as honest and self-critical as that. He knows he won't be here next year.
Zack Kotwica will be and he had a bright little cameo, coming as close as he has ever done to his first senior goal - denied by a good save from the goalkeeper.
It may be a little galling for Zack to see his mate Harry beat him to a starting role, but I hope it happens for Zack in the next four games. I think he has earned it on merit.
Finally to two more players who are out of contract. One, Jermaine McGlashan, who everyone seems resigned to losing, and who some will miss and others are not really fussed either way.
I am in the latter category, and Saturday was more evidence for that feeling, as Jermaine did his usual thing of getting into promising positions then failing to make the most of them, either by trying and failing to win a free-kick or corner, or by failing to produce a decent cross. He should have got a penalty though, when he was tripped and then bizarrely failed to appeal for it in any way shape or form.
Finally, Sam Deering. He has never scored for Cheltenham and after coming on for Williams had a chance right at the death which summed up a) why he will be leaving and b) why he will never score a goal for us.
I am still having nightmares about that miss. Before my knees gave in, I was a very average Sunday League striker turned even more average central defender, yet I think I would (just about) have backed myself to score.
Sam had done well along with Byron to carve out the chance, and all he had to do was slip it into the corner. I bet he has done it in training hundreds of times, but he basically passed it to the keeper.
It could yet be a pivotal moment. It gave Exeter a tiny bit more breathing space above the bottom two. If they stay up by a point, or on goal difference the drinks in Devon are on Sammy.
It has also stopped us from being to able to say we are safe with any real clarity.
I think we are, given the amount of traffic between us and the bottom two and the fact that many of those below us will take points off each other (Wycombe, for instance, have Northampton, Torquay and Bristol Rovers still to play), but it would have been nice to be a little more free from nagging doubts.
As I said at the top, some freak results and four defeats for us would be needed to make it happen, and even I am not that pessimistic.
Just roll on May 3 at 5pm, when I can down a few ciders (no doubt in the company of some mad Norwegians) and try to forget that season 2013-14 ever happened.