Monday, 26 March 2012

All we are saying... is give us a goal!

Cheltenham Town have now not scored for 435 minutes.
That is 7 hours and 15 minutes, or put it another way, 14 and a half episodes of Coronation Street.
That's how long it is since Darryl Duffy put us in front at Morecambe, and seemingly on for another away win.
Things were rosy then, the automatic promotion bid was looking promising.
Now, four and three-quarter games later, we ended the run of four defeats, but still couldn't find that elusive goal, and now sit six points outside the top three.
To be fair though, in this little run of games, only in the last home game against Gillingham have we not posed much in the way of goal threat, and on Saturday we again did everything but score.
Mark Yates and the board cannot be accused of sitting on their laurels and not reinforcing the squad where it is needed.
I know there have been moans in some parts that it should have been done earlier, but these things can take time.
Players take their time to decide, clubs can change their minds from one day to the next about letting players out so there are many factors, but it has been done now and we have Ben Burgess and Steve MacLean for the run-in.
I spoke to Ben after the game, and he lives in Blackpool - a long commute. He had, in his own words, three or four League One and about six League Two clubs to choose from after Notts County said he could go out on loan, and he chose us.
He told me he heard good things about the club and manager, that the gaffer sold the club to him, and that he spoke to a few players who had played against us this season and they told him we play decent football.
So a feather in the cap for Yatesy there, and also signs that our club is getting a good reputation around the divisions.
He also said that after the 90 minutes he didn't regret the decision - and his arrival definitely gave us a different dimension and his link up with Darryl was definitely a plus from the afternoon - clearly they haven't forgotten those three games together for Hull six years or so ago!
In the first 10 minutes, he set Darryl up for a couple of good chances, and his occupation of defenders created a lot of space for Darryl and others to capitalise on.
I was pleased we didn't just resort to humping it forward to him, and kept trying to play, mixing it up well.
Most observers before the game expected 4-4-2 with Burgess and Duffy up front. We got that, but maybe not in the way we expected.
It was 4-4-2, but saw the return of the diamond, with the usual midfield trio supplemented by MacLean, playing at the 'point,' in the hole behind Duffy and Burgess.
MacLean looked a bit ring-rusty for a player who hasn't played any first-team football for a while, but he made some good runs to support the front two, but did lose possession a few times.
I am sure some will moan about 'square peg in round holes' - why play a striker in midfield etc etc - but again I spoke to him after the game and he told me he has played that role for Plymouth, and Oxford in the past so it is not alien to him.
He said he has something to prove to a few people (I suggest the manager of Yeovil is top of that list...) and wants to put himself in the shop window by doing well for us.
What I thought he did well was to stop Oxford's main playmaker Peter Leven from getting on the ball and having a real effect on the game.
Clearly Mark wanted to freshen things up. Having brought these two players in, he wanted to use them, and modified the system to accommodate them. Bar that elusive goal, it worked.
Yatesy resisted the temptation, with the big man in the side, to use two wingers, presumably Kaid Mohamed and Jermaine McGlashan, which would have mean dropping one of the midfield three.
I wonder whether he thought there was a little bit of 'safety first' in the formation - whether Yatesy thought the two wingers would have left us a bit open, but I thought by and large it worked.
We looked solid, and created plenty of chances with Sido and Luke Garbutt getting forward well and giving good service from wide areas.
Garbs' diagonal balls to Burgess pulling off his defender at the far post gave us some joy, his knockdowns almost bringing us a goal or two.
The formation also brought better out of Marlon Pack - he seemed to have a bit more room and was able to have more of an influence on the game than he has in recent games.
He came the closest with that superb free-kick which hit the bar right on half-time, and had a great second-half chance which he put wide.
Add that to Darryl's early shot and header saved by Ryan Clarke, Luke Summerfield's free header in the first half, Ben's volley in the first half and his second half chance when he diverted Marlon's cross-shot past the post - you can see how many decent chances we had.
As for Oxford, I thought we contained them well. Bennett and Elliott were back to their best and dealt with Scott Rendell and James Constable fairly comfortably.
Constable had one header in the first half when Jack Butland came out for a cross and was beaten to it, and then there was the penalty shout - it looked like one on live viewing, but the referee was in a decent position, and apparently felt Dean Morgan dived (so why no booking...)
That was about it. They didn't threaten much in the second half bar two free-kicks from Leven, neither of which forced Jack into a save, and it always looked more likely that we would get the winner.
Jimmy Spencer was sent on for MacLean, but that change didn't work, then Kaid replaced Darryl and was tried through the middle in an interesting move and Josh Low was the final man used - but I am sure some would rather have seen McGlashan.
I am not so sure. That's the 'he's a winger so he can put crosses in' theory, but I thought Sido and Garbs were doing well providing the width, so there was no reason to change it.
As for Jermaine, for me the jury is still out on him slightly. Yes, he did well against Burton, but how many other games has he had a real effect on?
Some good patches yes, but he is inconsistent as wingers are by their nature. At times, his crossing has not been fantastic and the end product still needs some work.
I don't buy the 'we paid decent money for him so we have to play him' argument. Like every other player, he gets picked on merit - horses for courses and on form.
His time will come in the last seven games - but once again I suspect the Low decision was a 'we can still win it but let's make sure we don't lose it' move.
As it was, we didn't win it, but it was a point, and a small step back to where we were a few weeks ago, and I feel we will go to Southend - the last of this horrible little run of games we have had in March - with our confidence revitalised.
Last but not least, a word for the fans - superb. There was good noise and backing for the team from all parts of the ground, everyone stuck by the players and gave them a good ovation when the changes were made and then at the end. It was good to hear, and that's how it needs to be for the last three home and four away games.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Clean sheet will do his confidence some good after Shrewsbury error. No real saves to make and kicking was much better.
Sido Jombati - Excellent again, and a real threat coming forward, which the formation allowed him to do a lot. But maybe a slightly rash challenge could have given a penalty away, and he has to watch that side of his game.
Luke Garbutt - Much better game after a rocky few weeks. Again enjoyed the freedom to come forward and good deliveries got Ben Burgess into the game for us.
Alan Bennett - Much more solid after his form dipped for a few games. Dealt well with Constable and Rendell.
Steve Elliott - Steady game. Has been excellent this season in my book and shown what a valuable player he is.
Marlon Pack - Best game for several weeks. Dictated our tempo and passing and so unlucky with that free-kick that he didn't get a 21st birthday goal.
Russ Penn - Linked up well on the right with Sido and set a few chances up for the front two.
Luke Summerfield - Another who was better than in recent games. Shooting was a bit wayward however and he should have scored with a header in the first half.
Steve MacLean - Looked a bit rusty but I thought he grew into the game and did better in the second half before coming off.
Darryl Duffy - Again did everything but score. From the start he looked happier to have a big man alongside him and thrived on it. Looked very sharp, got in great positions and deserves a break in the box.
Ben Burgess - Gave us a different option and a new dimension to our play. Did well in the air and hold up play was good, and unlucky not to grab a debut goal.

