Thursday, 25 September 2014

Groundhog Day

"We are not putting away the chances we are making, and we are making chances, plenty of them."
The above is a comment from a Cheltenham Town manager - it could have been Mark Yates after many of our recent games, but it isn't.
This is an extract from the programme notes of Allan Grundy, taken from the programme of the first CTFC game I saw, a 3-2 FA Cup win over Forest Green Rovers on September 13, 1980.
At that time, we were bottom of the Southern League Premier Division table - we have moved on a bit since then, but the disease of not taking the chances when they come along is a recurring one it seems.
Once again, on Saturday against Dagenham and Redbridge, we had chances, didn't take them, and paid the price for it by only taking a point from the game.
John Marquis was denied by two great saves from the goalkeeper as we started the game superbly and finished it well - but lost our way in the middle.
Team-wise, we had Lee Vaughan back, so Jordan Wynter went back into midfield, where he is most at home after some awkward moments in recent games.
It turned out to be his last game for us - for the moment at least as I suspect he might well be back in the not too distant future. If he does come back, I hope he stays in midfield as he can do a job there.
But if he doesn't then fine - as we will have Jason Taylor and Asa Hall back from suspension and injury in the next couple of weeks, and it will also keep Joe Hanks involved.
Hanks was left on the bench, with what seemed a curious decision to use Paul Black in midfield for his first start on the left side of a three with Omari Sterling-James and Wynter alongside him and Matt Richards sitting, in the Taylor role.
When I saw Black in the side and no Steve Elliott, I thought we might be keeping the 3-5-2 with Black on the left of the back three, where he looked good for 45 minutes against Oxford and a role has played in the reserve side.
But no. Black is a decent player, no doubt about that, but I thought he looked a bit lost in there. I couldn't understand why he was there.
I am also not convinced about OSJ as a central midfield player. My main reservation on that front is his physicality, and I thought he struggled to impose himself on the Dagenham midfield trio of Labadie, Howell and Ogogo, who are a decent unit, and struggled to affect the game.
We did, however start well. We were moving the ball quickly, getting it wide, and creating chances, but as seems to be the pattern at the moment we can't take them.
But it tailed off as Vaughan and Craig Braham-Barrett were pegged back and we started to lose the second balls in midfield - and Byron Harrison's link-up with Marquis deteriorated.
They started well, but as the game wore on, Marquis was ploughing a lone furrow as Harrison turned in what became one of his more insipid performances.
While Marquis was busting a gut to give the centre-halves a tough time, and ended the game flat on his back in exhaustion, Harrison was, I'm afraid, once again a shadow of the player we know he can be.
That is the frustration. How many times do we have to say that Byron has the potential to be one of the best strikers at this level - but on this showing any scouts looking at him would have left long before the end crossing his name off their lists.
This has, I'm afraid, been the norm for most of the season. He was excellent in the comeback at Tranmere and apparently made a difference after coming on at Luton, but has not looked like adding to his one-yard tap in against Accrington - his only goal this season.
We need more from him. Marquis cannot do it all himself, but had to on Saturday, and with Terry Gornell looking so bereft of confidence it's not a surprise that Yates wants to use the loan market to pep up his attack.
That should be a wake-up call to Byron, as should the dropping at Luton, and the early hook on Saturday to be replaced by the non-scoring but harder working Gornell.
Maybe the arrival of Raffaele de Vita on a three-month deal will also be a hefty nudge for him, as although he is listed as a midfielder, he played up front for Swindon, and caused us problems. Once he is up to speed he might be a useful addition.
But Byron has scored every time he has played against Burton, but time will tell whether he gets the chance to add to that record this weekend or finds himself on the bench. On form, that is arguably where he should be.
While Yates' strikers stutter, we conceded to Jamie Cureton, who needed only one sniff of goal all game to find the target.
It doesn't help either when he let him go last summer and could have signed him back, and it was a shocker of a goal to let in too. A long hopeful ball, and Cureton outpaced Matt Taylor and lashed it in. We knew that lack of pace was a worry for our central defenders, and that was evident here.
Apart from that, he was the Cureton we saw a lot last season. Isolated, frustrated and bereft of any decent sight of the goal.
We had defended well with Dagenham's only other chances all game being a looped deflection which Trevor Carson clawed away superbly and then the rebound which he saved with his feet.
As the time wore on, Yates had to change it, and here came the major positive of the game.
He turned to two young, local players who have come through our Academy. Our players, not loanees, and players who should be a part of our future.
Hanks continued his good season, and just brought some calmness to our midfield again, competing better with Dagenham's trio and eventually getting the equaliser.
The other was Zack Kotwica, making his first appearance of the campaign after being a regular squad member last season, when he made a lot of cameo entrances with varied degrees of success.
This time last season, he was the great hope, but didn't quite push on, but all credit to him for the way he came on and made a difference on Saturday, hitting the bar and always looking a threat.
Appearances like that are going to keep him around the squad and he will need to keep that level of performance up with the competition around for a place.
Wynter's departure and Taylor's ban should keep Kotwica involved, and maybe also Jamal Lawrence - another off the production line maybe, a wide man or forward with express pace inherited, maybe, from his famous uncle David who could certainly generate some of that from the Chapel End at Cheltenham College on many occasions.
I also want to see Harry Williams get a go. He has scored twice on loan at Evesham, and I have to say I feel he is a more natural fit than OSJ if we want to use an advanced midfield player to get beyond the forwards and to play in that pocket of space.
I think OSJ is an impact player. He performed that role superbly against Tranmere coming off the bench, and without Koby Arthur I feel OSJ is the man to do that role he has vacated.
I also hope there might be a role for Bobbie Dale - he has done well at Bath by all reports and a few games in Conference South will have done him the power of good.
Our youngsters, we are told, are a bright crop. In the not too distant future, how about a midfield of Adam Powell sitting behind Hanks and Williams, with Kotwica and Lawrence on the flanks supporting Dale? Wouldn't that be great?
It could happen - but only if the manager shows some trust in them.