This match will have to be a turning point in City's
season because this afternoon was the point when the Tigers hit
rock bottom. This was about as bad as I can remember a Gloucester
City side playing. To a man the City side looked completely dejected,
lacking in any ideas on how to fight back against a strong but prosaic
Cheshunt side, lacking in the desire and passion to compete, without
any fight or spirit. City were undone by a very ordinary Cheshunt
side which still look like relegation probabilities, but sadly on
this showing they were not the only team on the pitch with need
to be concerned about who will be in the bottom four at the end
of April. How City have turned from a reasonable side that looked
capable of challenging for a play-off spot into becoming so flat
and deflated in the space of a few short weeks is one of those mysteries
that litter football. The fans will now just be praying the answers
are found before the damage is irreversible.
It all seemed so unlikely as the match kicked off.
Even with our recent run of form there was little about Cheshunt
to inspire awe and there were reasons for home supporters to be
confident. City boss Tim Harris had acted swiftly to plug the defensive
gaps that had been all too apparent the previous week and both new
arrivals seemed to fit the bill. With them in the side we hoped
to be far more solid, and with the talismanic Jimmy Cox returning
to the club and paired with Jason Welsh there was every reason to
believe we could see the budding of a long-term strike partnership.
Many of those hopes started to crumble in the opening few minutes.
City looked sluggish and with our players dwelling
far too long on the ball the first chance fell to Cheshunt's Chris
Sullivan, but the youngster on loan from Stevenage fluffed his shot
at the far post. However we'd already been caught out once and moments
later were behind. The new City defence kept their shape well enough
but everyone seemed reluctant to close down the player with the
ball. The result was disastrous as Darrell Cox laid the ball off
inside to Dean Fenton who had time and space to send a firm side
foot shot placed beyond Matt Bath's reach.
You could almost visibly see City's fragile confidence
ebbing away, and it took a while for the players to begin to get
going again. The first signs of what might be were visible when
Cox showed a good turn of pace to reach along ball and cushion a
header down to Jason Welsh who was only closed down and crowded
out as he reached the byline. It looked as if we were just starting
to regain some momentum when we were hit by a sucker blow. A dreadful
studs first two-footed challenge on Dave
Wilkinson just inside our half seemed to see the ref signaling
strangely for a Cheshunt free kick. Players seemed to freeze, apart
from Bobby Highton who strolled on towards goal and hammered a shot
low past Matt Bath. We seemed stunned: perhaps confused by the ref,
perhaps disbelieving that the original tackle hadn't warranted a
free kick, certainly embarrassed by the two goal deficit with only
just over a quarter of the match gone.
We tried to rally, but the initial fury of the City
response was literally flattened. Mike
Fowler jumped for a high ball with Cheshunt skipper Steve Obeng
who swung an elbow out that smacked flush into the Welsh wizard's
temple. With Fowler grounded both sets of players scuffled and pushed.
It was clear the ref had seen the elbow and given City the free
kick, so the T-End was incredulous when the Cheshunt man just got
yellow. If the officials had seen the foul it could only be a red
card, but too many at this level lack the bottle for making the
hard decisions. Despite a great deal of huffing and puffing we struggled
to create much, Reid getting closest to a glimpse of goal as he
reached a Wilko toe-poke only to be denied by a flying block tackle
by Ryan Bernard. It could have got worse at the other end as Fenton
was again given space to shoot wide from the edge of the box, and
then even worse as Matt Bath had a real comedy disaster. His throw
out flew into the ground and fortunately went all of five yards
across his penalty area before he was able to scramble after it
and gather it back into his arms.
You imagine the half-time team talk was all about
blood, thunder and getting back into the game. However there was
precious little of that. The second half was one of increasing frustration
giving way to despair. It's not as simple as to say that the City
players were guilty of a lack of effort, but there was little sign
of anyone rising to the challenge either. If they weren't showing
the extra level of fight required, neither were they able to summon
up any new ideas to get by a well drilled and competent Cheshunt
defence who were never required to show much else. Cheshunt would
have added to the score had it not been for some solid goalkeeping
from Matt Bath. Even after Thommo
had tackled Darrell Cox the Cheshunt forward was able to get back
up and reach the loose ball first, his run ending with a pull back
across goal and a firm low shot well held by Bath. Cheshunt also
went close with a 20 yard free kick that saw Matt Bath make a fine
diving save to keep out of the net.
