David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Cheltenham Town’

Robins Revival

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

CTFC

With the half-way point of the season upon us, Cheltenham Town are positioned 12th in the SkyBet League 2 table after a campaign that can be best described as ‘mercurial’.

The Robins season is epitomised by their opening game, in which Burton Albion came back from 2-0 down to claim a share of the point against Mark Yates’ men – ability and potential within the squad is undeniable, but a lack of perseverance and consistency the key weaknesses.

A lack of stability particularly early on in the season has compounded this problem, with the departure of fans’ favourite Billy Jones just one of a number of controversial episodes engendering volatility both on and off the pitch.

After a difficult start to the season, alleviated only by a memorable Capital One Cup tie against West Ham United, the Robins quickly plummeted in the table, often proving to be the masters of their own downfall, with individual errors weekly occurrences. Confidence on the terraces soon decline, with the absence of veteran defender Steve Elliott and striker Jamie Cureton compounding our problems, as Yates’ men conceded 12 goals in four games between August and September, collecting just two points along the way.

As October came, the improvement in the form of midfielders Jason Taylor and loanee David Noble saw Cheltenham Town register more points, as Cureton marked his return from injury with his 250th goal defeating Dagenham and Redbridge. Yet again, however, such victories were cancelled out by more defensive errors, as the Robins were pegged back from winning decisions to be defeated by Rochdale and held to a point by Northampton Town.

Formation soon became the fiercely debated topic amongst supporters, as Mark Yates’ favoured midfield diamond proved inconsistent in effectiveness, leading some to infer a stagnation in his managerial style. Humiliation against non-league Tamworth in the F.A. Cup led to some calling for change at the top; however the defeat has ultimately been a turning point.

The November ruby revival was gradual, as Elliott returned to the starting XI to oversee successive clean sheets against Newport County and Bristol Rovers. This renewed defensive stability was to the detriment of the Robins’ attacking prowess, as both games ended goalless; however positive change was clearly in motion. The emergence of December saw draws turn into victory, as Yates’ men defeated Morecambe, Fleetwood and Exeter to enter the top half of the table for the first time and go 11 games unbeaten.

Despite not losing since mid-October, the Robins have suffered from the same problem evident on the very first day of the season; a lack of consistency. Only once this season have Yates’ men secured back-to-back victories, whilst supporters have only enjoyed three home wins all term. Fragility is also still evident, typified by defeat against a wily Mansfield side in the final game of 2013, and a 2-1 loss at Burton in the first of 2014.

Due to our troubled start, change seemed unavoidable in January; however few would have expected fans’ favourite Keith Lowe and captain Russell Penn to both be York City players by January. Although the two will be greatly missed, Mark Yates’ ability to now bring new blood into the club should help to eradicate the aforementioned stagnation.

The funds raised by the sale of these two players have already been put to good use, with the extension of David Noble’s loan from Rotherham until the end of the season bringing vital stability to the Robins squad, with the former Arsenal man ‘flavour of the month’ at Whaddon Road. Furthermore, exciting loanees Kemar Roofe and Michael Ihekwe (from West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively) add flair and new options to a side with plenty of potential.

This does not look to be the end of our transfer activity, with reports of former Leeds United man Ryan Hall believed to be close to a move to Gloucestershire generating plenty of excitement on supporter’s forums. Looking already to the summer, it would also seem imperative that we extend the contracts of coveted ‘keeper Scott Brown, Portuguese hit Sido Jombati, and effervescent winger Jermaine McGlashan, who will unquestionable attract interest from other clubs.

The foundations of a very strong squad are now firmly place, with confidence slowly coursing back into the veins of us Cheltenham Town supporters. In Scott Brown we have arguably the best ‘keeper in the division, one of the best gaol scorers in the country in Jamie Cureton, a defensive rock in Steve Elliott, and plenty of grit and determination thanks to the likes of Jason Taylor and David Noble.

The key now for Mark Yates is to harness the respective attributes of his players, decide on a best XI and the way they are going to play, before applying it. As supporters we need to keep the faith in the Robins, and as a club try and attract more locals to games.

In the last two seasons, Yates’ sides have experienced impressive form in the autumn, before tailing off somewhat in the New Year. This time, things could well happen the other way round. With the play-offs looking the most realistic means of promotion, the Robins are poised perfectly to climb the table, now just six points away from the top seven. It is paramount that Mark Yates uses available funds appropriately, with the addition of quality, especially going forward, likely to make the difference for the Robins.

The Robins have definitely undergone the revival, now we must go one step further, and as players, staff and supporters launch an offensive on SkyBet League Two. Our season is a marathon not a sprint, but at some point we are going to have to pull away from the pack.

In the words of popular author J.K. Rowling: “We are only as strong as we are united, and as weak as we are divided.”

Come on you Robins!

