Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Never say die

One of those 'football' words which pops up constantly - usually when a team is performing badly and the fans claim to have a lot of it while the players have none whatsoever.
A few months ago, we certainly wouldn't have seen goalkeepers leaping around the penalty area to celebrate a last-minute winner (not that we were likely to see many of them!!!) and fans waiting for the manager's fist-pump on the final whistle.
At Bromley last night, one of our directors turned to me at half-time and said: "It's an absolute miracle how Gary Johnson has put together this squad on our budget." It's hard to disagree.
I don't think even the most optimistic of CTFC fans would have expected 17 new signings to gel together almost instantly into a squad playing decent football, winning games and with a really good team spirit. In some ways it is a miracle.
They care. They want to do well for the club, for the fans and for each other, and it shows in their performances and in the way they go about things on the pitch.
Going into last night's game at Bromley, there seemed to be a bit of extra pressure on us.
Saturday's game at Gateshead, which I missed as I was on dad duties, was followed by what I felt was a fair smattering of social media negativity.
There were gripes about missed chances, with Amari Morgan-Smith especially in the firing line, worries that we had only won one game in five, and fears that Forest Green were heading over the hill again while those beneath us were bunching up.
I thought a lot of it was over the top. All strikers miss chances, and Amari is not the only culprit. He has also won us games, Wrexham being a case in point with a spectacular goal.
Yes, after Gateshead we had won one in five - but we'd only lost one in five too, had one defeat in nine, and two defeats in 16. We were sitting second in the table with one of the best goal-scoring records and the second-tightest defence in the league. Statistics can be turned any way you fancy.
Yes, FGR were five points clear. Earlier in the season they were nine clear, but were reeled in and briefly overtaken. Five points is not a terminal lead, with 30 games left.
And yes, the table is very tight, but everyone seems to be beating everyone else around and about us, and I am sure a few teams will slowly drop away to leave a pack of real title challengers - which hopefully we will be part of.
I'd seen Bromley dubbed as a 'must-win' game, seen pleas that the system needed to be changed (10 days after that system saw us win 7-1 away from home...) and that we urgently needed new players to add to the squad.
Gary Johnson soon put paid to the latter before the game. I'm happy with my squad and my subs, and won't be calling any loanees back.  That cleared that up then.
At 9.45pm last night those concerns about the system and personnel seemed to have been quelled once more - and in any case we are over budget, so we can forget any embellishments to the squad unless we have a decent FA Cup run, while the loanees who are in Gary's plans are playing regularly and scoring goals. If they came back they'd not be guaranteed a bench seat and might get no action at all.
Last night was a fantastic night - one of the best away days in a while and one of those we will look back on in future years.
It showed once again just what a resilient and spirited lot we have got in red and white (or purple). They don't give up.
We saw it against Barrow, when we dragged ourselves to victory. We saw it against Braintree, where we salvaged a point at the death and could have won it, and we saw it again last night. Just don't leave before the end or you will miss something!
It was a rocky old road though. In the first 20 minutes, we could have conceded five or six times.
For the first time in a long time - maybe even all season - we looked defensively dodgy.
The movement of the Bromley front four was causing us big problems in the back three and we were struggling to cope. Only Dillon Phillips (three or four times), the post and one bad miss by the league's top scorer Moses Emmanuel kept it at 0-0.
However we weathered that storm and as the half wore on we took control more and more, without really creating a clear chance - the best being Aaron Downes' header from a corner which was saved.
After the break, we were clearly the better side. Whether it was the part-time v full-time thing I don't know, but we seemed to gradually wear Bromley down.
Their only real chance in the second half bar their penalty was Emmanuel's shot brilliantly saved again by Phillips, but as the game went into the final 15 minutes at 0-0 it was still on a knife-edge.
I mentioned earlier about some fans' concerns over AMS and there has been a clamour for Billy Waters to start up front with Danny Wright.
But Billy's impact from the bench might be working against him on that front - and he came up trumps again with the opening goal, making it three in four games after coming on.
He seems to be an instinctive finisher - the poacher - fox in the box, call it what you will.
That can be useful late in games against tiring defences and sides we have struggled to break down - like Braintree and like Bromley, who has been stubborn and defended well in that second half when we put a lot of corners into their box.
Gary seems to like having him up his sleeve - but another goal isn't going to stop the fans' clamour for him to be given a go from the start. We'll see on that one.
All that remained after that was to see the game out, but it looked like we had shot ourselves in the foot when the penalty was conceded.
It was a penalty, as clear-cut as you can get. As soon as Anthony Cook burst past George McLennan I was saying to myself 'don't dive in... be careful... don't foul...' Ah. Too late.
Another draw then, we thought. But again we reckoned without the fantastic never-say-die spirit of those in purple.
Asa Hall said afterwards that he asked the referee how long was left. He was told six minutes, and they all looked at other and said 'right, let's go and get another one.' What an attitude!
No settling for a draw, no hunched shoulders, no feeling sorry for themselves. No capitulations like we have seen from previous Cheltenham sides after late setbacks - just a determination to go up the other end and win it. It's so refreshing.
And how fantastic was it to see Asa lash in that winner after his terrible year of injuries? What a great moment for a player who has never moaned about his lot, whether it be injury or not being in the starting 11.
I do wonder what a fit Asa Hall would have been able to do last season, considering the bunch of miscreants we had loitering our midfield for much of the season - but it's too late for that now.
Then we got the bonus. At the same time Asa's shot hit the net, Eastleigh got a winner against FGR and the 'terminal' five-point gap was down to two, and we also opened a three-point cushion on Dover in third. Happy days! How thing change in the blink of an eye.
So the perfect response to our perceived little 'blip' of only one win in five and two draws which could've or should've been wins. Now on we go to a little crop of three more tricky games.
Eastleigh at home is up first, a side with wins over Wrexham, Tranmere and FGR in recent weeks, who might have a new manager installed by Saturday - if it's not Chris Todd though he's very unlucky.
Then it's a trip to Havant and Waterlooville in the Cup, a big game for its' financial implications, and we hope Charlton and Reading give the green light and let Phillips and Rob Dickie play.
Finally in October it's a trip to Grimsby, fast emerging as real contenders after a good run of form and matching our seven-goal haul against poor old Halifax.
They don't get any easier - but this squad seem to take them in their stride and let's just hope that continues.