Friday, 27 May 2011

A tale of kettles and brooms...

Just thought I would digress from CTFC for a post to talk about tomorrow's League Two play off final at Old Trafford, Torquay United v Stevenage.
Right, let's get this straight from the outset - I am firmly in the Torquay United camp for this one, as they are my 'unofficial' third team behind CTFC and my home town club, Watford.
Back in 1989, when I started my journalistic career, the first job I had to do was to go to Plainmoor and introduce myself to the manager - at that time, the Spurs legend Cyril Knowles.
My task was to get some stories for the Sunday Independent, and I covered the club for three eventful years, with various managers and some decent players coming through the ranks.
I dealt with managers like Dave Smith, John Impey, Wes Saunders, John Uzzell, Ivan Golac and Paul Compton, while players including Matt Elliott, Paul Hall, CTFC legend Jimmy Smith, our current physio Ian Weston and the mercurial Mark Loram were part of the story.
Mike Bateson was the chairman and there was never a dull moment, with great stories like him changing the away kit to purple as it matched the colour of the new parrot he had just bought, and the signing of players like Tommy Tynan - whose time at the club ended suddenly after an incident with a hotel kettle before the play-off final - and Justin Fashanu.
They were great days, and it was such a friendly club that I really enjoyed my trips to Plainmoor - and used to go down regularly after moving on to the Evening Herald in Plymouth... even seeing Ruud Gullit line up for Chelsea and getting a quick interview with him afterwards.
But the highlight of my time covering Torquay was the play-off final win at Wembley, against Blackpool back in 1991 - in fact 20 years ago next Tuesday...
Blackpool finished seven points above Torquay, who beat Burnley in the semi-finals, and it was a great game at Wembley with Wes Saunders and Dean Edwards scoring for the Gulls, and Paul Groves and a Chris Curran own goal leaving it 2-2 after extra time.
Successful penalties by Micky Holmes, Wes Saunders, Paul Holmes, Chris Myers and goalkeeper Gareth Howells, combined with Dave Bamber's miss for the opposition, made Torquay winners 5-4 on penalties - and spawned a fanzine, Bamber's Right Foot.
Things didn't go so well later on - and ironically at the end of the 1995/96 season Torquay finished bottom of Division Three after a disastrous campaign and were threatened with relegation to the Conference. However, they were saved from relegation when Stevenage Borough's ground was deemed unfit for League football, so it's an irony that they meet tomorrow.
Stevenage were regular foes for Cheltenham in the Conference days with one game being delayed by a bomb scare, another featuring one of the best free-kick moves we ever produced, discovered by Steve Cotterill watching Real Madrid on Eurosport, and, of course, the lack of brooms.
We travelled there for a midweek FA Trophy replay, and after the bus broke down (well, I am told it did as  I slept all the way through it) we were leading 1-0 with the most fabulous goal Mark Freeman ever scored for us.
The snow got heavier and heavier, and the Stevenage officials told the referee they had no brooms to sweep the lines with - result, match abandoned and Boka's goal was wiped off.
Still, we went down there and won the rescheduled game on penalties, so stuff them!
It was a sign of the arrogance which typified them at the time and in Graham Westley they still have that cocky swagger and I remember their disrespect for Newcastle when they drew them in the Cup both a few years ago and last season.
Westley was the same at Farnborough when they drew Arsenal - disrespectful and big-time throughout - and I hate that sort of thing.
On the field this season, we drew at home to Torquay 2-2 after being two down with 11 minutes left, and lost to them away. The loss of Elliott Benyon in mid-season doesn't seem to have hit them too badly, but the likes of Jake Robinson, Chris Zebroski up front and big Guy Branston at the back will be key.
Stevenage were beaten 1-0 at Whaddon Road with a Wes Thomas goal, and were a big, physical, functional side. 
I happily missed the 4-0 away defeat - one of our worst displays of the season, and another illogical reason for wanting them to lose...
They seem to be team of few stars - John Mousinho is their top scorer with seven - and it will be interesting to see how our old player Craig Reid - who they paid £100,000 for from Newport - goes on.
But I am afraid sentimentality and a long-standing annoyance of a shortage of brooms means it is Torquay for me.
Come on you Gulls!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

