Fan’s View 2023/24 – No.19: Cheltenham Away

Article by Paul Beasley Monday, November 27th, 2023  



To say I left Gloucestershire a little disappointed would be an understatement. A bit angry too but that soon morphed into a kind of philosophical acceptance because this is the lot of a football fan.

Yes Cheltenham, who didn’t score in their first eleven league games, have improved under Darryl Clarke whose record in the League since his arrival in late September now reads three wins, two draws and two losses, but they’re still second bottom.

Since the last FV Des “one of our own” Buckingham has become our latest Head Coach. I know he’s unproven managerially in the EFL but he was the one I wanted from the names the bookies listed. The Frank Lampards of this world, no thanks.

At Orient, under the temporary charge of Craig Short, I felt an incredible togetherness in the stands and on the pitch. Not quite so much here which was a great shame. Why that was may be down to the two feeding off each other. In E10 we took the lead and went on to establish a three goal lead. At the Completely Suzuki Stadium, where our fans were split between a stand at one side and an end, we went behind and then further behind.

I was on the side and the view from there isn’t great. Our seats were level with the goal line and not that much above ground level given how small the stand is, meaning I had little idea how close shots actually were to goal. Perhaps behind the goal would have been a better option but I know I’ve been there before and have not got on with it. The full adult price of £26 is a bit steep.

We’d been in the pub for only 10 minutes. The pint on the right is mine. 

This was another of those away days that started very promisingly with the pub but goes downhill later when the football is factored in. I don’t rate Cheltenham that highly for watering holes but the Sandford Park Ale House is an establishment that to date has never let us down. So much so that even though we walked through its door at 11:45 we didn’t move on until it was time to head for the match. I have to confess that I couldn’t keep up with my drinking partners, nor would I want to. As ever a good choice of quality beer though and at £4.50 a pint good value. I didn’t sample the pork pie so couldn’t comment whether £6.50 was vfm. Given the size of it I suspected not but no reason to comment out very loudly “SIX FIFTY for a pork pie” as a mate did. Not how to get on the right side of the landlord I suspect, but no harm done. I quietly pointed out that we weren’t up north.

In the past the stewards at this ground have been problematically provocative but not so on this occasion. I suspect the job has now been subcontracted to a different organisation.

I’m always loathe so say “we didn’t want it”. Of course we did. But did we “want it” enough? If pushed I might just argue that the home side wanted it that little bit more. Forgetting the stats, it looked to me like they came out with fire in their bellies and got a hold on the game that they never truly relinquished, although there were a few brief spells when our smooth football hinted that we might get something from the game. For me though we never did actually take control in any meaningful way.

Those stats when I bothered to look them up were quite revelatory to me.

OUFC possession 67%. Passes 461 to 219 in our favour. Not surprised that we played fewer long passes than they did – 65 to 74. So 34% of their passes were long ones compared to just 14% of ours. Our passing accuracy was way better than theirs – 79% to 53% – and we had more shots than them and more on target: 20 and 6 to 17 and 4.

So what though? We’ve been here many times before. All passes are not equal and the same goes for shots on goal. Some have about as much chance of going in as FOSB supporting our club moving to the Triangle.

It wasn’t long into the encounter when James Beadle had to pull off a very good save from Aidan Keena but Lewis Freestone should then have given his side the lead as the ball fell to him.

We got away with that as we did again a bit later when we almost came unstuck trying unsuccessfully to play out from the back. Beadle’s short pass to Marcus McGuane, who was as tightly marked as it is possible to be, was way too risky. Stephan Negru saved the day on this occasion.

Cheltenham weren’t presenting us with gifts so any chance we were to get had to be created. A visionary pass from Ruben Rodrigues set Billy Bodin away. Good work from BB then saw him set up RR for a shot. It was a poor effort with no real power.

At the other end Liam Secombe showed how to hit a ball but Jordan Thorniley got in the way ensuring that we only suffered a corner against us. From that dead ball though we went a goal behind. The defending on our part was nowhere near good enough. I like a lot about Beadle’s goalkeeping and am happy that he’s between the sticks for us but, although he’s tall, a big physical presence he is not. He is not built to come for high balls, knocking opponents – and team mates when necessary – out of the way in densely populated spaces. Crowded out, his punch was weak and only went to Robert Street on the edge of the penalty area. He gave the ball some true welly and it flew into the back of the net. He was unmarked. That was criminal.

