Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A mad month...

CAST your minds back to August 2. We went up the road to Aggborough, and were swept limply aside 3-0 in a display which didn't have great portents for the upcoming season.
The manager was coming under even more scrutiny than he had been at the end of last season. Many fans left that game hoping that somewhere in League Two there were going to be two worse teams than us, and speculating on how long the manager was going to last.
His new signings were not being universally lauded after a patchy pre-season, with wistful memories of players like Brown, McGlashan, Bennett, Penn, Lowe, Duffy, Pack and Summerfield a irritatingly regular social media occurrence.
One player in particular looked certain to be on his way out - the transfer-listed misfit Jason Taylor.
He was substituted as a substitute in the dying embers of last season, then left out of the 18 a few times.
Then he was played at the heart of the new (and very ropey looking) back three at Kidderminster, and had a complete nightmare, surely playing his way out of the side... to the relief of the majority of CTFC fans.
It is now September 2. We are joint top of League Two, and over the first hurdle in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy - a rare occurrence. We have won three and drawn one of our four home games, keeping three clean sheets.
Away from home, we have won two games north of Birmingham, which hardly ever happens, including one from 2-0 down with a quarter of the game left, and were not disgraced in our only defeat at a Championship side in the League Cup.
The manager is in line for the League Two manager of the month award. One of his signings, Trevor Carson, is on the player of the month shortlist, and Jason Taylor, yes, that Jason Taylor, the transfer-listed misfit, was tonight substituted 20 minutes from the end of the game to a standing ovation with those much-loved former favourite players once again restored to the memory banks.
Strange, strange times.
Add to that the fact that Taylor and Craig Braham-Barrett, two players who last season were on the end of a constant barrage of criticism and ridicule from fans, have suddenly become key components and star performers in a tight, difficult-to-beat unit.
Meanwhile, our leading scorer, with four goals, is a five-foot-six-inch tall Ghanaian teenager, who wears pink boots, who has only started one match for us, and scored his last two goals with headers.
It's enough to have anyone reaching for the straitjackets.
But it really has been an amazing transformation, with a mad month topped off by tonight's stroll against Oxford.
And it was a stroll. Carson was barely tested bar a free-kick which flashed wide of his post, and, after a slightly sticky start it has to be said, we kept them at arm's length with comparative ease.
Yes, the red card for Jon Meades might have helped in the last 20 minutes, but we were deserved winners. Even with six changes from Saturday's win over Hartlepool.
Vaughan, Elliott, Richards, Gornell, Harrison and Wynter were either rested, benched or not allowed to become cup-tied. Step forward Haworth, Deaman, Hanks, Marquis, Arthur and Sterling-James, plus Black for a half in a planned change in place of Matt Taylor - and the changes were almost seamless.
In the back three, Deaman came in, and was understandably tentative to start with in an unnatural role on the left of the trio. After the break moving to the right and then to right-back, he looked more comfortable.
He also had a decent game at Brighton, and I have to say that I would not be worried about him stepping in if one of the front-line back three suffered a problem.
Then there is Black, who came on at half-time on the left of the three and slotted in well, staying in the centre when we changed to a defensive four late on, and I thought he looked comfortable. He looks a decent, ball-playing defender on this evidence.
Haworth was asked to replace Vaughan as the right wing-back and was steady enough, trying to get forward when he could, but looked better and happier after the break when he moved further forward, and ended the match as the 'number 10' in our 4-2-3-1.
Hanks we have seen a good deal of so far this season, and this was another decent performance, with a good range of passing and some excellent set-pieces, notably the corner for the first goal - another who slotted in seamlessly.
Starts for Sterling-James and Arthur were interesting, as we would find out whether they could sustain their performances for 90 minutes rather than a short cameo - and I thought, by and large, they did.
Arthur in the first half showed some good strength at times with his back to goal against big centre-backs and in the second was an available outlet before getting his now customary goal.
Sterling-James I thought buzzed around quite well, again always available, wanting to be involved with a decent engine. I wondered if he might only play for an hour, but he lasted the 90 quite well and that will do him good.
He and Arthur were a bit naive at times with their decision-making and dodgy at times with defensive duties, but they are young and learning, so that will come with the territory.
The final 'new starter' was Marquis, who was very impressive before being replaced late on by Gornell.
Chasing lost causes, pressing defenders, holding up the ball, and getting across his marker brilliantly at the front post to head our first goal made it a great night for the Millwall loanee.
He won a '30-70 against' ball to force the corner which eventually led to his goal, and is definitely a good acquisition - just a shame he is only going to be able to stay until around November 7 in his 93-day loan, so let's make the most of him.
I thought Oxford were poor. Yes, they, played the last 20 minutes with 10 men, we made them look poor before that. They passed the ball around very nicely at times, but most of the time they were about 35 yards or more from our goal, and posed little or no threat.
The BBC Oxford commentators on the gantry post-match were reading out tweet after tweet and text after text slagging off their performance, their manager and their players - and they were not happy.
Meades deserved his red card for a shocking over the top tackle, and it was good management from Yates to replace Jason Taylor (who could have gone himself for a silly reaction - but understandable given the leg-breaking challenge he received). Oxford were determined to wind him up - as was shown by a naughty Junior Brown tackle on him just after the dismissal, which again he reacted to.
After the red card, it was plain sailing. The confidence was oozing through us, and all that was missing from the night was a Terry Gornell goal.
We nearly got one, but had to settle instead for a Terry Gornell cross for a Koby Arthur goal. Another header. Almost on the same spot and into the same corner as the one he scored on Saturday. That'll do nicely, and we have booked our card in the draw on Soccer AM.
The madness goes on, as it seems now, from having what we thought was a decent-enough first 11 and seemingly not much below that, the manager apparently now would appear to have options coming out of his ears for Saturday's top-of-the-table bunfight at Morecambe (words I never thought I would type, number 1).
Trev's place seems safe enough I think... and surely he can't drop Roberto Carlos Craig Braham-Barrett (words I never thought I would type, number 2), and there might be a mass mutiny if the new fan's favourite Jason Taylor (words I never thought I would type, number 3) is left out on Saturday.
I expect Brown, Matt Taylor and Elliott are pretty much nailed on to be the back three, but Black and Deaman have shown themselves to be viable options should they be required.
Vaughan should come back in on the right, although he does have a slight knock to his foot I believe which was another reason to rest him tonight. So we will wait and see on that I guess - and I think Haworth was adequate enough to show that he could slot in there if needed.
The midfield choice is very interesting indeed. Taylor has to play (words I never thought I would type, number 4) and Richards will surely come back in too, but then what do you do? Restore the loanee Wynter with his athleticism and box-to-box energy, keep Hanks in there after another good display with his composed range of passing and the quality of his set-pieces, or does he unleash the unpredictability of Sterling-James again?
That area of the side is going to be even more of a contest for places when Asa Hall comes back.
Then there is up front. Harrison was rested tonight, and rightly so, so you have to assume he will start on Saturday.
Marquis's goal and lung-busting performance tonight must put him in pole position for a start ahead of the ever-willing and unlucky-in-front-of-goal Gornell to play alongside him.
Hang on a minute... what about the four-goal top-scorer in his pink boots? Surely you must find room for him? What? He's not an automatic choice and might have to go back on the bench? Blimey.
A month ago, after witnessing that worrying loss at Aggborough, Yatesy cannot have imagined that barely a month later he would have selection dilemmas and viable choices to make in almost every area of a side sitting joint top of the table, and playing with real confidence.
It's a great situation to be in, and long may it continue, because it is just great to see the whole club wearing a collective smile on its face again.