More good news

They say things happen in threes, and it's been the case for us Cheltenham Town fans today.
We have had a contract extension, a youth prospect turning professional and the return of competitive reserve team football to the club after two years.
Taking them one by one, the extension to Danny Andrew's deal is very good news - although Danny does polarise opinion.
Mark Yates didn't take long to bring Danny in on loan from Peterborough when he became Robins manager, having previously loaned him when he was in charge at Kidderminster.
We were been spoiled at left back in the past, with Jamie Victory coming up through the leagues with us, and it has been a bit of a problem position since he retired.
We have had such luminaries as Michael Simpkins, Alan Morgan and Michael Rose try and fail to play there, while Lee Ridley had some good games and his fair share of shockers in his time with us.
So now Danny has the chance to make the position his own and help us to finally put Jamie's memory to bed - but last season his form was patchy.
Going forward, there are no problems, his crosses from wide areas and corners got us a few goals, and he scored four himself from free kicks against Aldershot, Torquay, Wycombe and Lincoln.
But defensively he struggled at times - as seemingly team after team faced Cheltenham with a deadly right winger deployed to give Danny hell down his flank.
It has to be said that on many occasions he did not get much help from the player ahead of him, be that Josh Low, Junior Smikle or Frankie Artus, who seemed to go missing and were not keen on tracking back.
But at 20, Danny is like Marlon Pack, still learning and capable of huge iumprovement.
Whether he will eventually be a Gareth Bale-style left winger we will have to see - but talk that Yates has been after a left back may give that idea some credence.
What the club have done with this deal is to make sure he cannot be allowed to walk away for nothing, which has to be applauded.

The second piece of news is the confirmation that Ethan Moore, our 25-goal youth team striker, will join the professional ranks.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Rock and a hard place, Moore has, already at 18, had a chequered footballing past.
I will repeat it here rather than force you to scroll through it...
Moore was at Cheltenham as an unpaid trainee having left Aston Villa under something of a cloud.
I have never really got to the bottom of it, but the tale is either of homesickness or a fall-out with some of the coaching staff - but whatever... it is to Cheltenham's advantage.
Someone at the club described him to me as 'a complex character' and the Villa history might bear that out, but Yates sees him as a risk worth taking - and considering Villa paid money at 15 to take him from Southampton there is something there.
In the games I have seen him play, Moore has shown himself to be a strong player, direct and a good finisher. He also has an aggressive 'Rooney-like' streak in him - a bit of a rough diamond if you like - so I get the impression that it will be interesting watching if he gets into the first-team reckoning.

Two things struck me from the quotes on the website.
The first was Moore's quote, setting himself a target of 10 goals.
If he gets 10 goals next season, that will be a massive bonus, and it shows that he has confidence in himself, always a good thing, and is backing himself to be able to make the step up.
The other was Yates' comment which says Moore will be one of four strikers next season.
Assuming Wes Thomas is gone, that will leave us with Jeff Goulding and Moore, and means that we have two more yet to come...

Finally, the very welcome return of reserve team football.
Now, it may be sad, but I love reserve games.
It takes me back to Steve Cotterill's time, when we would watch games, then he would hold court in the Nest until two or three in the morning putting the footballing world to rights and telling us all exactly what he thought of other managers...
Indeed, we were once thrown out of Worcester City's ground at 1am after a 4-3 win in which two of our goals were scored by two on-trial Portuguese waiters from Bristol. Couldn't make it up - and I am not.
I have seen Sasa Curcic, John Sutton, Ally Pickering, Anwar Uddin, Ray Wallace and other assorted terrible and tubby triallists turn out for our stiffs - and an unbelievable Fulham side at Whaddon Road with Karl-Heinz Reidle leading the attack.
Our former manager, in 2009, pulled us out of the reserve league and I feel it is no coincidence that we have struggled terribly since then.
We have been left to arrange occasional friendlies instead and it has been no substitute.
There is no way for fringe players or those coming back from injury to get match practice and I think this could prove to be one of the best moves the club has managed in recent times.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Two new Robins

