Monday, 24 November 2014

Que sera sera...

I wasn't at the game on Saturday, and the scoreflash which arrived at my phone at 3.03pm announcing Steve Elliott's goal while I was drinking South African cider in Covent Garden was a welcome sight.
The five flashes - four Wycombe goals and Lee Vaughan's red card - which followed were not so welcome, so I had a few more South African ciders, and forgot about it in a moshpit at Brixton Academy, with a bit more cider followed by a few shorts.
I know. I'm far too old for that sort of thing. On reflection it sounds like I made the wiser choice.
So now we really have a problem. Where do we go from here?
Nine points from 36. Four defeats in a row, the last two conceding five goals, then four - and from what I have been told, Vaughan's red card didn't have as much impact as maybe Nathan Thompson's had a couple of weeks before.
Today we had a statement from Paul Baker which can only be described as vote of confidence, without the confidence part - basically he is saying we know the results are rubbish, and we sort of think Mark Yates is the man to turn it around, but we aren't really sure. Sort of.
All a bit indecisive, hardly a ringing endorsement, and hardly suggesting that the manager has a long-term future in his job.
Basically, we are now down to everything going from game to game. One bad result and he is out. Oxford next Saturday is a must win.
Even a draw might not be enough, and losing to Dover is unthinkable.
That would surely be terminal - but that game is the one looming on the horizon and is so financially important for the rest of this season and beyond.
The club simply cannot afford to lose that game, so to rock the boat with a managerial change before that might well be something that the board want to avoid. Too much turmoil.
I know some fans have made their minds up already, and say enough is enough. Fair enough - but I just get the impression that the board want desperately to give Yates the next two games and then reassess.
The caution from Paul Baker also displays his seeming reluctance to go through the process of picking a new manager after having his fingers burnt by Martin Allen and Bobby Gould. But it increasingly looks like he will have to do it at some point soon unless the results turn around dramatically.
Many fans say that Yates would not be in the job now if he was not our former captain and had such links to the club. I have to say I agree with that. It has definitely bought him some time an 'outsider' might not have been given.
Others point to the two play-off seasons as a sign of what Yates can do. Yes they were great. But that was a long time ago now. As the players have moved on, maybe we have to move on.
He has not been able to re-create that formula from 2011-12 for one reason or another. But we cannot go on living on past glories. Those days have gone, and are consigned to YouTube memories. This is about the here and now.
The board have to decide if now, he is the man who can inspire this group of players to turn around this slide in form - and also assess whether the players want to do it for him any more. That is the crux of it.
If they think he is, then let's get on with it. Say he is the man, give him a proper vote of confidence, and let's all get behind him. If they don't think he is, then let's move on, and see who else is out there. No indecision.
Basically, back him properly, or sack him.
Whatever happens, some of the players need to take a long hard look at themselves and ask if they have been doing all they can for their manager.
Paul Baker said in his statement that the fans can 'influence the decision'. But the main people who will influence the decision are the players. Their performances in the next few games will decide whether Yates keeps his job. The old 'lost the dressing room' thing.
Only the players know if they are putting it all in for their manager, but some of them need to raise their performance levels dramatically if they want the man who has put his trust in them and given them a livelihood to keep his job because at the moment they are not repaying that trust at all.
The time is never right to change a manager. Some clubs have done it in this division, and it hasn't been the magic wand they were looking for - Hartlepool and Tranmere are still beached in the bottom two, York haven't dramatically improved and Carlisle, after an initial lift, have gone a bit hit and miss again.
Those four are in the bottom five along with Dagenham, where Wayne Burnett has come under pressure after their Cup loss at Southport. Next above them are Oxford, where Michael Appleton has had a tricky few months after taking over, then us. Above us are Mansfield, who got rid of Paul Cox last week.
Burton are a different case as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has taken over a group of players who were in a good position and a confident mood. Two wins in two games is a decent start for him.
From a sentimental point of view, I don't want Yatesy to be sacked. This is Yatesy. A decent bloke who cares about and ran through walls for this club. Our captain, our number eight.
I'd love nothing more than to see him turn it round, stick his fingers up to everyone who has doubted him and has called for his head and take us on a long unbeaten run, storming up the table and into the third round of the Cup.
I don't want him to get abuse from the terraces or on social media (and I have read some in the last few days and it makes me sick - yes, have an opinion on whether he should stay or go, but at least keep it civil, without saying he is a 'c**t who should f**k off' as one - now blocked - so called CTFC fan posted).
I don't want his reputation soured by a messy end to his association with our club, if it is the end. He deserves better, and he deserves some respect.
But there is no room for sentiment in football I'm afraid. If the board ultimately decide that it is the right thing for Cheltenham Town FC that he has to go, then I will trust and back them to make that decision. Whatever will be, will be.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Heroes to zeroes

