‘Surprise package’ is a phrase that is banded around a lot in football. Newcastle United this season are the adopted ‘package’ by the national press, with talk of a European return being discussed amongst sports journalists across the country. But, why should only the Premier League have a surprise package?
Cheltenham Town, a club that can only dream of reaching the dizzy heights of the Premier League, have been going about their business very impressively this season. Despite pre-season predications of another scrap to stay in the Football League, the Robins find themselves third in the league and keeping up with the early pace-setters in one of the most competitive leagues around.
As my adopted ‘second team’ (from university days), I always keep an eye on their results. Over the last few years, the club has been faced with a disappointing few seasons – first dropping out of League One, and then finding themselves in a relegation battle two years in a row. Whaddon Road has hardly been a happy place the last few years.
On the up
This makes this year’s achievements all the more impressive. Yes, it may still be early days, but the progress the club is making this season is little short of excellent. A run of just one defeat in the last eight league games has helped keep Cheltenham in and amongst the play-off places. A 1-0 win away at Bradford on Saturday saw the club regain third spot in the league, sitting just behind Southend and big-spenders Crawley. The club even finds itself in the quarter-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, having disposed of League One Wycombe in the last round.
What makes this even more impressive is the club lost their leading goalscorer last season in Wes Thomas, who left to join Crawley. His quality was noticed by Bournemouth, who soon took him on loan months into his new contract at Crawley.
Boss Mark Yates is in only his second managerial job, after joining the club from nearby Kidderminster just under two years ago. With a small budget, along with losing some of his best players, he has done a fine job searching out the best talent available. Youngster Marlon Pack, midfielder Kaid Mohamed, and experienced striker Darryl Duffy were all bought in on free transfers in the summer. All have had a magnificent impact and are not short of confidence, especially Pack who nearly scored from the half-way line on Saturday.
So, what I am trying to say is that there are surprise packages all across the Football League. Whilst Newcastle may be causing a stir amongst the Champions League chasers in the Premier League, there is no underestimating the fantastic achievements of Cheltenham. In a town that is famous for horse racing, the football team could be heading for a photo finish this May if things continue.
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