Matt Pegg discusses the previous fixture versus Portsmouth from the eyes of a Cheltenham supporter.
Well that was a strange one…
A uniquely bizarre atmosphere surrounded me at the ABS when I marched through my regular turnstile on Saturday.
The fallout from our current form (or rather lack of it) had filtered its way into the very foundations of every part of the ground. Sifting through the pages of the match day programme, and finding myself studying the notes of Paul Baker, it became quite apparent that the minor discord that bad results inevitably bring, had reached the very top.
“We can all excuse a misplaced pass, the off target shot or poor clearance, players are after all human but a lack of effort and commitment is inexcusable, not only are those players letting themselves down, more importantly they are letting own their team-mates, the manager and the fans”,
A rather eye opening comment from a chairman who has seen his fair share of Cheltenham sides in the past.
These factors all contributed to me taking my seat in the In2print, perhaps more nervous about the succeeding 90 minutes than I had been in a long time. After 4 minutes of the game, my nerves had evolved into sheer panic as I readied myself for an onslaught; Pompey had taken the lead and looked hungry for more.
With so many debatable facets to Saturday’s game, I would be remiss to not to discuss every one of them. So here goes-
The first point of concern for me through the first 20 minutes (where we were invariably under the cosh) was defensive frailty. As mentioned previously in last week’s article, we have been praised for our defensive capabilities over the last 2 seasons, why has it now become such an Achilles heel?
Well, it didn’t help that Pompey’s forward 3 looked, at times, Championship standard. Ricky Holmes and Andy Barcham were quite brilliant in parts; dancing through our defenders with majestic ease. Regardless of the opposition however, Steve Elliott and Keith Lowe really were out of sorts for large proportions of the games. Young Ryan Inniss had little chance to impact the game, while Sido looked the most composed of our back line. Jombati received little help for either goal by Sam Deering, who seemed uninterested in tracking back; his unfortunately small frame prevented him from making a defensive impact when he did.
We are all aware that Deering is not a left midfielder, his natural tendency to play in the hole just off the striker means that he often drifts into the centre of the park, leaving Sido exposed. Yates is a reputable and knowledgeable enough manager to share the same views as everyone else; there must be a reason why he is playing the former Barnet man on the left. However, at the moment, it does not seem to be working.
On a more positive note, David Noble looked composed when he had the ball. It would have been nice if the Rotherham-loanee was allowed more time on the ball, to see if he could fit into that Marlon Pack shaped hole that is so prevalent in the middle of the park. It seemed as though the delivery to our front two was coming from Lowe and Elliott at the back; a long ball game that we haven’t seen from the Robins for a while. With the excellent (if slightly arrogant) Sonny Bradley clearing up every ball played into our frontmen, Gornell and Gillespie never stood a chance. When Russ Penn came on, it felt like we had let the Pitbull off his leash. His determination, commitment and relentless attitude when he arrived on the pitch demonstrated exactly why he is the obvious choice for the club captaincy.
The standout player was Jermaine McGlashan, two great goals and an obvious determination to win every ball echoes my theory that McG is a confidence player. If he gets on the score-sheet, or out-muscles a far larger player, his talent erupts and he becomes a real devastating threat.
The benefits of sitting in Block 1 of the in2print mean that you are almost level with the linesman when the action is in the penalty box. And while I may have been screaming like a little girl on Christmas Day when I thought we had snatched the 3 points at the end, to me, and a number of people surrounding me, it was the correct decision. It didn’t help the poor linesman though, who still received the brunt of Robins fans frustrations when he sprinted back down the touchline! You’re damned if you do…
Overall, I think 2-2 was a fair result. Our first half performance was really poor, especially defensively. We did up our game in the second period but Portsmouth always looked the bigger threat; the South Coast side could have won by a larger margin had they taken their chances (and not made the bizarre decision to take their 3 best players off with 15 minutes still to play). Still, it feels like (steady) progress and I won’t complain about that.
After Greg Abbott was sacked by Carlisle United on Monday, Yatesy is now the 5th longest serving manager in England. This speaks volumes for the loyalty and success that our little club has had over the last 3 years. It isn’t going to take a club clear-out to fix the problems we have, it is going to take unwavering commitment from every single player who wears the Cheltenham shirt, something even the chairman knows is currently missing.
Oxford are bound to bring as many away supporters this Saturday as Pompey did last. Let’s keep them quiet this time. COYR!