Friday, 28 December 2012

Zeroes to heroes

As we ran out on Wednesday to face Wycombe, the big question on everyone's lips was how would we react to Friday's debacle at Rochdale.
The answer was in emphatic style with our biggest win and most dominant performance of the season so far.
We had drawn at Adams Park earlier in the season in a game which saw us dominate almost as much as we did on Boxing Day, but without that cutting edge - a similar problem which had afflicted us against Port Vale in our last home game.
After the Spotland shambles, and Mark Yates' post-match rant, the number of changes to the side was going to be interesting, and Yatesy opted to make only three.
He had taken Marlon Pack and Shaun Harrad off at half-time, so it was not a surprise to see those two handed a seat in the dugout.
The other casualty was Chris Zebroski, slightly surprisingly in my opinion, as I thought he was one of the outfield players to have put in a decent(ish) shift.
Jermaine McGlashan and the front two of Jeff Goulding and Darryl Duffy came in, and I thought that was rough on Lawson D'Ath and Sam Deering - whose whereabouts were a mystery as he didn't even make the 18.
The luckiest man to be out there in my view was Jake Taylor, who, after a decent display at Northampton and an even better one at Hereford, had been utterly anonymous at Rochdale.
We started tentatively, but gradually got on top of the game, and from about the 15th minute I felt it was a matter of time before we took control of the game.
We had a couple of close calls and were denied a couple of times by the offside flag, and I must admit I was getting a bit anxious that we needed to get that goal quickly, then two came.
The first was smashed in first time by Taylor, a couple of minutes after he and Jermaine had switched wings, and came after a flowing move, with the Reading loanee hitting it first time inside the keeper's near post.
Sido made the second with a good cross, and Jeff watched it all the way on to his head and was able to direct it perfectly into the corner.
As far as I was concerned, that was just about that for the points.
Wycombe had barely threatened outside the first five minutes, and were as poor a side as we have played this season - but I would prefer to give our lads the credit for an excellent performance than allowing Wycombe's failings to detract from it.
They had three players banned and nine players injured, with another going off at half-time, but we were ruthless and didn't let up in the second half.
Jake made a goal for Darryl with a perfect cross stood up nicely for a far-post header, then Darren Carter picked out Jermaine for a close-range finish.
Darren nearly scored the goal of the season with a volley which the Wycombe keeper Jordan Archer pushed  aside and we had other chances to put more gloss on the scoreline.
We were even able to give Lawson a 20-minute run-out, with Kaid Mohamed came back from injury.
The team had the redemption they needed after Friday's letdown, Yatesy's changes were vindicated and it was almost the perfect afternoon.
Gillingham's defeat allowed us to close within three points of top spot, and also took us past that significant 40-point barrier to start the second half of the season in decent style.
All in all, it was four days to sum up the inconsistency of our side - a team which can lose six games with a combined goal difference of minus 15, conceding 22 goals, yet also have the most clean sheets in the division.
For the manager, he would have been especially pleased to see Jeff and Darryl both score after giving them a rare chance to start the game.
Jeff has started three league games, and now has three league goals, and Darryl has two goals in two starts, and the pair of them worked well together after being given a chance to start, having spent most of the time this season making cameos from the bench.
Jeff was an effective target and used his intelligent touches to good effect, while Darryl worked the channels well. They were backed up by Jake and Darren, and the team's driving force, Russ Penn.
In one move, Russ won three sliding tackles in a row without getting back to his feet, and that typifies his importance to the team, and why he has to be the first name on the teamsheet every week when he is fit.
We don't have another player like him and it would be nice if the FA Cup money was partly used on someone who can give him some support in that role.
So Jeff, Darryl and Jake especially put their hands up when it was needed and have given the manager more headaches ahead of Bristol Rovers' visit tomorrow, another game which, on paper, we should be looking to win.
We know the back five will be the same, as we have no real options there bar the Bilston Beckenbauer himself, Keith Lowe, and this again may be somewhere to strengthen after next Tuesday.
And surely Jeff and Darryl will get another chance - although Zebs may get a chance as we know he likes to play well and score against his former club, especially one with fans who will give him a warm welcome...!
So once again, the focus will fall on to the midfield, and I wonder if we will again play a 4-4-2 tomorrow. I hope so, as we have to set the tempo.
Much of that focus will fall on Marlon Pack, who, having been the hub of the side for so long, now finds himself maybe not a first-choice.
It seems to be becoming more evident that he and Darren are not suited to playing together, and if we are to play 4-4-2, it had to be one of them and Russ - with Darren the man in possession.
Marlon has not found his best form consistently this season after the highs of the previous campaign - yet we must remember he is only 21 years old.
Of our contracted players (excluding loans) only Harry Hooman, Sam Deering and Bagasan Graham are younger - and he has nearly racked up 100 starts for us during his loan and permanent stay.
He is still learning. It is a bit much, I feel, to expect a 21-year-old to consistently run the game - if he could do that he would not have been let go by Portsmouth and would be playing at a higher level than this.
Some have suggested that, as his contract ends this summer, we should try and cash in this January - but I would venture that, given his form this season, there would not be many takers.
I would not be pleased to see us sell any of our players this January - I would rather we tried to secure some of them on new deals, including Marlon, who, if he signed for two more years, would still only be 23 at the end of that deal, and we would still retain his sell-on value.
I would also suggest that two years down the line we would have a more valuable player on our hands, with two more years experience and maybe, by that time, he would have played around 200 games for us.
In the second half of the season, Yatesy needs to find a way to get the best out of Marlon, and also has two other big riddles to solve.
The first is to find a consistent goalscorer. Of our current squad, 13 players have found the net in League games, with Darren, Shaun and Zeb all on five goals apiece as the leading scorers. Jeff, Keith, Jermaine and Mo all have three.
While it is great to have players all around the team chipping in, and we have scored in all but three of our 24 league games - but most other sides at the top of the table have one consistent, reliable goalscorer.
The second is to rediscover the formula away from home which served us well at the start of the season, but has deserted us recently.
I feel if Mark can answer those three questions, find some consistency and maybe bolster our numbers in January with another player or two, I feel we can be real candidates for the top three.
We have seen everyone now, and I have not seen any side to strike any real fear into us.
Rochdale, Chesterfield, Bradford and Rotherham were impressive on their own patch - partly down to our own failings - and the same can be said for Southend at Whaddon, and we have had to dig deep against some other sides to get the right results.
But we could easily have beaten the top two, Gillingham and Port Vale, and have (mostly) done the business when needed against those sides in the bottom half - our record against them is the best in the division.
At home, our record is the joint best in the division (with Bradford). We have lost once in 12 league and cup games on our own patch, and that was to Oxford with a second-string side out in the JPT.
This is the sort of record which can go a long way to keeping us in the promotion picture, and if we can get the away form back to how it was until mid-October, we could have a good 2013 ahead.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Shambles at Spotland

