Heading into their 3rd consecutive campaign as an EFL League One club, Cheltenham Town will be hoping to make history by staying in this League for a 4th competitive campaign next season.
The Robins have defied the odds as being one of the teams to be easily predicted to go down two seasons in a row, however this season in my opinion will be a much harder task. Wade Elliott will know that this campaign will be difficult, with the quality of clubs in the third tier being one of the best I have seen.
Losing record-EFL goalscorer and cult hero Alfie May to Charlton Athletic is a massive blow but was always inevitable. The signing of Aidan Keena from Sligo Rovers last January for a club-record fee indicated that Keena would be the natural long-term heir to May, who gets his move closer to home as he hopes to spearhead Charlton back to the Championship and I wish him all the best at The Addicks.
Cheltenham’s transfer window this summer has been excellent so far. You could argue losing May was a blow, whilst Ryan Broom left for pastures new at Fleetwood Town. However, many Robins fans were not disheartened by the Welshman’s departure.
Luke Southwood rejoining on a permanent basis is arguably one of the best League One transfers this window, whilst the vastly experienced Curtis Davies joining is also seen as a fantastic addition, having played with Wade during their time together at Birmingham City.
Liam Smith was signed to replace Sutton-bound Ryan Jackson after impressing in pre-season, whilst new striker Rob Street joined the ranks on a three-year deal from Crystal Palace following a decent loan spell at fellow League One side Shrewsbury Town last season. Speaking of Shrewsbury, they opted to appoint Micky Moore as their director of football, took first-team coach Marcus Bignot to be Matt Taylor’s assistant manager, signed Taylor Perry (yes, he was with us last season), and also decided to poach Tom Ware, who was Cheltenham’s video analyst.
Michael Smith, the former Peterborough United and Hearts defender, and former Wycombe Wanderers midfielder Curtis Thompson have been on-trial with the Robins, and both players would again bring a wealth of experience to the side should they sign. Michael would challenge Liam at right wing-back, which is an area that needed strengthening, whilst Thompson would provide midfielder Elliot Bonds not only with competition for defensive midfield, but would also prove to be another quality midfield addition adding to Liam Sercombe.
With Wade Elliott’s side still to use their five loanee slots, I would like to see a couple of attacking midfielders come in. With both Taylor Perry and Ryan Broom having left the club despite underwhelming seasons, Cheltenham have not had an attacking midfielder since current Plymouth midfielder Callum Wright, who can chip in with goals as well as link the midfield and strikeforce really well. Furthermore, I would not be surprised if the club decided to pursue another loan centre-back, having been linked with Matt Baker, a defender from Stoke to bolster the backline, given the success of Caleb Taylor last season, who I hope is able to break into Carlos Corberan’s side this term, as he will go to the very top.
Pre-season has gone well for the Robins, with the new lads fitting in seamlessly, whilst Keena is fully preparing for his first whole campaign with the Robins by scoring goals for fun as he looks to continue his form since joining in January. The highlight has to be the 1-0 victory against West Brom, who fielded quite a strong side.
George Lloyd has returned from his fantastic loan spell at Grimsby with a point to prove, as he looks to force his way into the first-team picture at the Robins, although it will be intriguing to see who gets the nod to partner Keena at Shrewsbury next Saturday on opening day. Will Ferry will hope to nail down the left-wing back slot in Wade’s 5-3-2 system, with Ben Williams challenging. In my personal opinion, Ferry established himself last season, whilst I need to see more of Williams this season as when I have watched him at games, he has been the one standout figure that needs to improve.
Two players who also come back into the fold at Cheltenham are Ellis Chapman and Dan Adshead. Adshead will want to improve following an injury-hit campaign last season, whilst most fans would argue that Chapman is not quite the player we need to be able to compete at this level. Adshead I feel will feature more this season for the Robins especially as he can fill in the attacking midfielder role which is probably the current area we need to fill.
Looking at League One this year, the quality of teams has definitely improved. Wigan, Reading and Blackpool join the likes of Portsmouth, Charlton, Peterborough, Bolton and Barnsley who will be challenging to get back to the Championship whilst Leyton Orient I feel will surprise quite a few this year. For Cheltenham’s point of view, a good start is needed, but with the Robins facing the likes of Pompey, Bolton and Reading in our first five fixtures – it could be a tough start for the club personally. However – more often than not over the past couple of seasons in this division – Cheltenham prefer facing bigger opposition seeing as we have beaten the likes of Sunderland at this level.
Many people have seen the fact that we’ve lost Alfie May and that’s the main reason why many have predicted the club to go down again. However, Wade Elliott will look to defy the odds again, and Cheltenham kept more clean sheets in his first-season in charge than they did under their best ever EFL finish season under Michael Duff.
Aidan Keena is more than capable of replacing May, but a few more squad additions, hopefully with the arrivals of Michael Smith and Curtis Thompson, on top of a couple of decent loanees and I think Cheltenham will stay up – only just though as League One is much tougher than last year.