Thursday, 29 September 2011

Loan signing logic...?

When I got to work this morning and saw that we had made a loan signing, it came as a big surprise.
I thought the squad was 'full' and that this was the group of players who would take us to January and beyond.
If that wasn't the case, then I would liked to have seen a striker come in, one similar in style to Jeff Goulding, who is probably the only player in the squad who doesn't have direct competition for his place.
But the player coming in, Everton teenager Luke Garbutt, is a left-back. Seems a strange one to me.
Nothing against Luke - he sounds a promising young player and it is great to see us getting players from clubs like Everton rather than ringing up Bristol City or going back to players we have had before.
But do we need another left back? Or another left-sided midfield player?
Danny Andrew is a player who polarises opinion among Cheltenham fans.
I am a fan - I think he has improved defensively this season and everyone knows the quality he can bring offensively with crosses and from set-pieces, which provided four goals last season.
We didn't have another left-back last season, so he played practically every game and when he was injured or left out, Josh Low played out of position in his place.
But in the summer, Sido Jombati came in to the squad, and played at left back in a few friendlies and has come on in a few games in place of Danny.
Saying that, when he came on last, at Wimbledon, is was at right back, in place of Keith Lowe.
So therefore, I figured that if Danny was to be rested, or dropped, then Sido would get his chance. Maybe not.
Also, when Sido arrived, there was the thought that Danny would be pushed further upfield, a la Gareth Bale, with Sido playing at left-back.
It is something that has been mooted by fans a lot, and calls for this idea to be tried got louder when Sido did play in the reserves this week, but Mark Yates has always rebutted it in interviews, and I cannot remember it happening in a game.
So maybe young Luke has been brought in to play on the left side of midfield, and put pressure on Kaid Mohamed.
Kaid has been very up and down this season - up in games like Torquay and Crawley, but down in the last two, Wimbledon and Hereford, and I would suggest his place in the side is precarious at present.
He hasn't finished many games, with Junior Smikle coming on in every league game so far, while Bags Graham got a start in the LDV game, and came on in the Morecambe defeat.
Apparently, Bags had an excellent game in the reserves at Bournemouth in midweek, scoring a goal, and he was also good at Forest Green in the reserve game I saw.
He is a similar age to Garbutt, and as our own player, I would like to see him given a chance ahead of a loanee if a change is to be made in that position.
The other option there would be Smikle, who does not offer the same attacking dynamism as Kaid, but would offer more help to Danny defensively, and I must confess I would play him at the Mem on Saturday to try and shore us up a bit more, especially if Chris Zebroski plays wide on the left.
But now Garbutt's arrival muddies the water even more, and if he has come to widen his experience, and if we want to keep Everton happy and get more loans from them, he will be involved somewhere.
Just of case of where, and how... bearing in mind also that the player himself has stated in the interviews I have seen that he is a left-back.
But, as I alluded to above, it is good to see that our loan signings seem to have gone up a notch.
We have suffered in the past with the Peter Hynes' of this world (according to Wikipedia, he plays for Limerick now, and works as a lorry driver) and the great Rob Elvins (now playing centre-half for Worcester City).
Yes, we had Karl Henry and Steve Brooker, who were more successful, but now to have a current England Under-21 goalkeeper, and an Under-19 international on the fringe of a Premiership club's first team is a step in the right direction.
Hopefully, when top clubs see that we give these players experience in our side, and that they get treated well here, more clubs will want to send their top youngsters here, which can only benefit us.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Frustration... or not good enough?

Apparently, man had not landed on the Moon the last time we beat Hereford in a competitive game at Whaddon Road.
That was 2-1 in the Southern League Cup, in January 1969. On the evidence of today's game, we won't beat them until man had landed on Mars.
Frustrating doesn't even begin to sum up the main emotion after that game, where we had most of the territory, most of shots, most of the corners - most of everything in fact, except the most important statistic.
I don't need to look at the message boards to deduce what most CTFC fans thought of the performance.
They will think it was rubbish, poor, bad or whatever - but that was to be expected.
Most of that will be because Hereford are second from bottom, and were beaten at home 6-1 last weekend, as the majority of fans seemed to expect us to just turn up, roll Hereford over 3-0 or 4-0, and retire to the bar to get drunk in wild celebration.
That was never going to be the case.
Hereford's pride would not let that happen, and they put in a resolute performance, and frustrated us at every opportunity.
I thought Stam and Green at the back played well, and Barkhuizen on the right wing was a threat.
After the game, Mark Yates told me we had 24 shots on goal. How many of them tested David Cornell in the Hereford goal? The answer is not enough, and there was the problem.
I can only remember the shot from Marlon Pack 10 minutes into the second half, directly making Cornell make a save.
We only really dominated the game for about 10 minutes before half-time, and 15 after the break. The rest was scrappy stuff.
We had the scramble which was cleared off the line early on, the sitter missed by Josh Low, Steve Elliott's miscued volley just before half-time, and that was about it for what I would call 'clear-cut' chances.
We had a number of other chances which were shot wide, shot over or blocked, and had a number of other openings which were wasted by passes either under-hit, over-hit or poorly directed.
Basically a lack of quality in the final third, from wide areas or from the front two - who I can't remember having a shot on goal.
I am not convinced the Jimmy Spencer-Darryl Duffy pairing works - yes, the service was poor, but they both rely on that service to be effective, while when Jeff Goulding is more likely to drop off and try to make something happen himself.
In reality, after Josh Low's quite unbelievable miss, I never thought we were going to score if we stayed out there all night, and my abiding worry was that they would nick one.
We have seen it all too often - the team who are under the cosh for most of the game goes up the other end and either scrambles one in, or pings one from 30 yards in injury time.
The fact that didn't happen is a small blessing to take.
The simple reason we did not win that game is because we were not clinical enough.
We made too may poor decisions, especially in wide areas, were wasteful in good positions, and tried far too often to walk the ball into the net.
It has been a problem in several games that we have been reluctant to have a shot when the opening is there, and looked for that one more pass which then sees the move invariably break down.
That was my frustration from the game.

