Sunday 20 September 2015

Case for the defence

After the game yesterday, I stuck a microphone under Steve Book's nose to get a few thoughts from him ahead of Tuesday's game at Forest Green.
Interviewing Booky is always an 'interesting' experience - but he came out with one pearl of wisdom which cannot be denied.
'Goals win you games, but clean sheets win you leagues,' he said - and that certainly seems to be ringing true as far as we are concerned at the moment.
Last season we didn't keep a clean sheet for 27 games between August and February. Look where that got us.
Already we have kept five clean sheets in 11 games this time round, and that has matched the total in league games in the whole of last season. We sit in second place with the best defensive record in the VNL.
The manner of the victory at Woking yesterday was almost Cotterill-esque - and yes, I know that is high praise indeed.
Under Cotterill, we would frequently go away and dig out victories, keeping a clean sheet and getting a goal in each half to almost steamroller the opposition.
There was a little bit of that in the manner of yesterday's win.
Gary Johnson made two changes from the Macclesfield victory, breaking the old cardinal sin of changing a winning team.
His explanation was that George McLennan was always coming back in, and then Jack Barthram edged Lee Vaughan out because he has trained and played more.
Jack Munns' return for Billy Waters was almost erring on the side of caution - playing a more orthodox midfield player instead of a midfield-forward.
He got both decisions right. The game plan worked to a tee.
McLennan had a very good game against the tricky Bruno Andrade, who was Woking's most potent threat down the right-hand side, while Munns' set-pieces caused problems and brought us our goal.
Before Saturday, Woking had five wins out of five at home, and in John Goddard they had a seven-goal player in prime form.
But he never had a shot, and was taken off before the end - in fact so effective was our back three and full-backs that Dillon Phillips never had a serious save to make all game.
In front of him, our back three were superb. Aaron Downes carried on what he has been doing all season, heading everything that comes his way, and throwing his body on the line when needed.
Alongside him, Daniel Parslow is quietly efficient. Remember that this guy has played 300 games in League Two and the VNL. He is a no frills player - just gets on with his job and is doing it very well.
Rob Dickie seems to grow in stature and the games go by. After his goalscoring debut, he looked a little out of his comfort zone at right-back and the return to a back three has suited him.
He had another assured game and is growing in confidence - he likes to bring the ball out from the back and is a threat at set-pieces. He headed one great chance over and nearly got on to the end of another.
Those three and the confident Phillips behind them, backed up by the wing-backs and with Kyle Storer hoovering everything up in front of them is providing a very solid base for us.
I can't think of any time during the game that I felt uncomfortable, and that we were going to concede. The only worry was that we might not get a goal as we had created some good chances.
Danny Wright missed a couple in the first half, shooting wide from one and having a header very well saved, and there was also Dickie's headed chance.
Then in the second, Morgan-Smith had an opportunity before the goal finally did come.
Maybe not surprisingly, it was from a set-piece.
One of the best things about this season so far has been the threat from corners and free-kicks and with the height we have in the side from Downes, Parslow, Dickie, Wright, Morgan-Smith, Harry Pell and (if he's not taking them) Storer, it's hardly a shock.
More and more, other sides know we are a threat and the managers mention it frequently - but they seem powerless to do much about it. This time Wright got on to the end of Munns' corner and the ball ended up in the net.
Cole got a hand to it, and someone got a touch, whether it was a defender or Morgan-Smith, but I think it had already gone in so from my point of view it's five for the season for Wright.
After that goal, we went into fully-fledged strangle mode. Despite Craig Braham-Barrett trying his luck from 30 yards Woking never really had much of a look in.
We kept them very much at arm's length and I felt we closed the game out very comfortably and it was a fully-merited victory.
As Booky said, clean sheets win leagues. So does grinding out results at difficult places to win like Woking. It wasn't always pretty, but it was effective and that's another big test passed for this team, and number one of Gary Johnson's two 'cup finals' won.
The second looms large down the A46 on Tuesday, and a win could send us to the top of the table. No pressure then.
There is no doubt that we go into the game with the momentum - five wins out of six means we are top of the VNL current form table.
After their blistering start Forest Green have now lost two in a row and they have influential midfielder Rob Sinclair suspended as well.
Following the Dover game, when they were nine points head of us, there didn't seem much of a chance that we would go there with the chance to overtake them at the top.
It just goes to show that you can't count chickens too early - and the same will be the case if we go there and beat them at the New Lawn.
It will certainly be a big psychological blow to go up there and win, but it's just another three points towards where we want to be - and even if we don't get the win we've only had a quarter of the season so far.
 Another big game and another big test - but our team have passed them all so far and I have every confidence they can take this one in their stride as well.

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