Sunday, 31 July 2011

Making a splash at Bath

IF this turns out to be (thanks to West Brom preferring Greece to Whaddon) our final pre-season run-out, then it ended on a good note at Twerton Park.
After a slow start we gradually moved through the gears and scored some well-worked goals against a Bath side who seemed to wilt in the sunshine after a promising start.
Mark Yates started with the same side which opened up against Walsall, bar a rest for Kaid Mohamed, maybe to save him from the baying Bath hordes still angry at his departure, replaced by the returning Russ Penn.
It was Penn who was the focal point for those early exchanges as he looked determined to make up for his absence in recent games by leaving his mark (at times fairly literally) on the game.
His running battle with the equally bald and equally battle-hardened Lewis Hogg brightened up a drab opening to the game and showed us what Penn is about and what he will bring to our side.
He lined up in midfield alongside Marlon Pack, who was also not backwards in coming forwards early on with some spicy challenges, Luke Summerfield and Josh Low, the four of them flitting around left, right and centre.
Summerfield was having his third game for us and in a conversation with some of our fans afterwards Yatesy compared him with a guy who spent the game in the opposing dugout, the great Lee Howells.
High praise indeed - and yet more evidence of an impending contract offer - 'watch this space' was the answer my post-match question on the subject received.
Defensively, we lined up with Keith Lowe, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott and Danny Andrew in front of Scott Brown, so that looks nailed on for the back five at Priestfield in a week's time.
They looked solid enough.
The clean sheet (a first of pre-season) was a welcome boost, and there were signs of the Elliott-Bennett partnership dovetailing well, three one-on-one blocks the sum total of Scott Brown's work being evidence of the good job done by those in front of him.
Up front, Jeff Goulding started with Jimmy Spencer and these two are favourites for Kent with Darryl Duffy having not yet had 90 minutes - though it was good to see him come on and score.
Apart from all the Penn-Hogg shenanigans, a shot wide from Marlon Pack and a Bath substitution forced by Gethin Jones' injury was about it for the opening 40 minutes, until we took the lead.
Keith Lowe's deep cross was headed back from the far post by Jeff Goulding, and Josh Low controlled it and finished from about eight yards.
Danny Andrew had to go off early in the second half with a bit of blurred vision, with Sido Jombati coming on against his old club and not looking out of place.
The second half was one of pretty much total Cheltenham domination and I thought at times we played some good stuff, putting some slick moves together.
Jimmy Spencer headed on to the roof of the net before he went off along with Russ Penn on the hour mark, Junior Smikle and Darryl Duffy coming on.
Soon after Keith Lowe had a goal disallowed for offside then Duffy should have done better with a free header from a Jombati cross - it seemed a second goal and more had to come.
It took until the 76th minute though, Keith Lowe and Junior Smikle linking up with Josh Low, who sent Marlon Pack away to round the keeper and slot in.
It was good to see Marlon get a goal, but I thought, of the Pack, Penn, Summerfield trio, he was the least effective overall.
A minute later, Jeff Goulding's diagonal ball sent Darryl Duffy away, and he intelligently waited for support, which arrived from Josh Low, who smashed in the pull back for his third in two games.
Goals from midfield were sparse last season, so hopefully this is a sign that we may get some more from these areas this term.
Players like Low, Pack, Penn, Summerfield and Smikle should definitely aim for at least five goals each - more in some cases.
A very pleasing half ended well when another good move saw Goulding find Jombati on the left and another good cross from him was headed back by Smikle for Duffy to tap in from a couple of yards.
A significant moment for the Scotsman, who said afterwards that we should not expect him to score his goals from much further out than that - to be honest, he can score as many as he likes from two yards out!
Summerfield, Low and Goulding went off just before the end, Theo Lewis, Dave Bird and Bags Graham coming on, and four goals and a clean sheet made it just about the perfect afternoon.
So if that is to be the last pre-season outing, then it is good to go to Gillingham with two successive wins and seven goals under our belts having fielded what looks like our season-starting side for the majority of the games.
The back five, as I said before, looks nailed on, with Alan Bennett as captain.
Goulding and Spencer are probably the front pair for Kent - the only dilemma left being in midfield I would guess.
If Luke Summerfield signs this week - and the indications seem to be strong that he will - then Mark has to decide whether to play him with Pack and Penn, or go for two of them with Josh Low on the right, and either Kaid or Junior Smikle on the left.
Decisions, decisions - I would go for Low, Pack, Penn and Kaid to go there and have a go at Gillingham, but I am worried about Kaid tracking back enough to help out Danny Andrew, and maybe leaving him a bit exposed.
Whatever happens, by this time next week, the ruby-clad Robins will have had their first proper outing, and we will get the first inkling of what we can expect in the next 10 months.
The countdown begins now.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Heading for the exit door??

