Cheltenham Town: Rochdale game gives new boys food for thought
IT WOULD be fascinating to know what Paul Benson and Luke McCullough made of Cheltenham Town's second goalless draw in succession as Rochdale shut them out on Friday night.
Swindon Town striker Benson was sat in the main stand at the Abbey Business Stadium to watch a team chasing his signature, while McCullough was named on the bench having arrived from Manchester United earlier in the day.
Benson is weighing up a loan move to Cheltenham and is set to make his decision in the next 48 hours, with several other clubs also in the queue.
He would have left the ground feeling hugely confident that he could make a big difference to a team clearly lacking a cutting edge.
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The conditions made life very difficult for both teams, with strong winds and heavy rain pouring on to a pitch passed fit a few hours before kick-off thanks to the sterling efforts of head groundsman Terry Roberts and his assistant Matt Rainey.
But the recent adverse weather cannot hide what Mark Yates was quite willing to admit after the final whistle: Cheltenham are not performing like a team destined for promotion.
They have managed one goal in their last four League Two outings since the 4-0 drubbing of Wycombe Wanderers on Boxing Day.
Yates can take some comfort from the defensive improvement since his team's 4-1 defeat at Rochdale just before Christmas, but the lack of creativity is the main cause for concern.
With McCullough sure to be pushing for a start after a week's training with his new team-mates, the back four did very little wrong against some dangerous Rochdale attacking players.
Steve Elliott was faultless once again, coping well with the second-half introduction of Dele Adebola, a man mountain who caused so many problems at Spotland last month.
It was telling, however, that Cheltenham's best opportunity of the match fell to central defender Keith Lowe in the 67th minute.
He was denied a fifth goal of the season by Josh Lillis' excellent reaction save after a flick-on by substitute Darryl Duffy, but the goalkeeper was otherwise given a worryingly comfortable night.
The biggest challenge for Lillis and opposite number Scott Brown was clearing their lines against the swirling wind, but there were not enough balls into the box for Shaun Harrad to have a sight of goal.
Kaid Mohamed started up front for the second match in succession, but he is far more of a threat on the left wing.
He and Harrad failed to combine effectively, but they were not helped by some tentative play from further down the pitch, where belief does appear to be lacking.
Bobby Grant forced Brown into his only notable stop in the 17th minute, during what was a largely uneventful first half.
Cheltenham appealed for a penalty after half an hour when Phil Edwards appeared to handle a cross from Sido Jombati, but it would have been harsh on Rochdale.
They were well organised and disciplined back under the leadership of ex-Robins defender Keith Hill – the only man to take them to promotion in the last 40 years. It was Dale's first clean sheet since October.
Exactly a year ago today, Cheltenham moved top of the table with a 3-1 victory at Macclesfield Town and only a March malaise cost them automatic promotion.
They have stuttered earlier this season, but Yates will hope fresh faces can buck the trend teams under his guidance have developed of tailing off in the second half of the season.
Subdued Jermaine McGlashan must rediscover his early-season sparkle and more players must seize the initiative in the final third, with Marlon Pack's creative talents not seen enough this season.
Yates is close to making headway in the transfer market and with a clear week to prepare for Saturday's fixture against Torquay United, the home faithful will expect better.
CHELTENHAM TOWN: S Brown; S Jombati, K Lowe, S Elliott, B Jones; J McGlashan (J Taylor 78), R Penn, M Pack, S Deering (D Duffy 66); K Mohamed, S Harrad (J Goulding 85). Subs not used: C Roberts, A Bennett, L McCullough, J Hanks.
ROCHDALE: J Lillis; J Rafferty, R Bennett, P Edwards, K McIntyre; A Tutte, J Kennedy, A Grimes (A Haworth 89), P Cavanagh, B Grant; T Gornell (D Adebola 56). Subs not used: B Barry-Murphy, G Donnelly, M Pearson, N Byrne, B Smith.
REFEREE: R Lewis.
ATTENDANCE: 2,348 (124 away).
STAR MAN: Steve Elliott