Did you hear the one about the team who won 5-0 in a Cup game against a team from a higher level, then got thrashed 5-1 themselves a week later by a team below them in the league? Good joke eh?
Er, Mark, it's not a joke.
That really happened?
Yes.
Oh.
Yes it did happen - and in the same way as those who saw the Swindon game were left rubbing their eyes in disbelief then this nightmare left many of us looking through our fingers at a defensive horror show.
Inconsistency had been a buzzword this week after we followed the York defeat with the Swindon result, and once again it reared its ugly head.
How can 10 of the same players who put it eight or nine out of 10 performances one week then come out and get fours or fives seven days later?
If anyone has the answer to that, they would probably make a great deal of money. The simple answer is these are human beings, not machines.
I am sure that one day in your job you perform really well, then the next is one of those where you can't do anything right. No? Must be just me and our team then...!
It is impossible to comprehend just how bad our defending was, especially for the opening three goals - in fact it just got worse as each goal came along.
We knew there would be one change from last week with Craig Braham-Barrett suspended, and there were raised eyebrows when we saw James Bowen's name on the teamsheet.
I was pleased to see him given a chance as I have been beating the drum for our young players to get an opportunity.
I could see the thinking behind it - Mark Yates wanted there to be the minimum disruption to last week's team,so changed just one position rather than two, which would have happened had he moved Paul Black across to left-back and brought Jack Deaman in as many (me included) thought he would pre-match.
It wasn't Bowen's fault that we lost 5-1. None of the goals were down to him - but I hope he wasn't looking along the back three hoping to learn anything from them.
If he was, in the first seven minutes he would have had a great lesson in how not to defend from set-pieces.
Stevenage's first goal came from the third corner they had won in a row. We had defended the first two badly enough, allowing a free header from both, and didn't learn from it.
Lee Barnard was left free again and his header set up Chris Beardsley for the opening goal - then we did it again and Jason Taylor scraped it away to Charlie Lee and he curled, under no pressure, a lovely shot past Trevor Carson for the second goal.
Seven minutes in, and it was practically game over.
We tried to come back, Bowen got forward well and Byron Harrison had two headers which he couldn't get on target - but Stevenage always looked like adding to their total.
We looked terribly weak in the back three. Black was struggling aerially against Barnard and Beardsley, whose movement had Brown and Elliott at sixes and sevens.
Our midfield was comfortably second best and we were totally unable to get any decent possession in the final third.
Stevenage were always going to score again and they did, and in absolutely farcical circumstances which made some of Swindon's defending last weekend look accomplished.
A long punt downfield saw Lee Vaughan beaten in the air by Lee, and as the ball went into our penalty area the back three stood totally still as Beardsley ran in unopposed and belted it past Carson.
Ridiculous. So 3-0 after 37 minutes definitely finished things off, and now it was a pride thing - damage limitation. We didn't restore very much of it.
Yates made a change after the third goal with Steve Elliott the fall guy for the terrible defending, with Zack Kotwica coming on as we went to a 4-4-2.
Any of those back three could have come off, and if anything I thought Troy Brown was the prime candidate as I thought he was the worst of the trio and has not, in my view, had a good season thus far - but then we would have had two left-footers in central defence, so it kept the left-right balance.
With the game over, Stevenage didn't need to exert themselves after the break, and we did get a goal back, which was one of the very few positives - a good finish from Byron to take him to six for the season and he is now our top scorer.
Stevenage did add two more, both defensive howlers with even the up-to-now blameless Carson getting in on the act and catching the bug from those in front of him.
Were there any other positives bar Byron's very confident finish for his goal? Not really, and you wouldn't expect there to be from a 5-1 loss.
Bowen's performance was one of our better ones, as was Kotwica's cameo. He tried to be positive and have a go but without being able to get many decent crosses in - but at least he had a go.
So that's the first time we have let five in since the FA Cup defeat to Everton, and our biggest league defeat since the 8-1 nadir at Crewe - there have been a few four-goal losses since then, but not a five until now.
I do have some sympathy for Yates as he must be tearing his hair out at how 10 of  the same side which was so determined and passionate one week can then put in such a limp and weak performance seven days later. But he needs to find the answer to that conundrum. That's his job.
After the game, he said we were outfought and bullied. Again. He is having to say that too often - Shrewsbury and Plymouth for instance - and he needs to find a solution to it.
League Two is a physical league, so we need to be more physical and match that. That's not going around kicking everything that moves, but just simply doing the basics of competing. Winning personal battles around the field, winning second balls, getting tight to your man, marking properly, tracking runners.
We did it last week, we did it at Cambridge, we have done it many times this season. Yesterday, we did none of it in key areas.
Unfortunately, our squad is not big enough to simply drop five or six under achievers after a game like this and bring five or six more in. Yates has to work with those he has and find the solutions.
He needs to ask them why they seem unable to carry out a game plan once they cross that white line, as their failure to do so is letting not only him down, but also the board and the supporters who travel up and down the country as well.
It is time to get tough with them. Ultimately it is the players who hold the key to whether he keeps his job or not.
It cannot all be down to the manager all the time. The 'it's his team, he signed the players, he motivates them, he coaches them' mantra cannot always wash. The players cannot simply be absolved of responsibility for playing superbly one week, then terribly the next.
I am afraid though that you have to put last week's Cup result to one side. Yes it was great. It was very important financially for the club, but it didn't get us any league points, and a look at the league form since the end of August makes very grim reading.
Since the 1-0 win over Hartlepool, which saw us move to 13 points from the first 15, we have taken nine points from the last 36 available - two wins, three draws and seven defeats.
That is simply not good enough - and many teams this season with similar records have already changed their managers. So it is no surprise to see my Twitter timeline filled with doubts over Yates' future, many of those simply saying enough is enough.
I would be very surprised if that concern was not being mirrored at board level. Surely they must have debated it informally at least.
So what can the manager do with his squad?
One thing he will surely have to look at is changing the 3-5-2 system, which, having made us more solid early on in the season, is now not having the same effect.
He hasn't been helped by the injury to Matt Taylor, the defensive lynchpin and his skipper. But the loss of one player should not have such a detrimental effect on a team or formation. We should be able to cope.
The 3-5-2, however, is a system which suits our full-backs. Lee Vaughan, most of the time, and Craig Braham-Barrett undoubtedly look happier in it. A flat back four would expose them defensively.
Conversely, I don't feel Troy Brown looks suited to the 3-5-2, yet would be happier in a back four.
If he changed to a four, Yates would then have make a decision to leave one of Elliott, Brown and Taylor out when they are all fit. On form at present, that would be Brown.
Then we go into midfield. For whatever reason, we seem to have always struggled to play with a two-man central midfield under Yates. Most sides play with a three, and the third man brings more stability, and should (I repeat should) make us more solid, and harder to beat. But that hasn't been the case recently.
The plan in pre-season was to have the enforcer Taylor, the passer Richards and the box-to-box man Asa Hall as the three - an attempt to mirror the jobs (if not the ability) of the successful Penn, Pack, Summerfield trio.
Yet Hall's injury four minutes in at Bury has scuppered that. Joe Hanks, Omari Sterling-James and Raffa de Vita plus the on-loan Jordan Wynter have all been tried in there with varied success, but the formula has never been quite right.
Like Taylor's absence, Hall's injury has been keenly felt - and it will probably be Christmas by the time he comes back in. But again, we should be able to cope with it.
Another issue with the 3-5-2 is that we don't use wingers. But we have a few of those on the books - Andy Haworth, OSJ, de Vita and Kotwica are all happiest in that role - but they need 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 to get a real look-in and to be really effective.
So what does he do? 4-4-2 suits a few players, but causes problems elsewhere. 3-5-2 does the same and effectively freezes players out of the squad. A Catch-22 wherever you look.
The only consistent part is the '2' up front - and despite the difficulties further back, Byron Harrison has four goals in two game, and Terry Gornell four in the last six, so their form has improved after long barren spells for both.
That is timely as well as John Marquis has one match left of his loan, and that gives Yates another dilemma... does he look for another forward, or instead push Bobbie Dale up the pecking order and decide to prioritise a shake-up for his leaky defence or try to freshen up his midfield?
Alternatively, he could play 4-5-1 - but that is perceived as negative, and then the question is which one of Harrison or Gornell is more effective as the '1'?
That's his dilemma - but what about the board, and their conundrum over the manager's long-term future?
This season was his last-chance saloon. After the two play-off seasons, last year was a write-off and instead of a two-year deal, he was given another 12 months.
The chairman made the 'last chance' scenario very clear. He even said this would be his last contract. Then, at the fan's forum recently he was asked where he wanted the club to be in five years. League One was the reply. That seems a long way off, as this run of form suggests a play-off push is a long way away for another season, maybe even written off already.
We are only six points off seventh, but current form does not lend itself to optimism of that gap being breached.
The board have been very loyal. Many club boards, I would suggest, would not have given the manager another year after a campaign like the last one. I suspect Yates' status as a former captain and those two play-off campaigns are all that saved him last summer.
Now let me make this quite clear - I am not calling for a change right now. However, the next three games could tip the balance one way or another. I cannot believe a change would be made before the Cup tie whatever happens in the two league games.
We have Wycombe and Oxford at home in the League, then the Cup tie with Dover - a game which could map out our season one way or the other from a financial point of view.
Four points or more from the two league games, and a win over Dover will buy him some time - then the third round draw will decide our financial destiny - and the board would then have to decide if they think Yates is the man they want to make the best of any financial windfall they want to put the manager's way for January.
Less than four points and a win over Dover makes it very rocky for him despite the Cup win, but defeat to Dover is unimaginable. He would find it hard to survive that I think.
But as I said above, some on my Twitter timeline say his time is up, while others continue to maintain that he is still the right man for the job.
Here are some of the arguments put forward on Twitter since Saturday, and my views on them:

