Fan’s View – Cheltenham

Article by Paul Beasley Monday, September 16th, 2013  

Unbeaten, but…

As we’re still unbeaten and have six more points than at the same stage last season I’d really like to ooze positivity here but the realist in me dictates otherwise I’m afraid.

I thought this was our poorest (or should I say least good) performance on our travels and it was therefore no surprise that we dropped two points.

Remaining undefeated is good psychologically but that doesn’t alter the fact that one win and two defeats brings in as many points as three draws. In the last four league games we’ve dropped six points.

It might be boring to keep coming back to the topic of strength in depth and the reliance we will have to place on players from the Development Squad when necessity demands, unless there is a change in policy.

Whether our season ends up being successful or not will very much depend on how this pans out.

Whilst Ian Lenagan is sensibly watching the purse strings and we are not bringing in short term loanees every five minutes, as in seasons gone by, it is clear that we will not be foolish about these things. Welcome Shwan Jalal. (I still have nightmares about Fleetwood away last season.)

There are some players whose loss is much greater than others.

Not quite Wright

On Saturday we missed Jake Wright and it sounds like he is to be out for 4 – 6 weeks. An abscess in the groin area sounds bloody painful, particularly when infected and all we can do is hope he gets over the operation as quickly as possible. All the fitness and sports science in the world can’t legislate for these things; Jake and OUFC are just unlucky.

Consequently Michael Raynes made his first start of the season. Jake Wright he isn’t, we know that, but I categorise Raynes as one of those players who can do a job. I like the bloke and have been mightily impressed when, as a non playing substitute, he has got involved in goal celebrations as heartily as any of our boys who were actually playing.

0-1

Cheltenham were, as usual, a big strong direct side. They came at us from the start and Raynes got a few clearances in but it was noticeable that his timing was a bit out. When heading away he was getting under the ball too much (if that makes sense). It was also noticeable that our defence didn’t look very assured. I’m not just blaming Raynes for this but it can’t be denied that he was very slow in the build up for the Robins first goal. It was a bit of a shambles all round. Ryan Clarke should have held the shot, but didn’t, so Byron Harrison ended up with a tap in.

That was after only 8 minutes and things looked a bit bleak with one seasoned gloom merchant declaring that “we could get hammered here”.

This didn’t happen as we settled down a bit without playing particularly well.

1-1

Given Cheltenham’s style of play, the equaliser had a touch of irony about it. Clarkey can now claim his second assist of the season. His drop kick was ignored by a defender who presumably thought it would find its way through to the keeper. He hadn’t counted on Dave Kitson’s persistence and we were back in the game.

Best starting line up?

At the start of the season I think we all knew what our strongest starting line up was and what each player’s role within that was.

Now that this line up has been denied us I’m rather confused with what is going on. Kitson, whose work rate was faultless, was the main man down the middle and I would have said our main striker. Yet these days he doesn’t see himself as a striker and has said that Chris Wilder wants him to stop the opposition and act as a link point.

Alfie Potter started down the middle with Kits. This means our best attacking wide player was not doing what he does best and we’ve seen a number of times previously how much less effective he is in the centre. It was no different at Whaddon Road but we thought it might all be part of a master plan – to bring on Deane Smalley at half time and stick Alfie where he belongs.

A small(ey) matter of fitness

Smalley did enter the fray close to the hour mark. Most of us were at a loss to know why he didn’t start.

His performance was more akin to those we’ve seen in previous seasons than what we’ve seen so far this one when we all thought he could be a real asset in our bid for promotion. Fitness? We now learn that Deane has a long term hamstring problem that keeps reappearing and was unable to train a lot during the week.

This is a real reason to be pessimistic and begs the question why on earth we gave him a new contract, albeit on reduced terms, during the summer. Doesn’t this go against the new approach to signing players that we had been told about? For players that we know will not be able to play every week, wouldn’t payment on a game by game basis be more prudent?

Alfie had all of 15 minutes to prove his worth on the wing. Whenever he got the ball he was blocked off by two or three defenders and the magic didn’t come. His replacement Ryan Williams showed a tiny bit of trickery and pace but is a very lightweight footballer. It was very unlikely that such a player would swing the game our way.

2-2

Before either of these substitutions had been made, each side had bagged another goal.

On 51 minutes our defence was again in some disarray. The defensive work undertaken by Raynes and Danny Rose was a bumbling mess and although this time Clarke did the best he could the result was the same with another easy chance converted.

This time we levelled much sooner. In Johnny Mullins we have a proper goal threat from set pieces and so it proved again. Not all players keep the ball low when they shoot. Mullins does this to great effect and his chest control was something else others could learn from. Credit should also go to David Hunt for the way he volleyed the cleared corner back into the box.

So what did we deserve?

After all that I’ll say we did deserve a point but no more. Scott Brown was forced into pulling off two or three very good saves for the home side.

They also had chances, including hitting the woodwork just before the break, but Mark Yates claim that they battered us wasn’t a fair summing up of the game. Not that I believe the stats, but they show that we had 52% possession and 8 shots. Hardly a battering. Whilst I acknowledge that we would have claimed for it too, their penalty appeal near the end can be waved away with reference to the need for hand ball to be “deliberate”. From that distance there’s no way Mullins could have reacted quickly enough to produce any deliberate action.

After getting into the play-offs in the last two seasons, Cheltenham have suffered a bit of a hangover at the start of this one but they will climb the table. We needed Kitson’s battering qualities in a game where there was no quarter asked or given and a kind of mutual respect when it was all over.

What next?

Chesterfield, with double our budget, also unbeaten and with a four point lead already must come to the Kassam on Saturday as favourites.

It will be a real test and pointer of where we are going as things stand and possibly what needs to be done to help us along the way to achieving this season’s objective.

It could turn out to be a case of hanging on in there and not dropping too far behind until Wright, Rigg, and Beano return to fitness and Smalley proves he isn’t one of those forever injured never fully fit guys that we really cannot afford to carry.

Now is very much the time for men of character to step forward. I’m expecting much from Kitson, Mullins and Potter but we are going to need other heroes too.

 

This entry was posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013 at 11:40 am and appears under 2013, Articles, Comment. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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