Sunday, 24 August 2014

Comeback kings

MARK Yates started the season as a man under pressure, and with plenty of critics among the CTFC supporter base.
A one-year contract instead of the two years he was initially offered, a new management team shorn of his faithful right-hand man Neil Howarth, and a new-look team assembled on a smaller budget all added up to a man in the (nearly) last-chance saloon, and needing a good start to the season.
His critics say he is tactically poor, cannot react during games and find a Plan B when things are not working, and either leaves his substitutions until its too late or when he does make them, he gets them wrong.
Not today. Today he spotted his tactical problem quickly, rectified it to great effect, and made two substitutions which turned the result in our favour in an amazing way - and he deserves all the credit for a victory which will live long in the memory.
As expected, loanee Jordan Wynter for Joe Hanks was our only change, as we kept the 3-5-2 system which has worked well so far - but we didn't get out of the blocks well.
Tranmere settled the quicker, and with Eliot Richards finding a lot of space between our midfield and back three, it wasn't really a surprise when he put them ahead.
It was a goal reminiscent of those we conceded last season - he got the ball 30 yards out and we didn't get close to him or put in any sort of tackle as he went through too easily to score.
Our midfield was all at sea, and there was a lot of finger-pointing going on. Troy Brown got a booking, we were giving away lots of unnecessary free-kicks and really struggling - so, to his credit, the manager changed it straight away.
From a narrow midfield trio with Wynter just ahead of Jason Taylor and Matt Richards, we went to a flatter three with Richards left, Taylor central and Wynter right.
This was to combat Eliot Richards' impact and to stop Jason Koumas getting on the ball, and it certainly worked. Yates said he should have started with that system, after a report on Tranmere's win at Wycombe, and took the blame for the opening goal.
Jason Taylor took over from Eliot Richards as the game's focal figure. He was breaking things up, and then spraying passes left right and centre.
Mainly left in fact, and mainly out to Craig Braham-Barrett, who was wreaking havoc down the left hand side.
Yes - you read that right. Jason Taylor spraying passes, and Craig Braham-Barrett wreaking havoc. They couldn't handle him, and he gave Danny Woodards a torrid time.
Taylor was also playing passes into the left channel for Terry Gornell to run on to, and the man back at his former club showed once again that when your luck is out, it is really out.
He sent a cross inches ahead of Wynter, then fired in a shot which hit Owain fon Williams, and was cleared away. He got free in the box several times, but either a last-ditch block denied him, or the ball would just not sit properly for him to have a shot.
We won six corners in a half-hour spell between the Tranmere goals and how on earth we failed to at least equalise I will never know. Even though they were winning, the home fans were getting very restless.
Then, as so often happens, we got caught on the break when Marc Laird fired the second on the stroke of half-time.
It looked like it was going to be one of those days - make all the chances and fail to take them, but then it was enter the manager again with a half-time change.
Off came Steve Elliott, and on came Omari Sterling-James for his league debut, just in behind Harrison and Gornell in a 4-3-1-2 system.
Elliott, as the manager revealed post-match, had been ill (and not told Yates he wasn't feeling well) and was sick at half-time, so off he came.
Straight away, Omari was a breath of fresh air. No rabbit-in-the-headlights fear from him - he was positive from the off.
We carried off where we left off. Braham-Barrett's efforts got the hapless Woodards the hook - and his replacement Danny Holmes' first action was to get a booking for hauling him down.
But when Omari's diving header hit the post and somehow stayed out we may as well have packed up and gone home. We could have been there until Christmas and not scored.
It seemed that the missed Accrington penalty and Billy Paynter's not-offside offside goal was coming home to roost sooner than we thought.
Then it changed - and again it was Omari who sparked it with a shot from the edge of the box which the keeper should have done better with, and Matt Richards picked up the pieces to score.
Then, after Omari's impact, it was Koby Arthur's turn. He'd come on for Gornell, and took Harrison's flick-on to smash home the equaliser.
There was no thinking about it - he just took it in his stride, and whack - his first two league goals haven't been bad efforts, and we weren't finished there.
Harrison found Richards, and his fabulous cross was asking to be finished off, and Wynter - who grew into the game as it went on and had an excellent second half - did just that with a great finish.
Maybe I should change my views on bringing in inexperienced short-term stop-gap loans...!!
Tranmere were shellshocked, and having made a second change between our first and second goals to take Eliot Richards off for the more defensive-minded James Rowe, their manager Rob Edwards only had one more weapon.
That was Kayode Odejayi, who was ineffective as they went more direct, but we never looked like losing our lead, and we certainly didn't deserve to. Justice, eventually, had been done.
After a season when we lost 37 points from winning positions, and only earned seven coming from behind showing little resilience at times, this was fantastic to see.
Effort, commitment, resilience, backbone, will to win, perseverance. Things which were missing at times last season, but which were there in spades today.
We had 21 shots in total. TWENTY ONE. Last season, we'd have taken five or six games to have that many. And 12 of them were on target - so don't let anyone tell you we didn't deserve to win this game.
I've been racking my brains to think of many comebacks from 2-0 down to win a game in recent times - it happened at Burton of course, in the 6-5 special, when we were two down at half-time, but I can't remember many more, so that's how special this was.
(UPDATE - Thanks to Dave Nelson on Twitter for remembering that we were 2-0 down at Northampton in December 2012 and came back to win 3-2 with Darryl Duffy's winner, and also 3-1 down at home to Crawley last season in the Capital One Cup, winning 4-3 in extra time)
No wonder the manager said this was one of the best moments he has had in charge of the club - and his celebration of the second goal was brilliant to see.
Ten points out of 12 and third in the table, with a great feelgood factor around. Smiles have come back, and while I am not getting carried away with things, with results and performances like this it would be great to think they are here to stay.
With a free week, the manager wants to complete his transfer business with another forward and a back-up keeper - but Emile Sinclair won't be coming after turning us down - and he scored today for Northampton. Oh well. Your loss Emile.
We want  people who want to play for our club, and who will show the enthusiasm and hunger to succeed and impress that we saw from Sterling-James and Arthur today - and people playing for the shirt with the commitment of people like Jason Taylor.
Hopefully Yates can find someone with those characteristics at the right price in the next week to complete the jigsaw and try to carry on the momentum.

My BBC Glos commentary of today's five goals here

Videos courtesy of hEaLeRCTFC

Omari's header which somehow stayed out here

Matt Richards' goal here

Jordan Wynter's goal here

Yates post match interview here