Managers' view
 Mark Yates: 
"Sometimes it just doesn't go for you, we had a couple kicked off the line, a couple of bad decisions when we've been in good positions and Josh (Low) missed a chance that I've never seen him miss in my life. It was a disappointing scoreline but the performance was excellent. We were the team that was going to win it but we didn't make the keeper work enough.  We had 24 goal opportunities so we've got keep working at being more clinical rather than being ruthless and just getting the shot away."

Player by player
Jack Butland: Didn't have many saves to make, but had a lot of work to do with his feet and catching crosses and through-balls, and was very secure with all of it.
Keith Lowe: Better performance defensively than last week, and gave us width going forward but joined in the malaise of poor crossing.
Danny Andrew: Tough time against Tom Barkhuizen, who beat him a few times for pace, sometimes too easily. Delivered our only decent cross in the 90 minutes, but no one was there to convert it.
Alan Bennett: Solid at the back, and organised the back four well. Dealt well with the height and strength of Delroy Facey.
Steve Elliott: Also did well at the back. Missed a good chance with a volley and was a threat from corners but unable to get his header on target.
Josh Low: Unbelievable miss, and wasted several good positions with poor decisions, crosses and passes.
Marlon Pack: Good display in midfield, and came close to scoring with a shot which forced a good save. Tried to take game by scruff of the neck a few times but couldn't find key passes.
Russ Penn: Lots of energy and commitment as ever. Made a few great runs and breaks, had a few shots but radar slightly off.
Kaid Mohamed: Few more flashes than last week, but frustrating again. Never beat his full-back, wasted some great crossing chances and showed reluctance to shoot or track back to help Danny.
Jimmy Spencer: Worked hard, ran the channels as usual, but lacked service and shooting was wayward.
Darryl Duffy: Also worked hard and ran the channels, but goal threat was sporadic.

Jeff Goulding (for Duffy 60): Left out as he hadn't trained all week sue to a slight groin injury. Struggled to get into the game as we huffed and puffed for the last half-hour of the game.
Junior Smikle (for Spencer 81): Didn't get into the game during his now-usual substitutes' appearance.

We avoided defeat against Hereford at home in the Football League for the first time, and managed to keep a clean sheet after the defensive calamities last weekend. It was a positive that we created so many openings, but that's about it.

We failed to take any of the chances we created, and wasted far too many promising positions. I am not convinced by the Spencer-Duffy partnership, and feel Kaid Mohamed is a bit lucky to still be in the starting line-up.

We should have won the game. It is down to our own shortcomings in the final third that we did not. On another day, we will take one or two of those chances and will take the points. There will be teeth-gnashing among fans who expected a straight forward win (how the hell didn't we beat a team who lost 6-1 last weekend etc etc etc). Remember - we lost 4-1 ourselves. Fans need to learn football does not work like that. In a game between local rivals, form and tables go out of the window, and it was not rocket science to expect a different Hereford to turn up this week. We were at home, and made most of the running, but they deserve some credit for their resolute display and for keeping us at bay.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Derby day? Oh no it's not...

Call me a curmudgeon if you want, but I refuse to label Saturday's game with Hereford as a local derby.
Hereford are not rivals - they are not even the closest geographical League Two side to us.
Edgar Street is 43.8 miles from Whaddon Road.  Swindon's County Ground is closest at 32.4 miles away.
Bristol Rovers' Memorial Ground is second at 40.1 miles, so Hereford is actually our third longest trip, then comes Oxford's Kassam Stadium, 47.3 miles from our ground.
So this 'derby' stuff is nonsense.
Cheltenham already have local rivals, and will always have one local derby, and that is against Gloucester City.
No game with Hereford, or any of these other manufactured rivalries which fans have tried to concoct down the years with teams like Kidderminster, Oxford, Swindon, the Bristol clubs and most ludicrously of all, Rushden and Diamonds, will ever match that intensity.
Those Boxing Day and Easter Monday games were memorable occasions, with real edge and are much missed. By me at least...
I am aware of the argument that many of the fans who watch us now have never seen us play Gloucester in a 'proper' league game, so they cannot be rivals any more. Utter nonsense.
You cannot just manufacture a rivalry - it has to be a long-standing thing, and be grown over many years. It also has to be a two-way thing, and that is the case with Gloucester.
Other clubs don't care about us.
Hereford fans dislike Shrewsbury much more than us, Kidderminster care more about Worcester, or (before they went bust) Bromsgrove. Oxford and Swindon are more pre-occupied with each other, as are the Bristol clubs.
I'm not even going to consider the Rushden thing, as a) they don't exist any more and b) it was just ludicrous for them to be considered rivals. They are almost 100 miles away for pity's sake!
I also find it strange that fans are so desperate for a 'new' rivalry with someone. Why does it matter so much? I just don't get it and can't get excited about 'another' set of rivals.
It didn't happen when we were in the Conference with Forest Green, and as far as I am concerned, if we were in Northern Senior League Division Two and Gloucester were in the Premier League, they would still be our rivals. And the fact that their supporters feel the same way about us makes it a lasting rivalry.
Don't get complacent that we will never meet them again in a League game. It only takes one bad season for us and a good one for them, and we would both be in the Blue Square Premier. It could happen.
Anyway, back to Hereford, our nearest Football League neighbours. We played them a lot in the 1960s in the Southern League, then they went into the Football League in 1972 and it was about 25 years until our paths crossed again.
Since then, it has been a bit of nightmare as they have avoided defeat against us just about every time we have met bar the 2-0 win at Edgar Street in our Conference promotion season, notable for the abuse they handed out to David Norton.
We started to use them as a nursery club around that time, as John Brough, Norts, Neil Grayson and Richard Walker all made their way to us, but still they kept beating us.
There was the 3-0 shambles at Edgar Street, when we were so terrible that the former manager made three half-time changes and stopped the bus for an inquest on the way home, and a couple of 1-1 draws over there when we were all over them, but could not win.
At home, we had the 3-2 defeat when we led 2-1, and Ian Westlake hit the post, they broke up the other end, equalised and them smashed in a winner. Last season, they won 3-0 at our place. Enough said about that one.
So, as Indian signs go, the one they hold over us is pretty comprehensive.
But surely we are going to beat them this time, aren't we? They have won one game this season, a 1-0 win over Dagenham and Redbridge, been hammered by four by Macclesfield, and last weekend shipped six against Gillingham.
Their confidence is at rock bottom, and many of their fans wanted Jamie Pitman sacked after that game, and I must admit to a bit of surprise that he has survived the week.
After that Gills game, Pitman told the BBC:

"One thing I am not is a quitter - I won't quit but if that is what they (the directors) decide then that is up to them.
"If they think that is the best for the football club than that is fine, I will accept that decision.
"But I am not going to give in - you should know that as I wasn't a quitter as a player and I am not as a person, so it is up to them to decide that as it is out of my hands."
We lost our last game 4-1 against a team just promoted to the League, and with only one home win before that game. So we are not exactly brimming with confidence either.