It is an inevitable part of football that players will come and go from clubs.
Some of them you will be quite happy to see the back of, wondering as they get their P45s how on earth they were given a professional contract in the first place.
Others are prised away by other clubs when their contracts run out and, while that can be annoying, it is something fans have learned to put up with - as long as players coming in to replace them are of equal or better quality.
Others just find themselves out of the picture for whatever reason, and rather than cheating their club by picking up the money for nothing, their professional pride tells them to see what other opportunities are out there.
The summer at Whaddon Road has been one of transition. After a season of picking up the pieces and a campaign of two halves with a good start and dire finish, Mark Yates has made some big decisions.
He has been given the leeway from somewhere to bring in nine players while only six have gone - and built a more competitive squad of 22 - with maybe still more to come.
But with only 16 places in a matchday squad, some are going to find themselves in the stand on a regular basis, with only reserve games at Seasons for their match practice.
A club like Cheltenham cannot afford to have too many players in that position, and the players can react in two ways.
Either they sit on their hands and take the money or they show some professional pride and if someone offers them a chance to play regular, competitive football, they listen to what they have to say.
Andy Gallinagh clearly falls into the latter category as an approach from a club to speak to him about a move - permanent or loan we are not sure yet - has been met with a wish to have discussions.
He is not being forced to speak to them or told he has to leave, Mark Yates seems to have been honest and said he will not be in the starting line-up, so Andy has made the decision to see what's on offer.
Andy has been a dependable squad player in his seven years with us and have never let the team down in whatever position he has been asked to play, right back, centre back, central midfield - even left back a few times.
But looking at the squad now, it is hard to see where he will get a game on a regular basis.
Alan Bennett is set to be our new captain, and he and Steve Elliott look nailed on to start at centre half.
Then young Harry Hooman has been given a contract and looked impressive in the friendlies - certainly not out of place.
At 6' 3" Harry has a big height advantage over Gallers and also seems a bit quicker. Don't forget also that Mark Yates could always move Keith Lowe across from right back to fill in as well. Big competition there.
Gallers started with us as a right back, but has hardly played there for the first team, as the likes of Jerry Gill and now Keith Lowe were first choices in that role.
Lowe will start there, and we also have Kyle Haynes, eager for the chance to fulfill his potential, new signing Sido Jombati says his best position is also right back, and Dave Bird can play there as well so that seems to close another door for Andy.
He played a number of games in a midfield role, as a holding player or one of a two-man central midfield, but there is no way he will get in there ahead of Russ Penn or Marlon Pack (and Luke Summerfield come to that, if we sign him), while a holding role is more likely to go to Dave Bird.
Even a bench place may be difficult - yes he is versatile, but Sido Jombati can play all the way along the back four and in midfield, so he might get the nod for the 'Jack of all trades' role.
Fans never like to see their favourite players go, and from the reaction to news that Andy might leave some are not happy about it.
But then again, some fans simply do not like change - if some Cheltenham fans had their way we would still have Damian Spencer up front, just because he tries hard.
Andy seems to have a lot of fans because they perceive that he tries hard, wears his heart on his sleeve, plays for the shirt and the like.
That is true, he does all those things, but trying hard is not always enough.
Andy has never been a regular starter in the side (20 starts last season) and with even more players coming in to play in his positions it was inevitable he would be under even more pressure for a place.
Fans are pointing to his role in our good start to last season, winning two player of the month awards, and yes, he did have a good early part of the season. But so did many others, Thomas and Goulding up front, Keith Lowe at right back, Marlon Pack in midfield.
At times last season he was consigned to the bench, Mark Yates even opting to play loan signing Ashley Eastham ahead of him.
Overall he has been part of a defensive unit which has let in too many goals in the past two seasons (even though Scott Brown seems to be the only one who gets the blame for that) - and at the end of last term gave away penalties at Crewe, Burton and Stockport.
Our defence needed attention in the summer and to be improved and that is what Mark Yates is trying to do, and it means some players have to be sacrificed along the way to try to make us better.
In my opinion, if Andy has to leave (hopefully for a small fee as he is under contract) to finance a player like Luke Summerfield being signed, a midfield player with Championship experience who would definitely  improve the squad, then so be it.
He may not be the last one to go - I can see Theo Lewis, Kyle Haynes and Ethan Moore having loan spells elsewhere, and maybe even Bagasan Graham, unless he gets a place in the 16.
It will not be a cakewalk for players like Brian Smikle and Dave Bird to get in the 16 either, which shows the improved quality of the squad, as Smikle played a part in every game last year and Bird made 27 starts.
Fans want better players, a better squad and better results. That is not achieved by keeping players out of sentiment, because they have been loyal or because they try hard.
It may be hard for some fans to accept, but it is the reality of football these days.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Saddlers are unsaddled

Repeat after me ... pre-season results don't matter... pre-season results don't matter... pre-season results don't matter...
That may be the case, but after three defeats and two draws in the first five games, there will have been more than a tinge of relief around following the 3-2 win over Walsall.
We scored three good, well-worked goals and despite conceding a couple we could have had a few more and I would hope that some who have formed their opinions of the squad from the pre-season results alone have at least started to change their opinions.
Of course, one win over a side who will once again be down at the bottom end of League One does not turn us from bookies' relegation favourites into certs for the top three - but it will hopefully show some people all too quick to write us off that they may have been a little hasty.
Thanks to Ed Young hitting the winning six to see off Essex at the College at around 7pm, it turned into a double winning evening as I was able to rock up to the Theatre of Shattered Dreams in time for kick-off without missing the end of the cricket.
Mark Yates' team selection was an interesting one, with the back five of Scott Brown, Keith Lowe, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott and Danny Andrew likely to be the quintet to start at Gillingham in a couple of weeks.
Josh Low and Kaid Mohamed were out wide, with Marlon Pack and trialist Luke Summerfield in midfield - again a good indication for Priestfield, with maybe Russ Penn for Summerfield the only change here.
That is of course unless we sign Summerfield before then - and the indications I got from Mark's post-match interview and from conversations with others within the club that they will find out what sort of deal he is looking for, and will try to find the money to do so if possible.
Jimmy Spencer and Jeff Goulding were partnered up front, and showed they can play together, so throw Darryl Duffy into the mix, and you can perm any two from those three for the Medway mayhem coming up.
Interestingly, youth teamer Brad Poole was in the bench as the backup keeper, and we found out afterwards that Mike Green was playing for another team, and that the Premiership loanee (rumoured to be Lee Nicholls of Wigan) is 'still in the pipeline'.
Absent from the bench was Andy Gallinagh (ill) and Michael Pook - 'not in my plans' were the manager's words on that one -
Summerfield for Pook in the squad would be a very welcome switch. He showed some touches of class - notably one superb 40-yard crossfield ball to Kaid Mohamed - but also wanted to get stuck in with good box to box energy and is clearly fit after his second 90 minutes in four days.
There is no doubt that he would greatly improve the quality and competition in central midfield - being able to choose from him, Marlon Pack and Russ Penn would be just the competition Mark wants - and has in other areas of the team.
The other stars of the night were on the flanks, with Josh Low having his 'game head' well and truly on, and Kaid Mohamed providing pace and trickery down the left.
They both got a deserved goal, and were at the heart of creating the rest of our best chances, even though it was Danny Andrew's cross which set Jimmy Spencer up for the opener.
That was a trademark whipped-in left foot centre, and Spencer got there to take advantage of some suspect keeping from David Grof to slide the ball home. Yes, a striker called Spencer scored a goal for Cheltenham...
As at Newport on Saturday, Spencer was all hustle and bustle, showing good strength and awareness - it is hard to think he is only 19 as he looks like and plays like someone much older.
On the current evidence he is a cut above some of the other loanees we have had of a similar age.
The Walsall equaliser came from a cross again, well finished at the far post, and I am sure some will use it as another chance to criticise Scott Brown, but the ball was lost in midfield, then we failed to stop the cross and Alex Nicholls had enough time to control, cut inside, and finish. Collective responsibility...
But it didn't put us off our passing, movement and quick-tempo game.
Spencer could have had a second after great link-up play between Goulding (hard-working and impressive again) and Pack (his usual languid self - he just seems to have so much time on the ball), while Kaid could have had a goal if he had a left foot... but he soon made up for it.
On the stroke of half-time he danced into the box and tricked his way past a couple of challenges to score a goal which I am sure will be a big confidence boost to him.
It certainly fired him up for the second half as he was almost unplayable down the left, leaving defenders for dead on several occasions to set up chances, one of which was laid off by Spencer for Josh Low to finish well.
Kaid's signing had a few critics - myself included - but judging by the fantastic ovation he got when he came off, his performance certainly impressed most of those watching, and it was his name on peoples' lips in the bar afterwards.
However, I remain to be convinced he will start at Gillingham, mainly because he does not seem to be keen on tracking back, and that may leave Danny Andrew too exposed to the flying right wingers who caused him so many problems and cost us many goals last season - I still feel Junior Smikle may get the nod on opening day.
Darryl Duffy came on for Jimmy Spencer and put himself about well again. He nearly set Josh Low up for an audacious goal - his chip hitting the bar - before Jamie Paterson threaded in a shot with a good finish for a slightly flattering 3-2 result.
While Kaid and Josh Low got the plaudits, it was a good performance from everyone - difficult to find a weak link.
Defensively we were okay. Scott Brown's handling and kicking were fine, Keith Lowe defied his new 1960s comb-over hairstyle to have another good game, with Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott solid enough and Danny Andrew was also steady, setting up the first goal.
All in all, that performance will have greatly raised the optimism levels on the terraces, and Mark's wheeling and dealing this summer, backed well again by the board, has definitely left us looking stronger.
But most importantly, it has left us with a proper squad - we now seem to have 19 or 20 players who could all do a job at this level, not 11 or 12 backed up by bits and pieces players who will just have to slot in.
A good night yes, and good performance with some good goals. And we won the cricket too.
But remember... pre-season results don't matter... pre-season results don't matter... pre-season results don't matter...