Now that the super injunction has been lifted, I can finally reveal... oops, sorry, wrong story.
It's been a good day for Cheltenham Town today, as Mark Yates has, in one afternoon, sorted our central midfield for next season with two arrivals.
I hesitate to call them new arrivals, as only one of them, Russell Penn from Burton Albion, is.
The other is Marlon Pack, a star on loan last season, and now our player for good on a two-year deal.
Personally, I am delighted that Yatesy has landed Marlon, and I think he could be one of the most important signings the club has made in a long time.
At 20 - he is not 21 until March - he is the right age to be able to make great progress with us and there is always the possibility that we could make some money out of him.
He had been with his home-town club, Portsmouth, since he was eight and I can imagine it has been a tough one to come to terms with when you are not wanted at a club you have such a history with.
But last season - after a slow start with us it has to be said - he was, at times, head and shoulders above anyone in our side and the opposition.
I remember the 4-2 win at Accrington when he absolutely ran the game, pinging 40-yard passes left and right for Robin Shroot and Junior Smikle and laid the foundation for one of our best wins of the season.
What I like most about him is how he just seems to have so much time on the ball - and the way he buys himself that time.
He is deceptively strong and very good at warding off and shrugging off tackles to buy himself a yard of space.
What he has also done is shown that he is adept in a number of systems.
At Accrington, we played 4-2-3-1 with Marlon as one of the two holding players; he has played at the base of a diamond and also in regular 4-4-2 as either the sitting player or the more advanced.
Mark Yates has said he wants to build his team around Marlon, and it was significant when he was made captain at Stockport on the last day of the season.
Whether he will wear the armband next season is doubtful, but it may be a role for him in the future.
One thing is for certain - he will need a new pair of boots, having given his to a fan at Edgeley Park after the game...
He told BBC Gloucestershire:  "I really enjoyed it here on loan and as soon as the season finished I wanted to get the deal tied up. I'm looking forward to next season now.
"It's great to feel wanted - the fans were great and their support helped me want to be here. There was interest [from other clubs], but Cheltenham was my first choice and I'm glad I've got it done.
"I didn't feel like I was on loan - I grew close to the lads here and close to the club. The main thing is getting my future sorted and I'm really happy that it's in a Cheltenham shirt."
So, having been used to seeing Pack and Pook in midfield, it now looks odds-on to be Pack and Penn, after Russell Penn signed a two-year deal to join from Burton Albion.
I mentioned his name in my merry-go-round piece recently, but to be honest it was a throwaway mention as he had been offered a deal by Burton and I thought he would stay there.

He began his career at Scunthorpe, joining as a youth player in 2003, but never made a first team appearance for the club and  joined Kidderminster Harriers on a free transfer in the summer of 2005, shortly after joined he had a short spell on loan at Alvechurch before breaking into the Kidderminster side.
Penn who is a good age, at 25, and he went on to make over 150 appearances for the club, and also played for the England C side during his time there. He then joined newly promoted Burton Albion in July 2009, for a club record fee thought to be £30,000.
In the two games against us for Burton last year, I was impressed by Penn.
He seemed to be the Brewers' driving force, spurring them on from midfield, and that augurs well for the sort of player we need.
I believe he is the Yates-style player the manager has been looking for, and I can see him and Marlon Pack re-creating the John Finnigan-Grant McCann dynamic in our engine room.
Last season, he played 47 games in all competitions for Burton, scoring three times, and also picking up 11 yellow cards and a red.
That last statistic is relevant as we were too 'nice' last season - not having a player suspended and our only red card - Andy Gallinagh, ironically at Burton - rescinded on appeal.
Penn will change that and will I am sure leave his mark on League Two midfields next season in more ways than one.
He made 73 League starts for Burton in two seasons there, a decent ratio which indicates a good injury record, scoring seven times, and netted 19 times in 142 starts for Kidderminster under Yatesy's management.
The fact that he has decided to swap Burton for us is good on two counts - one it means we are competing with clubs of a similar stature for players in regard to wages and length of contracts, and two, it means players want to come and play for the manager.
He told the BBC: "I enjoyed my time at Burton and I'm looking forward to the next chapter in my football career. Burton offered me a contract but I decided Cheltenham was the best move for me for my future.

"I know what Mark Yates and Neil Howarth do. I was at Kidderminster with them for four years so I know what they're about and they know what I'm about and I'm looking forward to working with them again - I'd like to prove to everyone at Cheltenham what I can do on the pitch."

All good positive stuff from the pair of them - and they are two great signings from Mark Yates to start the summer rebuilding.
Now, just the two strikers, two wingers, centre back, goalkeeper and left back to go then gaffer...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Rock and a hard place

