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