Since Mark Yates took over as manager three years ago, I have seen maybe 90 per cent of our games, and been present at the vast majority of his post-match interviews.
But I have never seen him as angry as he was after stomping up the Spotland stairs to talk to us after Friday night's game.
With good reason too. He felt let down by his players, along with everyone else of a Ruby persuasion who had the misfortune to witness one of the most limp Cheltenham performances of his reign.
Think 4-0 at Stevenage, 8-1 at Crewe. Yes, it was that bad.
While I was out Christmas shopping, I had at least four CTFC fans come up to me and ask the same question - was it as bad as it sounded on the radio? Yes it was. Worse, probably.
It ranks right up there on the abject scale, and refreshingly there were no excuses, no platitudes from the manager, he gave it out with both barrels.
I had gone up the M6 in an optimistic frame of mind, based on the 1-1 draw with Port Vale, which I thought was one of our best performances of the season, definitely our best at home.
We created more chances in the 90 minutes than we have in a game for a long time, and but for Darryl Duffy's late miss we would have taken the win we deserved.
Coming on the back of the win at Hereford and the feelgood factor around the upcoming Everton game, everything in the garden seemed rosy to me.
Rochdale weren't in great form, we seemed to be in a buoyant mood, and I was confident of a point of three coming our way. Oh well.
The team sheet wasn't a great surprise, with an unchanged 18 from that decent Vale performance, keeping the 4-4-2 and the narrow midfield which had worked well against Vale.
But this time it didn't work at all.
The writing was on the wall early on as Scott Brown had made about six fantastic saves before Rochdale scored, and seen a shot thud against his bar.
Bobby Grant and Ashley Grimes were rampant on the wings, and once again we were outnumbered in the centre, as we had been at Rotherham and Chesterfield. What is it with four-goal hammerings when we go north of Birmingham...?
As with those two sides, Rochdale had one player sitting and two running, with Grimes and Grant out wide.
Every time we lost the ball (which was often) they broke quickly, we lost the runners and were immediately in trouble.
With no natural width, when we did get forward, we were forced to play through the middle, meat and drink for the defenders and a barren night for Shaun Harrad (especially) and Chris Zebroski, who was probably the best of the outfield players.
Russ Penn and Jake Taylor were too often forced infield to help Marlon Pack and Darren Carter, so that gave Grimes and especially Grant free rein to isolate Sido Jombati and Billy Jones, both of whom had nights to forget.
Also throw into the mix Dele Adebola, who gave the perfect 'lone striker' performance, giving Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott arguably their most difficult time this season.
We never got to grips with him, or Rochdale, at all, and but for Browny we could have been looking at another Crewe result. Or worse.
The triple save he made early on was incredible, and Andrew Tutte was still shaking his head minutes after he turned his shot over the bar.
He blocked two one-on-ones from Adebola, the first after our defence was caught horrendously square, and it took three long-range efforts to beat him.
The goal we 'scored' summed up our performance to a tee - an utter mess.
I could see how cross Yatesy was from about the 10th minute in. He was gesticulating at his midfield especially and by the time half-time came he was incandescent.
The main surprise was that it took Rochdale 38 minutes to score (all down to Browny) and we were within seconds of going in at half-time one down, but he stomped off down the tunnel.
He often gets flak from fans (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) over his substitutions, saying that he leaves it too late, and a half-time change, let alone two, is almost unheard of. That's how bad it was.
Jermaine McGlashan and Jeff Goulding came on for Marlon and Shaun - but to be honest any of the outfield 10 could have been in the firing line.
Jermaine gave Sido a bit more protection down the right hand side, but they still had carte blanche to attack poor Billy down the left and he had a torrid time of it.
We were gifted the own goal and missed another good chance from a corner and for a few fleeting minutes there was a small chance we could have got something from the game.
But that would have been an utter travesty and normality was resumed with Rochdale's third and fourth goals, another long-range effort where the player was waved through for a shot and a tap in after Grant was invited to cross and Adebola was the only one awake to the rebound.
By the time their fourth goal went in (20 minutes to go) Rochdale had had 19 shots on our goal. By the end, as they more or less took the foot off the gas and let up on us a bit, it went up to 22.
15 of those were on target, more evidence of how well Browny played. - for the goalkeeper to be man of the match in a 4-1 defeat shows just how abject the other 10 were.
Yatesy was right. They need that rocket up the backside, they need to be told that performances like that are not acceptable.
But Yatesy needs to hit that drawing board and find out why we have become a soft touch away from home.
Rotherham, Chesterfield, Rochdale. Three four-goal defeats on the road for side supposedly among the candidates for automatic promotion is just not good enough.
Look at the stats - first six away games, four goals conceded, and the next six 17 conceded - including a clean sheet at Gillingham.
Early in the season, we were resilient. Remember the games at Aldershot, York, Wycombe and AFC Wimbledon - two wins and two draws eked out with gritty, hard-working performances.
A sharp contrast to the last few (Northampton excepted) lazy, wafer-thin, and times gutless showings we have had to endure. It needs sorting.
I do not hold truck with those who say the squad is not as good as we think it is. It is good enough.
These players have performed well and shown guts and resilience as recently as the Northampton and Hereford games, where they dug in and showed the guts and desire to get the result when it mattered.
But then we get tame surrender like we saw at Spotland, and (to a slightly lesser extent at the New York and the Proact Stadiums) we are again left wondering whether our players really have the bottle and the desire to roll their sleeves up and achieve what we (and their manager) think they are capable of.
All over the field, it was powder-puff. It was weak. The passing was lackadaisical, complacent. The tackling was half-hearted, the closing down was lazy, the defending naive, or to quote the manager, like pansies.
The same team won't be sent out again on Boxing Day if we get to face Wycombe, or on Saturday against Bristol Rovers, that is for certain.
Some players deserve a chance, and some others deserve to sit in the dugout and think about how much they want to wear the ruby shirt.
Lawson D'Ath and Sam Deering are two players who surely must be given an opportunity to show what they can do.
D'Ath has not played since Yate because of his injury, and along with Deering must have been sat there on Friday wondering how on earth they were out of an 11 performing as woefully as ours did.
Keith Lowe is another knocking on the door, along with a fit-again Kaid Mohamed, and Yatesy has to shake it up, and send another message to the under-performers and the complacent that there is no such thing as an automatic place.
So all in all it was a low note on which to reach the halfway point of the league season, and after most of Saturday's games were washed out, we managed to stay in third place with a goal difference of zero...
We have won 11 , drawn six and lost six, with a real mixed bag of performances, but we are still in a good position with plenty to aim for in the New Year.
Yatesy has scope for January reinforcements with the FA Cup money, and we can  still achieve our dreams in 2013 - if performances like Friday's are quickly consigned to history.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Another year, another Premier League club...

So we did it.
13 years of hurt expunged at last, and when the big prize was at stake, our boys did not disappoint and delivered when it mattered most.
It was another superb show of character and resilience three days after our comeback at Northampton, and they have the reward and we have the match we all dreamed of, against Everton.
So one year to the day after the Ruby Army went to the Big Smoke to play the aristocrats of Tottenham Hotspur on their own patch, we welcome the might of Everton to our humble abode.
Heady days indeed, and it would be easy to get blase about occasions such as this, coming as it does on the back of games with Newcastle, Sunderland, Fulham, Stoke and that Spurs clash in recent years.
And to think that some of our fans moan that we get no luck with Cup draws...
We knew Hereford would not roll over. We were made to work for it, and to see some of our players gritting their teeth and playing through some hefty knocks, especially Darryl Duffy in extra time, also made light of those who say that on occasions some 'don't play for the shirt'. They certainly did last night.
My feelings after the game were twofold - excitement at the prospect of seeing Everton at our place and relief at finally seeing another win over Hereford after ... well, too bloomin' long.
After a day dominated by glances out of the window of my office to see if there was any fog coming in to scupper chances of the game going ahead, I got to Hereford just after 7pm and wondered what all the fuss had been about.
The pitch looked in excellent nick, there was no fog (yet) and the team sheet once again made interesting reading.
In my last blog, I advocated one change, Marlon Pack for Keith Lowe, and Yatesy made one change, but opted for Jermaine McGlashan instead.
Seemed fair enough to me, as the midfield trio of Russ Penn, Jake Taylor and Darren Carter had done very little wrong at Sixfields and didn't deserve to be broken up, while Keith was always going to be unlucky as his inclusion at the weekend was to play a specific role.
Then came the conjecture over the formation. Would Zebroski be on the left in a 4-2-3-1? Would he play just behind Harrad in a 4-4-1-1? Neither. It was a nice, plain and simple 4-4-2.
I thought our players' attitude throughout the game was spot on.
We started well, positively, and looked to stop Hereford settling, and their players looked nervous early on.
They weren't helped by the loss of Ryan Bowman early on, as he was a threat in the first game and they didn't have the same sort of target up front to play off when he went off.
They were looking to get down the side of us with balls into the channel for Junior Smikle, Phil Marsh or Sam Clucas to get on to, but we dealt with it well for the most part.
Harry Pell was prominent again for them, but the presence of Russ in our midfield made a big difference and it was a good battle between the two.
We have seen in the past that 4-4-2 hasn't always worked for us, but I thought it did last night, because we had balance on the two flanks.
Jermaine on the right was complimented superbly by Jake on the left (and when they swapped flanks...) and I thought Jake was our best player over the 120 minutes.
Like at Sixfields on Saturday, Jake looked a lot happier in a wide position than he had in that central role.
He was direct when he got the ball in a wide position and frequently gave Russ and Darren an option then they looked to spread the play as well as testing his full-back with pace and trickery.
He looks a neat and tidy player and doesn't often waste possession, and over the last two games has, in my opinion, justified Yatesy's decision to bring him in.
As the board went up for three minutes of first-half Fergie time, I thought Martin Foyle would be the happier, as we had shaded the first 45, but no-one had really tested the goalkeepers.
That soon changed before the break, as two incidents in 60 seconds turned the tie our way.
First, a simply fabulous save by Scott Brown from Clucas. Somehow, Junior's cross got through to him at the far post, and from the replays Browny's weight looked to be going to his left but adjusted, got his right hand to it and turned it round for a corner. Stunning stuff.
Then came the penalty. Jermaine put on the afterburners to beat Gallers, then twisted and turned past him, burst into the box and went down.
Was it a penalty? In 'live' time I called it as a definite penalty and to be honest, having seen it lots of times on the highlights and slowed it down as well, I still go with that first opinion.
I think Gallers put his arm across and blocked him, and when that happens any player is going to go down.
The referee was in a good position and the reaction to the decision was interesting - five or six Hereford players complain, but Gallers doesn't move from the spot where the challenge is and stands with hands on hips.
That's a sign on a player who knows he is guilty, and Shaun Harrad kept his cool and smashed it in, and after a tight half we had our noses in front again - and as the cliche has it, the perfect time to score.
We know that Gallers can make rash challenges - remember Burton away when he got a red (later rescinded) and the second penalty we conceded on that horrific day at Crewe.
For his part, Jermaine didn't appeal for it, and spent the rest of the game being called a cheat by all the Hereford fans around our commentary position - led by many of the families of players who used to have their mortgages paid by our club. Disappointing, and unnecessary.
That goal meant the second half was 'contain and destroy' for the Rubies - keep it tight and look to nick another on the break. Well, that was the plan...
It was going OK for most of the half, and Yatesy must have been feeling fairly comfortable as Jermaine and Shaun were replaced by Marlon and Darryl, but then came the leveller.
It was a soft goal, no getting away from that.
Clucas had a lot of space on the right hand side, and arced the ball in. Think Steve Guinan in the 2006 play-off final - but Clucas' ball was not as powerful as that.
It dribbled into the box, and I was waiting for a big size nine from Benno or Steve Elliott to smash it away. It didn't come and the ball crept in.
Game on... The volume went up, and I really expected Hereford to try to press on.
They had brought on Marley Watkins to play up alongside Marsh, but those last 15 minutes showed their lack of a Plan B as they failed to build on their goal and seemed to settle for another half-hour. They got their wish.
Then, having played for extra time, Hereford were happy to settle for the penalty lottery, while to Yatesy's credit he told his players to go and win it.
We pushed forward in the first period, but Hereford were sat deep, on their 18-yard line, and we could not find a way through, but we carried that on in the last 15 minutes.
That effort was led by Zebs, who carried the fight to them, driving us on, backed up by Jake, who was still full of energy. Our fitness levels looked superior and we found that £200,000 goal.
It was a great cross from our assist machine Billy Jones, and a great header from sub Mo, making it five goals out of six with his head this season.
Mo had come on when Russ limped off eight minutes of the 90 to go, and I was a bit surprised. I had expected either Sam Deering or Lawson D'Ath to come on, more like for like, but Mo's introduction showed Yatesy wanted to go and win it and he was rewarded for that boldness.
It was a fabulous moment. Mo was engulfed by the fans at the Blackfriars End (who were brilliant and very loud all night by the way) and that goal is another to go down in club folklore - think Eaton at Wembley, Grayson at Rushden, Duff against Yeovil, Kay at Chester, Guinan at Cardiff, Connor v Doncaster, and so on...
Finally, Hereford showed some urgency, but we closed the game out, and now we can look forward to another fabulous occasion at Whaddon, and a financial shot in the arm.
I spoke to the chairman after the game, and he said Yatesy can come and knock on his door and expect a more favourable response - but I hope fans don't expect a massive spending spree.
I am sure the Cup cash will allow Yatesy some room to move in January and strengthen his squad, but I am sure the board will also use some of the money to stash away for a rainy day - things are rosy at the moment, but you never what is lurking round the corner.
But that is for the future. Now we can look forward to Everton at home. That's the sort of game which as recently as 20 years ago was a potential massive pre-season friendly or (as it once was) a testimonial match.
We will have a full ground once again, and the chance to showcase our club on national TV, and, closer to home, get the chance to show the town and the county what a fabulous club and a good team we have got.
It will almost be a 'free' 90 minutes for us. No pressure, no expectation, with the hope that we go out and do ourselves justice on the big stage, and give them a decent game.
I am not saying we should be in awe of them and just limply roll over, but realistically nine times out of 10 Everton should win the game, whatever team David Moyes puts out.
All I want our players to do is to show people what we are capable of and walk off with no regrets and our heads held high, whatever the outcome.
Remember, in the grand scheme of things, promotion has to be the priority, and the cash from games like this can only help us.
The ticket policy has been announced, and I think the club have got it spot on, rewarding first the 'active loyalty' of season ticket holders, Travel Club, Robins Trust, club, 500 club, Ruby and Platinum members, while also giving the more occasional watchers a chance with the stubs from the Barnet and Hereford games, and Vale this weekend.
The prices are right as well, set at the same level as Newcastle six years ago, so the club deserve credit for resisting the temptation to raise a quick buck with higher prices.
For the players, it gives them the incentive to end the year on a high and book their place in the side on January 7, and with the competition in the squad as it is now, there aren't many certain of their places outside the goalkeeper and back four, although I am sure Connor Roberts would love the chance to play his old club...
Marlon's situation sums up that statement - before Northampton, he was an automatic choice, but after two games on the bench, like the others, he will have to fight for his place thanks to the form of those who came in over the last 210 minutes.
We have five games between now and Everton, starting with Port Vale on Saturday, a straight shoot-out for second in the table, and we seemed to come away from Edgar Street with some walking wounded.
Jermaine got a knock from Gallers' naughty-looking off-the-ball challenge soon after the penalty, while Russ limped off after a tackle Yatesy wasn't happy with, and Darryl was poleaxed just before our winner (Gallers again) and tweeted a picture of a pretty swollen and gashed ankle.
Far from ideal before an important game like this one, but with that Cup carrot in the back of their minds, there will be no shortage of players wanting to get in on the act if those three don't make it.
Post-match, Yatesy said he wants 15 points between now and Everton, with Vale, Rochdale, Wycombe, Bristol Rovers and Oxford on the agenda.
Fighting talk, and the timing was ideal. It is just the sort of call to keep the players on their toes.
They know there won't be any dreaming about the Cup allowed around Seasons over Christmas - but there will be plenty of that for us fans as the countdown to January 7 gathers pace.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Comeback kings