Written by Peter Fielding, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Peter tweets at @PeterJFielding

Robins Singing Out Of Tune

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

markyatesctfc

Two months ago I wrote in the most optimistic of tones, an article describing why this season would be the ‘third time lucky’ for the Cheltenham Town; with the Robins tipped for another SkyBet League 2 promotion challenge. Sadly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Currently 22nd in the division, having taken nine points from 10 games, things are clearly not going to plan for the Gloucestershire outfit, with the faint whispers of the ‘s’ word* on the terraces crescendoing week after week, with manager Mark Yates’ future unquestionably on the line.

So far this season, I haven’t missed a game, however recent viewing has been challenging; with the Robins having picked up only two League victories, compared to five last time around.

The 12 goals we had scored 10 games into last season is identical to the current campaign; however the big difference is our defending. 22 goals conceded compared 10 at this point last season has seen our usually confident, steadfast back four transformed into a shambolic wreck, with the Robins now the first team on everyone’s ‘Goals Galore’ coupon, as well as appearing almost habitually on the Saturday afternoon videprinter.

One of the big problems for Mark Yates’ squad has been an almost inescapable plague of injuries. Veteran striker Jamie Cureton spent a long time on the side-lines after suffering a shoulder injury in the opening game of the season, whilst new-signings Troy Brown, Craig Braham-Barrett and Terry Gornell, have all spent time in the physio’s room.

Keen to find a quick fix, a number of new faces have arrived at the Abbey Business Stadium since August. Former Stoke City academy manager Dave Kevan has joined Yates and assistant Neil Howarth, adding vital experiment and support to our relatively young management team.

On the pitch three loan moves have been made to bolster the squad. Club legend Steve Gillespie made a sensational return to his old stomping ground, scoring twice in a month, whilst the services of Rotherham United midfielder David Noble were procured on a six-month agreement to sure-up an incoherent midfield. Finally Bristol City defender James Wilson has just finished a forgettable month in the ruby shirt; however the most controversial piece of transfer activity was a departure.

Fans’ favourite Billy Jones was mercilessly released without even making a substitute appearance, evoking the theory that once Mark Yates doesn’t like a player, he is often frozen out of the club. The same, some might suggest, happened with striker Darryl Duffy, who is now scoring goals for fun in the Indian top flight.

As a result of the plethora of injuries and new arrivals, there is very little continuity on the pitch, with Mark Yates still seemingly unable to discover a team that can gel effectively. Despite having a group of talented players, there is often little-to-no collaborative coherence during League matches, with the conceding of unenforced goals, often early in the game, almost inevitable now. As a result, confidence amongst the squad has disappeared as quickly as we have dropped in the League.

As with any struggling side, the manager is often called into question, and for the first time in his four year stint at Whaddon Road, Mark Yates’ future is being questioned. Now the fourth longest serving manager in in country, some supporters feel that the 43-year-old has lost his original enthusiasm for the job, with disillusionment creeping into his management. Others feel that he has been is deliberately petulant as well as is making decisions that he can’t justify. Personally, I’m not yet this strongly inclined against Yates; however it is clear that something has changed. Most noticeably, the club’s usually close-knit group of players are not showing the same solidarity as a squad this season, something which needs to be addressed quickly.

Some think that Yates should be replaced before the situation is irrecoverable, whilst others counter-argue that due to the fantastic influence he has had on the club, taking us from the brink of dropping out of the Football League to promotion challengers two-seasons running, with cup ties against Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and West Ham United along way, he should be given time. Most importantly, with the help of the board he has financially stabilised the club, after Martin Allen’s reign of terror between 2008 and 2009.

In many ways, listening to Jeff Stelling comment on Cheltenham Town’s League 2 decline every week from the comfort of the sofa seems a much more attractive option than watching it person. A combined 1446 miles of travel away from home to see just one win, has certainly left even the most die-hard of us supporters frustrated – that’s a point for every 482 miles our loyal contingent have travelled this season! At home, we haven’t been much better, with our only League victory coming thanks to a 95th minute winner from 39-year-old Cureton.

First and foremost, I am and always will be a committed supporter of Cheltenham Town Football Club, and therefore want the best for the club. Therefore, if our dire start to the season continues, Chairman Paul Baker must consider, if not be compelled to act.

Despite the exemplary contribution he has made to the club, all good things must come to an end, and Mark Yates’ period in charge of the Robins will at some point come to a conclusion. The more rational amongst Robins supporters have argued that Yates should still be given time to turn things around; we have learnt the lesson in previous years that sacking a manager prematurely can be the wrong decision. I am in general agreement with this view, however the dilemma for Baker and the club board is how long to give him.

*I am of course referring to the word ‘sacking’ and not the obvious profanity. 

Written by Peter Fielding, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Peter tweets at @PeterJFielding

Third Time Lucky?

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

CTFC

As the Abbey Business Stadium wakes from its summer slumber, and supporters clad in ruby and white return to Whaddon Road to witness another season of SkyBet League Two football, there is a feeling that this might just be our year.

After successive seasons of League Two Play-Off heartbreak, first against Crewe Alexandra in 2012 and then Northampton Town in 2013, Robins’ manager Mark Yates will be looking the make it third time lucky and lead the club into League One; a feat he achieved as a player a decade earlier.

