Friday, 8 March 2013

Swings and roundabouts

A few weeks ago, we all trudged out of Whaddon Road shaking our heads in disbelief after Ollie Norburn's thunderbolt soared past Scott Brown, carrying two precious promotion points with it into the net.
That old footballing adage says that these things even themselves out - and that's what happened on Tuesday when Paul Benson's header glanced past Tommy Lee, and we got those two points back - just like we did when Chris Zebroski scored late on to sink Burton, effectively cancelling out Fleetwood's late leveller earlier in the season.
There is another on that list of pretty annoying sayings surrounding the game, that one about 'finding a way to win' or 'grinding out a result'. No doubting that this was one of those.
As 'precious wins' go, this was right up there, as, let's face it, it was time to think of all those adjectives to describe a bad game, and multiply them by 100. That's how bad it was.
I can't recall Lee or Scott Brown being really stretched to make a save throughout the 90 minutes. I also can't recall either side having a concerted spell of pressure or building up anything vaguely resembling a head of steam.
Ok you get the drift. It was pretty rubbish. But we won, and kept a clean sheet, so we can (sort of) put the memory of the dire fare to one side.
Among the 'highlights' of the opening 91 minutes was the performance of Chesterfield's Mario Balotelli clone Armand Gnanduillet, a rangy striker, and another of these French/Afrcian youngsters who somehow manage to pop up in lower division football, a la Mathieu Manset and others.
He was one of those players so unpredictable that you did not know what he was going to do - and I sensed that he wasn't sure either.
Therefore, he was a handful for Michael Hector and Steve Elliott, who had to be on their guard in case he fell over the ball, which he did a couple of times, or looked capable of pinging in a 35-yard screamer, which, thankfully, he didn't.
I thought we started brightly, with Sam Deering again at the heart of it, and he is now rivalling Jermaine McGlashan as the man who can do no wrong in most supporters' eyes.
He was everywhere in the first 20-25 minutes, but then Chesterfield did a good job of nullifying him, and as the game wore on he struggled to have the same impact.
The same could be said for the rest of our midfield. Marlon Pack had the quietest game since all the Swindon furore died down. Darren Carter was also peripheral, and Russ Penn and Jason Taylor also toiled away to little effect.
That was no help to Benson, who admitted to me after the game here that was pretty rubbish, and if he had been in Mark Yates' shoes would have substituted himself. Good job you are not the gaffer Benno.
As it was, the eventual victory was based on the rock-like displays of Hector and Elliott at the back, and although flavour-of-the-month Deering rather predictably got the man-of-the-match awards I would have chosen one of these two.
As well as Monsieur Gnanduillet, they had our old target and nemesis Marc Richards to look after, then that wily old fox Jack Lester, who had one shot on the turn just wide, and they carried on from where they left off on Saturday, when Gary Alexander was effectively shut out.
They protected Brown superbly, and fully deserved their first clean sheet as a partnership, and let's hope they can keep a few more in the coming crucial weeks.
Overall, I didn't feel was passed it as well as we have in the previous two games with this starting 11 and formation.
Yatesy gave his view as to the reason for that - the worn Whaddon Road pitch, and I hope that doesn't become a convenient excuse if we falter in the coming crucial home games.
Same for both sides, and all that... and, let's face it, we cannot expect to be playing on a carpet in early March after w inter of snow, rain and frost, no matter whether we share the ground these days or not. Terry Roberts is very good at his job, but a miracle worker he is not.
A quick look at the Football League Show on a Saturday would tell you that there are far worse surfaces than ours elsewhere in the League - imagine if we had Blackpool's pitch for instance.
Promotion-chasing sides have to adapt to whatever is put in front of them - and it's not going to get any better between now and late April, so we have to get on with it.
Yatesy did get his substitutions right however, and they were all positive changes which improved our performance.
Benson looked happier with Byron Harrison next to him, and I thought Harrison was a good physical presence, winning some flick-ons and showing a good touch on occasions as well.
I know some have already started to write him off as he hasn't scored yet but he is still bedding into the team and system and deserves more time to prove himself. Whether he will get it, we will have to see.
McGlashan has been disappointing in my view recently, but did give us a spark and occupied the Chesterfield defence a bit more.
One terrific turn of speed got the left-back a booking and at last we looked capable of getting behind them and creating something clear-cut.
But all night our final ball, and especially our crossing was a disappointment - bar the one from Billy in the last minute, when our third sub, Kaid Mohamed, put him in down the left.
The celebrations after Benson's goal were superb, and considering there was little over 2,000 home fans in the ground, everyone made good noise.
It was also fitting for my BBC Gloucestershire colleague Ian Randall to be able to describe the goal in the final minute of his final commentary with the station. A nice moment.
The goal kept the positive runs going - unbeaten in six, one defeat in 12, unbeaten in 16 at home (won 10 drawn 6), and back to back wins for the first time since Barnet and Northampton were beaten before Christmas.
But now it is crunch time.
Burton tomorrow, and Rotherham next Saturday as we start our final nine games, with six against rest of the top seven, and one against Bradford, who aren't out of it yet.
In between those games, we sit out due to the National Hunt festival having played Chesterfield a week early, while the rest of the division plays, so we might slip out of third spot.
Unless Southend and Fleetwood buck their ideas up, and Bradford use their games in hand well, then the top seven is starting to take shape, and it is just a case of what order they will finish in.
Last March, we saw our top-three hopes come unstuck. This time around, we have a chance to make amends, and results-wise we have started well...