Even the manager admitted it in his post-match interview.
"I thought we were going to get a tanking," he said to me when summing up the opening 20 minutes of a game which started on a low and ended on a massive high.
After recent games, Monday's draw with Hereford in particular, the team selection was brought into sharp focus, and when the sheet was put in front of me our tactical set-up wasn't immediately clear.
Sido Jombati was back - but Keith Lowe was still in the side.
Marlon Pack and Jermaine McGlashan on the bench, Chris Zebroski back in along with Russ Penn.
So, was it 4-2-3-1 as usual with Sido wide right and Zebs on the left?
Or three centre halves to combat Adebayo Akinfenwa, with Sido and Billy Jones providing the width as wing-backs? That would have been a risk - a formation I cannot recall us ever playing under Yatesy.
As it turned out, it was flat back four, with Keith about five yards in front of them, with Russ, Jake Taylor and Darren Carter as the middle trio and two up front, Zebs and Shaun Harrad.
Yes, two up front...
My assumption was that Pack and McGlashan were left out with an eye on Tuesday's Cup replay as they have four bookings each - but Yatesy said afterwards he would always have played that formation. Hmm. Maybe.
But saying the system didn't work at first was an understatement.
The scoreboard clock had barely ticked round a minute when Emyr Huws was allowed to get down the left side of the box and pulled back for Bayo to score all too easily.
It was rather similar to the Hereford goal on Monday, when Ryan Bowman was allowed to make a similar run and provide a similar cross before Josh O'Keefe's equaliser.
Yatesy mentioned two things in pre-match interview as the things to look out for - Bayo was one, and long throws were the second - 13 minutes in we found out why.
Ben Tozer launched a bomb in, Scott Brown couldn't get through the melee to grab it, it skimmed off Alan Bennet's head, hit Billy on the leg and bounced in.
Two down, and we were a bit of a shambles, to be honest.
The new formation was not working, Bayo was winning everything, Hackett and Demontagnac were cauting problems, we were second best in midfield and our front two were making no impression.
Lewis Hornby nearly scored from 50 yards with an effort which nearly caught Browny off guard, and he had to backpedal to claw it out. That would have put the tin hat on the opening spell.
With great honesty, the manager admitted he thought he had picked the wrong team, and was asking Neil his view on possible changes. It was that bad.
But we weathered that early storm, and to our credit didn't cave in completely as we could have done, and have done in some previous away games.
The catalyst for me was Zebroski, who started working the line well and giving Clarke Carlisle and Kelvin Langmead more to think about, while at the other end we got to grips with Bayo and kept him quiet for the last 20 minutes of the first half.
Our first goal was similar to theirs, Zebs showed great energy to burst down the left, beat a couple of players and cut back for Carter, who had made a god run himself to apply the finish.
Carter has come in for a lot of flak lately, along with Pack, but looked a lot happier in a more advanced role and was able to have a big influence on the game.
Post-match he said to me that he loves that role, and has played it for most of his career, so let's hope he stays in that role if it means we will get the best out of him.
Two minutes later we were level and it was another delivery from Billy - great free-kick, and a super header from Zebs, glancing in off the post.
For the rest of the half, we were the better side. We looked to have better energy, kept the ball better, defended the long-throw bombs better and kept Bayo out of the game.
But it was no surprise to see Northampton come out firing after the break, and once again we had to dig in.
We didn't have many chances - Harrad had one which he put wide, and a cross from Sido flashed through the box
Most of the half was spent defending long balls and more bombs into the box.
We had a bit of luck - Bayo hit the bar, Browny made a good save and Ben Harding missed a very good chance, but we came up with a bit of class to win it.
Carter started it by winning the ball and then producing a superb pass for Darryl Duffy, and it was a great finish, off the shoulder of the defender and arrowing it into the corner.
That was his first goal since March in the League, but his fifth in three games against Northampton. Can we play you every week...
Coming as it did days after he revealed he has had three loan requests turned down by Yatesy, it just adds another sub plot to the question of who plays up front for us.
Taking in the Barnet, Hereford and Northampton games, all four of our strikers have scored a goal each.
Darryl's celebration afterwards maybe summed up his mood - subdued, but maybe happy inside to have  made a point to the gaffer - but as he admitted himself after the game he is not suited to the lone forward role Yatesy wants to employ in the 4-2-3-1.
Getting physical with centre-halves is not his game, but get him in the channels, running off the shoulder of defenders on to passes like Carter's and he can be deadly.
Arguably though, he might not have even been on the pitch had Jeff Goulding been fit to travel, as Yatesy has susally used Jeff ahead of Darryl...
But in the system we played on Saturday, a 4-1-3-2 becoming a diamond, maybe playing off Zebroski or Goulding, I am sure Darryl would be effective. Not sure him and Harrad would work, as they are  too similar.
If it is two up front, it has to be one of Zeb and Jeff with one of Darryl and Shaun.
Yatesy will be delighted to see the strikers all scoring, and it only gives him even more options, as does the sight of his midfield yesterday showing such good energy and creativity, without Marlon and Jermaine.
I thought Jake Taylor looked happier on the left hand side and he was, as he has been in the last two games, neat and tidy, while Russ gave us what we knew we would get, competitiveness and the ability to get up and down the pitch between the two boxes.
Carter just looked happier - able to affect the game more, as he could leave the tackling to Keith and Russ and concentrate on making us more potent in the final third. Scoring one and making one and almost putting another cross on Harrad's toe just before half-time showed he did just that.
So, despite the start of the game, a great result, made even more important as the League Two fixture list this weekend showed many of the top half playing, and therefore taking points off each other.
It opens up our three-point gap on fourth place, and brings us a point behind Port Vale in second ahead of the game with them on Saturday.
But first, to Tuesday, and the small matter of that £200,000 match up the road at Edgar Street.
After 20 minutes, it looked as if we were going to go there on the back of a third hiding away from home, and needing to pick ourselves off the floor.
But now the opposite is the case. We go there confident, with the spring back in our step, and the manager has plenty of questions to ponder.
The changes and substitutions had the desired effect as some players took their chance, and showed they can be effective in different roles. They also showed some much-needed backbone.
Do Marlon and Jermaine come back in? Does Keith stay in his enforcer role? Does Darren play more advanced again? Is there a place for Mo on the left? One up front, or two? Does Darryl get a start...
My preference would be to play the same system as we did yesterday, and only make one change, Marlon for Keith Lowe.
He could play as the deep midfielder, and try to run the game, it would keep Darren further up the field, and leave Russ and Jake to nominally provide the width - but with Sido and Billy able to push up and support them.
We need Russ in there to combat Harry Pell, and I would fancy Sido to come out on top in a battle with Sam Clucas
I would also keep the two up front, and I think Zebs and Shaun put in a great shift on Saturday after a slow start and deserve the chance to keep their partnership going.
So my team would be (4-1-3-2): Brown, Jombati, Bennett, Elliott, Jones; Pack; Penn, Carter, Taylor; Zebroski, Harrad.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Same old story...