A neat silky move from us ended with Billy Bodin hitting a shot straight at keeper Luke Southwood.

Yes, that recurring theme. We’re not clinical. We have not got a natural goal-scoring centre forward. A couple of weeks back I put the counter argument when no team had scored more than us in L1. Now three teams have a better average number of goals scored per game than us. Top of the pile, Bolton Wanderers on 2.2 goals per game, obviously helped by their 7-0 demolition of Exeter on Saturday. We’re averaging 1.8 per game. Seven L1 players are already on double figures. Our leading scorer is Greg Leigh on five followed by midfielders Cameron Brannagan and Rodrigues on four each.  Which brings the Mark Harris debate back into play. A hard working willing runner but he doesn’t appear to have the attributes to give defenders a torrid time nor score at a rate that will get him into double figures any time soon.

The likelier team to get the next goal? Given the ease with which Will Goodwin beat Fin Stevens on the by-line I would have said it was them.

In first half added time Cheltenham were reduced to ten men. At the time I hadn’t spotted what had actually happened. Replays though confirm that it was a nasty thuggish elbow from Street into the face of Negru. No way was it accidental. Well done referee Scott Simpson.

The question now was could we make this numerical advantage pay? Turned out the answer was no and we had about 25 minutes game time before it was 10 a side.

Buckingham made a change at the break, withdrawing Stan Mills and introducing Josh Murphy. Mills had hardly been in the game and not for the first time this season was a frustrated figure with his team mates not giving him the ball as often as he would like. Murphy though was a revelation down the left flank. Cheltenham were finding it hard to cope and I thought, we’re in here now. A chance was created that was one of those where I told myself we’ve scored. It was an absolute sitter. One that many in the crowd would have scored. RR missed it.

A Ciaran Brown header from a corner was clawed away and one began to seriously question if we’d ever get the ball over the line.

On 65 minutes we made our second change with the returning Kyle Edwards replacing Stevens. Edwards was put on the left with Murphy being moved to the right and with that his potency disappeared. Looked like a poor call to me, but what do I know?

Three minutes later we lost RR for the remainder of this game and for that very important Tuesday night affair against Bolton. It was of our own making and having seen the incident again I have to say he got what he deserved. I suspect others will very likely disagree though.

Negru had the ball at his feet totally under control in the centre circle with no opponent anywhere near him. MM, probably wanting to increase our tempo, put in a tackle of sorts on the bemused Negru. Having danced over the ball a bit he played it square to RR.  A simple first time pass was on but no, he dragged his studs over the ball, then tried a turn, got into a tangle as he was challenged for possession and stupidly pulled Ben Williams’s shirt. This wasn’t a game for fannying about.

I’m always banging on that referees need to penalise players for shirt pulling so fully endorse the second yellow. His first was for dissent so can’t argue with that either as players know what they should and should not be doing.

That was moronic behaviour. In recent games I’ve thought RR has been one of our two best players but he let his team down badly here.

If referees were more consistent the message would eventually get through and football would be all the better for it.

I’m going to stand up for the referee again regarding Cheltenham’s second goal with about a quarter of an hour to go.

Law 11:3 – “There is no off-side offence if a player receives the ball directly from a goal-kick.” I don’t think either Negru or Goodwin got a touch on Southwood’s goal kick meaning George Lloyd was on-side. So what if the linesman put his flag up? Simpson was closer and “play to the bloody whistle”.

Offside or not – and I’m going not – we defended badly. Thorniley didn’t have his balance right to make a challenge worthy of the name and then Negru got a bit tangled.

The second of our two players who I think have been our best in the past few games is Elliott Moore. He was a huge miss here. The defence looks so much weaker without him. A big strong commanding presence. A leader by example in addition to the armband. I can’t recall any of our defenders getting a head on the ball and getting it clear like he does.

Greg Leigh was another loss and to hear that he will be out for at least a couple of weeks is not good news.

Bolton, having won six league matches in a row, now top the table and have not conceded in the last three. In our last six we’ve gathered just 8 points. That’s not good enough if we want to remain genuine contenders. The pack is closing. The tension rises.

Have we got it in us? Only time will tell. Interestingly the bookies have us favourites to beat our visitors on Tuesday.

Oxford fans take over a corner of the Sandford Park Ale House

This entry was posted on Monday, November 27th, 2023 at 7:55 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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