Sunday, 15 November 2015

Calm before the storm

TWO games, nine goals, none conceded and key players given a rest - things couldn't be much better in the world of CTFC at the moment.
After seeing off Guiseley 5-0, the trip to Southport could have been a rude awakening, especially when we arrived in Merseyside to be greeted by strong winds and driving rain.
So what do you need in those conditions? Yes, a nice early goal to settle you down. Okay then, let's go and get three.
Harry Pell's free kick started it off - 'hit and hope' he said afterwards while claiming he hits them like Roberto Carlos on the training ground. It skidded through a non-existent wall into the corner.
Then it was enter Billy Waters with two goals in seven minutes. Yes, he was helped by hapless defending - but still produced two decent finishes.
Four goals in two games, and nine in 10 starts for a confident-looking Billy now... he's our leading scorer in league games, the talk of a loan striker has gone quiet, and no-one is talking too much any more about missing Amari Morgan-Smith's presence.
Like Guiseley then, where we got two in the first eight minutes, the game was practically won when Billy's second hit the net.
Southport had a go - they had 10 corners in the first half and Dillon Phillips had to make a couple of decent saves, but we also had power to add and looked dangerous every time we attacked.
At 3-0 up though, any problems were likely to be of our own making. Phillips rather naively got himself a yellow card after some nonsense at a corner.
Gary Johnson on the touchline was going ballistic at him - keeping our cool was paramount as the result really was not in danger.
Once Daniel Parslow had added the fourth the sting had well and truly gone out of the game with 37 minutes still remaining. From then on it was like a training exercise.
It was time to rest the skipper - sensible management with him on four bookings, and I haven't heard a reception for a player coming off like the one Aaron Downes got for a long while.
We saw Ryan Jennings for his debut. I thought he looked bright and on this view looks to have something to offer. The only small blot on the day was James Dayton's hamstring pull.
All in all, these have been two ruthless wins. No mercy, go out there and kill the game off as quickly as you can.
After the game at Hartlepool, Gary Johnson had said he wanted more ruthlessness. At Victoria Park, we had openings but failed to capitalise. These two games have put that right.
Pell said afterwards he felt we took our foot off the gas at Southport. That's hardly surprising - it's human nature to relax a bit when you feel the job is done.
So here we are - top of the table by a point, second-highest goalscorers, the fewest defeats, the tightest defence and the largest goal difference.
You really can't ask for more than that after 21 games - also, we are unbeaten for eight league games, the longest stretch in the division.
So we are in decent shape going into Saturday's second meeting with our nearest challengers Forest Green Rovers.
I know it's only November and (cliche alert) nothing is won in November, but there is no doubt that this is a pivotal game and a pivotal weekend in the season.
Not only do we lock horns with FGR knowing that a win could out us four points ahead of them, but Eastleigh in third also host Grimsby in fourth with those two both needing a win to stay on our coat-tails.
A handy little gap has opened up behind us and FGR - five points separating second and third although Eastleigh do have a game in hand.
This weekend is also the last chance we have to dent Forest Green's hopes ourselves - after this weekend we are in the hands of others to knock them out of their stride, as long as we can keep getting results of course.
Another factor is our upcoming fixture list. After this weekend, we have a few games against sides in the bottom half of the table - we play the sides in 14th, 13th, 19th, 23rd, 21st, 23rd again and 20th.
So we (on paper) have a chance to get some points on the board and maybe open a further gap on the chasing pack - but so do Rovers.
Their games after this weekend see them take on teams currently sitting in 19th, 20th, 21st, 23rd, 21st again, and 16th in the coming weeks - and they will have a game in hand on us as they still have the FA Cup to play, which has cancelled their game at 22nd-placed Southport on December 5.
So both of us have favourable games in the coming weeks - which only serves to show that they probably won't be shaken off any time soon and serves to make this weekend's game even more important for both sides.
They will want to get back in front of us and put the pressure back on us - especially for the Chester game on December 5 when they will fall a game behind us.
For us, there is the chance to keep top spot, get four points ahead of them, maybe have the chance to render that game in hand almost irrelevant, and also get further ahead of the other chasers.
Put it this way - I really don't think a draw suits either side.
Naturally, the excitement is mounting ahead of the game which, even I - despite my traditional feeling that Gloucester City remain our one and only true 'local derby' rivals - unfortunately have to bill as a derby game.
It is a great shame though that we are playing it in November. Had this game been played in April with the sides in first and second place, we could have been looking at a 6,000-plus crowd - maybe even a sell-out.
A Twitter question went out on Sunday asking about the last 'top v second' game to be played at Whaddon Road. Thoughts went back to March 1999 when we were second and hosted leaders Kettering, beating them 3-0 to go top on the way to promotion in front of a 5,202 attendance.
Personally, I don't think the crowd on Saturday will get to that figure - I hope it does, as the team deserves all the backing it gets.
But it seems (from what their club itself are saying) they are only likely to bring around 6-700 for the game, which isn't all ticket for them.
Assuming that is 700, to get the attendance to 4,000 we would need 3,300 fans in home areas - which is 1,100 home supporters more than came to the Guiseley match last Tuesday.
Not wanting to sound like Delia, but come on you floating fans... come on you fans who turned your backs over the past two seasons... let's be having ya!!!
I think 4,000-plus would be a decent attendance figure. I am told that seats are selling very well with only singles available in many T&B Stand blocks. Great news.
It's been difficult not to get carried away with things over recent weeks and with the recent run of results, especially the last two.
We all know it won't decide anything conclusively but a win on Saturday might make even the most sceptical of fans believe that we can pull this bounceback thing off.