Cheltenham Town Season Preview

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.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

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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League One Season Preview 2021/22

Top 5: Fixtures to look out for

Plymouth Argyle’s fixtures for the 2021-22 season were released this morning. As always it’s had everybody looking at the key dates, mulling over the start of the season and planning their trips to certain away fixtures. We’ve picked out a few that are worth keeping an eye on over the coming months.

Plymouth Argyle v Gillingham – 14th August 2021

I know, it’s a pretty lazy choice this one, but surely the vast majority of the Green Army are already counting down the days to facing Gillingham at home.

On 7th March 2020, Argyle beat Macclesfield 3-0 at Home Park. Two goals from George Cooper and another from Ryan Hardie saw Argyle build a 3-point gap to local and promotion rivals Exeter City following their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Walsall. And yes, there were more than a few signs of something being slightly off with the world that week. But few could surely have predicted that the next chance for Argyle to play in front of a sold-out Home Park would be 526 days later.

That’s where we are now. Yes, there have been a few games with limited capacity in the last year, but this will feel like a true coming-together for Argyle fans. You’d say only a fool would make predictions regarding COVID, but all being well, the atmosphere against Gillingham should be absolutely electric.

Cheltenham Town v Plymouth Argyle – 26th December 2021

Looking for the nearest trip is always a must, but it’s not as easy as in recent years. Swindon and Bristol Rovers were relegated last term, and Exeter once again failed to earn promotion from League Two. And we don’t even have Forest Green to amble to this time around. Many might say that’s a blessing.

So, it’ll be the trip to Cheltenham that’ll see the Green Army take over another town this season. And it should be an interesting contest. The Robins will be playing in the third tier for the first time since 2009, but they’ll have momentum with them having won League Two last year, albeit with the fixture’s timing midway through the season threatening to mitigate the promotion bounce. Argyle will also have to deal with Cheltenham’s Plymouth-born captain Ben Tozer, who brings a terrifying long throw into the game.

It may not be the best clash on the pitch, but as a day out there may not be many better.

Sheffield Wednesday v Plymouth Argyle – 15th January 2022

What’s the point in looking at the teams coming down from the Championship if you can’t get excited about trips to some big grounds? That’s exactly what we’ve got here – an away day at Hillsborough dwarfs offerings of more regular visits to Rotherham and Wycombe.

This may also have a bearing on the pitch too. It’ll be the first time Argyle have faced the Owls since the 2010-11 season, which famously saw Peter Reid’s side do the double over their illustrious opponents in an ultimately doomed year. Half the entertainment of the 3-2 and 4-2 wins a decade ago may well send us home happy.

It’s hard to know how Wednesday will shape up this year. They’re not exactly in great shape, with a 12-point deduction for issues off the field ultimately consigning them to relegation. But a fair few teams on a downward spiral seem to use their time in League One to recover. Either way, this should be an exciting one to follow, and at a superb ground to visit.

Plymouth Argyle v Rotherham United – 26th February 2022

This one could well be key. Not only will Rotherham be tough opposition given their relegation from the Championship last season, but Argyle will come into the fixture off the back of two away games in a week. It’s therefore very possible that their performance over the eight-day period including the Rotherham game could be key to the prospects of Argyle’s season.

A week before the Rotherham fixture, Argyle will travel to Gillingham, before following that up with a tricky-looking midweek trip to newly promoted Cambridge. Following that up with Rotherham, who will surely be challenging at the right end of the table again given their yo-yo club status, makes this a tough run. It’s very possible Argyle could take 0 points from 9 and have their progress stunted. Alternatively, taking all 9 could prove to be a huge boost to their ambitions.

Argyle’s opening fixture against the Millers took the headlines. But it’s the reverse fixture that looks as though it could be more crucial.

Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland – 18th April 2022

Last season Argyle’s run-in was tough. The home games against high-flying Hull, Charlton and Sunderland led to three comprehensive defeats, and Argyle were not able to mitigate that with any strong showings away from home. Frankly, it’s a relief that Argyle managed to pick up all the points they needed to avoid relegation before the final six games.

Once again this season, Argyle will host the Black Cats late on in the campaign, and it’s set to be another tricky fixture to navigate. Sunderland will be looking to put their spell in League One to bed at the fourth time of asking, and could well have promotion on the line as they travel to Home Park. If Argyle have anything to play for late on in the season, they’ll need to be seriously up for this game.

Much like the Rotherham fixture, Argyle come into this one off the back of consecutive away trips, this time to Burton and Wycombe (or will that be Derby? We still don’t know). Therefore, a positive result against Sunderland could be key to the Greens’ ambitions.

Opposition View: Cheltenham v Plymouth Argyle

Plymouth Argyle’s next game will be against Cheltenham on Boxing Day. It seems a while since the Greens last took to the field in the league, but Lowe’s side will be looking to build on a 3-0 win against Morecambe at Home Park last time out. Ahead of the game, we again spoke to Cheltenham fan and journalist Mark Halliwell. Mark answered questions for our Opposition View last time around, and can be found on Twitter.

First of all, how have things been at Cheltenham since we last spoke?

Very good. We have managed to maintain our good away form and are unbeaten on the road since the end of August.

At home we were in great form but recently have been drawing a lot of games, five in the last six at home in all competitions.

There have also been a few injuries and a bit of illness around the squad which has seen us be without a few key players so we have done well to still be in and around it.

Last time we asked this, you mentioned Ryan Broom who was instrumental in September. Are there any other Cheltenham players we should be looking out for?

Broom is sure to be interesting sides in the transfer window and it remains to be seen if bids will come in.

Elsewhere, Alex Addai has now become our top scorer with seven goals, taking his chance with Luke Varney, Reuben Reid and Tahvon Campbell all out recently.

