Sunday, 29 April 2012

Mission accomplished - part one

So for the third time in our 13-year Football League existence, we are in the play-offs, and that is something that should be celebrated.
The win over Bradford was made up of a dreadful first half display and a superb second 45 minutes, but to be honest, who cares about that - it's job done and we can look forward to the play-offs now.
Back in August, we would have taken that after a disastrous relegation, and two seasons battling at the bottom end of League Two - 22 wins, eight draws and 15 defeats is easily our best season since John Ward's team won at Cardiff.
But still there is negativity around. Booing at half-time, the crowd chanting 'you don't know what you're doing' to the manager... Seriously? What is that all about?
Fans pay their money, and they can do, sing and shout what they want - and I agree that the first half was very poor indeed, but do these players who have run through brick walls this season deserve to be booed and jeered at? I don't think so.
And what about Yatesy? Does he not deserve a bit more respect for turning us from relegation candidates into promotion contenders? Surely he does.
After the game, all people wanted to talk to me about was the first half, not the superb second, then looking around the net at tweets and other comments, we apparently blew the top 3 on purpose as the chairman wants the money from the play-offs, and apparently it's not worth us going to League One anyway, as we will get hammered every week because Yatesy will get 'found out' at the higher level. Ok, so let's just give up now then...
Half-time booing and chants at the manager are something new and distasteful in my view, which have crept more and more into the game in recent years.
Stoke fans yesterday were booing Aaron Ramsey, seemingly for no other reason than he got his leg horribly broken by one of their players, and Chelsea fans abused Anton Ferdinand because he was allegedly racially abused by their captain.
Of course this wasn't anywhere near as extreme as that, but booing the team you purport to support is always something I will oppose. It seems so counter-productive to me, and I am sure our players knew they had performed badly in the first half yesterday, and I fail to see how a volley of abuse is going to lift them to improve.
It may make the fans feel better as they feel they have had their opinion heard and vented their frustration, but I do not feel it can ever help the team.
A volley from their manager at half-time and the change in formation just before the break after Mo's introduction certainly did the trick however and we were transformed in the second half.
By the way, I even had some tweets and read comments that the booing and the chanting made Yatesy change his system. Come on - do you really think he is that weak a character to let terrace opinion sway him into a decision? I think not.
That substitution was the key for the 'you don't know what you're doing' chants as Mo came on for Russ Penn.
The diamond was not working, and Yatesy wanted to go to 4-4-2.
 I am assuming that the chanters wanted Josh Low to come off, how did they think that change would lead to 4-4-2?
To change the system, Yatesy had to take one of the trio of central midfielders off to play Mo on the left and Josh on the right and give us the correct balance.
He could not leave Penn, Pack and Summers on and play 4-4-2 without one of those three having to play as a right winger.
I could be wrong, and they could have been suggesting that Jermaine McGlashan should have come on for Josh Low, but McGlashan will not work in a diamond, and if we brought him on and went to 4-4-2, then who would have played on the left wing? Yes, one of Penn, Pack and Summers - another square peg...
Right, mini rant over, back to the game.
I am not going to pretend that the the first half was not poor, because it was - and I commend Mark for changing it when he did rather than leaving it until half-time or even later.
It was pedestrian, we lacked any zip or urgency, there was no pace and no width - and but for Scott Brown and the post, we could easily have been three or four goals down and had no complaints about that.
Browny apart, I cannot think of anyone who remotely played well in that opening 45 minutes... in a ruby shirt anyway as Bradford's Nakhi Wells was superb, James Hanson a handful, their centre-halves dealt with Burgess and Spencer easily and their midfield won every first and second ball.
He took his goal well and was denied a hat-trick by two superb Brown saves while only Ricky Ravenhill will know how he found the post before Wells scored.
It was as bad a 45 minutes from us as we have seen at home this season, and Mark gave them a volley at half-time and it must have worked as we levelled within 42 seconds of the re-start.
For the first time in several weeks, we looked like the team we were before Christmas. Crisp passing, carving out chances and playing with confidence.
By the middle of the half, those fans chanting 'you don't know what you're doing' at Yatesy were asking him to give them a wave. How things change in 30 minutes or so - such is the fickle nature of the modern-day football fan.
By that time we were 3-1 up, with Jimmy Spencer curling in his second and Ben Burgess lobbing the third, and it was good to see the front two sharing the goals.
I was delighted for Jimmy, as he has come in for a lot of flak lately. Those goals take him to 10 in the league and 11 in all - a decent return for a teenager in League Two, and I think he has proved to be a successful loan signing.
Yes, he moans a lot and gets frustrated easily - but so do a lot of our fans when things aren't going well, don't they?  As far as I am concerned he can moan and groan all he likes if he is going to score goals as he does it.
There were a few grumbles around when people saw him starting ahead of Darryl Duffy but Jimmy vindicated the selection with his goals, as did Ben Burgess with his lovely lob to seal the deal at 3-1.
I would have no arguments if Yatesy was able to get Jimmy permanently as I think at 19 he has the makings of a decent lower-league striker, and the attitude is part of that.
It's the same question as people had about Wayne Rooney in the past - if you took away the volatility and the petulant streak, would you take something away from his game??
So with Oxford losing and Crewe drawing, that is job done, and the first part of the job - finishing in the top seven - has been accomplished.
It leaves Plymouth as a dead rubber, and gives Yatesy the chance to give a few players a rest and give a chance to some other squad members - for example I am sure Jermaine McGlashan will start, and the likes of Junior Smikle, Harry Hooman, Theo Lewis, Steve MacLean and the current invisible man Jeff Goulding may get a look in.
Having lost our last 6 away games, five without scoring, it would be nice to get some confidence back on the road, but the home form has ended on a high with three wins in a row and nine goals.
A good way to look forward to the first play-off leg in a couple of weeks time, now we just need to know if it will be against Southend, Torquay or Crawley. Whoever it is, we hope to see the second-half side turn up.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Brilliant saves in the first half, especially the one-handed one from Wells. Less busy after the break but had more than earned his money.
Sido Jombati - Two player of the year awards but not on top form. Needs to work on his crossing as it was poor - for some reason he crosses left footed.
Luke Garbutt - Coped better in the second half with wide threat and got forward a bit more effectively.
Alan Bennett - Turned easily by Wells for the goal but a tower in the second half to keep Hanson quiet.
Steve Elliott - Some timely interceptions but also shaky moments. Also a rock in the second half as we turned it around.
Luke Summerfield - Along with Mo, the driving force in our second half. Set up the second goal and made one superb run which could have ended in a goal.
Marlon Pack - Good second-half display as we took control in midfield. Will be a key man for the play-offs.
Russ Penn - Sacrificed for the change in formation, but at least he had a shot in the first half.
Josh Low - Looked lost in the first half but much happier and became a threat in the second. Nearly set up two late goals.
Jimmy Spencer - Anonymous first half, brilliant second with two great finishes and some good hold-up play and touches. Deserved his ovation on coming off.
Ben Burgess - No change from Branston and Oliver in the first half, but bullied them in the second and finished with an exquisite chip - good touch for a big man...

Substitutes
Kaid Mohamed (for Russ Penn, 40 mins) - Made the difference as his arrival gave us balance, and he set up the equaliser 42 seconds after the break.
Keith Lowe (for Josh Low, 90 mins) - Brought on to shore things up and make sure of the win.
Darryl Duffy (for Jimmy Spencer, 90 mins) - Allowed Jimmy to get his standing ovation.