Thursday, 9 October 2014

We need to talk about Byron...

WE need to talk about Byron.
Last season, he was the shining light in a pool of mediocrity - 15 goals in a hugely disappointing campaign saw him deservedly fill his mantelpiece with the end-of-season awards.
He should, therefore, have been buoyed by that, and come into this season on the crest of a wave, ready to build on that success ... but it just hasn’t happened.
Ultimately, strikers - especially those wearing the number 9 on their back - are judged on goals and a return of one in 13 league and cup games (a one-yard tap-in) is simply not good enough - and that is before we even talk about the rest of his game.
In many games, he just hasn’t even looked like scoring, and has barely had a sight of goal.
We haven’t seen the Byron of last season - the one who bullied centre-halves, chased for everything, not giving defenders a quiet moment. He has been lethargic at times, and looked off the pace, barely busting a gut at times to get into the box.
On Wednesday, he competed better, but still, when he had laid the ball off or found himself in the channel, there wasn't that desire to make that telling run into the box and be there for a cross.
It was summed up in the first half when Aden Flint slipped and he got away. A confident player would have cut into the box and looked to get a shot away, but Byron was too slow, took too long and failed to make the most of an opening, which, against a side like Bristol City, isn't going to come along too often.
Yes, there have been signs of improvement in the last couple of games, but I think it may be too late to save his place in the side.
On Wednesday, he and Raffa de Vita came off early in the second half, and their replacements John Marquis and Terry Gornell produced just the sort of energy and workrate which fits in with the players around them.
So Mark Yates has a decision to make - and I think he has to give serious consideration to giving those two a go at Shrewsbury, with Byron being dropped.
He did seem to have a slight injury when he came off, Sky's coverage said it was a calf problem, and that might make Yates' mind up for him, to give Marquis and Gornell a go.
Not that those two have been prolific either. Marquis has one goal in nine games and Gornell’s header on Wednesday finally ended his 351-day goal drought.
Marquis has been a bit unlucky in front of goal. He has had more shots (21 before Wednesday) than any other Cheltenham player and eight on target - but he has to concentrate on that and stop fighting the referee every time he goes out there.
He is one game from a ban with four bookings already in nine games, with the one on Wednesday being totally unnecessary.
To his credit, Gornell has never shirked away during his drought. It can be easy for players to go into their shells but he has carried on working hard, got into the positions and his goal was the biggest positive from Wednesday night. I hope he kicks on from here.
But what all of our strikers also need is better quality from wide areas, as much of our crossing this season has been woeful.
Craig Braham-Barrett has been a player transformed this season, and he and Lee Vaughan have got into some great positions, but then failed to deliver the final cross consistently.
It is no coincidence that the one quality ball Braham-Barrett produced on Wednesday was despatched by Gornell - we need to see more of that.
Elsewhere, de Vita didn't look like he was comfortable playing as a central striker - yet he might still get a place in the side at Shrewsbury.
Joe Hanks, who has put in some great performances, has just looked a bit leggy in the last two games and may need a rest.
With Jason Taylor back to act as a security blanket from the back three, it gives the other two midfielders a bit of freedom, so Matt Richards and Hanks, de Vita or Andy Haworth, who also comes into consideration after a decent 25 minutes in midweek, can venture further forward to support the front two.
Much has been made of Cheltenham’s defensive solidarity this season - but there has not been a clean sheet now for six games, with one goal conceded in each of the last five league games.
That is brought even more into focus when your strikers are misfiring, so they need to get back to where they were at the start of the season.
But Mark Yates has a dilemma here too after Jack Deaman’s performances against AFC Wimbledon and Bristol City.
He has stepped up to the plate against Adebayo Akinfenwa and then Aaron Wilbraham, and so Yates has to decide between him and Troy Brown at the Greenhous Meadow.
Steve Elliott will come back as he gives the balance of a left-footer in that back three, and it would be harsh on Deaman to return him to the bench.
I have also got my concerns about Vaughan, who hasn't looked like the same player since coming back from his injury.
He started the season very well, but in recent games has just showed some signs of weakness defensively, and also not been as effective going forward.
I felt he struggled on Wednesday against Greg Cunningham, and you have to ask where he was when Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was left with about six months to pick out Wes Burns with his cross.
Ah yes. Burns. Not exactly the tallest player and you have ask why he was able to make that leap and get on the end of the cross with barely a challenge - comes back to that slight drop-off in defensive solidity I was talking about earlier.
That goal adds to the poor one we let in against AFC Wimbledon, and just sets a few little alarm bells ringing as by and large we haven't been conceding goals like that. Opponents have had to work harder to score against us.
But we also have to work harder to score against our opponents, and not all of our team have been doing that enough.
Also, as regular readers of this nonsense will know, I am a champion of our young players and I hope, if some of the seniors continue to underperform, that Yates will give them a go.
Bobbie Dale has come back from Bath and Harry Williams from Evesham where their loans were a bit hit and miss.
That wasn't their fault though - Dale started one game and Williams was his usual goalscoring self - but their stays were interrupted by the Bath and Evesham still being in the FA Cup and our wish not to have them cup-tied meant they were playing one game, missing one game and not getting that total run of games in the month they were there.
That is the risk you take by loaning players out to that level at this time of the season.
I understand that Cirencester want Dale, and were told they couldn't have him until after Wednesday's game - and then he wasn't in the 16 and could have gone to Ciren and probably would have got 90 minutes on Tuesday against Weymouth.
Surely that would have been more beneficial for him if were not going to use him on Wednesday rather than have him sitting in the stands?
Adam Powell is getting games at Cinderford and grabbed another goal on Tuesday, and while there may be reservations that they are playing at too low a level, game time is the most important thing for them.
We have seen that Yates is willing to put these lads on the bench, with our products Zack Kotwica, James Bowen and Jamal Lawrence sat there in recent games - but I still feel he needs to be bolder and give them that incentive - that reassurance that they are not just making up the numbers.