In midfield, Jake Doyle-Hayes has been in outstanding form while at the back Jacob Greaves has also been superb this season.

Cheltenham were 3rd coming into our last meeting, and are 4th now. Is promotion beginning to feel like a realistic goal?

Expectations among the fanbase are definitely rising.

A lot of the clubs around us have much bigger budgets than us so we are punching above our weight but we have shown we can compete with the best sides in this league.

It will be interesting to see what we do in January and who we can hang on to but there is no reason why we can’t stay in and around the top seven.

Before September’s meeting, Cheltenham had one of the best attacking records in the league. Now, you have the best defensive record. Has anything changed to cause that?

Our back three have been outstanding. Michael Duff says he has the four best centre backs in the division and he has a tough choice to leave one out.

Our skipper Ben Tozer has led by example and alongside him Charlie Raglan, Will Boyle and Greaves have fitted in alongside when called on.

Behind them, goalkeeper Scott Flinders has performed well when needed and in my view is one of the best in the league.

What sort of tactical style do you expect to set up with on Boxing Day?

It’s not a secret that we will be a 3-5-2. We usually set up that way and it would be a major shock if we did anything else.

And are there any real weak links in the side you’re worried about this time around?

I’d hope some of the injuries might clear up.

We’ve had no Varney, Chris Hussey and Campbell recently among others and it would be nice to have some of them back.

The injuries have tested the depth of the squad – and with lots of games coming thick and fast we need players back to increase our options.

What have you made of Plymouth Argyle’s season so far from an outsider’s perspective?

I think they are underachieving. I expected them to be right at the forefront of the promotion race.

I know they have had a new manager and a lot of changes but I expect them to come through in the New year to challenge for the top seven at least.

How do you see the rest of the League Two season panning out in general?

Swindon look strong and I think there will be a big battle to go up with them, if they keep Eoin Doyle, and for the play offs.

Teams like Argyle, Colchester, Newport and Scunthorpe are all below the top seven but I think they still have a say in the promotion fight along with those already in the mix.

And finally, what is your prediction for the game itself?

Given our recent run, it will probably be a draw… but I’ve got to back us so I’ll go for a tight 2-1 win.

Opposition View: Plymouth Argyle vs Cheltenham

Plymouth Argyle are set to welcome Cheltenham Town to Home Park for their latest League Two encounter. As we continue to count down to kick off, we spoke to Cheltenham fan and journalist Mark Halliwell to get his thoughts on the game ahead.

First of all, how did you get into supporting Cheltenham?

I moved to the town when I was 10 and watched my first game in 1980, when we beat Forest Green 3-2 in an FA Cup qualifying round game.

The Football League was a long way away back then and it has been an amazing ride.

Back then I never thought I would see my team play at the old and new Wembley and the Millennium Stadium, and take on Premier League clubs, but we have done all that.

Are there any Cheltenham players in particular we should be looking out for this weekend?

Ryan Broom is the man of the moment with three goals and three assists in the last three games.

He is enjoying his attacking midfield role and is full of confidence.

Up front Luke Varney doesn’t play like a near-37-year-old, and Chris Hussey is a threat down the left-hand side.

Cheltenham have got off to a fantastic start, sitting 3rd in the league after the first nine games. Do you think this is simply a run of form, or something that can be kept up throughout the season?

I would love to think so but at the moment I am just enjoying the start we have made.

At the start of the season I was hoping to see some progress and try to have a season without any relegation worries and hopes are high that that will be the case.

However, we have been superb at home and if we can pick up some wins on the road, then you never know…

It seems you’ve been particularly good going forward, and currently the joint-top scorers in the league with 17. Just what makes the Robins so good in attack?

At home we have been dynamic – creating chances and being ruthless when they have come along.

The style of football has been exciting and entertaining with 15 of our goals coming at home.

The next thing we need to try to do is replicate that football away from home.

We have been resilient on the road but without the same panache we have seen at home.

What sort of tactical style do you expect to set up with on Saturday?

After not winning for his first 9 games in charge, Michael Duff changed to a 3-5-2 system and we have not really looked back since then so I’d be amazed if he changed that at Home Park.

And are there any real weak links in the side you’re worried about?

I hope Ryan Lowe isn’t reading this!

A number of our goals conceded have come from set pieces, so if I was being hyper critical I’d like to see us tighten that part of the game up, but we aren’t doing that much wrong.

What first comes to mind when you think of Plymouth Argyle?

Lots! I lived in Plymouth for 9 years in the late 80s and 90s and was also at the 1984 Cup semi-final (in the Watford end… my home town).

I worked as a sports writer for the great Harley Lawer at the Sunday Indy and then for the Herald as a sports writer and deputy sports editor, and interviewed many Argyle bosses including Ken Brown, Dave Kemp, Neil Warnock and Peter Shilton, covering the odd game and watching many games including the play off final win over Darlington at Wembley.

I also played at Home Park in a charity game alongside several former players, so Argyle is a club I always looking forward to playing against as I get to see old friends.

Which Argyle player, if any, would you like to sign?

I’d have to say Danny Mayor. He was the best player in the league last season with Bury.

Do you have any predictions for League Two in general this year?

It’s been an interesting start. Swindon look a good side and I think Newport will also be up there along with Exeter (sorry). Argyle will get it together I am sure and be challengers for top 7 at least. It’s been a very good start for the clubs in the part of the world.

And finally, what is your prediction for the game itself?

I will gladly take a draw. 1-1 would suit me fine.

Green & White: Pre-Season Predictions

With just days to go until the upcoming 2019/20 League Two season kicks-off, we predicted where Argyle will finish as well as which sides will be looking for promotion, the play-offs and relegation.

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