We are a bit wounded as well, and have seen some bad habits from last season rearing their ugly heads.
Just as we were starting to believe the rhetoric that we were a different team from last season, our back four put in a passable impersonation of the Keystone Cops for an hour, and it seemed we had been transported  back to the horror of last February or March.
Everyone says we have made a great start. The table says different. 
From nine games, we are on a 4-1-4 record, with a level goal difference, having scored 13 and conceded 13.
That is an average start, which tells what sort of side we are. Inconsistent.
Can we bounce back from last weekend? That's the big question of a side which is very quickly returning to its Jekyll and Hyde existence. Which Cheltenham Town will turn up on Saturday?
Some players will be looking over their shoulders after poor displays on Saturday, while others will not keep their places after the reserves were impressive in Tuesday's 4-2 win over Crawley.
In some ways, Saturday is a no-win situation for Mark Yates. Win, and fans will say we should have won the game anyway as Hereford are 23rd and have just lost their last game 6-1. A draw will not be palatable for most.
Lose, and ... well ... I would avoid the forums for a few days Yatesy.
It's a bit early to call this a must-win game, but I would say it is a must-not-lose...

Fighting talk - but also the words of a manager asking his board to back him, or sack him. He is still in the job, so they are backing him. For now.
Also, they have sold Stuart Fleetwood to Luton for £40,000 which seemed a very strange move.
Whether Fleetwood really wanted to go or 'had' to leave as they need the money I don't know.
What it does is leaves them relying on Delroy Facey and loanee Sam Winnall for their goals. But they have only scored four in nine games.
Beware the wounded animal, but all the pointers indicate a Cheltenham win, and the end of that abysmal record.
But things are never that simple in the world of Cheltenham Town, are they?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Game, set and match...

I am not having much luck at the moment when it comes to car journeys.
After the trials and tribulations of Torquay, it seemed like plain sailing as I reached junction one of the M3 at 12.30pm on Saturday, with no more than 10 miles to go to Kingsmeadow.
An hour and 55 minutes later, I finally took my seat at the ground - and by around 4.10pm was thinking that the traffic jam was a better place to be. In fact, anywhere would have been a better place to be.
In fact, I was wishing that our team coach was also still in that traffic jam with me, then maybe I could erase the whole afternoon from my memory.
We were OK for the first half an hour - in fact we looked the better side.
Wimbledon were coming off the back of a 3-0 home defeat, and looked like it, with poor passing and only one threat it seemed, Keiran Djalili on the left wing.
I was pleased to see him go off just after half-time, but it didn't make any difference.
We missed a few chances, Jeff Goulding with a couple of headers over and Danny Andrew couldn't capitalise on a couple of free-kick chances, and we wasted some other promising positions.
That gave Wimbledon some heart and once Ricky Wellard scored from a header which wasn't that Wellard to put away thanks to our non-existent defending, firstly of the overlap and then the subsequent cross, it was downhill all the way.
It was sadly reminiscent of some of the awayday surrenders of last season, you know the ones, those we thought were banished to the history books by our new, resilient bunch of players.
Maybe not.
I wasn't at Stevenage, but am told it wasn't as bad as that. I was at Crewe, and nothing will ever be as bad as that.
I was at Bradford and at Barnet, and it had some parallels with that.
The soft centre was back in defence, the vanishing central midfield returned, as did the non-backtracking wide men and the lethargic front men - things we thought were consigned to history.
Wimbledon were not world beaters - not on the evidence of that first half-hour, but by the end they were able to knock it around like Barcelona, such was the paucity of threat from those in ruby.
Mark Yates went with the same side which had performed so well at Torquay on Tuesday night, and I couldn't argue with that decision.
We had played well at Plainmoor and no-one deserved to be dropped after that game - but some will be looking over their shoulders now, as the second half display was not acceptable.
Whether it was the end of a long week, three games in seven days etc is irrelevant.
These are professional players and should be used by now to playing a lot of games in a short space of time, and if we are going to change the mindset of the club and the mindset of those floating fans, these results have to be extinguished.
But as I said we started well, and got worse.
The first goal saw Sam Hatton and Christian Jolley allowed to work an overlap when Danny Andrew was left exposed two on one by a lack of cover from Kaid Mohamed, and then Wellard was allowed a free header.
Then Alan Bennett made an error to allow Liam Minshull to cross, and Steve Elliott got in a mess, turning the ball past Jack Butland for the second.
In between those goals, Jimmy Spencer missed a golden chance to equalise - if that had gone in, you never know, but in the end we got what we deserved. Nothing.
The third goal sealed it, Jack Midson (who else?) all alone to volley in at the far post from Rashid Yussuf's cross.
Yussuf came on at half time, and ran Marlon Pack and Russ Penn ragged in midfield, virtually running the game, while Midson up front was a constant threat and I couldn't help thinking what he would have done for us had Mark managed to sign him.
On that display, and that of our forwards, I would gladly have swapped him.
Yussuf got the fourth, and although Darryl Duffy deserved credit for a good header, as consolations go it was very scant.
Next weekend, we play Hereford at home.
They lost 6-1 at home on Saturday, and might not even have a manager by next weekend, which is hardly the best mix for a side which seems to have such brittle confidence as us.
We thought, on the evidence of displays like Northampton and Torquay, like Crawley and Swindon, that this was a different Cheltenham side to the one of seasons past.
Gone were the flaky away displays, we thought. Even Gillingham and Aldershot were tight, narrow games that we had chances in, not like the steamrollerings of days gone by.
Was it complacency? Were they starting to believe they were the finished article? Hardly, after eight games.
Whatever it was, it has to be eradicted, as any display like that next Saturday will be pounced upon, because if we thought Wimbledon were a wounded animal after their 3-0 home defeat, then Hereford will be even worse next weekend.
All of a sudden, that becomes a very big game. They seem to have a knack of turning up at Whaddon like Bulls in a china shop and walking all over us. Better not happen this time ...