Jimmy Spencer (for Steve MacLean 68 mins) - Came on in that 'hole' position for MacLean and I didn't feel it worked as he didn't look happy there at all.
Kaid Mohamed (for Darryl Duffy 79 mins) - Interestingly sent on alongside Ben Burgess to try and use his pace to stretch a tiring defence but was unable to really run at them.
Josh Low (for Russ Penn 85 mins) - A '50-50' change, could have unlocked them but also there to keep our solid shape for the last few minutes.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Spying a late promotion charge...?

About 60 years ago, the names of Burgess and MacLean became infamous as part of a spying scandal - in the next eight games their names could be in lights for a different reason - in the town which is the centre for counter-espionage.
We have known for a long time that the Rubies needed a striker - even before this recent poor run of form. In fact we have probably needed at least one more all season.
Mark Yates has been getting by in the final third with Darryl Duffy, Jeff Goulding and a season-long loanee in Jimmy Spencer - Ethan Moore was meant to be the fourth, but we never even saw him.
That, in some ways, dictated the formation we started to play, the 4-5-1 played to our strengths in central midfield and allowed Yates to use Spencer or Duffy with Goulding in reserve - so for most of the season we have needed more firepower.
And now, into the Last Chance Saloon, enter Ben Burgess and Steve MacLean, exactly the pair of powerful, experienced forwards the Ruby Army have been hoping for over the past few weeks.
Burgess is 30 years old, 6ft 3ins tall and 14 and a bit stone - the architypal lower league striker, who has played against us a few times, scoring for Stockport County and Hull City.
He has scored most of his goals at Championship and League One level, playing a part in Blackpool's run to the Premier League before heading to Notts County, where he has been for two seasons.
At Meadow Lane, he became another on the very long list of players told by Martin Allen that they can have a free transfer, but he has been a regular in the side.
He has been through two promotions with Hull, scoring 18 goals in one season, and two more with Blackpool, so he has plenty of experience of taking teams across the line, or into the play-offs and beyond.
Another interesting factor is that he is a former team-mate of Darryl Duffy from Hull, being together at the KC for seven months, from when Duffy arrived in January 2006 until Burgess left in the following August.
They played together for eight minutes in the 2006-7 season opener against West Brom, with Burgess coming on after 68 minutes, then Duffy going off in the 76th.
Against Barnsley, they played together for 24 minutes, Duffy having started and Burgess coming on after 66 minutes, and in the Carling Cup against Tranmere, Duffy came on after 77 minutes to join Burgess, who went off eight minutes into extra time.
Burgess's final Hull appearance was against Coventry, when he replaced Duffy - so they have some knowledge of each other's games and will also have trained and maybe played reserve games together as well.
During his career, Duffy has played well with a big man - at Hull he spent time with Jon Parkin and Craig Fagan as well as Burgess, and at Rovers he had Ricky Lambert alongside him, so hopefully Burgess can be a help to him.
But for our number nine, it's not the only reunion he will be having at training in the morning - his old Rangers mucker Steve MacLean is also going to be reporting to Seasons.
A look at his four Rangers matches lists his team-mates there as Mikel Arteta, Barry Ferguson, Michael Mols, Ronald de Boer, Shota Arveladze, Barry Ferguson and Claudio Caniggia...
The 29-year-old, slightly short of six feet tall, is someone who starred against us for Scunthorpe and Plymouth in the past, and has finally arrived after nearly coming here a few weeks ago.
Scunthorpe and Sheffield Wednesday were the peak of his career, but he has still got goals elsewhere, but has hopped around a bit in the past few seasons.
He pitched up at Yeovil last summer and has scored four times, but an over-exuberant celebration against Bury seems to have ended his time there, and hopefully he can give us a boost.
So from having three strikers, we are suddenly up to five, and Yatesy now has real options to choose from.
Surely, the arrival of these two players means we will revert again to two up front, and against Oxford on Saturday, I would go for Duffy and Burgess to start the game.
But having Burgess in the side means the tactic will need to be 4-4-2, with two wingers (McGlashan and Mohamed...?) to get the ball into the box for Burgess to feed off.
MacLean and Spencer, I would imagine, may have to settle for being on the bench, so it could be that Goulding is the odd one out, and the man who could lose the most from these two arrivals.
But whatever happens, and whoever gets the nod, we needed these players in badly - a stat I heard today was that we have used the least number of players this season in League Two.
That only increases the magnitude of what this squad of players have achieved this season, where other clubs have used 35, 36 or more players up to Northampton's 45, we have used 22...
Andy Gallinagh, Theo Lewis and David Bird have not played in League Two, so of those 22, two are the goalkeepers, two were Marlon Jackson and Bobby Reid, who we hardly saw, one is Harry Hooman, who has come on once, while Bags Graham has started once and Jermaine McGlashan is a recent arrival.
So take those seven away, and the results this season have been achieved by a bulk of only 14 players - including Danny Andrew, who hasn't played since October and is now on loan, while Junior Smikle has also started one game.
So that is 13 players who have played the majority of the games - so they clearly need some help and some bolstering, and if Burgess and MacLean can fire, we might yet be spying a place in League One...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Unable to tame the Shrews