And so it goes on...
The saga of when Cheltenham Town will beat Hereford United moves on to Edgar Street next Tuesday after we threw away our first chance to do it.
We actually got in front this time, something we have not managed to do much against our friends from up the road in the recent past, but then failed to finish the job off.
We let them back into it, surrendered the initiative then lacked the nous to kill them off when they sat back and invited us on to them.
For all the possession we had after the break, two shots, one corner and never getting behind them to put in a decent cross is not good enough.
Credit to Hereford - as usual against us, they raised their game, and fully deserved their draw for their resilience, commitment and shape.
In Harry Pell, they had what we were lacking - a driving force in their midfield. His enthusiasm, tackling and non-stop work ethic epitomised what Hereford were all about. A bit like Luke Summerfield did for us last season.
We have someone who can do that , but he was sat on our bench, Russ Penn. Once again it was a surprise to see him there, while the Marlon Pack-Darren Carter dynamic once again showed why it doesn't work for me.
We started the game well - just as I had wanted us to, setting the tempo, getting out of the blocks well, passing, pressing and not allowing Hereford to settle.
The ball was going out wide, where Jermaine McGlashan gave Joe Heath a torrid opening 20 minutes, while Kaid Mohamed was keeping Andy Gallinagh on his toes and forcing Junior Smikle to come back and double up.
We got the goal from a nice move. Pack to McGlashan, nice low ball and Shaun Harrad flicked it in. But that was the only time we got in behind them, and gave Harrad the kind of service he so obviously thrives on.
They gradually worked out how to stop McGlashan, who hardly got a kick in the second half before being taken off, and we seemed to lack the nous or the invention to break them down. They also doubled up on Mo and he couldn't affect the game too much - although he did have our second half shots and showed a bit more drive in the second half than several others.
We had lots of the ball, lots of passing, but it was sideways and backwards. Then after 10-15 passes, impatience would kick in, and someone would try the 'Hollywood' pass, and that would be that.
Much of the criticism for this has fallen on Marlon Pack, as he is usually the man who tries these 'eye of a needle' passes. More often than not, they came off last season. This season they have, on the whole, not.
I feel some of the flak heading his way is a bit harsh. He isn't totally blameless, but he must share the rap with those around him, as a lack of movement, intelligent runs and inflexibility left us looking toothless and predictable.
We know he hasn't hit the heights of last season, and I will put that down to the breaking up of the partnership he built with Penn and Summerfield.
He hasn't got the same understanding going with Carter, while Penn has been in and out of the side, so they haven't been able to build that continuity.
We also have to remember he is still only 21 years old. In some ways, I think we fans expect too much of him - we think he is going to go out there and win matches on his own sometimes.
If he could do that, he would not have been released by a Championship club, and now plying his trade in League Two.
On Monday, we were set up with Pack and Carter deep, and Jake Taylor nominally the man to help out Harrad.
Unfortunately, this transpired to leave a 30-yard gap between Pack/Carter and Taylor, so there was little or no link-up play, bar the move for the goal.
Contrast that with Hereford, who had Pell and Will Evans hunting in packs, linking with Sam Clucas coming off the left flank, Junior Smikle off the right and Josh O'Keefe dropping deep - with no massive gaps.
They were able to exploit the space we were leaving them as the first half wore on, and benefited from our lax attitude to tackling at times, notable when Clucas ran in off his flank about 25 yards and fed Pell, whose shot just went over the post-bar angle.
The five of them worked together - our midfield seemed to be in two seperate unites, Pack and Carter in one, McGlashan, Taylor and Mo in the other.
Pack should be our quarterback. He should dictate the way we play, but at the moment he can't seem to do that in our system, or with the personnel we are using.
Whether that means a change in tactics, maybe to 4-1-4-1 with Pack behind a flat four, in a 'free' role where he could affect the game more, or whether Yatesy might revisit the 'diamond' with Marlon at the base of it... who knows?
Mark certainly has the options to shuffle about and refresh his midfield, with Pack, Carter, Taylor, Lawson D'Ath, Penn and Deering to choose from now in central areas.
Many fans want Mark to play 4-4-2 - but I am not convinced we have the correct balance in the squad to make it work. Look at the Accrington home game...
This is not based on the middle pairing - of those six mentioned above, there must be two who would dovetail nicely in the centre - but it is out wide that I would worry more, especially on the left.
This is because Mo is not an out-and-out winger like Jermaine. We have seen that he does not always have the discipline to keep the shape, as he likes to flit into the middle and across the line to the right, and this could leave us lopsided at times.
Many of those wanting 4-4-2 automatically think it would lead to us scoring more goals. They look at the '2' and think this means attack after attack, but neglect the effect that can have on the rest of the team
We didn't play 4-4-2 for much of last season and scored plenty of goals - not many were complaining about us playing one up front when we were on that good run last Autumn.
The other second-half disappointment from Monday was when we made the changes. Our shape didn't seem to change at all.
Penn, Sam Deering and Jeff Goulding came on, but we didn't commit any more men forward - there didn't seem to be any increase in urgency or, most disappointingly, desire to assert the authority given to us by the possession we had, take the game by the scruff of the neck and really put pressure on Hereford.
They spent most of the half with nine behind the ball, but did have one or two dangerous breaks, only testing Browny once with an Evans long shot which he tipped over.
A draw was fine for them - they were delighted to take us back to Edgar Street and have another go at us, but we should not have settled for it as we seemed to do - we had to go out and try to win the game but seemed to be lacking the energy and the impetus to do so.
So now we go to Edgar Street on Tuesday, in a match which could be worth about £200,000 to the winners. Not much pressure then.
Hereford will have to come out, and the onus will be on them this time to try to win the game, and hopefully we can take advantage of that and book that TV date with Everton.
First though, and arguably more important, is the trip to Northampton on Saturday, and another clash with a certain Mr Akinfenwa...

Sunday, 2 December 2012


If - a small and sometimes insignificant word, but in this case, the only one that matters.
Yesterday was the FA Cup third round draw, usually the most exciting day of the footballing calendar, and the balls fell in our favour with a potential home game with Premier League giants Everton.
If we do something we have not done since 1999, not done at home since 1969 and not done in the FA Cup since 1946 - beat Hereford United.
So that is why, for now, I am trying not to get myself excited at the possibility of Marouane Fellaini's afro doing battle with Marlon Pack in the heart of the midfield at Whaddon Road in January.
That lot from about 30 miles away have to be dealt with first.
Some fans are already getting excited judging by my Twitter feed since about 3pm today. Fine - but I would rather wait until 9.45pm tomorrow, and if we have done the job, then I will join in the fun.
But what an incentive it is.
Think back to that trip to Chester. We knew Newcastle were waiting for us - yet also remember that miserable trip to Doncaster, and how we had to watch them play Aston Villa rather than us.
So we have seen it from both sides - but all this potential draw does is increase the pressure on both sides.
For Hereford, a game at home to a Premier League side means a full house at Edgar Street, more much-needed money for their survival, and - 99 per cent certain - TV revenue as well.
So if they weren't already chomping at the bit for the game, they certainly will be now.
For us, the same is true, a capacity crowd, once again you would imagine the TV companies being interested, so it would give Mark Yates some cash to spend in January in the same way that the Spurs game facilitated the arrival of Jermaine McGlashan earlier this year.
It would also raise the profile of the club once again at a time when it is desperately needed, and if (that word again) we can get through tomorrow night it will be a massive shot in the arm.
I was nervous enough before this draw, and all it has done it made those butterflies about 1000 times worse.
Whaddon Road should be packed tomorrow night as all those scrambling around for a big-match ticket in the event of a game with Everton.
If it doesn't come off, they can always come to Southend instead with the rest of us - but with any luck we will have the moaning about Johnny Come Lately's getting tickets while those who have watched the club for years do not.
Although how that happens when we get home crowds of less than 3000 and the ground holds 7000 I can't quite work out, but once again we will cross that bridge - if it happens.
First though, Hereford, and that record.
It has to end soon, and I am heartily sick and tired of getting my hopes up when we play them only to be well and truly let down by an inept performance.
At home, I remember in despair watching John Brough scoring the winner in a Conference game, Waide Fairhurst's two goals and a couple of rockets from Sam Hewson after we led 2-1 and Ian Westlake smacked a free kick against the post.
At Edgar Street, since that horrible day when David Norton was spat on as we won 2-0 in the Conference back in 1999, we suffered that 3-0 loss when Steve Guinan played like a man possessed and Shane Higgs made a monumental error.
That then led to Martin Allen's team coach hairdryer on the way home, and has been followed by a lot of 1-1 draws, but still we have not grabbed that victory.
Hereford will be a team on a mission, desperate for the cash and with nothing to lose.
Some of their former CTFC contingent, Marley Watkins and Michael Townsend, are injured and likely to miss the game. Marley has tweeted as much.
But that leaves Junior Smikle and Andy Gallinagh, two of the most whole-hearted players to wear the red and white in recent seasons, and Marlon Jackson, who only played 20 minutes for us anyway.
It's all about attitude and desire. Our players have to put the potential draw out of their mind and go out and play like the team we know they can be.
We are the favourites and we should win, if the mindset is right. The fans need to do their part as well, as there will be 1300 Hereford fans in the Hazlewoods and In2Print shouting their lungs out as they always do.
It's all set up for a cracker tomorrow night, and could pave the way for another great day in our club's recent history.
If not, I'll see you all at Roots Hall.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Another late show

