Saturday, 31 December 2011

Half-term report

Well, what a first half of the season it has been to be a Cheltenham Town fan - made more exciting by the fact that it was so unexpected.
As usual, we were the bookies' favourites for the drop, and every newspaper going had us marked down as heading for the Blue Square Premier come next May.
The summer had been one of great change, with Alan Bennett, Russ Penn, Marlon Pack, Darryl Duffy, Kaid Mohamed, Sido Jombati and loanee Jimmy Spencer arriving, with the likes of Frankie Artus, Martin Riley and top scorer Wes Thomas heading out, joined during the early weeks of the season by Michael Pook, Kyle Haynes and Ethan Moore.
Pre-season wasn't exactly promising - we lost at Stourbridge and Newport and drew at Telford and Cirencester. The doom-mongers were having a field day.
A tepid start at Gillingham and a comprehensive Carling Cup defeat by MK Dons didn't exactly do much to change that mindset.
But home wins over Crawley and Swindon and a comeback victory at Northampton finally got the season up and running, and then came two more loanees, goalkeeper Jack Butland from Birmingham and Luke Garbutt from Everton.
However, the decision which really transformed the season came at Bristol Rovers at the start of October, when Mark Yates deployed three his central midfielders Pack, Penn and Summerfield together, dropped regular left-back Danny Andrew and let Kaid Mohamed loose to wreak havoc in a 3-1 win.
That was Sido Jombati's full debut at left back, but he was then swapped to the right in place of last season's player-of-the-year Keith Lowe with Luke Garbutt coming in to left-back, and the team never looked back.
Since that Rovers game, Cheltenham have lost twice - to Crewe and Barnet in the JPT, drawn twice, at Barnet in the League and at home to Shrewsbury, and won the rest of their games, some in great style.
It has been an amazing transformation, and with 46 points from 23 games, the foundations have been laid.
If I am being honest, I have not seen anyone for us to fear, and we just need to repeat what we have done in the opening half of the campaign.

Player by player
1 Scott Brown - A stop-start campaign as Jack Butland came in and ousted him from his regular place in goal. His performances have been the usual mix of great saves, hesitation at coming off his line, the odd spilled cross or shot, and only one real mistake, against MK Dons. With Butland's return, he has got his place back and I hope fans give him a chance and don't resort to 'Butland Would Have Saved That' syndrome every time he lets a goal in.
2 Keith Lowe - Player of the year last season, and deservedly so, but one of the high-profile casualties of the mid-season transformation. Played at centre-half in some JPT games and didn't let us down. A useful player to have around should injuries and suspensions kick in over the next few months.
3 Danny Andrew - Regular last season, now becoming something of a forgotten man as he cannot even get on the bench these days. I hope he still has a future at the club as he is an asset going forward and with his set-pieces but I suspect he may be a candidate for a loan deal this month.
4 Dave Bird - A great servant to the club, and in his testimonial year, but I am afraid it is hard to see a long-term future for him. Has hardly been seen in the side or on the bench and apparently did well while on loan at Kidderminster. Another loan deal in the offing.
5 Andy Gallinagh - Similar position to Birdy. Can't get a sniff of the first 16 and another seemingly without a long-term future at Whaddon. had a successful time at Bath and they want him back, and I suspect that will happen, or else he will go somewhere else.
6 Steve Elliott - One of the survivors of last season, but has been one of our best performers. Struggled at times last season and had fans doubting the merits of the signing. But having Alan Bennett alongside him has brought the best out of him.
7 Marlon Pack - The marquee signing of the summer as we snapped him up on a two-year contract, and could prove to be one of the best bits of business the club has ever done. He just oozes class and has at times run games on his own and now has four goals as well. Could earn the club a lot of money one day, but hopefully after he has taken us up.
8 Josh Low - A real curates egg of a player, who can either look fantastic or a liability, with seemingly no middle ground. At 32, another whose career seems to be coming to an end sooner rather than later as he has his career as a solicitor to fall back on. Hopefully he still has something to contribute this season.
9 Darryl Duffy - Arrived with something to prove as he seemed to have been written off at Bristol Rovers and elsewhere due to injuries. Has 11 goals despite having been in and out of the side and has helped fans forget about Wes Thomas. If he carries on, he will be a 20-goal striker this season.
10 Jeff Goulding - Another regular last season reduced to bit-part player this time around. Unfortunately for Jeff, the system we have been playing does not suit his strengths, and the goals from Duffy and Jimmy Spencer have not helped his cause either. Out of contract in the summer, so will hope to get a chance to stake his claim for a new one.
11 Junior Smikle - Yet another of last season's regulars now unable to get a start outside the JPT. Lost his record of playing in every game since arriving at the club when he didn't come on against Shrewsbury. Another who will want the chance to prove he is worth a new contract, but he never let us down.
12 Jack Butland - One day this lad will win full England caps, and we can say Cheltenham Town started it all. Eight clean sheets in 12 games - but was protected superbly by his defence and had very few actual saves to make in many of his games. But his confidence and domination of his box was a great morale booster to those around him. Would love him back in January, but can't see it happening.
14 Jimmy Spencer - Delighted we have got him for the season. Seven goals already and for a 19 year old he works so hard and shows great commitment every time he plays for us, which is all you can ask for. Great upper body strength which helps him against these big centre-halves and will be an asset in the second half of the season.
15 Alan Bennett - The leader and captain we were desperately missing last season. Has also brought the best out of Steve Elliott and, alongside Marlon Pack, is one of the best signings we have made for several years. A quality defender.
16 Russ Penn - Has brought drive, energy and commitment into our midfield, again something we were desperately in need of. His performances in that advanced role of the midfield trio have been crucial to our success and he was badly missed at Barnet when he was suspended.
17 Theo Lewis - Not got much of a look in this season, and another victim of the cut to five substitutes. Another player for whom it is difficult to forsee a future at the club past this summer, and I suspect Theo will be another candidate for a loan spell somewhere.
19 Luke Garbutt - Staying for another month, and would hope he can be here for the season. Was a bit surprised when we signed him, but has brought some quality to the back four, and also good going forward and from set-pieces.
21 Bagasan Graham - Impressed in pre-season and has done well in his cameo appearances and in the JPT. Looked a bit nervous on his full debut against Rotherham but is still learning and hope to see him make an impact in the run-in.
22 Sido Jombati - A revelation since coming from Bath - thanks to club legend Archie Howells from sending him our way. Well done to the club for getting him on a new contract pronto after some great displays. Earned his place in the side in October and has not looked back. Made the odd mistake, yes, but the plusses greatly outweigh the negatives and he is another who could go a long way.
23 Kaid Mohamed - Pace to die for but does not always use it as much as he could. Has definitely been better away from home (five of his six goals have come away from Whaddon Road) and is another integral part of how we play. Has definitely surprised me as I was unsure about him when we signed him having remembered his spell at Forest Green, but has won me over - despite his frustrating in-and-out performances.
24 Harry Hooman - Young defender who performed well in the JPT games and has been on the bench once or twice, coming on as a striker in one game! A good prospect for the future.
25 Luke Summerfield - Our bonus signing who has become an unsung hero. Was rated at £1.5million at one time while with Plymouth in the Championship, and hard to believe he is only 23. Some great performances and great goals in midfield for us and will continue to improve, and has become a great asset.
26 Bobby Reid - Loan signing who came on against Southend, looked quite lively, but has not been seen since.
27 Marlon Jackson - Another loanee, short appearance at Oxford, but that's it.

