Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Riding our luck?

SEVEN points out of nine, two clean sheets and one goal conceded.
Even the most demanding of Cheltenham fans would struggle to be disappointed with that return, but will also know it doesn't quite tell the whole story.
Bar a last minute penalty miss and a very dodgy offside flag deep in injury time in the last two games, we could have been sat with four points and mulling over two more home games without a win.
The difference between the two games is that on Saturday we deserved the win and therefore in my view that lucky break, while last night we didn't.
We were second best and none of us could have complained had that offside flag stayed down and Billy Paynter's goal had given Carlisle the win.
The saying has it that these things even themselves out, so by that reckoning we are due to be bitten twice on the backside sometime between now and May...
Last night, they were sharper than us, moved the ball and kept it better than us, used the width better than us and had more of a forward threat than us.
It also shows the value of having options in your squad - Graham Kavanagh had five players out and yet he could still field a very strong side. Lose five players from our side and we'd be struggling big time.
Some of our players looked very leggy after the Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday start to the season, especially Joe Hanks, and it was no surprise to see him taken off. That is not a criticism of his performance - he wasn't alone in looking off the pace at times.
I thought the front two were disappointing. Byron Harrison didn't look fit to me and Terry Gornell, excellent on Saturday especially with his hold-up play and non-stop work-rate, was the opposite of that.
His touch looked off completely and overall he and Byron made it a very easy night for the Carlisle back three.
Our midfield three were second best and our wing backs fought a losing battle, having to concentrate more on the weaker side of their game, defending, rather than being able to get forward.
At the back, our trio were troubled by the movement of Jack Marriott and experienced guile of Paynter.
You can see why Yates was interested in Marriott - he was lively, skilful and a real goal threat with his low centre of gravity and good little runs off the shoulder always a worry for us.
Paynter was happy to drop deeper and let his young partner roam about - and he used  his experience a number of times to earn dangerous free-kicks.
I am sure some CTFC fans would blame the referee for 'favouring' Carlisle with some decisions, but they (and Paynter especially) were just more streetwise and managed to draw our defenders and midfielders into some naive challenges around the box.
That has often been a failing for us - our game management. Other sides seem to 'draw' these fouls more easily and more regularly than we do. It's not cheating - it's experience, and using your head a bit, something our players never seem to get the hang of.
Our opening two league games have been built on high work-rate, and I do feel we dropped off that slightly last night.
Carlisle played a very high pressing game - one of our midfielders or wing-backs got the ball and straight away there was a couple of yellow shirts in his face straight away.
That led to us either giving the ball away or being forced into a rushed and often aimless ball forward as they forced us to be more direct which just played into their hands.
I don't feel we deliberately played 'hoofball' - rather that we were given no choice to use the ball as a hot potato due to the tight pressing game Carlisle came to play - all credit to them as that's just what we did at Bury.
We gave away the impetus and tempo of the game almost straight away and spent a lot of time on the back foot. There is no doubt that last season we would have lost that game - but one thing we did have in our favour (aside from Lady Luck in those last seconds) was resilience.
Yes, they had their problems with Marriott and Paynter, but Matt Taylor, Steve Elliott and Troy Brown stood firm, aided by the man behind them Trevor Carson.
I know I wasn't alone among CTFC fans in being worried when Scott Brown went. Having had the same and increasingly reliable goalkeeper for so long, change is always difficult.
But in four games, Trevor has almost totally taken those worries away. Browny's strength was his shot-stopping and his weakness his command of the penalty area.
Trevor seems to have that authority, and has also shown his shot-stopping prowess, notably with the one-on-one block from Marriott last night and the late touch on to the post before the 'offside' flag. Early impressions are very good indeed.
Despite our problems last night, we could have nicked the win ourselves, with a Hanks free-kick going close, Elliott glanced a header just wide, then there was Koby Arthur's two chances.
The first saw him go through with Byron making a great run to his left, all alone. He chose to shoot, and there is no question that he should have passed as Byron would had a tap-in. His second effort was a shot which was blocked, possibly with a hand.
But overall, we have to happy with a point and the way we stuck at it against a decent side. Like Bury, I think Carlisle will be up there and this draw may turn out to be a decent result in the long run.
I felt, however, that the manager didn't make the most of what he had available to him.
I thought he should have changed it earlier and also needs to look at the composition of his bench.
He had Arthur, Andy Haworth and Omari Sterling-James on there - but no orthodox central midfielder. He has Harry Williams and Adam Powell in his squad, and I feel, for balance, he should look at having one of them on there.
Williams could then have come on for Hanks - but as he wasn't in the 18, I'd have put Haworth on, and used Arthur for Gornell to get him further up the field with Byron to try to stretch the Carlisle back three. I think that would have given them more to think about.
We will have the same starting 11 at Tranmere again I expect, so I hope that training is a bit lighter this week and the management find some way of keeping some energy in their legs ahead of the long trip north.
But as I said at the top, seven from nine and still unbeaten is a more than satisfactory way to start the season, and overall the new 3-5-2 system has been a success I feel.
It is nice to see that the manager has worked the system around the players he has, rather than deciding stubbornly on his system and then wedging the players - unwillingly at times - into it.
The three centre-halves, lack of pace aside, seem a good fit as a unit, and it definitely helps Lee Vaughan and Craig Braham-Barrett's strengths.
We always look better with a midfield three, and by and large they have looked comfortable with the shape.
Jason Taylor and Matt Richards have had good starts to the season while Hanks has fitted in well and I am sure Asa Hall will do likewise when he comes back. That just leaves us needing to really get the front two firing.
There have been signs from them in the first three league games, especially against Accrington, but I feel we just generally need more from the pair, or find a way of getting them integrated into things better, otherwise it will be time to try a different pair.
There is no doubt we need some reinforcements, and to that end it would good to hear the manager's words after the game last night.
There was no "we'll see what we can do" or "we're hoping to do something" - it was much more emphatic than that. He said "after Saturday we HAVE to bring people in" as he targets the free week after Tranmere to nail a couple of players down. Let's hope he can deliver on that.
It's needed to freshen up the 11 we have and also to bolster further the options off the bench - but then you have to credit those who haven't had a look in up to now for putting six past a decent strength Forest Green side at Seasons, many of them giving the manager something to ponder.
There were a number of interesting and encouraging things to come out of that game, starting with the system - as we played a 3-5-2 here as well to mirror the first team, with some interesting positions for a few players.
Zack Kotwica and Haworth were used as the wing-backs, an interesting development using orthodox wingers there - definitely something that could be used late in games if we are chasing it and would give width and that more attacking outlook.
Paul Black and James Bowen, usually left-backs, in the back three with Jack Deaman, while the midfield three of Williams, Omari Sterling-James and triallist Angelo Balanta was very attack-minded.
Arthur played alongside Bobbie Dale up front and Dale bagged four goals.
Having been on the bench recently, that haul must surely have pushed him further forward in the manager's mind. He did say he nearly put him on ahead of Arthur on Saturday and Bobbie cannot really have done any more than that to impress.
Mark Yates says he will have a 'longer look' at the Colombian Balanta, who was at QPR for seven years and had a few loan spells at MK Dons, playing against us a few times and scoring in the League Cup and then he went to Bradford City.
He apparently turned down the chance to join Bristol Rovers this summer and has also had a run-out for Crewe. As a left-sided wide men or striker he could fit in with us in this system, maybe in an advanced midfield role, or out on the left if we decided to use the 4-3-3 formation at any point.
We'll see what develops there, but seven out of nine is a promising start - and two or three new additions would help give us the chance of keeping that momentum going.