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Match Previews

CHELTENHAM MATCH PREVIEW

5 February 2013

A look at tonight's opposition

The last time Bristol Rovers took the short journey up the M5 to Cheltenham Town they had newly installed manager Mark McGhee in place.

It was on 21 January last year that the Robins in second spot took on 18th placed Rovers. A 2-0 away victory sent Rovers fans back down the M5 in a very happy mood. Almost as happy as last Friday night as the Gas secured their third victory in a row with the last gasp winner over Barnet.

The importance of that victory not just on the League table but also psychologically cannot be overstated. The mood at the Mem is, quite justifiably, buoyant. Equally Cheltenham Town had a boost after their own 2-1 victory on Saturday lifted them up into 3rd spot behind runaway leaders Port Vale and Gillingham.

With four players making their debuts for the home team, Cheltenham Town looked a little uncertain in the opening stages of their game against Torquay. It took just over half and hour for the first goal to arrive at the Abbey Business Stadium as home defender Keith Lowe broke the deadlock when he headed in his fifth goal of the season from Kaid Mohamed's corner. 

The Robins doubled their lead on 51 minutes when Shaun Harrad turned and swept the ball past former Gas keeper Michael Poke. Mohamed, Russ Penn and another former Gas player substitute Darryl Duffy all missed clear-cut chances. 

Torquay had rarely troubled Scott Brown, but the Cheltenham keeper failed to keep out Rene Howe's (yet and another former Gas player!) soft shot on the half-volley in the 88th minute to make for an all action finish.

Talking after the game Town manager Mark Yates commented, "I think the players responded in the right way and thought Kaid Mohammad played his best game in a while and Jermaine McGlashan stepped up all of a sudden. It's good to win because we needed that, it's just a pity we didn't get the clean sheet.

"It was a really good performance; I'm just wondering how we managed to make it so hard for ourselves in the last 5-6 minutes. I thought we were excellent, it took us a little bit of time to get into our stride but that's what you get when you bring in a few new faces. I think some of the stuff we've played was decent; I thought we looked stronger and more organised. 

"It's good to win because we needed that. It's just a pity the game wasn't out of sight and we didn't keep a clean sheet. That's my keeper's first mistake of the season so I think I'll forgive him for that.

"We should have been out of sight; we had lots of chances in the second half. I said to my strikers on the bench, that when they come on I wanted one of them to score off of a back pass, because the number of times the back passes go back and we're not chasing it.

"I'm not going to moan at Darryl for missing it; he's gone for the wrong option and should have scored. But, he was there and he's listened to what I'm asking him to do and that's all I can ask.” 

Rovers' record at Cheltenham since the Robins have achieved League status is excellent with 3 wins and 2 draws in the 7 games played there. The last victory was that 2-0 win last season. Second half strikes by Chris Zebroski and Eliot Richards secured the points for Rovers.  

The previous success was a memorable 3-2 win on 14th January 2006. After Jamie Forrester had given Rovers an 18th minute lead the Gas looked to be heading to victory until goals by Gillespie (70 mins) and Odejayi (88 mins) turned the game around. Then a sensational finish saw Craig Disley (89 mins) and John Anderson (90 + 3 mins) score to claw all three points back for Rovers.

On Saturday the Robins had three players making their debuts with another warming the bench. Striker Paul Benson, midfielder Jason Taylor and central defender Michael Hector all impressed with another new arrival, striker Byron Harrison, making a late substitute appearance.

Harrison, a powerful front man, arrived from AFC Wimbledon on a two-and-a-half year deal minutes before Thursday's 11pm transfer deadline. He joined fellow permanent addition Taylor, along with loan arrivals Hector, Luke McCullough and Benson.

A remarkably busy finish to the January window means it will be a new-look team that Yates will hope can take Cheltenham over the automatic promotion line for the final furlong.

Cheltenham have trimmed their squad by reaching agreements with former captain Alan Bennett and forward Jeff Goulding over the remaining six months of their contract. Chris Zebroski and Danny Andrew also departed earlier on last month.

Yates, who tried unsuccessfully to sign Harrison in the summer, was particularly happy to add another permanent signing to his ranks. "We like Byron and we have found out to our detriment all about his power and strength in the past. He is quick, strong and I was very keen to get the deal done.

"I have brought in five and hopefully it'll be six because I needed to change things," he said. I believe I have got it right and some people might be disappointed to see the players go who have and may still do, but I strongly believe I've made the right decisions for the right reasons.

"Getting two permanent signings in is massive for me and I'd like to thank the club for making them happen. They've made a commitment and the challenge is there for us now."

The challenge for Bristol Rovers is also there, to put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack in the table. Their recent ‘table topping form’ (second only to Port Vale on goals scored) has lifted the spectre of being in a relegation spot. The anonymity of mid-table will be very welcome at the Mem as soon as possible.

Written by Gerry Prewett

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