Coming as it did on the back of two four-goal defeats, this was never going to be a walkover.
Barnet, bottom of the table, with Edgar Davids in their ranks, had improved of late, and showed that they are nowhere near the worst side we have played this season.
The pressure was on us a bit after those defeats on the road.
The table had closed up after our loss at Chesterfield, and the way the fixtures fell for the other sides around us did not help.
While we had two away games, the other sides had two home games, but had not really taken advantage of them, with Gillingham and Rotherham among the team beaten on Tuesday.
Now we were at home, and everyone else was away, so we had to try to take advantage of it. Which we did. Just.
With Jake Taylor coming in from Reading, and on the back of those defeats, Yatesy's team selection was always going to be an interesting one.
Jeff Goulding had not excelled in the lone striker role at the Proact Stadium, so Shaun Harrad came back in, while Kaid Mohamed's injury saw Chris Zebroski move out left.
Taylor came back into the side, but I have to admit I could not understand Russ Penn being left out to accomodate him.
He had been the pick of the central three against Rotherham and Chesterfield, and with Davids in the Barnet side I thought he would be the perfect man to combat the Dutch master.
But Yatesy opted to keep Marlon Pack and Darren Carter together, despite worries over how they have gelled together lately... and some of those doubts surfaced during the game.
On a few occasions, Mark Byrne was able to make dangerous runs to the edge of our box and get shots in, as did Davids just before half-time, shooting wide, while Ricky Holmes on the left had some dangerous moments.
That was partly due to a lack of tackles and closing down in midfield, but also by our back four's tendency to back off and invite them to keep running at them rather than standing their ground.
In the first half, we didn't create any real golden chances - just some half-chances, Taylor shooting wide and Harrad also.
This was, in the main, down to the presence of Clovis Kamdjo, who was a human barrier for anything we tried to pass through or around the Barnet midfield.
He sat 10 yards in front of their back four, and nothing was getting through. We had him on trial under Martin Allen, but he was allowed to go. No further comment is needed.
I thought Harrad generally looked sharper of late, while Taylor looked a neat and tidy player. I was encouraged that he always wanted the ball and was available.
He found space well on the edge of the box twice in the first half, but looked a bit reluctant to have a shot. I am sure that confidence will come with games.
The big turning point was the penalty, and it looked a stonewaller as Carter had his arm out, and the ball hit it. These days those are given straight away.
To be fair to Scott Brown, his record from penalties has not been great - I must admit I do not think I have ever been at a game when he has kept one out.
But with the help of Sam Deering (via Steve Book pointing from the bench), he guessed right this time and made a good save.
That seemed to deflate Barnet, and Yatesy soon looked to his bench, with Deering the first to come on and I thought he looked lively straight away and seemed to perk us up.
He was followed after 79 minutes by Penn, and then - most tellingly of all - Goulding, once again brought on ahead of Darryl Duffy.
Jeff had been on the pitch for precisely 84 seconds, and had not had a touch when he reached into his bag of tricks and dug out a pitching wedge to direct a very precise chip over Graham Stack for what proved to be the winner.
It was a sublime finish, with very little backlift, the quality of which we have seen before from Jeff - at Accrington last season, again when he had just come on, and in a pre-season game at Telford, when he chipped in from about 40 yards.
Therein lies the frustration with the enigma that is Jeff Goulding. We know he has that quality in his locker, but do we see it enough...?
If he did it all the time, he would not be playing in League Two, no doubt, but contrast that with his display on Tuesday, when he barely got a kick and you can see why fans do get frustrated with him.
Shades of Josh Low, whose languid style and tendency to affect one game in four or five was a source of much teeth-gnashing.
Jeff is a bit of a bete noir with some Robins followers anyway after the game at Wycombe this season, where he was accused of flicking a sign at the away contingent who were unhappy with him after missing a late chance for a winner.
I wasn't in the away end so did not see a) if he flicked anything and b) if it was directed at the away fans, but some fans have demonised him for that
I am told there were some boos and yells of derision when he came on last weekend. They didn't last long as his moment of magic was enough to win us the game.
That was despite Kamdjo hitting the post and Stack heading a late chance wide when he popped up in the box, but, once again, for the second home game running, we ground it out with a late winner.
Sometimes, that it was what you have to do. These teams will not roll over, and after two chastening away defeats, a win and a clean sheet is all that matters.
It opened up again a three-point gap for us in the third - now cut to one again by Rotherham's midweek win.
Finally, a few stats...
After 20 games, we have won half of them, drawn five and lost five, which is respectable.
We have kept nine clean sheets, the most in the division, yet in the five games we have lost, 17 goals have gone in (3 lots of three goals and the two fours last week).
In the other 15 games, we have let in eight, and four of those were in two games, the 2-2 draws against Torquay and Fleetwood.
So that means in 13 games, only four goals have gone in - Keith Lowe's own goal at Wycombe, Peter Leven's penalty against Oxford, Byron Harrison's header at Wimbledon and Conor Hourihane's opener for Plymouth.
We have scored in 17 of our 20 League games. Only Accrington, York and Gillingham have kept us out.
This is a record only bettered by Gillingham, who have failed to score in two games (one against us).
Our home record after 10 games is 7-1-2 - the best in the division - and we have now played all the teams in the bottom half of the table, winning eight, drawing three and losing one (to Accrington) -  again the best record in the division.
We have three teams left to play - Port Vale, Northampton and Rochdale. By December 21, we should be able to gauge properly who the strongest teams in the division are.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The road to hell

As I drove up the M1 to Rotherham last Saturday morning, I was in an optimistic mood.
We were on a decent run of form - one defeat in 12 games, four clean sheets in a row, third in League Two and had looked in decent nick away from home.
Driving back down the same road some 84 hours, two defeats and eight bad goals shipped later and I felt like some punch-drunk fighter battling to get off the ropes after an onslaught of hooks and jabs.
The good run was well and truly over, the clean sheets were a distant memory and the only (scant) consolation was that we are still third in the league.
I am always a glass-half-full guy - not one to go in for knee-jerk reactions.
Two heavy away defeats do not instantly mean that our players are not good enough, our manager is suddenly a clown and that we are now automatically destined to plunge headlong down the League Two table.
But you're only as good as your last game - although I not feel that two four-goal defeats condemns us as a terrible side, merely one which has some flaws to iron out.
We have been in decent form, grinding out results without being overly spectacular, and you cannot be third in the table if you are a poor side.
If anyone out there was guilty of getting ahead of themselves, be that in the dressing room or on the terraces, then these two games will act as a welcome reality check.
Taking the two games as a whole, the main problem in my eyes has been in midfield, and especially the dynamic between Marlon Pack and Darren Carter.
Carter, I am afraid, was especially poor in the double header, quite rightly being the man to come off at half-time at Chesterfield.
As I saw it, during the one-and-a-half games they had together, both Pack and Carter frequently went forward together, rather than one going up and one staying back - so when we lost the ball it left the defence hopelessly exposed.
Compare this with Gillingham, where at times it seemed that the pair of them were too deep, almost playing as extra centre-halves. This time, they took it to the other extreme.
But we kept a clean sheet at Gillingham, and let in eight in those last two games - so which was the better tactic?
Ahead of them, Russ Penn was the only one to emerge from Chesterfield with any real credit.
This is mainly because he often found himself having to do the work of three, and was almost trying to stem the blue tide on his own, such was the anonymity of the pair behind him.
We went 4-4-2 after half-time, and, strangely enough, looked more resolute and solid - but we know that we cannot sustain that formation on the road.
After this weekend, we will have Lawson D'Ath back from Reading, and also from the Mad Stad we have brought in Jake Taylor, and with Sam Deering also knocking on the door, Yatesy has scope to shake things up.
I feel 'safer' with us playing 4-2-3-1 - but I must admit that Penn playing as the more advanced of the three central players perplexes me somewhat.
His job is to support the front man, get into the box and get shots in. But in the time Russ has played that role, he has scored twice, in successive games against Southend and Luton.
So has he worked in that role? Largely no, so why does he still play it?
Surely, with his terrier-like ball-winning abilities, he would be better deployed defensively, alongside Marlon as one of the covering two, with young Taylor, D'Ath, Deering or Carter pushed further up.
Deering played there for Barnet and - let's face it - if he is not going to get a chance after two four-goal defeats then when will he...?
Taylor is described as an attacking midfielder who can play wide or off the striker, so seems to fit that bill, and D'Ath certainly showed lots of energy and an eye for goal against Exeter.
That leaves Carter, who seemed to be hitting his straps before these last two games, with his goals against Morecambe - yet we definitely miss Luke Summerfield's box-to-box energy and there is no doubt that midfield trio has not been 'right' this season.
Their failings have contributed to the majority of the eight goals we have leaked this week, especially the first three of Tuesday's goals.
For the first, Chris Atkinson's run was not tracked, ditto Sam Togwell for the second after Darikwa's shot his the bar and then the ball was given away to Brennan Dickenson and we parted for Marc Richards to score. All basic errors.
The fourth came from a cheaply-conceded corner which was then not defended at all.
Some have pointed to the loss of Sido Jombati for the last two games as a factor in the two losses - personally I think that has nothing to do with it.
The problems lie further up the field - you have to defend from the front, and we have not been doing that.
I don't blame the defenders or goalkeeper as much as I do the lack of application in the middle of the park and also the inability of the front players to provide a suitable outlet.
Chris Zebroski, Kaid Mohamed and Jermaine McGlashan were the front three at Rotherham, and Zebroski worked hard as usual but the other two were ineffective.
McGlashan paid the price on Tuesday with Zebroski moving right and Jeff Goulding slotting in, and that change did not work at all.
Goulding barely touched the ball in the hour or so he was on the pitch, and Mohamed - bar a great header for his goal - had a second successive off-day.
Mo's was another goal from a set-piece, and we had another couple of decent squeaks from corners, and while it is all well and good that we look threatening from them, we cannot rely solely on Billy Jones' left foot to set up chances.
A worrying aspect of these last two games is just how little we have created in front of goal from open play. Yes, Zeb's goal at Rotherham was a good move, but that has been the exception, rather than the norm, as we have been unable to get our wide players functioning and our midfield runners linking up with the increasingly-isolated front man.
In the second half at Chesterfield, when we went to 4-4-2 with McGlashan, Shaun Harrad and Darryl Duffy coming on things did not change in that regard, with none of the substitutes making any real impact, and demanding that Yatesy puts them in the team for Barnet.
With the arrival of Taylor and D'Ath, Yatesy has managed to bolster the squad for a busy-looking December, and soon eyes will turn to January, when he will have some decisions to make.
The Echo this week mentioned the possibility of two players being paid up - this would surely point to Danny Andrew and Bagasan Graham, neither of whom can get a look-in.
Andrew has been on the bench and got a run-out against Exeter, but seems to be in the 18 simply because there is no-one else and having had loan spells elsewhere his days are numbered.
Bags appears to be fit, but has lost out to youth teamer Joe Hanks for a place on the bench in recent weeks, showing where he sits in the pecking order.
In addition, Carter's deal runs out, and given his form in the last two games, serious thought has to be given to whether it should be extended, or whether Yatesy feels he can spend the money better elsewhere - maybe on a Summerfield clone if he can find one...
Then there are the strikers... and Yatesy will be looking for a solution here to the lack of regular goals from his four front men.
Zebroski, before Tuesday, had scored three in four games, and is the only one in any semblance of decent nick at the moment.
Of the other three, Harrad is on a very expensive loan - and the question must be whether Yatesy gets to January and thinks that it is too expensive and cuts it off in the hope of deploying that cash somewhere else.
Duffy and Goulding look bereft of form and confidence and unless they can find it next month, they might find themselves being asked to look elsewhere in January.
None of the latter three deserve a place in the starting line-up at the moment, so if I was sitting down to pick Saturday's side, it would be something like this...
The back five pick themselves, Brown, Lowe, Elliott, Bennett and Jones.
Then into midfield. Hmmm. I would pair Pack and Penn in front of the back four, and give Deering a start ahead of them.
He deserves a chance, and there is also a bit of 'former-club syndrome' coming into play with that choice - look what it did for Penn against Burton.
McGlashan gets the nod on the right, and then I would try something different by giving loanee Taylor a place on the left, with Zebroski up top.
I was tempted to be even more radical and push Mo through the middle, but with his recent goal record that would be very harsh on Zeb.
Bench would therefore be Roberts, Carter, Goulding, Duffy, Harrad, Andrew and Mohamed.
Over to you Yatesy...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Nightmare at the New York