What is that funny noise coming from the Cheltenham Town bandwagon... is it the sound of the wheels coming off?
Of course we all hope not - but after a toothless display at the Meadow, it if four defeats in row, and 345 minutes since Darryl Duffy scored to put us ahead at Morecambe... seems like an age ago doesn't it?
So when your confidence is low, you need to feel your way into a game, get a firm footing, conceding after 43 seconds is not the ideal scenario, is it?
Once again it was preventable, a long ball down the line, James Collins cut it back and Nicky Wroe ran through unchallenged to fire past Jack Butland.
Mark Yates had tried a new line-up with Keith Lowe back, Sido Jombati further forward and Jimmy Spencer as the lone striker.
I can understand the decision to drop Jermaine McGlashan - his crossing was poor on Saturday and Sido was more of a threat wide right coming forward.
Again it was harsh on Darryl, although when we were flying before Christmas Jimmy was doing well in that lone role, and seems more suited to it than Darryl.
Wroe's goal, however, didn't give us the chance to bed that new personnel in, and we looked shellshocked for a few minutes, they had a couple of other half-chances but gradually we got into the game.
I would say that between the two Shrewsbury goals, we were the better side, but for all the possession and neat build-up, we never looked like beating Chris Neal, and never really extended him, exacerbating our problems in the opposition's penalty area at present.
Luke Summerfield came closest with a free header from a corner, but it summed up our night that from that header, Jon Taylor broke away and found himself in our half in a flash, but with no support we were able to deal with it.
It was an amazing statistic that we had six corners in the game to Shrewsbury's none - for a home side not to win a corner in a game must be very rare - but corners don't win games or score goals, and that is the bottom line for us at the moment.
Shrewsbury are a very functional team - solid at the back, two attacking full-backs galloping forward, two ball-winning midfielders, a couple of flying wingers and two decent forwards. Simple 4-4-2 and it is very effective for them.
Every time we lost the ball deep in their half, they bombed forward, got it wide and looked dangerous, and you just never had the conviction that we were going to create anything.
Summerfield, Kaid Mohamed and Jimmy Spencer were bright for us, working hard and competing well - it wasn't a case of a lack of effort for us, that and the attitude were there in spades, but Shrewsbury were very solid and very organised.
The second goal finished it, Taylor's cross should have been gathered by Jack Butland but it squirmed out and it was easy for Terry Gornell to tap in.
It was slightly disappointing after that goal that the substitutions took so long. I suspect the timing of that second goal threw Yates and Howarth a bit.
But Darryl, Josh Low and Jermaine never stood a chance of being able to make any impact on the game, and as soon as Gornell scored, that fourth defeat in a row was always on the cards.
So what now? One point from 15, goals have dried up, we have dropped from second a matter of weeks ago down to 6th now, with Oxford, Gillingham and Crewe ganging up behind us.
All a bit depressing isn't it - and the games don't get easier with Oxford and then Southend to come, and we still have to go to Crewe as well, so we have to hope Yatesy can turn it round.
Yes, I know, bigger picture, perspective, but it would be so frustrating to see such a good position go to waste.
Still I believe some of the reaction has been OTT but it is understandable, much of it is borne of the frustration at seeing the top three, where we looked odds on to finish a few weeks ago, tantalisingly slipping out of sight, and even the top seven now not being a dead cert.
Talk of wanting Yatesy to go, saying he can't take us any further is, I feel wide of the mark and very knee-jerk. Yes, this is a bad run, but our tiny squad has hit the wall after 33-34 games, that dip co-inciding with the run of games against the sides in and around us.
But tomorrow is the loan deadline and it is imperative that Yatesy brings one, or preferably two, players in. One has to be a forward, and we have to play two strikers now.
This is his last-chance saloon and it will be a big day. If he can bring the players in, everyone will be reinvigorated and it could breathe fresh hope into everyone for these last eight games.
If he doesn't, then that feeling of deflation will go into Saturday.
He has to look at the tactics though.
The 4-5-1 has worked very well for us this season. In the heyday of the Autumn we were flying along with it, but teams have worked it out.
Everyone has played us once, watched us a few times and learned to combat it, so it is time for a change, or at least a bit of a tweak.
A variation of 4-4-2 has to be the way forward - or at least something-something-2... and yes, that will mean dropping one of the midfield three, or one of the 'wide' men, but the bullet has to be bitten, and it has to be done.
Maybe Yatesy should have another look at the diamond.... he used it a lot last season and it worked quite often, maybe with the personnel he has now it can be effective.
Oxford is now a massive game for what have become our play-off aspirations. Lose it and they will move above us and we enter a three-way battle for seventh place.
Win it, and we can start to look up again and the confidence in the camp may well return, but the key will be tomorrow's loan moves if they happen, and some work on the training ground.
In Yates we trust...

Player by player
Jack Butland - Error for the second goal, but made an absolutely unbelievable save just before half-time, so a mixed night. Still doesn't seem to have the same confidence and authority he had in his first spell.
Keith Lowe - Tentative start, but got better as the game went on. Had his hands full with Mark Wright but felt he held his own overall.
Luke Garbutt - Also had a tough battle against Jon Taylor. Did well coming forward and put some good crosses in which deserved better. Corners and free-kicks still a bit 'off' though.
Alan Bennett - Can't put my finger on it, but not the dominant leader he was a few games ago. Seems a bit nervy and unsure. Hope he gets his mojo back.
Steve Elliott - Held the defence together at times with interceptions, headers and blocks a-plenty. Decent game, pick of the back five.
Russ Penn - More energetic performance than we have seen in recent weeks and only surprise was that it took him 93 minutes to get booked...
Luke Summerfield - Overall, thought he was the pick of the midfield three. Won a lot of challenges but should have done better with that free header chance in the first half.
Marlon Pack - Like Benno, another who seems to have lost his edge a bit. Maybe playing a bit too deep, or teams are stifling him well but a more advanced role could bring him into his own. Thought he was rightly taken off again.
Sido Jombati - Looked a bit lost at times in his new role further forward and made some good and bad decisions. Couple of times he crossed when he could have shot and vice versa. Worth persevering with in that role I feel.
Kaid Mohamed - Better display than of late. Was a threat when he got the ball down and ran at them, touch was better but only letdown was again lack of end product, be it shot or cross, after many of his forays.
Jimmy Spencer - Thought he worked hard and got under the skin of the centre-halves. Not afraid to try a shot but suffered from the problems of isolation and lack of support on many occasions.

