Last Season: After forty six league games, two playoff semi-finals and a gut wrenching final at Wembley, a season that began with low expectations ultimately ended in agony for a Cheltenham Town side that fought their way from predicted also-rans to one of the most feared sides in the division.
Four wins in the opening seven games set the Rubies on their way with three of those successes coming at Whaddon Road. After a small stumble in late September, Town would go on one of the most impressive runs in the entire Football League season through the next three months as they won nine out of ten games to propel themselves into the promotion shake up. The one blotch on the copy book was a 1-0 defeat to Crewe Alexandra, who would be a constant thorn in their side throughout the campaign.
Through Christmas, there were draws at Barnet and at home to Shrewsbury Town but Town would be back to winning ways over the New Year period as Rotherham, Port Vale and Aldershot were put to the sword to leave Mark Yates’ men joint top of the table.
There was a slight dip in form to follow with defeats against Bristol Rovers, Crawley and Torquay either side of a 3-1 win at Macclesfield and a draw at Hereford.
Then came a real highlight of the season as the Rubies hit five past ten man Dagenham at Victoria Road as five different men got on the score sheet. Seven points from the next three games kept up the pressure on league leaders Swindon Town with Darryl Duffy’s late brace earning them a point against Northampton at Whaddon Road in a 2-2 draw.
But there followed a spell of games that would turn the season in the wrong direction and see the Rubies have to settle for a place in the playoffs. Four defeats on the bounce in March was followed by a home stalemate against Oxford and another reverse, this time at Southend, where they were hammered 4-0.
Stability was needed to ensure a place in the top seven and four wins in the final six games sealed a place in the end of season lottery. Barnet, Accrington, Bradford and –on the final day- Plymouth were put to the sword during the run in and that set up a two legged semi-final with Torquay United.
Jermaine McGlashan got the ball rolling in the home leg at Whaddon Road before Ben Burgess wrapped up a 2-0 win as they headed for Plainmoor. After a long spell of possession for Torquay in the second leg, McGlashan all but put the tie to bed with another strike for a 3-0 aggregate lead with fifteen minutes to play. Taiwo Atieno pulled one back but Marlon Pack completed the victory and gave Cheltenham a place at Wembley.
In a tight final, Nick Powell’s volley put Crewe in front and Town were inches from equalising when Jeff Goulding smacked the cross bar. But after a disallowed goal by the same player, Crewe completed the win when Byron Moore slotted in late on and condemned the Rubies to another season in League Two.
There was also an exciting run in the FA Cup for Cheltenham fans to enjoy, though, as they fought past League One Tranmere and Conference Premier side Luton to set up a Third Round date with Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur. Despite a tremendous effort, though, they were beaten 3-0 at White Hart Lane.
The League Cup wasn’t so kind with a 4-1 defeat in the First Round to MK Dons whilst the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy saw them beaten in the Southern Area Quarter Finals by Barnet.
Darryl Duffy and Kaid Mohammed were joint top scorers in the league for the club but Duffy hit four more (for a total of fifteen) in all competitions.
The Manager: Heading into his third full season at the helm is Mark Yates who has transformed the Rubies into a complete unit, a together squad and a dangerous outfit. One of the more admired managers of the division, Yates has gone about his job admirably over the last couple of seasons and took Town from finishing seventeenth in 2011 to sixth and to a playoff final a year later.
Transfers In: Billy Jones (Exeter, free), Chris Zebroski (Bristol Rovers, undisclosed), Shaun Harrad (Bury, loan), Sam Deering (Barnet, free)
Transfers Out: Luke Summerfield (Shrewsbury Town, free)
Danger Man: The man in the middle of the park pulling all the vital cogs is 21-year-old midfielder Marlon Pack who proved to be one of the signings of the summer a year ago when he was brought in on a permanent deal from Portsmouth having spent the previous season on loan at Whaddon Road. With the ability to unlock a defence with a single pass and with an eye for goal, Pack will be a big player once again in League Two.
Prediction: After the Rubies defied the odds last season it would be a mistake to write them off again. Town should be there or there abouts come May and I can see them reaching the playoffs once again.