The first task for Yates was to clear the deadwood from the club, as supporters bade farewell to Darry Duffy, Bagasan Graham and Harry Hooman, who were confined to the bench throughout the 2012/13 season. Popular midfielder Marlon Pack looks set to sign for Bristol City, with the Robins set to net £75-100k in compensation, whilst winger Kaid Mohamed could not turn down Port Vale’s offer of League One football. Finally, former Premiership star Darren Carter was released after failing to live up to his reputation in the second half of the season.

Continuity has been a huge part of Cheltenham Town’s success over the last two seasons, so the retention of club captains Steve Elliott and Russell Penn was greeted with jubilation amongst supporters as the pair agreed new contracts with the Gloucestershire outfit. Along with arguably the best ‘keeper in the division, Scott Brown, the Robins have the framework of another very successful side.

Now the part that will hopefully convert success to promotion: the replacements! After falling short of promotion in 2013, due mainly to a lack of goals, the addition of a marquee striker with plenty of goalscoring experience was paramount. Enter Jamie Cureton. The 37-year-old poacher, who has scored 245 goals in 702 games across all four divisions of English football, was the second highest goal scorer in League Two last season, with Kevin Phillips the only current player in this country to have scored more. Despite being old enough to be some of his teammates’ fathers, the veteran striker looks to be an astute signing by Yates.

Along with Cureton, two more players join Mark Yates’ attacking department this summer. The first is former Tranmere, Accrington, Shrewsbury and Rochdale striker Terry Gornell, who has signed a two-year contract at the Abbey Business Stadium. The 23-year-old Liverpudlian has already made 173 career appearances and will thrive from playing alongside his experienced strike partner. The final attacking signing, Ashley Vincent, has rejoined the club he left in 2009, aiming for back-to-back promotions, after impressing at Port Vale last season. Despite the lure of League One football in Burslem, the exciting winger has decided to “come home” to Gloucestershire, due to family reasons.

Strikers only score if they are delivered the ball throughout the 90 minutes. This is where Matt Richards comes in. The wily midfielder has experienced promotion from League Two as captain of Shrewsbury Town, and completes a formidable trio of bald midfielders at Whaddon Road (Russell Penn and Jason Taylor are the other two). Having been ever-present for the Shrews in League One last season, Richards’ arrival is a real coup by Mark Yates, who has a knack of attracting quality players to the club with his ‘wheeler-dealing’.

An affluent Cheltenham Town youth setup has been reestablished, with the club starting to reap the benefits of developing young talent for the future. Second-year scholars Joe Hanks and Ed Williams have both signed first professional contracts at the Abbey Business Stadium, whilst auspicious winger Zack Kotwica has been handed squad number 19. Look out for the 17-year-old who has shone during pre-season and has a serious chance of breaking into the first-team squad. It won’t be long until bigger teams come calling…

A sturdy defence ensures and successful side, so it was to no surprise that Mark Yates moved quickly to bring in a central defender. Welcome to Cheltenham Town, Troy Brown; a powerful stopper from relegated Aldershot to compliment Steve Elliott at the back. Early signs have been promising, with the Welshman scoring two goals in six preseason matches and impressing with his commanding performances.

Yates, however, has gone a step further, unearthing what looks to be a hidden gem in Craig Braham-Barrett. Even the most knowledgable of Cheltenham supporter was left having to look-up the Macclesfield Town man on Wikipedia, after he signed a six-month loan deal, with the view of a permanent switch. Turning down a move to League One side Colchester United in favour of linking up with the Robins, ‘CBB’ has instantly become a hit, with his man of the match performance against Cardiff City showing just what an exciting prospect he is. Look out for the name, you won’t miss it!

The last arrival at Whaddon Road, only two days before the season commences, is Crystal Palace defender Ryan Inniss, who will add vital competition at the back. At 6’5″ and only 18-years-old, the England youth team player will intimidate even the most potent of striker.

With only days until the new SkyBet League Two season kicks off, a sense of cautious optimism is beginning to overcome the usual stoicism amongst supporters, as the Robins look set to challenge at the summit of the table yet again.

The key for Mark Yates is now to decide on a ‘best XI’, capable of finding the consistency and form that the Robins so painfully lacked last season. In doing this, Yates will also have to effectively man manage his players, ensuring that team morale remains at optimum level and fringe players do not become disheartened.

Early indications have been promising, with harmony amongst the team camp evident both on and off the pitch. Having learnt lessons from previous seasons, Mark Yates has, without spending a penny on a transfer fee, signed a group of hardworking, conscientious players who want to win and lose as a team. This skill of attracting the right personnel to the club makes Cheltenham Town a formidable opponent for any League Two side next season, signalling an exciting eight months to come.

Whether you still see us as ‘little old Cheltenham’  or now accept us as something much more, the staff, players, and most importantly us loyal supporters of the Robins are going to give it everything we’ve got.

The future’s bright, the future’s ruby and white.

Written by Peter Fielding, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Peter tweets at @PeterJFielding

Consistently Inconsistent – Part II

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Forgive the name of the title as it is a carbon copy of one of last seasons entries. Unfortunately the same still applies and although most would bite your hand off for a 4th placed position at this stage of the season the feeling amongst many fans is that we’ve had, and missed plenty of opportunities to be positioned alongside Port Vale and Gillingham rather than fighting for 3rd with everyone else!

