Key player: Ben Tozer
“That’s a lazy choice,” I hear you exclaim in unison. “You’ve only chosen him because he was born in Plymouth and came through the Argyle academy.” And yes, whilst there is an obvious link to the Greens there, many other reasons jump to the fore to give Tozer every right to be named Cheltenham’s key player.
First of all, his tenacity is unrivalled. Tozer played every single minute in the league for the Robins last season, proving to be a vital cog in their promotion-winning machine. And whilst he’s in the team for his defending, he possesses a booming long throw that will threaten even the best defences at League One level. It’s a weapon that allowed him to notch 8 assists last season whilst playing at centre back.
Having enjoyed significant spells at the likes of Northampton and Newport since departing Argyle as a youngster, Tozer has now called Cheltenham his home for the last three years. He remains as vital as ever after promotion.
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Manager: Michael Duff
Duff is probably one of the Football League’s hottest properties when it comes to the managerial department. Cheltenham became his first experience of the hotseat back in 2018, with the Robins offering him the job on the back of a spell coaching Burnley’s under 23 side. He’s barely looked back since.
After guiding his side to comfortable safety, Duff got to work in his first full season in charge. His Cheltenham team eventually finished fourth on points per game, often involved in a tight battle with Argyle themselves over the course of the curtailed campaign. They somehow contrived to miss out on the play-off final having held what appeared to be a comfortable 2-0 lead over Northampton, but they didn’t let that impact the following campaign. After a wonderful season, a 4-1 win over Harrogate on the final day secured Cheltenham’s first ever EFL title, and promotion to League One.
Still in his first managerial role and relatively young for a manager at 43, Duff’s stock is very high. If he gets of to a good start this season, Cheltenham may well have a job holding on to him for the two remaining years of his contract.
Finisher: Alfie May
In truth, there aren’t many players in Cheltenham’s ranks who post serious numbers in terms of goals. They were successful last season in spreading goals throughout the side, with seven players notching at least five goals across the campaign. However, nobody scored more goals, or indeed posted the most goal contributions, than Alfie May.
May started his career at Millwall’s academy, but failed to make the grade. However, to his credit, he made a hugely successful career for himself in non-league, posting frankly obscene goalscoring numbers for Erith & Belvedere and later Hythe Town. Those performances earned him another chance at Football League level, with Doncaster making an approach for his services. He then moved to Cheltenham for an undisclosed fee in the 2020 winter transfer window.
As mentioned, nobody at the club bettered his 12-goal return last year. But he also managed to add six assists to his numbers, suggesting he was a key focal point of the Robins’ attack. It remains to be seen whether he can manage to play a similar role this season, but it would help his team enormously if he could.
Key signing: Owen Evans
Perhaps surprisingly, Cheltenham have experienced a relatively quiet transfer window. Duff is clearly very willing to give players who were present during the promotion campaign a shot at a higher level of football. They’ve only brought three players in, two of whom (Evans and Elliot Bond) have already spent time on loan with the Robins in the past. Bond’s time was cut short by a cruciate ligament injury, but there is enough pedigree around goalkeeper Evans to suggest he could be key to Cheltenham’s prospects this year.
Evans came through the ranks at Wigan, and was subject to plenty of loan moves early in his career. He’s worked his way up the levels during those loans, eventually experiencing League Two football with Macclesfield and, indeed, Cheltenham. He’s also picked up caps for Wales under 21s, and a permanent move to the Robins this summer presents the perfect opportunity to nail down a starting spot long-term. Still only 24, it would mark a natural step up in his career.
This section could easily be relisted as a key departure – Josh Griffiths was in goal for Cheltenham last term, and impressed. He made 50 appearances on loan from West Brom, but has joined up with Lincoln ahead of 2021-22 (coincidentally he’ll be replacing another West Brom loanee, Alex Palmer, between the sticks). It’s important for the side, therefore, that Evans lives up to his predecessor.
Target: Avoid relegation
It’s another choice that may appear relatively lazy. “Cheltenham have just been promoted so we’ll make their goal to avoid relegation” is pretty tired logic, and we know enough about League One to know that not every promoted side immediately goes back down. Far from it.
However, having just disparaged my own choice in the last paragraph, most Cheltenham fans would still gladly accept a 20th-place finish this season. There are a few clubs who could count themselves as potential dark horses, and considering their overachievement over recent years, Cheltenham have a fair case for counting themselves amongst them. But their primary target will be gathering enough points to avoid the drop before moving on to loftier targets.
Plus, if they do too well, Duff could be poached by a club higher up the pyramid. So that’s always worth keeping in mind.
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