Managers' view
Mark Yates: "We conceded two poor goals and then had to chase it, but made too many bad decisions. I thought Josh Low was outstanding, and apart from that there were maybe two more, but that's not going to win games. They passed the ball and made the pitch big, and credit to them they deserved the win."

Player by player
Jack Butland: Let down by the four in front of him. Made a good save at 0-0 but don't think he can be faulted for any of the goals.
Keith Lowe: Tricky start against the speedy Djalili and never got any better. Rare off-day for Keith, and ended up being taken off - another rarity.
Alan Bennett: Made a mistake for the second goal and looked shaky at times against Midson.
Steve Elliott: Own goal for Wimbledon's second capped a day to forget.
Danny Andrew: Difficult afternoon as Christian Jolley and Sam Hatton were a big threat down his flank. Only plus point was cross for Duffy's goal.
Josh Low: Our best player. Was a threat in wide positions and bursting through centrally  but no-one capitalised on his good work.
Russ Penn: Very quiet game. Started well but virtually a passer-by in the second half as Yussuf ran the game.
Marlon Pack: Also started well, but also faded. Seemed a bit reserved in the tackle - is he worried about picking up more bookings?
Kaid Mohamed: Non existent against his old club. Little or no threat going forward, and no help tracking back.
Jeff Goulding: Missed two headed chances in the first half and hardly had a kick in the second. Overshadowed by the performance of Midson.
Jimmy Spencer: Spurned a golden chance in between the first two Wimbledon goals, and that seemed to dent his confidence. Taken off before the hour.

Darryl Duffy (for Spencer, 57): Struggled to get into the game, mainly due to lack of service, but got on the end of Andrew's cross for third goal of the season.
Junior Smikle (for Mohamed 64): Not in the game after coming on for the usual substitutes' appearance.
Sido Jombati (for Keith Lowe, 71): Brought on to get forward and did his best but crossing was poor.

Positives: Darryl Duffy took his goal well and we were ok for the first half an hour. That's about it.

Negatives: The second half performance was as bad as we have been for a while. Our back four were, as a unit, poor, while our midfield (bar Josh Low) and front two disappeared when we went 2-0 down, which is reminiscent of some away games last season.

Summary: A worrying throwback to last season, and the 'soft centre' we thought had been eradicated, but it seems there is still work to be done. Too many heads dropped after the first goal and never got back again. In the second half we never got started at all and that 45 minutes was unacceptable.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Clawed back by the Gulls

I love Plainmoor.
After Whaddon Road and Vicarage Road, it is my favourite ground in the Football League and I have happy memories there.
My journalistic career started there, covering Torquay for the Sunday Independent back in the late 1980s and early 90s, with the late Cyril Knowles as the first manager I dealt with.
There were players such as Matt Elliott, Paul Hall, the mercurial Mark Loram, Tommy Tynan, Wes Saunders and former CTFC hero Jimmy Smith, as well as our current physio Ian Weston.
The highlight was a Wembley play-off win over Blackpool, and Torquay away is always a highlight of my calendar.
It means a meeting with old friends in the press box, and last night was no exception - everywhere I looked was a familiar face - freelance superstar Ross Reid (follow on Twitter @swsportsnews), BBC Devon's Brent Pilnick (follow on Twitter - @brettpilnick), my old Evening Herald colleague Nigel Walrond, Sky's Martyn Dean, Guy Henderson and that doyen of local sports writers, Dave Thomas of the (sadly) now weekly  Herald Express.
But the rickety old main stand at Plainmoor is coming down, and it was the last time I will sit in that press box, with the pillars in the way which stopped me seeing it was Josh Low who put our first goal in last night.
That came after an eventful trip down to South Devon, which saw me stupidly run out of diesel on the M5 but still make kick off after a 15-minute wait for the AA man - brilliant service and thanks very much!
Note to self: when the diesel indicator beeps, put some in...
But it was worth the stress as the Rubies more than played their part in a thrilling game, and a great advert for League Two.
Josh Low, a player usually criticised for his lack of bravery, was certainly that when he was sent flying by Bobby Olejnik in putting us in front.
Quick thinking from Russ Penn and Marlon Pack saw them take a free-kick quickly, through to Jeff Goulding and his great lay-off found Low clean through for a good finish.
Unfortunately we didn't hold the lead for long, as Billy Bodin made it third time lucky in scoring against us but was allowed to run a long way before shooting past Jack Butland, who had no chance. A preventable goal as I thought Marlon Pack and Danny Andrew were beaten rather too easily.
Torquay had a good spell with Rene Howe the focal point and Butland had to make a save, but we weathered that storm well and finished the half strongly.
We went back in front at the perfect time - right on half-time with Jimmy Spencer and Goulding linking well and Kaid Mohamed going through on the left to score.
I thought his first touch was heavy to start with but he was able to jab it past Olejnik at his near post, with his right foot, for the perfect end to the half.
After the break, I expected Torquay to come out strongly and have a real go at us.
But I was pleased to see us come out positively on the front foot and look to take the game to them and try to kill it off.
We probably should have done - Low had a chance, Lee Mansell made a brilliant block from Russ Penn and Goulding had a brilliant finish chalked off for offside - the flag went up quickly and it looked the right call from my vantage point, but very tight, although Mark Yates feels the DVD shows he was onside.
At the other end, we were playing Howe and Taiwo Atieno (who was eventually taken off) well and the main threat was out wide with Bodin and Eunan O'Kane, who forced Butland into a superb save low to his right.
Butland was beaten, and how, after 71 minutes when Kevin Nicholson's shot fizzed in off his far post for the equaliser - you don't save those, as our former striker Andy Gray would have said.
If was being pernickety, I would say we were caught a bit cold from a throw-in and the ball reached Nicholson rather too easily, and we were also a tad slow closing him down, but it was a fabulous strike by the former Forest Green man.
In the past that would have signalled the Alamo and probably a late winner for the home side as we would have defended deeper and deeper and invited the pressure before cracking in the last few minutes.
But that was not the case this time - yet more proof that this Cheltenham side is made of sterner stuff, as it was with some comfort that we shut up shop and I went back up the M5, happy with a point - and with enough diesel in the tank...

