Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Three in a row

Whisper it quietly, but Cheltenham Town seem to be on a little bit of a roll.
After coming from behind to win an away game (never happens), beating a title favourite (never happens) we have now completed the hat-trick of things which never happen - a win in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
Last season, we lost to Plymouth, and the season before Torquay passed us to death; the season before that Walsall beat us at home - so we have to back to 2007-8 and a 3-1 win at Swindon to find our last win in this competition.
Kaid Mohamed was in the Swindon side that night, but four years on he played a big part in our first half display which paved the way for our victory.
He wasn't alone - we made a few changes and conformed with the rule that you have to start six players who started the last game - they were Scott Brown, Keith Lowe, Danny Andrew, Marlon Pack, Jeff Goulding and Kaid, while in came Sido Jombati, Harry Hooman, Like Summerfield, Junior Smikle and Jimmy Spencer.
It says a lot for the strength of our squad these days that we could rest Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott, Josh Low and Russ Penn, and still have a decent bench with Andy Gallinagh, Theo Lewis, Bags Graham, Dave Bird and Darryl Duffy on it.
That's what Mark Yates wanted in the summer - a squad with options in it in all areas of the field, and a group of players all busting a gut for that opportunity.
Of the players who came in tonight, I felt Harry Hooman and Sido Jombati definitely took their chances.
Hooman impressed me in pre-season, especially in the game against Bristol City, where he did not look out of place against Nicky Maynard and Jon Stead.
Tonight he was up against Rene Howe, who may not quite be as big as Mr Akinfenwa at Northampton, he would definitely give David Haye a run for his money, and Harry more than held his own - in fact he was our stand-out performer.
He looks good in the air, seems to read the game well and confident on the ground. After the game, assistant manager Neil Howarth was glowing in praise for him, and said he would have 'no qualms' about throwing him into the side if needed. Stay on your toes messrs Elliott and Bennett...
Not far behind was Sido Jombati, who played in his favoured role at right back. He is unlucky that our most consistent player, Keith Lowe, has made that position his own recently, but Sido will be giving him a run for his money.
He is very quick, which got him out of trouble a couple of times, but his positioning was good for the most part, and he looked to get forward and make runs to support the attacks, and also uses his long legs to his advantage in the tackle.
Of the others who came in, Summerfield was neat and tidy, but I felt we missed Penn's bite in midfield as Torquay were able to run through us a bit easily at times, especially in the second half.
Smikle was his usual self, hard working, linking up well in midfield, putting in the odd decent cross, but not showing any signs of making anything happen.
Spencer was desperate to make an impression after his ban, and did so with his first Cheltenham goal, a good near-post finish from an excellent cross from Kaid.
Goulding added the second, a superb volley past the keeper to take him top of the scoring charts with three for the season, and it's good to see all our strikers scoring.
Someone said to me after Saturday that he was worried they would not score enough goals. The three forwards, Duffy, Goulding and Spencer, now have six between them - a good start.
Kaid came off at half-time and Bags Graham came on - Neil Howarth saying afterwards that was always the plan and Kaid only started because we had to adhere to the 'six starters' rule.
Bags found the going a little tricky, and Joe Oastler, his ex-QPR team-mate, did well against him and Bags struggled to make much of an impact - but his time will come.
It is refreshing to see that we have the makings of a squad where if a player comes in, the side does seem to be appreciably weakened - for example Hooman and Jombati at the back, Summerfield in the middle and Spencer up front all slotted in seamlessly.
The days seem to be gone when we had a decent first eleven, then the rest would come in and there would be a worry about weakening the side.
The only place we don't have that element of competition is with the goalkeeper, and we hope that may be resolved tomorrow.
I say 'hope' as Neil Howarth said after the game that a 'little crease' needs to be ironed out that they had not been expecting before the deal can be done, so let's hope it is sorted for tomorrow.
Neil said it was nothing to do with the England Under-21 squad - who called up one of our rumoured targets, Birmingham youngster Jack Butland - but that doesn't necessarily mean he is not the man we are after.
It was another good win against a decent Torquay outfit, who pressed hard in the second half, but we defended well to keep them out and Scott Brown did not have many saves to make - the best he did have was a first half effort to deny Billy Bodin.
But another positive evening and we go into Saturday's draw and then on to Aldershot with confidence.

Manager's view
Neil Howarth: "It was a good performance and we've got exactly what we wanted. We've scored a few good goals and it's all about breeding good habits sometimes. We've turned up tonight wanting a win and we got the performance too. It was a good night's workout for us."

Player by player
Scott Brown: Fantastic save in the first half from Billy Bodin, and was again more convincing in his decision making and safe under the high ball. Kicking was better too. Needs to keep it up though, if loan keeper arrives...
Sido Jombati: Got his chance at right back, and did well. Good in the tackle, got forward well and rarely wasted a pass. Slight question mark over letting cross come in for Torquay's goal though, but good full debut.
Keith Lowe: Moved inside to centre half, and carried on in his normal, dependable vein. Never lets us down, consistency never seems to waiver. Dominant in the air and organised the back four well.
Harry Hooman: Excellent game, and my man of the match. Looked after tricky customer Rene Howe well. Doesn't seem to get flustered by anything, and I think he could develop into a top prospect.
Danny Andrew: Not so good coming forward tonight with a few stray passes, but did ok defensively against Lloyd Macklin, but lost him for the goal he scored. Overall though, he has improved defensively this season.
Junior Smikle: His usual busy self, giving his all and working hard, but does not possess the same attacking threat as someone like Kaid Mohamed or Josh Low, hence why he is behind them in the queue.
Luke Summerfield: Goes about his work neatly and tidily and will develop into an unsung hero. I like the way he gets into shooting positions 25-30 yards out and is not afraid to have a go, coming close a couple of times.
Marlon Pack: Was a bit surprised he started but had another decent game. Only downside was a fourth booking of the season, so he is one game away from a ban.
Kaid Mohamed: Good 45-minute cameo and seems to be becoming more dangerous every game. Set up first goal with an excellent run and cross and should have scored himself with an early header.
Jimmy Spencer: Back with a bang and his first CTFC goal. Busy, hard-working performance and I still cannot get my head around him being 19. Sending-off and ban do not seem to have affected him, a good sign.
Jeff Goulding: Another good performance and another great goal. Started the move for the first goal and then smacked in the second with a great finish. Seems to be forming partnerships with both Spencer and Duffy.
Bagasan Graham (for Mohamed, half-time): I thought Bags struggled a bit to get into the game and got few chances to show his pace and trickery against Joe Oastler, who dealt with him well.
Darryl Duffy (for Goulding, 70): Didn't get any scoring chances but did his usual shift of running as we were mainly on the back foot with Torquay pressing.
David Bird (for Pack, 70): Added some steel to us as we were hanging on a bit near the end with a few blocks, tackles and interceptions. Loyal servant but will seemingly struggle for game time this season.

Positives: The displays of Harry Hooman and Sido Jombati on their full debuts were the biggest bonuses for me, showing the strength of the squad and how the competition for places is working. Good to see Jimmy Spencer off the mark, and it's good to see the strikers firing. Also a big positive of course to be in the hat for the next round, having rested some front-line players.

Negatives: Can't think of any...