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Over the border

After an interesting and exciting week, including an encouraging performance against Bristol City and the arrival of two strikers, it was off to Wales for pre-season outing number five.

Newport Stadium, just before the start of the 100 metres..
oh no, wrong sport. The building behind the terrace is
the National Velodrome of Wales.

But unfortunately we were unable to end our look for a pre-season win, as Ismail Yakubu's 58th minute header gave Newport a 1-0 win, and Mark Yates was left disappointed with the performance, especially in the second half.
Having negotiated a Newport club official who has already secured the award as Jobsworth of the Season, the performance was not as bad as Stourbridge and I felt we passed the ball well at times, but gave it away a bit too often and seemed to be lacking a little in urgency.
Despite the debuts of James Spencer and Darryl Duffy, paired together in the first half, the most worrying part of the display was the lack of goal threat - but it's a bit harsh to blame Spencer, who only arrived from Huddersfield on Friday, and Duffy, who only arrived the day before.
As well as our new strike force, we saw the return of Sido Jombati after injury, playing at right back, and Steve Elliott came in to the heart of the defence for his first pre-season outing.
In goal there was nother game for Mike Green, while Kyle Haynes moved to left back with Andy Gallinagh alongside Elliott, while Junior Smikle and Bagasan Graham took up the wide roles and Dave Bird was partnered in central midfield by Luke Summerfield.
Summerfield is another triallist, recently released by Plymouth (where he still lives) and who has had trial spells this summer with Doncaster and Shrewsbury.
He has been down in Wales with the squad for the past few days and may also be training with us on Monday and could be back against Walsall on Tuesday.
He showed a few neat touches in mdfield and also showed he likes a tackle with one particularly heavy challenge in the second half which was probably borne out of tiredness - as he did fade out of the game after the break.
In the first half, we were neat and tidy, and I felt Dave Bird was probably the pick for us, while Bagasan Graham was a threat down the left, showing not only some good trickery but also a healthy appetite for tracking back on occasions.
Steve Elliott looked fit enough, winning his usual share of headers, while Sido Jombati looked to get forward and linked up quite well with Junior Smikle down the right hand side.
Of the front pair, James Spencer was busy, showing good mobility and strength, while Duffy looked to get down the channels and at times displayed good touch and hold-up play.
But we didn't get to see the pair of them where it matters most, in the box,and we failed to get sufficient service into them where it matters most, but that will come with time and as they settle in and get used to the players around them.

From left: Darryl Duffy, Steve Elliott and
Dave Bird have a stretch after being
replaced at half-time.

Half-time saw three changes, with Elliott, Bird and Duffy being withdrawn in favour of Harry Hooman, Theo Lewis and Jeff Goulding, but we never really got going after the break.
Mike Green - who could be playing himself into Mark Yates' thoughts as Scott Brown's competition - made a great save from his own player Sido Jombati's header.
Jombati made a great block before Yakubu's goal, a header from Danny Rose's cross, which had been coming as Newport started the second half better.
James Spencer went off in the hour as Kaid Mohamed came on, while Josh Low replaced Junior Smikle, before Danny Andrew and Keith Lowe replaced Kyle Haynes and Sido Jombati.
We then suffered a blow when Jeff Goulding collided with Andy Gallinagh, and after trying to play on, limped off with knee injury to be replaced by Marlon Pack.
So that left us with Kaid Mohamed and Theo Lewis up front, but we never looked like getting back into the game. The closest we came in the second half was a Goulding cross which Lewis nearly got on the end of just before Newport's goal.
But it was a third defeat in five pre-season games, and we did not see Alan Bennett or Scott Brown - while Michael Pook was not in the squad at all, and it is my understanding that he did not travel to Wales last week.
After the game, while again stating that he is not worried by pre-season results, Mark Yates said that the second half display especially was a disappointment.
He was, however, pleased with Spencer and Duffy's first appearances and confirmed that he hopes to complete deals to sign both Bagasan Graham and Harry Hooman on Monday.
Bagasan was once again a threat down the keft-hand side, and Hooman did little wrong and after the game Steve Elliott said he rates the youngster as a good prospect with all the attributes of a good centre-half and believes he will only get better.

The Newport mascot's first-half
comedy routine involved
pretending to have a
traffic cone stuck on his paw.
Oh how we all laughed. Not.

The manager also said that he is within his budget - but conceded that he may have to do some wheeling and dealing which could mean some players who find themselves on the fringe of the squad when the season starts leaving on loan.
So that was why it was a surprise to see Luke Summerfield in the side, and Mark said he may not be able to do anything for the player at the moment but clearly rates him as a player, while Summerfield after the game said he has enjoyed his time with the Robins and would like to stay.
Obviously he would - as he is currently an unemployed player. Some have stated that we are well stocked for central midfield players - but are we?
Marlon Pack and Russ Penn (again absent yesterday but doing lots of running before the game - he might be back against Walsall on Tuesday) are seen as the first choice pair, then we have Dave Bird and probably Theo Lewis after that, so maybe we do need another...
I also asked Mark about the back-up goalkeeping question, and he stated that Mike Green had come into his thoughts and may change the original plan to bring in a young Premier League goalkeeper on loan.
Green played again today and did nothing wrong, with secure handling from crosses and adequate kicking, and he could well emerge as good competition for Scott.
So Tuesday will bring a good test against a Walsall side which nearly joined us in League Two.
A win would be nice...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Come in number nine...

