By Jacob Greenwood
Goals from John Goddard and Jimmy Keohane were enough to end Forest Green Rovers’ unbeaten start to the season at Kingfield on Tuesday evening and Garry Hill will be looking for more of the same on Saturday when Cheltenham Town are the visitors.
The Robins were relegated from the Football League at the end of last season but have started their National League campaign well. Experienced manager Gary Johnson is currently at the helm and he finds his side sitting in third after ten games.
We talked to Cheltenham Town fan Dan Clifford to find out more about the side from Gloucestershire.
A disappointing season last year saw Cheltenham get relegated. What when wrong for Town?
A number of bad decisions and a real lack of quality ultimately led to us losing our Football League status after 16 years. Poor recruitment in the summer from Mark Yates left the squad unbalanced and the appointment of Paul Buckle as his successor was a complete disaster. There was a real lack of team spirit and fight on the pitch, which is a stark contrast to what we’ve seen so far this season.
Bristol Rovers did well to bounce straight back to the Football League but a lot of teams (Wrexham, Luton Town, Torquay United, Macclesfield Town etc) have struggled in recent years. How much of a worry was it to drop back in to non-league knowing how hard it is to get out of the league?
We knew returning to non-league would be difficult especially with our budget being cut. It is a real challenge for Gary Johnson to guide us back into the Football League at the first time of asking, but I believe if anyone can do it, he can. It is a worry when you see how long formerly established Football League teams have spent trying to get out of the division, and you see the financial problems like Torquay and Kidderminster are having. Bristol Rovers set an example last season that it is possible to bounce back immediately, hopefully we can achieve that too.
What happened at the club over the summer?
A major overhaul took place over the summer. Gary Johnson cleared out the deadwood and set about rebuilding a squad that has hunger, desire and character. There’s a good balance about the squad with leaders, experience and youthful enthusiasm. In total, fifteen new faces arrived over the summer including Aaron Downes, Amari Morgan-Smith, Harry Pell, Danny Wright and Kyle Storer. These signings showed real intent, they all have great experience at this level and know what the league is all about.
Gary Johnson is hugely experienced, how much of a benefit has he been?
Gary Johnson has been our best signing of the summer. To have a manager with his experience at this level is invaluable. He has been able to attract players and his enthusiasm for the club is immense. He has rejuvenated the club and the supporters have really got behind him and his newly-assembled squad.
Cheltenham have got off to a good start, what have you made of the season so far and where do you think you will finish?
The early signs are very promising, we’ve made an impressive start. The team has gelled quickly and we look like a cohesive unit. The football we’ve played is a joy to watch We look very strong at home where we’re unbeaten, winning five out of six games. I think the majority of Cheltenham fans would be happy with a play-off place. Anything less than that would be very disappointing.
What have you made of the standard of the National League?
It’s been a bit of a mixed bag. There seems to be a divide in the terms of quality. As expected some teams are a lot more direct and physical. In contrast, Wrexham have been the best team we’ve faced so far, their wingers have bags of pace and they played some excellent football. The standard of officiating at times has been poor but that’s not surprising at this level.
Who will Woking have to look out for on Saturday and what is your score prediction?
Kyle Storer has been our standout player, he has put in a number of man of the match performances and has been an integral part of the team. The partnership of Amari Morgan-Smith and Danny Wright up front are a real handful and they’ll provide a real threat to any defence in this league. I’m expecting a really tough game, especially with Woking’s 100% record at home. My prediction is Woking 1-1 Cheltenham.
Photo by David Holmes. A full set can be found at wokingfc.co.uk