Summary: A third win in a row, and it's been a couple of seasons since we achieved that, which can only be good for morale and momentum. We seem to have a hungry squad for players who want to work hard for the club and each other, which is also very refreshing. We scored two good goals tonight, and again dug in and Torquay improved in the second half but again Scott Brown was protected well by the back four.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Lots of money but no class

After a 5-1 defeat at Hull a few seasons ago, Steve Cotterill memorably came out with the quote that he would not swap any of his players for any of the Hull side.
That was the feeling I had after yesterday's fantastic 3-1 win over Crawley Town, a side who arrived at Whaddon with a spring in their step and left with their tails firmly between their legs.
It is hard to think of a victory in our league history that has left me with such a feeling of smug satisfaction - it was almost a Kevin Keegan moment before the game as 'I would love it' if we beat them - and I did love it.
Steve Evans has a very chequered history in the game, but yesterday he lived up to his boorish reputation with a totally classless display both on the sideline, at the final whistle and then afterwards.
Apparently Crawley lost to a poor side. If we are a poor side, then I struggle to think what that makes Crawley, and Mr Evans, apart from a team and manager who does not know how to lose with grace and accept when they were outplayed.
The gulf in class was shown in the second half apparently, according to Mr Evans. That was the second half when they lumped long balls into our box and failed to test our goalkeeper at all, as we hit them on the break a few times and soaked up their aerial bombardment.
I will agree with Mr Evans' first half assessment of his side, lazy and disgraceful - especially that last word.
First we had Scott Shearer falling on the floor to try and get Darryl Duffy into trouble, then rising like Lazarus when his little ploy failed.
Then we had Kyle McFadzean also falling over when Duffy breathed in his vicinty. The linesman told him to get up, then as he lay there for three or four minutes, the referee stopped the game.
Then, when David Hunt sent the ball back to Scott Brown to restart the game, Wes Thomas ridiculously tried to play on - and any good feelings towards our former top scorer had gone in an instant.
Justice was done when the ball ended up in Shearer's net for the third time a few seconds later, and Evans said afterwards he took Thomas off at half-time because of that incident, and if he had scored, he would have let us run through and score another goal. Anyone believe that?? I am at best sceptical.
After a 10-minute sighter when we realised that they were just to lump long diagonal balls into our box and hope for the best, we were superb.
Committed, skilful, creative, incisive. Our attitude was absolutely spot on and we refused to allow ourselves to be bullied by Crawley and their direct, uncompromising style, which reminded me of Stevenage's visit here last season.
The opening goal summed up our display perfectly. Darryl Duffy absolutely ran himself ragged all afternoon, and chased a lost cause into the corner. He fed Josh Low, who gave Duffy the ball back and he cut it back for Kaid Mohamed to sweep home.
It was a great moment for Kaid, and will do wonders for his confidence.
He too had his best game for us, with non-stop running and one of his runs set up the second goal. He fed Jeff Goulding out wide and his cross was finished off by Marlon Pack at the far post.
After the Thomas incident, the third goal was a long ball, and Duffy challenged Charlie Wassmer and the ball ran free for Goulding to finish well.
It was the least we deserved, and the game was as good as over at that point.
Evans made three substitutes and one of them, Matt Tubbs, was impressive and got a goal back from a penalty - maybe slightly dubious, but Alan Bennett let Tyrone Barnett ran across him.
Ridiculously Evans was yelling for a red card as apparently 'Barnett had a tap-in'. Funny looking tap-in to me - keep clutching the straws.
Their second half tactic was to see Barnett drop off 25 yards from goal and try to flick on the diagonal balls from the full-backs in the hope of drawing one of our centre-halves out. It didn't work as we stayed solid and despite a few shots going wide and over, we held on.
We could have had one or two more on the break - Shearer made a couple of good saves from Duffy, and Kaid and Low could have done better in a couple of situations, but that is just nit-picking.
Three goals and first defeat in 35 games against the title favourites is not to be sneezed at, and to see Mr Evans doing his best Augustus Gloop impressions on the sideline as he threatened to spontaneously combust was even sweeter.
This will send out a message to the rest of League Two that we are not to be taken lightly, but it will also send a message out that Crawley are nothing to be scared of. Play the team in front of you and not the reputation.
They will probably still go up as there are plenty of teams who will be bullied by them and will be unsettled by the antics of their team and manager, but they shouldn't be.

Managers' Views
Mark Yates: "We won every first ball, every second ball, scored three and could have had a couple more. Crawley are everybody's favourites for the title so we knew we had to work, battle and perform - and to a man we did it. We've beaten a good side well, but we've got to go again."

Steve Evans: "In the first half we were lazy and disgraceful. When we win and when we lose it comes down to the players, and they didn't perform. The gulf in class was evident in the second half, but at the end of the day class never beats effort."

Player by Player
Scott Brown: Handling superb and much more decisive and commanding in his box. Didn't have many direct saves to make but claimed some difficult crosses well.
Keith Lowe: Usual, steady, dependable performance. Did his defensive duties with usual lack of fuss and got forward occasionally to good effect.
Danny Andrew: Usual mix of some good and some not so good for Danny. Made some good runs and interceptions, but nearly gave a goal away with a mistake but Josh Simpson shot wide.
Alan Bennett: Gave penalty away with a slightly clumsy challenge, but was solid and secure most of the game with Tyrone Barnett a handful.
Steve Elliott: Another dominating game with Crawley's long ball tactics playing into his hands all afternoon. Dealt well with Barnett and Thomas first half, then Tubbs.
Josh Low: Another good display on the back of last week's cameo. Had a hand in first goal and could have set a couple more up in the second half.
Marlon Pack: Dominant midfield display. Committed in the tackle and looked to get us moving at every opportunity. Good finish for his goal.
Russ Penn: Slightly overshadowed by Marlon but still played a big part in the win with some tackles and interceptions to break the play up.
Kaid Mohamed: Great finish for his goal, and good work to set up the second. But needs to work on first touch and also learn to lift his head and see what options are on occasionally as he can run down blind alleys.
Jeff Goulding: Considering he was ill this week, put in a good 50-minute shift. In the right place to score his goal after setting up Marlon's with a good cross.
Darryl Duffy: Magnificent, and fully deserved his standing ovation. Led the line superbly well, never stopped running of chasing lost causes, which led to the first goal. All that was missing for him was a goal. Send a video of that display to Wes Thomas and Justin Richards to tell them this is how hard a striker should work...

Junior Smikle (for Goulding 52): Helped to shore us up in the second half with some good defensive work, and got forward to support Duffy on occasions.
Luke Summerfield (for Duffy 82): Several important interceptions - but his cameo was epitomised by a 40-yard run down the touchline in injury time to keep the ball in the corner. 
Harry Hooman (for Mohamed 90+2): Interesting league debut for Harry, as he came on up front and just did a bit of chasing down in the dying minutes.

Positives: All over the pitch! Dominant first half display and great resilience in the second to withstand the aerial bombardment. Duffy, Low, Kaid and Pack the pick of the bunch - and this sets a big marker down. Hopefully a message has been sent to the rest of the division that we are not a team to be rolled over, but also I hope it sends a message to the stayaway supporters that they missed something special. Goals from all round the team - Now means only Russ Penn of the front 6 has not scored this season, plus Steve Elliott as well, so it seems we won't rely on one or two people for the bulk of the goals.

Negatives: Very few, if any really. Alan Bennett's slightly clumsy challenge for the penalty maybe, but I am left clutching for anything to detract from a superb win.

Summary: A great afternoon. We played some superb stuff in the first half and it was great to see the whole ground roaring the team home at the end, urged on by Yatesy from the dug out. Crawley are nothing to be afraid of, and the result seems to have made us very popular around the rest of the division and the Football League, judging by some of the tweets I had after the game. Wonder why that is... Money may buy you a lot of things in the football world, but it does not buy you class and grace as Crawley, led by their disgrace of a manager, displayed absolutely none  from minute one to minute 95, and I don't think a win has given me more satisfaction for a very long time. Now all Yatesy and the team have to do is keep it up...

The last team to beat Crawley Town on a Saturday was Manchester United.

The last player to score a winning goal in a league game against Crawley was ex-Cheltenham striker Craig Reid, for Newport County.

Seven different players have scored for Cheltenham already this season - Summerfield, Elliott, Goulding, Duffy, Low, Mohamed and Pack.

It is the first time for a year that Cheltenham have scored 3 times in successive games. We beat Crewe 3-2 at home on August 14 2010, and a week later lost 6-4 at Rotherham.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Not a load of Cobblers