Darryl Duffy (for Marlon Pack, 72 mins) - Should have been on earlier, but still gave usual effort but no time to influence the game.
Jermaine McGlashan (for Luke Garbutt, 76 mins) - Few chances to run at the defence, but got no change out of them.
Josh Low (for Kaid Mohamed, 76 mins) - Couple of decent touches, but I wonder if Junior Smikle, who is becoming the invisible man, might have been a better option.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Grounded by the Gills

So, is it Cheltenham 'til I die, or Cheltenham until we lose a few games?
For some Rubies 'fans' it seems it is the latter, as judging by the fallout from yesterday's defeat, I could be forgiven for thinking we are heading to the Blue Square Premier, not sitting in fifth place, three points from the top three.
That's the bigger picture, and in some quarters we are not allowed to look at that. That's showing a small-club mentality, not showing any ambition, etc etc.
But what has suddenly given us the God-given right to expect our club to be in the top seven even?
The last two seasons have seen us in the bottom seven, so any improvement on that should surely be applauded - but perspective seems a dirty word.
It's instant success or nothing. Gradual improvement is not allowed it seems.
We have become greedy all of a sudden. A few months in the top three, couple of weeks at the top, and we are the finished article. Anything less than that is deemed to be failure, a disaster, a poor season. Do me a favour.
In July, most CTFC fans living on planet Earth would have snapped your hands off at the offer of a top-10 finish. Now, even a finish in the top 7 is being deemed as unacceptable in some quarters, it would appear.
Yes, it is disappointing if we miss out on the top three after the position we were in. But it's not all over yet - we are still in there and can still achieve.
Apparently some Swindon fans were calling for Di Canio's head after they lost at Crewe yesterday. What is going on? Do managers now have to win every single game or they are now looking after their shoulders after one or two defeats?
We were poor yesterday, very poor in the second half especially, gave away three poor goals and didn't look like winning the game.
For the first 40 minutes, neither side did much though - Gillingham had come for a point, when they were given the first goal, they could hardly believe their luck and that was that.
There were boos after the game, as expected with the fickle breed of football fan around today. Mark Yates reacted to it, although the cupped-hand gesture was I suspect more to do with his frustration at the lack of atmosphere as he alluded to afterwards (bar the Wymans' usual sterling efforts).
It was a bit of a Delia moment - he was saying let's be 'aving you, let's have some noise. Ill-advised yes, but spur of the moment and in the frustration of seeing his side turn in their worst display of the season.
Yes, people pay their money, they can react as they want and if they want to boo fine - if it makes you feel better. But does it help? Will it make the team play better next time? No on both counts.
I have avoided the Nest. A few hours eavesdropping conversations, sat in the pub and looking at Twitter has been enough to see me lose the will to live a few times.
Some of the opinions and reasoning for the defeat yesterday have been laughable.
Someone blamed the races. The players were seen up there every day apparently, drinking heavily every day. They went on Tuesday afternoon, having trained in the morning, and not drinking. Chalk that one off.
Next, it was down to the reaction of Pack and Garbutt to coming off. They were playing poorly, and deserved the hook. If they are upset, then good. Sulk if you want, then put it right on Tuesday, if you are still in the side.
There were the usual ones... 'the players don't care', 'they think they are better than they are', 'Yates has lost the dressing room' (what does that mean by the way...?), 'Yates isn't up to it' (same players and manager who were 'up to it' three months ago however... no problem when we were winning at Oxford, Rovers etc, and beating Southend, Crawley etc). All to be expected.
Apparently Marlon Pack/Luke Summerfield/Luke Garbutt/Jimmy Spencer don't care because they know they are leaving in the summer. Maybe they are, but you would have thought that a promotion on their playing CV would be more attractive to a new club than missing out. Garbutt and Spencer were still leaving in the summer when we were in form two months ago...
So, a lot of straw clutching and knee jerk stuff going on.
What we do have is a squad in urgent need of bolstering. Gillingham had eight players out banned or injured yesterday and were able to cope with it. We have a crisis like that and we wouldn't be able to put 11 out.
Besides the 16 in the squad yesterday, we have Harry Hooman, Bags Graham and Scott Brown. Take away the three loanees, and we have 16 players of our own.
Most of the other sides in the top seven have double that - Swindon could probably field a side made up of players Di Canio has fallen out with or discarded after a few games to bring someone else in.
He and Steve Evans are almost playing Football Manager. I want player X, and bingo, terms are agreed and there he is. For other teams, like us, it's not that easy.
Money talks and they have plenty of it, hence why they can get players like Alexander, Clarke and Benson.
Yes, Yatesy has been trying to bring players in, but he doesn't have that money, and so has to be more selective. If we were down at the bottom, we would have had someone in by now - anyone, a kid probably.
But Mark wants better than he has. Last season, in the squad we had then, it wasn't difficult to find better than we had. This season, the quest to find better than we have becomes harder.
He went down the 'anyone will do' route with Bobby Reid and Marlon Jackson earlier in the season, but now he needs someone to make an instant impact.
He knows he needs a target man. Marc Richards would be great, but Port Vale aren't going to let their top scorer go unless their administrators say they have to, while they are still on the precipice. They lost defender Lee Collins to Barnsley last week which I suspect gave them some breathing space.
Izale McLeod? Yes, right. Barnet are two points off the drop zone so they will let their top scorer go, won't they? Meanwhile, in the real world...
Alan Connell or Mehdi Kerrouche at Swindon are two more names - and I can see Mr Di Canio letting another team in the promotion shake-up have one of his players. Not.
I wouldn't like to be the player he does eventually bring in - that person is on a hiding to nothing I'm afraid.
If they don't come in and score goals straight away or make a difference, they will get absolutely slaughtered. Good luck.
We have a squad which, at the moment, has lost confidence and several key players who have gone off the boil - Alan Bennett, Luke Summerfield, Kaid Mohamed, Luke Garbutt to name but four who are not the same players we saw before Christmas.
Dips in form are the be expected. With the size of the squad, it is more difficult to take them out of the side, although the latter three have all been 'rested' over the past month.
These are League Two players. If they were able to perform consistently at the same level for a 46-game season they wouldn't be playing for us.
Also, we have started giving terrible goals away. The three at Morecambe, the winner at Swindon, the first two yesterday. Terrible goals - and that has to be the main reason for the dip in form, as keeping clean sheets means, more often than not, that you win games.
It is heresy to criticise Jack Butland, but yesterday he looked like what he is - an inexperienced 19-year-old goalkeeper.
When he came into the side first time, he was playing behind a confident defence, now that same defence looks like a bunch of strangers thrown together for the first time.
It's the same five people as looked imperious against Oxford, Burton, Rovers, Southend, Macclesfield, Bradford back in the Autumn. Now they look nervy and edgy any time a diagonal ball, hopeful punt or cross comes anywhere near them.
A massive conundrum for Mark Yates to consider - in some ways, Butland's return, rather than bolstering us, has almost de-stabilised us a bit.
It seems amazing that the same side which performed so well at Swindon last week (but remember, the bottom line was that we lost that game, no matter how well we performed between the two penalty areas) can turn in such a limp display seven days later.
So, all in all, the team is struggling. So what should the fans do? Sit there in silence and only make any noise when a pass is misplaced, or a shot goes wide? Unfortunately, by and large it seems that way.
I know - the fans react to what they are seeing on the pitch. Did the Morecambe fans do that when their side started badly the other week? No - they sang and chanted to get behind their team, and helped them come back to win (helped a bit by our terrible defending...)
There weren't many of them, but they made some great noise at the Globe, and their players fed off it. On a bigger note, what about those Bilbao fans at Old Trafford? Great noise and lifted their team.
If the atmosphere is flat, my take is that the team will be flat. Yes, they motivate themselves for the game, but that can only take you so far - the team will be up for it, but surely the fans should be up for it as well?
Before the game yesterday, a few people came up to me and said 'we'll lose today'. Great attitude. To be honest, why bother coming? So you can then turn around afterwards and say 'see, I was right, they are crap, told you?' Is at all about points-scoring and ego rather than actually wanting the players and team to succeed?
If I was cynical, I would actually say there are some fans who are actually pleased when we lose so they can then brag on the Internet or to their mates that they were right all along. I hope I am wrong but I do wonder sometimes....
Talking of crowds, yesterday's figure was 3,137 - now, as we are still in a position to be challenging for the top three, I had a look back at the two seasons when we made the play offs and compare figures.
In March 2002, before we won at the Millennium against Rushden, we played Rochdale on March 23, and the crowd was 4,643, and the following Tuesday 5,013 saw Nathan Tyson's winner against Kidderminster. Then 5,546 saw John Brough's winner against Hull and 7,013 the last home game against Oxford.
John Ward's team in 2005-6 had crowds of 3,447, 3,525, 3,518 and 4,518 for the last four home league games, so that's an alarming drop already and our last four games won't be more than that.
There seems to be no signs of a late-season bump in crowds and the current run of three defeats will only suggest further that some fans are losing confidence in the team's ability to stay the course.
Let's hope they are wrong.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Looked shaky to me, and not the super-confident youngster of three or four months ago. Kicking was very poor. If Scott Brown had conceded those three goals...
Sido Jombati - Probably our best player but still gave away the first goal and lucky not to give a penalty away in the second half.
Luke Garbutt - Right off the boil. Free-kicks and delivery from wide areas was poor and seems to have hit 'the wall'.
Alan Bennett - Gone is the supremely-confident skipper of a few weeks ago. Has become shaky and error-prone. Needs to attack the ball again rather than letting it bounce.
Steve Elliott - Steady enough as usual but got sucked in a few times due to errors from players around him.
Marlon Pack - Thought he was ineffective and rightly taken off when he got frustrated and booked. Gillingham sat a player on him and gave him no time. Needs to deal with that.
Luke Summerfield - Form has dipped alarmingly, Not winning second balls or making those runs and getting into pockets of space as he was a few games ago.
Russ Penn - Not as bad as the other two but not the driving enforcer or recent months. Didn't make supporting runs and tackling lacked usual bite.
Kaid Mohamed - Totally ineffective. Has lost confidence completely. Never looked like beating a man and touch was dire.
Jermaine McGlashan - Flattered to deceive. Got into some good positions, but crossing was poor - however, didn't have may targets to aim for...
Darryl Duffy - Worked hard as usual but with no service or support whatsoever.

