Sunday, 17 August 2014

Home comforts at last

Throughout the opening two games of the season, and on the long trips home from Bury and Brighton, the debate among Cheltenham fans centred mostly around two questions.
Will the new 3-5-2 formation work at home? - and can we play it in such a way to create enough chances to win a match?
After 93 pretty eventful minutes today, I think we can come to the conclusion that the answer to both questions is a yes.
The winning margin may have been narrow, and we may only have taken the victory because Kal Naismith chose the 93rd minute to try and impersonate Andrea Pirlo from the penalty spot, but again there were plenty of good things to take away and other things to work on.
We deserved the win, but two wins out of two does not suddenly make us the finished article by any stretch - there is no doubt that Mark Yates needs a couple of reinforcements and he admits as much himself.
But without them for now, his players are scrapping for everything and setting themselves high standards for effort, commitment and work rate which we will now be expecting them to maintain.
We have a decent first 11, but below that we are looking to youngsters and untried new arrivals - today for example of the seven players on the bench only Bobbie Dale (11 minutes against Plymouth last season) had appeared at Whaddon Road before in a competitive first-team game.
So it wasn't a surprise to me that there seemed to be a feeling of apprehension around the place before kick-off today.
Throw a new look team and a new system into the mix with memories of last season's poor home record and some insipid performances and it all added up to a bit of an unknown quantity. No-one really knew what was going to unfold.
A good, positive start was important, and I felt that was what we got. Led as we had been on Tuesday by the energy of Craig Braham-Barrett down the left-hand side, we were on the front foot.
There is no doubt he is revelling in the new system, which means that he gets isolated defensively very rarely and can bound up and down his flank. See also Lee Vaughan on the right, and these two definitely enjoy the freedom they get.
Every successful team (and I'm not saying this is definitely going to be one) is built on the bedrock of a solid defence, and the early signs are that Troy Brown, Steve Elliott and Matt Taylor are just that.
Brown was the pick of them for me - but only just as all three looked commanding in the air at different times, and also strong in the tackle and on the ground generally.
In the first half, Accrington barely had a sniff - one long-range shot saved by Trevor Carson was just about it - while we got a goal and could have had more.
The minus of the first half was the loss of Byron Harrison - just the thing most CTFC fans feared with our striking options not exactly being plentiful.
He was just about to come off after getting a bang on his left leg early on and being able to run it off, and his last act was a tap-in from about a yard after Troy Brown's header hit the post.
Luckily, it does not seem too serious and he might play on Tuesday, but it once again signals the need for reinforcements in that area.
Before he went off, I thought Byron and Terry Gornell had done well. We all know Terry has not scored for a long time, but you cannot criticise his appetite for getting into the positions, and he had a few openings today but last-ditch tackles, blocks and deflections denied him a goal or two today.
He also showed good strength with his back to goal to bring others into the game, and I am sure that if he keeps up performances like today, the goals will come. I hope so.
After Byron went off, we looked a bit lost until half-time I felt - the team looked a bit unsure of themselves, and we needed the break for Yates and his coaches to reinforce things.
It worked, as we again came on strong at the start of the second half, with Koby Arthur and Gornell lively.
After he had a goal disallowed last week, and had one cleared off the line in the first half, the bar denied Matt Taylor his first Cheltenham goal.
Jason Taylor fired over after a good move, and Arthur's blistering volley forced the Stanley keeper into a great save, and Troy Brown had a headed chance.
We needed that second goal, and as time went on we fell into our old habit of defending deeper and just losing our grip on a game we should have been winning comfortably.
Our lack of options didn't help either in my view. Accrington made two changes and looked revitalised, while I felt we started to look a bit leggy, with the two long trips and big efforts taking their toll a bit.
This was especially true of the midfield three. They worked hard once again, and if we had another orthodox midfielder on the bench I'd have thrown him on. We were second to everything in there for a 10-15 minute spell around Naismith's equaliser.
It would have been typical of our recent home displays to have played as we did, carved out the chances we did and not won the game, but Accrington were suddenly the side with their tails up.
But then we snuck ourselves back in front again, and it was all down to quick thinking by Trevor Carson.
It would be fair to say that Carson's arrival as Scott Brown's replacement was not greeted with universal joy - but today's intervention will only serve to endear him further to the fans.
He was a hero last week at Bury with three great saves, and today he was confident with his handling again, and confident enough too to race off his line once in each half to avert a Stanley break.
This time, it was his quick thinking to send a ball downfield after catching a corner which set up our winner. Arthur still had a bit to do, but he beat his man and then finished very coolly, with a decent celebration as well. We'll excuse him the yellow card for taking his shirt off. Stupid rule anyway.
That should have been that, and we seemed to be seeing out the game well, until a mis-timed challenge by Lee Vaughan almost cost us dear.
It looked like a penalty. None of our players had anything to say about it to the referee, but Naismith must also have felt we deserved to win by serving up one of the worst penalties I have seen for a while.
So thanks to that aberration we got the victory, and we have won our first two games of a League Two season for the first time ever. And a home win too - I'd almost forgotten the words to Happiness.
No-one is getting carried away with it. There is a long, long way to go, but we seem to have a united squad which is working hard for their manager and the supporters, which is all we have asked for all along.
Long may it continue.