Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A point gained?

'WIN your home games, and draw your aways' is one of those little adages that pop up in football.
Barring the home draw with Aldershot, we are living up to that one quite nicely, and if we carry on doing it until late April, 22 wins and 24 draws will mean 90 points, and happy days.
Of course it won't happen... after all, we might win some aways instead of drawing them... but it's nice to still be one of six unbeaten sides in the VNL at this stage.
As each game goes by, we seem to be learning a little bit more about our newly-assembled team, and at Chester our new nugget was about having resilience and backbone.
For most of the first 45 minutes, we were second best. Passing and ball retention was sloppy, and Chester's better passing and incisive movement was causing problems.
We've seen halves like that before. In the past, when that has happened, we have often collapsed and ended up losing by three or four.
But we are gradually learning that this Cheltenham team is fashioned out of a better quality of steel than those that have gone before. I know - not difficult, but refreshing nonetheless.
Again in homage to those miserable times of the recent past we conceded an early goal, and I'm giving credit to Ross Hannah for a good finish.
You could quibble about Jack Munns needing to be stronger after losing a midfield 50-50 and ask whether Aaron Downes could have got a bit tighter, but sometimes you hold your hands up and acknowledge a well-taken goal, and I think this was one of those.
So we were behind for the first time, and it was time to see how we would react to it. At first the answer was not too well - we rocked a bit and Chester, not surprisingly, had their tails up and could have killed us off. Hannah himself could have had a hat-trick.
Some of our lads looked a bit nervy after that - cases in point were George McLennan's back pass which should have given Hannah a second goal, then Billy Waters' miss from under the bar which should have made it 1-1.
Unfortunately that seems to be summing up Waters' lot at the moment. He seems very off-colour and looks low on confidence.
His evening was ended early as Asa Hall came on and we looked more solid after that - I wouldn't be surprised to see him start on Saturday with Waters given a breather after four good bench cameos.
It was swift and decisive management from Gary Johnson. He didn't gloss over the subject after the game, saying he would not hesitate to do it again if players were not hitting their straps.
We have seen glimpses of what Waters can do and I met a Crewe fan recently still furious that they let him go, and we need to find a way to get the best of him. It might be that he needs to be played further forward.
Witness his single-handed beating of Bristol Rovers playing as a forward, and I do just feel we need a little bit of a spark up front. He could be the one to provide it.
Definitely something for Gary Johnson to ponder, but all in all, I suspect he was quite pleased to get us in at half-time only one down. It could have been more and was comfortably our worst 45 of the season.
A fast start was imperative after the break, and a pretty comical (from a Chester perspective) and well-taken (from ours) goal was just the shot in the arm we needed.
Kyle Storer got it - our fourth different scorer in five games to keep up the 'goals being spread around the team' situation, once again something lacking in the recent past.
It was a nice finish and good to see him reacting so quickly in the box to punish the error decisively.
The rest of the half was like a basketball match. We attack, then you attack - either side could have won it - but I still felt we had the better of the clear-cut chances.
I point to Jon Worsnop's none-too-convincing decision to chest away a low, goalbound shot he could have held, Jack Barthram's fabulous mazy run before he hit the bar and Amari Morgan-Smith's header being tipped over.
At the other end, our defensive line held pretty firm.
The offside flag was our friend on occasions maybe. but we once again defended corners and long throws well as they went a bit more direct in the latter stages.
But the only real threats on goal were Hannah's shot which Dillon Phillips saved brilliantly and another shot wide as he tried a carbon copy of his goal.
As the early table shows however, with both teams on eight points and unbeaten Lincoln and Chester are no mugs and to have taken a point each from trips up there is a decent-enough return in my view.
Lincoln might have been two points lost after having the lead and seeing a few chances go begging, while this point was the total opposite - gained after an off-colour opening half.
Like Lincoln though, I can't see many sides going to Chester and getting much. They look a decent unit who played some nice stuff and on this showing will be top 10 at least, maybe even top five candidates with a good run.
We hope to be definite top five candidates at the very least, and I still haven't seen anything from us to change my view that we can be just that. I think there is more to come from us.
It was good to see some resilience and backbone, and things like seeing Morgan-Smith chasing down back-passes in the 90th minute, and midfielders squeezing up and forcing errors in the dying seconds make a refreshing change.
As I said at the start, draw your aways and win your homes - and this point needs to be backed up with three against Barrow on Saturday, as Andy Haworth and Ashley Grimes rock up at Whaddon (if Ashley makes it down the M6 this time...).
The Cumbrians have four points from four games, all garnered at home against Dover and Guiseley, while their two away trips have yielded four-goal defeats at Grimsby and Forest Green (albeit after two red cards).
Those away results point to the need for us to take the maximum dividend (four goals would be an added bonus...) as this one falls into the 'games that would-be promotion challengers should be winning' category.
That would mean nine points from five games, and would put us pretty near to that 'two points a game' target which has been oft-quoted as being necessary for a top-five slot.