Managers' views
Mark Yates: "It was a really good point - it's a tough place to come in really tricky conditions. It was probably a fair result but the disappointing thing is is that we were winning. But I'm delighted with the players' performance, the effort and attitude."

Martin Ling told BBC Radio Devon after the game that was very impressed with Cheltenham and thought it was the best Cheltenham side he has come up against for a while. He admitted his Torquay side were slightly disappointing and only six or seven players come out with credit, but felt it was a fair result.

Player by player
Jack Butland: No chance with either goal, handling was good, as was kicking and made a superb save from O'Kane in the second half.
Keith Lowe: Had tricky customers in Bodin and the overlapping Nicholson to deal with and did it well I thought.
Danny Andrew: Defending is definitely better this season, as is his positioning, But needs to work on corner delivery as it was again patchy.
Alan Bennett: Another good display. Looked after Rene Howe well, and had a good headed chance as well as a piece of quick thinking which helped set up the first goal.
Steve Elliott: Has had a good start to the season, and seems happy playing alongside Bennett. Also stood up strong against Howe and Atieno.
Josh Low: Great bravery to score his goal and an improved display from Saturday. A threat on the counter attack and good tracking back.
Russ Penn: Unlucky not to score, and linked the play well in midfield. Looked happier with Marlon back alongside him.
Marlon Pack: Up there for our man of the match. The focal point for our best moves. Got booked again though, and maybe fortunate not to get a second.
Kaid Mohamed: Good finish for his goal and was busier and more involved than Saturday. Was an outlet and made some good runs down the left but needs to work on final ball.
Jimmy Spencer: Man of the match for me. Started slowly, but grew into the game showing great strength to hold the ball up, and linked well with Jeff. Downside was another needless booking.
Jeff Goulding: Set up both goals, and unlucky to have one chalked off for offside as it was a great finish. Led the line well.
Luke Summerfield (for Goulding 84): Brought on to solidify midfield and secure a point - did just that.
Junior Smikle (for Mohamed 87): See above.

Positives: Taking the lead twice, with two well-worked and well taken goals. Again solid at the back and breached only by two long-range efforts, one unstoppable. Good to see goals from midfield agaion, this time the wide areas. A decent point at a place where not many sides will get anything. We closed the game out well to ensure we did not concede a third and throw away a point.

Negatives: Losing the lead twice was disappointing, and we did not close Bodin down quickly enough for the first goal. Spencer and Pack both booked, and both were needless, indeed Pack could easily have got a second one. Competitive yes, reckless no is the mantra.

Summary: Good performance and we deserved a point, in fact overall a draw was a fair result. We started well, Torquay had a good spell, we came back, then Torquay dominated for while, and so it went on. They are at a similar level to us I feel and it was a good point in a biting, swirling wind at a tricky ground to win at.
One good thing is the credit we are getting from (some) opposition managers. Dean Holdsworth praised us after the game at Aldershot, and Martin Ling did likewise last night. Teams will not taking us lightly any more. Take note, Mr Evans...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Seeing off not so mighty Macc

One of the biggest disappointments of recent seasons following Cheltenham around is that we have lost the art of winning ugly.
This weekend, we found it again, because as ugly wins go, this one was huge buck teeth, warts on the nose and  enormous specs - but who cares, the record books say we won 2-0, and we are 5th in the table.
We were terrible, especially in the second half, and Macc somehow contrived to be even worse, and did not, in my memory at least, have a shot on target.
Therefore, it was the easiest of league debuts for Jack Butland in goal, and turned out to be the perfect game for the Birmingham City teenager to be pitched in.
That was the main talking point before the game, and I must admit to some surprise when I got a text around 2pm to be told he was playing.
I can understand why he was put into the side, as he has come from a higher division with a big reputation, and politically it will help our relationship with Birmingham to extend the loan or maybe borrow other players.
They want Butland to come here and get experience, but I doubt even he did not think he would be straight into the side.
My main worry is what happens to Scott Brown's confidence. Butland is here for 93 days, then what happens? Do we go and loan another goalkeeper to go into the side, or do we turn to Brown again, and say 'we haven't got anyone better, so you better play again' having discarded him for 3 months when, to be honest, he hasn't done much wrong this season.
But Mark Yates has shown he will not shirk from tough decisions, and it is a sign of his increasing ruthlessness and determination to make us better that he has made this choice.
Yesterday, Butland did not have much to do at all. A few crosses to catch. kicks to clear and one slightly tentative tip over, such was the lack of Macc's attacking threat.
But he was also helped by superb displays from Steve Elliott and especially Alan Bennett in front of him, who gave him superb protection and won just about every header.
It was also good to see them patting him on the back and congratulating him after every cross he caught - good for his confidence.
Danny Andrew and Josh Low tried to test him out with a short back pass apiece but he dealt with them, while Macc's centre-back Scott Brisley helped the clean sheet with a dreadful miss early in the second half.
At the other end, we started off quite well but failed to sustain any sort of momentum.
The penalty was stonewall and Jeff Goulding finished it well, but it took until the 88th minute for us to get behind Macc and put in a decent ball, and Jimmy Spencer finished it off.
Otherwise, the front two had scraps to feed off, our wide men were poor again, especially Kaid Mohamed, while Josh Low was frustrating with powder puff passing and poor decision making.
We tried to walk the ball in instead of taking the bull by the horns when the chance opened up for a shot and when we did shoot, the efforts were tame and easy for the goalkeeper.
But the main thing is that we ground out the result and won the game. Last season, we would probably have drawn that game or lost it - think about the game with Barnet, where we conceded a late equaliser, or Accrington, where we lost it late on.
This win was back to the Steve Cotterill days - no frills, just getting the job done, and the points are in the bag, so happy days.