Mark Yates - Late last season, many fans were calling for his head. Now, seven months later, they are singing his praises. Some ruthless decisions in the summer, shrewd signings and more tough choices have turned it around in spectacular fashion. The signings of Butland, Spencer and Garbutt, the decision to bring Jombati into the side and the switch to a three-man midfield have been the biggest three factors which have seen us fly in the last few months. He has had some luck with how his signings and tactical decisions have come off, and the lack of injuries in the squad, but has deserved that with the hard work put in by him and his staff. The big test for him is now - to try to finish the job.

Grinding down the Millers

IT was perhaps fitting that one of only three players who started our first game of 2011, the 2-1 home defeat by Wycombe, should score the goal which ended it on a winning note.
From the 18 who lined up last New Year's Day, only Marlon Pack, Steve Elliott and Scott Brown started last night's game, while Keith Lowe, Jeff Goulding and Junior Smikle were on the bench.
Danny Andrew, Dave Bird and Andy Gallinagh were in the stand and as for the others - well, they ply their trade anywhere from Stevenage to Solihull Moors, Mansfield to Maidenhead or Grimsby to Greece.
That transformation sums up just what a year it has been (see the previous blog post for a light hearted look back at 2011) but this performance shows why we can look ahead with optimism.
It was probably the third game in a row, after Barnet and Shrewsbury, where we have not hit the flowing heights that we did from early October to the Southend game.
But from those games, we have eked out two draws and a win, five points from nine, and will go into 2012 sitting second in the league.
Yes, I know, Southend have two games in hand and are four points behind, but points on the board and all that... they have to win them...
It was scrappy stuff last night, and we really had to dig in for this one, but the record books will say Cheltenham 1 Rotherham 0, and that will do for me.
The Millers had a lot of territory, they put a lot of crosses into the box, they pressed us back, they forced us into a change of formation in the second half, but how much did they really threaten us?
Not much is the answer - the closest they came was a header in the 77th minute, well saved by Scott Brown, which was their only on-target effort.
Apart from that, a few shots went over, or wide, and a cross spilled by Brown was really the only other major alarm we had over the 90 minutes.
We started slowly, but then scored a fabulous goal, which got us going.
Marlon Pack's strike was low, and true, and arrowed into the corner through a crowd of players from 25 yards, and was worthy of settling any game.
It sparked us into life and Bags Graham, on his debut, could have scored when Josh Low's cross reached him, but he seemed to snatch at the shot and it went across the face of goal.
That summed up Bags' hour or so on the pitch - he showed good first touch, but then seemed a bit nervous to take players on - when he did, the full-back fouled him and got a yellow card for it eventually.
But the teenager looked nervous - understandable as he is till learning, and he will get better, but maybe his role for now will have to be off the bench as an impact player.
We were comfortable until half-time, but Rotherham came out well I felt after the break, and it is a compliment to them that we changed our system to stop their wide men and full-backs having so much space.
That saw Bags come off and Darryl Duffy go on as we went to 4-4-2 with Russ Penn moving wider, but it didn't suit him and negated his use to us going forward.
We did have chances to win by more - Jimmy Spencer hit the outside of the post, Kaid Mohamed's first touch after he came on was to sting Conrad Logan's gloves and Spencer then hit the bar with the rebound.
Also, Jimmy had a header and Luke Summerfield shot wide after good work from Junior Smikle, so it could have been more comfortable.
But as it was, we managed to grind it out and take the win, our 14th in the League this season, which is one more than we managed in the whole of 2010-11, and 46 points from 23 games is a great return.
So now we have played everyone once, and, let's be honest, seen nothing to fear from anyone.
Another half of the season like this one, and it will be party time in May...

Player-by -player
Scott Brown - A few minutes in the second half summed Scotty up perfectly - a spilled cross which nearly put us in trouble, then a superb save from a header to keep our lead intact. But however he does it, it was another clean sheet, which is all that matters.
Sido Jombati - Steady enough game, dealt ok with the his wide man who got a few crosses in but none of any consequence. Got caught out of position a couple of times, but also did some good covering for others.
Luke Garbutt - Not as good as he was on Boxing Day. Like Sido, was caught on his heels a few times and allowed a few too many crosses in from his side for my liking, but also made some important tackles and interceptions.
Alan Bennett - Thought he had a few rocky moments, giving the ball away or not getting enough on his clearances. Lost a lot in the air to Alex Revell, but fellow defenders covered well.
Steve Elliott - Struggled a bit against the pace of Lewis Grabban, who showed him up a few times, but otherwise did his usual steady job and helped us to another shutout.
Russ Penn - Didn't seem to have the same impact as he has in recent games. Spent some time playing further wide when we switched to a 4-4-2 which didn't suit him at all.
Luke Summerfield - Quieter game than recently, and also unable to make much on an impact. Touch and passing seemed to be a bit 'off' to me.
Marlon Pack - Fantastic strike for the goal, but I thought he had a mixed night. Some fantastic passes and touches, but also times when he gave the ball away and looked a bit casual.
Bags Graham - Given his full debut, but struggled to get the better of his full-back, although he did get him booked. First touch was good, but then lacked the nous to know what to do next. But remember - he is 18 and can only improve from here. There is a player in there.
Josh Low - Thought he did OK. Had a couple of promising runs and got space for crosses which nearly came to something. But again looks flaky when asked to defend or in 50-50 situations. Have to say I would like us to look for a right-sided winger in January.
Jimmy Spencer - Frustrating evening for Jimmy, as he was bashed about in the first half, then had some near misses in the second, hitting the post and then clipping the bar.

Darryl Duffy (for Bags Graham, 58) - Shame to see Bags come off early, but he is still learning. Duffy's arrival saw us change system to 4-4-2 and he was his usual lively self and had a half-chance.
Kaid Mohamed (for Josh Low, 68) - Great cameo for Kaid as he did just what we want him to - got the ball and ran at people. His first touch saw him get the ball, beat three men and force Conrad Logan into a save, and he was a pain for Rotherham for that last 20 minutes.
Junior Smikle (for Jimmy Spencer, 82) - Phew. Normality is resumed. Ironic that he was in the programme, saying how proud he was to have played in every game since coming to the club...! Thought he did well when he came on, and nearly set a goal up for Summerfield.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

2011 - that was the year that was

I debated long and hard about whether to do a review of the Cheltenham Town year.
It has been a strange one - it opened with optimism after our 4-0 win over Bradford at the end of 2010, but failed to deliver early on as our slump in form sent us careering down the table before our late rescue act.
Then a summer of change has been followed - after a slightly stuttering start it has to be said - by us riding the crest of a wave since October and with the real prospect of a promotion push in 2012 and an FA Cup trip to one of the country's biggest clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, a little over a week away.
Right, that's the year summed up, but now, just for a bit of fun, here are the CTC Awards for 2011, so dust off those tuxedos, write those tearful speeches, and let's go...