Don’t get me wrong I’m very pleased we didn’t get caught up in the classic post play off hangover (see Torquay) however, despite many impressive January signings it seems we continue to threaten to be THAT team that makes the early break for 3rd, only to be brought back down to earth. Let me put forward my case in argument!

The last week proves my usage of this title, for the second season running. Last weekend, and a trip to a happy hunting ground of ours at Dagenham & Redbridge. Cheltenham had never condeded a goal at Dagenham before let alone lost and after a 5-0 thumping of the beleaguered Daggers in this fixture last season hopes were high we could put the pressure on the chasing pack. Not so. An almost inept performance, despite a very impressive looking 18 lacked any on the ball quality and the fight and grit that looked there on paper. The game was decided by a well taken Luke Howell winner. In truth if a second goal were to come it would’ve been for the home side. The only positive from this game was that it taught us Marlon Pack IS a must in the XI if we want to achieve the smooth, sleek style of football we witnessed last season. His “will he wont he” move to Swindon is still to this day up in the air but his professionalism since this has to be commended.

3 days later and we made the almost identical, slightly longer journey east to Southend (a not so happy hunting ground going by last seasons 4-0 capitulation). Morale was low and fans for the first time this season seemed in agreement that any point here would be good, as much as surprising so in typical Cheltenham fashion we stole all 3, deservedly. Marlon Pack once again showed maturity beyond his years and reminded the critics of his importance in the squad with a man of the match display and a goal to boot, a cooly taken penalty. Paul Benson, on game 3 of his loan spell broke his duck with a poachers finish and Cheltenham against the odds were back in the top 3 mix and with Aldershot coming to town at the weekend it was once again a chance to put pressure on our rivals.

Once again, the Ruby Army failed to make it count going a goal down to a team devoid of any sort of quality or confidence going by their recent run. Thankfully Cheltenham managed to nab a point with another Paul Benson goal but despite Antony Tonkin’s late red card Cheltenham couldn’t snatch all 3 and once again the fickle nature of football fans showed again. Within a week we’ve gone from expecting a top 7 tussle, to thinking we could sneak top 3, to now looking behind our shoulders again and we know exactly how that feels after last seasons mayhem in March.

If we continue with this sort of form until the end of the season then a top 7 place should be claimed but with the tight nature of this league a couple of defeats could see you chasing the pack and likewise a couple of wins could see you in the top 3 chasing Port Vale and Gillingham who themselves continue to grind out results despite suffering their own mini blips here and there.

Next up another struggler lie in wake with a trip up north to Accrington Stanley who will probably give us a similar game to Aldershot, nothing of beauty, but he who wants it more will claim the points. Let’s hope Mark Yates can find that winning formula as he has a very different squad at his disposal than that of the opening day of the season thanks to the most hectic January transfer window in living memory as a Cheltenham fan!

Written by Maxi Hobbs, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Maxi tweets at @maxihobbs

Too many symmetries

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Deja-vu, something that seems to be striking Cheltenham fans more than most this season. This time last year Cheltenham Town lie in the top 7, pressing the top 3 and with a plum FA Cup tie to look forward to against Premiership opposition after the festive period. This season, bar the fact we are now actually in the top 3 we lie in exactly the same position!

Hereford Untied were/are the ultimate definition of a bogey side. No home win vs the Bulls since 1969 and no win against them since 1999 illustrates this so when we drew them in the FA Cup you couldn’t blame fans for thinking “here we go again” – add then to the fact Everton were drawn out the hat before a ball had been kicked, the prize was just too big to miss out on. Everytime we play them we claim it’s our best chance yet, and everytie they somehow raise their game whilst we seem to lose ours.

After drawing the first game at Whaddon Road that same sinking feeling struck again after Hereford pulled level despite Shaun Harrad’s clever 16th minute flicked opener. Had we blown our chance at home? Not quite, as a memorable 2-1 extra time victory at Edgar Street made everything oh so worth it, a night that will go down in the memory for the thousand or so travelling army whether that be for simply just seeing us actually beat Hereford or for the £250k prize and Everton that await in January, when the ESPN cameras come to town once again.

In terms of league matters only a rampant Gillingham and a Tom Pope inspired Port Vale lead the Robins. What is more pleasing is that most fans believe the side has barely hit top form yet. Take Marlon Pack for example, one of the top 2 central midfielders in League Two last season according to the Team of the Year, yet this season the cultured midfielder looks a shadow of his self last season. Whether that be due to arrival of a similarly styled Darren Carter or the loss of the combative, non stop Luke Summerfield is something we can only speculate. Although moments of genius have still transpired the general feeling is he hasn’t come anywhere near to hitting last seasons quite brilliant heights.