Managers' views 
Mark Yates: "We found a couple moments of quality to win the game but overall we huffed and puffed and didn't get going in the second half. After last week's scrappy game where we came away with nothing, we're happy that we came away with a win and a clean sheet after an equally scrappy game. We comfortably won the game even though we didn't play well but we know we need to improve the performances."
Gary Simpson: "Second half we've had all the play, all the pressure without really dominating them. To be fair to them at the end they've got the second, but I felt it was a game we shouldn't have lost. I thought George Donnelly did okay. He tried hard, worked hard and he gives us another option."
Player by player
Jack Butland: Easiest league debut he could have hoped for, as Macc did not force him to make a save. Caught his crosses and cleared his lines, but bigger tests to come.
Keith Lowe: Defended well, but maybe slightly below his level of last season so far this term. Failed to get forward and support the attack.
Alan Bennett: A captain's performance. Turning into an excellent signing, don't think he missed a header.
Steve Elliott: Backed up Benno very well, and also solid in the air and good on the ground. Partnership with Bennett looking promising.
Danny Andrew: Is defending better on the whole this season but has not found range at the other end with set pieces. Only downside was one short backpass which was nearly costly.
Josh Low: Frustrating! Time and again got into promising positions, then pass was under-hit or shot lacked power. Good pass to Jimmy Spencer however for second goal.
Russ Penn: Good first half, poor second as Macc's three-man midfield dominated us after the break.  Seemed to miss his pal Marlon.
Luke Summerfield: Same as Penn, good in first half not in second. Didn't really take his chance to shine in Marlon's absence and will probably be back on the bench on Tuesday.
Kaid Mohamed: Poor again. Ineffective going forward and not always a help defensively. Would think his place is coming under threat.
Darryl Duffy: Very quiet game. Worked hard as usual for the hour or so he was on, but things didn't come off for him.
Jeff Goulding: Good penalty but like Darryl was quiet. Partly because service was poor and partly because I didn't think he worked hard enough.
Jimmy Spencer (for Duffy, 59): Didn't change much up front when he came on, busy as usual and took his goal well, but that was about it.
Junior Smikle (for Mohamed 75): Usual substitution and usual Junior performance, full of energy and made a few tackles to firm us up in the last 15 minutes.
Sido Jombati (for Goulding 90): Came on to waste time at the end and I don't think he touched the ball.
Positives: The three points after a poor display in the second half, and the fact we showed resilience to see the game through and take the win. The performances of Alan Bennett and Steve Elliott were superb, and helped Jack Butland's league debut go swimmingly. Good to see Jeff Goulding put the penalty away well, for his fourth of the season, and Jimmy Spencer off the mark in the league for us too. 5 wins in last 7 in all competitions.
Negatives: The second half performance was poor. We never got going and were rarely seen as an attacking threat. Our wide men were poor throughout I felt, and offered us nothing from an attacking viewpoint, hence our strikers were also little threat. The attendance of 2268 was atrocious, and this team deserves more support.
Summary: It's a win, and that's the main thing. 4 wins from 7 so far, a decent start, but in the games we have lost we could easily have taken something, maybe should have done in all three. Now we have two tricky away games at Torquay and AFC Wimbledon which will both be good tests and we should find out a bit more about our team.
Jimmy Spencer's goal was our 100th in all competitions under Mark Yates' management.
Jack Butland is the seventh player to play in goal for us in the Football League, after Steve Book, Carl Muggleton, Shane Higgs, Scott Brown, Will Puddy and Damian Spencer (!). 
Scott Brown's absence ended a run of 98 successive league appearances, seven short of Shane Higgs' record of 105.
Jeff Goulding's penalty was our first successful spot-kick at home since April 24, 2010, scored by Justin Richards after 14 minutes of a 2-1 defeat by Aldershot.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Keeper conundrum

