Another week another game, and another changing team. This is nothing that the ladies haven’t had to cope with already, but not an ideal way to be finishing the season and looking for consistency in games when every week you are surrounded by different players. But it is also a testament to the team that despite the changes in players those that to play always find a way to work well together, and it was hope that that would be the case this week too.
Another big rivalry game this week, Cheltenham vs Gloucester, it was a trip to the far side of Gloucester for this game, and this week with availability of players stretched for all the teams Cheltenham travelled with just the 12 players, the fewest they have ever had for a game. But without someone to run the bench this week it would hopefully mean that rotating substitutes could be a little simpler, and Cheltenham would hope that no one suffered any serious injury or tired too much.
Like the previous weeks game, Cheltenham started on the offensive, looking to dictate the game and have it player their way. The first half proved very frustrating, despite dominating so much possession, and being present in Gloucester’s 23 for the majority of the game, Cheltenham just couldn’t break through. It wasn’t that they didn’t have their chances, but they just couldn’t convert them, any short corner that they had was saved. There clearest chance at taking the lead was from some beautifully built up team play down the wing, but was then missed when all was needed was a tap in at the far post. This pretty much summed up the first half, so close but yet so far. As always there aggressive play in wanting to take the lead, left games and chances for a Gloucester breakaway attack. Though every time this happened the defence were more than ready to diffuse the threat, though it was clear both teams wanted the win. Despite all of Cheltenham’s possession and attack it was Gloucester that would take the lead, having won their only short corner shortly before half time, they managed to convert the second phase and take the lead into the half time.
It felt like de ja vu of the East Glos game, the fight had seemed to disappear from Cheltenham. The half time talk this week was hard, despite all the good play the score line did not reflect this. Neither did the play after going down 1-0. Now more than ever we needed to be chasing balls down, posting up, not giving up as it drifts away from us. In all honesty going into the second half it didn’t seem like people were willing to fight for the game, they seemed too quiet and relaxed rather that determine to change the game.
But maybe it was just our style, trying to not put the pressure on ourselves and let our performance do the talking. We certainly started the second half like we wanted the game, much like the first half before going a goal down. and within the first ten minutes of the second half we were level at 1-1. Again a well worked team goal, building the play, this time more patient with the final phase and rewarded with the goal.
Building on this momentum, Cheltenham again were pushing hard and attacking far more often than Gloucester, their efforts again rewarded with a short corner. Cheltenham needed to come up with something different, with the bouncy pitch they were struggling to control the push outs and have the success their routines usually brought them. On this short corner though Cheltenham still couldn’t finish, but a stop to the game was brought about. One of the Gloucester players running out had buckled at the knee and collapsed. It was clear this was a serious injury and therefore a prolonged break, whilst first aiders attended to the injured player. Sad to see what had happened, this was an opportunity for Cheltenham to regroup, though still early in the second half, there was still 25 minutes left once the game restarted. With a level score line both teams were in with a chance of winning, though Cheltenham could not afford another draw or worse a loss and dropped points. But the injury to Gloucester player was a benefit to Cheltenham, it meant Gloucester no longer had a spare player and without a substitute they would tire. They had also just lost the defender that had been giving Cheltenham’s attacked the hardest time.
With the second half getting under way again, it turned all of a sudden into an even game. Gloucester spurred on to get a result for their injured player, and Cheltenham caught a little on the back foot, not expecting quite so much of a resurgence. Because of this Cheltenham keeper was called into action several time, and though having spent much of the game as a spectator, they were on fine form today, making clearance after clearance, and keeping Cheltenham in the game. Honestly panic was seeming into the game slightly, time seriously ticking down. There was something to be said by these last 10 minutes of play, the fight seemed to surge through the team Cheltenham finally stepping up, but was it all little too late. Time and again the team got back behind the ball to turn over possession and attack again, defending with all the might that they could, trying to form an impenetrable barricade that Gloucester could not get through, and draw their team out of position for the counter attack. 10 minutes left… 5 minutes left…. 2 minutes left and still 1-1. Cheltenham need to calm down slightly and methodically build play, not an easy task with time running our and Gloucester thwarting all their previous attempts. It felt like there was 30 second left, Cheltenham pegged back to just inside their own half with a side line ball down the left wing. But sometimes things can change in a blink of an eye, a quickly taken ball, switching play to the opposite wing, and powerfully driven run, cutting inside, cutting off defenders opportunities to tackle, and a well struck shot, only to be saved, but only as far as a Cheltenham player on the far post… could this be that magical moment…. There is nothing sweeter than the sound the ball makes as it hits the back board of the goal, the jubilation of finally taking the lead, and the relief of the final whistle seconds after that ball thankfully crossed the goal line. Never before in my time at the club as a game literally be down to the last few seconds. The sheer joy of winning a game, that we should have seen off far earlier than the dying seconds, is certainly an adrenaline ride, though one I am quite happy to not to have to repeat this season.
So still on track with keeping pressure on fellow promotion battlers, as the other results of the league trickled in through out the afternoon, more celebrations were in order, The big rivals Newent having only drawn their game, Promotion would be going right down to the last weekends of the season. Though some seriously performances are needed on Cheltenham’s part, their next two games are against the two teams at the bottom of the table. Only time will tell what will have, but they it the smallest of light at the end of the tunnel and I intend to get the team to turn it into a golden light