Playing record (all competitions): Played 55 Won 23 Drawn 11 Lost 21
Jan- May P 26 W 5 D 7 L 14
Aug-Dec P 29 W 18 D 4 L 7
Biggest win: 3-0 v Southend, December 10
Heaviest defeat: 1-8 v Crewe, April 2.

Leading goalscorer (all competitions)
This is a straight fight between the man who wore the number nine shirt until the summer, and the man who took it from him. Between January and his departure for his short spell at Crawley, Wes Thomas scored nine times, but on this occasion he is edged out by Darryl Duffy, who has hit 11 goals between August and now.
Full list of goalscorers, Jan 1 to Dec 31: Duffy 11, Thomas 9, Spencer, Goulding 7, Mohamed, Low 6, Pack 5, Summerfield 4 , Andrew 3, Penn, Elliott, Smikle. Artus, Gallinagh 2, Bennett, Jombati, Thomson, Pook 1.

Signing of the year
This is a very tricky one. Obviously, it has to one from the summer, and I have narrowed it down to a shortlist of three. I considered Russ Penn, Luke Summerfield, Marlon Pack, Darryl Duffy, Kaid Mohamed, Alan Bennett and Sido Jombati. All seven have contributed massively to the upturn in form this season, but I narrowed it down to Russ Penn, Alan Bennett and Sido Jombati.
Penn's energy and drive and really sparked our midfield into life and he has been the heartbeat in there we have been missing.
Bennett has been our leader - the man who has really driven our team on from the back, on and off the field, and has also brought the best out of Steve Elliott, and those two in tandem have solidified our defence.
Jombati has been a great find, and it is a testament to how well have has done that l;ast season's player of the year, Keith Lowe, cannot get a look in.
But I have to make a decision, and from the three above, I plumped for Alan Bennett, as leadership is something we badly lacked until May, and he has brought that in spades, You build a team from the back, and Bennett is our rock.

Loan of the year
Only really three to choose from here, as Shaun Jeffers and Robin Shroot left last January, and you just cannot even consider Jake Thomson, Matt Green and the returns of Ashley Eastham and Medy Elito in the mess that was the end of last season - and we have not seen much at all of Marlon Jackson and Bobby Reid.
So the award is between Jimmy Spencer, Luke Garbutt and Jack Butland - and, let's face it, there only has to be one winner - Jack Butland.
Eight clean sheets and one defeat in his three months, and seeing a Cheltenham Town player (well, sort of) wearing the Three Lions is certainly something many a Rubies fan thought they would never see.
His presence has also given Scott Brown a much-needed nudge - and we still hold out a faint hope that Jack may be back in 2012 as his meteoric rise to the top, and full England honours surely, continues.

Victory of the year
Again, down to shortlist of three. The first half of this season has provided two, and I have picked one from the back end of last season.
From this season, we have the 3-1 win over Crawley and the 3-0 win over Southend. Both were massive in their won way and both send a message out to the rest of the division.
The Crawley win was, of course, very sweet as it was good to get one over dear old Mr Evans and the manner of it was a surprise as, in the first half especially, we were so dominant.
Southend was a demolition of a side unbeaten in 17 games who seemed to be steamrollering sides left, right and centre. But they ended up getting some of their own medicine as we comprehensively beat them.
From last season, I have picked the 3-2 win at Bury. The Shakers were on a good run, with Ryan Lowe up front on fire, while we were in the middle of our slump. But we went there and played superbly, led by Josh Low's two goals, and came away with a superb win.
Before coming up with this shortlist, I also considered last years win at Lincoln, and this year's wins at Oxford and Tranmere in the Cup.
But the winner in this category is Cheltenham 3, Southend 0. As good a home performance as we have ever produced in the Football League.

Defeat of the year
A strange category you may think, but it is really so I can get Crewe 8 Cheltenham 1 out of my system. It was April 2, 2011 - yes, only seven months ago - when we were pulverised at Gresty Road on one of the most embarrassing days ever to be a Cheltenham fan.
I had the joy of interviewing Mark Yates live, post match on BBC Gloucestershire and he was ashen faced as I asked him if he was still the man to turn things around after such a capitulation. He insisted he was, and seven months on he seems to be proving that.
The board could easily have used that as a catalyst to make a change, but they stuck behind Mark and have been vindicated up to now.
This was the game which finally rammed home that we needed radical change, and saw the likes of Frankie Artus and Michael Pook sign their CTFC death warrants with woeful displays.
Happily, the recent results have made this day a fading memory. Hopefully it can be forgotten for good.

Substitution of the year
From time to time, and especially at the end of last season, Mark Yates comes under fire for tactical decisions and his use of substitutes so I decided to highlight what I think was the best move he made from the bench in 2011.
It came on August 20, at Sixfields, and it was the decision to bring on Josh Low in the 3-2 win at Northampton.
We were trailing 2-1 when Josh Low came on for Luke Summerfield after 64 minutes - and four minutes later set up the equaliser for Darryl Duffy.
Then, with 10 minutes left, another sub, Junior Smikle, got down the left and crossed for Josh to finish with amplomb for the winning goal - and against his old club as well.

Moment of the year
There is only one winner here, and it didn't happen on the field.
It came on Sunday, December 4, at around 2.45pm, when the former Everton and Sheffield United midfielder Li Tie pulled out number 52 in the FA Cup third round draw, and sent us to White Hart Lane, thus becoming an instant hero and guaranteeing himself the Freedom Of Whaddon Road whenever he wants it, and the gratitude of every Rubies fan for ever.

Villain of the year
Two candidates here, and it is impossible to separate them, so we have joint winners.
If I was to tell you they have a link to the same club, and its' initials are the same as Cheltenham Town Football Club, you might be able to hazard a wild guess at who I am talking about.
The first winner is, of course, Wes Thomas, who was rescued by Mark Yates from the football scrapheap in the summer of 2010, when no one had ever heard of him, and he was headed back to non-League, where he had come from.
He was on a one-year contract and an oversight had not put in a clause giving him another year after a certain number of games, and efforts to get him to re-sign were met with rejections.
An impending baby increased the reluctance of Wes to move his family from London, and from January onwards it was obvious that was off.
This impasse coincided with our slide down the league, and even though he scored nine goals after January he was never the same player who burst on the scene early in the campaign.
He did leave, heading for Crawley and returned to Whaddon Road on August 27, as we swept them aside, but lasted 45 minutes and was roundly booed for playing on after the ball was put out for an injury, but we got our revenge as we scored seconds later.
He was taken off at half-time and that more or less signalled his exit from Crawlety as he was packed off to Bournemouth - even further from his home than Cheltenham - while we have brought in hungrier, more committed players.
So no prizes for guessing the other winner - yes, it's our favourite manager Steve Evans.
After that same 3-1 win over Crawley, Evans said that his team had lost to 'a poor side' and has continued to go through the first half of his side's first Football League season making enemies around the division which his boorish behaviour and graceless comments.