I had been looking forward to this game for a few weeks, mainly because it was the chance to see Rotherham United's new stadium.
It is an impressive place - just the sort of stadium I would love Cheltenham to have one day - and as it turned out the stadium was the highlight of the whole day, especially as I didn't see the Chuckle Brothers (unless they are called Steve Evans and Paul Raynor).
The pies were decent as well, and it was a surprise that the nice Mr Evans had left some for the rest of us.
That was about it, as the football from a Cheltenham point of view did not hit the heights - apart from the first 45 seconds.
That was when the lethal Keith Lowe was more surprised than anyone to find himself all alone in the Rotherham box with the ball from a Billy Jones corner at his feet.
So that was 1-0 with the Bilston Cafu's fourth goal of the season... but that was about as good as it got.
Within three minutes, he had been skinned twice by the teenage Villa loanee Courtney Cameron, and the second cross saw Scott Brown punch Alex Revell in the head rather than the ball and Daniel Nardiello had an open goal to head into.
For the next 25 minutes or so, we were over run. We never got to grips with Rotherham's midfield, especially Lee Frecklington and Ben Pringle, and they were cutting us open at will.
Darren Carter and Marlon Pack were constantly being caught ahead of the ball, and unable to get back and make a worthwile challenge, so when Rotherham broke, they often had 5 or 6 on 4 advantage on us as they ran at our unprotected back four.
The tackling in midfield was powder puff, our wide players were anonymous, and Chris Zebroski isolated, which meant we also had no escape outlet, and so the attacks were almost relentless.
It was no surprise when the second goal came. Alan Bennett made a decent enough header away under pressure, but the ball fell to Pringle, who was not closed down and came up with a crisp (!!) finish, although the shot did appear to go through Scott Brown's dive.
Our passing was ragged and we could not get enough decent possession to get a foothold in the game, and we gave a third goal away when Craig Morgan's hopeful pass was missed by Steve Elliott (just about his first mistake of the season, it has to be said...) and Nardiello kept his cool to finish.
I have to admit that at this point I was worried. Such was our lack of appetite for a battle in midfield, I could see the game becoming another Stevenage, or even a Crewe as we were not in the game at all.
They could have had more goals - our midfield malaise was summed up when Frecklington won the ball on the halfway line and ran 40 yards without a challenge, straight past Pack and Kaid Mohamed and shot from the edge of the box, shaving the outside of the post.
It was not good enough, and disappointingly out of character from what we had seen at places like Gillingham on our travels this season.
But out of the blue we got a goal, when Marlon and Jermaine McGlashan set up Zeb for a well-worked goal which was rather out of character for the previous half-hour.
That goal showed what we could have done with a little more application, and, to use the manager's words post-match, had we wanted to stand up and be counted.
Rotherham did not look the best side defensively and were coming off a 5-0 defeat but we never tested them for long periods and, to be honest, handed them their goals on a silver platter.
We were a bit more resolute after the break, and, at 3-2 were somehow still in the game with the chance of getting a point.
Rotherham did not have as many chances in the second half - Browny had one save to make from a deflected shot and Nardiello chipped over when he could have got his hat-trick, and to his credit Yatesy made two positive changes on the hour.
Jeff Goulding and Shaun Harrad came on, and I have no arguments with Mo coming off as it was not his happiest afternoon, but I did not agree with Russ Penn coming off.
I would have given Carter or Pack the hook, but Penn was sacrificed again, as he was after his man of the match outing against Burton last weekend, robbing us of any steel or energy in the middle of the park for the last half-hour.
We went to 4-4-2 as Zeb was pushed out wide, and I thought Goulding and Harrad did okay. Jeff had a header onto the roof of the net and Harrad was denied twice by some good defensive blocks. That was about as close as we got to an equaliser which - let's face it - would have been a bit of a travesty given our overall display.
It was interesting to see that once again Jeff and Shaun were the first two subs introduced, once again ahead of Darryl Duffy, which could be a telling insight into how Yatesy sees the pecking order of our forwards.
Zeb has now joined Shaun in five goals and is deservedly the first pick, with Harrad on five - but he has not scored since September 18. Jeff has one league goal and Darryl's goal this season was in the JPT and he has not scored in the League since March, at Morecambe.
With rumours that Yatesy is after another forward, they need to find their shooting boots, or one or two of them may be kicking their heels for a bit longer.
Sam Deering was the last change, and again I was disappointed that it was Jermaine, rather than one of the two central midfielders, hauled off.
He had just been stupidly booked for kicking the ball away, and had been well looked after for the afternoon but I would have liked him out there for those last few minutes as he could have produced something.
Sam hasn't yet hit the heights of his performances against us for Barnet, and he started well with a decent touch and cross which set up one of Shaun's chances - but then blotted his copybook at the end.
For some reason, he tried to take a quick free kick by our own corner flag and made a mess of it, gifting the fourth goal to Frecklington, and that was that.
Rotherham were a decent-looking side, but not unbeatable, and they cannot be helped by their manager's ridiculous antics on the line, playing to the crowd with overblown reactions to every decision which goes against his team - and what was he doing on the pitch after the fourth goal??
But enough about him. We could have got something out of the game with a bit more desire and application.
But we lost the game, and did not play well, but it is two defeats in 12 games, and we still stay in third place.
Hopefully, Yatesy will get the right reaction at Chesterfield in another tricky away game on Tuesday, and get us back on track. Let's hope this was just a blip.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

They all count...

When a team is looking to mount a promotion challenge, the difference between success and failure can often be a thin one.
A dropped point here, and unlucky defeat there - but one thing teams have to do when they are in our position is to find a way to win.
Those tight, tense games, like this one was, are the ones that have to be won, and the ones which will be looked back on with great satisfaction if we get what we want in May.
I don't feel that there is any doubt that we deserved to win the game, but equally Burton could have nicked it on the break and it was a great relief when Chris Zebroski was in the right place at the right time to nick the winner.
It isn't the most spectacular goal he has ever scored, but in the context of our season it could prove to be a very important one.
I am sure Burton will feel aggrieved after a stoic defensive display and some dangerous breakaways were not rewarded but they have enough about them to stay in the top half.
Almost all of our threats on their goal came from Billy Jones' set-pieces, Alan Bennett hit the bar, Zebroski shot wide and there were countless melees and scrambles from the left-back's pinpoint deliveries.
It was to Burton's credit that we did not create much from open play, bar a Russ Penn header in the first half and a shot from the same player in the second which the keeper saved well.
Burton learned their lesson from last season when Jermaine McGlashan ripped them to pieces and they went through three left-backs in the game at Whaddon.
They doubled up on him straight away and kept him quiet, and on the other side Kaid Mohamed was also largely ineffective - and again to their credit Burton forced them to frequently switch flanks to find more joy on the other side.
I felt Zebroski was an effective spearhead with good movement and justified his selection even before grabbing the goal, which was his fourth of the season.
Zander Diamond and Marcus Holness looked very strong at the back for Burton - and they seem to have a much better backbone, while Anthony O'Connor did well at right back, and Nathan Stanton likewise on the left side.
In our midfield, Russ Penn was exceptional against his old club and should have got the man of the match award. He was taken off - somewhat strangely in my view, but he had run his legs off for 77 minutes.
Darren Carter and Marlon Pack started the game well, but then seemed to fade a bit, and seemed to drop a bit too deep, leaving a gap between the back six and front four in the second half.
One of them at least needs to push 10-15 yards further up the pitch, as they can be too close to the centre halves - maybe Carter should get up with Penn and leave Pack deeper - effectively making us into a 4-1-4-1 system with the wingers pushing on.
Defensively, we looked sound for most of the game. Elliott and Bennett carried on where they left off at Gillingham, and largely kept Calvin Zola quiet.
The only real chances he had were gifted to him by lax passing further up the field - Mo made one error which ended with a shot into the side netting, and we had an escape with Matthew Paterson's offside goal just before half-time.
Like us, they had a potent corner-taking weapon in Chris Palmer and his deliveries posed a few problems for Scott Brown - but he didn't really have a difficult save to make until the dying seconds.
I have mentioned Jones' fantastic set-piece deliveries, but he was defensively sound as was Sido Jombati on the other side, and both of them had more joy going forward than our orthodox wide men.
It is a fourth clean sheet in a row, and keeps up Benno's unbeaten record this season - played 11, won seven drawn four is the skipper's record in the side this season.
It wasn't a surprise to see Mo taken off, but it was to see Jeff Goulding come on first. I thought Shaun Harrad might have got the nod, but then he did replace Penn later on.
My only thought can be was that Yatesy was looking for Jeff's guile and touch to find a way to unlock Burton, but neither of them were particularly effective when they came on.
Zeb's winner now makes it 11 goals between our four forwards. When you consider that Tom Pope has 17 on his own for Port Vale, that one consistent reliable goalscorer does seem to be our slight Achilles heel.
Some fans are crying out for two up front, especially at home. But our current system suits the players we have - go to 4-4-2 and we have seen plenty of times that we are left too open - and then which midfielder would be left out?
It couldn't be wither of the wide men or you cut off the service to front two, so one of Penn, Carter or Pack would therefore have to be sacrificed. A big decision.
So another win, one defeat in 12, four successive clean sheets, level on points with second-placed Port Vale - yet the view of many is that we are not playing as well as we did last season.
But we are finding ways to win games, and have looked a tight, well-drilled unit in recent games, even though we are not firing on all cylinders in the final third.
Next stop Rotherham and the delightful Mr Evans, on the back of a 5-0 defeat he described as the worst performance by a team he has managed. That will be fun, then...

