Another week, another game, and this week it was another big one for Cheltenham. It is no mean feat to have an arch rival, but whenever the two biggest clubs meet from neighbouring towns, there is always going to be an extra amount of added pressure to produce a result. Even more so when one currently occupies the shared top spot, and the other is chasing hard to reach there.
Therefore its was another week where Cheltenham needed to carry on their strong form from their previous matches. Back on home turf always gives an extra boost to the teams confidence, even with a rather sticky, slow pitch at times. As we edge ever closer to the winter break, they were lucky to have great conditions for the game, though it may have been a tad bit chilly for some of their likings. Judging by the previous results for both teams it looked like it was going to be a very evenly matched game.
With so many weeks having passed already Cheltenham’s team stability had finally settled down, with many returning faces to the team this week, and very few changes. From the blow of the first whistle it was clear both teams were in fine form, both confident on the ball, passing it around players and using the space and width on the pitch very well. For the first 15 minutes or so there was very little to separate them. Compared with previous weeks, Cheltenham had settled down right from the whistle, managing to shake the mistakes that have occasionally crept into the game from the start of play when not fully concentrating. This enabled them to be focused in their defence when Gloucester took their own chances to attack. Though neither team managed to make a break through and score in this first period of the game, it enabled Cheltenham to judge the game, and work out how Gloucester played as a team. Both teams had a mix of youth as well as experienced players on their teams, all of which has a bounty of skills being utilised in the game. But it was Cheltenham to break the deadlock and make the most of another opportunity. Having won several short corners, and seeing most of them unfortunately breakdown and Gloucester clear their lines this time round that didn’t happen. Cheltenham have worked hard of the second phase and following up shots, and their hard work paid off, with a subline, tight-angled tomahawk shot after the first strike was saved.
Though Gloucester were now a goal down they were eager to draw level again, and their persistence paid off and they quickly rebounded and equaliser with their own very well worked goal. Their hard work to bring the scores level again showed that this was indeed a very even game, where which ever team was to triumph they would have to make the most of their opportunities. and convert there chances. Both teams continued to push hard to retain the lead of the game, but time and again both teams defences were there to breakdown any attack and turn over the ball. With half time quickly approaching it was Cheltenham who slowly looked to be dominating the game, pushing harder, working the ball round players more successfully. With this increased desire to re-take the lead it was wasn’t long before they were successful. A trade mark darting attack down the wing, their pace too much for Gloucester’s defence, Cheltenham coolly drew the keeper out of position before sending a quick pass across the face of goal to be slotted home into an empty goal. Now 2-1 to Cheltenham it wasn’t long before the half time whistle was blown, allowing Cheltenham to physically take the lead into the break, as well as mentally have the upper hand too.
Though a fine first half there were still things to be worked on, Cheltenham’s forward line needed to work hard and be the first line of defence, marking sure they were in between the ball and goal. The teams also needed to post up and meet the ball, have that urgency and need to get to the ball first and avoid interceptions. But most of all they needed to continue to stay focused and keep their formation.
The second half was much like the start of the first half, very evenly matched. As the time passed Gloucester were the team that were pushing hard for the next goal. They were pushing Cheltenham back trying to get them to lose their formation. At times it felt like they would succeed, but Cheltenham’s defence was the difference between the two teams this game. Whatever Gloucester threw at them they had an answer to. Comfortably blocking darting runs down the wings, confidently running Gloucester off the ball. Time and again they turned of the possession, and not only cleared their lines but enabled Cheltenham to counter attack. With Gloucester pushing so high and hard for an equaliser they left themselves susceptible to Cheltenham’s quick turn overs and pace of their forwards. Several times Cheltenham came close to extending their lead, from having only moments been deep in defence of their own goal, but Gloucester defence stood fast and kept the score line as it was at 2-1. These counter attacks seemed like the most likely way that Cheltenham would have the possibility of extending the lead. Eventually this was exactly what they did do, a quick clearance from deep in defence down the right wing, and within 4 passes Cheltenham were one on one with Gloucester’s keeper. Clearly their training drills have paid dividend as with no panic in sight Cheltenham forward calmly placed the ball straight between the keepers legs and on through to the goal.
Now comfortable with a 3-1 lead and a couple of goals cushion between themselves, Cheltenham’s priority was to protect their score, keep their concentration and not give away the ball from silly mistakes for the last few minutes of the game. For the most part they did this, under the pressure of Gloucester who would not give up. As always with Cheltenham’s second halfs, tiredness and loss of concentrations creeps into their game, but this week that was at a minimum and they fended off the valiant efforts of Gloucester. When the final whistle did come, there was no doubt that it was with slight relief, and much delight.
Again a strong performance, this time against a very strong team. Cheltenham will be proud that they have not only maintained their form but improved it. Training sessions and the drill they have done are clearly having the right impact on their game, as well as consistency in their team set up. A remarkable display by the defence was truly impressive, not only did they not let Gloucester get a foothold in the game, but they started off every attack which led to the goals. The teams fitness has improved as has their concentration, but there are still part of their game to work on. The forwards need to remember that they are the first line of defence and posting up is a vital part of the game which need sharpening. With a close league every team is going to want the ball and Cheltenham need to make sure that their desire is the strongest, to pick up any loose passes. At times too they need to make sure their is not such a wide gap between the defence, midfield and forwards, as when they loose formation they tend to make more mistakes and give their opposition a chance in the game. With only one more game before a long Christmas break the team will be working hard that it doesn’t impact their progression.