Disappointment of the year
Again three candidates for this award, starting with a player who many hoped was going to be the future of Cheltenham Town, and the big star to come out of our youth team.
I saw Ethan Moore in the youth team and reserves last season, and thought that finally we had unearthed a real talent.
Ethan was at Southampton and Aston Villa as a schoolboy, and after a mysterious departure from Villa he came to us as an unpaid trainee, and we offered him a contract.
I was excited about him signing it, and thought he stood a good chance of really pushing for a first team place this season, but it didn't happen, and amid talk of illness or a poor attitude, whichever you want to believe, it was all over by September.
But whatever happened, it is a shame both for him on a personal level or for Cheltenham Town that he has not realised his potential.
The second candidate is also a player, and someone who came back to the club this year after a successful previous spell.
Medy Elito had made 12 appearances and three goals in March and April 2010, including that unforgettable strike at Burton, and practically every Cheltenham fan was delighted when Mark Yates re-signed him in February.
But the Medy we got back was not the same player who had lit the team up a year before.
He came on as sub in the 3-0 defeat by Chesterfield, and started the 2-1 home defeat by Aldershot, coming off at half-time, and turned in a lethargic display in the County Cup against Gloucester.
He was packed off back to Colchester and we were told that he had just become a father, which seemed to have made him homesick and we were left wondering why he came back in the first place.
But the winner is the size of the crowds at Whaddon Road.
The people who come to WR week in, and week out are fantastic fans, and are the ones who keep the club going, and the ones who go away to Accrington on a Friday night deserve all the success that the club are bringing at the moment.
But we just need more of them. Another 500 or so at every home game would make a massive difference and would help us to compete even more.
The players deserve more support, as does the club.

Away trip of the year
In previous years I have spent most games on the terraces giving it large with my fellow CTFC fans, but for most away games this year I have been on BBC Glos duty in the press areas, but that hasn't stopped me enjoying some good days.
I think the best of them this year was the 3-1 win at Oxford, as the team played so superbly and it was great so see 800 of the Ruby Army opposite enjoying the day and making it into a Ruby Saturday.

Goal of the year
Now then... we have scored some great goals this year - free-kicks, long-range efforts, solo goals, good team moves, but I have narrowed this one down to five.
Marlon Pack v Southend - our second goal of the year, and a fantastic 30-yard strike from Marlon.
Josh Low v Bury - his second goal of that game, a sublime lob from the edge of the box
Frankie Artus v Morecambe - a superb free-kick, Frankie curling it into the net for our equaliser
Luke Summerfield v Bristol Rovers - brilliantly-worked set-piece which ended with Luke smashing the ball into the net first time.
Darryl Duffy v Wycombe - first touch after coming on, a brilliant first-time shot.
My personal choice from these would be Luke Summerfield v Bristol Rovers.

Player of the year
I thought this final award was going to be the most difficult of all to decide on, but in the end it has turned out to be quite easy...
2011 was divided into two parts, the not so good bit until May, and the good bit from August onwards, and there are only three people who have featured more or less regularly throughout the year - Scott Brown, Marlon Pack and Steve Elliott.
They are the only three players who started both our first and last games on 2011, but I did also consider some from this half of the year, Alan Bennett, Russ Penn, Darryl Duffy, Sido Jombati and Luke Summerfield, who have all made a massive impact since August.
But I have plumped for the man who scored our second goal of 2011, and our last - a loan star in the troubles of the end of last season and now an integral part of our success this time around having been snapped up permanently.
Step forward Marlon Pack...

So that's the CTC Awards of 2011, as we say goodbye to an up and down year and look forward to what could be one of the best in Cheltenham Town's history if we carry on this upward curve we have embarked on recently.
If I could have three wishes for 2012, they would be promotion, either automatic or through the play-offs, a few more supporters coming regularly through the gates and the shelving for good of the Racecourse move plans.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Unable to tame the Shrews

When we last won automatic promotion, from the Conference to the Football League back in 1998-9, unforeseen events far away from Whaddon Road took us to the top of the table for the first time.
We were drawing 1-1 at home to Woking when Rushden and Diamonds travelled to Leek Town, and were winning when a fire at a chemical factory next door to Harrison Park caused the game to be abandoned.
Yesterday, while we were drawing with Shrewsbury, the best side I have seen us play this season, Aldershot's floodlights decided to fail while Southend were leading 1-0, end of game and it opened the door for us to go second in the table for the first time.
In addition, Crawley's defeat by Gillingham, where, surprise surprise, they were by far the best side again according to their graceless manager, would have made a victory for either side a real fillip.
But as it stands, both managers, and I would expect both sets of fans as well, came away happy with a point from a game where there was a cigarette paper between the sides.
However, I felt that on reflection Shrewsbury created the better chances and were more incisive in the final third, where James Collins and Tom Bradshaw were very impressive.
It says a lot for Graham Turner's squad that he can take them off and send on Terry Gornell and Marvin Morgan - strikers who would be automatic first choices in anyone else's side.
Collins hit the post, Bradshaw should have scored after Alan Bennett's first-minute mistake, Morgan was denied by Scott Brown's late one-on-one and Gornell sparked a late fracas by sliding in on Brown after he dived on a shot.
Shrewsbury reminded me of some of the sides we have come up against in the past who have been on their way out of the division.
Those are the sides who are secure at the back, busy in midfield, dangerous out wide and incisive up front, and I felt Shrewsbury were all of those things.
In previous seasons, these sides - think Chesterfield last season for instance - have rolled us over with comparative ease. Not this time.
We have become a much more resilient, competitive unit, capable of scoring goals and above all, much more solid defensively.
In 11 home games, we have only conceded six goals. That is amazing considering how many goals we have let in previously, and away, we have let in 14, and that's amazing too considering we let in four of them in one game at Wimbledon.
Yesterday, I felt we started slowly and tried to play too directly early on which played into Shrewsbury's hands, with Ian Sharps and Shane Cansdell-Sheriff having little problem with Darryl Duffy.
Then Duffy and Jimmy Spencer swapped, and we started to play through midfield a bit more, trying to make our man advantage in there count.
Pack, Penn and especially Summerfield, who seemed to be a man possessed, started to get on top and Spencer was excellent with his back to goal and gave the centre-backs more to think about.
Spencer was able to bring others into play and set some chances up, but out wide we did not really get started and did not cause many problems - until the 85th minute when Bags Graham came on and won two corners against a tiring full-back.
We had a lot of possession around their box but our shooting was a bit off and we did not really test Chris Neal as much as they were able to test Browny.
I thought Scott was excellent; he made a number of fine saves and although his handling wasn't always perfect he deserved his clean sheet.
At the end, he got a whack for his troubles and set off a scrap which finally allowed 'Whistling' Trevor Kettle the chance to get into the limelight.
He booked Gornell for his slide in on Brown, and then after the scrap had died down he booked Joe Jacobsen, Josh Low and Steve Elliott when the players were ready for the restart.
That took the number of bookings in the game to eight, a ridiculous number for a competitive game, but one which never got out of hand.
But the most amazing thing of all?
Junior Smikle did not come on.
Truly incredible.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Superb one on one save from Marvin Morgan saved us a point 13 minutes from time, and the clean sheet will be a big confidence builder. If I am being churlish, a lot of shots came back off him with insecure handling and he got a whack for his troubles, but at least he kept them out.
Sido Jombati - Did well against the tricky Mark Wright with his pace a good asset against the winger. Silly booking however for kicking the ball away.
Luke Garbutt - Thought this was one of his best games for us. Very secure defensively against John Taylor and put in some good set-pieces. Would be great if we can keep him for the season.
Alan Bennett - Recovered well from a bad mistake in the first minute which almost cost us a goal. Had his hands full with the lively Tom Bradshaw but led the side well as usual, but also picked up a booking.
Steve Elliott - Like Benno, he had a busy afternoon but did what he had to competently. Lack of pace was an issue at times, but his reading of the game usually saw him through.
Marlon Pack - Started slowly and gave the ball away a few times trying the 'Hail Mary' pass but grew into the game more as he started to play it more simply.
Luke Summerfield - I thought he rivalled Jimmy Spencer for our man of the match, he was everywhere. Had a good early shot saved, and at one point had a was inside the Shrewsbury box and a few seconds later covering at left back as they broke away.
Russ Penn - Glad to have his drive back and his forward runs set up a few chances for us. But I felt he faded out of the game later on and might have been taken off.
Kaid Mohamed - Poor game. Could have had a hat-trick with first half header and two good early chances in the second. Failed to really test out his full back James Hurst, especially after Hurst had been booked.
Darryl Duffy - Quiet game. Ineffective early on in the central role and not much better when he and Jimmy were switched. Could not get any effective crosses in and was rightly substituted.
Jimmy Spencer - Superb after moving centrally as his hold-up play and lay-offs brought others into play and set up our best chances. Hopefully we will get some good news this week about him staying on for the season