Mark Yates has come in for a lot of stick from Cheltenham fans in the past few months.
Some of it has been justified after poor defeats and some strange tactical decisions, and some of it has been pretty ridiculous.
But after this game, he deserves nothing but praise, as he got his tactics, approach to the game and substitutions absolutely spot on.
His performance was the key to this victory, and he was more than backed up by his players who showed that resilience and appetite for a battle that we fans have been crying out for for so long.
When Adebayo Akinfenwa scored his customary goal against us early in the second half, it seemed that the game was going to take the same course as so many away games have over the past two seasons.
We take an early lead, are pegged back, fall behind and then tamely roll over, and lose the game 3-1 or so - think Barnet and Bradford last season and you get the picture.
But not this time.
After a dodgy spell, Mark make three excellent substitutions at exactly the right time of the game, and saw all three new men play a part in the comeback.
Josh Low made the equaliser and scored the winner - which in turn was made by Junior Smikle, while Sido Jombati's arrival saw dangerman Lewis Young moved to the left hand side, which nullified his threat immediately.
Low had been quite rightly left out of the side after four ineffective displays, but it is testament to the spirit in the squad that it adminstered the kick up the backside which he needed, and he responded magnificently.
His replacement was Luke Summerfield, who lined up in a three-man central midfield with Marlon Pack and the more advanced Russ Penn.
Darryl Duffy and Kaid Mohamed started on the flanks either side of Jeff Goulding with an unchanged back four of Keith Lowe, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott and Danny Andrew.
We made a great start with the penalty after 11 minutes, Duffy running on to Scott Brown's long kick and the referee Mark Heywood adjudging that Kelvin Langmead brought him down.
It looked a penalty on 'live' viewing, but to his credit, Darryl came up for an interview afterwards and admitted he was surprised it was given as Langmead had cleared the ball before he caught him - but we'll take it!
Having seen it again on SSN I would agree with Darryl's version - but the ref gave it, and Darryl put it away confidently.
However, Northampton gradually started to build up a head of steam with big Bayo at the heart of it, and Young causing problems down the right hand side.
But the equaliser was a disappointing goal to concede. A diagonal cross and Bayo headed it down for Arron Davies to tap in.
Keith Lowe could have stopped the cross, Scott Brown could have claimed it, Steve Elliott could have stepped up to catch Bayo offside and Alan Bennett could have tracked Davies' run - a bit of corporate responsibility there.
Jeff Goulding was a toe away from putting us ahead then Kaid hit the bar right on half-time, but not surprisingly, Northampton had their tails up and they took the lead five minutes after the break.
Danny Andrew lost the ball to Young, and his cross was headed in by Bayo. Too easy, and I feared for us at this point.
Young had the run on Danny, Michael Jacobs was coming into it on the other side, Bayo was finding a lot of space and we just seemed to go missing again for about 15 minutes.
But credit to Mark for making some decisive changes - first Low for Summerfield then shoring up that left side with Smikle for Kaid and Jombati for Andrew.
Those changes gave us more solidity on both sides -  but ultimately also the key to our two goals which won us the game.
The equaliser came out of nothing, Goulding sending Low away and his cross was perfect for Duffy to smash in his second.
Hopefully this two-goal show will help atone some worries that Duffy might not score enough goals - his workrate was excellent again and the finish was superb.
The winner was made by a great run by Smikle and a cross for Low, who dummied his man and finished with so much composure from about eight yards. It really was coolness personified!
They chucked everything at us, and Scott Brown made a couple of great flying saves and we defended superbly against a few corners and long throws as even 6' 6 goalkeeper Sam Walker went up a few times.
But we held on, and the celebrations afterwards showed how much the win meant and, more importantly, the unity in the squad and their sheer determination as well.
We definitely would not have won this game a year - maybe even six months - ago. That we won it now means hopefully that this squad is a different animal to the one we had last season.

Managers' views
Mark Yates: "The manner in which we won showed tremendous character, belief and commitment. We coped with them admirably and got what we deserved. Both of the goals were disappointing on our part but I'm not going to criticise any of the players because the performance was outstanding today. The right winger was getting too much joy so I changed the formation after 25 minutes and we showed that we are made of sterner stuff and pulled it back."
Gary Johnson: "We were very poor defensively on the break and that was the team as a whole. I thought at 2-1 we were in control of the game. I'm really disappointed, the lads are really down. It's a long old season and we'll see where we end up."

Player by Player
Scott Brown: A mixed day. Some good flying saves late on but maybe a question whether he should have come for the first goal. Handling was also mixed - one ill-judged punch late on could have left us in trouble.
Keith Lowe: Beaten by Jacobs for the cross for the first goal but stuck to his task well against the winger coming out just about even. Little chance to get forward.
Alan Bennett: Did well against Jake Robinson but failed to track the run of Arron Davies for the first goal, leaving him with a tap-in. Stayed strong during late onslaught.
Steve Elliott: Literally had his hands full with Big Bayo. Beaten by him in the air for both goals but gave as good as he got on the ground against the big man.
Danny Andrew: Difficult afternoon against Cobblers' stand-out performer Lewis Young topped off by losing the ball for the second goal. Few chances to get forward - although one great run set up Goulding's chance - and rightly taken off.
Kaid Mohamed: A threat going forward and hit the bar after a great run and pass just before half-time. But neglected defensive work at times, hence his replacement. The Northampton fan sat in front of me was happy to see him go off as he was impressed.
Luke Summerfield: Quiet but effective. Broke the play up well, and although not prominent did an important job. Unlucky not to score in the second half with a 20-yard shot.
Russ Penn: Once again the driving force of the team. Never let Northampton's central midfield players settle on the ball and linked up play for us well.
Marlon Pack: Mixed it well with the Northampton midfielders and earned a booking - in fact maybe a bit lucky as the challenge was studs-up, and trod a fine line at times - but that's no bad thing.
Darryl Duffy: Excellent throughout. Non-stop running, harrying and working, topped off with two goals. Took the ball off Jeff for the penalty and stuck it away well, and a great finish for the second. Off and running...
Jeff Goulding: I thought Jeff was good today. Worked hard and linked with Darryl well, which bodes well for the season. Close with a couple of long-range efforts and a toe away from converting Danny Andrew's great run and cross.
Josh Low (for Summerfield 64): Rightly left out after first four games, but the perfect response. Great ball for Darryl's equaliser and class finish for the winner. Did more in 26 minutes that previous four games, which sums up the enigma that is Josh Low!
Junior Smikle (for Kaid Mohamed 72): Great run and cross for the winner, and did some good defensive work in the late onslaught. Always gives everything for the team and is a valuable squad member.
Sido Jombati (for Danny Andrew 73): Debut appearance for Sido, and he shored up our left hand side, which forced Lewis Young to be switched to the other flank. Popped up at centre forward at one point...!
Positives: Plenty. Coming back to win the game being the main one, which would never have happened last season. Great to see Darryl Duffy getting two goals, and he and Jeff Goulding linked well. Josh Low's response to being dropped was exemplary - no sulking, he just came on and helped turn the game around. Mark Yates' initial selection, set-up and substitutions were absolutely spot on. The midfield trio worked very hard and are growing in stature every game.
Negatives: Both Northampton goals were preventable - the first being a collective bad goal while Danny Andrew and the centre-backs must hold their hands up for the second. Both goals again came from crosses and we have to find a way to stop teams either getting behind us or being given enough space to deliver quality balls - then we have to defend them better, either through the centre-halves or by the goalkeeper coming to deal with them. Until that happens, we will not keep clean sheets and will keep letting goals in.
Summary: A fantastic win, especially on the back of Tuesday night's disappointment. I don't think many sides will go to Sixfields and win this season and the manner in which we did it - going ahead, falling behind and then coming back - was very pleasing indeed. Good to see us scoring a penalty at last, and I wonder when 
was the last time we won a game without having a corner in the whole 90 minutes...

Darryl Duffy's penalty was our first successful spot-kick since Justin Richards scored against Aldershot on April 26, 2010.

It was the first time we have come back from behind to win a game since the 2-1 win over Burton at Whaddon Road on August 28, 2010. Russ Penn was in the Burton side that day - as was Lewis Young, who lined up for Northampton yesterday.

Cheltenham did not have a corner in the game.

Marlon Pack picked up his third yellow card in the game - the same amount as he was shown in the whole of last season.

