Town’s impressive away form picked up momentum over the weekend as they comfortably beat top-of-the-table Forest Green Rovers with both Lewis Ward and Harry McKirdy rightly taking the plaudits.
When it was announced Jojo Wollacott would be missing our crucial away game at the New Lawn I wouldn’t have been the only Town fan to think our chances of a positive result diminished significantly.
But I’ve never been happier to be wrong, as our 24-year-old back-up keeper produced one of the best goalkeeping performances I had seen in a long time, and one of the most impressive league debuts since Peter Brezovan, when in the opening game of the 2006/07 season he saved two penalties away at Hartlepool.
Ward’s lack of game time never showed as a good understanding of his backline was clear to see as he produced 2-3 game-changing saves. Before this game you’d say Wollacott would easily walk back into the team when he returns from international duty, but after Saturday Ben Garner has a big decision to make.
Alongside Ward, McKirdy again showed why people shouldn’t doubt his talent as after his game-changing performance last week against Bristol Rovers, he proved why Town took a punt on him in the summer as he didn’t look out of place playing just behind and alongside Tyreece Simpson, as whenever he picked up the ball you had to sit up and take notice.
Last week I questioned whether he would become a first-team regular with consistency not being his strong point, but if he can keep up this sort of form and not let standards slip, he’ll become that key player he’s always wanted to be throughout his career.
Another player who shone in Gloucestershire and showed his importance to the side was Ben Gladwin, as after picking up the ball from Dion Conroy his driving forward run and cross saw Town take the lead.
Since re-signing in the summer his form has been patchy at best, and that could be excused due to lack of game time over the last few years, but now he’s made nine starts this season he’s slowly starting to find his feet and become the player we know he can be inside Garner’s side.
If his form continues to improve and he stays injury-free, picking him up on a free transfer could prove to be one of the best pieces of business done for a long time at Town.
Gladwin also flourished more in his role alongside Reed and Payne in midfield and not playing behind the striker, the 3-5-1-1 formation has now been used in three games in a row and picked up seven points from nine, I’d expect it to be used more often as the season gathers pace as it suits players such as Conroy, Reed Kesler Hayden, Payne, and McKirdy far more than the 4-2-3-1 which was used at the beginning of the season.
Tonight, Town faces Plymouth Argyle in the Papa John’s Trophy, which will give the manager a chance to watch fringe players in action and to stake a claim in his side as they did against Arsenal U21’s back in early September.
Hopefully, that will see young winger Mo Dabre given a chance to shine again as he did in the first game of the competition, with Ryan East, Ricky Aguiar, and Jayden Mitchell-Lawson likely to be starting against the in-form Pilgrims.
In the early stages of the Papa John’s Trophy, the competition is seen more like a nuisance as it’s far down any pecking order throughout a season, but if we can get a positive result tonight and take a big step forward to the next round it can become a real asset in a season.
It can galvanize a squad and would become helpful in keeping a winning mentality, I can’t stand the new format which includes Premier League B teams, but success in cup competitions is something that played a role in helping Paolo Di Canio’s side in 2012, as they went onto have a successful campaign and would also benefit this Town side, in the same way, a decade on.