Saturday, 9 August 2014

Something to smile about

AT about 5.10pm today, I saw something that I haven't seen very often recently. Mark Yates smiled.
It's true - I saw it with my own eyes. He did it twice in fact - so it must really have been a good day.
It may have been one smile of satisfaction at a small victory over his critics and another at the pre-match doom-mongers (who included me, I fully admit), but I suspect they had more to do with his new look team carrying out the game plan pretty much to perfection.
He allowed himself a sly dig at David Flitcroft's pre-match comments about us 'not having a style' or 'not many good players' - and while, Mr Flitcroft, we may not have the big names or six-figure signings you have brought in, we had many other attributes in abundance. You and some of your fans thought this was a 'turn up and win' job for your team. Think again.
Last season, many of our insipid performances were followed by criticism of a lack of effort, work-rate and commitment. These three characteristics were the bedrock of today's victory.
And that's all fans ask for when they pay their money and travel a long way to watch their team.
By the end of the game, a few players were cramping up, and were on their knees. That's not a sign of lack of fitness, more a sign that they had put everything in. And so they deserved their reward.
Pre-match, I thought we would play a compact 4-5-1 system, with the hope of nicking something we could hold on to.
But Yates opted for the 3-5-2 he had tried with some small success against Bristol City, but none at all against Kidderminster, and it was a big gamble.
The back three of Matt Taylor, Steve Elliott and Troy Brown had only had 45 minutes of match action together, and it did take a bit of time to settle.
That wasn't helped by Asa Hall limping off inside five minutes, with Joe Hanks coming on. More of him later - but nobody typified the effort and desire more than Jason Taylor.
He is a man many Cheltenham fans were hoping to or expecting to see the back of this summer (and maybe the manager was as well...), and when they didn't, were hoping that he would be sat on the bench, or the stand.
In the first half especially, he was like a man possessed. He was pressing on the ball, snapping into tackles and then getting forward for a shot which was tipped round the post.
Hanks alongside him was composed. That is one of his best characteristics - he never seems flustered in that congested middle area, and several times he just got the ball and played a simple pass to relieve pressure or get us moving again.
Bury had a lot of the ball in the first half, but such was our shape and organisation, that we managed to keep them at arm's length, bar one cross which was prodded just wide of the post.
We were on the back foot possession-wise for a lot of the time, but Bury didn't do a lot with it, while we got forward at times to good effect and created some decent chances, with Taylor's shot, a Shwan Jalal save from Hanks after a great build-up, and then our two goals.
Yes, two goals. I know the referee only allowed one of them to stand, but have a look here - http://instagram.com/p/rezGKTgVnP/ - and try and work out why Matt Taylor's fabulous header didn't stand. I can't see it. It just looked to me like three players just ran into each other.
It would have annoyed me more but for the goal which did come along and did count five minutes later, and what a goal it was. See the great moment for Joe Hanks here - http://instagram.com/p/rezrhNAVoW/?modal=true (videos courtesy of the legendary @hEaleRCTFC)
Brilliant scenes behind the goal for the 166 travelling fans, many of whom didn't make it until 3.30pm because of a crash on the M6, then had a puncture on the way home, and as I write this (10.50pm) haven't got home yet due to a puncture on the way home.
And it was great to see the players celebrate it with the fans - we are one club, players and fans united, and scenes like that can only bode well for the season ahead.
They saw a second half where we came under intense pressure, and we came through that test - not exactly with flying colours or without a few alarms, but we came through it.
It was also the chance to see what Trevor Carson was made of.
In pre-season, he hasn't had many saves to make, and we hadn't been able to judge what he can do - but today he made three fantastic saves - the second of which was the best of them - and his catching of crosses was spot on.
Full-backs Lee Vaughan and Craig Braham-Barrett had their hands full with wingers Adams and Mayor plus attacking full-backs Jones and Hussey, but for the most part dealt with it well.
They were helped out by centre-backs Troy Brown and Steve Elliott, and midfielders Taylor and Matt Richards for the most part, and when they were we kept them at bay.
But on some occasions the full-backs were left one-on-one and when they were we looked a bit exposed and they were able to get crosses in.
However, again for the most part either Carson's gloves or the head of one of our centre-halves got in the way, and on the occasions that didn't happen, a body was thrown on the line to get in the way of a shot and the danger was gone. It may not have been pretty, but it was effective and it got the desired result.
I mentioned Taylor and Hanks, but Richards was also key in that midfield. His seeming lack of effort and what some fans perceived as him cruising through games was criticised last season, but he was on his knees at the end, having given everything with some crucial tackles and intelligent passing, plus one or two decent set-pieces.
If there has to be a slight criticism, and I appreciate it is picky after such a committed performance, I thought the front two were slightly disappointing.
Byron Harrison or Terry Gornell never really managed to impose themselves on the Bury centre-halves, allowing themselves to be dominated for much of the game, and were unable to really be an effective target or outlet for us and hold the ball upfield, hence why we found ourselves under pressure - especially in the second half.
But that is a small negative on a day of many positives - we didn't buckle under pressure as we have in the past, notably in dropping 37 points from winning positions last season - I must admit I feared an equaliser might have led to a collapse, but we held firm and showed some backbone.
That, for me, along with Joe's great moment, were the biggest plusses from a fantastic start to the season.
One swallow doesn't make a summer, and there is a long way to go, we all know that.
The starting 11 we had on the field isn't the worst in the division, but they won't all play 46 games, and we definitely need a little bit more quality in to help them put and bolster the ranks a little bit.
But if we can reproduce this work-rate, effort and commitment on a regular basis, and maybe add these couple of players Yatesy wants to the squad, then some of the doom-mongers may join the manager in allowing themselves a smile...or even two.