Josh Low is still Northampton's record signing, having cost them £165,000 from Oldham in 2003.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sunk by the Shrimps

I suppose many Cheltenham fans would have gone home from the Theatre of Shattered Dreams cursing the name of Jock Waugh after his decision not to give a foul as Kevin Ellison burst through for the winner.
Yes, it looked to me too like he blatantly shoved Russ Penn out the way before going through and firing a blinding shot into the corner, but that was only part of the story.
It was a great finish by Ellison, whose arrival at half-time was a tactical masterstroke by his manager Jim Bentley, who in an instant negated our best attacking threat in the first half - Keith Lowe.
Lowe had been marauding almost at will down their right hand side and fired in some decent crosses which we failed to make the most of, and ultimately paid the price for wasting. In the second half, with Ellison to deal with, he barely crossed the halfway line.
Territorially we had the better of the first half but we failed to score when we were on top, frequently over-elaborating around the box, and seemingly lacking the conviction to pull the trigger.
Yes, we sent balls across, played some nice moves around their box, hit the bar with a deflected Russ Penn shot, but how many times was Barry Roche properly tested?
In the first half, the only goalkeeper to make a real flying save was Scott Brown - a brilliant effort to keep out Phil Jevons' header.
Darryl Duffy came close a couple of times, as did Marlon Pack, and we nearly got on the end of a couple of corners, but we didn't really extend Roche.
After the break we continued in the same confident vein, and it seemed that surely we had to go in front. But no - as so often happens in these situations - we fell behind.
Jeff Goulding missed his kick on the edge of the box, then criminally pulled out of a challenge with Izak Reid - and his cross was headed in by Nick Fenton.
How would we react to this? Well, the answer was to completely lose our shape, drop the work rate and start shirking challenges all over the field.
Goulding lost the ball on the halfway line then bizarrely appeared to almost walk off the pitch, while Josh Low and Kaid Mohamed were equally culpable - and Scott Brown's save stopped Danny Carlton putting us two down.
Mark Yates withdrew Low and Mohamed and Goulding woke up sufficiently to fire an equaliser, and that woke us back up again - in fact we looked like we might snatch a winner but Bagasan Graham's cross was inches away from Duffy's toe.
Then came that late sucker punch. A great run topped off by a brilliant finish - albeit with a foul in between, and let's hope it was also a wake up call for one or two of our players who think they can coast casually through games that you can't, not in this league.
Games in League Two are won with application, effort and work rate for 90 minutes, like they displayed on Saturday. You do not win games playing pretty stuff for an hour and you certainly cannot carry any passengers.
Blame the referee all you like for not giving the foul - and I thought it was the only thing he got wrong all night - but some of the keys to this defeat lie a bit closer to home.

Player by player
Scott Brown: Superb save in the first half from Jevons' header and in the second from Carlton's shot. No chance with either goal.
Keith Lowe: Excellent in the first half with some great crosses and good defensively all night. Threat negated by Ellison's arrival at half-time and hardly crossed halfway line after the break.
Danny Andrew: Did well but got ragged towards the end. Set pieces still not of same quality as last season. Not to blame for winner - left exposed and tried to force Ellison wide.
Steve Elliott: Very good again, winning his headers and looking after Jevons and Carlton well. Again a threat in their box as well from set-pieces.
Alan Bennett: See above.
Josh Low: Still not started the season. Four games now, and contribution in each has been at best negligible. One or two flashes but that was it. Most of the time too casual and ineffective.
Marlon Pack: Superb in first half, winning tackles and prompting our best moves. Shaky in second as midfield lost shape after their first goal.
Russ Penn: Also excellent in first half, breaking up play with usual commitment. Deflected shot hit the bar and fouled for the winner, also set up the equaliser. Picked up third booking.
Kaid Mohamed: One-trick pony whose trick (to get the ball and run head long at defenders) is not working at the moment. Needs to cut out the fancy dan stuff and up his application and work rate.
Jeff Goulding: Horrendous air shot followed by bottling out of a challenge led to their first goal. Then lost the ball on halfway line and seemed to almost give up and walk off the pitch. Good equaliser, yes, but needs to cut out the petulant stuff. Fortunate that Jimmy Spencer has 2 games of his ban left and we have no other strikers.
Darryl Duffy: With a bit more luck could have had a hat-trick. Good awareness and movement and I am convinced the goals will come, just needs one to set him off.
Bagasan Graham (for Josh Low 74): Good to see Bags getting a  run out. Looked a bit overawed at times, but one great turn and cross was inches from being turned in by Darryl Duffy.
Brian Smikle (for Kaid Mohamed 79): More effort and application in 11 minutes than Kaid showed in 79. Not everyone's cup of tea I know, but at least he battles and puts it in for the team.

Positives: The first hour, when we put together some great moves and were unlucky not to be a goal or two up. Darryl Duffy was bright again, and in the first half, Keith Lowe, Russ Penn and Marlon Pack were dominant.

Negatives: The way heads went down and some players disappeared between their first goal and our equaliser, which was sadly reminiscent of some games last season. We just lost our shape and, more disappointingly, our appetite for those 20 minutes or so. Lack of threat from our wide men throughout. We relied too much on our full-backs to give us width. We created lots of openings - but sometimes seemed to lack the conviction and confidence to pull the trigger and have a shot, almost wanting to score the perfect goal. Crowd was 2035, our lowest ever FL attendance, with 44 from Morecambe. Not a great reward after Sat's win, but I suppose it was the third game in a week at home.

Summary: A real kick in the teeth after the way we played for the first hour. But you have to take your chances, or it will come back to bite you. Worried by the way our heads dropped and with it the work rate and application after their goal - some players definitely need to buck their ideas up quickly or Mark needs to take some action and bench them. Over the 90 minutes, we did not deserve to lose the game, but we have to be prepared to battle throughout the game, not just for parts of it.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Derby day delight

After the on-off-on again shenanigans of Thursday, this 1-0 win over Swindon Town tastes more sweet than any 'normal' win would.
Quite ridiculously that was our first Saturday home win in the league since October 9 last year, when Junior Smikle's goal beat Northampton - such has been our appalling form on our own patch.
Most of the defeats since then were tame surrenders but there was none of that today and it was good to see us battling tooth and nail for every ball, especially in the second half.
We even scored from a corner, and that simply NEVER happens - and let's face it nothing was going to stop Steve Elliott's progress towards that ball from Marlon Pack.
But it was good to see our centre-halves getting on the end of one at last - and that is what we need, more goals from different areas and I would hope Elliott and Alan Bennett could aim for eight goals between them this season.
Bennett nearly got one too, his header producing a great save from Phil Smith near the end of the first half after we had weathered Swindon's early storm.
I must admit that after 15-20 minutes I was worried that we were going to be on the end of a two or three goal hammering as Alan McCormack hit the post, while Oliver Risser and Raffelle De Vita went close as well and we were struggling to get to grips with them.
But from then on we competed much better - and eventually won the battle and with that, the game.
Mark Yates made a couple of changes after the defeats at Gillingham, with Russ Penn finally getting his start but I thought it a little harsh on Luke Summerfield and that Josh Low was lucky to stay in the side.
Up front, Darryl Duffy started ahead of Jeff Goulding, which was fair enough as Jeff hadn't really shone in the opening two games.
But Swindon started better and we could not have complained if they had gone one, or maybe two up early on, but we finished the half strongly with the Bennett save and Danny Andrew's free-kick going close as well.
Having conceded early in the second half on Tuesday it was good to see us starting strongly this time and getting the goal early on.
After that you could visibly see us grow in confidence and while Swindon tried to throw everything at us after that, Scott Brown in truth had few direct saves to make.
A big reason for that was the defence in front of him who were outstanding, especially Elliott, who probably had his best game for us.
Brown's only alarm was when he failed to meet a cleverly-worked free kick and Aden Flint beat him to it but headed over.
However, I feel Swindon could be aggreived at the referee's decision not to give them a penalty when Billy Bodin went over in the box. It certainly looked stonewall from where I was.
Jimmy Spencer's red card made the last eight minutes a bit more awkward, as Swindon went to three up front with £100,000 man Alan Connell coming on, but they seemed a bit lightweight in attack.
On the red card, Spencer definitely led with his arm but there didn't seem to be much contact despite Flint holding his face - at least until the red card went up, then he seemed perfectly alright again. Strange that.
But the red card should not distract from the performance, one of our best at home for a long time and a display which definitely gives us something to build on.

Managers' views
Mark Yates: "There were two committed and decent teams on the field today so we had to battle, scrap and dig in at times. Marlon Pack and Russell Penn were excellent in central midfield against two very competitive and very good players. They dominated and got onto the ball very competitively and were the heartbeat of the team. We've been working hard on the set-pieces and the quality of the run and the delivery for the goal was spot on. I thought we deserved to come out on top and it was a well deserved victory."

Paulo di Canio: "I was happy for the first 25 minutes because the team did what we wanted. We put them under pressure. If you don't take your chances at any level it's difficult. We didn't believe in ourselves, we lost the confidence."