Josh Low (for Duffy 65) - Came on but showed very little, and was equally disappointing as Duffy. Got a yellow after the late melee but I find it impossible to believe he would be anywhere near a fight.
Bags Graham (for Mohamed 85) - Sent on to run at the tiring Hurst and showed Mo how to do it. Two runs won two corners and he made an impact again. Hope to see him get some starts in 2012. Why not??
Junior Smikle (for...) Eh? What do you mean he didn't come on....? Surely he did... I must have just missed it...

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Steward's enquiry

When I saw a tweet this morning flagging up an announcement on the CTFC website about the racecourse move, I thought 'at last, it's decision time' and that the plan was going to be abandoned for good.
At the recent fans' forum, Paul Baker seemed to be moving away slightly from the move, by showing some concern over the funding gap between the cost of the stadium and the value of the Whaddon Road site.
He told us that the club has costed the plan for an 8000 and a 10000-seater stadium, and we were told that it would not be long before we knew either way.
Then along came today's announcement, telling us that the move is on hold citing the 'general economic uncertainty', and also on hold is the possibility of redeveloping the main stand at Whaddon.
So basically, nothing has changed - no move, and no new stand for the forseeable future, so I would question the need for making the statement at all as it basically told us very little.
This saga was started by some freak gale force winds in March 2008, when high winds destroyed the tented village at the racecourse, meaning one day of the lucrative National Hunt Festival had to be abandoned.
That led the racecourse and football club, I believe at racecourse MD Edward Gillespie's bidding, to come up with the idea of permanent structures to replace the tented village in the form of a football stadium - bringing a home for CTFC and a solution to the racecourse's problems.
There in lies the main stumbling block to this plan in my eyes.
The racecourse need more permanent structures, and as the racecourse lies in the green belt, there are restrictions on the number of permanent stands they can build.
So therefore who does this really benefit? The racecourse.
Who are the biggest winners? The racecourse.
What is in this for the football club? Hmmm. This is the big question.
I understand that the plans include training facilities, so we would presumably give up Seasons and base ourselves at the racecourse.
There is also a plan for a sports arena, similar to the one at Cirencester, which clubs would be able to hire out and would be used throughout the week, with the money coming to the football club.
I assume we would get all the profits made from hospitality, bars and meals sold etc on matchdays, and the new stadium would, presumably, allow us to have more of these facilities.
At Whaddon Road, we have a 90+-year lease and have invested millions in rebuilding three sides of the ground - money which would be effectively wasted were we to move.
Any new stand we build there would presumably also have new facilities for hospitality etc, and we were being told how well we are doing with conferencing and business meetings recently at Whaddon Road - so where is the benefit in moving?
The stadium, also, would be right at the bottom of the racecourse site with no visibility at all - and therein lies the fear that we would be out of sight, out of mind.
The racecourse has a lot of parking, it is on a bus route, it is away from a residential area - but you can bet your bottom dollar that the residents of New Barn Lane and Prestbury will not let this happen without a massive fight.
Another argument is that it will attract new fans - maybe, to start with until the novelty wears off.
The only thing which attracts fans to a football club long-term these days is a winning team. I have never met a football fan who comes because the stadium is new.
I do not subscribe to the belief that we would fill an 8,000-seat stadium just because it has just been built. We all know that it would be the same 3-4,000 there every week.
If it happens, the racecourse will, effectively, get a whole host of new hospitality facilities to use for all bar about 30 days a year, and seem to be using the club as a marriage of convenience to get their redevelopment plans approved.
Yes, Mr Gillespie is a Robins fan, he comes to games regularly, I know all that - but his number one priority is the racecourse, and he is not going to enter into anything unless they are the winners.
People have said to me that the move would help us get more sponsorship, maybe from betting companies - maybe, but there is no guarantee of that.
We would not see a penny of the money from the lucrative Gold Cup festival, yet would have to vacate our stadium for the week - same for the meetings at other times of the year.
Effectively, we would go from being tenants of the council on a ground in which we have invested millions of pounds, which has a long, secure lease and a covenant on it which restricts its use to sport, to tenants of the Jockey Club.
Yes, we would sign a lease for an as-yet-undetermined length of time, but while at the moment we have a football fan in Mr Gillespie at the helm, that will undoubtedly change.
What if, in the future, someone takes over the racecourse who decides he wants the club out, and we are left homeless? What happens then?
Whaddon Road will be houses or whatever by then, so there would be nothing to fall back on, and I suspect that when we leave WR the council will wash their hands of us as well.
It could be out of the frying pan and into a very large, unfriendly fire further down the line.
There are benefits to the move, but I feel they are outweighed by the negatives and the potential pitfalls.
Paul Baker has the best interests of the club at heart as he has shown on more than one occasion over the past 13 years as our chairman, and I wish that he had shelved this plan for good.
Whaddon Road is our home, and that is where we should stay.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

