Monday, 10 November 2014

It really did happen...

MOST of the time, writing this nonsense is a cathartic way of trying to exorcise some demons from a disappointing result or performance.
But this time, I am sitting down to compose this in the hope that it will finally confirm for me that it did actually happen.
I have listened to Ian Randall's commentary (here) about 20 times, and watched the goal highlights (here) about another 10 times. It has just about sunk in by now.
However, there is no doubt that this was an afternoon which will not be forgotten for a long time.
It will go down as one of our best FA Cup results of all time, and must rank in the top three home performances of Mark Yates' reign - that's how good it was. I haven't seen us play this well at home for a long time - maybe since that 3-0 Southend game in the Wembley season.
It was the first five-goal haul at home under Yates - the first since John Schofield masterminded a 5-1 success over Barnet. We hadn't scored five anywhere since Dagenham in that Wembley campaign.
Every single player was nothing short of fantastic - no less than an eight out of 10 for any of them - but Byron Harrison has to be singled out for scoring our first hat-trick since Michael  Pook on that day at Burton.
Much maligned this season for lack of goals and perceived lack of application, he was the centre of some heated debate at Thursday's fans forum.
"He is an enigma," said Yates, who acknowledged it could be hard to get the best out of him, and to 'read' his character, while one fan suggested if he wasn't going to do the business, maybe we should just get shot.
But yesterday showed why we are not going to get shot.
This was bully Byron - the one we saw at the end of last season, the one which scored 15 goals in a mediocre team, had scouts watching him and scooped all the player of the year awards.
However, the display and the manner of his goals also served to sum up the enigma which is our number 9 - why can't he do that more often...? Where has that Byron been this season?
Let's hope he can keep this up. Let's hope this hat-trick will be a catalyst to fire him up, starting at his old club Stevenage as Saturday showed just what a potent weapon he can be for us. Swindon's defenders could not handle him at all.
He got his rewards for persistence, for chasing lost causes and for busting a gut to get into positions where he could cause real problems - two things he had not been doing all year.
He now has a lovely mango-coloured match ball for the mantelpiece - and it was great to interview him afterwards with a smile on his face - here - and he was very honest about his form this season and the flak he has been getting.
Pre-match, I was sure he was going to come back into the side for John Marquis, but you'd have got good odds on Paul Black's name being on the teamsheet, especially as one of the back three.
Black came here in the summer with many fans hoping he would replace Craig Braham-Barrett in the side, but CBB has been so good this season in the new formation he has barely had a look in.
He has started two games in central midfield (and, to be honest, not looked great in either) and had 45 minutes in the back three against Oxford in the JPT, so on paper this was a bit of a gamble.
But like every other gamble we took in the game, it paid off handsomely and he was, like everyone else, superb. Ironically he might now get a chance in his favourite position as CBB is banned on Saturday.
All the talk pre-match had been about Swindon's athletic young side, their passing game and quick tempo and movement, and for the first 10 minutes we saw just that.
We barely touched the ball, and I am sure I am not the only one who was slightly worried. We were pressed back, defending on our 18 yard line with the midfield three joining in.
I suspect the possession for the first 10 minutes was probably about 90-10 against us, with the odd foot in and a hasty clearance or two about all we could muster.
Then it changed thanks to a long punt down field, which the Swindon defence looked petrified to deal with and in nipped Byron to score - almost instantly you could see the belief flowing through us.
Byron and Terry Gornell suddenly realised that putting pressure on the back three would pay dividends, and our midfield trio also decided that getting stuck in to the Swindon youngsters would also knock them out of their stride.
Then came the sending-off - and although (as expected) he disagreed with it, I was pleased to see Mark Cooper not label it as the sole reason for us going on to win, choosing instead to question the desire of his players in both boxes.
My view is that it was a definite foul on Gornell, and Thompson was the last man. Gornell was running through, level with the edge of the penalty area (not towards the corner, Mr Cooper) and as Thompson was the last man, with no cover behind him, the letter of the law says red card.
