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