Josh Low (for Kaid Mohamed 57) - A spent force I am afraid. Has had some good games for us, but sadly looks like his days at this level are over.
Jimmy Spencer (for Marlon Pack 57) - Usual effort, but fighting a lost cause.
Jeff Goulding (for Luke Garbutt 75) - No impact at all.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Rock on young Rubies!

Gloucester v Cheltenham. Whether it is football, tiddlywinks or two raindrops rolling down a window pane, it matters.
So that is what took me over to Tuffley Rovers' Glevum Park ground for last night's County Cup quarter-final game - a chance to see the Rubies take on our true rivals.
If we had played anyone else at this stage, I would have given it a miss, but I wanted to see us play Gloucester, and hopefully beat them.
A look at the two teamsheets - I must confess - didn't raise my optimism as our side was very young, two pros in Harry Hooman and Bags Graham, and the rest made up of scholars, while the Gloucester side was very strong.
Their record appearance maker Tom Webb - playing against two former Beaufort School pupils, Brad Poole and Zack Kotwica, who he has taught PE - veteran Neil Mustoe, old enough to be the dad of most of our players, and the likes of Matt Rose, Matt Coupe, Will Morford, Darren Edwards, Mike Green, Matt Lock and Darren Mullings are all experienced campaigners at Conference National or regional level.
So let's have none of this 'it wasn't a strong Gloucester side' because it was - yes, they had youngsters like Keiran Mace and George Lloyd out there as well, and a debutant goalkeeper in Chris Humphries, but they fielded a lot of experience at Conference North level and above.
With that in mind, I could not see a Cheltenham win coming - but was happily proved wrong by a superb display from our youngsters.
Right from the off, the young Rubies showed no respect for their elders, and got stuck in right from the off, which was superb to see.
Brad Poole was the star of the first half, making some superb saves, including an amazing one from Darren Edwards, and Matt Williams and Harry Hooman provided a solid pair of centre-backs.
We were well organised by Russ Milton - almost mirroring the first team with Charlie Hitchings and the two Joes, Hanks and Turley, playing the parts of Pack, Penn and Summerfield, and Josh Swales in the role of Darryl Duffy, minus the accent.
He put in a good shift, while the midfield trio did well to support him, and when we got the ball to Bags out left and the hard-working Owen Donaghue out right we did cause problems.
The full-backs, Keiran Thomas and Michael Gonzalo, got up and down the line and supported the wide men very well and stood up in the tackle also against Steve Davies and Lock out wide for City.
The longer the game went on, the more frustrated the Gloucester team became that they were not able the quell the youthful enthusiasm of our side, and after more good saves from Poole and some near misses from ourselves extra time was looming.
Lock and Coupe were booked for tackles, while Thomas also went in the book, and Swales was lucky not to join them for an over-zealous but commited challenge.
Both sides, I was told, wanted to go straight to penalties, but the GFA said that rules were rules, so extra time it was, and, again I am ashamed to say, I expected the tiredness to take its toll on the Ruby boys.
We had brought on Jacob Morgan, a player I have always liked the look of, a tidy wide player who always puts in a good shift, and Kotwica, a tall forward who seemed to relish the lone role in attack.
Lock finally found a way past the inspired Poole with a long-range effort, and I am sure then that City thought they were going to run away with it.
But no. Still our lads would not lie down, and Morgan showed great technique and coolness to volley in the equaliser four minutes after Lock's superb strike.
Bags Graham, after his disappointing cameo at Swindon on Saturday, had dome well and caused problems on the left, and he then settled the game in our favour with an electric run, check-back and excellent finish for a superb winner.
We then held on for seven minutes, clearing several corners and showing real determination not to concede, and got the win.
The youngsters were a credit to themselves, the club and their gaffer Russ Milton - and the watching Mark Yates was delighted as he left the ground.
It's not for me to say whether any of them will make it, but they certainly have the right attitude and aprroach to the game, and they will now get the chance to face Bishop's Cleeve in the semi-final.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Small margins....