Player by player
Scott Brown: Recovered from Tuesday's error with a good display. Handling was good under pressure and did what he had to with confidence. Just one slight worrying moment but otherwise safe and secure.
Keith Lowe: Yet another steady display. Coped well with Matt Ritchie and then Etienne Esajas down Swindon's left and got forward well to aid our attacks when needed.
Danny Andrew: Good game. Positioning was much better and nearly scored with a free-kick. Has made a good start to the season.
Steve Elliott: Outstanding. Won just about every header and made some great blocks and interceptions. Fabulous header for the goal. In my opinion, his best game for us.
Alan Bennett: A great foil for Elliott, sweeping up what little the big man missed. Nearly scored with a header, denied by a great save.
Josh Low: Better than in opening two games, but that's not saying much. Still not on top of his game, but was up for the battle and put in a good shift.
Russ Penn: Showed why he had to be in the side with a gutsy display. Never shirked out of anything and with Marlon Pack won the battle in midfield. 
Marlon Pack: Very influential in the second half as he and Penn dominated McCormack and Risser. Great corner for the goal.
Kaid Mohamed: Disappointing going forward as he was unable to get much change out of Paul Caddis. But put in a decent shift with some good defensive work.
Jimmy Spencer: Worked hard again, and could have had a goal in the second half but shot saved. Led with his arm for red card although I don't think there was much contact, but red was probably fair enough.
Darryl Duffy: Did well I thought. Showed good touch and willingness to work hard and I am confident goals will come from him. 
Jeff Goulding (for Duffy 61): A few good touches and a couple of shots when he came on, left on his own when Spencer was sent off. Will get place back now..!
Junior Smikle (for Mohamed 77): Put in some good, strong tackles and helped shore things up late on.

Positives: The three points of course! A goal from a corner, which has been a rarity, and the central midfield pair of Pack and Penn showing great battling qualities. Defensively we looked very solid and it was good to see us grinding out a result.
Negatives: Very few, if any. Was a bit disappointed by the attendance figure, 4402, minus 1582 from Swindon means around 2820 CTFC fans. Would have liked to have seen the crowd top 4500, but hopefully if we play like that more regularly, crowds will increase. Spencer's red card was a shame but he is only 19 and it's part of his learning process.

Summary: A great way to start the home league campaign. Elliott, Bennett, Pack and Penn all outstanding, but everyone did their bit. Something to build on - hopefully more of the same on Tuesday against Morecambe. 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Thugs 0 Fans 1

Well, well. What a surreal evening it has been.
I was still lamenting the calling off of the Swindon game on Saturday, when a tweet from Jon Palmer (Echo CTFC reporter) pops up saying the game is back on.
My initial reaction is 'What?' and the fact that Jon sent it meant it had to be true - and it is!
Police statement is here:
Whatever the whys and wherefores, I am glad that common sense has prevailed and well done to the club for persevering and for anything they did to cause the police's U-turn.
It will save the club from losing a decent crowd and a lot of money, and has also saved a lot of credibility for Glos Police - as ours was to have been the only game bar Tottenham's called off.
Now we need all CTFC fans who can get there to reward the club by going to WR on Saturday and getting behind the team.

Thugs 1 Fans 0

So the thugs have won.
My initial reaction to Gloucestershire Police's decision to withdraw their resources from Saturday's game with Swindon is that it is a complete joke.
Yes, that may be knee-jerk, but when you look around the country and see other police forces able to help other forces stretched by the actions of the sub-human in our society yet not have to call off games, it is very annoying indeed.
There has been trouble in Nottingham this week, yet the Forest-County Carling Cup game went ahead on Tuesday night with 20,000 in the ground. Never even a hint of that game being called off. Same goes for Leeds v Bradford in midweek.
Yet in Bristol, where there had also been trouble, City and Rovers' games went by the wayside, as Avon and Somerset Police were unable to police it.
On Saturday, Portsmouth play Brighton at Fratton Park, going ahead, no problem. Birmingham v Coventry at St Andrews, going ahead, no problem.
Tottenham v Everton is the ONLY other game that has been called off. Understandable as that was the seat of this outbreak of criminality and probably the scene of the only legitimate public anger.
The High Road has been closed most of the week so there is no complaints from me on that one - same for the London Carling Cup games that were off in the week as the situation remained volatile.
But the Premier League and Football League games are on in London tomorrow. They are on in Birmingham over the weekend, and Manchester, and Liverpool. All places where disorder has been far greater than here.
Where is the consistency? It all smacks of double standards and almost of our police force looking for an excuse.
Almost a case of 'It's only football'. If it had been a race day, would that have been called off? I doubt it. Gloucester rugby would still have played as well.
There is trouble in Cheltenham town centre every Friday and Saturday night. So are all the pubs and clubs closing this weekend? No? Thought not.
We had a few windows put through in Barton Street and the old Gloscat building set on fire. Bad yes, but hardly Beirut is it?
We should be sending a message out to these scumbags that they will not win, but this sends the other message. Things need to get back to normal.
It suggests to me that our police force are being sent elsewhere in the country so other areas are protected - and so other football clubs who don't need the money as much as we do can get their games played.
It makes our police force look like a laughing stock - and leaves the football club with a massive financial shortfall.
Swindon had sold more than 1,500 tickets - add that to maybe 2,500-3,000 of our fans, and we were looking at a 4,000-plus crowd.
Add to that bar, food and programme takings, sales of the new shirt, hospitality and sponsorships sold and other things - our club loses out and I expect (and I hope) that Paul Baker is absolutely spitting.
Are the police force going to compensate us for this loss of vital revenue? Are they going to discount this off their over-inflated policing bill? Of course they are not.
The game will now be played on a Tuesday night, when the crowd will probably be 800 or so down on what it would have been this weekend, probably competing with Champions League football, so that will also rule out the armchair Man U fans from coming.
Less gate money, less bar takings, less hospitality, less everything. It was a premium game, so you can probably take something like £10,000 off what we might have been expecting to make when everything is considered. We can't afford to lose that sort of money.
I know some will say 'it's just a football match, look at all the devastation' and I see that point.
But if games in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham can go ahead - big cities where there has been real devastation this week can go ahead, then why can't a game in 'sleepy' Gloucestershire??

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Dumped out by Dons

It all started so well...
So the Carling Cup adventure is over quickly once again as we lost to a decent MK Dons side.
Over the 90 minutes, I am not sure we deserved to lose 4-1, but we really only got going for a half-hour spell between the 10th and 40th minutes - and you don't win games playing well for half an hour.
In the opening 10 minutes, we seemed to be chasing shadows.
Mark Yates picked the same starting 11 from Saturday's defeat at Gillingham, but they were moving the ball around very nicely, cutting through us almost at will, and I was worried that we were on the way to a pasting.
Gleeson and Potter in central midfield seemed to have a lot of space and we were not closing them down sufficiently and they seemed to have licence to move the ball wide and cause us problems.
But gradually Marlon Pack and Luke Summerfield got to grips with them and we pushed higher up the pitch and started to put more pressure on - and got on top for the middle section of the half.
Summerfield will claim the goal - his shot hit Gary McKenzie and despite a valiant effort David Martin couldn't keep it out, and probably on balance we deserved to lead.
Jimmy Spencer could have scored a couple of times, once getting the ball caught under his feet and then having a shot saved by Martin, and the keeper tipped over Marlon Pack's shot.
But all that good work was undone after 40 minutes when Keith Lowe let Antonio Balanta get onto his right foot 20 yards out, and Scott Brown spilled the shot for Sam Baldock to tap in.
We were right behind it and it looked a routine shot for Browny to save - no deflection from our vantage point - and it is no good our players asking for offside. He should have caught it, end of.
That rocked us back on our heels and to be honest we never really recovered from it.
If we had managed to get to half-time at 1-0 up, things might have been different, but to be pegged back after having them on the back foot for a period of time was deflating.
Karl Robinson then sent his side out early after half-time, while we emerged late - and they were right on the money from our kick off as they went ahead after 27 seconds of the half.
Balanta got the ball on the left and the cross and finish from Jabo Ibehre (who I thought was impressive throughout and a real handful) was all to easy I'm afraid.
So we had gone from leading, and looking like increasing that lead, to trailing in the space of five and a half minutes either side of the break, and never recovered from it.
If that wasn't bad enough, we then let in two more in three minutes around the hour mark, and that killed the game totally.
The first came when Kaid Mohamed stopped, expecting a foul to be given - but the referee waved play on, the Dons broke and won a corner, from which Dean Lewington had an all-too-simple header to make it 3-1.
Then Ibehre attacked Danny Andrew and his cross was headed in by Balanta, returning the favour from goal number two.
All three goals were clinical, but scored a little too easily for my liking.
Russ Penn came on for Jeff Goulding and injected some fire into us, creating chances for himself and Kaid Mohamed by his sheer persistence.
Junior Smikle also came on, for Josh Low (again pretty anonymous) and could have had a goal but lifted his shot over the bar - and at least we created something towards the end, although the Dons had very much stepped off the gas.
It is understandable that we lost the game as the Dons have some quality players all over the pitch, but the manner of the goals we conceded was disappointing, especially as we got ourselves into a good position as half-time approached.