There is no point in changing the manager, who could do a better job?
You never know who is going to apply for a job until there is a vacancy.
It is likely that we would get a raft of applicants (Burton had more than 60 for their job) and once you have sifted out the Football Manager experts, there might be some surprise names in there, and someone you think would do a decent job, but hadn't expected to be interested.
Then it would depend what sort of manager you want, and there are several categories.
The experienced manager - one who might have failed elsewhere more than once, or unluckily got the push after a dodgy spell (also known as 'the serial failure').
The young buck  - those looking to make their way in the game, someone who has recently retired from playing and wants to get on the ladder or who has had already had one shot at it.
The lieutenant - someone who works in a club's academy or is a coach/assistant elsewhere and might have potential to handle the top job.
The ladder-climber - A manager who has done well at a lower level and has earned the chance to make the move up to the Football League, as Yates was when we appointed him.
The internal promotion - Someone from within the club who the board feel would be able to turn things around (otherwise known by many fans as 'the cheap option'). Can work in some cases - Gary Rowett at Burton made this move, and Gary Bowyer at Blackburn is also having a decent shot at it.
The club hero - An ex-player of ours who has taken or is taking coaching badges and is up for a shot at the hotseat.

Be careful what you wish for/Better the devil you know
When the manager is changed, then you have to trust the board to pick the right successor - and remember many of the current board helped to appoint Martin Allen and Bobby Gould.
This decision however would be more crucial if it occurs as when Allen and Gould were appointed we were in League One, so had that added safety net. That is not there this time - a wrong appointment could be a real disaster for the club.

It's gone stale/He has run out of ideas/He has taken us as far as he can/he's a non-league manager out of his depth
I think these four can be grouped together and some of it smacks to me of the thought of change for change's sake, ie he has had his go at it and it's time for someone else to try - we've had enough of having the same manager for five years, give someone else a go - I don't know or mind who, just someone else.
What has gone stale? The club? The team? Or is that just people are bored of us being a mid-table club in League Two, who wins a few and loses a few every season?
Maybe that is what we are. A mid-table club in League Two. The budget, attendances and overall club finances would suggest that, so under current circumstances it is going to be tough for anyone to take us any further than that without any significant input of funds.
A change of manager is not a magic wand. Same players, same budget, same restrictions would apply to anyone else coming in. All they would bring is their own ideas and motivation, which some feel Yates has run out of.
The 'non-league manager out of his depth' one is interesting and very unfair in my view, considering he is now the third longest-serving manager of the 92 and has taken us to two play-off campaigns...

The football we play is boring - there is no entertainment
The old 'results v entertainment' debate - and it all depends what people want more - the team to win, or the team to win well.
Is it not enough just to win any more? It is for me. I'd take 46 1-0s every time, bit I know some wouldn't.
I appreciate we haven't been doing enough winning by any scoreline by the way.
Do we have to win with a swagger? If so, this is League Two, and I haven't seen any team this season who have played with a swagger against us - organisation and taking chances either when they come along or are gifted to them by our mistakes has usually been enough.
We have won with a swagger under Yates at times, especially in the Wembley play-off season, but he has never been able to re-create that formula.

Results have not been good enough
No argument here. They haven't been. Not over the last three months and for last season too.
Nine points from 36, and a fall from 2nd to 16th in the table is not pleasant reading and, as we are always told, football is a results business. Yates needs to get some results.
Our fans are, by their very nature, a patient bunch and our board is fiercely loyal.
Not many managers have been turned on by our fans and I hope that doesn't happen to Yates, who is a decent bloke who has done his best for the club as a player and a manager, giving us some good memories in both roles.
I would hate it to turn sour, to see people abusing him and for things to get nasty. I really hope that doesn't happen.
I hope people get behind the team in these next three crucial home games.
Whatever happens, we all support the same club and we all want the best for it.



Monday, 10 November 2014

It really did happen...