On the slippery slope

Underhill looks to be in the dying embers of its life as a Football League ground, but I have always enjoyed my trips there.
Cheltenham Town have not, as it maintained our record of having gone there six times in the League, taken the lead each time, and not won any of them.
Two of those games were lost, and last night's became the fourth draw - as scrappy affair punctuated by two contentious refereeing decisions which both came down our way.
The first came just before half-time, when Luke Garbutt's free kick was played into the box, and the referee, Simon Hooper, blew his whistle and pointed at the spot.
Just about everyone inside Underhill was confused, as no Cheltenham player made an appeal, and the Barnet players demanded an explanation.
The referee made a signal to indicate a shirt-pull on a Cheltenham player and that was that - Darryl Duffy stepped up and made no mistake from the spot.
Then, on the hour, Sido Jombati misjudged a long ball, making the cardinal error of letting it bounce, and Izale McLeod got goalside of him.
Sido tussled with him, McLeod went down and it looked like a penalty to me - that was given, and I waited for Sido's red card, as he looked like the last man to me.
Josh Low was just behind him but if it had been the other way around we would have wanted a red - the referee produced yellow and the only person sent off was the Barnet manager Lawrie Sanchez.
McLeod sent Scott Brown the wrong way and Barnet had the point I felt they deserved.
We have been very good in the past few months, and we have been spoiled by the football the team have served up, but we were below par.
Whether the loss of Russ Penn was wholly to blame I don't know, but there is no question it was a factor as we lacked that energy and drive in midfield and at times Darryl Duffy was isolated up top.
Mark Yates opted for Josh Low in that role, and that was a surprise and a move which I did not feel worked at all.
Josh's more languid style as compared to Russ's get-in-their-faces mentality seemed to change the way we played, and I would have had Jimmy Spencer in there, or even tried out Bobby Reid, which may have been a more like-for-like replacement.
Once again, Barnet lined up in a similar way to us - it seems to happen every week now - and playing down the slope first half they caused us problems.
As you would expect as they play on it every other week, they know how to cause teams problems on the slope, and they looked to release McLeod or Mark Marshall at every opportunity, trying to isolate our centre backs.
Only a brilliant goal-line clearance from Alan Bennett kept it level, while we failed to test Dean Brill with Duffy and Jimmy Spencer having half chances.
But we went ahead when Kaid Mohamed was left unmarked from the first corner of the game and headed in a great Marlon Pack delivery for his sixth of the season.
McLeod levelled after Sam Deering was allowed to cross from the right and McLeod escaped from Bennett to tap in at the near post, past Scott Brown.
I am sure there will be some wanting to blame Brown for the goal, claiming Jack Butland would have saved it, but after first Deering and then McLeod were left too much space in front of him, he was left exposed.
Anyway, Butland has gone, so we have to get used to that, rendering it a futile argument - I would be more unhappy with the defending in front of him on this occasion.
Our so-called penalty put us back in front, before theirs pegged us back and the game had a feel of our Luton cup-tie about it - we had led twice, were pegged back twice, and then found ourselves under a bit of pressure.
But at Kenilworth Road, we went on to win it, but we didn't really look like repeating that last night - our second half display was very disjointed and not deserving of a win.
We could have got it however, and only Junior Smikle will know how we didn't, as he got on to a clearance and with only Brill to beat he somehow lobbed it wide.
Duffy or Spencer would have scored it, but nothing seems to go right for poor Junior in front of goal, and I'm afraid it just gives his critics more ammunition to beat him with. At this level, chances like that have to be taken.
After the second equaliser, Barnet didn't create a chance to win the game either, failing to test Brown, but overall they were far from the worst side we have played and should have enough to stay up - as long as they find somewhere to play.
Mark Yates said he was happy with a point, and on reflection I agree, even though Southend lost to Bradford and we missed a chance to go second, so the eight-match winning streak on the road is over.
Time to set off on another one now...

Player by player
Scott Brown - On a bit of a hiding to nothing as most Cheltenham fans are pining for Jack Butland. Not to blame for the first goal, and the second was a penalty.
Sido Jombati - A bad night by his standards, and his worst game since coming into the side. Lost Sam Deering for the first Barnet goal, and misjudged the ball to give away the penalty. Lucky to stay on.
Luke Garbutt - Steady performance, and put the free-kick in which led to the very dubious penalty.
Alan Bennett - Tough night against Izale McLeod. Brilliant goal-line clearance but McLeod escaped from him to score the equaliser.
Steve Elliott - Also a tough night but stuck to his task and held firm to get us a point.
Marlon Pack - Unable to run the game as he has in previous weeks, so was very quiet. Great corner delivery for fist goal.
Luke Summerfield - Also quiet, but won some important challenges. Seemed to miss Russ Penn alongside him.
Josh Low - Selected in Russ Penn's central position but looked lost there. Rarely able to get on the ball and re-create Penn's forward drives and just not the same force in the 50-50 challenges.
Kaid Mohamed - Great header for his goal but very little opportunity to run at Barnet. I expected him to cause problems down the slope, but didn't, so he was taken off late on.
Jimmy Spencer - Quiet game, but missed a good chance in the first half. Started wide right then swapped with Duffy into central role, but well looked after by Barnet defence.
Darryl Duffy - Penalty takes him to 11 goals for the season, and he took it confidently. Only one real sight of goal apart from that.

Junior Smikle (for Low 70) - Brought his usual work-rate and commitment, but horrendous miss overshadowed everything.
Bagasan Graham (for Mohamed 85) - Cameo from Bags at the end but didn't get a chance to run at Barnet.
Jeff Goulding (for Spencer 88) - Almost a forgotten man, but came on and had a shot which Brill nearly made a mess of in the last seconds.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Pinch me. I'm dreaming