Scott Brown - Horrendous error for equaliser. No chance with other three goals and also had communication breakdown with Keith Lowe early in the game which forced him to make a good save from Sam Baldock.
Keith Lowe - Allowed Balanta to get shooting chance which led to equaliser. Otherwise steady as ever. Some good moments coming forward with crosses which we didn't make most of.
Danny Andrew - Let cross into box for fourth goal a little too easily and struggled when Ibehre drifted on to his flank. Otherwise did OK, but again disappointing set-pieces. Picked up a booking.
Alan Bennett - Another solid game as I think Baldock is a handful. Some good interceptions and showing he will be a decent signing in time. But free headers for goals 3 and 4 a concern.
Steve Elliott - Did well I thought with Ibehre, but again free headers a concern as with Bennett above. Lack of pace exposed a couple of times.
Josh Low - Again anonymous until replaced midway through the half. One decent chance to cross wasted terribly. Place in side has to be under threat for Swindon.
Marlon Pack - Ran the game for 25 minutes in middle of first half. Unlucky when shot saved by Martin and showed quality touches. But largely anonymous after break as Dons swamped midfield.
Luke Summerfield - Claiming goal but it took huge deflection. Same with Pack - big influence in first half but not in second. Unsure if the two of them can play together in four-man midfield.
Kaid Mohamed - Direct and exciting at times, frustrating at others. Thought he had the beating of Adam Chicksen but not given ball enough. One great first half run nearly created a goal. Could have had two goals at the end - should definitely have scored one.
Jeff Goulding - Good link play including one great ball for Jimmy Spencer, but no real goal threat in their box. Two games now without a shot on goal.
Jimmy Spencer - As on Saturday, a willing runner and chaser of lost causes but cannot do it alone. Had two great chances, shame he could not take one as would be great boost for him. Sure he will be an asset when he beds in properly.
Russ Penn (for Goulding, 67 mins) - Made a big difference straight away. Got in  their faces and made chances for himself and Kaid in last 20 minutes. HAS to start on Saturday.
Junior Smikle (for Low, 67 mins) - Worked hard as usual but again with little end product. Sent a good chance over the bar - should have at least hit the target.
Darryl Duffy (for Spencer, 84 mins) - Short cameo from Darryl, but little time to make an impact on the game.

Managers' view

Mark Yates - "The scoreline was a little harsh but that's what happens when you play decent teams sometimes. We coped with a five minute period of pressure and then for 40 minutes we had them by the throat but we didn't score a couple of goals that we should have done."

Positives - The half-hour spell between the 10th and 40th minutes of the game was excellent. We played some good stuff and created some good chances. Jimmy Spencer's performance was another plus.
Negatives - Scott Brown's error for the equaliser, and Kaid Mohamed not playing to the whistle, which led to goals 1 and 3. They knocked the stuffing out of us. Slow start to second half - and we never got going again until we were 4-1 down.

Summary - A game we probably were expected to lose, but after causing them problems we shot ourselves in the foot with some preventable goals.
Brown has to look at himself for the equaliser and Yates must look more urgently at competition for him after that.
We have to work harder to stop players running at us, and also to stop crosses coming into our box, then runners being allowed free headers. It happens too often.
We have also to look at the balance of our midfield - can Pack and Summerfield play together? We HAVE to get Penn in the starting line-up on Saturday, while Low has to be in danger of the drop after two poor games where he has not had any influence.
Mohamed has genuine pace and worries players, so give him the ball more and stop him drifting inside - keep him out wide where he can cause problems.
I have concerns about where the goals will come from. Thomas was  a striker who could make goals for himself, now it seems we have three strikers who all rely on service - so the onus is on the midfielders and wide men to provide it - Duffy especially is a 'box' player who relies on scraps. No scraps, no goals.

Now for a big derby game with Swindon in front of what will be a decent crowd and a good atmosphere at WR on Saturday.
Both games so far have had decent spells and some positives, but have also shown up a few flaws and weaknesses with individual errors and maybe also some tactical decisions not working.
It promises to be an interesting game - and an important one as starting the season with three defeats would not be good.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

One goal at Gills

In summary, our game at Gillingham was 90 minutes of low quality between two sides, neither of whom created very much, settled by a half-chance.
We weren't terrible, and we weren't great either - just sort of 'OK' really, and as you would expect after the first game of the season, there is plenty for Mark Yates to work on, and plenty to improve.
Gillingham were the same - I thought it was an even game where neither side can say they had a concerted spell of pressure and neither side can say they really got on top.
My main worry was that we failed to create a real clear-cut chance in the 90 minutes.
I can't remember Ross Flitney having a shot to save until a Danny Andrew shot in the last few minutes.
Scott Brown wasn't exactly over-employed - he saved a free header from Andrew Frampton and turned two Curtis Weston shots round the post and that was about it.
The journey to Kent was horrendous. We left at 9.30am and it was plain sailing until we hit the anti-clockwise M25, and at 1.30pm we were stuck in the queue for the Dartford crossing.
We were slightly fearful about missing kick-off and therefore the start of the commentary, but managed to get through and reached Priestfield at about 2.15pm - before the poor supporters' bus, which had to stop for the driver to take a break.
We arrived to the team news, which had two real surprises for me - Russ Penn being on the bench and Kaid Mohamed getting the nod.
Our newest recruit Luke Summerfield's selection ahead of Penn can only have been due to Penn's recent lack of match practice after his thigh injury - and I feel that might also have given Kaid his chance.
I thought Yatesy might have played Marlon Pack, Penn and Summerfield, and thought he might have tried 4-5-1 to match Gillingham's set-up, with Smikle and Josh Low joining them.
But the back five which picked itself - Brown, Keith Lowe, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott and Danny Andrew - lined up with Low and Kaid wide, Pack and Summerfield in the middle and Jeff Goulding with Jimmy Spencer up front.
There was no goalkeeper named on the bench, with Dave Bird, Darryl Duffy, Penn, Smikle and Sido Jombati getting the nod, while Bags Graham, Harry Hooman and Theo Lewis also travelled.
In the first half, I felt the front two were left a little isolated, with at times a gap of 20-25 yards between them and the midfield.
We struggled to get the ball wide, hence Low and Kaid had little impact in the game, bar one run from Kaid which saw Flitney come out and save at his feet.
Pack and Summerfield have not played together much in pre-season and it looked that way as their passing was off radar and they struggled at times against Gillingham's three-man centre midfield.
It was an off-target Pack pass which led to the goal.
He tried to find Summerfield, but the pass went behind him and Gillingham exploited that space with Summerfield taken out of the game to break on us.
Joe Martin got the ball wide, the initial cross was cleared, then the ball was played into the box by Jack Payne and Danny Kedwell's dummy attempt rebounded off Bennett's legs straight to our former loanee Lewis Montrose. He turned and evaded Elliott's attempted block to steer it past Scot Brown.
Our first-half goal attempts were few and far between, a Pack free-kick went wide and Spencer had a volley attempt which he didn't catch properly and it skewed wide off the outside of his foot.
We were the better side in the second half, but Gillingham were happy to let us have the ball 30 yards from goal and soak up the pressure.
Again, our possession was bitty and were unable to string a move together and did not have the nous to find that killer ball to give our strikers any decent service.
Spencer had been booked in the first half and was taken off - probably to save him from being sent off - and Russ Penn came on.
To be honest, I thought this was a slightly strange change - I felt Darryl Duffy should have come on as it left us looking slightly unbalanced for a few minutes.
But Duffy did come on with Smikle for the last 12 minutes and we were back at 4-4-2 - and played against 10 for the last eight minutes.
Gillingham sub Luke Rooney sent Smikle flying on the edge of the box and it looked a bad challenge. Our players - especially Alan Bennett - were furious and Rooney was sent off.
Junior got straight up and did not make a meal of it, but was still ridiculously booed for the last few minutes.
However- we did not look like exploiting our one-man advantage despite winning a few corners and free-kicks and Gillingham held on quite comfortably - Brown's two saves from Weston saving us from losing by more.

