First blood to Cheltenham in the race to secure automatic promotion then? Maybe, but not quite. Yes, that was a big loss last night, and a chance to send a message to promotion rivals, and yes there’s things (lots of things) we could have done better, but let’s not panic too much just yet. Realistically we’re not going to win every game left this season, and there will be defeats, not only for us but most likely for the other teams fighting for promotion too. The cold facts show that as a loss, and zero points on board, but we were far from outclassed by a physical Cheltenham team, and on another day could have had two or three goals. Them’s the breaks.
Let’s start by looking at what went wrong then. First and foremost you could see how much we miss Wes Hoolahan. Did he need to play 90 minutes in a comfortable win at Mansfield knowing this game was coming up? Wes knows his body better than anyone else, and we can’t expect him to play every Tuesday game, but you’d like to think he has enough in the tank to give us something in our biggest game of the season to date. We’re not going to dwell on this too much, as Wes has been pretty much our standout player of the season so far, and we’re greatful to have him.
Secondly, we’ve got to look at Bonner. It pains us to say it but the defeat falls on him really. By not making changes until far too late in the game it left us with too short a time to get at Cheltenham. This is something that’s cost us before, and it’s one of those things that Bonner is still learning, we shouldn’t forget he’s still a young manager with a tired squad to manage but his loyalty to certain players (Luke Hannant especially) has to be questioned when it’s obvious they’re not producing the goods. Hannant was a walking red card last night, and he looks fried and in need of a rest.
So were there any positives then? Surprising at it sounds, yes. Cheltenham weren’t much better than us and we went toe to toe with them, so we’re definitely not at the top only by virtue of the number of games we’ve played. We’re a decent team, and we deserve to be competing with the divisions best. We had chances, Jack Iredale finding himself in a position a more composed striker would have easily scored from, and Mullin and Knibbs all had good chances. We could have played until midnight and still not scored, it was simply one of those nights. Also, and perhaps the biggest bit of positive news from last night was the return of Hiram Boateng to the midfield. He offers a different dimension to our game than either O’Neil or May and it’s no surprise we showed more attacking intent after he came on. We’ve missed Boateng since his injury in December and with games coming thick and fast he’ll be an important addition to the midfield during the run-in.
So we’re not panicking. There’s 15 games left, and we probably need to win ten of those to get promoted automatically. It’s a big ask, but we know this team has resilience in the tank, and that Bonner (despite some naivety) knows what he’s doing and can get the best out of them. Keep the faith.
Man of the Match: Luke Hann… only joking. Kyle Knoyle didn’t have his best game of the season but still offered us an outlet out of defence that isn’t just hoofing it forward. With all the fuss around Wes and Mullin’s goals, Knoyle sometimes gets forgotten but he’s as important a part of this team as both of those two. Shout outs must also go to Greg Taylor and Jubril Okedina for keeping Sam Smith quiet.
Soundtrack of the Match: Basement Jaxx – Red Alert
United: Burton, Knoyle, Okedina, Taylor, Dunk, Hannant (Knibbs), May, O’Neil (Boateng), Iredale (Tracey), Mullin, Ironside