Many felt the wheels were starting to fall off after two heavy away defeats in a row, first a 4-2 reverse at Rotherham that saw the defense go AWOL after 4 consecutive clean sheets beforehand, and then an even more woeful 4-1 defeat at Chesterfield – easily the Robins poorest display of the season so far. The 1-0 home win that followed at home to then bottom of the table Barnet did little to boost confidence. It took a stroke of genius on 80 minutes from Jeff Goulding to win it and Barnet were oh so unlucky not to claim a point or more having missed a penalty and hit the post.

Thanks to consecutive away wins at Northampton and now Hereford in the Cup morale has been raised hugely once again and we head into this weekends top of the table clash with Port Vale hoping to emulate a similar game last season when we welcomed Southend to town at the start of December – two teams flying high at the time. Cheltenham ran out emphatic 3-0 winners and the league sat up and took notice of Cheltenham Town. A performance on a similar scale this weekend could well spark a similar reaction, let’s just hope all eyes are not on January 7th when the Toffees of Everton come to town!

Written by Maxi Hobbs, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Maxi tweets at @maxihobbs

Consistently inconsistent

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Cheltenham Town’s early season report very much bares many similarities to that of this time last season, if the next few months follow this pattern then we are about to embark on a quite brilliant unbeaten run, here’s hoping! After nine games including a Capital One Cup opener, there have been displays of class, encouragement and frustration ranging from a comfortable home win against Dagenham to a team that wilted at home to a 3-1 defeat against Southend.

The 2012-13 season began with an unfamiliar pre-season feel as MK Dons visited in the Capital One Cup, a tough draw by all accounts but the Robins matched their opponents, showing a thoroughly improved performance to the 4-1 defeat in the same fixture last season and Kaid Mohamed’s deflected 30 yarder forced a penalty shoot-out which saw eight brilliantly dispatched penalties only to see the one miss from Daryll Duffy who, perhaps predictably went to the goalkeeper’s right (a favourite of Duffy’s seemingly). The keeper did his homework and Town were out, but went home encouraged for the season’s opener having seen a number of new signings bed in.

Dagenham were defeated with relative ease at Whaddon Road with Jermaine McGlashan picking up exactly where he left off last season. His 25 yard thunderbolt added to a debut goal for Shaun Harrad to give the Robins a routine opening day victory and ready to take midweek a trip to Plainmoor and Torquay just a few months after that infamous play off night. The game itself was a thoroughly entertaining one with the impressive Shaun Harrad heading home the opener from a corner.

A mad couple of minutes at the back however, saw Torquay take the lead with two headed goals from Aaron Downes and Rene Howe. The Robins clearly missing the organisational presence of their captain centre back Alan Bennett. Cheltenham to their credit fought long and hard and got exactly what they deserved with ten minutes left through former Gull Chris Zebroski who fired home a late leveller.

Aldershot hosted a rain drenched encounter the following weekend and once again Shaun Harrad was the match-winner. In a game of little quality it took one moment of strikers instinct to steal three points on the road. Cheltenham, just like last season proving their effectiveness away from home but before early season hopes could rise further Accrington Stanley very much took us down a peg at Whaddon Road with a 3-0 humbling – a near perfect away performance, coupled with a poor defensive display from the Robins.

Two defensive errors from the talented youngster Harry Hooman allied cries for the return of the injured Alan Bennett, a tad harsh on young Harry who will no doubt be key in the coming seasons. Wycombe was the venue for Cheltenham’s next encounter and once again they showed class and suave on the road with a dominant display. Marlon Pack and next signing Darren Carter pulled the strings in midfield and but for some profligate finishing Cheltenham could’ve won this by a large margin. As it were it took a Harrad penalty to take home a point after a terrible own goal after just two minutes from Keith Lowe. Certainly thought the signs were encouraging and once again Cheltenham returned to Whaddon Road with tails up.

However, optimism turned to pessimism once more with another poor home display despite a decent 44 minutes. Cheltenham took an early and deserved lead through Jermaine McGlashan once again but once Sean Clohessy levelled on the 44 mark after more calamitous defending, there was only going to be one winner, Southend eventually prevailing 3-1 and once again high hopes were deflated within 90 minutes!

That wrong was quickly put right with a 2-1 home victory over Oxford just three days later, a welcome midweek game after the previous display and two beautifully struck goals from Darren Carter and Shaun Harrad were enough to steal the points despite a late Peter Leven penalty. The Robins maintained their unbeaten run on the road with a drab 0-0 draw at York, our longest trip of the season. A point on the road however is a point gained in my view and we sit well placed in 11th and ready for another play-off assault, so we hope!

Summer acquisitions have, by and large, been impressive. Shaun Harrad and Darren Carter are clearly going to be key cogs in the season ahead and Billy Jones, for his early critics has been steady. The jury is still very much out on Chris Zebroski,who may well find the season hard going if Shaun Harrad continues his goalscoring form, but Sammy Deering has proved a bright spark linking the midfield and the strike-force effectively on numerous occasions already this season.

With the league table still finding it’s shape Robins fan can be fairly satisfied if not pleased with many factors of the season so far. We are proving hard to beat on the road, as our unbeaten record shows. If we can just try and aim for more consistency at home and bring the fans through the doors there’s no reason to believe why we can’t match or even better last season’s efforts.