I arrived at Swindon not really knowing what to expect from the team after recent results - our performances having just tailed off slightly, maybe at the wrong time, and I will admit to some misgivings that we could raise ourselves again for this one.
A win would have been a massive bonus, let's face it. Swindon are on a roll, 13 unbeaten at home, top of the league, in a Wembley final and with resources that have enabled them to discard players willy-nilly after four or five games and bring in replacements.
I counted in the programme that they have used 40 players - and the majority of them have not made it to 10 games.
On the other hand, we have got by really on the same 19 or 20 players all season, yet still find ourselves able to go toe to toe with these clubs and compete equally with them.
The teamsheet was interesting. Luke Garbutt dropped; Keith Lowe at right back, Sido switched, presumably to counter Matt Ritchie, Steve Elliott back, and, most amazingly of all, no Junior on the bench... what? has Hell frozen over?
The main thing I was hoping for was that we would have a go at them. No sitting back, no giving them respect or space and time to dictate things - just get at them, and that's what we did all game.
We more than matched them, created some good chances, had them on the back foot for the majority of the game and more than deserved at least a draw.
But we came away with nothing, and so it's back to back league defeats for the first time this season - but there is one consolation in that we are safe from relegation.
Plymouth can only get to 62 points, while Dagenham can match us but need to win all 11 games while we lose our last 10 and there is also a 48-goal swing against us.
So with that worry out of the way in March, we can finally concentrate on looking upwards after probably our best away performance since those heady days of the wins at Oxford, Bristol Rovers and Bradford.
We seemed to feed off those games and this was a similar scenario - big crowd, intimidating atmosphere - and we seem to relish games like this rather than trips to places like Morecambe and Barnet in front of two men and his faithful dog.
I know, we should be able to raise ourselves for everything, but our remaining games are all going to be like this one, so let's hope we can take this momentum on.
I felt the early part of the game was even, then Jack Butland made a superb one on one save from Billy Bodin and Steve Elliott blocked the rebound.
Then came the five minutes which decided the game. Darryl Duffy went down under Oliver Risser's pull-back and the referee gave a penalty.
Slightly dubious maybe, and I would have backed Darryl to put it away as he has been so confident from the spot this season.
But it was a poor penalty - too low, and too close to the goalkeeper, compared to the one he thumped in against Northampton - but I have to say he can't have been helped by the faffing from the referee before the kick. Why can't these officials just let the kicker get on with it...?
I'm not going to slaughter Darryl for missing a penalty - any player could do it. He says he wants to take the next one unless anyone else wants a go - and after the game Marlon Pack said he would put his hand up if the chance comes, so we will wait and see if we get another one who steps up.
Then to compound the misery Swindon went up the other end and scored. It was a good ball in from Cibocchi but we allowed Paul Benson a free run to put the ball in - another goal from a cross, another runner not tracked properly...
That ramped up the atmosphere with the home fans for the first (and only) time in the game and it was now all about our reaction to going behind, which has, in some games this season, been brittle.
There was nothing wrong with it here though, as we dominated the second half, from Jermaine McGlashan's run and shot in the first minute to the frantic injury time defending which saw Risser and Joe Devera smash heads trying to keep us out in injury time.
Yes, Jack had some saves to make, a good one from Benson and a tip-over from Luke Rooney, but we reduced Swindon to play on the counter attack, like an away side.
The two best chances fell to Darryl - a header from Luke Summerfield's cross, and an acrobatic volley after a long throw made its way through to him.
That chance was very similar to the goal I saw Marlon King score for Birmingham on the Football League Show last night at Coventry - unfortunately Darryl couldn't repeat that finish.
But again, I am not going to blame Darryl. Everyone misses chances and this wasn't his day. Last Saturday against Northampton he was our hero, missing some chances does not suddenly make him a villain.
The other feature of the second half was the substitutions, the first of which saw Bagasan Graham come on for Kaid Mohamed.
Once again, I felt Kaid was very quiet, and deserved to come off, but to bring on an 18-year-old with very little experience into a big game like this was always going to be a big ask.
Josh Low was on the bench, but Mark opted against that. He had Luke Garbutt there and could have played him out wide ion the left - but Yatesy opted to go with Bags, and put his trust in him.
Mark Yates works with him every day, he sees him in training and in reserve games, so obviously thought he was ready - but this was a gamble which did not pay off as Bags looked like a rabbit in the headlights.
I am still convinced there is a player in there somewhere, but maybe Bags needs games somewhere to get some confidence up before being thrown into this sort of scenario.
Jimmy Spencer and Jeff Goulding came on later, and I was pleased to see Darryl stay on, and even with the change of shape we did not lose our impetus and threw all we could at Swindon, but could not find that breakthrough.
The goalkeeper Wes Foderingham got their man of the match award - and it that doesn't sum it up then nothing will, and Mr Di Canio's ridiculous histrionics at the end summed up his own relief at getting away with a 1-0 win.
So our run of scoring in every away game since August is over.
Yes, Swindon will go up. Yes, they will win the title but they will also know they have had two very tough games with us this season and once again we have proved we can compete with the best.
Results elsewhere were topsy-turvy. Southend, one down, 2-1 up, conceded a last-minute leveller to Accy Stan; Crawley, 2 up at free-falling Macc, are pegged back, also in the 90th minute, then Mr Evans refuses interviews; Gillingham, 3-1 down to Crewe, back to 3-3, concede a last minute winner; Shrewsbury nudge past Burton, who can't buy a point let alone a win; Torquay, two down to the Gas, grab a last-minute point.
There is twitchiness everywhere - teams losing and nicking points at every turn.
So now, we have to do it again four more times this month, with Gillingham, Shrewsbury, Southend and Oxford coming up. Eight points minimum? I think that's what we have to be going for.
It will be tight - but after this performance we know we have a team who will be fighting all the way.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Three fine saves on his 19th birthday, but no chance with the goal.
Keith Lowe - Looked much happier at right back. A tricky afternoon against Luke Rooney, but came out honours even I thought.
Sido Jombati - Nullified the threat of Matt Ritchie, but could have done better in tracking Paul Benson for the goal.
Alan Bennett - One mistake nearly let Billy Bodin in, but otherwise very good, and happier with Steve Elliott back.
Steve Elliott - Very good game, and settled straight back in. Slight question mark for goal but no one tracked Benson. Even took a free-kick at one point!
Russ Penn - Usual Russ Penn game - set the tempo, made some good runs, blocks and tackles...
Marlon Pack - Quietish first half but was superb in the second. Intelligent passing was key to us keeping Swindon pressed back.
Luke Summerfield - Erratic start to the game but also grew into it and was a good ally to Marlon as we pushed for that non-existent equaliser.
Jermaine McGlashan - Constant threat down the right hand side. Has impressed me with his work rate and does not shirk a challenge - just comes back for more.
Kaid Mohamed - Seems to have gone off the boil recently. Whether teams have worked him out, I don't know, but not as effective as before Christmas.
Darryl Duffy - I could have been interviewing him afterwards with the match ball tucked under his arm. As it was I had to ask him about a penalty miss and two other opportunities. That's the game... But he was a constant menace to Devera and Risser.

