Cheltenham Town Season Preview

cheltenhamThe Football Lab interviewed Cheltenham Town supporter Nigel Groom, ahead of the new season. You can follow him on Twitter @NigelGroom. Here, he discusses the factor’s behind last season’s post-Christmas dip, the signing of full-back Lee Vaughan, and Mark Yates’s overall tenure in charge.

Manager Mark Yates has had a lot of time to bring in the players he wants, and some feel he should have taken the club up by now. Is that fair?

I’m 50/50 on that. He did a great job of saving us from relegation when he first came in and gave us 2 great play-off seasons. 2011/12 should have been our season but it wasn’t to be. Mark Yates took a lot of flack last season and the crowd turned on him which was unfortunate, though not entirely unexpected as the season went on.

You only won 5 games after Boxing Day. What led to the second half decline?

My feeling is that we were playing too many players out of position and kept trying a formation that just wasn’t working for us, and bad tactics also – being behind and taking a creative midfielder off and replacing him with a defensive one, making changes too late in games, or simply not at all. It felt very much like we were trying to put round pegs in square holes, or at times, like we had no pegs or holes at all!

Keeper Scott Brown, poacher Jamie Cureton and winger Jermaine McGlashan have left, having featured consistently last season. How damaging could these departures be?

Everyone is gutted that Browny has left us, but we all appreciate why. He was such a great professional and had an amazing attitude on and off the pitch, as well as fantastic ability. Curo wasn’t getting the service he required, and hoofing balls over the top to him wasn’t working. I’d like to see him back but with midfield supplying balls to his feet, then things will work. McGlashan I feel (as do many others) lost his spark last season. He stopped being a threat and many felt he’d gotten lazy during games. Once it came out that he’d admitted to not trying in training he lost the fans. That was a real shame, because he went from fans favourite to being demonized. I honestly don’t think his departure will have any negative effect on us. I think it was the right time for him to go too, for him to get the League 1 football he’d been craving.

For Portsmouth, goalkeeper Trevor Carson conceded 62 goals in 44 matches, which equates to 1.4 per game. What were your thoughts on this signing?

I don’t know enough about him, but stats don’t always paint a true picture of a player’s ability. Going back to Scott Brown, we were letting goals in all over the place, but those were down to defensive issues, not Browny. I believe our defence will be tight this season, and we have excellent goalkeeping coaching in Steve Book. We’ll have to see.

Lee Vaughan joins from Kidderminster. Was it important to add cover at full-back?

For me, Lee Vaughan has been our best signing so far this season from what I’ve seen in pre-season. Attitude wise, I think we have another Russ Penn – absolute workhorse who loves to get stuck in to a tackle. Unfortunately, Sido Jombati became a liability and it was right to replace him. I can see him captaining us this season. Very pleased indeed with signing him.

Asa Hall arrives from Shrewsbury. Can he add some energy to the midfield?

Sometimes it’s hard not to compare players to those who have left, but we’ve been missing a Marlon Pack type play maker, and I think we have 2 now in Asa and young Joe Hanks who came up through the youth system.

Youngsters Bobbie Dale and Harry Williams signed professional terms this summer, with the latter scoring in pre-season. Could we see either break into the first team?

I think Harry will get his chance this season. The lad can’t stop scoring, and at any level that can’t be ignored. I think maybe Bobbie will go out on loan to someone like Gloucester to gain experience. I hope Bobbie gets his chance too, but I don’t think it will come until later in the season.

A few of your signings played in non-league last season, while Paul Black barely featured for Mansfield in League Two. Are some fans disappointed at the recruitment this summer?

I don’t think so, no. Mark Yates excels at spotting talent lower down the leagues, and this season he’s going back to what he does best and that’s building a team. Often players just need to find the right fit for them. Maybe Mansfield wasn’t the club for Paul, but Cheltenham could see him fulfilling his potential. Last season Yates opted for a few big signings rather than lots of unknown talent and it didn’t work. I’d prefer a team of lads who are hungry and who are bonded by team spirit.

With most bookmakers, Cheltenham are at around 6/1 for promotion. Where will you finish?

Call it pre-season optimism, but I think we could scrape 7th spot around April. I have a really good feeling about this season. Striker Byron Harrison has settled in well and he feels at home at Cheltenham, and he’s getting better and better, and I still don’t believe he’s peaked. Last season was so drab for us that it forced a lot of changes, all of which I think are positive. It feels like the anger and disappointment of the fans from last season has subsided and it’s a fresh start for us. From a perspective of the fans, we have to go in on August 9th with a clean slate and back the lads 100% and forget what happened last season. Matt Richards received a lot of stick with fans booing his many Man of the Match awards during games, but he’s still here and he wants to prove himself and play for the club. You’ve got to respect that I think. We pretty much have a brand new squad, and if they can bond quickly, which I believe they will, and the fans and players re-establish a good relationship (which the board have been working a lot on, and credit to them for that) then we’ll have a good season.


TFL Verdict

Cheltenham have lost three key players and struggled to replace them with any proven quality – they could be surprise relegation candidates. 21st


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