When the squad numbers were announced the other day, the number nine shirt was one of those left unused, but now we know it belongs to Darryl Duffy.
He will follow in the footsteps of some club legends and probably more not-so legends as Cheltenham Town's number nine ... Dave Lewis and Neil Grayson - but also Paul Connor and Steve Guinan ...
In seven of last nine seasons, our top scorer has left during the subsequent summer - or before in Lloyd Owusu's case.
A two-year contract means if Duffy tops the charts that run will be broken up - unless someone comes in and buys him of course...).
My Twitter account (after I had sorted out a unpleasant attack from some hackers) burst into life at about 11pm last night and a direct message from a reliable source told me that Darryl Duffy was being signed - a total shock.
I had assumed we would not be signing another front-line forward with the James Spencer loan also well in hand.
Not that I am complaining, of course, as Duffy is a player of experience, the sort of striker we have been crying out for in recent seasons.
At 27, he is a decent age and has a good grounding at a decent level in both England and Scotland, having been sold twice for six figures in the past.
At Bristol Rovers, he and Ricky Lambert were prolific together and in his early days at Falkirk he also hit the net regularly.
His comments on the official site were very positive - he is prepared to move his family from Scotland and left Glasgow at 4.30 am to come and sign his contract today - the sort of commitment everyone loves to see in a player.
He says he plays off the shoulder of the last defender - very much like Wes did which might suggest a fruitful partnership with Jeff Goulding, and he is already in Wales on the pre-season bonding and training trip getting to know the others.
The deal for Huddersfield's James Spencer to come on a six-month loan is also well in hand and he too could trot out at Newport on Saturday for his CTFC debut.
All exciting stuff - but I have to ask one question... can we afford all these players??
All of a sudden, from scratching around barely able to muster a squad of 18, we seem to have an embarrassment of riches.
That is credit to Mark Yates for enticing them here and selling the club to them, and to Paul Baker and the board for seemingly allowing him the freedom to do so.
In the summer, we let Martin Riley, Frankie Artus, JJ Melligan, Jake Lee and Dan Lloyd-Weston go - five players of whom only JJ Melligan had real league experience behind him.
In their place have come Alan Bennett, Russ Penn, Darryl Duffy, Kaid Mohamed and Sido Jombati, with James Spencer and the loan goalkeeper to follow... and that's even before we have sorted the futures of Bagasan Graham and Harry Hooman.
Surely the deals for the players we have brought in are costing a healthy amount more than those who left were being paid ... so much then it would seem for a reduced budget ... unless there is money being found from somewhere else, as I can hardly assume the money from GE Aviation's stand sponsorship is funding the gap.
Here's the squad as it stands...
Goalkeepers: Scott Brown.
Defenders: Keith Lowe, Kyle Haynes, Sido Jombati, Andy Gallinagh, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott, Danny Andrew.
Midfielders: Marlon Pack, Russ Penn, David Bird, Michael Pook, Junior Smikle, Theo Lewis, Josh Low.
Forwards: Jeff Goulding, Darryl Duffy, Kaid Mohamed, Ethan Moore.
So that leaves us with a squad of 19 of our 'own' players, and two loanees (James Spencer and the incoming keeper, who I am told is a very highly-rated youngster from a Premier League club) taking us to 21.
That is before we have even thought about Hooman and Graham also being offered terms, so it's not a surprise then that Boubou Diallo will not be offered anything.
However I still find it hard to believe that we will be carrying a squad of 23 players - even more so after today's surprising news that the number of substitutes for league matches has been cut from seven to five.
That seems a strange decision to me - I thought it was brought in to give more young players the possibility of playing league football.
I can assume the League are trying to persuade clubs to trim squads down, but why announce it now rather than back in May before clubs started planning for the new season?
I wonder if we would have signed so many players had we known this news a month or two back.
So that now means that instead of 18, only 16 players will be involved on any given Saturday, which could be bad news for a couple of our players who might have been expecting a bench role, but may now be in the stands.
If we do eventually reach 23, and with Hooman and Graham in Wales they have to be under serious consideration for a contract, if not been offered one already, we will definitely have more than enough of the competition for places which Mark has been desperate to get.
It appears to me that Hooman and Graham have taken Mark and Neil by surprise.
They came in on trial back in July as, we assumed, as training ground cannon fodder - players to fill the spaces in the squad and to allow us to give everyone 45 minutes each in the games at Cirencester and Stourbridge.
Then, we all thought, when we sign the 'proper' players, it will be 'thanks but no thanks' and they would be off - but to their credit they have both taken their chance very well and thrown a bit of a spanner into the works.
Hooman has not looked out of place. Yes, he has made the odd rick, but I thought he did well in the second half against Jon Stead and Nicky Maynard last Tuesday, while Graham has been a revelation with his direct running and pace.
The reaction when he came on against City was incredible for a teenage triallist, and the roar which went up when he got the ball for the first time was noticeable - if we don't sign him I have the nagging feeling we will regret it.
If he comes off, he will put bums on seats and may well earn us some money one day. If he doesn't come off, we have not lost much. A gamble worth taking.
So where does all this leave us?
Here's a potential starting 11 for Gillingham with everyone fit - Brown; Lowe, Bennett, Elliott, Andrew; Mohamed, Pack, Penn, Low; Goulding, Duffy.
A five-man bench, you would assume to be goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, wide man, striker - so how about Loanee, Jombati, Bird, Smikle, Spencer as a suggestion?
That leaves Haynes, Gallinagh, Pook, Lewis and Moore idle - but - if we sign Graham, might he get on the bench ahead of Smikle? If Hooman signs, might he edge out Jombati and Gallinagh?
He may well, especially as he has been selected ahead of Gallers for the last two friendlies to play alongside Alan Bennett (although I concede that may simply be to allow Mark and Neil to have a better look at him).
Pook, we know, is already firmly in the ice box and should he find a new club then the pressure on the budget and finances would be loosened a fair bit I would assume.
In fact, I would venture to suggest that his departure may cover potential deals for Hooman and Graham., but while he stays I would suspect it may not be long before thoughts will have to turn to the possibility of others joining Mr Pook in the departure lounge - albeit on loan in the first instance.
Haynes and Moore are obvious candidates and a bit of football elsewhere will do them good, although Kyle has done well in the pre-season games, in particular at Telford.
But with the reduction in substitutes, more players may come under pressure, notably Lewis, Gallinagh and Smikle. The latter two's place in the 16 is doubtful, especially if Hooman and Graham are signed, as it would appear they will be.
Even before the new arrivals, it was going to be a big season for Lewis - and recent events have only served to make it more difficult for him. I find it hard to see where he will fit into the 16 at present.
Gallinagh is a favourite of many and has not let us down. But he is not going to be a first choice at centre-half when Bennett and Elliott are fit.
The same goes for right back or in midfield, and Gallers may also have less chances to sit on the bench with Jombati seemingly able to fill all his roles in the squad and more, and with Hooman preferred to him in friendlies.
Smikle is a frustrating player who suffers, like Gallers and Lewis, for not having one defined 'best' position, and therefore a set role in the team.
He is not a winger, as he does not have the pace to beat a man. He will not get a place in central midfield ahead of Pack, Penn and Bird and he lacks the physicality to play as a central striker - and in any case we have others who can do that job now. So where does he fit in?
There are still many questions to answer in a summer which started slowly continues to pick up pace, continues to intrigue and get us all a little excited. What twists and turns are yet to come, I wonder?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A few green shoots

