A welcome return to winning ways after a hard-fought 1-0 win. Whilst the performance was better and the battling was excellent, we have Mark Tyler to thank for some excellent saves that kept us in the game.
At the final whistle there was tangible pulse of relief from the crowd – a P-wave of appreciation and acknowledgement of the efforts undertaken.
The team lined up with four tactical changes. Interesting to say the least, especially as John Still had said how well the team performed in the last game. However, we matched Cheltenham’s formation like-for-like with a 3-5-2. Curtley Williams made his debut, whilst Ross Lafayette made his full debut. Smudger Smith returned for his first game since his leg-break horror on Boxing Day and Luke Wilkinson returned in the heart of the defence. Missing out were Drury, Rooney, Howells and Connolly.
Williams and Griffiths pushed up against their opposing wing-backs. Lacey, McNulty and Wilkinson formed a back three. Smudger Smith was the holding man in front of the back three and Pelly and Gutts were further forward. Lafayette and Cullen were up front.
So what of the game? Well we clung on by the skin of our teeth as Cheltenham pressed and pressed in the second half. We had plenty of chances to go two up though, to be fair. The goal came from a throw on the left. Griffiths took the throw to Layette who held the ball up under pressure and forced the ball back to Griffiths, who crossed a lovely ball for an excellent glancing header by Mark Cullen. One up after 7 mins and that was it for the goals, but not the action. If Cheltenham had been able to finish better the outcome would have been different, but I suppose you could say that of us too. Other than the sustained pressure, there was nothing about them that suggested they were worthy of their starting position. Shrewsbury they’re not.
I thought Curtley Williams slotted in well at right wing back. He is a tidy player, good on the ball and seemed to have a good understanding of what was required. He tired in the second half, and went off after about 75 mins looking a bit sore, I hope he is okay. We transferred to a 442 shortly after the start of the second half as Cheltenham had swapped around too. It also helped us to defend and keep men behind the ball. I think dear Curtley forgot he was no longer a wing back though as he was stuck forward out of position with the Robins looking to get the ball behind him. Perhaps it was just as well that he went off!
Lacey was the first substitution when we changed formation, the tactical sacrificial lamb again. I recall he had a free header at the far post from a corner which truthfully he should have hit the target with. This left Wilkinson and McNulty in the heart of defence. Both had good games, apart from one tiny cock up by Nults. He put himself in the line of the ball time and time again, and hurled himself to block shots. What does Sir Ian say in that film? “They shall not pass”? McNulty should have that tattooed somewhere special. In fact I think Wilkinson had his best game for us and made a vital clearance off the line. Boy, they needed to be at their most dogged, we were stretched and pushed and pulled for all our worth and needed to be at our best to hang on.
Scott Griffiths had a good game, though more than once or twice he was caught betwixt and between as he had two players coming at him down the right. This stopped once Howells came on – but in both of the last two games Scott has been badly exposed on occasion with too much to deal with on his own. Anyway – we kept them out and Scott played pretty well, including the 'assist'. But the clean sheet was really down to Mark Tyler who had a fantastic game. I think I counted four decisive, crucial saves without which we would have conceded a goal. I can see how Cheltenham came from two down last week – they came at us hard – but the last time of defence, M Tyler esq., stood firm. His kicking was really accurate too, in the first half he sent ball after ball out to Williams on the wing and otherwise accurately sought out the heads of Lafayette and Cullen like a heat seeking missile. Early season wobbles behind him, this was Tyler’s latest tour de force.
Pelly Ruddock is in fine form, he had another good game today, and in the first half was a constant threat. With half an hour to go he slotted into right back and took to it like an eager puppy. It didn’t stop him marauding down the flank like a border reiver. He was kicked to death by Cheltenham and each time he was felled the miscreant was decorated with a yellow card – but no more. Somehow it seems a bit wrong to see a team from Cheltenham filled with bruising thugs. The gnarled bully-boys they had at centre half would be better suited to somewhere like Grays, Millwall or Barnsley not the pleasant spa town with the ladies college.
Switching away from football for a second – dear reader – I’ve got a little topical question for you. It’s a bit of a moral-maze type question. I’m not sure which I would do. I wonder if you can help me out...