Like many other Cheltenham fans, I suspect, I have been walking around with a stupid grin on my face since about 4.50pm yesterday afternoon.
I mean, let's face it, this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen, is it?
Cheltenham Town teams don't welcome the 17-games unbeaten League leaders to their territory, play them off the park, restrict them to one shot in the 91st minute and send them packing with their tails between their legs, do they?
Hmm. Apparently they do.
I would hope that, after seeing that display yesterday, even the most hard-hearted and pessimistic Cheltenham fans out there (you know who you are) are even starting to believe that this team could be the real deal.
As I stood outside watching the fans leave and speaking to a few for the BBC Gloucestershire breakfast show tomorrow, I got emotions from disbelief to excitement with everything in between.
Paul Collicutt, our former skipper, walked past me and said it was the best football he has ever seen at Whaddon Road, a thought echoed by a couple of other fans on the mic I waved under their noses.
But maybe the most pertinent comments of all came from the manager at the final whistle, shown on that excellent Mark Clemmit piece on the Football League Show.
The cautious Yatesy we have seen all season was replaced by a more bullish Yatesy, a manager who looks like even he is being fully convinced by what he has in front of him.
Of course he has been convinced by it since July, one would suspect, but it seems to be dawning on everyone finally that this may not just be a good start, it might be something special in the making.
Also on that piece, Yatesy said this team is better than the side which he was a part of nine years ago, which took us out of League Two on that never to be forgotten day in Cardiff.
High praise indeed. The team that day was Book; Griffin, Duff, Walker, Victory; Williams, Finnigan, Yates, Devaney (Grayson, 76); Alsop, Naylor... some big CTFC names there.
But there are similarities.
Sido Jombati could be the new Jamie Victory - the same athleticism, claw-like tackling ability and forward forages; Russ Penn is the Mark Yates - all action, work-rate, heart on the sleeve and the odd crucial goal.
Kaid Mohamed could be Martin Devaney - an enigma; brilliant one minute, frustrating the next, and is Darryl Duffy the nearest thing we have had to a Tony Naylor, for finishing ability?
It is always difficult to compare past and present, but I have to say Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott have to be on their way to matching Chris Banks and Mark Freeman; Marlon Pack could be the man to lay the ghost of Grant McCann and Luke Summerfield is probably the closest thing we have had to Lee Howells since that broken leg at Bristol Rovers effectively ended his career.
Am I getting carried away? Maybe. Do I care? No.
I'd also like to put to bed the idea being floated in some quarters that this success has been 'solely' down the loan signings.
Yes, Jack Butland has done well. But who has kept the strikers quiet so he has hardly anything to do in the majority of games he has played? Elliott and Bennett, our players.
What has been the major tactical switch from Yatesy which has sparked the run of success in the past two months? Three in midfield, Penn, Summerfield and Pack, our players.
Our top scorer has 10 goals. Our player, Darryl Duffy.
So there we go. It is not just down to the loans, and not bound to implode (as some doom-mongers continue to maintain) when (or if) Luke Garbutt and Jimmy Spencer join Jack Butland in returning to his parent club.
Butland's final game was probably his quietest, and was the easiest clean sheet he will have in his career. 
The only save he had to make was from his own player, Garbutt, and Southend did not have a shot on target, such was the dominance of our display.
We started well, and Russ Penn did fantastically well to set up Spencer for the opener. 
Steve Elliott could have headed a second, but we went in at the break and waited for the Southend response in the second half.
It never came. Russ Penn and Luke Summerfield continued their combined attempt to cover every blade of grass, Marlon Pack ran the game and waged his own personal battle with the Whaddon Road goalposts while Jack Butland got the pipe and slippers out.
Penn and Pack rounded the game off and we were left to wonder where the real Southend United we had seen every week on the FLS sweeping teams aside had vanished to.
As a statement of intent, it was pretty major.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Finished with a clean sheet, and let's face it, that was never in doubt from the early minutes of the game. Leaves with our thanks, and probably won't be back, although he would like to be. Everyone wants it to happen, Yatesy, Jack, his coach Dave Watson. Go on Mr Hughton, you know it makes sense...
Sido Jombati - Continues to confound and astound in equal measure. Had some tricky customers in Hall and Mohsni to deal with, but just takes it all in that languid, loping stride.
Luke Garbutt - Solid on his return after a week off. An asset going forward but can defend as well, and some decent set-pieces.
Alan Bennett - Nothing against Keith Lowe at all, but Benno just looks happier with Steve Elliott alongside him. Dickinson never had a sniff.
Steve Elliott - Back in harness with his mate Benno, and was like he had never been away with another consistent show, winning just about every header available.
Marlon Pack - Ran the game. If those two efforts which hit the post had gone in (especially the first one) we would have been talking about it for years. Fully deserved his goal.
Russ Penn - Attitude, commitment, work rate and no little skill rolled into one. Incredible signing. Deserved his goal as well. Will be interesting to see how we cope without him at Barnet on Friday,after his fifth booking, and can also rest his dodgy hamstring.
Luke Summerfield - The unsung hero. Had a great game, but overshadowed again by Pack and Penn. Quickly become a very important cog in the machine. Fantastic pass to Pack for the third goal.
Josh Low - Moved from left back to right wing and had some good flashes but also had to deal with his full-back getting forward which he did well. Played vital part in the second goal.
Kaid Mohamed - Sometimes brilliant, sometimes frustrating, more often the latter. One great run nearly set up a goal but didn't chance his arm enough against their back four.
Jimmy Spencer - Took his goal well and would have had two more but for a great block before Penn's goal and his being inches from Kaid's cross. Seven goals now - hope we can keep him for the season, indications are promising I understand.

Junior Smikle (for Russ Penn, 82) - 20 out of 20 now from the bench for Junior, and helped us close the game out. Will he get that elusive league start on Friday?
Jeff Goulding (for Jimmy Spencer, 84) - Like Junior, has been relegated to a cameo role this season, and came on to provide a late outlet.
Bobby Reid (for Kaid Mohamed, 89) - A few decent touches and looked a tenacious little player in the few minutes he was on. Also a contender for Penn's role at Underhill.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

It's time to bin Bashley

For the past 13 years or so, a small village on the edge of the New Forest seems to have represented the benchmark for being a 'true' Cheltenham Town fan.
In the Paddock, whenever we had a 'big' game and a slightly larger than average crowd, a chant would go up... 'If you all went to Bashley, clap your hands' and those amongst us who termed themselves the long-standing fans would all applaud.
It was meant to show the newer element of the support, the 'bandwagon jumpers' if you like, that they were ... well, I'm not really sure what it was meant to do.
Was it meant to show they were intruders? That they were inferior to us 'hardcore' fans, just because we had been to a small ground in Hampshire and they haven't?
I suspect that if you counted up the number of people who claim they went to Bashley, it would number about the same as who claimed they didn't make it through the queues at Rushden, or those who were at the last Sex Pistols gig.
I went there once. It's a pretty non-descript place, hardly deserving to be held up as a pantheon of greatness.
When I went, I took my ex-wife, so she can claim to have been to Bashley as well.
It was one of about three CTFC games she has watched, our win at St Alban's City in the FA Cup was another. She hates football, but she can applaud the song, as she did go to Bashley...
And therein lies the message. So what if you went to Bashley? Or so what if you were one of the 'Exmouth 18' (I was the 19th...). Does that make you more of a fan than someone who has caught the bug since then?
Of course it doesn't.
There has been a bit of 'us and them' down the years, especially when the C&G End was built, and the major singing gravitated there from the Paddock.
I admit I used to complain vociferously (still do sometimes) that they sang the wrong words, and sang the songs too fast - I still think the Wymans do now on occasions, and get a bit grumpy when they sing about Hereford, but I applaud them for doing what I was doing 30-odd years ago - getting behind the team.
The cup draw with Spurs was greeted with universal delight by CTFC fans, but it didn't take long for the moans and groans to start.
It was the usual one. The one we had before the Trophy final at Wembley, the Millennium Stadium play-offs, the Cup game with Newcastle, even League games with Nottingham Forest and Leeds in League One.
Here come the part-timers. The bandwagon-jumpers. The once-a-season brigade. They will get the tickets and the regulars will miss out... etc etc etc
The club have today announced the priority scheme for White Hart Lane, and I think it is very fair and should make sure the regular 2500-3000 who watch home games, and, most importantly, the core 200 or so who regularly go away, will get first dibs.
Season ticket holders, VPs, Travel Club members, shareholders, Junior Robins, Trust members and club membership scheme subscribers - the people who regularly invest their money in the club - are first in the queue, and that should catch most of the regulars.
But the thing I am most pleased about is the next stipulation that people must have a stub from the Southend game on Saturday.
This will increase the crowd for arguably our biggest game of the season so far, and bring in extra revenue as it is a premium game.
As adult tickets for Spurs are £20, it means a 'floater' will, in effect, have to pay around £38-£40 to get their day out in London, and I applaud the club for doing that - making them 'work' for their ticket.
There was criticism in the past for previous priority schemes which almost made it too easy for the band-wagon jumpers. Not this time. They have to jump through a little hoop first.
We have 5000 tickets for White Hart Lane, and I hope we sell them all, and I hope those people who come along for the first time ever, or the first time in a while, have a great day, even if they don't know their Marlon Packs from their Russell Penns.
Add to that the money they will spend on coach tickets, scarves, shirts, flags, and the more people come, the more money we get from the tie, and the more money Mark Yates could get for squad strengthening and Paul Baker will get for the continuing stability of the club. Surely that's what we all want?
I hope that some of those who come on Saturday and then in early January catch the bug the rest of us have had for years and stick with us on our big adventure.
It's time to bin Bashley, and welcome a new wave of fans with open arms.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Going to get our Spurs