So the question lies, can we now embark on that long unbeaten run…

Written by Maxi Hobbs, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Maxi tweets at @maxihobbs

Expectation Rises

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

It barely feels like a matter of days since the season 2011-2012 season ended for Cheltenham Town. Granted we had a three week extension to the majority in the Football League but with two sporting spectacles such as Euro 2012 and the London Olympics (both of which I managed to attend) the summer has flown by and MK Dons await this coming Saturday in the Capital One Cup, an unusual way to start the season admittedly.

After a pre season of mixed results the squad is almost in shape and ready for another challenge but this season poses far greater hurdles than last. Rewind 12 months to my pre season hopes and fears on the terraces with Cheltenham. Little was expected of the Rubies, written off as 11/4 favourites to go down on day 1 and everyone bar ourselves were expecting Cheltenham to feature at the wrong end – how we proved them wrong.

Mark Yates produced nothing short of a miracle to lead Cheltenham to the top of the League Two table as late as the start of February and although we couldn’t hold onto this lead we still managed a top 7 finish, which in retrospect was a remarkable achievement. Sadly the fairytale didn’t end happily with Manchester United new boy Nick Powell signing off in dream fashion for Crewe Alexandra scoring a ‘worldie’ on the way to a deserved 2-0 win against ourselves – we left Wembley deflated but with heads held high and renewed optimism coming into the new season.

However, the dangers of expectation are what face the players and management this season. Last season Mark Yates couldn’t lose in reality – struggle, and nobody really bats an eyelid, succeed and everyone sits up and takes note. This season however, fans are expecting success. Anything less than a top 7 finish will be deemed a failure by most, this despite the strong nature of the league – a league in which probably two thirds of the teams can lay forth a sound promotion claim. Players such as Marlon Pack, Sido Jombati and Scott Brown are now expected to perform week in, week out. Can they handle that pressure that wasn’t present last season? Time will tell.

Summer recruitment has been sound in most fans eyes. Our policy of seemingly signing players who play well against us or in need of a resurrection in their career has continued. Sam Deering and Chris Zebroski join us having produced man of the match displays against us on numerous occasions last season ala Jermaine McGlashan of whom we signed in January. Shaun Harrad joins the fray up front in a move that has delighted fans and Billy Jones, a left back from Exeter, probably which fans know least about. A central midfielder and a young second choice goalkeeper are the final pieces of the puzzle according to Yates leaving us with a squad of 21 and strong competition in most areas of the pitch.

Ultimately the question on every Chelties lips is can we match or even better last seasons achievements? It’s one that has certainly split viewpoints in the camp and at this stage no answer is a right or wrong one. Personally I believe a season of similarity may well be on the cards, maybe without the magnificent cup exploits at White Hart Lane. A top 7 finish for me would still represent a fantastic achievement considering the financial strength of Fleetwood and Rotherham, teams willing to prove a point such as Bradford, Northampton and Bristol Rovers and last seasons near misses including Torquay, Oxford, Gillingham coupled with ourselves and many other pretenders. Whatever happens, we go into Day 1 in fine shape with competition fierce, quality in abundance and ready to silence the doubters once more when Dagenham come to town on the opening day. Bring it on.

Written by Maxi Hobbs, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Maxi tweets at @maxihobbs

Can someone remind us how to celebrate?

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

No really, we’ve forgotten. It’s been over 8 hours and since March 3rd since we last had that celebratory feeling when Daryll Duffy gave us the lead at Morecambe so very long ago. Ever since then Cheltenham Town have hit a torrid run of form, and the fears are it’s here to stay.

Looking back, my blog posts have been nothing short of optimism and delight, for supporting the Rubies this seaosn has been a fantastic experience, up until March anyway. Mark Yates has done an incredible job in constantly defying the bookies, winning games “we shouldn’t be winning” and topping the league. The majority of the season we’ve led comfortably in the top 3 or at least the play-offs. So where has it all gone wrong?

The fixture calendar dealt us a huge test with the month of March and from as far away as December us fans had pin pointed it as the month that will define whether we are good enough to go up or not, sadly it seems the latter occurs. Just a solitary point was gained in the whole month and coupled with a run of simply no luck, profligate finishing and some dire quality has led to all our promotion rivals gaining the upper had on ourselves. From being 6 points into the top 3 and 15 points into the play offs at one stage we now lie just 3 points ahead of Crewe (what should’ve been 1 if it wasn’t for some last gasp goalkeeping heroics from a debutant Northampton Goalkeeper, thanks for that!)

Daryll Duffy’s goal gave us a deserved lead at Morecambe back on March 3rd but having let slip a sloppy equaliser to Kevin Ellison there only looked like being one winner. Morecambe attacked with vigour and purpose and thoroughly deserved their win. No worries, we only had Swindon at the County Ground lying next. What was ironically one of the finer displays of March still yielded no points or goals. Duffy, the lone striker once again, was guilty of missing 4 guilt edged chances including a penalty which Wes Foderingham saved impressively. Paul Benson, however, had 2 chances all game. He scored one and forced Butland into a fine save for the other, there was the difference. An impressive display desperately unlucky to gain nothing but at this stage of the season it’s a results based business.