After the shadow boxing of Cirencester, Stourbridge and Telford, it was time for the first visit to the Theatre of Shattered Dreams, Whaddon Road.
Time for the first big test.
Bristol City brought along a strong line-up and we started with, on paper, probably the strongest line-up available to us.
Steve Elliott was still out, Ethan Moore still sick and there was also no Russ Penn, while Sido Jombati was on the bench, but not risked as we opened up with a 4-2-3-1 formation.
It was a system which had served us well at times last season, particularly at Accrington, but on this occasion it was rather forced on us with our paucity of out and out strikers.
Scott Brown was back in goal (more of him later...) while Keith Lowe, Harry Hooman, Alan Bennett and Danny Andrew made up the back four. Marlon Pack and Theo Lewis were the two 'holders' with Josh Low and Kaid Mohamed out wide and Junior Smikle in the middle just off the lone front man Jeff Goulding.
But the start was not encouraging as we seemed to sit off City a little too much in the opening quarter.
This, of course, gave rise to some discontented mumblings around me in the Paddock - yes, at the FIRST pre-season friendly, and against a side two divisions above us.
It took ONE MINUTE for the first moan about Scott Brown, coming after his misjudged a clearance... 'nothing has changed then, you are bloody useless Brown' ... the helpful comment from our so-called fan.
Thanks for nothing.
Then when Damion Stewart's long ball was brought down and finished superbly by Nicky Maynard (a £4million rated striker) the criticism continued... 'I suppose you will blame the pitch for that one' was the verdict from nearby.
Honestly, does every club have fans like that? It does make me despair.
In truth, we were sluggish early on as City pinged the ball about nicely and pegged us back, but as the half wore on we gradually came into it.
A superb run from Kaid Mohamed down the left, showing his turn of pace for the first time in pre-season action, nearly carved out a chance - but a quick counter-attack saw Marvin Elliott score with a header from Jamal Campbell-Ryce's cross.
Jeff Goulding was then guilty of a bad miss - although in his defence I think he was expecting an offside flag, then Josh Low burst through and should have squared for Goulding before the chance was snuffed out.
At half-time I went up stairs and was told that the Echo's live text was lively in the first half as the doom mongers were having a field day.
One comment was apparently that Mark Yates should be sacked if we are in the bottom half after 10 games and I was told there was a healthy debate about his successor. Incredible.
By the end of the game, I would hope that they were shut up well and truly as we turned in our best pre-season display to date in what I thought was a hugely positive second-half display.
It was led by Kaid Mohamed, now pushed up front alongside Jeff Goulding.
Kaid had not pulled up any trees in the first three games, but he showed good pace and skill, with one superb turn on the edge of the box.
Goulding worked very hard all game as he played most of it as a lone striker and - having taken a lot of flak for his work rate last season, he more than answered those criticisms.
He was unlucky with a header from a Marlon Pack free-kick but stepped up to beat David James with a well-taken penalty after Keith Lowe was fouled.
Defensively, after the two goals, Lowe was his usual dependable self and I thought Danny Andrew has a decent game against a tricky winger in Albert Adomah.
Alan Bennett and triallist Harry Hooman worked well together keeping Jon Stead and Nicky Maynard quiet in the second half.
Bennett looks a good signing to me while Hooman has promise - but I do not think our budget will spread that far.
In midfield, Marlon Pack oozes quality and Theo Lewis worked hard alongside him without really standing out before giving way to Dave Bird.
Andy Gallinagh replaced Alan Bennett, while we also saw Kyle Haynes on the right wing when Josh Low went off - and Kyle had a decent effort which flew wide of the far post.
Michael Pook was the last sub to come on, more proof - if any were needed - of his position in Mark Yates' pecking order.
Junior Smikle was busy, and moved from central midfield out to the right after Josh Low went off and ended up in the attack after Goulding was replaced.
Theo Lewis was replaced by Bagasan Graham, the star of pre-season so far, who once again did himself no harm, and will have picked up a few more admirers among those seeing him for the first time.
He made one good run down the left - then when the ball came to him subsequently the noise grew appreciably - people sensing something could happen.
The other unknown arrival in the second half was Boubou Diallo, who replaced Goulding up front.
He is a rangy striker, spindly, yet tall and athletic and he produced one great turn and a howitzer of a shot with David James turned around the post.
His name just suddenly appeared on the team sheet with no warning, and assistant manager Neil Howarth served only to prolong the mystery afterwards when quizzed on his background.
'He's French' was all Neil was prepared to offer, saying that an agent had recommended him and that there was the feeling he could play at our level.
He didn't even want to tell us how old he is - 'he says he is 18 but his passport says he's 32' was the tongue in cheek response.
A Google search on Boubou Diallo unearths a left back with one game in the French fourth division and one goal for Le Havre B. Who knows whether that's our man or not.
Neil did not want to give much away - suggesting maybe that he and Mark think they might have found something, and maybe something will transpire in the coming days or weeks.
So that is an interesting one - my conspiracy theory mind even wondering if Boubou Diallo is even his real name - a spot of the Scottish 'A Trialist' maybe... who knows?
Elsewhere, Bagasan Graham was again spoken of highly by Neil, who said that Mick Jones, assistant manager at QPR to Neil Warnock, said they came very close to offering Bags a contract, and they felt he could go on and have a career somewhere.
I honestly do hope it is here as every time I see him I get more convinced that there is a player  there somewhere and it would be a shame if he proved that somewhere else. A year's contract is, in my view, definitely a risk worth taking.
The much-famed loan striker is, we were told by Neil, still in the pipeline, while he also said that the name of our former loan winger Jake Thomson, the subject of a cryptic Twitter exchange earlier today with Marlon Pack, is still under consideration as another iron in the fire.
But we won't be able to sign the loan striker, loan keeper, Bagasan Graham, Boubou Diallo, Harry Hooman AND Jake Thomson as the budget will never stretch that far - unless someone comes in for Michael Pook.
All in all, an interesting evening which started in negativity and ended in optimism and a tinge of mystery.
So now off to Wales, and it will be fascinating to see who boards the coach, and what transpires when we take to the field at Newport next Saturday.
Things are definitely hotting up...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Goal of the season...?

After the ridiculously over-the-top reactions on the net forums and elsewhere to the result at Stourbridge on Tuesday night, it was with some trepidation that I made the train journey to Telford.
Well, Wellington actually.
It was my first trip to the Buck's Head since it became the New Buck's Head, basically by being totally rebuilt.
The New Buck's Head

Very impressive it is too, with an excellent playing surface although it does have a touch of the Nene Parks about it, and the Strongbow was warm in the bar.
My main focus was to see which of the triallists would take their last chance to impress and book a place on the bonding trip to Wales next week, and maybe beyond.
We were already without injured trio Steve Elliott, Sido Jombati and Russ Penn, and also Ethan Moore, who seems to have the longest-running virus in medical history, and is rapidly turning into the invisible man.
Add to that Scott Brown, Alan Bennett, Josh Low and Marlon Pack, who had a watching brief in the stand, and you can see that this side had a very 'fringey' look about it.
Mike Green had a second game in goal, with Kyle Haynes, Harry Hooman, Andy Gallinagh and Danny Andrew across the back.
In midfield, Dave Bird, Michael Pook and returning trialist Olumide Durojaiye (Oli from now on) formed a narrow trio with Kaid Mohamed and Bagasan Graham supporting Nathan Elder.