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Not green around the Gills

It's a long trek to Gillingham, and I had one hell of a marathon trip back home, but it was worth it to witness the most complete Cheltenham Town performance of the season.
Pre-match, all of the talk was about Martin Allen, and the dreadful mess he left when he finally departed our club three years ago.
Tuesday showed how well we have recovered - but this was Mark Yates' 150th match in charge, testament to how much of a long-term task it has been to get the club back on its' feet.
It would have been very sweet to have gone down there and got one over on Mr Allen, but he did get the ball kicked into his crown jewels by Jermaine McGlashan, who has now earned hero status.
The reception given to the team by the 109 souls high in the Brian Moore Stand on the final whistle showed that a draw was more than acceptable.
In the first half we were exceptional - shades of our purple patch last season, and possibly our best 45 of this campaign.
We passed it quickly and accurately; broke with pace and incisiveness; closed down in midfield and defended strongly - all that was missing was a goal.
Kaid Mohamed came closest, forcing a good save from Stuart Nelson, Russ Penn had a header saved, Chris Zebroski shot wide, and there were other half-chances.
The second 45 minutes was equally impressive - but for different reasons, as we stood up to Gillingham pressure, soaking it up well and allowing them only two clear-cut chances.
Yatesy was able to pick what, on paper, is currently his strongest 11, with Steve Elliott, Darren Carter, McGlashan and Zebroski all coming back in.
Gillingham have been scoring goals for fun at home - three successive four-goal wins - but this was the first time they have been shut out on their own turf, and the display should give everyone optimism that we can mount that challenge to go one better this season.
That record tells you they are a good side, but so are we - and we showed it as we knocked them off their game in the first half.
They were restricted to one golden chance which Danny Kedwell somehow hit the bar from about four yards after Scott Brown saved from Jack Payne, while we had the chances mentioned above.
I felt our midfield trio of Penn, Carter and Marlon Pack were the key to it - they broke up the play well and Marlon especially looked to spread possession wide and they also supported our breaks.
The best of those saw Mo get through, and we had a three on one but that one was Callum Davies, and he made a superb tackle.
In the second half, Gillingham's midfield got on top with Romain Vincelot especially impressive, and they had the bulk of possession - but Scott Brown had one save to make, a brilliant flying tip-over from Chris Whelpdale.
The introduction of Deon Burton alongside Kedwell made Gillingham more dangerous and he was a threat, heading a good chance just wide of the post.
We didn't create much at all in the second half, but showed resilience and kept our shape superbly, led, as ever, by those two defensive rocks, Elliott and Alan Bennett.
With Captain Marvel Benno in the side alongside Stevie, we are undefeated in 10 games this season, letting in only six goals and keeping six clean sheets. Some record.
Nothing against Keith Lowe - he is unlucky to be left out - but Benno and Steve Elliott must be the best central defensive pairing in League Two. 
They are our best since the legendary Chris Banks and Mark 'Boka' Freeman - and I might even go as far as to argue they are better... Discuss.
They were backed up by the full-backs - Sido was his usual self, marauding forward and having to hare back after losing the ball, slicing the odd clearance, but getting the job done in his unorthodox style, and it was to his credit that Myles Weston was withdrawn early.
And Billy Jones - for some reason criticised by a few fans - had another steady 7 or 8 out of 10 game and, as well as defending stoutly and largely nullifying Gillingham's threat down the right-hand side and - once again - almost setting up a goal with his superb set-piece deliveries.
Up front, Zeb worked really hard, linking well with Jermaine, Mo and the midfield trio and justified his selection ahead of our other three strikers.
He currently looks the best bet to play as the '1' in our 4-2-3-1 system - but that is as much to do with his looking the sharpest and busiest of the three, as it is to do with Darryl Duffy, Jeff Goulding and Shaun Harrad  not hitting their straps.
Goulding came on late on Tuesday and did what was required - looking to hold the ball up and provide an outlet to relieve the pressure.
But our goal threat from the strikers is the one part of the team which is worrying me slightly at the moment.
Harrad has five goals, but has not scored since September 18, Zebroski has scored three times, while Duffy and Goulding have a goal each - so 10 goals in total from our strikers in 19 league and cup games, which is not good enough for a team looking to challenge for automatic promotion.
Mo, Jermaine, Darren, Marlon, Keith, Sido and Steve have also contributed, which is what is needed, but the forwards need to start firing - and I still think we need a 'proper' target man.
But that is for the future. Our display on Tuesday laid a marker down as we went to the side who have been the best in the division for the first third of campaign, stood toe-to-toe with them and showed that we can more than match the best.
They are a good side, with some experienced players and they will be up there this season. On this showing, so will we. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

I would love it if we beat them...