MOST of the time, writing this nonsense is a cathartic way of trying to exorcise some demons from a disappointing result or performance.
But this time, I am sitting down to compose this in the hope that it will finally confirm for me that it did actually happen.
I have listened to Ian Randall's commentary (here) about 20 times, and watched the goal highlights (here) about another 10 times. It has just about sunk in by now.
However, there is no doubt that this was an afternoon which will not be forgotten for a long time.
It will go down as one of our best FA Cup results of all time, and must rank in the top three home performances of Mark Yates' reign - that's how good it was. I haven't seen us play this well at home for a long time - maybe since that 3-0 Southend game in the Wembley season.
It was the first five-goal haul at home under Yates - the first since John Schofield masterminded a 5-1 success over Barnet. We hadn't scored five anywhere since Dagenham in that Wembley campaign.
Every single player was nothing short of fantastic - no less than an eight out of 10 for any of them - but Byron Harrison has to be singled out for scoring our first hat-trick since Michael  Pook on that day at Burton.
Much maligned this season for lack of goals and perceived lack of application, he was the centre of some heated debate at Thursday's fans forum.
"He is an enigma," said Yates, who acknowledged it could be hard to get the best out of him, and to 'read' his character, while one fan suggested if he wasn't going to do the business, maybe we should just get shot.
But yesterday showed why we are not going to get shot.
This was bully Byron - the one we saw at the end of last season, the one which scored 15 goals in a mediocre team, had scouts watching him and scooped all the player of the year awards.
However, the display and the manner of his goals also served to sum up the enigma which is our number 9 - why can't he do that more often...? Where has that Byron been this season?
Let's hope he can keep this up. Let's hope this hat-trick will be a catalyst to fire him up, starting at his old club Stevenage as Saturday showed just what a potent weapon he can be for us. Swindon's defenders could not handle him at all.
He got his rewards for persistence, for chasing lost causes and for busting a gut to get into positions where he could cause real problems - two things he had not been doing all year.
He now has a lovely mango-coloured match ball for the mantelpiece - and it was great to interview him afterwards with a smile on his face - here - and he was very honest about his form this season and the flak he has been getting.
Pre-match, I was sure he was going to come back into the side for John Marquis, but you'd have got good odds on Paul Black's name being on the teamsheet, especially as one of the back three.
Black came here in the summer with many fans hoping he would replace Craig Braham-Barrett in the side, but CBB has been so good this season in the new formation he has barely had a look in.
He has started two games in central midfield (and, to be honest, not looked great in either) and had 45 minutes in the back three against Oxford in the JPT, so on paper this was a bit of a gamble.
But like every other gamble we took in the game, it paid off handsomely and he was, like everyone else, superb. Ironically he might now get a chance in his favourite position as CBB is banned on Saturday.
All the talk pre-match had been about Swindon's athletic young side, their passing game and quick tempo and movement, and for the first 10 minutes we saw just that.
We barely touched the ball, and I am sure I am not the only one who was slightly worried. We were pressed back, defending on our 18 yard line with the midfield three joining in.
I suspect the possession for the first 10 minutes was probably about 90-10 against us, with the odd foot in and a hasty clearance or two about all we could muster.
Then it changed thanks to a long punt down field, which the Swindon defence looked petrified to deal with and in nipped Byron to score - almost instantly you could see the belief flowing through us.
Byron and Terry Gornell suddenly realised that putting pressure on the back three would pay dividends, and our midfield trio also decided that getting stuck in to the Swindon youngsters would also knock them out of their stride.
Then came the sending-off - and although (as expected) he disagreed with it, I was pleased to see Mark Cooper not label it as the sole reason for us going on to win, choosing instead to question the desire of his players in both boxes.
My view is that it was a definite foul on Gornell, and Thompson was the last man. Gornell was running through, level with the edge of the penalty area (not towards the corner, Mr Cooper) and as Thompson was the last man, with no cover behind him, the letter of the law says red card.
Had he got through, yes he still had work to do, but would have cut in on goal and had a goalscoring opportunity.
So now it is all about how the two teams react. The team with 11 needs to guard against complacency, while the team with 10 needs to galvanise itself and try to look to make light of the numerical disadvantage.
But we were not complacent, and Swindon did not show that determined attitude - and as the half wore on we made the extra man count.
CBB was the major recipient, as, having been pegged back early on by Nathan Byrne, he was finally able to get moving down the left-hand side, and he worked well with Raffa de Vita, who put the cross in from a short corner which led to the second goal.
Harrison won the header, and Gornell did the rest for a 2-0 lead at half-time (here is a great alternative view of the goal).
That is always a dangerous lead, 11 men or 10. Cooper had half-time to sort his players out, and the next goal would sort it out. 2-1 is game on and jitter time, 3-0 is game over.
Soon it was 3-0, and game over. That was thanks to the marauding Braham-Barrett, more shambolic Swindon defending and a Harrison tap-in.
Basically, that was that. Swindon fans started to leave and our players could now express themselves with freedom. Matt Richards, Jason Taylor and de Vita were all over the Swindon midfield, with Massimo Luongo, who had run the game early on, and Yasir Kasim now anonymous.
We saw at Cambridge that Matt Richards likes a volley - and that peach he hit will join that one from the Abbey in the goal of the season reckoning. It was a cracker. Don't know about you, but I could watch that goal all day.
Then more ridiculous defending gave Byron his hat-trick - and also meant it didn't matter that John Marquis came on and missed a golden chance to make it six.
De Vita also came mighty close with a first-half crack against the post and then a flying second-half volley. If they had gone in, we could have had eight.
See them here, in hEaLeR-vision ... but that's just greedy. Five will do just fine thanks.
Aside from the result, the main thing to look out for was the attendance, and more to the point, the home portion of it after the brouhaha about pricing.
In the event, it was just under 2000 of a crowd of 3470 - and the £18,000 prize money will add to the coffers as well.
As I have previously said, I was against the pricing structure and I don't criticise anyone who stayed away, wither because they simply couldn't afford it or just opted not to pay on principle. That is their choice or necessity.
I have some respect for those who came to the forum on Thursday and had their say about not only the prices but also those whose season ticket seat was moved. I hope the club will take heed of this episode on all fronts, and I applaud the terrace reduction for the Wycombe game.
The board had their reasons for pricing the game as they did, and I think it is just time to enjoy the result and move on from it - at least until they announce the prices for the second round game...! Over to you on that one Mr Baker - let's make it affordable for everyone and get a decent crowd in, shall we?
So who was nervous as those balls were coming out? I was wanting a home draw against a non-league side, as on paper that gives us the best opportunity of being in that third round bag.
I was watching all the teams on the left disappearing as the balls were coming out and was worried as Bristol City were still in there. I was desperate that we didn't get them, so it was a relief when Dover came out.
This draw gives us a totally different challenge. From having little hope according to the formbook, to being the favourites. But our 5-0 win and Dover's win over Morecambe is enough to show everyone that formbooks are nonsense.
No complacency - and this game will be a pivotal one for our season. £27,000 at stake in prize money, and that place in the third round draw - after which anything will be a bonus.
It's very unlikely to be live on the TV, but it might get moved to Sunday maybe, for that new Final Score programme as we are playing a non-League side and the draw has not been kind to the non-league survivors with few real stand-out ties.
Before then, we have three big league games, at Stevenage and at home to Wycombe and Oxford, which we need to get some points out of.
High standards were set on Saturday. We won't hit those heights every week, but the effort and commitment was back after it dropped off in the first half against York, and we now expect it to stay at these levels.
That is the only way we will get performances like the one on Saturday. Let's face it if the team don't get confidence from this result and performance, then they never will get confidence from anything, will they?


Sunday, 2 November 2014

The negativity returns?