Bagasan Graham (for Kaid Mohamed 58 mins) - Big surprise to see him a) on the bench and b) the first one used. Looked tentative from the off however and the gamble from Yatesy didn't work. I hope the kid comes back and succeeds as he has some talent. I also hope the fans don't give up on him and write him off, as he is only 18 and I also hope this won't dent his confidence.
Jimmy Spencer (for Russ Penn 64 mins) - Sent on to support Darryl and had two or three long-range efforts  before ending the game wide right.
Jeff Goulding (for Jermaine McGlashan 84 mins) - A few neat touches as ever but no clear-cut goal chances.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The bigger picture

Now that I am back in something approaching the real world again after two and a half days of flu-induced fog, I have been catching up on events in the CTFC one.
I hear the delight from you all that you are spared the usual in-depth insight into events at the Globe, if you were there, you saw it unfold, or if not then you heard it.
Me? I was looking forward to seeing it, having set off from Gloucester with Pete Matthews in the BBC car feeling OK, but then three hours later felt like I had been on the end of a Russ Penn sliding tackle.
A sleep in the car didn't help, and I even turned down the offer of a pint in the pub - so I handed over the summary duties to James Young and tried to sit and watch the game.
I saw us dominate the first half-hour and go in front, then concede a poor equaliser, then as the shivers ans shakes took hold, I stayed indoors for the second half, watched two more dreadful goals go in, and then finally gave up the ghost.
Thanks to Pete for driving all the way back with me moaning and muttering next to him - I vaguely remember him stopping for Red Bull somewhere on the M6... I hope the 5am start wasn't too painful...
Thanks also to the concern of the other press guys, Jon Palmer, Murry Toms and JY, and the very kind Morecambe fan who was a nurse and gave me some paracetamols and checked my pulse as well after the game.
So where does this all leave us then?
From reading my Twitter account, the seemingly popular view is that the defeat at Morecambe was down to Keith Lowe, and the fact that he isn't Steve Elliott.
Harsh - as that's not exactly his fault.
One tweet I saw read : 'F*** off Keith Lowe your (sic) s**t.' Very constructive...
Blaming Keith wholly for the defeat also lets off the hook our wide men and full-backs who allowed Morecambe's full-backs and wide men to cross the ball into our box at will.
Blame also the striker and midfielders who didn't take at least three golden chances inside the first 20 minutes when  Morecambe's naive formation gave us the freedom of the Globe.
Then look at the midfielders and defence as a whole for failing to come to grips with the Shrimps' change in formation.
Also, for one of the goals at least, it excuses the positioning of the goalkeeper. Oops, forgot. Not meant to criticise him... I bet Scott Brown... no, I won't go there.
So many people were culpable on Tuesday, not just the Bilston Cafu, but yes, it was a chance missed to pick up momentum for tomorrow's test at Swindon.
We go there second in the table with 11 games to go. Surely that's so much more than anyone could have been hoping for at this stage of the season, isn't it?
All of you who went to Stourbridge in pre-season. Or Newport. Or Telford. Or Bath. Second In March? You're having a laugh mate.
Yes, the teams behind are closing in - it's two points to fifth place and only 10 down to 8th, and we have five games now against top eight sides, but I sense a lot of pessimism amongst our fans.
'We've won 3 games in 10' said one post on the Nest I saw earlier. True, but look at it another way - Tuesday was our first defeat in five. So you can put any spin on statistics that you want.
It also seems that many fans are expecting a drop down the table into the play-off places - and some would term that as a disaster, or some sort of failure.
How can a top-seven finish for a side with the smallest budget of the promotion chasers by far, who were written off as relegation fodder by the bookies and just about every pundit going a matter of six months ago be termed as 'failure'?
I suggested this earlier on Twitter and was accused of having a 'small club mentality'. Sorry. I wasn't aware I wasn't allowed to be realistic, or that I was now supporting Real Madrid.
What has suddenly given us the God-given right to expect a top-three place? Only maintaining the performances that we have turned in during the majority of our games this season can we 'expect' an automatic spot.
Granted, it might be a disappointment after spending a long time in the top three, but a 'disaster' or a 'failure'? Surely not.
Tomorrow, we go to Swindon, the league leaders for a top-of-the-table clash, first v second.
Sounds good doesn't it? But this game won't break our season. This game alone won't decide if we finish in the top three or not.
All it will do is tell us what we have to do in the remaining 10 games to get ourselves in that top three, where Paul Baker and his board, Mark Yates and his management team, the players and all of us fans want to be.
If we do it, wonderful. If we are in the play-offs, great, and what a fantastic season it has been. Even if we finish 8th it has still been a massive improvement on the three years that have gone before.
Yes, Swindon are a good side. They have good players and have been able, with their budget, to bring in quality when they have needed it.
But remember, we are a good side as well as we have shown on countless occasions this season, and we can go there and win.
But if we don't, it's not the end of the world. Que sera sera, and we might end up at Wemb-er-lee...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Cobbling together a point