City were having more of the ball but doing little
with it in attacking areas. A double substitution saw Sykes and
Webb both come on to try and create something, and Alex
Sykes in particular made more of an impression in the remaining
30 minutes than in the previous couple of months. Mustoe kept a
City corner alive and the ball was fed back infield to Sykes who
produced a fizzing dive that whistled just over the bar. His free
kick from 25 yards a little later was a little tame, but did beat
the wall and was the first time Martin Peat in the Cheshunt goal
had really had to warm his hands. Sykes was also showing a little
urgency and it was his first time cross into the box that enabled
Welsh to get into a scoring position for the first time. The big
forward seemed to have got ahead of his marker but his header was
just over the bar. City did create one more chance when aaron Wilson
shrugged off his cloak of anonymity and arrowed a low cross into
the box which Tustain poked just wide at the near post.
The late flurries did offer some hope, but it was
all too little too late. The harsh truth was that City had been
outplayed and outfought at home by one of the weakest teams in the
division. It could be another one of those cold, dark winters at
Meadow Park as the City supporters trooped out of the ground feeling
their side are teetering on the edge of crisis.
T-Ender Match Snaps
|Welsh gets forward on a rare City attack.
Tempers flare after
Obeng floors Fowler and Hicks tries to throttle Cox.
Tim Harris drafted
in his two defensive loan signings Shabir Khan and Ollie Barnes
for their debuts at the back, but Noakes' niggling thigh problem
kept him out of the team meaning Chris Thompson was again pressed
into service at centre-back with Jamie Reid at right-back. Webb
continued on the bench whilst the boss gambled on Jimmy Cox lasting
as long as he could with the returning striker starting alongside
Welsh up front.
"If I'd been stumping up money to pay for this lot I'd be
spending it on something more worthwhile like drink. Or a gun."
It would be harsh to
judge the two new signings on one game when they will need time
to settle and get to know their team mates. If a defence is a unit,
ours is unsettled. Reid tries hard at full-back, but not only do
we still look vulnerable there neither of our wide midfielders seem
to get back to offer defensive cover with any enthusiasm.
This was the first league
match this season in which City have failed to find the net. It
was the first time since September that Cheshunt have managed to
shut out the opposition.
Last week's heavy home defeat to Banbury did at least come with
two things to cling to. The first was that Banbury are a good
side who will probably finish in the top eight. The other was
that at least there were spells when City got into the game, played
well and looked like scoring. This defeat was against a poor side
that we failed to challenge, and for almost the entire game we
failed to put them under any pressure or seem to have any idea
how to get past their defence.
Looking through the side this City team should easily be good
enough to compete in this league. Individually we have good players,
but collectively that extra bit of chemistry that makes a team
flow and function together just isn't there. The side is obviously
very low in confidence, but when things aren't going your way
the only answer is to work even harder. Yet we were second to
most challenges, with only a few players even displaying the signs
of frustration and anger you'd expect in that situation. If we're
going to lose I'd hope for a little more pride and grit. Cheshunt
were a side we brushed aside 3-0 at a canter back in August, we
deserved to be beaten this time and can have no excuses. It's
hard to understand how the team have lost so much faith in themselves
and seem content to hang their heads, together they are far less
than the sum of their parts. I can't find an explanation, I just
hope that Tim Harris has some ideas to get that extra something
from his side before another Christmas period is overwhelmed with
the sense of crisis.
The return of Aussie forward David Seal from Yate helped fire
Mangotsfield United to the top of the table with his brace helping
them to a 2-1 win at Banbury United. They took advantage of results
going against the two promotion front runners, Bath City losing
2-1 at Twerton Park to improving Hitchin Town for whom former
Bedford striker Chris Dillon proved to be the match winner. Cup
heroes King's Lynn also lost ground at the top with a 3-1 defeat
at Clevedon Town who are also running into a rich vein of form.
They survived seeing keeper Danny Greaves sent off and conceding
a Notman penalty after just 9 minutes to come back to win 3-1
with a second half Jack Pitcher brace edging them ahead. Chippenham
have also started to put some results together and now lie third
with a 2-0 home win over struggling Wealdstone.
With City now slipping to 17th and only a point clear of the
drop zone it would be fair to say our main interest is now in
the wrong end of the table. An Aaron Blakemore brace clinched
a 2-0 home win for Yate against Cirencester, while Corby Town
remain bottom after a last gasp Chris Holloway goal gave Tiverton
a 2-1 win over the Steelmen at Ladysmead. However Northwood join
Cheshunt in making tracks amongst the bottom clubs, with an impressive
3-1 demolition of play-off hopefuls Rugby Town.