Olumide Durojaiye (right)

So from that line-up, I would say that only Danny Andrew would be a certainty to start at Gillingham in three weeks time, with possibly Kaid as well, depending on how many more strikers we bring in.
The first half was quite even, with Telford's Andy Brown having the best chance to score when he hit the post, and Mike Green making one save from Craig Farrell.
Our best chance was made by Bagasan Graham with his first real run after 21 minutes, and he stood a great cross up for Nathan Elder at the far post, but he seemed to lack the will to really attack it.
Danny Andrew had a couple of long-range efforts, and then had our first chance after the break which forced a good save from the Telford keeper Ryan Young.
Graham came more in to the game as time went on and was again the best of the triallists with his keenness to run at players, and had an experienced full-back in the former Hereford player Ryan Valentine to contend with.
In this game more than the other two, he also showed more awareness, looking to end his runs with a cross or shot, and had a couple of efforts which went over the bar.
I definitely feel he is worth persevering with, and would hope that Mark Yates will take him to Wales.
Of the others, I would not take Nathan Elder or Oli on their showings today, while Harry Hooman and Luke Bottomer are borderline.
Hooman did little wrong in the game but with Elliott, Gallinagh, Bennett and Keith Lowe who can all play at centre-half, I would question the need for a fifth-choice centre half when other areas are more pressing.
Bottomer was very good at Cirencester, less so at Stourbridge and even less so in the 27 minutes he had after replacing Kaid Mohamed on the right. My reservations with him is size and physicality.
That was one of four changes we made with Keith Lowe replacing Danny Andrew, Junior Smikle replacing David Bird and, most tellingly, Jeff Goulding coming on for Nathan Elder.
Within a minute of coming on, the ball fell for Goulding 35 yards out and he produced a sublime lob over Young into the net, the celebration afterwards as nonchalant as the goal itself.
More substitutions followed with scholar Matt Williams coming on for Andy Gallinagh, Theo Lewis replacing Oli and later on Scott Wilson replaced Bagasan Graham and another scholar Keiran Thomas came on for Michael Pook.
So the side that finished was Green; Lowe, Williams, Hooman, Haynes (switched to left back when Keith Lowe came on); Thomas, Smikle, Lewis; Wilson, Bottomer; Goulding.
The equaliser, scored by Adam Proudlock with the last kick of the game was a small downer, but all in all it was a satisfactory performance against a competitive Telford side with some decent players.
Aside from the triallists, I would pick out Kyle Haynes as having had a decent game both defensively and looking to get forward, and he also adapted well to switching sides.
The manager was pleased after the game and would not reveal at this stage which triallists would be staying on, saying probably one or two, so maybe Graham and one other may be heading for Wales.
It seems that the loan striker is still on schedule, and Mark also revealed that he has made an offer for another player, who is a free agent, but there was no clue on position, age or former club, the manager adding that he is waiting for an answer.
So it is clear that the recruitment drive is not yet over as the pre-season preparations roll on to Bristol City on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

All a bit sour at Stour

It was a strange evening from the off at the War Memorial Ground.
From the moment the man on the tannoy asked for helpers afterwards to 'demolish' the ground ready for tomorrow's cricket game, it was never going to be a normal evening.
Due to the cricket, they very rarely play home pre-season friendlies, which is probably why they were 'up' for it, and why a decent crowd of 328 were there to witness it.
We last played there in the Southern League in April, 1984 - and after the 2-0 defeat tonight, I am sure there are a few doom-mongers predicting that we will soon be back there again.
I was probably there in 1984 but can't remember it. Hopefully come May after a season where we defy the bookies again and maybe have a decent Cup run, the memory of this visit will have faded as well.

The main stand at Stourbridge's Amblecote ground
The cricket pavilion and square on the other side of the
unique three-sided War Memorial Ground

It would be fair to say that we weren't very good. People will look at 'Stourbridge 2 Cheltenham 0' printed on the net and in the papers and immediately jump to ridiculous conclusions that relegation is in the offing.
But it's July. No points were won and lost - all that matters is August 6, and what happens from then on. Keep telling yourself that and everything will be fine.
Yesterday, the team had a three-hour training session in the morning, then went to the Prince of Wales Stadium and ran eight lots of 800 metres round the track. That's four miles.
For the past two weeks, as Mark Yates had warned them, they have been worked very hard indeed, with daily double sessions and no days off, building up the core fitness that will see them through until May, and hopefully avoid a repeat of that slump we suffered after Christmas last year.

Former West Brom and England
striker Cyrille Regis was
watching the game - I resisted
the temptation to ask if he
fancied a game up front ...

As I took up my position at deep fine leg (for the right-hander), the team sheet showed that our first half line up was Scott Brown in goal, Dave Bird, Alan Bennett, Andy Gallinagh and Danny Andrew across the back, Brian Smikle, Russ Penn, Marlon Pack and triallist Bagasan Graham across the middle, with trialist Nathan Elder and Kaid Mohamed up front.
Sido Jombati (ribs) was the latest absentee as he followed Ethan Moore (ill) and Steve Elliott (knee) to the sidlelines, but Kaid Mohamed got his first taste of action.
Following on from his little cameo at Cirencester, triallist Bagasan Graham was the bright spot of the first half, with three of four decent runs from deep.
What I like about him is his directness, and his being left-footed is another advantage.
He is very raw, but when he gets the ball, his first thought is to run at people and take them on.
One of his runs ended with a great cross which Brian Smikle just failed to reach with his head, although he was offside.
There were more good signs of a partnership forming between our quarterback Marlon Pack and the all-action Russ Penn, who was popping up everywhere before - slightly worryingly - going off with a thigh injury.
Interestingly, they were again paired together while other combinations were chopped and changed, more proof (if any were actually needed) that they will be the central pairing for Gillingham and beyond.
We fell behind to a 14th minute goal from Josh Craddock, who glanced in a corner but should have levelled when Elder was put in by Bird, but he very disappointingly failed to finish.
Elder, as with the other triallists, will be given another chance on Saturday at Telford, but he will have to show a lot more I feel to extend his stay beyond then.
Alongside him, Mohamed looked off the pace, not surprising after his slight injury, but did have one good run and shot early on.
Our other new arrival Alan Bennett was solid enough at the back again, while Penn's injury gave an earlier than expected outing to another triallist Luke Bottomer as Smikle moved more central.

Jeff Goulding's appearance
was brief before he suffered
a hamstring injury

Bottomer again showed his feistiness and fearlessness, both putting in and receiving some meaty challenges but was not as effective as on Saturday - he has a bit of the David Huttons about him and you wonder whether he will have the physicality for League Two.
The second half line-up saw Mike Green, formerly with Bristol Rovers and a loan spell with Gloucester, in goal with Kyle Haynes, triallist Harry Hooman, Keith Lowe and Josh Low across the back. In midfield Bottomer was on the right with Theo Lewis, Michael Pook and second-year scholar Jacob Morgan making up the midfield and Jeff Goulding up front with triallist Scott Wilson.
But early in the half, Goulding suffered a hamstring problem and went off, so we played the last 30-35 minutes with 10 men, which left young Wilson, from the Bristol City Academy, up front on his own.

