This week it was the last game before the Christmas break, and an early start for Cheltenham for it was a 10.30am push back over in Malvern. Needless to say it was a rather sleepy arrival as the team turned up to the pitch. Our opponents have the misfortune of sitting bottom of the table having struggled so far this season to recover from the loss of key play makers who it would seem have moved clubs.
Even with this knowledge Cheltenham were determined to keep playing like they have done on their current winning streak and not become complacent. Their first priority was to score and consolidate the game in the first half, then hopefully push for more goals in the second to help increase their goal difference.
With the other teams in the club having vital games to keep their survival chances going in their leagues, as well as several players being unavailable this week, it meant that the team travelled with slightly less players than they would have liked.
It also meant having to play a different formation with three at the back and a diamond in midfield. A formation that they last used on a disastrous away game in Hereford. But this was a different team, one infused with a strong confidence in themselves from there past several, important wins which have kept their promotion campaign heading in the right direction.
Warmed up and fully awake by the time the game started Cheltenham quickly went to work. Having lost the coin toss before the game they swiftly won back possession of the ball, pressurizing Colwall and pushing them back into their half. Within a these first few minutes Colwall couldn’t get possession back, Cheltenham once again comfortably settling down and passing the ball from player to player. Sure enough it wasn’t long before a short corner was won. Now Cheltenham hadn’t had too much success in recent times with short corners, the team having changed quiet a lot since they last had a proper practice session. As with most teams though the straight strike is usually a good first option as it will allow the team to gauge how quick the oppositions defense are to react and come out of goal. Thankfully a quick accurate push out enabled a quick strike and a quick goal to open up the scoring for this game.
A quick goal to take Cheltenham to 1-0 was exactly what they needed to settle down into their rhythm. Again they were able to maintain their passing game, sending the ball down the wings or switching sides, constantly probing for another goal. They managed to be awarded several more short corners, but just could bring the magic of the first one back and could not convert. It wasn’t until a darting run down the right wing, brought about a chance for a fast paced ball being sent into the D, which took the deftest of touches to completely deflect it past the keeper who had been drawn out of position.
Momentum solely in Cheltenhams favour, Colwall could do nothing but try and defend. Any chances to get the ball out of their own twenty-five struggled to make it to their own players. When it did, they still struggled to get it our of their own half and to their own forwards. Cheltenham started the game incredibly organised, quickly geting their forwards to set the first line of defense for free hits, and players working together to push Colwall players off the ball. And if Colwall ever made it past the half way, Cheltenhams defenders were ready and waiting to pounce and protect the D and goal.
As the first half drew on their was just no real chances to Colwall to have any impact on the game from their own making. As Cheltenham continued to push to extend their lead, at times it felt like the gold rush with their chance on goal. So many opportunities failing to produce results, either by poor finishes, or stellar saves from Colwalls keeper, who was by far the player seeing the most of the ball for their team. It was to be another short corner that would award another goal to Cheltenham. After several attempt and different options that were decided on the spot rather than rehearsed, one was finally poorly cleared away from the second phase, and a diving jab from the injector on the post got the ball those final few inches across the line just before Colwalls defense could clear again.
3-0 up for Cheltenham and only two thirds of the way through the first half, the intensity was starting to have an affect on both teams. For as much running around and defending that Colwall were having to do, Cheltenham had been working hard making runs of their own in their endless attack. The lack of fresh legs was begining to show as their forward struggled to all get themselves in the press, and the midfield struggled to mark the dangerous space and players. Cheltenham’s level dropped slightly, and at times needless put themselves under pressure for a team that in all honesty had not threat. On one such break, a needless clearance off the back line, rather than composure on the ball awarded Colwall a short corner, their best and only real opportunity of the first half. With only 3 in defense, Cheltenham dropped another player in to the defense line for the short. Cheltenham’s defense were more than capable to keep the sheet clean. though in their attempt to prevent a clean shot at target their number one player and key defender was injured having stopped the ball at close range with their body. Ouch indeed! Play was momentarily stopped as the injury was delt with and the player properly attended to. As forced substitution of Cheltenham’s only extra player, they were forced to once again defend a short corner. Emboldened by their strongest defender heroics though, Cheltenham rose to the challenge, once again stopping and shots at goal and clearing their lines.
Moments of panic seem to be an occasional visitor to Cheltenham’s game, always from their own making and always unnecessarily. thankfully they never seem to for a long period of time, and the team seem to manage to engage their concentration quickly and recover from these little blips in their game. As the half drew to a close, and people positions were tweaked to strength the midfield, Cheltenhams hard work once again paid of as Colwall struggle to adjust to the changes, extending their lead now to 4-0 with a superb strike across the D and inside the far post.
When the break at half time came, it was certainly a relief for Cheltenhams player to have some rest-bite and re-hydrate and talk through the positives of the game and improvements. Of course fitness and tiredness was going to be an even bigger factor with only one substitute, but the opposition were also tired, and Cheltenham just needed to keep pushing through the pain barrier. They certainly needed to try and place their shots at goal to the corners, have too often had strikes at goal directly at the keeper, and therefore being saved. More than anything they needed to try and maintain the unfamiliar formation and not get caught on a possible counter attack from pushing so high so much.
The second half started much like the first, and Cheltenham were once again quick on the attack. So much so that within a few minute they were one on one with the keeper. Having rounded the keeper to allow a shot into the waiting goal, the momentum of the run and paid the price, along with the use of the weaker reverse side. and what should have been a straight forward goal was sliced and agonizingly sent just wide of the post. You can look at this as ‘hey! We’re all human and make mistakes’ but, it felt like like set the tone on the game for a while. Cheltenham struggled to convert any chances they had on goal, not for lack of trying. but it was clear, Colwall were focused on damage limitation, trying to man mark key players, and defending like their lives were on the line.
It is so easy to cling on to the silly mistake, especially when it is your own and you know you can do so much better. But this Cheltenham team have such a postitve attitude to their game that any player who had a moment of madness or doubt in their skills can quickly rally themselves and refocus. Their was no better way of doing this, then rectifying said mistake. Despite Colwall’s valiant defensive efforts Cheltenham eventually found their way through again, now taking themselves to 5-0.
The game would only see one more goal as time ticked on. This certainly was for lack of trying, as cheltenham were constantly pushing for more goals. Be it by their darting runs down the wing, weighted balls into space or several more short corners that they won. But as the second half progressed, the level of hockey did eventually drop, tiredness as always a huge factor for this, but also the way that Colwall were playing. Like most teams when they are under constant pressure, eventually the whole team end up defending deeply, leading to overcrowding in the D. The game becomes scrappy, sticks end up swinging trying to get a shot away, or clear the ball away from goal. This last goal was certainly the scrappiest out of the six that Cheltenham would score. But it was a goal none the less, the last one they could get before time ran out taking the final score to 6-0.
Cheltenham have to take huge positives from this game. They maintained a formation that circumstances this week had forced upon them, with a depleted team due to player availability as well. But even with this adjustment they rose to the challenge, still being able to play their passing game. The showed how quickly they can recover from their mistakes when they have lost concentration and focus on the game. As the table now stands after all the teams having player one another in this league, they have dragged themselves from 6th to 3rd. Three points for the leaders, one goal in difference from 2nd and with three point clear air between themselves and the next competitor.
They truly have turned their season around after their early unfortunate losses, and must now hope that this good fortune, luck and sheer hard work will continue to pay off come the New Year when the league resumes for the second half of the season.