At around 2.45 this afternoon, Li Tie wrote himself into Cheltenham Town folklore for ever.
All he did was stick his hand into a large bowl, and pull out ball number 52 at just the right time.
Before we got pulled out, Middlesbrough, Doncaster and Crawley came out and I was yelling at the (now) greatest man ever to come out of China not to pull out ball 52.
Only when Manchester City came out did I ask for number 52, before that great moment when we came out alongside Tottenham Hotspur.
I was watching the draw with my eight year old daughter, and we leapt around the lounge (before I had to expalin to her just how big a team Tottenham are)...
Given our luck in draws, I expected Oldham or Southend away, or an uninspiring Championship side like Doncaster or a delightful trip to Hull.
But no, for once the balls were with us and we are going to White Hart Lane on the weekend of January 7.
Yes, White Hart Lane. Unbelievable.
I am delighted for the chairman, manager and players, who have all been superb this season and deserve to showcase the club on this stage.
It is fitting that it will be the second game of our 125th anniversary year.
I am delighted for the fans who have followed the side around the country - especially the hardcore, the 80 who were at the JPT game at Wycombe for instance, those who went to Accrington on a Friday night, those who have put up with all manner of crap in recent seasons.
Among them are some Spurs fans - James Young, my sometimes partner in crime on the Robins Player commentaries, Jon Mundy, Simon and Tom Read.
My best man Steve Slatter and my old colleague at the Echo and Bristol Evening Post, Gary Walker were regulars in the past, and will also be in a no-lose situation.
White Hart Lane holds (according to Wikipedia) 36,230. For the FA Cup, clubs have to give 15 per cent of the capacity to visiting fans, so by my reckoning that comes to 5,434 tickets for us. Surely that will be plenty - and it could be the biggest crowd ever to watch a Cheltenham Town match.
Disappointingly, I have already heard moans that the 'part-timers' will get tickets and the loyal hardcore will miss out.
I cannot see why this would be the case, and it is down to the club to make sure this is not the case - and anyway, if these non-regulars do go, they might enjoy it and come regularly - and it is all money for the club.
Season ticket holders must have priority along with Trust members (of which I am one...), VPs  and club membership scheme subscribers.
I would also include Travel Club members in here as that should catch the majority of the regular fans although the moans have already started, which is disappointing but sadly predictable.
It winds me up when we get a draw like this and all people do is complain that 'regular' fans won't get a ticket. If you are a regular, surely you will fall into one of the above categories, so why should you not get a ticket?
I do hope however that the club then puts in some sort of ticket stub priority - maybe 5 home games, or the last 3 aways - or sells tickets for Spurs with the proviso also of buying for the Boxing Day game with Shrewsbury and Dec 30's meeting with Rotherham to help fill the ground for these two vital League games.
I would hope the club would be pro-active in this way to get the ground rocking for the next three home games and cash in on that feel-good factor we have going at the moment.
I don't suspect Mr Redknapp will play all of his stars, but it would be great to see Sido v Gareth Bale, and the Pack, Penn, Summerfield trio against Modric, Parker and van der Vaart, wouldn't it...
Anyway, now I suppose I had better talk about how we got into that glass bowl earlier today.
As we look forward to visiting one of England's finest stadiums, we booked that trip at one of the worst, and in doing so made it a record 8 away wins in a row.
Grudgingly, I have to admit that Luton played quite well, but our resilience shone through in the end and I didn't think we were in much danger once we went 3-2 up.
Darryl Duffy got us off to a great start with a one-touch finish after Scott Brown's long goal-kick.
The equaliser we conceded was poor with Robbie Willmott getting past Sido Jombati and Alan Bennett too easily, but a bit of luck with Marlon Pack's deflected effort off Dan Gleeson putting us back in front.
To be honest, we were a bit fortunate to be in front as Luton (he says through very gritted teeth...) gave us a harder test than many of the sides have recently on the road.
They got level again, and I must admit I was worried for a while. The side we had last season would have caved in, and from 2-2 we would have lost that game.
But this team is made of sterner stuff and Duffy and Russ Penn fashioned a great goal for Luke Summerfield and bar Alex Lawless hitting the post for Luton, that was that.
Duffy got sent off for two yellow cards in as many minutes, and having seen the highlights I can't have any complaints about either caution.
The gloss was applied by Penn's first goal for us, brilliantly taken, and it was a very satisfying victory for the club, and it has now got its just rewards. We will be ball number 8 in the fourth round draw.
I am sure this won't happen within the squad, but we must not take our eye off the ball in the League, as we have Southend, Barnet, Shrewsbury, Rotherham and Port Vale to play, all tough games, before we head for Spurs. Cliche yes, boring maybe, but the league still has to come first.

Player by player
Scott Brown - No chance with the goals and set up the first goal for Darryl Duffy. Only had one real save to make, and it was a good one from Adam Watkins.
Sido Jombati - Another good game apart from the Luton first goal when he let Willmott past him far too easily.
Josh Low - Was worried when I saw him on the teamsheet at left back. Had a few shaky moments at times when he tried to over play in our box, but thought he did okay overall.
Alan Bennett - Even bigger role than usual without Steve Elliott alongside him, but won most of his headers although along with Sido he let Willmott go for their first goal.
Keith Lowe - Drafted in at centre half and didn't think he let us down at all despite having only played there in the JPT this season.
Russ Penn - Great performance capped with a well-taken goal. Also set up Luke's goal with a  good run and could have scored another.
Luke Summerfield - Thumping finish for his goal and another industrious performance which included a booking.
Marlon Pack - Deflected shot for his goal but overall a patchy performance I felt. Some great touches and passes, but got caught in possession a few times.
Kaid Mohamed - Thought he had a poor game, losing possession a few times through casual passes and poor decision making, and was lacking defensively.
Jimmy Spencer - Usual hard-working performance down the right and seems to work well with Sido on that flank.
Darryl Duffy - Took his goal superbly and set up Luke's well. Two yellow cards in two minutes, and don;t see he can argue with either. Will miss Southend next weekend.

Junior Smikle (for Mohamed, 85) - Thought he did well when he came on, giving us a good outlet and setting up Penn's goal.
Jeff Goulding (for Spencer 90) - Came on right at the end.