Sunday, 31 January 2016

All fine and Dan-dy

ANOTHER eventful week came to a close on a high note with our best performance for several games, with more evidence that our January recruitment looks to be spot on.
After the high of that amazing finish at Dover last week, which kept us in top spot, we then lost it again on Tuesday with Forest Green's late show at Southport.
Saturday was the first occasion we had played at the same time as FGR this year, and we went into the game without our midfield driving force Harry Pell, banned, and having lost Aaron Downes as well we would be testing our strength in depth.
Pell's replacement was Asa Hall, moving forward from his centre-half outing at Dover, with new boy Cameron Burgess being Daniel Parslow's latest partner - the third man to fill that role since Downes went off at Boreham Wood, Cian Harries being the other.
But Gary Johnson opted to make two more changes leaving Kyle Storer as the only midfield survivor from the Crabble - James Rowe and James Dayton being given starts ahead of Jack Munns and Billy Waters, both of whom I feel have looked in need of a rest and can't really complain at coming out of the side.
So therefore we were relegating 19 goals and numerous assists to the bench - not a bad couple of weapons to have up your sleeve.
Alongside them was our newest and most under-the-radar recruit, left-back Jordan Cranston from Gateshead.
He only know himself he might be coming here on Friday evening and it wasn't all sorted out until 10.45 on Saturday morning, 15 minutes to spare for the deadline, enabling him to sit on the bench.
It is quite a statement from us to pay a fee for a player (my fading and not always accurate memory believes the last time we did that was for Byron Harrison, three years ago today) and also to give him an 18-month contract, meaning at least he and Pell will be here for pre-season training next July.
As for the fee, it's down as one of these annoying undisclosed ones, but a stab in the dark from me would guess at around £10,000, maybe just effectively buying out the last six months of his Gateshead contract.
I wasn't at the away game at the International Stadium in October, but saw his free-kick goal on TV and all who were up there seem happy enough with the signing.
But it was a surprise, and I hope in some ways that it doesn't signal bad news for George McLennan, who I feel has been one of the (many) consistently good performers this season in a position we have found notoriously difficult to fill, probably since Jamie Victory retired.
Now with McLennan and Cranston, we have healthy competition there but Cranston might have a job on to oust George from first choice. You could say Gary has himself in a bit of a Cranston pickle (copyright James Young, Gloucestershire Echo).
When he came on for the last quarter of the game, Cranston played further forward on the left and that might be an option, to give us some balance, and a bit more solidity especially in tough away games (like Barrow next week, maybe?).
Bromley are a big, uncompromising side, and the first 20 minutes was pretty uninspiring as we looked to get to grips with that - but once we went in front it all changed.
And what a goal it was. In the blink of an eye, Dan Holman introduced himself and showed exactly why Gary Johnson and his brother Peter had him top of their target list.
The ball came to him, back to goal, on the edge of the box and in a split-second he turned and smashed the ball into the corner of the net.
Five minutes later, he'd bagged another, cutting in from the left and driving it across the keeper and also effectively killed the game as a contest.
We finished the half superbly, and could have had more goals. Hall sent a shot wide, Danny Wright had one saved and Holman was inches from bagging his hat-trick.
It had also sent us top in the live table with FGR being held at that stage by Macclesfield, and also opened up more of a cushion on Grimsby, trailing at Gateshead.
The confidence was flowing through us and Wright's header from James Rowe's corner made it three, and the afternoon was now really an opportunity to boost the goal difference.
We added one more with a goal with owed much to the other side of Holman's game - work-rate.
He charged a clearance down, kept it in the pulled it back for Rowe, who picked out Wright for a finish so simple he almost looked embarrassed.
A 4-0 advantage, and Forest Green were now trailing as were Grimsby, so this was turning into the perfect day.
Some of the gloss came off with a Bromley consolation and a late FGR turnround (and second successive injury time winner), but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Holman was the brightest spot of all with his two goals, but there were good performances all round the pitch.
Storer was immense in midfield, and the three players who came into the side around him certainly didn't weaken it in any way.
Hall was his usual efficient self, with Dayton and Rowe both had, I felt, their biggest impact in a game so far.
Dayton put some decent balls in and gave us an outlet and natural width, while I felt Rowe brought some real quality and set two goals up for Wright.
At the back, Burgess settled in very well. He adopted a sensible safety-first approach to everything he did, winning his fair share of headers and came close to a goal in a very promising debut.
There is no doubt he will be the first choice now with Harries as the back-up and Hall as the more emergency back-up, so we are well stocked there - and don't forget Rob Dickie will be back, hopefully in a month or so.
Hall, incidentally, ended up at right back after Jack Barthram went off. He really is turning into Mr Utility.
Up front, Wright now has 17 goals in total and four in two games, with the signs of a very useful partnership with Holman. And let's not write off Waters and his 11 goals, and there's also Amari Morgan-Smith on the brink of his return too. Also decent strength here.
Storer, Pell, Hall, Rowe and Munns, with Dayton as a wide option, give us midfield options which are more than match for anyone in this league, as are the full-backs Barthram, McLennan and Cranston in front of the superb Dillon Phillips.
So the January recruitment (assuming there won't be any more arrivals) looks to have left us in good stead for the last 16 games.
We have put ourselves in a great position in the first two thirds of the campaign, and now hope to continue the momentum for this run-in.
If we do carry on the form we have shown, keeping up our points per game ratio, we are on course to get to 101 points, but now we go into what could be a pivotal February.
We have home games with Welling, Kidderminster and Gateshead, and trips (tricky on paper) to Barrow and Tranmere.
FGR have only one home game and four away trips, which will clear the current discrepancy in their remaining home and away games and Grimsby have two homes and three aways.
But they are still in the Trophy, and further progress from them and others could see games moved in the coming weeks and months (our game with Gateshead on February 27 being one of them).
Lots of ifs buts and maybes to come, but I believe our recruitment this month means we have the squad to cope with it and have shown we are more than up for the fight.