Cheltenham Town Season Preview: can the Robins tighten up?

Ahead of the new League Two season, The Football Lab spoke to Cheltenham Town fan Dan Clifford (@DanCliffordCTFC)…

It feels from the outside like Cheltenham were a very erratic side last season; you never quite knew whether a moment of brilliance or a defensive mishap was around the corner. Is that how it felt from the stands?

It was an extremely frustrating season on and off the field. We couldn’t seem to put any kind of consistent run together, which ultimately resulted in us finishing 17th. Too many defensive errors and goals conceded in quick bursts were costly and we relied heavily on the goals of Mo Eisa to get us out of trouble on too many occasions. Fans were also divided on whether Gary Johnson was the right man to take us forward which caused some disharmony.

Mo Eisa had a brilliant individual 2017-18 campaign. Were you taken aback by how quickly he adjusted to the level? And can you keep hold of him?

The rise of Mo Eisa has been incredible. 25 goals in his first season at the club was outstanding and you could see early on that he was more than capable at this level. When Mo signed, Gary Johnson said he probably wasn’t someone to go straight into the first team, but after such an impressive start he was thrown in at the deep end and he really shined. It would be great to keep hold of him, but realistically it’s going to be difficult. The club are looking for around £1.5 million and I’m sure there will be a lot of interest from a number of clubs. Peterborough made a bid, but the club ‘politely declined’ the offer.

This has been a significant summer with Paul Baker stepping down as chairman after 21 years of loyal service. Do fans see Andy Wilcox as somebody who can take the club to the next level?

Firstly, I’d just like to thank Paul Baker for everything he has done. He has done a remarkable job and without him we wouldn’t be a Football League club. His loyalty and dedication is a testament to what a great man he is and we will always be grateful for the job he has done. He will be an extremely hard act to follow but Andy Wilcox seems very ambitious and keen to get the club back to League One. I believe he can take us forward and I think fans can be excited for what the future holds.

You made six signings before the end of May, not dissimilar to the recruitment policy the year you won the National League title. Are you pleased that the club has been proactive with it’s transfer dealings?

It’s pleasing that the club have acted quickly in bringing in new faces, it showed intent and it has given the fans a much needed lift after a disappointing season. Johnny Mullins, Ben Tozer and Chris Hussey are all Football League veterans and know what it takes to get promoted from League 2. Experience was something the squad was lacking so they are all good additions.

Your defence was your achilles heel last season. Will the arrival of an experienced centre-back in Johnny Mullins help iron out the individual errors?

I think Johnny Mullins is an excellent signing. He’s a leader and he will bring some much needed quality and experience at the back. He has always impressed me at his previous clubs Rotherham, Oxford and Luton. We have been crying out for a leader to command the defence and hopefully he can be a Steve Elliott type player for us.

The left-back position has been something of a conundrum over the last couple of years. You must be glad the club has been able to bring in somebody of Chris Hussey’s calibre?

I’m very happy with the signing of Chris Hussey. He’s got a sweet left foot and he’s a fine set-piece taker. He gets forward well and it will be a refreshing to have someone who can put in a decent cross. He’s another one who has impressed me whenever he has played against us.

Hussey is known for his quality of delivery while another new boy, midfielder Ben Tozer, is a long throw specialist. Do you expect to pose a threat from dead ball scenarios?

Definitely. I think set pieces will be extremely important for us this season. We have to utilise Tozer’s long throws where possible and play to our strengths. We know Hussey has the ability to deliver and it’s been a while since we had someone who could put in a decent set piece, hopefully the likes of Will Boyle and Johnny Mullins will get on the end of some of them.

Tozer is one of three central midfielders that have joined, the other two being Conor Thomas from ATK and Tom Smith from Swindon. Do you think either of those players can replace Joe Morrell?

I admit I don’t know a great deal about Tom Smith, but Conor Thomas is a talented player. Having spent 6 years at Coventry, he has most recently been playing for ATK in India with Robbie Keane under the management of Teddy Sheringham. From what I’ve seen of him he seems to be a creative player who can pick a pass and hopefully he can provide good service for our strikers.

Right-back Sean Long arrives with reasonable reviews from Lincoln; but will it be a challenge for him to replace Carl Winchester?

The less said about Carl Winchester the better, after his controversial departure to Forest Green. Sean Long made 26 appearances for Lincoln last season and I think he will provide more balance to the team, having someone who is a natural full-back rather than a centre midfielder who was converted to right back should benefit us.

You’ve signed two wingers so far in Ryan Broom and Alex Addai. Does that suggest Gary Johnson might move away from the three-at-the-back system?

I think with the players we’ve brought in there’s a number of systems we could use. A 5-3-2 or a 4-1-3-2 could work well. I hope to see us play with more width especially with the signings of Broom and Addai. Fans would like to see players played in the their correct positions rather than round pegs in square holes.

Academy graduate Rhys Lovett made his professional debut in the last game of the season at Crewe. Was that a sign he could challenge Scott Flinders for the number one jersey this year?

Rhys Lovett is highly rated by everybody at the club and it would be nice to see him get more game time, but I think he’ll have to wait patiently for his opportunity. Scott Flinders proved to be a great addition, he was a safe pair of hands and allayed any fears that fans had when he arrived. Hopefully Rhys can continue to develop and his patience will be rewarded.

Cheltenham aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I was pleased to see Macclesfield and Tranmere return to the Football League after being away for a number of seasons, I’ll be keeping an eye on Macclesfield, who recently appointed former CTFC manager, Mark Yates. I think the obvious promotion challengers are MK Dons, Notts County, Mansfield and Northampton they should all be up there and have the biggest budgets in the division. I think it could be a long, hard season for Morecambe and Yeovil.

Where will you finish?

My prediction last season wasn’t bad, I believe I said we’d finish between 16-18th and we finished 17th! I think most fans will be hoping we can challenge for the play-offs or at least finish in the top 10. I think a lot depends on Mo Eisa’s future, whether he stays or goes and who we replace him with if he does leave. Finding a striker who scores 20+ goals a season isn’t easy so finding a replacement for him won’t be easy. Added quality and experience should see us improve this time around and hopefully our defence will be more solid. Prediction: 7-10th

Thanks to Dan for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on the Robins can be found on We Love Betting from late July.