Any football club manager will tell you the hardest job of all is when they have to tell a player they are not wanted.
For a young player, it can crush their dreams, a player in mid-career can find themselves at a crossroads, while a more experienced player can see it as the final nod towards hanging up their boots.
But with any decision, there is always that nagging doubt that it will come back and bite you on the backside.
It has happened countless times at the top level - there are players who have been let go by clubs for being too small, too slow, not good in the air, or whatever, only to go on and have good careers with other clubs, while sticking two fingers up at the manager who discarded them.
At a club like Cheltenham, the decisions get even harder.
Mark Yates is bound by a small budget, he has to divide it up as he sees fit, and this year five senior players, Dan Lloyd-Weston, Martin Riley, Frankie Artus, Jake Lee and JJ Melligan were deemed surplus to requirements.
Of those, arguably only Lloyd-Weston and Riley could come back to haunt Yates in the future - but time will tell on that.
Those decisions - Riley apart, I would hazard - were fairly clean cut.
At youth level, things get that bit tougher.
In recent years, Andy Gallinagh and David Bird have served as beacons for the club's youth policy, with Bird having made more than 200 appearances and Gallinagh around 150 since coming through the ranks, Birdy being spotted at Cinderford Town and Gallers at Stratford Town..
But their progression has been something of a rarity.
We have high hopes for Theo Lewis, who came on the scene at 16 with a pre-season friendly goal against Southampton, and last season made 22 appearances in League Two.
A summer in the gym and a big season  in his career await him now.
Kyle Haynes played only in the last game of the season at Stockport, but had loan spells at Hednesford and Salisbury.
The youngest player ever to represent Cheltenham in League football, Kyle was 2009-10's League Two Apprentice of the Year - but like Theo needs a big season to stay on the right path... but that won't be easy with player of the year Keith Lowe blocking his way.
Coming into the pro ranks - provided he signs his deal and I understand Swansea are sniffing around - is Ethan Moore, an 18-year-old forward with a chequered history.
The boy from Stroud scored 21 youth team goals last season - but was at Cheltenham as an unpaid trainee having left Aston Villa under something of a cloud.
I have never really got to the bottom of it, but the tale is either of homesickness or a fall-out with some of the coaching staff - but whatever... it is to Cheltenham's advantage.
Someone at the club described him to me as 'a complex character' and the Villa history might bear that out, but Yates sees him as a risk worth taking - and considering Villa paid money at 15 to take him from Southampton there is something there.
In the games I have seen him play, Moore has shown himself to be a strong player, direct and a good finisher. He also has an aggressive 'Rooney-like' streak in him - a bit of a rough diamond if you like - so I get the impression that it will be interesting watching if he gets into the first-team reckoning.
When he played up front alongside the first-year professional Lee against Gloucester in the GFA Senior Cup, there was no comparison - Moore looked like the pro and Lee the apprentice.
Cheltenham Town are the sort of club who cannot give youth team players professional deals UNLESS they are going to threaten the first team.
This is the reason why goalkeeper Louie Barnfather, defenders James Fawke and Jamie Sauntson, forward David Waters and winger Josh Egan were let go.
Fawke sat on the bench for the first team at the end of the season and had a loan spell with Gloucester, and I thought the former Bournside School pupil would get a go. 
I understand he may have a trial at Swansea, while the news has emerged that Egan - who scored 8 youth team goals last season, has been offered a contract by Blackpool.
Yes, Blackpool, trying-their-best-to-stay-in -the-Premier-League Blackpool.
So, you ask, how can he not be good enough for Cheltenham, yet good enough for Blackpool?
One answer, the old favourite... money.
As our head of youth John Brough told BBC Gloucestershire: 
"We saw his potential but in our climate at the moment the club needs players that are ready for the first team when we get back for pre-season.
"Clubs like Blackpool have got the budget and can see potential like we have. Good players always come to the top and Josh is certainly one of those. Ability wise, he's one of the best I've worked with at youth level."
A shame, but it's hard to argue with what Broughy says.
It's a risk the club has had to take and that's why it's good to hear that there are moves to restore reserve team league football - cut by the previous manager - and good that we can play the games at Seasons if we get back in.
It's the only way that players like Josh Egan are going to get the chance to show what they can do and make real progress at our club, rather than going elsewhere.
It's a great opportunity for Josh, and I feel it is a feather in the cap for Broughy and Russ Milton that a club like Blackpool see potential in him, and can see that he has been taught the right way - but it's equally sad that we won't see any benefit if he makes it at the top level, unlike with the Arsenal deal for Jamie Edge.
But Egan could go the other way, and have to go into non-League football as the likes of Marley Watkins and  Sam Foley have done - both doing well in the Blue Square Premier, and Cheltenham will face them both in pre-season at Bath and Newport respectively.
In League Two, another ex-Cheltenham youth teamer may play at Whaddon Road again for Crawley, and his story (thanks to Wikipedia...) gives hope to all of the released youngsters.
James Dance left us and dropped into non-league with Atherstone Town, he started to make his name however after a move to Coleshill Town.
He was awarded the captaincy at a young age and managed to lead his team to the Midland Combination Premier Division title, he progressed quickly up the pyramid arriving at Redditch United via Rushall Olympic.
It was at Redditch where he managed to attract the attention of Kettering Town by playing a starring role in an FA Cup match against them. Kettering wasted no time in snapping up the youngster, moving for the player only two weeks later.
He then went on to Crawley and helped them to promotion.

