In June, I wrote how injuries can steer affairs in sport. For the last two years, you can count the serious injuries at Cheltenham Town FC on one hand. Barely 20 minutes into the new League 2 season, and the team’s main forward recruit over the summer scores his first goal, but in doing so dislocates his shoulder and leaves the field on a stretcher. It’s a bit like putting a dent in your new car driving it home from the dealer.
Thankfully, an x-ray showed no fracture to Jamie Cureton’s shoulder, which has now been put back into place, but his name is likely to be missing from the team sheet until mid September. When you’ve worked out and spent the budget, and done the hard graft of pre-season, it is the last thing a manager wants or can predict, especially when the squad contains only three specialist forwards.
The clear message was that Cureton and Terry Gornell were the preferred partnership at the front of the team. Cureton, the proven finisher over a long career, Gornell the more physical foil and the conduit with the midfield. Byron Harrison would be a different option from the bench and, on the opening day of the season against Burton Albion, Harrison scored within 12 minutes of coming on. Supporters will hope he can deputise for Cureton while he is sidelined, although sceptics will point to his track record at Cheltenham and mutter they are still to be convinced.
Harrison’s goal on Saturday was only his second for the club, ironically both against the same opposition. Having signed in the January transfer window, he scored only once in 944 minutes on the pitch last season, playing a full 90 minutes only twice.
A tall man, he has a languid gait. He never appears to sprint and doesn’t have that spring heeled jump that gives defenders problems in the air, a combination that often leads to criticism from fans who can forgive mistakes if they feel they can see players are at least giving every ounce of energy they have.
Now, in the wake of Cureton’s injury, Harrison has to handle the responsibility of replacing him, yet in a BBC Gloucestershire interview after Saturday’s match he openly admitted he struggles to bring what he calls his “A game” to a match situation.
Judging by the constant instruction from the dug out, it’s a matter of concentration, understanding and exectution. Harrison may find himself at a different level unless it is something he can sort out but at 26, there has to be a doubt it will be resolved completely.
What is without question is that footballers find a natural level based on their ability and aptitude. Some drag themselves up by their bootlaces and some waste natural talent, something that could not be levelled at Damien Spencer, who spent seven seasons at Cheltenham between 2002 and 2009.
Spencer became something of a cult figure across more than 250 games, almost half of them as a substitute. The simple often seemed difficult yet at times he was almost unplayable. In 2003 he scored a hat trick at Hull in nine minutes. The penny looked to have dropped that day, but in truth Spencer was as unpredictable when he left as when he signed, except when it came to effort. His big physical frame caused anxiety in the penalty area and he wouldn’t give opponents a minute’s peace.
Byron Harrison scored twice against Cheltenham while playing for Stevenage in February 2011. It was, on reputation, one of the poorest Cheltenham performances in the Football League, and Stevenage won 4-0. In his time as manager Mark Yates has shown he has an eye for a player. Harrison now has to show the fans and the manager that judgement was right.
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