SO it didn't take long, did it?
The new dawn that this season was supposed to bring, the wave of optimism which was going to take away the clouds of last season seems to have vanished for many, just as we say goodbye to October.
Yes, I saw yesterday's game. Yes, I saw the most inept 45-minute display I have seen from us this season - but I have to admit I would be more worried if that had been the norm, rather than the exception to what I have seen since August.
Let's get the blame out of the way first. I don't blame the manager for that 45 minutes. There. I said it.
In Friday's Echo I wrote a piece about the game, and picked my team. Two changes - Joe Hanks and John Marquis for Omari Sterling-James and Byron Harrison. The manager picked the same side.
On Twitter beforehand, the majority of people on my timeline also picked the same side, and the majority were happy with what the manager had done after they saw the teamsheet.
The same team, same tactics and same formation which most people apparently wanted him to play. The 3-5-2 which some people have been crying out for him to try for the past few seasons, because we can't play 4-4-2, and 4-5-1 is negative.
The same 11 players who performed so superbly at Cambridge only 10 days ago, and pulled off a superb victory.
90 minutes later, Eusebio should have started. So should de Vita. Why was OSJ dropped? Why did he put Hanks back in? Or Marquis? He should have dumped the 3-5-2. Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it?.
So it went wrong, and the manager was getting the flak. It's his team. It's his tactics. It's his formation.
But when they cross the white line and fail to follow his game plan, fail to do the basics, fail to show the application, fail to win any of their battles, are completely and utterly out performed, and look a totally different set of players to the ones we saw at the Abbey despite all the work on the training ground on shape, York's threats, defending set-pieces etc, what can he do?
He can only do what he did. He changed it.
Our three in midfield were being dominated by York's two. Our trio of central defenders were looking nervy from the start and conceded too many fouls and failed to go with the movement of the front two.
Our front two were static, low on work-rate and high on outstretched arms and complaining to team-mates and the referee - with John Marquis making it booking number six. Neither had a sniff of goal.
It was one-way traffic, and it was pure good fortune that we had not conceded at least three times before we finally did.
Russ Penn was too streetwise for Joe Hanks, and having got him booked and then on to a final warning ahead of a red, Mark Yates did the right thing in taking him off.
He moved Troy Brown slightly forward, but then he gave the ball away and a little ball down the channel to the side of Jack Deaman and Lee Vaughan (see also Plymouth's third goal last week) finally gave York their goal.
So more changes, this time Eusebio for Deaman, and a change to 4-4-2. Yes, 4-4-2. You know, that system we can't ever seem to get right.
But hey, guess what. It worked. And we dominated the second half, with Eusebio (for half an hour, until York worked out how to stop him getting the ball) a box of tricks and a constant danger.
On the other side, Raffa de Vita was also effective, his best game for us and a far cry from that anonymous display at Shrewsbury, then change number three saw Byron Harrison come on for Marquis.
He added a different dimension as well, winning flick-ons, holding the ball up and using the width, running the channels and showing the work-rate we had been asking for from him.
Gornell should have scored with a header, and scuffed another chance from a rebound. Harrison was denied by two fine saves and there were other balls flashing across the box and loose balls bobbling about which just needed a bit more anticipation and a bit more bravery.
So there was no stubborn sticking to his guns from the manager, as we have been frustrated by in the past. He saw it was wrong, and he changed it as soon as he could, and it nearly worked for him.
But it didn't and the bottom line is that we lost the game, no matter how we dominated the second half, and no matter all the chances we had. The first half display was enough to make sure we got what we deserved from the game.
And so with the result, it seems, has come the return of the glass-half-empty mentality. 
"We are in the bottom half now." Yes. Just. 13th is in the bottom half, but it's very tight.
"We are three points off 18th." Yes, true. But we are also three points off seventh. The play-offs.
"If we lose our next three, we could be 22nd and out of the Cup." Yes, true, depending on other results. But if we win them all, we could be in the second round of the Cup, £18,000 (plus any gate receipts, if there are any) better off and in the top seven.
You can put rose-tinted glasses or dark-tinted shades on the situation, but my reality is that where we are is where we deserve to be.
We are an average, middle-of-the-table League Two side. The players we have in our squad are of the quality we can afford, and they play in League Two for a reason.
Some weeks they will play well, like they have more often than not this season, but they will also play badly. We have to accept that, and yes, it is just as frustrating for me as it is for you. 
As long as they put the effort and commitment in as they did at Cambridge, then I would hope most would be happy with that. For 45 minutes yesterday they didn't do that, and they deserve to be criticised for it.
That inconsistency is why they are this level - if they were consistently able to produce their best performances week in week out, they wouldn't be here. Or if they did, other clubs higher up would soon be sniffing around.
From being hailed as heroes at Cambridge, they have gone back to zeroes and are now "a poor squad of non-league players" apparently. Guess it is true that you are are only as good as your last game.
Yet our budget and crowds are such that we have the team the club can afford. That team is probably destined to finish in mid-table, or just below that. We have beaten two sides currently above us, Bury and Accrington, and yesterday's defeat was the first against a team sitting below us.
So that suggests 13th is about right for us at the moment, and that many of the teams above us will finish above us, and the many of the ones below us will finish below us.
That is my view of reality. I know some won't like it. Some will say I am being unambitious and showing a 'little old Cheltenham' mentality, and fine, that is your opinion, but I think this is our level, and we will have to accept that, and people will have to decide if they want to sign up for it or not. 
I'd love us to be top of the league, or fight for the play-offs every season, of course I would. I want to see the club progress. But, and again some will say I am being boring and unambitious, but for now I will settle for keeping League football here. 
We waited long enough for it, so I certainly don't want to see us lose it. Doing that is only going to become more and more difficult in the coming years given the club's finances and the crowds. 
At present, I feel anything else is a bonus unless there is someone out there with some spare cash they want to throw into the black hole that is League Two football. If that doesn't happen, sorry to say I fear that we will eventually seriously struggle more and more to keep our league status.
Hence why the board have to run a tight financial ship, and keep us within our means, ever-shrinking as those means are.
What I struggle to understand is when I hear people who have been watching the club as long as I have saying they are turning their backs on it, regretting their decision to buy a season ticket.
It is their decision of course - but having seen some really terrible stuff in front of one man and his dog in some pretty ropey places in the Southern League for a long time, I don't get how a few mid-table seasons in League Two are now a step too far, and how this squad can be "the worst I have seen in xxx years" after some of the seasons and teams they have endured, at various levels.
If we are all so bored of being mid-table in League Two, other clubs will swap places with us in a heartbeat. Bristol Rovers, Grimsby, Wrexham, Hereford, Stockport County to name a few. But we lose this status, we won't get it back, and the club could easily spiral downwards, as a couple of those names above have done.
I know some will cite the cost. I fully get that. My last blog made clear my feelings on the cost of football in general and especially next week's FA Cup tie. Football everywhere, not just here, is too expensive.
Others cite entertainment, or the lack of it. But this is League Two, and it is a slog. There are not many teams in this league who are going to try to play expansive, passing, flowing football. They are going to try to be organised and functional, as York were.
Every game is a battle, and I'm afraid that to expect thrilling football every week is unrealistic. The Conference would be worse.
I fully accept that home fans have been short-changed of late, especially last season - but sometimes I think you just have to ride the rollercoaster that this division is. I do not think you can just expect the team to come out and turn on a sparkling display every week. It's not going to happen with League Two players. They are often going to annoy and frustrate. It goes with the territory.
Others say they are disillusioned as they feel the manager has had his day, has taken us as far as he can, has hit a ceiling, has gone stale, should have gone at the end of last season... however you want to put it. 
Yes we could change the manager, but would it alter anything long-term, and would we attract anyone better? 
There might be a short-term lift as there often is, but long-term it wouldn't be a magic wand to make the budget bigger, it wouldn't suddenly transform the squad, or make them all better players, and I doubt if it would attract hordes more fans. Would we suddenly play an expansive, entertaining style with a new manager? No. This is League Two.
I just feel all it would be is a new name on the office door. He would have the same players and the same resources to deal with. It would be changing the manager for the sake of it, and I don't feel (at the moment) that it is worth it. Only if the results take a serious downturn in the next two months will the board even consider it.
And even then if we did it, and it went wrong - then what? Do we turn into Leeds and change it again and again until we get it right? 
Despite their win yesterday, York haven't exactly shot up the league having changed manager. Ditto Hartlepool, Carlisle and Tranmere. I will be interested to see how Burton fare when they appoint a full-time successor to Gary Rowett.
On the other hand, Wycombe are paying the dividend at present for sticking by a manager after the narrowest of narrow escapes last season.
I actually think tactically Yates has been better this season. He has made substitutions and tactical changes which have won us points or gone very close to doing so. Most of our wins have been down to switches he has made.
His interviews are better as well, with yesterdays being one of the best. Honesty, and no excuses. No defending the performance, no defending the players, as they didn't deserve it. No excusing the first-half display just because of the improved second period. I thought it was refreshing.
The bottom line is we all want a winning team. But is that the only thing which might ultimately will bring the crowds back? 
Is winning enough any more, as after the Northampton win, "three points, but it was a crap game" was one reaction I saw post-match - so maybe even merely winning isn't satisfactory. The modern fan is only happy to win in style it seems?
One thing that is certainly not going to win the fans back is the pricing for next weekend's Cup tie - in fact all it is likely to do is alienate more of them, and yesterday's result won't tempt too many who were dithering about paying the price to dig into their pockets, unfortunately.
But it's that old vicious circle again. Less crowds means less money coming in, means less for the manager's budget, means less quality in the squad, means less chance of success on the field, means less crowds... and so on. Hence why the pricing decision for next week is, in my view, not right.
That decision is why the attendance figure next week will make just as interesting reading as the manager's team sheet - and he has some big decisions to make, in system and personnel.
The 3-5-2, we have been told, has made us more solid defensively - yet we have now conceded at least once in our last 10 league games so it seems that he will have to at least consider dumping it, at least until Matt Taylor is fit again. But going back to a flat four would bring its own headaches.
I assume that Troy Brown and Steve Elliott would be paired together. Brown has not been at his best recently, and it also brings into focus the defensive capabilities of Lee Vaughan and Craig Braham-Barrett.
CBB has been a plus of the season, thanks largely to the 3-5-2 and the way it has allowed him to use the attacking side to his game. 
Vaughan has looked suspect defensively (I thought Saturday was his poorest game for us) and we saw CBB struggle at times so are we going to risk that again by going to a four?
We also know that we have struggled with 4-4-2. It has just never worked, mainly due to the lack of a midfield two we can rely on. I cannot believe Yates will play 4-4-2 against Swindon, as I think we would get over-run in there.
More likely is 4-5-1 or a variation of it. I wonder if he might play more of a 4-2-3-1 with Richards and Taylor as the deeper two, with one man ahead of them, two wide men and one forward.
The three could be OSJ or Hanks centrally, with de Vita and Andy Haworth wide - assuming that if Eusebio's loan is extended, Wolves will not want him to be cup-tied. If he can play, he should.
I think that Eusebio would have been sent back to Wolves but for the cameo yesterday. He does not fit into the 3-5-2 and if that is the system we were going to carry on playing, then why keep him?
But the first-half nightmare and subsequent change of formation and his display might have changed the manager's mind. Had 3-5-2 worked, and had we won the game with it, it could have been curtains.
He is not alone in not fitting into the 3-5-2. Add de Vita, Haworth, OSJ and Zack Kotwica to that list. If the formation does change, their fortunes might change for the better as well.
The choice to be the '1' is Harrison or Gornell as Marquis will not be able to play as his loan ends in late November, so Millwall will not want him cup-tied as they might want to use him themselves in round three or loan him to someone between then and January who might want him for round two.
Neither of them are exactly suited to that role, but Harrison would be the best bet, especially if we are going to play two wide men to provide crosses for him. De Vita put some good balls in yesterday and we'll need some more of them to have any chance.
He faces big decisions for a big game.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The price isn't right