I must confess I don't remember watching him for our reserves or youth side, or if I did he didn't stand out.
It might have been one of the easier decisions to let him go back then, and the manager at the time - John Ward I suspect - could not have predicted what would happen to him after he left Whaddon Road, such is the lottery of young players.
They can either be late developers or be prepared to work hard to get where they are, like Dance obviously has, or they just sink into oblivion.
In Josh Egan's case, we wait to see what happens with interest.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Jump on the merry-go-round

Yes, it's that time of the year again.
You know the one - when Sky Sports News is full of transfer gossip, and when that annoying Bryan Swanson bloke pops up all too often with stupid graphics to tell us about transfers which are not going to happen in a month of Sundays.
Unfortunately, our Bri doesn't care about League Two, so it's down to us lot and the good old message boards to talk about that...
I have given up looking at the CTFC ones, but I can guess they are filled with names of players who Mark Yates  should be signing, and will then be filled with criticism of Mark when they sign for other clubs.
Like the anorak I am, I have been scouring the retained lists in League Two, League One and the Championship for some names, so here goes with a few 'suggestions' of my own, probably very few of whom will come anywhere near Whaddon Road.
I've started with goalkeepers as Yatesy said he was looking for someone to put some pressure on Scott Brown next season, and there are a few candidates.
In League One, Rochdale released Owain fon Williams, somewhat surprisingly in my opinion, as he has impressed me when I have seen him against us.
He is only 24, but has played 110 games in the League for Stockport, Bury and Rochdale, which gives him similar experience to Chris Dunn, let go after 98 games for Northampton.
Also in League two, Gillingham just missed the play offs and that was the end of the line for Alan Julian, a 27-year-old with more than 200 games behind him for the Gills, Stevenage (in the BSP) and Brentford.
Going higher, to Portsmouth, and Darryl Flahavan is also up for grabs. He is the most experienced of the five goalkeepers I have highlighted, with 345 appearances behind him.
At 32, he would want to be a number one choice, and like Shane Higgs at Leeds - ruled out by Yates for a return - money would probably end that one.
The final candidate is Rhys Evans, born in Swindon. He was a trainee at Chelsea but has played 260 games for a host of clubs including Swindon, Bristol Rovers, Bradford and most latterly Southend, where he was beaten by Marlon Pack's piledriver at Roots Hall.
On to the defence, and we won't be looking for a right back with Keith Lowe and Kyle Haynes for back-up, so I have looked instead at centre-halves, and the odd left back in case Yatesy wants to turn Danny Andrew into Gareth Bale.
Looking at the centre-halves, the name which jumps out at me as the biggest surprise was Nick Fenton, let go by new Rotherham manager Andy Scott.
He is 31, has played 441 games, mostly in the lower divisions, but also mostly in the North, so geography may work against us.
Closer to home is Richard Rose, let go by Hereford after 154 games in 5 seasons at Edgar Street, which was a former home for Dean Beckwith, a 27-year-old Londoner with nearly 200 starts under his belt, but released this year by Northampton.
A player who is out of contract but may look higher, or stay where he is for the battle to get back up again is Swindon's Scott Cuthbert, a former Celtic trainee with 80 games for Swindon.
Finally, and sorry for highlighting yet another ex-Hereford player, it's Josh Gowling, released by Gillingham, but has also played for Carlisle and Bournemouth - so geography clearly doesn't matter to him!
Left backs seem a bit more few and far between, but one player who plays down the left and who I am a big fan of is  Liam Davis, another surplus to the requirements of Gary Johnson at Northampton.
I must confess I would not mind he and Danny Andrew going up and down our left flank next season...
Right, on into midfield, where we need an enforcer. A Mark Yates clone. Someone to grasp the nettle and put the foot in when it's needed.
Well. again not many about in the lists I have seen, but how about 32-year-old Tommy Doherty?
Bristolian, ex-City, Yeovil, QPR and most recently Wycombe... have to confess I thought he was older than 32, but could he be the sort of player we need?
His last club was Bradford, and his last game for them was their 4-0 defeat at Whaddon Road on December 28 - come to think it, that was just about our last game too...
On similar lines, Mark Bentley, a year older at 33, has played more than 300 games, and has just left Gillingham after ending the season on loan at Cambridge.
Slightly younger are two Swindon men, Michael Timlin and Jonathan Douglas. Timlin is 28 and has played 100 games, but might be a poor man's Michael Pook, which we don't want.
Douglas is 29, but Swindon will want to keep him, so he is very much an outsider.
Also out of contract but offered a deal by his club is Russell Penn at Burton - I was impressed with him in both games against us, and he played for Yatesy at Kidderminster... 2+2=5? Maybe.
On to wingers - and even if he seems to have ruled it out, I have to confess I would love to see Martin Devaney back here after his release by Barnsley.
