Saturday, 12 July 2014

A double header

So we are under way - two games in to a 50-odd game season.
We have used about 25 players over these two games against Wolves and Evesham, some of whom we will probably never see again after the next few days, but we have nothing to lose by giving them a go - you never know what these things may turn up.
Starting with the Wolves game, we went in with, on paper, a strong-looking line-up of Carson; Vaughan, Brown, Elliott, Braham-Barrett; Taylor, Hall, Richards; Gornell, Harrison, Haworth.
The main interest of course was in new arrivals Trevor Carson, Lee Vaughan, Asa Hall and Andy Haworth, and also to see how the newly installed 4-3-3 system would shape up.
Wolves also started with a very strong side, and were moving the ball quickly, across the field and using width very effectively.
This gave us a good test, and overall I felt our organisation was good. We kept our shape well, worked hard and in the opening half hour or so largely kept them at arm's length bar one good chance lifted over the bar.
Then Troy Brown was adjudged to have fouled Michael Jacobs and Bakary Sako put away a cheeky chipped penalty, then two minutes later we were opened up for the only time in that first half.
Sako got down the left for Wolves, cut it back and Nouha Dicko laid it off for David Edwards to finish easily.
Aside from the goals, Carson didn't have a save of any note to deal with, while at the other end we hadn't created much in the final third.
To be honest I didn't expect us to - my main focus was on our discipline, shape and organisation, which I thought was good, and we stuck to our task well.
Of the new boys Vaughan and Hall looked decent, with Taylor and Richards combining well with him in the midfield three. Vaughan got forward well, as did Braham-Barrett on the other side, and they both did reasonable jobs defensively.
As I said, further up the field it was tough for the front three, with Haworth not getting much of a chance to show us what he can do.
Harrison battled away well against two tough centre-backs and Gornell worked hard as ever with little reward.
Our other new boy Paul Black was a half-time arrival, and as the half wore on every outfield player was replaced, but not before we had gone 3-0 down as Leon Clarke ran through and finished with ease.
Our eventual team when all the changes had been made was Carson; Hanks, Deaman, Streete, Black; Powell, Wallace, Williams; Dale, Culley, Kotwica.
Many of those changes came after we pulled a goal back with a lovely Richards free-kick, while Wolves had changed their entire side at the break.
Even after all the changes I thought we tried to keep passing the ball, kept our shape well again, and stuck to the task in hand.
We got a look at Duncan Culley, the 46-goal Shortwood forward, and he got about 25 minutes against two towering young centre-backs, but he battled away well - and I loved his tweet afterwards speaking of his 'pride' in pulling on a CTFC shirt. That's what we like to hear.
So overall, the superior class of Wolves showed, but the main plus for me from our display was the shape, good discipline, organisation and effort shown by every player despite the better quality opposition.
Then it was on to Evesham, and the majority of those who finished against Wolves then started at Evesham - eight in fact - with triallist goalkeeper Ben McNamara, young pro James Bowen and some bloke called Jamie Cureton coming in for Carson, who was rested, while Dale and Powell had a run-out on Saturday morning for the youth team.
To say that last name came as a shock was a bit of an understatement. We knew had done a bit of training with us, but he has had a game for Dagenham and Redbridge this summer and all the talk was that he was off to try and shoot Torquay back into the League.
Well, maybe he isn't. Maybe we are going to have another Hugh McAuley situation - player released in May, then re-signed in July, only this time, and unlike Hughie, the manager hasn't changed in the meantime.
So the first-half team was McNamara; Hanks, Deaman, Streete, Black; Kotwica, Williams, Wallace, Bowen; Cureton, Culley - lining up in a 4-4-2.
This team of five pros and six triallists (counting Curo) struggled. They weren't able to get any fluency going, and the highlight was a lovely piece of skill by Kotwica with some control on a chest, a quick turn and then a cross which led to Cureton having a shot saved.
None of the triallists really enhanced their chances of staying on past next week in my view. The centre-half Andre Streete and midfielder Kieran Wallace were disappointing, and the goalkeeper Ben McNamara looked very shaky throughout the game, especially with his handling.
Culley again put himself about, with the occasional piece of good hold-up play and lay-offs, but I just have doubts that he would cut it at Football League level.
The other centre-half, Jack Deaman, was probably the best of them I thought without being really outstanding, it you get my drift. He ended up playing the full 90. He isn't bad in the air and played some nice cross-field balls, but looked troubled at times by players running at him - he might be one to keep an eye on again and see how he progresses.