If, on May 5 at 5pm, we look at the final League Two table and see Cheltenham Town in third place by a point, this is the point we will look back on.
For the first half, we were dominated by one of the best-organised sides we have come up against all season - it was the usual situation where a passing alien would have thought we were bottom of the table.
We couldn't handle our friend Mr Akinfenwa, and with Clarke Carlisle winning every header, Ben Tozer every second ball and Michael Jacobs and Brett Williams tormenting our full-backs, 2-0 was the least the Cobblers deserved.
It could have been more but for Jack Butland's block after Bayo's poor touch let us off the hook after he had 'charged' away from Steve Elliott and Alan Bennett, then Williams somehow missed after Luke Garbutt left him free in the box.
Northampton out-competed and out-muscled us in that first half - as poor a 45 minutes as we have seen all season.
It was good to see 4-4-2 at home, but the absence of Russ Penn from the team-sheet left our midfield very short of bite.
Pack, Summerfield, Low and McGlashan are good players on the front foot, but they are not the sort of players who will win those 50-50s.
After a game a friend of mine used a cricketing analogy - they are fine when the scoreboard says 200 for three, but ask them to dig in at nought for two and it is a different story.
It shows the value of Russ Penn to us - he just brings that drive, energy and, most importantly bite - and if we are to play 4-4-2 he has to be in the side.
Pack and Summerfield as a midfield pair does not work on this evidence, and also from the start of the season when they played together, and the evidence shows our best results come with Russ in the engine room.
That lack of midfield impetus stopped the ball getting out to Jermaine McGlashan and also left the front two of Jeff Goulding and Jimmy Spencer isolated.
Although we created a few half-chances, that's all they were and Summers' long-range effort tipped over, and another chance he put wide was the closest we came.
Having seen Watford play a few times under Adie Boothroyd, I knew they would not be a pushover. Bottom of the league they may be, but they have a decent squad and on this evidence more than enough to get out of the mire.
They set up with a 4-1-4-1 and looked to make the most of Tozer's long throws, good delivery from corners and Mr Akinfenwa, who made things as uncomfortable for Benno and Steve as anyone has all season.
The first goal was a near post corner, hit the post and was prodded in by Tozer - not sure much could have been done about that and it gave Northampton a lift and made things look ominous for us.
Then big Bayo got the second, literally rolling round Benno and prodding past Jack Butland - great forward play and a good finish from a man who now has eight goals in seven games against us. A real nemesis.
Bayo's charge from half way was blocked by Jack after a heavy touch and Williams' amazing miss was another let-off for us, and eventually we made them pay.
I thought we were going to make at least one change at half-time, but Yatesy - I suspect after a half-time blast - sent the same side out again and waited for 12 minutes before unleashing the cavalry.
Russ, Kaid Mohamed and Darryl Duffy came on, with Josh Low, Jeff Goulding and Summers coming off - the right three changes, and it made an instant difference.
We laid siege to the Cobblers' goal, and Matt Duke made some great saves while their defenders were stoic and put their bodies on the line, and we finally got to grips with Bayo - well, Russ Penn did - and in the main we stopped the supply to him and the wide players.
The penalty came at the right time - whether it was the right decision or not - and there was no doubt where it was going as Darryl is deadly from the spot, and he is also Scottish - as our best penalty-takers down the years always have been!
Then Darryl showed his value again with the equaliser - it was good work by Steve Elliott, an air shot from Clarke Carlisle and a nudge through from Kaid, followed by a very cool finish indeed, keeping calm to roll his shot in.
Whether we deserved it doesn't matter - over the 90 minutes probably not, but for our last half-hour performance probably we did, but let's face it we will take it.
It would have been two points lost on paper at the start of the game but as the 90 (plus) minutes panned out it is a point gained, and keeps us totting up the points as the season hots up.
Mark Yates deserves some credit though for the substitutions, and all three need to start on Tuesday at Morecambe, before the five-game stint which will define our season kicks in.

Player by player
Jack Butland - No chance with either goal, and only really had one save to make, but it was an important block from Akinfenwa. Thought his distribution was disappointing.
Sido Jombati - Had his hands full with Michael Jacobs defensively and was a useful outlet coming forward in the closing stages.
Luke Garbutt - Struggled with Brett Williams and nearly made to pay for a couple of mistakes. Not as effective coming forward as Sido.
Steve Elliott - Like Alan Bennett, never got to grips with Akinfenwa but paid a crucial role in the equaliser.
Alan Bennett - As poor a 45 minutes as he has had all season against Bayo. Was turned for the second goal and was dominated by him like no other forward has done all year.
Marlon Pack - Thought he had a poor game. He and Summers were dominated by Guttridge, Harding and Tozer.and thought his passing was wayward as we failed to set the tempo.
Luke Summerfield - As with Marlon, he struggled and was the right decision to take him off.
Josh Low - Justified in keeping his place after last week but never got into the game against his old club and was taken off.
Jermaine McGlashan - Drew a booking from the left-back, but our problems at the back and in centre-midfield he was starved of decent ball.
Jeff Goulding - Disappointing. He and Jimmy were too isolated in the first half but equally I am not sure he and Jimmy worked hard enough.
Jimmy Spencer - A few fans are turning against him but I think that's harsh. Clearly wants to do well and looked more likely than Jeff in the first half and seemed happier with Darryl alongside him.

Russ Penn (for Luke Summerfield, 57 mins) - Again showed his value to us and is a key player who has to start. Our midfield and system just does not seem to function without him.
Kaid Mohamed (for Josh Low 57 mins) - Hit the ground running and caused them problems straight away. Should be a key man at Morecambe and Swindon.
Darryl Duffy (for Jeff Goulding, 57 mins) - Right place at the right time at the end, and reliable from the spot. Has 14 goals now, and from not many starts. Has to start- but can he play the lone role in the 4-5-1...?