Scott Wilson, on trial
from Bristol City

I felt sorry for the lad - a slightly smaller version of Shaun Jeffers - as his big chance to impress now saw him ploughing a lone furrow, but he battled on gamely and I hope he gets a better opportunity at Telford.
At the back, Hooman did little wrong, as this time it was Josh Low's short back-pass which proved costly as Aaron Drake rounded Green for the second goal.
Theo Lewis was guilty of an incredible miss, finding the side netting after rounding the keeper, and no-one shone at all in the second half.
Morgan on the left tried hard, and credit to Josh Low for encouraging him throughout and almost talking him through the half. It was good to see a senior pro helping out a youngster in that way.
So that was that, and there is no getting away from the fact that is was a sluggish performance - although interviewing Marlon Pack afterwards you could see by looking at him that he was absolutely exhausted from the two weeks of double training sessions, running and games they have had.
After the game, Yatesy revealed the eight lots of 800 metres at the Prince of Wales that they had been subjected to yesterday, admitting that maybe they had got that a little wrong, and that they had gone into this game having been worked a little too hard.
But fitness and getting players time on the pitch is what these games are all about, so a 2-0 defeat is not the end of the world and should not mean too much in the grand scheme of things.
Doubts remain about the goal threat up front, especially as we have yet to see Moore this pre-season and now Goulding has limped off, so the news that our loan striker's arrival had been delayed is a disappointment.
But Mark said afterwards that he hopes it will go through this time next week, as it has all been agreed with the club and the player, but a couple of injuries mean he gets a pre-season tour with his club then should be heading this way.
So it's not all doom and gloom. Honest...
A team in red and white stripes did win the game, after all.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Under way at last

So, after two months of waiting, hoping and - let's face it - utter boredom, Cheltenham Town are finally back in action.
The result against Cirencester at the Corinium Stadium was a 1-1 draw but that is the least important part of these pre-season games.
It certainly does not mean, like someone ridiculously commented as they walked past me after the game, that 'we will be in the Conference if we play like that'. Fool.
We saw 43 players over the 90 minutes, and only Cirencester's goalkeeper Danny Greaves got the whole game, so it is nowhere near the time to be making stupid, rash judgements on anything, or anyone - especially how the season will pan out with a month to go before the real kick-off.

Mark Yates watches the game at Cirencester with
injured centre-half Steve Elliott sat behind him.

Mark Yates was without Steve Elliott (knee injury), Ethan Moore (illness) and Kaid Mohamed, who took a knock after a kick from Marlon Pack in training.
We saw six traillists, while ex-Forest Green goalkeeper Ryan Robinson played for the second half, but Yatesy stressed he will not be signing - he is just doing us a favour (and vice versa, as he is looking for a new club).
The first half line-up was Scott Brown in goal, Kyle Haynes, triallist Harry Hooman and Alan Bennett and Sido Jombati across the back, traillist Luke Bottomer on the right, Marlon Pack and Russ Penn in the middle and Josh Low on the left, with Theo Lewis and Jeff Goulding up front.
The star of the first half was undoubtedly Marlon Pack. He was pinging passes from left to right, and linked up very well with Russ Penn, which augurs well for he season, even at this early stage.
Both were taking turns to get forward while the other took on the holding role, Penn doing so to good effect in the 23rd minute when he was in the right place to tap in a goal after Jeff Goulding's shot was saved.

Russ Penn (far left) has just scored for us

Down the right hand side, Kyle Haynes linked up well with Luke Bottomer, who made up for what he may lack with height by showing plenty of feistiness and effort.
The former Coventry player could have had himself a couple of goals in the first half but looked to take players on and may be worth another look.
Alan Bennett looked very strong in the air and composed on the ground, but the former Shrewsbury player Harry Hooman alongside him made one big error (yes, a Hooman error - copyright James Young) which nearly cost a goal but for two good Scott Brown blocks.
Down the left, Sido Jombati got forward at every opportunity and looks a good athlete. He and Josh Low linked up well with Josh showing his skills to fool his full-back a couple of times and get some decent crosses in. He also hit the post just before half-time.
Theo Lewis buzzed about with some purpose alongside Jeff Goulding, who looked a bit isolated as Theo looked to drop off and Jeff also fell victim to a few offsides.

Marlon Pack gets ready to play a crossfield ball
Alan Bennett plays a forward pass

The second half saw us line up with Ryan Robinson in goal, David Bird at right-back, Keith Lowe and Andy Gallinagh in the middle and Danny Andrew at left-back. Junior Smike started down the right, with Michael Pook and triallist Ben Evans in the middle and another triallist Bagasan Graham on the left.

Triallist Bagasan Graham
Two triallists were up front, the tiny Keir McSorley and the giant Nathan Elder.
Midway through the half, Smikle and McSorley swapped, with Junior supporting Elder up front.
The back four were solid enough, although Keith Lowe got the ball stuck under his feet a little to allow Tyler Sheppard to finish for Cirencester's equaliser with 15 minutes left.
Bagasan Graham, who used to be on QPR's books, looks to have good physique and bags (no pun intended) of pace, as he showed when he ran at people, but the doubt may be about the end product.
In the centre, the game seemed to pass Ben Evans and Michael Pook by a little, while Junior Smikle was busy, and set up some chances for Nathan Elder, but headed a good chance over.
Keir McSorley was also a bit-part player and missed a good chance from a good Danny Andrew cross, while Nathan Elder was more prominent.
Elder, who is a giant figure with a look of the Damian Spencers about him, had a good penalty shout turned down, then forced a save from Danny Greaves after Smikle set him up.
After Cirencester's equaliser, he was saved embarrassment after missing a sitter by the offside flag after a good move involving Graham and Smikle, but he showed decent touch and held the ball up well to bring others into play.
Triallist Keir McSorley with
Nathan Elder also in the picture
 After the game, Yatesy said he was very pleased with what he had seen, especially in the first half, picking out the partnership between Russ Penn and Marlon Pack as a highlight.
On the triallists, Mark said he would be taking a decision on some quickly, so we may not see a few of them again on Tuesday at Stourbridge.
In my opinion, Luke Bottomer, Bagasan Graham and Nathan Elder are the ones I would have another look at.
Mark added that he hopes to tie up a loan signing for a striker on Tuesday or Wednesday this week "providing everything went well at his club today" - so hopefully we might see him next Saturday at Telford.
On the goalkeeper, Mark said the player he wants will not be here until very close to the start of the season, but will be "good competition" for Scott Brown.
The next game is on Tuesday at Stourbridge, and Mark said that he will again be looking to give players 45 minutes each, before things step up a bit, starting at Telford on Saturday.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sido signs up