He would give us crosses and goals - which is what we are looking for...
Jonathan Worthington was a decent player for Huddersfield in his spell there, and has also played for Yeovil and Oldham, and Bradford was his last club.
Another experienced wide man, but with a career exclusively north of Birmingham, is Kevin Ellison, who played against us this season for Rotherham in the 6-4 madness at the Don Valley, but has played for Chester, Stockport, Hull, Lincoln and many others. Is 32, so age as well as geography could make that a no.
Now, I didn't want to bring up the 8-1 loss at Crewe, and I am only doing so because one of the men who scored three times that day, Joel Grant, has been freed by Dario Gradi.
Only 23, he has scored 19 times in 96 league starts, not bad for a player left out wide most of the time - however he must realise he would not be facing our defence every week if he came to Whaddon...
Colchester United sent us Medy Elito, and have released him, but tey have also let Simon Hackney go. I think he is a decent player, and he has had spells this year at Morecambe and Oxford, and at 27 is the right age.
Finally, another big outside bet - Northern Ireland international Ivan Sproule, let go by Bristol City.
Money a big stumbling block here (probably with all of these players to be fair...) but Sproule has spent the end of the season at Notts County (unlucky Ivan) and has also been at Yeovil.
But the whispers I hear are of a probable return to Scotland with old club Hibs.
Right. Strikers.
Here we go...
I have picked out 14 from the list, some of whom are more realistic than others.
Let's get the unlikelier ones (in my opinion anyway) out of the way first, shall we?
Age will rule this one out, but Scott McGleish is always scoring against us, so at 37 it is an outside bet that he will end up scoring for us after being released by Leyton Orient.
Three years younger and on 99 league goals is Darren Byfield, released by Walsall - however he only scored twice last season.
Money would rule out Steven Thomson, the 32 year old former Cardiff and Rangers striker, surplus to requirements at Burnley, and I imagine the same could be said for Chris Porter, who scored lots of goals for Bury and Oldham a few seasons back, and then headed for Motherwell and Derby.
Another one likely to be the wrong side of our ideal age for a striker is Richard Walker, at 33 and having left Burton Albion.
Got 46 goals for Bristol Rovers, but has not been a regular on the scoresheet for Burton, so best days could be behind him.
Personally, I am not a fan of Calvin Zola - but he is only 26 and is a powerful front man with a decent record at Crewe and Tranmere.
Of similar build is Marvin Morgan, who did well for Aldershot (25 goals in 79 starts) but left under a bit of a cloud, so maybe the off-field worries might make people steer clear.
An interesting name on the list is Leon McKenzie, now 32, but scorer of 10 goals in 17 starts for his last club Northampton in this division.
Best days were at Coventry, Peterborough and Norwich - and he was a £1million player - so he is a proven, quality player.
The same can be said of Jason Price, who has played against us several times, latterly for Bradford, and he changed the game when he came on at Valley Parade this season.
But I was surprised to see he is 34, and has only scored 67 goals in 312 league starts having wandered around several clubs on loan in recent seasons.
An interesting name on the released list was Craig McAllister, whose goals helped get Crawley promoted. He scored 12 goals for them last season, having played for Oxford and Exeter in the past, but at 30 has not played much league football.
A player I have always been impressed with is Gareth Evans, when he played against us for Bradford. He was very impressive in the 5-4 win at Whaddon Road the season before last.
He is only 23, and has already scored 33 goals in 121 starts for City and Macclesfield, so would be less of a risk than Wes Thomas was - being the same age but with much more League Two experience.
A year older at 24 is Ashley Grimes, released by Millwall, but who scored 15 goals in 24 starts in a loan spell for a Lincoln side who were relegated.
He has 17 goals in 30 league starts, an impressive record.
Grimes played against us for the Imps last season and their fans will say his suspension near the end of the season played a big part in their fate.
Also on the hunt for a club is a player I am sure we would have signed last season on loan - Jack Midson.
He scored for Oxford against us at Whaddon thanks to Scott Brown's error, and twice for Southend after joining them on loan - his only two goals for them in four games.
A hat-trick at Torquay for Oxford on January 3 after being recalled by them put paid to him joining us as we signed Phil Walsh instead, so don't be surprised if Yatesy has a go at bringing him to Cheltenham.
Finally, we have another ex-target, John Akinde, released by Bristol City and spoken about by Yatesy at the fans forum recently. My information suggests he will end up at Northampton with his old Ashton Gate manager Gary Johnson, but he may be an option.
So there you have it.
Plenty of players about, and I am sure some others will pop up as the teams involved in the play-offs decide on their released lists, and when Premier League clubs let some young players go who might be looking for a chance to start again.
Good luck Yatesy... it's going to be another interesting summer.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Season 2010-11 ... a review