Gillingham at home looked like it couldn’t come at a better time. A team who had so many injuries and suspensions they could field a whole team of them, and have one left over. It was a great chance to react and show the home faithful the blip was a minor one. Oh how it went oh so wrong. Yates confirmed the thoughts on the terraces post match: “that was the worst performance of the season by a country mile”. It was dire and we lacked heart, passion, fight and most importantly we were devoid of any quality. Enough said!

Things were looking up though, we only had Shrewsbury away 3 days later – hopefully you detected the sarcasm there. The Shrews had just passed the milestone of going a year unbeaten at home and considering some of the positions they’d gotten themselves out of that was even more impressive. Crawley and Oxford in particular will look back and wonder how they didn’t win at the Greenhous Meadow. The cries from the 400 travelling army from Cheltenham was to just keep it tight and give ourselves every chance. You could understand our joy that we were breached after just 43 seconds by Nicky Wroe! More sarcasm by the way. Despite another display that showed signs of quality the tactic of 1 up front was fast fading from a stroke of early season genius to an over used tactic that every manager in the league had figured out. Changes were needed and the lack of chances created that day proved that.

Cue two loan signings just 48 hours later, both strikers, both from League 1 clubs. Ben Burgess and Steve MaClean came to Cheltenham with pedigree from higher divisions and their differing qualities gave Cheltenham fans cause to be optimistic. The return to 4-4-2 for the visit of play-off and local rivals Oxford pleased the home faithful further. The game itself once again proved fruitless but a display that showed far more heart, quality and endeavour than the previous home one left Mark Yates and the fans wondering quite how Cheltenham didn’t not only win, but win by a comfortable margin, even Chris Wilder admitted so. So we’d turned a corner then, the goal was around the corner? Wrong again!

A month of crazy twists and turns led to Cheltenhams heaviest defeat of the season. The Rubies outplayed Southend at home in early December and with yet virtually the same team this encounter could not have been anymore different. Granted Sido Jombati’s early red card didn’t help proceedings but this was a game Southend only ever looked like winning, and winning at a canter.

Freddy Eastwood’s homecoming after 5 years was a delightful one for the Essex club, he along with 3 others gave the Seaside club the easiest win they could imagine and the 160 travellers leaving for the long cross country journey home wondering what an earth they’d just witnessed. Jack Butland had a game he’ll never forget conceding 3 goals normally he’d save with consumate ease. The team hid away after Sido’s red card Yates claimed, he was right.

It leaves Cheltenham in a position still in their own hands but with ourselves and Crewe both going opposite directions many Ruby fans believe we’ve already blown it. A small squad seems burnt out, struggling for ideas and having the same sinking anti-climactic last season.

Barnet at home lie in store next in what simply must be a Good Friday for Cheltenham. One things for sure, we don’t care how we do it, we just want a goal to celebrate.

Written by Maxi Hobbs, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Maxi tweets at @maxihobbs

What defines a successful season?

Monday, March 19th, 2012

So what exactly defines a successful season? That is the current question that has enraged debate between Cheltenham Town fans after a run of games which has seen the club pick up just 1 point from a potential 12 and, since the Tottenham FA Cup game, win just 4 in 13 games.

Rewind back to August and Cheltenham Town were relegation favourites with the usual suspects, Macclesfield, Hereford, Barnet and the like. Therefore in that sense, what a season we’re having. Take away the recent dreadful run and we’ve been living the dream in reality. On the flip side the other fan rightly states that the club has led the league at points this season, been in the top 3 for the majority of the season and been as far as 15 points into the play-offs at any one time, so it is therefore unacceptable if the club now fails to finish inside the top 7. A very realistic possibility at present.

I spoke earlier in the season about the C word, consistency. At present we have that in abundance, but sadly with games going against us. A certain section of fans have been very quick to turn on Mark Yates. Shouts from the terraces on Saturday (a dire 3-0 defeat to Gillingham) led to Yates being branded “a bottler”, “someone who can only last half a season” and someone with “no plan B”. These fans seem to forget very quickly the achievements we have made and the progress we have made. However, they have every right to shout don’t they as the performance was unacceptable, the tactics were wrong and we were dire beyond belief? All these questions are swirling around the heads of Cheltenham fans and with there being no right or wrong answer fans are having to agree to disagree as we continue through the typical rollercoaster that is Cheltenham Town FC.

Ruby fans all knew, and feared the month of March, for the fixture computer dealt us a heavy blow playing teams all with ambitions of League One football next season. We did ourselves proud at Swindon, just forgetting to hit the net. We were utterly humiliated and embarrassed at home to Gillingham, our worst display of the season by a country mile. Shrewsbury, Oxford and Southend lie ahead next in a run of games that will surely define our season.

Clubs usually wish for steady progression. If you stick to this, the only way is up surely? However, our progression this season has been rapid beyond belief to the extent that even the most positive Cheltenham fan has been pinching themselves this season. Did we peak too early or is this a blip that will be ovecome with 9 games still to play?. We got to a stage where we’ve simply been awaiting this bad run and now it’s here fans seem to be unable to accept it. Players don’t become bad overnight. Remember the old adage “form is temporary, class is permanent”.

