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