Had he got through, yes he still had work to do, but would have cut in on goal and had a goalscoring opportunity.
So now it is all about how the two teams react. The team with 11 needs to guard against complacency, while the team with 10 needs to galvanise itself and try to look to make light of the numerical disadvantage.
But we were not complacent, and Swindon did not show that determined attitude - and as the half wore on we made the extra man count.
CBB was the major recipient, as, having been pegged back early on by Nathan Byrne, he was finally able to get moving down the left-hand side, and he worked well with Raffa de Vita, who put the cross in from a short corner which led to the second goal.
Harrison won the header, and Gornell did the rest for a 2-0 lead at half-time (here is a great alternative view of the goal).
That is always a dangerous lead, 11 men or 10. Cooper had half-time to sort his players out, and the next goal would sort it out. 2-1 is game on and jitter time, 3-0 is game over.
Soon it was 3-0, and game over. That was thanks to the marauding Braham-Barrett, more shambolic Swindon defending and a Harrison tap-in.
Basically, that was that. Swindon fans started to leave and our players could now express themselves with freedom. Matt Richards, Jason Taylor and de Vita were all over the Swindon midfield, with Massimo Luongo, who had run the game early on, and Yasir Kasim now anonymous.
We saw at Cambridge that Matt Richards likes a volley - and that peach he hit will join that one from the Abbey in the goal of the season reckoning. It was a cracker. Don't know about you, but I could watch that goal all day.
Then more ridiculous defending gave Byron his hat-trick - and also meant it didn't matter that John Marquis came on and missed a golden chance to make it six.
De Vita also came mighty close with a first-half crack against the post and then a flying second-half volley. If they had gone in, we could have had eight.
See them here, in hEaLeR-vision ... but that's just greedy. Five will do just fine thanks.
Aside from the result, the main thing to look out for was the attendance, and more to the point, the home portion of it after the brouhaha about pricing.
In the event, it was just under 2000 of a crowd of 3470 - and the £18,000 prize money will add to the coffers as well.
As I have previously said, I was against the pricing structure and I don't criticise anyone who stayed away, wither because they simply couldn't afford it or just opted not to pay on principle. That is their choice or necessity.
I have some respect for those who came to the forum on Thursday and had their say about not only the prices but also those whose season ticket seat was moved. I hope the club will take heed of this episode on all fronts, and I applaud the terrace reduction for the Wycombe game.
The board had their reasons for pricing the game as they did, and I think it is just time to enjoy the result and move on from it - at least until they announce the prices for the second round game...! Over to you on that one Mr Baker - let's make it affordable for everyone and get a decent crowd in, shall we?
So who was nervous as those balls were coming out? I was wanting a home draw against a non-league side, as on paper that gives us the best opportunity of being in that third round bag.
I was watching all the teams on the left disappearing as the balls were coming out and was worried as Bristol City were still in there. I was desperate that we didn't get them, so it was a relief when Dover came out.
This draw gives us a totally different challenge. From having little hope according to the formbook, to being the favourites. But our 5-0 win and Dover's win over Morecambe is enough to show everyone that formbooks are nonsense.
No complacency - and this game will be a pivotal one for our season. £27,000 at stake in prize money, and that place in the third round draw - after which anything will be a bonus.
It's very unlikely to be live on the TV, but it might get moved to Sunday maybe, for that new Final Score programme as we are playing a non-League side and the draw has not been kind to the non-league survivors with few real stand-out ties.
Before then, we have three big league games, at Stevenage and at home to Wycombe and Oxford, which we need to get some points out of.
High standards were set on Saturday. We won't hit those heights every week, but the effort and commitment was back after it dropped off in the first half against York, and we now expect it to stay at these levels.
That is the only way we will get performances like the one on Saturday. Let's face it if the team don't get confidence from this result and performance, then they never will get confidence from anything, will they?