There inlies the question, what exactly does make a successful season for us Rubies? It seems every single fan has a different opinion on this matter. Some would still be more than content with a top half finish, others deem that utterly unacceptable stating our season has been so good, why should it be thrown away due to a second half season collapse (something we’re more than familar with here). Maybe the best answer lies in the hands of the neutrals… so what do you think?

Written by Maxi Hobbs, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Maxi tweets at @maxihobbs

 

The Ruby Wagon marches on

Monday, January 30th, 2012

What a season this is turning out to be. For the Ruby Cheltonians the 125th anniversary season couldn’t have gone better thus far at least. Another eventful, yet ultimately successful month ends with Cheltenham Town now TOP of League Two for the first time in 12 years. Couple that with a day out to remember at Tottenham Hotspur and months don’t get much more eventful than this one.

There had been whispers of the wheels coming off however. Performances had dropped slightly, yet our ability to still grind out results in the majority of those matches points to a sign of champions right? The performances against Port Vale, Aldershot and Bristol Rovers were far from the swift, stylish best that Cheltenham have to offer but the return of 6 points was a healthy one considering.

2012 began with a trip to Port Vale who Cheltenham brushed aside at Whaddon Road back in Autumn. This was a different test though and the Valiants, for the first half in particular gave Cheltenham as good as they had and were perhaps unlucky not to have scored through the ever present Marc Richards. However, Cheltenham made their quality show and were rewarded when captain Alan Bennett stooped to head home from Marlon Pack’s free kick. Junior Smikle sealed the deal late on with a neat chip and despite Port Vale’s resilience to pull one back the defence, once again never surrendered, and the Rubies started the year as they ended the previous. Winning.

Then came the special day out, and what a day. Every one of the 5,500 Ruby fans had their own special story to tell. Mine beginning on the 8.59 to Paddington, through Liverpool Street and onwards to White (sorry Ruby) Hart Lane for kick-off, already more than half cut! The game unfortunately didn’t show the magic of the cup with Tottenham in truth coasting to an easy 3-0 win. However, we did ourselves proud and the celebrations of the day out continued long into the night leaving thousands of heavy heads the following Sunday. It has been confirmed since that the Spurs game alone had funded our new signing (Jermaine McGlashan) who has already shown real promise on the wings. Baker and Yates have claimed there is more to come with a potential return for young starlet Jack Butland and maybe more. Thanks for the memories Tottenham, it was quite a day and the funds now allow a solid financial foundation to be built. It’s why we love the cup.

Bouncebackability was therefore the order of the day when Aldershot came to town and funnily enough McGlashan turned in a man of the match display for the away side but their inability to find the back of the net was shown up big time here. Neat build up play but fruitless in the final third meant we eventually picked the Shots off despite not finding our feet at all for the majority of the game. Luke Summerfield’s blockbuster gave the Rubies a lead they barely deserved and we had to wait until stoppage time for the ever present enigma Mohamed to finish off a lethal counter attack emphatically to seal another win. Little did we know the opposition’s best player would later sign for the Rubies later that week! Funny old game.

New manager syndrome was the buzz word in town the following week with Bristol Rovers appointing Mark McGhee mid week. We knew what was coming, we were due a bad day and here it came! Once again, Cheltenham struggled to get going and the Gas had clearly done their homework. Proving difficult to break down all game and then 3 crazy 2nd half minutes handed the points to Rovers with Zebroski and Richards the goalscorers as Cheltenham lost the plot for 5 minutes. That was all it took. In truth Cheltenham never tested Poke in goal and the strong travelling army sang loud and proud down the streets of Cheltenham. I zipped off home as quick as possible and hit the drink… It’s days like that you want to forget and after Saturday’s display at Macclesfield that is now thankfully long forgotten!

With Crawley and Southend out of action only a point was needed for the Rubies to hit the summit for the first time in 12 years! We did it, the hard way, but we did it! Marcus Marshall’s (did it cross the line?!) opener had the travelling Rubies scared a possible double defeat was on the cards for the first time this season. Thankfully Sido Jombati stabbed Cheltenham level and 1-1 at half time was a scoreline most were relieved with. For much of the season Cheltenham have simply upped the gears in the second half to blow teams away, yesterday was a classic example. Jermaine McGlashan and Kaid Mohamed were electric on both wings and Jeff Goulding showed brilliant striker touch to fire Cheltenham in front. Luke Garbutt’s first ever professional goal sealed the points and Cheltenham were in dreamland. WE ARE TOP.

We may go into the next game 2nd again if Southend beat Swindon in a big promotion clash on Tuesday but once again Cheltenham showed resilience of the highest order, boucebackability was once again achieved and as we enter February we are in a position that we could only have dreamt of after last April’s 8-1 loss at Crewe.

Mark Yates, hat’s off Sir.

Written by Maxi Hobbs, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Maxi tweets at @maxihobbs