THE cost of football is a hot topic at the moment, with social media full of people telling us they can get a season ticket at Borussia Dortmund cheaper than a cup of tea at Boston United.
Or something like that.
The bottom line is that football in this country is too expensive, across the board.
Premier League clubs will tell us they are justified in charging the prices they do as people are paying it - many of them have waiting lists for season tickets running into the thousands, so maybe they don't charge enough - but as long as people are prepared to pay the prices, the clubs will continue to charge them.
So high prices are not exclusive to Cheltenham Town, but every empty seat or space on the terraces at ours and other lower division grounds show that football at our level is too expensive.
But it is a vicious circle. Clubs at our level rely much more on ticket money for their very existence than the Premier League bigwigs - who could probably let everyone in free every week and still make a huge profit.
That reliance on gate money is why, more often than not, the eventual league table mirrors the average number of people coming through the turnstiles every other week.
Gate money is cash flow, gate money determines the quality of players the manager can go and get, the size of the squad he has at his disposal, and it pays the bills.
Hence why clubs like ours put so much stock on the sale of season tickets every summer, and look to reward those loyal fans who dig into their pockets every June or July for another year of hope.
Over the years, they haven't done too badly compared to some clubs, with Cup runs ending in games with Premier League sides and play-off finals.
Last season was a barren one for home regulars with few victories and several insipid performances, but this year has, so far, been an improvement.
These regulars are the lifeblood of clubs like ours. They are a big part of why we survive every year, and how we have managed to sustain the miracle of League football at Whaddon for the past 15 years as others, bigger clubs than us, have fallen through the trap door.
And it is those regulars who are, therefore, I think fully entitled to be miffed at the prices for next weekend's FA Cup tie with Swindon Town.
The game is not covered by the £250-£400 they shelled out at the start of the season, so they have to make the decision whether they go or not - and the price rise also dissuades any floating fans thinking of a day out.
The club introduced so-called 'premium games' a few seasons ago to maximise revenue from those fixtures where clubs will bring bigger away followings - Plymouth, Torquay, Exeter, Oxford, the Bristol clubs, Newport, Hereford, Northampton and Portsmouth are the usual suspects.
In usual circumstances, the club's reasoning (rightly I think) is that these games should not affect home fans too much as the vast majority of those who will come will be season ticket holders, so won't incur that cost.
But this time they will.
The Northampton game two weeks ago was a premium game, and the home share of the gate was below 2,000 - but there was also a clash with the races so it is difficult to say that the premium status was totally to blame for that.
I understand that the FA Cup represents unbudgeted revenue for the club - a bonus source of cash. I also get that any gate money is shared (I think) 45-45-10 between the two clubs and the FA, so that also affects any money the club will make. We are also not the favourites, so we can't be sure that the £18,000 prize money will come our way.
The chairman said last week that there is no money in the pot for any potential team strengthening in January, and that the FA Cup is therefore vital. We saw what happens when Cup cash doesn't materialise all too clearly after the Tamworth defeat last year - it resulted in Russ Penn's sale to York.
Add to that the fact that both sides have to agree - so Swindon fans also unhappy at the prices should maybe ask their club why they agreed to it ... bearing in mind they charge more for home games at the County Ground.
I feel that to have put the prices up sends out the message that making a profit comes above respecting and rewarding the loyalty of supporters who dig into their pockets every summer, and many of whom also dig deep to travel the country supporting the club.
It is ironic also that these prices were announced a day or so after Mansfield revealed their offer of tickets for £7 when we go up there in December, if they are bought in advance.
So what should the club have done? Cutting the prices would not automatically fill the ground - I remember a game against Southend a few years ago which had to be played again after the floodlights failed... we cut the prices in half and got our lowest crowd of the season.
But look what happened against Bristol City in the JPT - £12 for a ticket, and on live TV, yet the crowd on a Wednesday night was 3,599, almost unheard of for a tie in that competition. Yes there was the Cotterill factor, but the size of the crowd surprised me.
Personally, I think £15 to stand and £20 to sit would have reasonable. I don't feel that to cut the prices to the JPT levels would have been right, and at £15/£20 I think we would have got 4-4,500 people in the ground.
I worry that the pricing structure for this tie will put people off and that we might struggle to get 3,000 in the ground - even if Swindon bring 1,000 with them (and I feel that may be doubtful due to the pricing).
I know that I will be waiting eagerly for the attendance figure that day.
Then there is the question of what happens if we win, and get through to round three and pull out a plum tie against, for example, Villa at home. What happens to the pricing then? Having set this precedent with the first round tie, where does the club go with prices for a big third round tie?
Of course, the difference is that I suspect people would not baulk at paying a higher price than usual to see Villa or another Premier League club here - but I don't blame them for being unhappy at paying it for a first round game against Swindon Town.
Of course I hope they still come on down - but this time I feel the price isn't right.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Tuesday triumph