If you are disturbed in the night and hear a noise in the bathroom do you:
a) turn over to see if the wife* has got up for a midnight pee
b) fart & go back to sleep
c) if you are really concerned, get up, put your legs on (if necessary) and walk over to the bathroom door and whisper “Is that you in there my love? Has that curry brought on a touch of the collywobbles? I told you not to have them prawns.”
Or d) immediately reach for the semi-automatic 9mm firearm in your bedside cabinet and loose off a few rounds through the bog door just in case?
Back to the football, Jonathan Smith played the full 90 minutes, which I was surprised at. And he played well, he was everywhere and faultless in his effort and spirit. He was tiring at the end, which meant that some of his passes went astray but he had a really good game – like he’d never been away. I wondered, what with the massed ranks of midfielders JS has recruited, if he’d get many games this year. If he carries on like he does today, Robinson will have a job in getting his place back.
Luke Guttridge was a constant thorn in their side, but not quite as much of a threat as last week – when we moved to 442 he moved out onto the left before Howells came on. He got a standing ovation, from my bit of the Kenny End at least. He came close to scoring on a couple of occasions, including a lovely 1-2, but also did a dodgy back pass too.
Lafayette, also tired towards the end but had a pretty good game I reckon, bearing in mind he’s new to us. It was his strength which enabled Griffiths to cross the ball for the goal. He made some good touches some poor ones. He’s learning and he’s keen- and furthermore, with Benson injured and Alex Wall in the maison du chien, he’s our main man.
Speaking of goals, what a lovely header it was by Mark Cullen. He knows how to sniff a goal, and it was great that he got the winner and only goal. I think that’s just desserts. There’s tons of pressure on him this year in the absence of Gray – and to give him credit I don’t think he’s had two games the same with either striking partners or formations. I hope he goes from strength to strength.
Jim Stevenson nearly got a goal with his first touch when he came on to replace Lacey. From a corner and a melee he twisted and turned and slotted home his fourth goal in a week. However, after thinking about it, lighting up a fag, settling down with a good book and sending a couple of texts, the lino decided to raise his flag, allowing poor Jim in a few seconds of ecstasy only for it to be dashed. I like the look of Stevenson – he seems to be growing with each game, with each touch almost. Not sure why the goal wasn’t given though.
Andy Drury let us have a couple of glimpses of him at his best when he came on to replace Williams. A close shot followed by a lovely dink through for Pelly.
In other news, it’s nice to see Mr D’Urso hasn’t much improved with age. I’m not going to say anything more.
Good to see their keeper Carson foolishly engaged in what I think the young-folk call ‘banter’ with the Kenny End, which basically means he was daft enough to react to the abuse/friendly career advice/fatherhood-news he was receiving from the front row. Which meant that he got it in spades back. Silly boy.
Another comedy moment was when their excellent wing back Braham-Barrett got a kick ‘amidships’ as Blowers would say on TMS. Jesus did he look in pain. He could barely walk let alone run, such was the state of his nether regions. He limped around on tiptoes. I liked the way that he was so concerned about his balls he wasn’t bothered about dropping his shorts in front of us all for the physio to check that everything was still there, and that nothing was hanging off. His pained face gave us an idea of what a Scottish taxpayer would look like post-Independence.
I’m pleased with the win – it was no footballing spectacle, especially in the second half when we were largely under the cosh, but a gritty win which - from the looks of what we’ve seen from this division so far – is what is needed for success whilst we acclimatise.
The next two games are against Cambridge and Blackbird Leys FC and I’m looking forward to locking horns with Richard Money again next week. They’ve had a slightly better start and are 6th – but only 3 points ahead. We let them have a bigger lead last season before we overhauled them...then, after Oxford come the footballing purists and fairplay specialists of Stevenage. Not.
Well done lads, a good win.
PS Just noticed that there are two Luton references in the MoTD title sequence. Sorry if everyone else spotted them first.
PPS I still think that Diego Costa looks like an evil Danny Crow, but without the love-handles.
*or hubby, partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, lover, neighbour, one night stand, window-cleaner, significant other etc etc delete as appropriate.