Last week, my blog post 'A deflating summer' told of my frustrations at our summer recruitment - but in the past 48 hours, things have definitely looked up.
I was worried about the fact that we seemed to be going into pre-season with several holes in our squad, and with a lack of experience.
But now we have two more new signings, taking us to 18 players signed on for the new campaign, and things are definitely looking more positive.
The first new arrival, as alluded to in yesterday's post, was Alan Bennett, a 29-year-old, six-foot-two-inch centre-half with experience at Brentford and Wycombe of getting out of this division.
While it may be stretching it a little to say that he will be going for the hat-trick this season, it is clear that he will know his way around this level.
Watching his video interview on the Echo website with Jon Palmer, it seems that this was a very quickly-arranged move - a call from Yatesy last week, a trip down and then pen to paper on a contract.
This signing seems to have poured water on the theory pursued by some Robins fans that Yatesy is unable to sell the club to potential signings.
Bennett had a decent offer from a club back in his native Ireland, from where he took the much-trodden route from Cork to Reading which Shane Long and Kevin Doyle took with a bit more success - costing the Royals £250,000.
He didn't play for Reading, but did turn out for Brentford, Southampton and Wycombe, picking up two Irish caps against Ecuador and Bolivia.
So, all in all, a decent pedigree - and just the sort of experience I was bemoaning the lack of in the previous blog post.
He played 20 games for Wycombe last season, and 23 for Wycombe and Brentford the season before - but whether that suggests a few injuries or just squad rotation is unclear.
Let's hope it is the latter, as the last thing we need is another Martin Riley - someone who will break every two or three games - especially as it seems that Bennett is emerging as a front-runner to be the captain next season.
The other new arrival, confirmed today, is a very interesting signing.
Sido Jombati is a Portuguese untility player from Bath City, signed on a one year deal for a nominal fee.
The feedback I have had on Twitter from Bath fans has been very positive - they are sorry to see him go, but viewed it as inevitable that he would leave for a League club.
Apparently, Crawley, AFC Wimbledon, Scunthorpe, Swindon and Northampton were all sniffing around, yet he has come to us, which proves to me that money is not his number one driver, as all the others would probably give him more dough.
It seems, from his website interview, that the great Archie Howells' words, along with those of a couple of our other ex-players at Bath - take your pick from Marley Watkins, Adam Connolly, Alex Russell and Scott Murray - may have swayed his decision.
Predictably, some of the comments I have seen on Facebook from our fans have been less positive, so what's new there, and someone I know described it as 'shopping at Poundland'.
We shall see, and I will be interested to see where he slots in, as he seems to be able to play at full-back, left or right, in midfield in a defensive or attacking role, or out wide as well
So following on from the Portuguese waiters who played for the reserves in a 4-3 thriller in the fog at Worcester under Steve Cotterill in the late 90s, we now have another player from Portugal...
The only slight disappointment is that we have given him a one-year contract - but I would imagine it is one of those which will trigger a second year if he plays a certain number of games.
Mark Yates said he wanted 20 players but hoped to squeeze in another, and it seems that Jombati is the 'bonus' signing as that makes 18 players. Now the question starts about how many more we can expect to arrive.
Scrutiny of the numbers on the training kit being worn by the players during pre-season has thrown up three gaps - numbers 9, 12 and 14.
Logical thinking then would say a striker, goalkeeper and a winger could still be in the pipeline, and Mark Yates has already said he is confident of bringing in a couple of six-month loans.
My bet is that they would be the goalkeeper and the striker, from higher-level clubs, and the winger would be the last permanent arrival - maybe Jake Thomson, as Mark has said he is under consideration.
Intriguingly as well, Mark said he would have to wait for one of the loanees as 'something had come up which was exciting for the lad'.
A theory that was put to me to explain this comment was that the player could be a member of one of the England age-group teams which have been competing this summer - most likely the under 19s, as the under 17s would be too young and, let's face it, we would be too small a club for an under 21 international to come to.
Now this could all be utter tosh, but there might be a little nugget in there somewhere heading our way...
That would mean nothing for any of the five triallists we have, Luke Bottomer, Bagasan Graham, Harry Hooman (who played for Bath at Cleeve the other night), Ben Evans and Keir McSorley, who are all young lads who seem to be here to make the numbers up for the friendlies and do some fitness work.
They would have to be pretty exceptional to get a contract, and we will probably find out at Cirencester... four days to go!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Football is back!

July 4. 7.30pm. Kayte Lane, Bishop's Cleeve.
Football is back.
Real football. Not on the TV, not the Under 17 World Cup, the Women's World Cup, the North American Gold Cup, or the Copa America, but white-hot pre-season action.
Bishop's Cleeve v Bath City - and judging by the decent crowd which turned up to watch I am not the only person who has been missing their fix.
Scott Murray (foreground) at Kayte Lane for Bath v Bishop's Cleeve
There was even a sprinkling of Cheltenham Town legends (and not so legends) on the pitch, dugouts and in the crowd - so many that it was almost possible to pick a team out of them.
Goalkeeper was a problem (Phil Church offered - and will probably get the job having played 11 and a half minutes once in a pre-season friendly at Smiths) but at right back would be (out of position) Michael Jackson, a sub for Cleeve.
At centre half, the pairing of Cleeve's (player) coach Steve Jones, and, among the crowd, Mark Buckland, with left-back being filled by Cirencester's assistant boss Kevin Willetts.
It will have to be a five-man midfield - Marley Watkins, who appeared in the second half for Bath, and Scott Murray, a sprightly first half performer at 37 years old, on the wings.
In the centre, a handy trio - Lee Howells, Bath's assistant manager, John Finnigan, an interested observer, and Bath's new recruit Alex Russell - those three edging out Bath's Adam Connolly. But only just (!!).
Up front would be the one and only Dave Lewis.
It was an honour as ever to be served my pint of Stowford Press by CTFC's 290-goal record goalscorer, who then informed us later that could we hurry up and  leave as he wanted to get back home to catch up on his recorded episodes of Coronation Street. Legend.
Pre-season never started this early for the Flying Pig in his days leading the CTFC attack, but times have changed a bit, and Cleeve recorded a notable 3-2 win in a game where Bath totally changed their team for both halves, and Cleeve made about 8 substitutions.
Stuart Midwinter had the honour of scoring the first goal of my season in the second minute, and Lee Davis (once on CTFC's books and watched by his dad Mike, our former assistant boss) notched a penalty two minutes later making it 2-0.
Lee Davis scores a penalty to put Cleeve two up

Gethin Jones pulled a goal back, then just before half-time Elliott Kennedy pounced on a horrendous error from the Bath keeper Glyn Garner to score the third for Cleeve.
Right on half-time, Lewis Hogg pulled one back, but there were no more goals in the second half.
But it's good to be back, and the roadshow has started.
Next stop Cirencester on Saturday as Cheltenham get their preparations under way, and it will be a first look at the new boys Russ Penn, Kaid Mohamed and the latest arrival Alan Bennett.
No, not the playwright, but the 29 year old former Cork milkman with Republic of Ireland caps against Ecuador and Bolivia.
Yes,THAT Alan Bennett.
From the feedback I have had on Twitter, he sounds like the experienced head we have been looking for at the back, and is also captaincy material by the sounds of it.
We have another new arrival coming tomorrow - but all I know about him is that he has a weird name, comes from non-League and Crawley and AFC Wimbledon wanted him, so watch this space.
He was at training today, wearing training kit number 22, so is already bedded in with us, which is a good thing, and seems to be in addition to the goalkeeper-winger-striker hunt Mark Yates has been on.
So that's two bits of positive news this week as we gear up for the pre-season fun to get under way in earnest.