There were two half-time changes, Gornell for Cureton and Braham-Barrett for Black, and then we made three other changes. These included a first look at the two Redditch lads who have been training with us, Omari Sterling-James and Jermaine Hylton, who came on to play on the flanks in place of Bowen and Kotwica, while Culley gave way to Richards.
The system changed to 4-2-3-1 - McNamara; Hanks, Deaman, Streete, Braham-Barrett; Wallace, Richards; Sterling-James, Williams, Hylton; Gornell.
Before he went off, Kotwica had a shot well saved and we started to look livelier as the more 'senior' players were introduced, and we were to make five more changes, with Taylor, Haworth, Harrison, Vaughan and Brown coming on, and we finished the game strongly.
By the end of the game, our team was: McNamara; Vaughan, Deaman, Brown, Braham-Barrett; Taylor, Richards; Sterling-James, Haworth, Hylton; Harrison - in a 4-2-3-1 system.
The plus points of the latter stages for me came down our right-hand side, where Vaughan and the triallist Sterling-James looked lively and caused problems, and that was where our chances were created, and I also thought Richards had a good cameo.
Richards set Hylton up for a chance which was well saved, and Sterling-James put a cross in which went across the face with no-one getting a touch, and the triallist then had a shot saved himself.
Harrison tried a long-range lob, and we finally got the draw right at the death when Vaughan drive through and cut it back for Haworth to finish at the far post.
Post-match, Yates explained that talks are ongoing with Cureton and a CTFC return is a real possibility for the man who is 39 next month.
Many fans have been under the misconception that Cureton was on 'mega-money' here last season, and I even saw figures of 2k a week mentioned. That is well wide of the mark - and I am led to believe that he would be on even less were he to return. The guy just wants to stay in the Football League.
I believe letting him go last summer was the correct decision, and therefore feel very much 50-50 about the possibility of a return.
If we are going to play this 4-3-3/4-5-1 system with one through the middle (usually Harrison) then I am struggling to think where he will fit in.
I cannot see him playing in the 'wide forward' role and I didn't see enough evidence last season that he could take on the lone role through the middle - and I have to say, much as it pains me to say it as he is a favourite of mine, the same goes also for Terry Gornell.
Yates has said also that he wants another winger, so that will only add to the competition for places in the forward areas.
But Cureton is one of those players who needs to start games regularly, and get that momentum going. I am not sure he is going to do that, and he is not the kind of player these days who can have an impact from the bench, and come on and change a game.
There are benefits of course. I think he was very good for Byron last season - I think he gave him plenty of kicks up the backside when they were needed, and our young pros (especially Bobbie Dale as a fellow striker) are only going to learn from his example and experience.
As for the triallists, Monday could be a day of destiny for a few of them, ahead of the Bristol Rovers game on Tuesday.
Personally, I would have another look at the Redditch lads and possibly give Culley one final look, along with Deaman, the latter only because we are short of central defenders at the moment. McNamara, Streete and Wallace would get a thanks, but no thanks from me.
I wonder by then if a Cureton return will have been sealed, but we might get to see him anyway against his former club.
What these games have shown us is that defensive strengthening is quite rightly Yates' priority.
Brown and Elliott are our only two centre-backs, and right-back is an area where we don't have like-for-like cover. Joe Hanks has played there, out of position, at times in the past two games. I don't want that to become a long-term thing and I am sure Joe doesn't either. He is a midfield player.
Yates says he has a player very much on his radar - a central defender who has a year on his contract with his club, and who we learn via Jon Palmer is believed to be in his early 30s.
There are quite a few players fitting that description dotted around the leagues, but focus seems to have fallen on Exeter's Danny Coles, aged 32, and transfer-listed and stripped of the captaincy after a Twitter row during an England World Cup game with a teenage Grecians fan ended in abusive fashion.
Yates again said after the game that he wants 23 players. We currently have 18 and Cureton's return would make that 19.
So four spots left to fill - with this central defender, a back-up goalkeeper, a winger (and he said post-match that Ashley Grimes is 'not likely') and another defender who can play right back/centre back the positions he wants to target, which would bring us to 23.
There may be a long-term loan or two in that quartet, and I can't argue too much with those areas of focus - but have to confess I would like another central midfielder.
We have Richards, Hall and Taylor, plus Hanks, with Williams and Powell - so I think we need another one especially with Taylor listed, although there isn't exactly a queue to take him off our hands.
The time may well come when Yates thinks that if no-one is going to take him, he may as well try to use him, and to be fair to the player there seems to have been nothing wrong with his attitude in these two games.