Scott Brown - No chance with the goal and did everything he had to. Kicking was better than it has been and made two good late saves.
Keith Lowe - His usual steady self. Had one chance with a header from a corner but could not get it on target.
Danny Andrew - Coped adequately with Danny Spiller and made some good forward runs. A bit rusty with his corner and free-kick delivery.
Alan Bennett - Thought he had a solid game. He and Elliott only had one striker in Kedwell to deal with, but think their partnership worked well.
Steve Elliott - See Bennett.
Josh Low - Disappointing. Never really got into the game at all. Can't remember him having a decent run or getting a cross in.
Marlon Pack - Unable to influence the game as we would have hoped. Passing a bit 'off' and gave away possession which led to the goal. Also off radar from set-pieces.
Luke Summerfield - Started with a cracking tackle in the opening 15 seconds of the game, but faded as the game went on - a match-fitness issue.
Kaid Mohamed - One or two decent runs and sent a shot over the bar, but had few chances to use his pace and get behind his full-back to cause problems.
Jimmy Spencer - Willing worker and got under the skin of the Gills' defenders, which wasn't a bad thing. Picked up a needless booking in frustration and was taken off partly for his own good.
Jeff Goulding - Worked hard but unable to influence the game or provide the link-up between midfield and attack, and didn't have a shot in the 90 minutes.
Subs - Russ Penn - replaced Spencer, 67 - Keen to make up for lost time when he came on! Flew into tackles from the off, notably one on Jack Payne which may have been a little too exuberant...
Junior Smikle - replaced Low, 79 - Usual effort when he came on. Was fouled for the sending-off.
Darryl Duffy - replaced Summerfield, 79 - Didn't really get into the game.

Managers' views
Mark Yates - "I thought we were the better team and very unlucky not to get anything from it. We had a couple of shots on the break but we dominated in the second half but we fell into the trap of just slinging it into the box when we had that extra man. But overall I'm pleased with the performance and the effort and some of the football we played."
Andy Hessenthaler - "Nice to get off to a winning start. We didn't really get our passing game together but at times you have to grind results out. They came and made it very difficult for us. To keep a clean sheet and three points, we're delighted. We're delighted for Lewis Montrose. He said he could get goals and he did that today.  Second half they played from back to front quickly and made it difficult for us. We're not going to throw negatives at them, but you have to give the opposition credit."

Positives - I thought we competed well and there was good effort and commitment throughout. Defensively, we looked sound and defended better from set-pieces.
Negatives - Lack of threat out wide, hence lack of service for the front two, who looked isolated at times. Passing not good in midfield so we struggled to put many good moves together.

Summary - Disappointing to lose of course, but it's only the first game. We had four debutants in the side (one of whom only signed on Thursday) and two more came off the bench, so it will take a bit of time to gel. Yes, I know they have played together in pre-season, but this is a different intensity. Biggest worry was our lack of goal threat but that will improve as time goes on. I feel Gillingham will still be up near the top as they too get used to each other (they had 6 debutants in the starting side), and I felt we matched them for the majority of the game so I don't feel there is a need to be too downhearted.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cheltenham Town - defying the odds since 1999

I am not a betting man.
My only foray into the betting market comes for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National, and even then I am useless. I would never bet on the Boat Race as I would always pick the wrong one.
But I had a check on the betting sites for the relegation odds, and found exactly what I expected - Cheltenham Town are just about everyone's tip for the drop.
Take your pick from 11-4, 100-30 or 3-1 among the 10 or 11 firms I checked.
No surprise there. Well, we've proved them wrong before, so we will just have to go out and do it all again.
I have also been checking the blogs and previews doing the rounds - and yes, you guessed it, most place us in the bottom two.
So what do our fans think? I made a Twitter appeal for a straw poll, asking a few fellow Rubies where the realistically thought we could finish. Here's what they said:

Steve Burns: I think we'll finish top 5. Very optimistic about this season.
Simon Gardiner:  I think we could genuinely surprise this season. 9th.
Healer: 14th
Richard Preen: I will be disappointed if we don't get top 10 and think the play-offs are realistic
Tarquin Symonds: I would like to think we have the squad to sustain a top 6 finish. Need to get off to a good start though.
James Baker: 12th to 15th - nice and comfortable in mid table.....
CJS: 14th - and would be pleased with it
Barbara Curtis: 7th place. Wish for better but better to be sensible and not overstretch.
Ian Pain: with what I have seen to date I think we will improve on last year and flirt with a final play off spot. Realistically 10th
Lord Richard: a hard one .. Realistically happy with 15th-16th.
Laurence Horton: best, 10; at worst 17th again. Feeling optimistic though for a good season. All depends on the home form.
James Gwyer: I'm going with mid table, possibly pushing for the play offs.
Mark Hitchman: Very strong league this year, think we'll just fall short of play offs. 9th.
8.6 Seconds: 10th

So there you are - a polarisation of opinions from top five to 16th - meaning no one in this small straw poll is worried about the threat of relegation, rightly so I feel after the signings we have made this summer.
But as one of the tweeters above mentioned, it is a very tough league on paper and I am going to go through each side and assess how I think they will fare - leaving Cheltenham until last.

AFC Wimbledon
A little bit of an unknown quantity. Yes, it's a great story how they were formed in the Combined Counties League and have come all the way to the Football League, and I am delighted they have made it (especially at Luton's expense). They have lost Danny Kedwell, their main source of goals last season, but have replaced him with Jack Midson, a CTFC target who should get amongst the goals. Relegation won't be a worry for them, but I can't see them troubling the top spots.
CTC Prediction: Mid-table safety.

Accrington Stanley
Had a fantastic season last term as John Coleman carried on his record of finishing higher in the league every season since he took charge. However, I can see that record coming to an end in this campaign. They have lost Terry Gornell to Shrewsbury and Sean McConville to Stockport, while Jimmy Ryan has gone to Scunthorpe, and despite signing experience in Kevin McIntyre and Danny Coid, I can't see them hitting anywhere near the heights of last season.
CTC Prediction: Bottom six.

Aldershot Town
Not sure what to make of Aldershot, as Dean Holdsworth embarks on his first full season in charge. He has made use of his non-League knowledge to pick up some potential bargains, but my worry for them is who will score the goals. They have ex-Tamworth man Alex Rodman and Bradley Bubb from Farnborough and if they can step up they should be OK. They are tough to break down, and will be skippered by our ex-loanee Darren Jones.
CTC Prediction: Bubbling under.

Managed to stay up at the death thanks to Lincoln's slide and I suspect they will be down there again. But they have Izale McLeod, Steve Kabba and new signing Jason Price - so you would think goals will not be a problem. But they have lost Joe Devera to Swindon and so the problem may be stopping them at the other end. So new goalkeeper Dean Brill might have to have a good season to stave off trouble.
CTC Prediction: Bottom six.

Bradford City
With the size of their crowds, Bradford should not be in the division, but their money troubles and some poor managerial appointments have kept them down here. But there is nothing to suggest Peter Jackson will be able to take them out, having lost some good players due to financial constraints, notably Gareth Evans to Rotherham. Guy Branston, from Torquay, will be a key man at the back, but I cannot see him leading them to glory.
CTC Prediction: Mid-table safety.

Bristol Rovers
After a disastrous four-manager campaign last season, Paul Buckle has come from Torquay and simply HAS to get them promoted. They have spent big money for this division and their board and supporters will not accept anything else but a top three finish. The arrival of players like Scott Bevan, Matt Harrold, Chris Zebroski, Craig Stanley, Joe Anyinsah and Adam Virgo should make it happen.
CTC Prediction: Top three.

Burton Albion
Another side who flirted with danger last season, for whom I cannot see much improvement this time. They are still struggling to replace Shaun Harrad, and I cannot see our ex-striker Justin Richards being the answer. They have also lost Russ Penn to us and goalkeeper Adam Ledzgins to Derby. Paul Peschisolido has a big job on.
CTC Prediction: Bottom six

Crawley Town
With the two 'M's behind them - momentum and money - League One is the only place I can see them ending up. I know they have the most odious manager in the division, but he has decent players from goalkeeper Michael Kuipers through the spine to Hope Akpan from Everton, to a forward quartet of Matt Tubbs, John Akinde, Tyrone Barnett and the man nabbed from us, Wes Thomas, that just spells goals. Not sure if they will win the title, but they will go straight up.
CTC Prediction: Top three

Crewe Alexandra
Ripped us to bits at Gresty Road a few months ago, but the two hat-trick men, Joel Grant and Clayton Donaldson, have both gone, to Wycombe and Brentford. That puts the onus on Shaun Miller, in my book one of the division's best players, to take on the goalscoring. They have not always been the best at the back, and that may be an Achilles heel and stop them troubling the top seven.
CTC Prediction: Bubbling under.