So, the worst-kept secret is out, and Jack Butland has signed for Cheltenham Town as our (to start with) back-up goalkeeper.
Now the question will be how long will it stay this way as Butland coming to Cheltenham is a real coup for the club, make no mistake.
The boy from Clevedon has come up through the England ranks, playing at all the age groups until making his under-21 debut against Azerbaijan last week.
At his club, he has had the chance to learn from Maik Taylor, Joe Hart and Ben Foster, all internationals themselves.  If he progresses as he should, this boy could be the real deal.
No less than the doyen of sports writers, the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter, tweeted me today to describe our netting of Butland as 'a great signing'.
Scott Brown will never have been under as much pressure for his place as he is now - that 107-match run of games may not last much longer if his standards drop.
There was a lot of gnashing of teeth when Daniel Lloyd-Weston was let go last summer without being given a game.
But let's face it, if Brown was not going to be dropped in favour of him after an 8-1 defeat at Crewe, then DLW was never going to get a look-in, simply because Mark Yates did not think he was good enough.
It was thought that he would have played at Stockport on the last day of last season, but I guess Yates had decided he was going to let him go, and did not think it worthy to give DLW a 'token' match.
There was also some criticism as we went into pre-season without a proper back-up, with Ryan Robinson, Mike Green and youth teamer Brad Poole being given games in the friendlies.
But, if we believe the hype, then Butland has been worth waiting for.
Personally, I feel that to put Butland into the side straight away would be very harsh and unfair on Brown - and would also throw Butland in at the deep end.
Brown has made mistakes, yes, but the criticisms levelled at him have, I feel, been over the top at times.
I would agree that at times he has failed to dominate his area as he should, and has at times been guilty of being slow off his line. However, his shot-stopping and reflexes are excellent.
He has known for some time that competition was coming, and I think he has made a decent start to this season.
I can only level one goal we have conceded directly at him as a mistake - the equaliser against MK Dons in the Carling Cup, when he spilled Angelo Balanta's shot straight to Sam Baldock.
Other goals have, in my opinion, been down to other factors - yes, he might have been slightly culpable but was not the sole reason for us conceding the goal.
He has made some great saves, with the one from Billy Bodin in the JPT win over Torquay being the best one, and at the moment I do not think it would be justified, on form, for him to be dropped straight away.
The conundrum Mark Yates has is that he has signed probably one of the top three up-and-coming young English goalkeepers - let's face it, this guy is in the England under-21 squad at 18 years old.
Chris Hughton at Birmingham will expect him to come here and get games under his belt, not just to train and sit on the bench. He could do that at St Andrew's.
But Yates also has to keep Brown happy, and I am sure Scott will be banging down the manager's door if Butland is given the gloves against Macclesfield on Saturday.
It is fascinating that our back four has probably looked more solid than it has in the past two seasons in most of the games this term, and we have shown more resilience with the back five of Brown, Lowe, Bennett, Elliott and Andrew.
But now the arrival of Butland will mean Brown will come under even greater scrutiny and represents the biggest challenge to him since he displaced Shane Higgs in the side.
Any mistake, even the smallest error, will be jumped on by his critics, who will then be calling for Butland to come in to the side - I know that I will be watching him closer then ever now.
It will be down to Scott's mental strength to see how he copes with the added competition, and will be interesting to see how Yates deals with the conundrum he has set for himself.
Butland clearly has promise and talent, and it is clear that Hughton has sent him here to widen his experience, and the Blues manager would hope that would include Football League exposure.
If he hasn't forced his way into the side before then, I would assume Butland would play against Wycombe in the JPT - that would be the ideal chance to give him an opportunity.
But that game falls just before the initial month's loan is over, and the two clubs would have to agree any extension beyond then to a maximum of 93 days, which takes us to December 10.
The other dilemma for Yates is the bench. So far, without a second keeper, he has had five outfield players there.
Now, does he put Butland on there, immediately reducing his outfield options?
Harry Hooman, Sido Jombati, Bags Graham, Brian Smikle, David Bird and Luke Summerfield have been the six players from whom the five have been permed so far.
Summerfield is likely to start on Saturday with Marlon Pack banned, and I suspect we will see Hooman, Jombati, Smikle and Bird on the bench, with Graham and Butland the options for seat number five.
But whatever happens, it is the final piece in the jigsaw.
In the summer, we were promised a squad with more quality and more competition, and on the evidence so far, Yates has delivered.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Plenty in reserve

The benefits of a week off work are plentiful - in this case it allowed me to join 102 other hardy souls (or nutters, whichever you prefer) for our reserve game at Forest Green.
Our former manager, in his infinite wisdom, elected to pull us out of the reserve league, and since then he, and Mark Yates, have been wallowing around looking for the odd friendly game to get match action for the players not in the matchday squad, or to have a look at triallists.
But gladly we are now back in a six-team Combination League Southern Division, and started with a win at Forest Green last night.
Our team was a mix of those not in the 16 at the moment - the players suffering the most from the decision to cut the number of subs from seven to five - an idea I still am trying, without success, to comprehend.
The players in that bracket were Harry Hooman, Andy Gallinagh, Sido Jombati, Bags Graham, Theo Lewis and David Bird, and they were joined by some of our scholars, Matt Williams, Joe Turley and Jacob Morgan of the second years starting the game.
The other two starters were goalkeeper John Bateman, who also played in the earlier reserve game at Coventry, and Luke Benbow, a striker let go recently by the Glenn Hoddle Academy who came through Birmingham's ranks.
Forest Green's side was experienced - I recognised seven or eight of them from BSP action this season, and that is just the sort of test our players need.
It was also a chance, I suspect, for FGR and any other watching scouts to have a look at our fringe boys with the idea of a possible loan move - the likes of Bird, Gallinagh and Lewis especially.
The game itself started well for us, and Lewis scored after 12 minutes, responding well to score the rebound after Matt Bulman saved his header from a good cross by Graham.
Theo should have had another with a far post header which we all thought was in, and could not quite believe it had missed - even his dad Kenny was shocked at half-time...!
Gallinagh also missed with a presentable chance from a far post header almost on the line, and we could have been three up at the break.
But FGR came back into it towards the end of the half and Yan Klukowski scored a great equaliser on the hour, and we started to look a bit ragged before Graham struck the winner inside Bulman's near post with 17 minutes left.
Benbow could have had a goal - and probably deserved one for a lively display - and Lewis was denied by a good save from Bulman.
Player-wise, I thought Sido Jombati was the pick of our side, doing well defensively and giving us a different dimension coming forward and playing some decent balls through.
He looks a very good athlete and I am sure he will get a chance in the first team before the season is out, somewhere or other - he looks like he could play just about anywhere.
Hooman and Gallinagh worked well together and dealt comfortably with Robbie Matthews, an experienced customer at BSP level.
Hooman didn't lose many headers and continued his ever-growing reputation, while Gallers was his usual whole-hearted dependable self.
In midfield, Bird and Turley had a good battle with Wayne Turk and Chris Allen, with Bird's experience helping young Turley a lot, and he looks to be a useful prospect, so it will be interesting to see how he develops.
The same goes for Jacob Morgan, who started on the right, played a bit on the left and ended as the head player in the diamond formation we adopted during the second half.
He featured in pre-season a few times and along with Turley and Williams would seem to be the pick of the scholars we have.
Morgan has a bit of skill and strength in him, and took some good corners which with better finishing we could have profited from.
Williams, usually a centre-back, played at right back but had a bit of a calf injury at half-time so went off, with first-year scholar Michael Gonzalo coming on and doing very well, getting praise for his display afterwards from John Brough.
Graham was dangerous, more so in the first half than the second it has to be said, but got his goal, which is encouraging, as that would be useful to add to his repertoire.
I have said before that this is a big season for Theo Lewis, and he showed good awareness to get his goal, but did miss that other good chance.
He started up front and ended the game deeper alongside Bird in central midfield, and I think he is the one who needs a loan move to get competitive games more than any of the others.
Theo has not featured in a 16 this season, a backward step for him after he was a regular part of the squad last season, and the arrivals of players like Russ Penn and Luke Summerfield have affected him more than any others.
He started as a striker in the youth team, but I cannot see him playing here for the first team, and if he is a central midfielder he is fifth or sixth in line for a starting place.
Benbow, a 19-year-old who as James Brown quite rightly said is a bit of an Anderson lookalike, was lively, with good movement into the channels and good awareness of players around him.
He could have had a goal or two, and wasn't afraid to have a shot when things opened up for him, but I can't see him having a shot at a deal here but a game in our reserves puts him in the shop window for other clubs to spot him.
In conclusion, it was a good workout and I am sure Mark Yates, Neil Howarth and Broughy will already think the return to the reserve league is worth it.
As far as Saturday's first team thinking goes, Luke Summerfield was not risked for a game, so looks set to slot in for the banned Marlon Pack, I would think.
Junior Smikle was also given the night off, and I assume will be on the bench unless Yatesy wants to look at his wide-man options.
I don't think anyone really stuck their hands up to demand a place in the side to face Macclesfield, but there were some good displays to re-inforce to those with the first-team shirts that there are people waiting to replace them if they let their standards drop.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Not calling the Shots

