It’s not often that a childhood dream comes true. I don’t know many people who go on to be astronauts and no one I know has captained England to a World Cup Final win but this windy Tuesday I realised one of mine.
Covering a Cheltenham Town game live from the Whaddon Road press box isn’t something that many young boys dream of but for me, as I sit here, I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.
It’s a lot colder and smaller than I imagined it to be but what I’d call a press ‘run’ rather than box is the highlight of my brief journalistic career. Sandwiched between voices I used to listen to intently on the radio and fingers typing the words I hang on I felt strangely at home if a little anxious.
It turned out that my first experience of being a sports journalist would be more eventful than I could have imagined.
Cheltenham Town vs Southend United
An impressive performance from Cheltenham Town was cut short in the 66th minute after a floodlight fire led to the game being abandoned.
Despite the underwhelming conclusion, Yates’ men will take some positives out of a game where they consistently bossed the Shrimpers right up until lights out at Whaddon Road.
The wind was the outstanding performer of the first ten minutes with neither team managing to get a foot on the ball in testing conditions. The early indications however, were that Smikle and Goulding were going to have some joy in between the Shrimpers’ back four and their flat three-man midfield.
In the ninth minute, Martin Riley showed his talent with the ball at his feet striding out of defence to beat two players and hit a firm pass to Shroot. The young Birmingham loanee nutmegged an onrushing Southend defender but neither he nor Smikle could collect the ball after it emerged from between the embarrassed defender’s legs.
Southend continued to struggle with the conditions but the Robins seemed to relish their role attacking with the wind at their backs and the pressure began to tell after the initial sparring.
In the 14th minute Smikle turned provider when he flicked on Scott Brown’s kick to Goulding who found himself in the box, facing a backtracking Morris in the Southend goal. Goulding, with the confidence of two goals against Accrington on Saturday, tried to chip the goalkeeper on the volley first time but put too much on it and it sailed into the stands.
The breakthrough finally came in the 24th minute. Josh Low, deputizing at left back for the injured Andrew used his strength to outmuscle Soares and came away with the ball, playing a lovely ball over the top of the Southend right back. JJ Melligan latched onto the swirling ball and slammed a shot through the legs of Morris as he struggled to get back into position.
The Shrimpers did have a chance to equalize just before half time when a drilled cross was flicked on to Corr at the back post. Corr headed towards goal only to find a larger than life Scott Brown in his way pushing the ball away for a throw in on the far side.
The second half began in much the same vein as the first with the Robins playing into the wind with as much ease as they did playing with it.
A lovely jaunty run through the centre of the pitch by Robin Shroot gave the youngster enough space to find Goulding who was peeling away from his marker finding some space on the right hand side of the box. Goulding however, caught in two minds as to whether to cross or shoot, scuffed a side-footed effort across the goal which Morris watched harmlessly roll past his far post.
Louie Soares who earlier was shrugged off the ball by Low in the run up to the goal tried to redeem himself in the 52nd minute but his left footed shot was spooned high and wide to a soundtrack of groans from the travelling fans.
Cheltenham continued their domination but soon after Soares’ effort Scott Brown was called upon to pull off what can only be described as a wonder save. Brown reached to hook the ball off what looked like behind the line from a Sturrock header. His ability to come away from it without a dislocated shoulder was as magnificent as the save itself suggesting that maybe the spirit of Paul the Octopus is alive and well in the Robins’ shot stopper.
Marlon Pack continued to pull the strings in midfield playing majestic balls into the wind every chance he got and the 19-year-old from Pompey was staking a strong claim for man of the match.
Soares made a good run in the 64th minute turning Josh Low and looking inside but he could only watch as his curling left-footed shot was deflected out for a corner.
In the 66th minute one of the floodlights failed, plunging the stadium into an ambient glow. The game could have gone on but referee B.J. Malone deemed the conditions to be unplayable and abandoned the game.
According to sources within the club it was the Gloucestershire Fire Service who demanded that the game be called off but whoever it was, Mark Yates will have left the ground ruing what should have been another three points for the men in red and white.