Dagenham and Redbridge
Came back down after one season in League One, and I can't see them getting back there. Ex-CTFC loanee Medy Elito is one of their signings, and they have added experience with Kevin Maher in midfield and Richard Rose at the back, but I don't think it will be enough for them to make a challenge. But in John Still they have one of the wiliest managers in the division and must be respected.
CTC Prediction: Mid-table safety.

Improved after a poor start last season and went close to going up. Andy Hessenthaler (a Watford FC legend...) has signed Danny Kedwell from AFC Wimbledon and the prolific Adam Birchall from Dover, although the latter will miss six months with a knee injury, to replace Bayo Akinfenwa and Cody McDonald's goals. Other good signings like Andy Frampton, Chris Whelpdale and Charlie Lee will give them a solid look.
CTC Prediction: Play-offs

Hereford United
Like us, their main problem last season was winning games at home. Manager Jamie Pitman has tried to strengthen their spine with defender Stefan Stam, midfielder Harry Pell (superb in their win at WR last season) and striker Delroy Facey. But I cannot see them escaping from the struggle zone as they will be too reliant on Stuart Fleetwood for goals and Adam Bartlett for saves. Pitman faces a tough season.
CTC Prediction: Bottom six.

Macclesfield Town
Along with ourselves, the bookies have Macc as the other drop favourites and they might have this one right. They have lost their two best players - Tyrone Barnett to Crawley and Hamza Bencherif, who for some reason joined Martin Allen at Notts County. They still have the likes of Emile Sinclair and Colin Daniel ( who is out for the first month at least) but it won't be enough, I fear.
CTC Prediction: Bottom six.

The Shrimps are another team who I fear may face a battle. They seem to have gone for the cheap option with Jim Bentley as manager to replace Sammy McIlroy and new arrivals Nick Fenton and Kevin Ellison will be key for them, as will the goals of Phil Jevons and new arrival from Oldham, Lewis Alessandra. I don't think they will finish in the bottom two, but they won't be much higher than that.
CTC Prediction: Bottom six.

Northampton Town
Another team with a big budget and a chairman who wants promotion yesterday. Unfortunately, he has decided that Gary Johnson is the manager to provide it for him, and I fear that may be his undoing. Johnson has re-signed Bayo Akinfenwa and hopes to get the best out of Shaun Harrad, while Michael Jacobs is one of the best young talents in the division. He has also signed Jake Robinson from Shrewsbury via Torquay, but I cannot see them maintaining a top-seven challenge.
CTC Prediction: Bubbling under

Oxford United
Another side who appear to have pushed the boat out this season in an attempt to escape the division. Players such as Michael Duberry, Liam Davis (from Northampton, good player in my book), John-Paul Pittman, Peter Leven (from MK Dons), Andy Whing and  Deane Smalley have come in, all with experience from a higher level and it will be a big surprise if they are not right up there.
CTC Prediction: Play-offs

Plymouth Argyle
With all their financial problems, there is no real telling what the season holds for Argyle. Peter Reid has lost a lot of experienced players and we have benefitted with Luke Summerfield's arrival today. But he has ex-Wales international Carl Fletcher and Northern Ireland's Warren Feeney up front as well as Frenchman Romain Larrieu in goal. So even with their financial millstone, I can see a season of stablilty, on the field at least, which will be welcomed at Home Park.
CTC Prediction: Mid-table safety

Port Vale
Last season started well until Micky Adams left, then Jim Gannon's arrival saw things implode spectacularly. Our 1-0 win there was Gannon's first game and they were shouting for his removal then! Now Adams is back, but is battling against off-field strife with fans disgruntled with the board. After Justin Richards' departure for Burton, Tom Pope has arrived from Rotherham to join Marc Richards and Louis Dodds up front. I see a season similar to the last one for them - just underneath the top seven.
CTC Prediction: Bubbling under.

Rotherham United
With their new stadium on the horizon, manager Andy Scott will be under some pressure to take the side back up. Much pre-season focus has been on Adam Le Fondre's future, and it seems he will at least start the season at the Don Valley. Chris Holroyd, Lewis Grabban and Gareth Evans have joined as well, so goals won't be a problem. That quartet should ensure the Millers will go close this term, but might have to use the play-offs to try and escape from the division.
CTC Prediction: Play-offs

Shrewsbury Town
Another club whose board and fans are demanding nothing else but promotion. They missed out last season, and have been active in the summer market with players like Terry Gornell, Marvin Morgan, Reuben Hazell, Joe Jacobson and Matt Richards joining young talent like Tom Bradshaw and Jon Taylor at the Greenhous Meadow. It's an impressive squad and should be good enough to make the leap.
CTC Prediction: Top three.

Southend United
A bit like Aldershot in that I can't work out what to make of them. If they come off, they will challenge, if not they will fade into the middle of the table. I can see them being a 15-15-16 team - inconsistent but able to beat anyone on their day. Paul Sturrock has landed Millwall legend Neil Harris, and he joins Liam Dickinson, Blair Sturrock and Barry Corr as striking options. Bilel Moshni is a solid defender and Ryan Hall a young talent but they will not have enough to worry the top.
CTC Prediction: Mid-table safety

Swindon Town
With Paolo Di Canio in charge, life won't be dull in Wiltshire. After last season's disaster, he has gutted the squad and brought in Italians, Algerians, Namibians, Ghanaians and Jonathan Smith, the ex-Forest Green midfielder from York City. So it will be a cosmopolitan squad, and they could take the division by storm. However, I think they will take some time to gel, and if Di Canio can stick it out I think they will be in the mix.
CTC Prediction: Play-offs

Torquay United
Went so close last season before going down to Stevenage in the play-off final, but it's difficult to see them going anywhere near that again. Paul Buckle's departure along with Guy Branston, Scott Bevan, Chris Zebroski, Jake Robinson and Craig Stanley, and don't see the likes of Robert Olejnik, Brian Saah and Taiwo Atieno filling the gap sufficently for manager Martin Ling.
CTC Prediction: Mid-table safety.

And finally...

Cheltenham Town
I can see our season hingeing on the success of three partnerships in the spine of the team. First, Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott at the back have to find a way to stop us leaking so many goals, especially from set-pieces and crosses (it's not all Scott Brown's fault...). They need to dominate back there, while the full-backs need to stop the crosses coming into the box so often, helped by the wide midfielders tracking back.
Then, in midfield, Russ Penn and Marlon Pack will be expected to add some steel which we badly missed last year, and some style to get us moving in the final third. Penn has already shown his box to box qualities, while Marlon will be our quarterback, the dictator of our play to make us tick. Luke Summerfield's arrival gives us, I feel, one of our best midfields since we joined the league.
Up front, it will be down to two of Jimmy Spencer, Jeff Goulding and Darryl Duffy to form a potent partnership. Duffy is more of a goal poacher, while we know Goulding is adept at linking the play and Jimmy Spencer looks a strong player who will work all day and run the channels well (I must say he looks older than 19!).
Elsewhere, we will need another consistent season from Keith Lowe, more progress defensively for Danny Andrew, without blunting his attacking worth, and more of Josh Low's game-running displays like we saw at Bury and Lincoln.
I hope Scott Brown has some competition for his place and shows improvement in dominating his area if he is to keep his place in the side while again displaying his strength in shot stopping.
For a change, we also have good strength in depth, with impact players such as Kaid Mohamed and Bagasan Graham, hungry youngsters like Sido Jombati, Kyle Haynes, Theo Lewis and Harry Hooman and the ever-reliable and hard-working David Bird, Andy Gallinagh and Junior Smikle all wanting a place in the side.
Of course there will be ups and downs, and we will have another rollercoaster season, but like those fans at the top of this piece I am not worried about the prospect of relegation this season.
I think we will see another season of gradual improvement - we might get excited about the play-offs at some point during the season, but I don't see us mounting any concerted challenge for the top seven.
CTC Prediction: Mid-table safety

So there you are - my neck is on the line ready to be shot at as we get ready for another season - a historic one as we don our new ruby kit to celebrate 125 years of Cheltenham Town. Scary to think I have been watching them for nearly a quarter of that time!
First stop Gillingham...