After three successive wins and some decent spells of football, I guess it was a bit much to ask for that run to continue.
And so it proved at the Recreation Ground, as we turned in a bit of curate's egg of a performance - it was just neither one thing or the other.
In the first half, we competed well with Aldershot, created a few half-chances, defended well and could have gone in ahead.
In the second, Aldershot were the better side, and Mark Yates made a curious substitution and after going a goal down, we never really looked like getting back into it.
After the game, Mark said a few players 'had not been at the races' - which is fair comment, and the frustration on the face of Alan Bennett when he came for his post-match interview was evident.
It was also testament to the attitude of this group of players. They care. They really are bothered about performances and results, something that could not be said about some of the players who have worn the shirt in recent times.
Most of that disappointment came from conceding a poor winner - a near post corner routine was our undoing, and had been out of character with the way we defended for the rest of the match.
There were few arguments with Mark's initial team selection, as he went back to the 11 which started against Crawley and put Jimmy Spencer on the bench, meaning the 5 lads who came in against Torquay on Tuesday made up the substitute options.
The first half started with Danny Andrew preventing a goal by blocking Michael Rankine's shot, and ended with him doing the same with a clearance from Peter Vincenti's header and then Danny Hylton's shot.
In between, he spent much of the time watching Jermaine McGlashan falling over spectacularly left right and centre trying to win free-kicks, and managing to do so a lot of the time from a very inconsistent referee.
Darryl Duffy had a decent chance early on, and we had a few promising situations around the Aldershot box but lacked the incisiveness of recent weeks, either through wayward shooting or poor decision making.
A few times, when we had the ball around their box, either the wrong pass was selected, or no pass at all, or the pass was over hit - it was just so frustrating in the final third.
We were on the back foot for most of the second half.
McGlashan hit the bar and Russ Penn sliced a shot wide in a golden opportunity, but that was about it for us going forward after the break.
Aldershot had most of the possession, but Scott Brown did not have any saves to make - most of the shots were from long range while Bennett and Steve Elliott defended well.
But in many ways it was similar to our performance at Gillingham on the opening day - not a great performance, and not terrible either, just average.
However, the problem is that in recent games, the bar has been raised so high, it becomes harder to take when the performance level drops a few notches.

Managers' views
Dean Holdsworth: "We don't want to rely on luck, and I know that they can be better than what we are. It was a nerve-wracking game today. It's the first time this season I've lost my rag with them, and we needed a bit of brilliance and we got it."
Mark Yates: "We've been clinical lately but there were too many boys not quite at the races today. It was a game where we should have seen it out to 0-0 and been happy to have taken the point away. But it was the first average performance in eight matches so I'm not going to beat the team up too much. I felt we should have got a few goals in the first half but we didn't really get going in the second half."

Player by player

Scott Brown: Another good display from Scott. His handling was very good indeed, especially one catch in the first half. Didn't have many saves to make.
Keith Lowe: Steady as usual from Keith. Came forward a few times, but delivery was a bit 'off'. Stuck to his task well against the tricky Danny Hylton.
Alan Bennett: I thought he was our best player. Won his headers and organised us well. 
Steve Elliott: Decent game, tricky afternoon against Michael Rankine and put his body on the line a few times.
Danny Andrew: Three goal saving clearances, and an eventful afternoon against the slippery Jermaine McGlashan.
Josh Low: Disappointing, given his recent displays. Never had much impact on the game but did clip the bar right at the death. I thought he should have come off.
Marlon Pack: Our best midfielder - but not saying much as the other three were below par. Fifth booking means a ban next Saturday.
Russ Penn: Off colour today. Usual commitment, but failed to keep possession, passing was poor and missed a golden chance.
Kaid Mohamed: Poor game from Kaid. Had a few runs but never had much of an impact, a la Josh Low. Not surprised he was taken off.
Jeff Goulding: Never really got into the game. Plenty of effort, but seemed very frustrated throughout.
Darryl Duffy: Usual work rate, and had a few half-chances but unable to supply the finish, especially one opening early on which was saved.
Jimmy Spencer (for Mohamed 58): A slightly surprising change as we went to 4-3-3 in an effort to grab a win, but it backfired. Spencer got a needless yellow card and had little to feed off.
Junior Smikle (for Duffy 78): Came on as we reverted to 4-4-2 after the goal, but never got going.
Luke Summerfield (for Penn, 81): Same as Junior really, Luke had little time to get going. Should get a start next week with Marlon suspended.

Positives: We competed well, especially in the first half, but defended well throughout, especially Danny Andrew and Alan Bennett.

Negatives: Conceding a goal from a corner, especially as we had defended well. The wide players were poor, consequently the service to the front two was not great throughout. We failed, after the first few minutes, to give Ross Worner in their goal much to worry about.

Summary: A tight game, and we came out on the wrong side of it, which is a shame. Work rate was as good as usual, but that narrow margin of not defending the set-piece cost us. Need to learn from it and get back to winning ways when Macclesfield visit next weekend.