Sunday, 27 January 2013

Friday night frustrations

So two Friday nights have brought two sterile 0-0 draws, both of which we could have won, but never looked like losing.
That is the positive side, but neither game will have lived long in the memory, or enter the hall of fame of classic Cheltenham Town matches.
Much of the sterility of the games can be put down to the conditions both games were played in.
At Morecambe, it was the bitter cold and a pudding of a pitch, and against Rochdale it was more bitter cold, coupled with wind and sweeping rain which ended any hopes of a classic.
I know. They are professional players, and should be able to adapt to any conditions... but everyone says Messi would struggle on a wet February night at the Britannia, so might Marlon and co be excuseda cold January night at the Globe...?
Anyway, I am not sure that, in retrospect, Yatesy will be asking the board to request Friday night football in January when we sort out next season's fixtures.
Hope not, anyway, as surely it was obvious the weather on the Lancashire coast would be horrendous, and Friday night football in the winter was never going to be the best plan, or attract the biggest crowds, was it?
In some ways, it was a waste of two games, and two winnable games at that, The only saving grace would be that we did not lose either of them - but I can't help thinking 3pm on a Saturday might have brought different outcomes. Hindsight.
We played the same starting XI in both games, and two of the selections were a massive indication to the major areas we need to strengthen before next Thursday.
Sam Deering was deployed for rare starts on the left hand side of midfield, with Kaid Mohamed moving up front alongside Shaun Harrad, two square pegs in a squad down to its last 18 players.
Well, 17 at Morecambe as Darren Carter was injured - which sparked talk that he was leaving, with his six-month deal running down, but by last Friday, he had signed up for another six months, but also missed that game.
The 18th member of the squad was Luke McCullough, signed from Manchester United, and dubbed the new Johnny Evans (lucky him...) but seemingly most famous for being caught in flagrante in an alleyway, which was the first thing which came up when I searched Google for him after he signed.
On the football side, the words 'physical', 'brawny', 'powerful, 'commanding' and 'muscular presence' all appear in his profile on the United website. That suggests to me that he is here in case Steve Elliott falls apart in the coming weeks, rather than Keith Lowe or Alan Bennett.
He is the central defensive cover which Yatesy had been looking for - but he ironically arrives at a time where we look a lot more solid at the back, and it is at the other end where the problems lie.
After the last two games, much of the flak has been thrown in Mo's direction.
At the Globe, he missed our best two chances. The first was a mis-kick after Shaun laid the ball across to him, and the second a side-foot wide from Jermaine's square ball, when a dummy would have left Sam with an open goal.
He didn't have an effort wothy of note against Rochdale, and neither did Shaun... and therein lies the problem.
These two games have been Mo's first two starts down the middle since he joined the club, therefore it is fairly obvious he is not going to have struck up a telepathic partnership with Shaun overnight.
I can see why Mark played him there. Darryl and Shaun are too similar, both don't like the physical battle with defenders, and neither wants to come deep and get the ball or relishes the hold-up play with back to goal.
They both want the ball played through, off the shoulder of the defender, to run onto. They are both 18-yard box players who (rarely) do their best work outside the box.
He could have used Jeff with Shaun, but that partnership hasn't really come off, so why not try something different? Especially as, against York, Mo came on and set Shaun's goal up within a couple of minutes.
But we know we need a striker, and so does Yatesy - with Paul Benson or a resurrection of our interest in Byron Harrison apparently high on the wanted list.
However, even if we managed to sign Robin van Persie, he is only going to score if he gets the service, and that has been the problem.
The lack of service, be that from wide areas or through the middle, is the over-riding reason why we have failed to threaten the opposition goal enough in the past 180 minutes.
Much of the blame falls on Mo and Harrad apparently for two 0-0 draws. But where have the crosses from Jermaine been? The penetrative passes from Pack and Penn? Nowhere.
Again, the weather has not helped, but it can't be used as an excuse, and yes, it has probably led to us going a bit more direct in those two games and that has not helped our two front players either.
I think Sam has deserved a start  as in my view his cameo appearances have, by and large, been effective. I thought he did well at Morecambe, and should have definitely had a penalty - everyone (even Jim Bentley) thought so bar Eddie Ilderton, the referee.
He was less effective against Rochdale, but, once again I will say that Sam was being asked to do a job in an unfamiliar position, another reason why we need a natural, left-sided wide player.
Jake Taylor has also filled in out there with mixed results in recent games, and his loan is coming up for possible renewal, but as I have said before I would send him back and look for a bit more experience - or stick to the four central midfielders we have, giving Sam more of a look-in.
I know there has been a massive debate about Marlon and Darren, can they play together, but I thought we missed Darren over the last two games.
He has been the player who has tried to play those little 10-yard passes through the back four (eg Northampton away for Darryl's winner) and I felt that without him we have lost some creativity.
With Russ and Marlon in there, neither of them really want to take the advanced role, and if Yatesy wants to keep two up front (and if he is bringing in a new striker, he has to I think) then he has a decision to make.
It has to be two of Russ, Darren, Sam and Marlon - basically, either Russ or Marlon with Darren or Sam from now on, assuming he keeps Jermaine  and Mo (or another left-winger) down the flanks and sends Jake back - but I still want to see more end-product from Jermaine than we have in recent weeks or months.
He is meant to be our biggest attacking threat, and simply has not been. He is a fans' favourite and so I have seen criticism of Yatesy's decisions to take him off in games of late - can't agree as I think he has deserved it.
So while we have had problems clicking in the front third, we have looked secure at the other end, after our recent woes.
The Globe was not the scene of another north of Birmingham horror show to match Chesterfield, Rochdale or Rotherham. We always looked odds on for the clean sheet.
Rochdale created a few more problems yesterday, but Browny only had one save to make, which was one more than he had at Morecambe, and the Bilston Beckenbauer's inclusion seems to have had a positive effect.
I will admit I was unsure about Yatesy's decision to drop Benno for Keith, but two clean sheets and one goal conceded in three games would vindicate the decision.
I am sure Benno isn't happy, and it will be interesting to see what happens if the change becomes a longer-term move, especially now with Luke McCullough coming into the mix as well.
Hopefully, he is the first of maybe three or four new faces to come in, and they are needed - not to replace those in the team now necessarily, but to give the manager more options and administer some in the squad with a much-needed boot in the backside.
It is tight at the top - two points seperate third place from ninth, and we need to reverse a run of one win in seven games, with four draws and two losses.
Other sides are coming in to form, and we need to find a consistent formula.
All through the season, I have been told we haven't clicked yet - but here we are, right in the mix for the top three. If we can click, then we can still achieve what we all want. If...