Written by Owen Knight
406 miles on a Tuesday night, for a Football League Two game. Nice to see the fans continue to be well looked after and thought of by the FA, and EFL.
Just a mere warm up for the 412 miles I shall be travelling to watch the League Cup tie against Newcastle United next Tuesday. Extreme confidence grew during the three and a half hour trip up to Carlisle, a team who we’ve failed to beat in all five occasions we have met at Brunton Park. Joking aside I’d have been happy with a draw against a strong side who’ve gained four points from two of the league’s favourites in Plymouth and Portsmouth.
The team sheet was revealed, and with already a significant number of first team players out of action, another two were added to the pile. Top goalscorer last season Dan Holman, donned a protective boot for an apparent bruised toe, and our only reasonable player with pace Amari Morgan-Smith pulled out with a tight hamstring. With only 5 registered subs (no different to last seasons National League limit) we welcomed James Dayton back, and Asa Hall came into the starting eleven, both returning from injury.
We started with an unusual 4-5-1 formation, as opposed to Gary Johnson’s favoured 3-5-2 which would have worked perfectly with the squad we had. Possibly what Keith Curle would’ve expected so maybe the reason for a change in style. The first half played out pretty much how it has done for the past season, not getting out the starting blocks and not taking a hold of the game. The woodwork was hit a number of times and we were fortunate not to be a couple of goals down at the break. Countless times Town lost the ball through poor passing, or having to hoof it up to the lone striker Danny Wright, who was constantly isolated and struggled to get in the game.
The half time whistle couldn’t have come sooner, and one thing is for sure whatever Johnson does at half time they come out a different side. Adding to that Dayton came off the bench for his first appearance of the season, a lot of hype on the 27-year old with many of us fans excited about his creative ability he showed in the last campaign. The excitement was met with jubilation, as in the 57th minute he broke out deep inside our own half and dribbled to the 18-yard box, feeding Harry Pell through in acres of space to finesse perfectly into the bottom corner.
It was an amazing feeling to have witnessed us deal with the battering from Carlisle and to be rewarded with the goal. However undeserved the Cumbrians may have felt it was the perfect counter attack, and a new life had been bred into the Robins. Breaking into the box in the 72nd minute, Billy Waters stole it from Mark Gillespie’s reach and proceeded to take it round him, only to be completely swiped out by the goalkeeper. Of course in instances I am bias towards my own team, but the decision to award an opposition free-kick and yellow card for match simulation may just be one of the worst refereeing decisions I have come to witness. Why would our striker feel the need to dive in that situation when he was about to double the lead? Truly shocking from Michael Salisbury.
The onslaught continued from Carlisle, as the 6′ 3″ Harry Pell was subbed off unnecessarily for the smaller James Rowe, nevertheless the defence continued to battle and keep Carlisle out. Everton loanee Russell Griffiths punched, tipped and caught everything possible to keep them out until the 89th minute hit. Tom Wyke lofted the ball from deep, and an attempted clearance stumbled off Jason Kennedy to earn United an agonising equaliser and eventually the draw.
Both teams remain undefeated after that result, and us Cheltenham fans might feel somewhat fortunate to come away with the point, given the constant bombardment from the opposition, although it could have totally been a different story if the penalty decision went our way. However it wasn’t to be, and the 117 that travelled up were a mixed bag of feelings having to take just the one point back home.
The gaffer came out at full-time for the post-match interview, and for the third time in five games, he questioned whether some of the players could mentally, physically and technically cope with the step up that League 2 football has to offer. It shows the clear ambition of the man who took Bristol City a game away from making the Premier League, a club his son now manages looking to succeed his countless promotions and achievements in football. He’s a strong motivator who only wants and looks for the best, whether it’s his own mind games with the aim to rally the troops, the real quality will prove most in the coming weeks.
Next up, Doncaster at home, let’s turn these draws into wins!
Cheletenham fans, what have you made of the start to your League Two campaign? Let us know in the comments below!