TUESDAY night away games haven't been a major source of joy in recent seasons for Cheltenham Town fans in recent seasons.
They usually end in some form of disappointment followed by a long trudge down some black motorway for hours on end and then a long, miserable day at work.
So when you get a performance like the one we saw at the Abbey on Tuesday night, topped off with the result, it makes it one to savour even more.
I can't remember when I have enjoyed more a 19-hour day at work, on the motorways, in a freezing cold football ground, and back on the motorways again, safe in the knowledge that three very satisfying points were tucked away in the back pocket.
Our team started the season with a determined, hard-working, committed win at Bury, where we stood up like men to what was thrown at us and came away with a win which has proved since to be a terrific result.
We have seen hard work and commitment for the vast majority of the games since then, with the standards only dropping rarely, but last night really did see us return to those heights again - especially in the second half.
We had started well, gone in front with a Matt Richards strike which will definitely be in the top three of our goal of the season award (and maybe the top one) and then had to dig in as Cambridge changed their system and got a goal back.
There were some panicky clearances, niggly fouls and silly yellow cards for dissent (one of which means John Marquis won't play on Saturday) but there were no individual errors, no heads dropping, no goals in clusters condemning us to a miserable trip home.
What there was at half-time as the teams walked off was a helping hand from the opposition manager, who handed our manager and players just the incentive we needed to galvanise us into a winning performance.
Richard Money's decision to label us a 'non-league team with a non-league manager' was made more bizarre by the fact that he had to change his team's system to combat our start and to get his team a foothold in the game.
Then having fallen behind again, he was forced to make three substitutions to try to rescue the game and ended the game with his goalkeeper in our box - not once, but twice - such was the desperation.
So if we are the non-league team he claims, then what does that make his team - the one we beat?
To be honest, they are pretty good, especially Ryan Donaldson in midfield, and the front two Kwesi Appiah and Tom Elliott, with that trio comparing favourably with other attacking trios in League Two.
But I would rather concentrate on our performance, and the huge amount of heart it gave me to see us play as well as we did on a tough assignment, on a freezing cold gale-force night.
I was pleased we went back to the the 3-5-2 with Joe Hanks back in the side, and also pleased about the front two - Terry Gornell was a no-brainer selection after Saturday, and Marquis was there on a rotational basis with the manager going for his work-rate.
We just look better with that extra man in midfield. I felt Richards and Jason Taylor struggled on Saturday and it gives them both a bit more freedom - Richards to calm everything down (I am sure he was calm about beating two players in our box in the 94th minute...!) , and Taylor to break the play up and set up attacks as he did superbly for the winner.
Hanks played a key role in the win as he was deployed to mark Donaldson in the second half as the midfielder had been key to Cambridge's good spell for the last 25 minutes of the first half.
Yates and Shaun North told him to drop deeper and follow Donaldson and he did the job superbly as the player was pretty much nullified, and the effectiveness of that move was not only a good tactical move but also a massive feather in Hanks' cap.
For a 19-year-old making his eighth league start to be able to show such discipline in carrying out what proved to be a vital task was hugely encouraging - and also shows that the management team trust him.
I would have expected them to want Taylor to do that job but they gave it to Hanks and he did it to the letter.
But he was backed up by everyone around him. Gornell and Marquis did the perfect front two role of running the channels,chasing lost causes and squeezing up on defenders, putting in a superb shift.
That was shown in the second half when Marquis nearly intercepted a backpass, and when it was played forward, Richards and Taylor, hunting as a pack, came close to nicking the ball back when it went forward.
At the back, after a sometimes-shaky first half with too many fouls and some heart-in-mouth moments,we were superb - bodies on the line and some strong performances.
Jack Deaman came in for Matt Taylor and again did all that was asked of him, his highlight being a superbly-timed last-man tackle on Tom Elliott - had he got it wrong it was a penalty and most likely a red card as well.
He got clattered in one penalty-area moment, as did Steve Elliott, but they were back out there quickly, shrugging it all off and really giving it everything.
Every headed clearance, tackle and interception was greeted by claps on the back and clenched fists from those around them in red and white - there was true unity and determination out there.
If that Shrewsbury post-match inquest was meant to galvanise people and to say 'look - we are not going back to last season's bad habits' then it has worked.
Two wins and five goals since then are testament to that, and anyone doubting if these players are giving their all for club and shirt and fans then you should watch that second half performance and the subsequent squad huddle and then you should be in no doubt.
With Matt Taylor out,Trevor Carson was given the armband and that proved to be the right decision as his sheer single-mindedness seemed to rub off on everyone.
I saw him leaping around his penalty area when Gornell (of course it is his goal!) scored the winner, and he was slapping people on the back constantly in the latter stages and at the final whistle was straight over to the fans and gave his gloves away.
Even though we are only a third of the way into the season, I think Carson is already proving to be one of Yatesy's best signings.
I loved Scott Brown. He was a good League Two keeper and I was worried about us replacing him adequately - but I am going to say it... I think Carson is better.
He made a match-winning save at 2-1 and is so commanding of his area, his handling is secure and his distribution and quick-thinking has already brought us two goals.
Add to that his on-field attitude and the way he talks off the field, for example his interview at Shrewsbury and the guy is a winner and it seems to be rubbing off on others.
Even the manager. He seems a lot happier generally. We have seen more smiles from him, even when the results might have dropped off before these last two games, and he definitely won the mind-games battle here.
He hasn't always done that (Steve Evans on that frozen night at Crawley for instance) but he 'owned' Money on this occasion and it's good to hear him use phrases like "I'm sticking up for my club" - that's what we want to hear.
Results like this - an away win without your captain in tricky conditions - will only make him happier and increase the belief in the squad.
But (yes, there is always a but) there are still issues around the balance of the squad.
Playing three at the back suits us, but when a centre-half goes down and you only have four, you are on a knife-edge. Paul Black is now the only alternative for that role, and he has played there for 45 minutes in the JPT.
I am sure Yates would not, if he could help it, want to change it to a flat back four.
Our bench on Tuesday had Andy Haworth, Omari Sterling-James, Raffa de Vita and Eusebio on it. Add Zack Kotwica and Harry Williams to that and you have six players who could play either as a 'number 10' behind a front man or pair or maybe out wide in a 4-4-2 or as part of a front three supporting a lone forward.
But we don't play that system - so apart from the odd few minutes off the bench, it is hard to see where these players are going to fit in.
For example, OSJ and de Vita have contracts until January, and it may be a straight fight between them for a contract to allow Yates to have breathing space to maybe strengthen another area.
Haworth is another who seems to be the odd man out - I wonder if he could soon be looking for some loan football as Gornell asked for.
Marquis' loan ends at the end of November, and he will then go back and could not return until January if Yates wanted to try and get him then - so he will have to decide soon if he wants to look for another forward then or stick with what he has until after Christmas.
But before all that, another toughie at Plymouth and then on Monday the FA Cup draw - and that could be pivotal to Yates' hopes of answering the little questions I have posed above...


