A tale of two dodgy defences

I have to initially confess that a combination of circumstances over the last few years have meant that I haven’t been a regular attendee at City games home or away, and indeed haven’t seen my beloved Bantams in action at all since the season before last. Guilty as charged your honour – I’m a slacker and a slipped fan.

So first, a bit of preamble. My journey of residences in t’South (since migrating from t’North some 10.5 years ago) has taken me from Watford to Reading to Swindon and most recently to the delights of North Somerset, where I’ve been by the seaside for the last 1.5 years and think I’m finally settled.

When the fixture list was published in June, I was determined to look up my local fixtures, clear the appropriate weekends and get my best mate and his missus down here for at least one away day. With due consideration to the “grounds not visited list” and not being enthralled by the idea of Torquay away at the end of January (though I’ll be there), it came to pass that Cheltenham in August was favourite – the girls were to go on a shopping expedition and the boys were to dutifully support the mighty Bantams at Whaddon Road. Pre-season had me looking forward to the day, but after City’s inglorious start to the season, well… I’m sure you can forgive some trepidation when the day finally came around!

A lovely sunny West Country day was on the cards and we set off from Clevedon at around 1245hrs, doing the 50 miles up the M5 in reasonable time and arriving at Cheltenham town centre. The girls were dispatched to shop shop shop, whilst Jamie and I found directions to the ground and set off, with the aim of stopping off in a watering hole on the way. Within moments we’d come across “The Conservatory” where a pint of “Hooky Bitter” was definitely hooky, being like vinegar, and was replaced with a pint of John Smith’s Smooth without a problem (the barman even refunded the 30p difference). After this, we wandered further towards the ground and stumbled across the delightful “Sudeley Arms” – a bit quiet, but a lovely welcome and a cracking serving of “Black Sheep” bitter would see this as a recommended pub if any future visits to Cheltenham are required.

All too soon it was about time to head on up to the ground if we weren’t to miss kick off – with hindsight, we’re glad we didn’t! Whaddon Road, or rather, the Abbey Business Stadium (I hate these sponsored ground name changes) is a compact ground in the middle of a nice-ish residential area, not a bad place to walk through. Away end is covered, but costs £20 to get in and there’s nowhere to smoke at half-time – sheesh.

Took our seats in a sparsely-populated away end (official site confirms only 297 away followers – understandable given the start to the season and the distance involved), just as the teams were coming out. A quick look round saw that Stuart was making some changes – no room for Brandon (apparently ill), Boulding or Thorne in the starting 11.

We’re off and running on time, and before we’ve really settled back down into our seats, Evans collected the ball just inside the Cheltenham half and went off on a storming run to the byline before crossing into the box – the ball was only cleared as far as James O’Brien, who rifled in from the edge of the area. The second minute and City are 1-0 up after not managing to score in 4 games – brilliant.

Oh wait, within 2 minutes, Cheltenham were level – poor defending doesn’t pick up the man coming in at the far post, who’s a little lucky when he almost scuffed his shot and it looped over Eastwood and into the corner of the net.

3 minutes later and City were 2-1 up! Luke O’Brien played the ball through for Evans, who went on another storming run down the left, taking the ball forwards before cutting inside the defenders, making space for himself in front of goal and coolly slotting the ball into the left hand side of the goal. Joy, rapture, sheer brilliance…

….and within 5 more minutes, Cheltenham were level again – a disputed free kick (the referee gave us nothing through the whole game – yet Cheltenham only seemed to have to lose their footing and they got a free kick) about 30 yards out was played into the box and their guy got a free header that flew past Eastwood into the corner of the net. Woeful defending again.

Not long to wait for us to go ahead for the 3rd time though – on 20 minutes, a Luke O’Brien corner was nicely floated into the box and Hanson was rising to put away a glancing header. Lovely stuff, and I wondered where the City that couldn’t score was?

Question was, could we defend this lead for a bit longer? Answer was…..no!Well, we did alright up until 2 minutes before the break when more poor defending saw us not able to clear the ball properly, Cheltenham played the ball into the area and their guy scored with an overhead kick (his arrogant swaggering celebration towards the away end afterwards should’ve been classed as inciting the fans).

Well, at least we went into the break level…I got a text from a mate of mine saying “3-3 at half time, must be great to watch”….ummm, not really – our goals were well taken, but you never got the feeling that we could defend the lead. On the way up when I’d joked to Jamie that if we hadn’t gone, City’d score 5 – that was looking on the cards, but it was looking equally likely that we’d concede 5 too. I texted my mate back to say I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 5-5 at full time.

Anyway, half-time was pie-time, and trying to keep my mind off the nicotine monster growing inside, I wandered up to the tea bar thingy and paid £5.10 for a coffee, a bovril and a meat & taty pie. The pie wasn’t good – the pastry was too flakey and wasn’t really firm enough to restrain the contents when picking the pie up – the filling wasn’t exactly tasty either, some grey mush with potato-looking lumps in. It filled a hole, but then so would a bale of hay….

Time for the 2nd half to start and we wondered what joys this would bring. We didn’t have to wait long to see City take the lead for the 4th time – about 5 minutes actually – a long free kick from Ramsden to the left hand side of the area to Hanson to head across the area for Williams to power home a header from the edge of the 6 yard box. 4-3 to the City – come on!

21 minutes later, City extended the lead to 2 goals by virtue of an own goal – though not before Cheltenham had given us a scare and had a goal ruled out (didn’t see much wrong with it myself – Eastwood not communicating with Williams caused the problem).

We still looked like scoring again, but of course, the game wasn’t done giving us scares yet – in the 89th minute, in lovely sunshine, Cheltenham scored their 4th to give us some more minutes (3 added at the end of each half) of anxiety, ’til finally the referee ended the nervousness with his whistle. We were off back to the “Sudeley Arms” for more nice ale and a chat with the locals – good atmosphere, great people – pop in if we ever have to go back to Cheltenham!

Brief thoughts – Evans was an absolute star. Colbeck does good running the ball out from defence – he’s got some pace and some skill and seems to tie in nicely with Evans and Hanson. I quite liked the look of Flynn too. I have to say though that Eastwood doesn’t appear to have any command of his area, or be able to communicate with the defence

On balance, I think we deserved the win and more probably by a greater margin.

I notice the official website says that it was a “superbly entertaining affair” – perhaps it was if you were a neutral, not so much if you’re a faint-hearted or loose-bowelled City fan! Really a tale of 2 dodgy defences – but no matter, it’s still great to see City on the right side of a scoreline with a 5 on it – oh what fun it is to see City win away.