In October 2007, when John Ward walked out on Cheltenham Town after the defeat at Port Vale, I was the sports editor of the Gloucestershire Echo.
That night was a busy, and a memorable one. I left the office at 4am after re-arranging the paper to get news of the exit, reaction and a match report on the Vale loss into the paper.
Nights like that were why I loved doing that job, and why I wish I was still doing it.
The following morning, we sat down and came up with a list of other potential candidates for the job, aside from the man left in caretaker charge, Keith Downing.
One name stood out on that list we drew up - Martin Allen.
He was available as he had just left Leicester after only four games in charge, his dad used to manage the club, he had done well at Barnet and Brentford - he seemed an ideal candidate.
I phoned him up to sound him out. He said he couldn't talk about it as he was still negotiating a settlement from Leicester - but reading between the lines, he was interested.
I then wrote a piece for the paper championing him for the job. Looking back, it is the one article in 20-plus years of journalism that I regret sitting down to write.
We also ran a online poll. About 80 per cent of those who voted (about 1,000) plumped for Allen to get the job. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and as we know, Keith Downing got the nod this time.
He was too much of a gentleman to ever say it to me, but I don't think he really forgave me for writing that piece - effectively I was saying he should not be given the job.
But he was, and when we beat Doncaster to stay up in League One, I sought him out in the Nest bar, apologised for writing that piece, and thanked him for keeping us up.
The start of the 2008-9 season was a difficult one. We conceded four goals against Northampton on the opening day, then at home to Leicester, at Oldham, and finally - fatally for Keith - at Hartlepool on a Friday night.
I recall seeing him walking across the Victoria Park pitch after that game, looking a haunted figure. It was also the night Michael Townsend became embroiled in an argument with fans at the final whistle.
Myself and some friends were in Edinburgh the following day, watching Hibs play Dundee United. In the pub before the game, the news came through that Keith had gone. It wasn't a great surprise.
Post-match, in the same pub, we got the news that Allen had been appointed as the new manager. That was more of a surprise - not in the person who was appointed, but more with the speed it was done.
Paul Baker described him as the fans' choice, citing the Echo poll from a year before. Hard though it may be now, it is difficult to argue with the chairman's assessment.
None of us had any idea of the rollercoaster which we had just boarded.
We knew Allen was eccentric in his methods, as there had been stories from Barnet and Brentford.
The 'Mad Dog' moniker should have been a warning for us, and you are left to wonder now if we investigated why he left Leicester so abruptly.
The gimmicks started almost straight away - at his press conference, the phone rang halfway through, and we were told it was Gary Johnson confirming the loan signing of Scott Murray (a deal which Keith Downing had already put in motion, but Allen hijacked and tried to take the credit for).
Then the press corps were marched outside, and Allen had photos taken by a sign saying 'Safety Officer'. Apparently that was him. He was going to take us to safety. Right...
Murray's arrival was the first of a ridiculous stream of arrivals. Loan signing after loan signing after loan signing came in.
We could only play five in the matchday squad of 18, and at one point we had nine of them on the books.
In the meantime, the players he inherited at the club were marginalised, transfer-listed, alienated, discarded.
There were substitutions 15 or 20 minutes into games, four or five team and positional changes from match to match, players being transfer-listed one day and then taken off the list the next, and staff members (notably Bob Bloomer) were summarily dispensed with.
Players were selected for a game or two, talked up by the manager, and then dropped just as quickly, and some of these loans were not cheap, despite the manager alleging that they were 'free'.
Some of them were good players - James Wesolowski (before he got injured at Tranmere), Murray and Ian Westlake were three I can recall - others were not... Tom Denton, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Johnny Hayes particularly spring to mind from the pit of mediocrity.
As well as the loans, we had the likes of Elvis Hammond, Barry Hayles and Darren Kenton arriving as he carried on trying to ship out more of the players he inherited.
Townsend went to Barnet, Allen wanted Shane Duff to go to Northampton, and Lloyd Owusu had to be shipped off to Brighton, and he also blooded several youth teamers long before they were ready. Some of them were out of their depth and never recovered.
Tales emerged that the dressing room atmosphere was not the best - on the terraces and elsewhere within the club it wasn't much better either.
Results were shocking - after a 2-1 win at Orient in December, we didn't win for 16 games.
There were stories of unconventional training methods, notably before the FA Cup replay at Doncaster where he allegedly had Lee Ridley throwing pieces of toast across for Ashley Vincent to head at a TV playing the part of a goal.
The story gets even more surreal when, after spotting Ridley was throwing the toast right handed, he was ordered to do it with his left, as he is left-footed. You just couldn't make it up. I am not.
It was gimmick after gimmick, signing after signing, and in the meantime our club was suffering, becoming more of a laughing stock from day to day.
There was the dressing down in the layby after the defeat at Hereford and fans being press-ganged into giving the team a pep talk...and don't even get me started on the dog or the increasingly tedious 'Martin's Message' appearing on the website or in our e-mail inbox every week.
After games, we never knew what to expect, and what mood he would be in. Wins could be followed by us being told the players were terrible and some of them would be transfer-listed - defeats by a staunch belief that his team was brilliant.
We were frequently admonished for 'negative questioning' - even on that run of winless games where there was absolutely nothing to be positive about, and at these press conferences, his 'stooge' Alistair Smith was a constant presence, for some reason or other. No-one really knew exactly why he was there or what his role was.
One thing we did know was that there would be at least four changes to the side and loan signing or two arriving in time for the next game.
We were careering back to League Two at express pace. The efforts of Ward and Downing in keeping us in League One were being wasted - as was the club's money.
It was being spent like water, so we were heading for administration as well.
Yes, the board can take some of the blame for allowing that to happen, and Paul Baker has subsequently acknowledged their culpability - but Allen is equally, if not more, to blame.
Every time a player came in, we were told by the manager that he was 'free'. No wages to pay, not costing us a penny. However, invoices for their wages would still come in...
More than half-century of players used in season 2008-9 is a stark statistic. No consistency in selection and low dressing room morale = relegation.
We even ran out of some numbers to print on the back of shirts. I think we got up to squad number 54 - it was an utter joke.
The start of the following season (after we had been told to expect a play-off/promotion challenge) was not much better, and after the 2-1 home defeat by Macclesfield he was gone, much to everyone's relief.
Any alleged off-field incidents are an aside. Woeful results on the pitch (13 wins in 61 games and 29 defeats) were sufficient for him to get the sack. If anything, he should have gone earlier.
Rumour has it that the board wanted to sack him after the 4-0 loss at Leicester in March 2009, but we had to put up with him for another seven months.
By the time he did go, we had only won three games on our return to League Two, Grimsby on the opening day, and at Bury and Rochdale, with last minute goals.
The low point was his penultimate game, the 4-0 defeat at Accrington. In my 32 years watching this club I have never seen a CTFC team surrender so meekly.
Poor Sam Cox ended up at centre-half on his only appearance for us - he is five foot six or seven - and that was the final straw for many... I have never heard or seen such venom thrown at a CTFC manager after a game as I did that day. That game sums up the disorganised chaos of the Allen era.
We were in a mess, and after John Schofield tried to steady the ship, Mark Yates came in to try to sort the shambles out.
This Christmas will be third anniversary of Yatesy's arrival, yet only now do you really feel that the club has come out of the other side.
The remainder of that season was spent making sure we didn't lose our league status, the second season was stabilisation as the financial position was worked on, last season was exceptional and this one has started well.
Only Scott Brown remains from the legions of players Allen used in his time here, and thankfully we have our club back now, and it is in a much healthier state on and off the field.
We have had a lucky escape.
Gillingham fans need to understand we are not jealous of their league position, and we have nothing against them as a club.
He has started well at Priestfield, but this is a man who brought our club to its knees, and nearly destroyed its whole fabric, and tried to ruin an ethos which took more than 120 years to establish.
The board were culpable for appointing him and for not saying 'no' to his ridiculous recruitment policy, but they soon realised the error of their ways and sought on a few occasions to cut things short.
Nothing Martin Allen did here was for the good of Cheltenham Town - it was all for the benefit of Martin Allen, his profile and his ego.
Some fans thought it was great that he was appearing in the nationals and on Sky Sports a lot - but he never talked about Cheltenham Town, just about himself.
I was delighted when Bobby Gould resigned. He did the honourable thing and walked when he knew his time was up, but Allen had no honour and no class, he just carried on wrecking the club from within.
Gillingham fans - things are going well for you at the moment, so enjoy it while it lasts.
We thought things were rosy early on in Allen's reign here, but it quickly turned rotten (see also Leicester and Notts County).
That's why I want to win on Tuesday, as much as I have ever wanted to win a match... I would just love it.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Job done

Thank goodness that's over...
That was my abiding emotion after yesterday's game, as, when all is said and done, getting into the second round was all that mattered.
It wasn't about winning 6 or 7-0, or playing like Barcelona, it was about getting into the second round.
However, I must admit that having just watched the second round draw and seen us paired with Hereford United, our perennial bogey team. More of that later.
The Yate tie was a no-win situation for us - scrape through 1-0 and it would be deemed an embarrassment by some, win 8-0 and it would be 'so what, it was only Yate'. It was a day to win the game and move on.
That's what we did, and it gave Yatesy the opportunity to give one or two players a breather and allow others to stretch their legs after sitting on the bench or in the stand over recent weeks.
We got the perfect start in comical manner with Scott Thomas' second-minute own goal, and in games like this they say the early goal is what every team is looking for.
But you have to give credit to Yate for the way they responded to it - Tom Knighton hit the post and the full-back Jake Cox the bar with a free-kick which Scott Brown got a hand to.
I have seen a number of League v non-League ties, and on some occasions the non-Leaguers have come to spoil, and stop the pros in some 'agricultural' ways - but there was none of that yesterday.
Yate have some tidy players, left two up front all afternoon and passed the ball around nicely - no long-ball stuff, and battled away all afternoon.
The winger Matt Groves, Knighton up front and Danny Wring in midfield stood out for me, and their goalkeeper made some decent saves.
Yes, we could have scored more goals. Yes, some players were better than others, but winning the game was all that really mattered.
If we did have a problem during the game, it was over complication in the final third.
Especially in the first half, we got into good positions and players had worked a shooting chance, then chose a cross or a pull-back - or the opposite, shooting when team-mates were free.
Also, again, our quality in wide areas was found wanting - poor crosses, either under hit or over hit, letting us down on a few occasions.
In the end, 3-0 was about the right result. Yate's efforts didn't deserve a heavier defeat, and our performance didn't merit it either.
So what did we learn from our performance?
Defensively, not much. It was good to see Keith Lowe have another game, and a chance for Steve Elliott to sit out and come back fresh for Gillingham on Tuesday, and he has been ill anyway so no point in risking him.
In midfield, yesterday showed the importance of Marlon Pack to our team.
In the first half, we tried to play 4-4-2 with Lawson D'Ath and Russ Penn in the centre, Sam Deering and Kaid Mohamed out wide.
It didn't have the right balance for me, and we looked much happier when Marlon came on at half-time - but I do hope Lawson's knee injury isn't too bad, although he did tweet that he is unlikely to be fit for Tuesday.
Many fans have commented that Marlon hasn't been at his best this season. That may be true, but we don't have another player like him who can control a game.
He got a lot more space than he would in a League Two game, true. But he controls the tempo of our game and everything goes through him - he truly is our quarterback.
Up front is where we learnt the most.
We got to see all four of our strikers, but only one, Chris Zebroski, can came out of the game with credit.
Darryl Duffy looks a player badly shorn of confidence. He tries so hard, and I was willing him to get a goal or two yesterday.
But it is not happening for him, and the same has to be said for Jeff Goulding. He came on and played the central role, and had a golden chance to score.
That seemed to affect him, and there were a couple of crosses which flashed across the goal and were begging to be put away by him, and he failed to convert either. The second was a glaring chance.
Shaun Harrad hasn't scored since the Oxford game on September 18, and it looked like it yesterday. He has had an injury and been in and out of the side, but looked a bit off the pace yesterday.
Zebroski was the only one to hit his straps and seemed to feed off the Gasheads among the Yate fans giving him the bird - maybe we should tell him we are playing his old club, or that the ground is full of Gasheads every week...!
He looked sharp, direct and dangerous, getting the third goal after he hit the bar, and seems to be the only one of our four strikers to be in any sort of form, which is a slight worry.
We had 24 shots, 13 on target and only scored three goals - those stats show a slight lack of ruthlessness.
Then an hour ago I sat down for the draw, and wanted a non-League side at home, but expected Carlisle, Southend or Gillingham away.
Happily they came out early, and then Cyrille Regis pulled out our home tie, and out came Hereford courtesy of John Wark.
What a belting tie. I know I wanted a non-League side, but have to admit I didn't want Hereford - we never beat them!
Not since 1999, the 'David Norton match' at Edgar Street have we done so. At home, it's 1969 since we saw them off.
Add the presence in their ranks of Andy Gallinagh, Junior Smikle, Michael Townsend and Marley Watkins, and it makes it a real cracker.
Let's hope this time we can do it. I am fed up with losing to them, or playing badly and drawing.
But that can wait - first we have Mr Allen's league leaders at Priestfield on Tuesday night, and yesterday has helped to sort out what team Yatesy should play
Steve Elliott will be back alongside Benno, Darren Carter is fit to come back in, Jermaine will slot in again, and Zeb has booked himself the lone striker role - no one who came in yesterday did enough to demand keeping their place.
My team would be Brown; Jombati, Elliott, Bennett, Jones; Pack, Carter; McGlashan, Penn, Mo; Zebroski.
It starts a big month which will also take in a meeting with the equally lovely Mr Evans in a couple of weeks, the potential chance to see Edgar Davids play at Whaddon, and will end with s crunch Cup tie with Hereford.
Life is never boring at Cheltenham Town...