Cheltenham Town's 2010-11 season was one of two very distinct halves.
Up to Christmas, it was superb - the team was playing good football, and we all thought, as 2011 dawned, that we might have a chance for the play-offs.
But the form fell away alarmingly as the New Year progressed, and we went to Lincoln on Easter Monday with relegation as a big worry.
However, that was only for 90 minutes, as we beat Lincoln 2-0, staved off the drop, and as it turned out the Red Imps went down with Stockport.

Best performance of the season

Most of the best CTFC performances this season came away from home, and three of them were especially good in my opinion, the games at Accrington, Aldershot and Bury.
I am going to choose the 3-2 win at Bury as the best display of the campaign, as it came at a time when the side were hopelessly out of form, and the win came totally out of the blue and it was against a side who ended up going up in second place.
It was orchestrated by Josh Low, who scored two superb goals, one a first time drive for the edge of the box, and the other an excellent lob from the re-start straight after Bury brought the game back to 2-2.
Andy Gallinagh had headed the first goal, then Low made it two before Ben Futcher headed a goal for Bury.
Andy Haworth netted an equaliser then Low put us ahead again straight away.
We showed great resilience that day and soaked up Bury pressure, kept Ryan Lowe quiet and deserved the win.

Worst performance of the season

A lot of competition here I'm afraid - home displays against Hereford, Lincoln, Southend, Accrington and Macclesfield come to mind - but let's face it, there is only one winner.
It was that grim day at Gresty Road, when CTFC suffered their worst defeat in a league game since 1992 and conceded 8 goals for the first time in 40 years.
I was covering the game for BBC Gloucestershire, and it felt like I was on the air every five minutes.
From the opening minute to the last, we were terrible.
One down after four minutes, two down after 11, and the writing was on the wall.
There was no fight, no heart, no battle, no commitment.
The worst of the goals was the fourth, when goalkeeper Rhys Taylor caught a corner. threw it out to Shaun Miller, who ran 60 yards without a CTFC player anywhere near him and pass the ball to Joel Grant, who scored. No challenge, no closing down, nothing.
A black day - and one I never want to see the like of again.

Goal of the season

We scored a few decent ones this year, most of the best ones being free-kicks.
Danny Andrew's strike at Aldershot and Frankie Artus' bullets at Barnet and Morecambe were in contention, while from open play Josh Low's two at Bury were up there.
But I am going to plump for Marlon Pack's thumping strike at Southend which saw him hit the ball from 35 yards straight through the Southend keeper and in to set us up for a 2-1 win on January 3.

Player of the season

When Mark Yates signed Keith Lowe in the summer, I was sceptical, and I am sure I was not alone among CTFC fans.
Keith had been with us on loan, and not pulled up any trees. He had gone away, played at Hereford and again not pulled up trees.
So when we signed him, my reaction was not one of great joy - but I was delighted to be proved wrong.
Keith made the right back position his own, and every week he was a 7 or 8 out of 10 performer, and made very few mistakes. He missed the last few games of the season through injury, and we definitely missed him.

