Wednesday, 13 August 2014

More green shoots

After shaking up the Shakers in the north, it was time to head south to try to shoot down some Seagulls - but while we couldn't manage it, there were more encouraging signs to take away from the Amex.
The win at Bury was built on commitment and work rate, and we knew we would need all of that again and a bit more if we were to pull off a shock in Sussex.
The stadium is magnificent - well worth the wait for Brighton and a massive change from the Withdean, but they are in a slight state of flux with Sami Hyppia taking over in the summer.
Many sides at Championship level take the chance to rotate their squad, blood a few youngsters maybe, but not Hyppia. He picked seven players who had started on Saturday and promoted four more from the bench, so his intentions were clear.
After Saturday's defeat by Sheffield Wednesday, he clearly wanted a win and wasn't going easy on us in any way.
But whatever team he fielded, this was always a case of us going there more in hope than expectation. One of those times where we have to be right on it, and they have to have an off day.
I was treating it as a chance to find out a bit more about the character in this squad. Whether the bodies-on-the-line grit and determination to play for the shirt and the appetite to put in a shift in we saw on Saturday could be repeated 72 hours later.
And I think it was. Again, we showed good organisation, shape and resilience. There were odd moments of quality, but eventually that little bit of Championship quality, and that quicker thinking and decision-making you get the higher up you go was the difference.
We made two changes, one enforced as Joe Hanks got his starting chance with Asa Hall injured, while Matt Taylor sat out as he was about 75 per cent fit on Saturday and Jack Deaman was handed an opportunity in the back three.
I am not going to lie - having seen Jack in pre-season, especially that game at Redditch where he gave a penalty away and cost a goal with a poor back-pass, I was a little worried, but I thought he slotted in very well for his debut.
He grew in confidence as the game went on, and that was typified when he stepped out superbly to intercept a pass and then bounded forward 25 yards into the Brighton half. He then looked a bit lost for what to do next, but he definitely didn't look out of place overall.
We knew that Brighton were going to boss the possession and we would have to be patient and disciplined, and that is how it worked out - although their formation was fluid to say the least.
Their full-backs were pushed very high up the pitch, and they almost relied solely on their two centre-backs to defend, and also kept two strikers up front, while the other outfield players seemed to be going wherever they wanted, popping up all over the place.
But overall, I thought we coped very well.
Brighton moved the ball very quickly, used runners to good effect, but we kept our shape, for the most part didn't dive in too much, and kept them at arm's length for most of the game.
Trevor Carson was not unduly overworked, one Chris O'Grady header aside - and even that wasn't too alarming, so we did our job again from that point of view.
Most of their chances were from long-range or were blocked almost at source as once again we threw bodies on the line - but I have to admit I thought we were quite comfortable and I almost got to the stage when I felt they weren't going to break us down.
The catalyst for Brighton ending our stubborn resistance was the introduction of Kazenga LuaLua, who added a different dimension to their attacking play.
That was combined with a few tired legs and maybe tired minds unsurprisingly setting in for our lads after a tough couple of games and two massive efforts.
As the game went into the last 20 minutes, there were a few weary challenges, and there again is the difference from the Championship to League Two - Brighton had proven quality on the bench, while we have to rely on our youngsters.
That aside, the manner of the opening goal was disappointing - a short corner caught us slightly unawares and then Lewis Dunk was allowed to make a run round to the far post unchecked and head in. If that was a League game we'd be furious to give that goal away, so this should be no different.
The second goal was well-worked, as we were caught square for the only time in the game, LuaLua's through ball being finished by Craig Mackail-Smith, who timed his run perfectly and sealed the game.
It wasn't a great surprise that we found ourselves on the back foot for most of the game, and we dealt with that well, but again we were not able to get much of any note going in the final third.
Byron Harrison was better and stronger than he had been on Saturday, while I felt Terry Gornell struggled a bit, but we were unable to fashion any chances of note to trouble David Stockdale.
With Brighton's full-backs pushed so high up the field, it gave our full-backs a bit of freedom to come forward more, and Craig Braham-Barrett especially made the most of it.
He had a good battle with Inigo Calderon and had the beating of him on a couple of occasions, and when he did that and got a cross in, we looked dangerous but couldn't get on the end of anything.
We all know Braham-Barrett is not the most popular of CTFC players with the fans, but this was one of his better games. He was our best attacking outlet, and also defended well with some good blocks, interceptions and tackles allied with better positioning.
Hopefully he can keep it up and there is no doubt that he is helped by the 3-5-2 system, and it definitely suits his game better.
Our midfield three were once again competitive and all put in good shifts - Joe Hanks looked absolutely out on his feet when he came off and when he emerged for the post-match warm-down he was really feeling it.
But Hanks, Matt Richards and Jason Taylor are not blessed with much pace, and are not going to make many runs ahead of the forwards to support them - neither are the three of them the most creative players in the world, so you can see why Mark Yates wants a player who can do those things.
There was talk about us possibly having a good penalty shout when the score was 0-0. From my viewing position, it looked like Byron simply collided with Dunk as the ball came over, but you can make up your own mind here (video courtesy once again of @hEaLeRCTFC on Twitter).
We gave Andy Haworth and Omari Sterling-James debuts near the end, but neither was able to have any impact, and so our Capital One Cup interest comes to an end, but I think we can hold our heads high.
Now we come back home to start our season against Accrington and then Carlisle, and it will be interesting to see whether Yates thinks he can use the 3-5-2 at home.
It has proved so far that away from home it makes us more resilient, solid and hard to beat, which is fine on your travels, but it has also proved difficult to be too creative up to now.
At home, especially after last year's toils and tribulations, we need to put a marker down and be on the front foot, so it will be interesting to see what Yates does. The home form is key.
Above all, there is one thing missing from the team - pace - and he has pacy players including the likes of Sterling-James and Koby Arthur, and he might need to incorporate one of them in the side somewhere, but after two good displays from everyone it will harsh to leave anyone out.
This is, of course, assuming that Yates doesn't manage to bring a player or two in before Saturday, which is an outside bet, so he has some decisions to make.
Overall, two games in there are encouraging signs. All we want is effort, commitment and determination, and we have had that in the opening two games.
The players have set themselves some high standards on those fronts and they need to maintain them now. Let's hope they can.