Cheltenham Town: Getting to know the Robins ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup tie
Cheltenham Town are a club with their sights set on League One after narrowly missing out in the play-offs last season.
There is little doubt, though, that in this season of all seasons a strong run in the Emirates FA Cup provides a huge financial – as well as sporting – incentive for clubs across the country, and Cheltenham are no different.
Saturday will be South Shields’ first meeting with the Robins, with a place in the second round of the Emirates FA Cup at stake.
It will be an encounter between two sides with a strong preference for retaining possession and playing it out from the back, so an entertaining fixture is expected at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Cheltenham were fourth when the coronavirus pandemic forced the regular League Two campaign to be curtailed early in 2019-20, and when a points per game ratio was used to determine final placings, they missed out on automatic promotion by just 0.06 points per game.
They therefore entered the play-offs, where a 2-0 victory away to Northampton Town in the first leg of the semi-final had them well on course for the Wembley final. A shock 3-0 defeat in the reverse fixture meant Cheltenham were destined for another season in League Two, though, with victors Northampton going on to win promotion with a 4-0 thumping of Exeter City in the final.
The Robins did not take long licking their wounds and currently occupy one of League Two’s play-off spots, with Michael Duff’s side two points from the automatic promotion places and six points off leaders Newport County.
Duff is a club legend at Cheltenham, having won three promotions with the club during an eight-year spell as a player before a similarly successful stint at Burnley, who he twice helped win promotion to the Premier League.
His career went full circle when, after two years coaching within Burnley’s academy, the former Northern Ireland international returned to Cheltenham in 2018 to take on his first role in senior management.
The early signs are that Duff possesses the qualities to be a successful manager, with his style of play and consistent results both drawing plaudits.
One area he will be looking to improve on is Cheltenham’s performance in the FA Cup, with the Robins having not reached the third round of the competition since the 2012-13 season.
They made it to the fourth round in 2006, where Newcastle United ended their run with a 2-0 win at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium. Their most impressive run came four years before that, when West Bromwich Albion eliminated them at the fifth round stage.
Cheltenham have been a member of the Football League for all but one season since 1999, when Steve Cotterill led them to promotion from the National League.
The club – formed in 1887 – spent its early decades in local football before joining the Southern League in 1935, where they stayed until progressing into the National League in 1985.
They won the FA Trophy in 1998 and the Robins have spent just one season outside of the Football League since 1999, which came in 2015-16. It was an immediate return to the Football League under the management of Gary Johnson, with a points haul of 101.
Cheltenham’s current squad features the likes of captain Ben Tozer – formerly of Newcastle United – ex-Crystal Palace and Hartlepool United goalkeeper Scott Flinders and experienced forward Reuben Reid.
Their recent results have been mixed, with one win in their last four matches in League Two. However, that victory was a notable one against local rivals Forest Green Rovers, and Duff has called for a reaction from his side following Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at Oldham Athletic.
Saturday’s match can be watched via a live stream by clicking here.