Player by player review

Scott Brown - Polarises opinions among CT fans. Good shot stopper, but fails to command his box and his kicking remains suspect. Glad to see Mark Yates looking to bring in a keeper this summer to put Brown under real pressure. He needs it.
Keith Lowe - See above - player of the season and missed when he was out injured. Hopefully the Long Necked Pele will come back in pre-season and get that form back.
Danny Andrew - I am a big fan. For a player to have a left foot like he has at 20 years old is very special. 4 goals from free kicks and topped the assist list. But he is a left back, and needs to work on his defending and positioning. If he does, we have a hell of a player. If he doesn't, play him as a left winger, a la Gareth Bale, and we could still have a hell of a player.
David Bird - Not a right back, as the goals at Crewe and the home game with Shrewsbury showed. Has a contract on the table and hope he signs it and stays on. A loyal club man, gives 100 per cent every time, but has to be played in central midfield, as a shield to the back four, and nowhere else.
Martin Riley - Disappointment, and has been rightly released. When he signed I thought it was a good signing, and the fact he bought himself out of Kidderminster showed great commitment. His debut at Gillingham was excellent., but that was as good as it got. Injuries kept disrupting his season, and rumours about his attitude were also worrying.
Andy Gallinagh - Like Bird, a good servant to the club. Played well for several games at centre half when he skippered the side. But had a dodgy end to the season, giving away penalties at Crewe, Burton and Stockport, and looked shaky. Next season is a big one for him.
Michael Pook - Big disappointment. Started the season as skipper, but spent most of it on the bench. Struggling to think of a good game from him during the season, and is available for transfer. But as one of the highest earners at the club it remains to be seen whether anyone takes him on.
Josh Low - So frustrating. A total enigma, who on his day (Bury away, Lincoln away) can control the game and look totally different class. But the problem is that we do not see that day enough. Josh scored 7 goals which was a decent return and made him our third highest scorer. Suspect next season will be his last in football before he takes up his law career.
Wes Thomas - Came to the club as an unknown, having started only 3 games at Dagenham. Ended the season with 19 goals, but lost form in the last few months and scored only 1 goal in the last 12 games - our one in the 8-1 rout at Crewe. Will leave the club in the summer, and should be grateful to CTFC and Mark Yates for turning his career around.
Jeff Goulding - Not a regular at Bournemouth when he arrived, ended with 10 goals and was a good foil for Wes. However, his best form was probably while Wes was out injured, and will now take on an even more important role next season.
Brian Smikle - Effort and commitment not in question. Ability and quality are definitely in question at times. Only scored 4 goals which was a poor return for a player who top scored for Kidderminster in the past. Hopefully he will benefit from a full season in the League and will get better next season and become a more influential player for us.
Dan Lloyd-Weston - Did not get a chance to show what he can do in the first team as obviously Mark Yates did not feel was good enough. Writing was on the wall for him after the 8-1 loss at Crewe - if Mark Yates was not going to drop Scott Brown for Dan after that game, he was never going to.
JJ Melligan - Was welcomed back, and I was glad to see him return, but did not look the same player as we had here the first time. Was not a regular and the writing was on the wall for him early on, when he could not get a regular place in the side.
Kyle Haynes - Played one game, the final one at Stockport, and did well. Would hope that next season he will get more of a look in, and will push Keith Lowe for a place at right back.
Theo Lewis - Never let the side down whenever he played. Theo is strong in the tackle and does not shy away from challenges. But he needs to work out his best position, be that as an attacking central midfielder or a striker, and needs to spend the summer in the gym to build himself up for next season.
Jake Lee - Did not play in the first team, and sat on the bench near the end of the season to make up the numbers. Not good enough and should not have been given a contract last summer. Rightly released.
Frankie Artus - His first loan spell was superb, his second not so good, but I was glad when we signed him. But over the season we have seen that he is not strong enough to play in League Two and does not have enough pace. Highlights were his free kick goals at Barnet and Morecambe, but did not do enough to get a new deal.
Steve Elliott - Our marquee signing last summer. Took time to settle in, was superb around the turn of the year, then sunk to the general malaise of the last few months. Lack of pace a problem, and needs someone quick and dominant alongside him next season. Will probably be captain next season - unless Mark Yates brings in two new centre backs...

Loan signings

Generally, a disappointment. Marlon Pack was obviously a success, and it looks likely that he will sign permanently. I thought Robin Shroot and Shaun Jeffers did well in patches, while I would have liked to have seen more of Jake Thomson, who showed good signs.
But Ashley Eastham was no better than average, Matt Green scored no goals in 18 appearances and Medy Elito did not want to be here.

The summer...

At the fans forum, Mark Yates gave hints over what he needs, and they equate with what I feel is necessary to give us a competitive squad.
With Wes going, we need at least 2 strikers to join Jeff Goulding and the hoped-for signing of youth teamer Ethan Moore.
To serve them, we need 2 wingers, one on each side, who have pace, can beat a man and get crosses in. Almost all sides we have faced have them, and it something we have lacked.
In midfield, we need someone who can get forward and get around 8-10 goals - someone who can be a runner and get beyond the strikers.
We also need an 'enforcer' - a leader in there, who could be a potential captain - a modern day Mark Yates if you like.
A centre-half or two is also needed to complement Elliott and Gallinagh, and also a goalkeeper to give Scott Brown some real competition - or even to take his place as number one next season.
If there is any money left after that little lot have come in, maybe a left back to either cover for Danny Andrew or to take his place and push him forward to become the new Gareth Bale.
It promises to be an interesting summer. Over to you Mr Yates...