"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Inside Line: Cheltenham Town v Bristol City (08/10/2014)

Wednesday night marks not only another step in City's remarkable season, but the return to the scene of his greatest triumphs for manager Steve Cotterill.  As explained by Cheltenham fan and Gloucestershire Echo sports reporter Mark Halliwell below, a heroes welcome is likely from both sets of fans for the West-country-man who is fast burnishing a similar reputation just down the M5 as he did more than a decade ago at Whaddon Road.

It's a great, informative read so I won't rattle on any longer - my thanks to Mark for the response and to Stu Radnedge for prompting the answers.

"When former managers and players go back to their former clubs, they will usually expect a hostile reception. But not this time. When Steve Cotterill comes back to Cheltenham Town on Wednesday, the Whaddon Road crowd will be welcoming back a hero - one of their own who took the club to places they could only have dreamed about when he took over.

To understand this, you have to go back to January 1997, when Cheltenham Town were struggling to get out of the Southern League Premier Division.  They had been there since 1992, after relegation from the Conference, and had incurred several seasons of finishing in second or third places - not good enough in these days of only one promotion place.

Chris Robinson’s reign as manager ended and the directors gave the job to Cotterill, then a 33-year-old with some experience and success in Ireland with Sligo Rovers.  His first game, on January 25, 1997, was a 1-0 defeat at Sittingbourne - his last, just five years later on May 6, 2002, was a 3-1 League Two play-off final win over Rushden and Diamonds at the Millennium Stadium, and took us into what is now League One for the first time.

His reign transformed the club. It took us to places which the vast majority of Cheltenham Town fans never thought we would ever reach.  Even in 1997, the Football League was a pipedream for a club which had been in the Southern League since 1932 bar a few years in the Conference in the late 80s and early 90s.  Success was getting to the first round of the FA Cup, or even a four-figure crowd, and having to beat Gloucester City every season - but Steve, along with chairman Paul Baker, changed that outlook.

I have known him since he was a teenager, scoring goals in local football, then playing in our youth and reserve teams, in between knee injuries which kept him sidelined for months on end and eventually finished his playing career at the age of 26.  It was ironic that the physio who nursed him back from injury at Bournemouth and the man who, in an innocuous block-tackle in a five-a-side game, caused the injury to re-occur and ended his career was none other than the man whose place he took at Ashton Gate - Sean O’Driscoll!

He put his heart and soul into Cheltenham because it was his club. He put his hometown club on the map and transformed it from top to bottom. There was no doubt who was running the club - and in some ways when he comes back he still does!

After winning promotion to the Conference after four months in charge, made even sweeter as Gloucester City were edged out. We actually finished second but went up as Gresley Rovers’ ground was not suitable for the higher level.  We then took the Conference by storm, finishing second to Halifax and taking 18,000 fans to Wembley to win the FA Trophy final, with former Bristol City player, Jason Eaton’s goal against Southport.

Before the following season, 1998-99, he sat the players down on the first day of training and told them they were going to win the Conference. On April 22, 1999 a 97th minute goal from Michael Duff (or Jamie Victory, no one really knows for sure which one scored it) sealed a 3-2 win over Yeovil and that place in the Football League. Dreamland!

Cotterill had delivered the impossible, and it didn’t stop there as he took us up another level before the inevitable happened, and he moved on to bigger things, with a 46 per cent win record at Whaddon Road.

He went to Stoke, and then Sunderland in an ill-fated and (even he would admit) ill-judged move as Howard Wilkinson’s assistant, before roles at Burnley, Notts County, Portsmouth, Nottingham Forest and now City.

You have got a good one there City fans - and all Cheltenham fans will share your delight at how the season has started for you and will hope that our Messiah can keep it going….except for Wednesday maybe, as we would like to win this one, but even if you change your squad around it will be an uphill battle for us.

Our current manager Mark Yates was a Cotterill signing as a player, and, like all of his former Cheltenham players, still calls him Gaffer to this day - more evidence it were needed of the respect he is held in by them.  Yates took over in December 2009 after Martin Allen’s disastrous reign finally ended and after stabilising the club has not been able so far to match Cotterill’s achievements, and that of another ex-City boss, John Ward, after him, in getting us out of League Two.

After two play-off campaigns, one losing final against Crewe and one losing semi-final against Northampton, last season was disappointingly mediocre, and he has tried to re-build the squad in the summer.

Expectations among the fan-base were low for this season after the struggles of the last campaign, but the results in August, four wins and a draw, suggested that things might actually be better than we thought.  But since then, the next six league games have brought no wins and only two goals - and despite sitting in 10th place, only bottom-of-the-table Hartlepool have scored less goals than us this season.

Our leading scorer, on four goals, is Koby Arthur, a loanee from Birmingham who has now gone back to St Andrew’s, and last season’s leading scorer, 15-goal Byron Harrison, has scored only once this time around.  Loanee John Marquis is yet to score a League goal, but did net against Oxford in the last JPT round, while Terry Gornell has now gone nearly a year without a goal.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out where our problems are!

At the other end, we have been solid. Only eight goals let in this season represents a massive improvement defensively and is one of the best records in the division so far.  The switch to a three at the back system, usually made up of new skipper Matt Taylor, Troy Brown and former Gashead Steve Elliott, has paid dividends on that front, along with the arrival of goalkeeper Trevor Carson in the summer.

However, Yates has not been able to find a way of keeping that solidity defensively and also getting some more potency further forward.  The chances are being created, but not being taken on a consistent basis, and that is the conundrum which Yates has at present.

City are the favourites for the Trophy - they have to be with their current form and League position, and it would be a massive scalp for us to take.  With our conquering hero coming back in the opposition dugout, it would be nice for everything to click for us on Wednesday, and would give us a massive fillip for the league campaign."

The Exiled Robin

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