Monday, 20 October 2014

Turning point?

THOSE who are of a certain vintage will know all about Sir Alex Ferguson's 'Mark Robins moment'.
It came early in his Old Trafford reign, when there was a bit of pressure on and Robins scored an FA Cup goal at Nottingham Forest which folklore has since decreed more or less saved his job - and we all know what happened after that.
While Mark Yates' future was never going to hinge directly on Saturday's game, there was no doubt that the pressure was beginning to rise, so after 62 minutes when Kaid Mohamed's shot hit the post, the relief would have been palpable.
That chance, after a lovely passing move, came as Northampton were on top, having started the second half well with an equaliser and another chance which Trevor Carson saved well.
Had we gone 2-1 down, there is no telling what might have happened to our confidence levels, and so the win was even more of a relief.
Of course, having established the two-goal cushion, we had to make it difficult for ourselves, but after that it was pretty plain sailing - made even easier for us by Northampton chucking Ryan Cresswell up front and lumping balls into our box.
But Saturday might not only be a turning point for the manager - it could also be a watershed day for Terry Gornell.
He scored twice, could have had four, and fully deserved his man-of-the-match award - and I hope now it puts paid to talk of him wanting to leave. I think it has in the manager's eyes as if he scores goals he won't be left out.
Anyone who saw his post-match interview here will have seen (about 4' 30" in) that Terry doesn't think I am "in his corner."
Nice to know you read this nonsense Terry - and well done for shoving my words back at me. Long may it continue because if you are scoring goals, you keep your place, and the team is winning. That way, we are all happy.
He was deployed in a 3-4-3 formation - a brave move by Yates and one which showed just how important the result was. He sent out a system to go and win the game and deserved the rewards from that.
However, it did have its' drawbacks. I didn't feel that we were able to get Eusebio on the ball enough, as he was stuck out wide trying to get into the game.
When he did get the ball at his feet he only has one thing in his mind - running at people, causing havoc and trying to get a shot away, and you could see the problems he was causing by the free-kicks he won.
Terry revelled in it though, and so did Byron Harrison, who although he didn't score definitely put a shift in, something he has been accused by many of not doing every time he has gone out there.
He was dropping deep, winning the ball, shrugging off defenders, laying off great passes and also getting in the box to be a threat - everything we want from him, so let's hope this is a turning point game for him as well.
In midfield, Matt Richards and Jason Taylor were therefore deployed as a pair - and we have never had much success with a two-man central midfield, and here again the results were mixed.
The effort was there as it always is with these two, but they did struggle at times I felt. Taylor hasn't quite hit the heights yet he was achieving before his ban, and Richards' biggest effect on the game was his set-pieces.
The deliveries were mixed, but they were always a danger. All three of our goals came from them, and more often than not we won the first header from corners and free-kicks as Northampton struggled to cope with them.
That was part of the reason for Chris Wilder's post-match incandescence with his own team, apparent from the shouting and swearing coming from the dressing room, along with a penalty they felt they should have had in the first half, the non-award leaving him irate and in the stands for the second half.
The game followed a little of the pattern from Shrewsbury - a tight first half, the better chances falling to us, and us taking the lead - this time however just before, rather than just after the interval..
Then again like at the Greenhous, we had a poor spell - conceded, and could have fallen behind with Mo's golden chance (he was lively when he came on, incidentally).
As I said above, that was the turning point. It jolted us back to life, and those two quick goals for Gornell and John Marquis finished it off, but we could have done without that late alarm of Northampton's second goal.
It would have been nice to have kept the two-goal margin and get a comfortable win - something we haven't done very often.
In fact, we have won by a two-goal margin or more four times in 81 league games since January 2013 - at home to Rotherham and Morecambe and away at Fleetwood and Mansfield.
Saturday was also the first time we have scored three at home since that Morecambe game on October 22 last year.
That was Gornell's last league goal before Saturday's brace... which was the first by a Cheltenham player at home since Jermaine McGlashan against Portsmouth on September 7 last year.
Anyway, enough of the stats and now on to two very tough away games, Cambridge and Plymouth.
They will be made more difficult without our skipper Matt Taylor, whom we might not see now until December-time.
So enter Jack Deaman for his big chance, as I cannot see the manager changing the 3-4-3 tomorrow.
Even though we are away at a pretty free-scoring side, they also concede a few, and our front players seem to have their confidence back.
Deaman has not let us down so far and I have no worries about him going in there with Steve Elliott and Troy Brown for the next few games.
Beyond that, I can't see any changes tomorrow - he can't change the front three and I wouldn't see Richards and Jason Taylor being broken up.
So the only question is who the captain will be - and isn't it refreshing to have a few candidates for it, rather than one obvious choice?
Trevor Carson, after his impassioned interview at Shrewsbury, would be a good alternative, while Lee Vaughan wore the band in pre-season.
Steve Elliott is an obvious candidate, as is Matt Richards, and what about Jason Taylor, whose heart is very much on his sleeve?
Whoever gets the nod has big shoes to fill as Matt Taylor has been very effective and a good leader this season, and will be a big miss in the weeks ahead.
Saturday's game was hopefully a turning point, not just for the manager and for Terry, but for everyone, and we can enter these two away games with more belief and confidence.