Elimination from the FA Cup in the First Round may not be a catastrophe, but it somewhat punctures the feelgood mood that had been building around this team over the past month. Saturday’s defeat to Walsall now means that any hopes of success outside of the league lays with this final Checkatrade Trophy group stage game away to Cheltenham Town where anything less than a win will see us eliminated from a second cup competition in the space of four days.
While there is a chance for glory in this competition, Mark Robins’ team selections thus far have indicated that he views the Checkatrade Trophy as little more than a chance to hand fringe players minutes in a reasonably competitive environment, as well as blooding a handful of fresh-faced youngsters yet to taste first-team football – most notably, Tom Bayliss last year.
The importance of this game may not be so much about making it through to the knock-out rounds, but in handing Jodi Jones and Jack Grimmer a chance to complete 90 minutes at senior level for the first time since recovering from their respective injuries. Of the two, Grimmer stands the greatest chance of making his way into the starting XI for Saturday’s trip to Burton due to the injury to Dujon Sterling and Jordon Thompson’s clanger on Saturday. Jones, meanwhile, will have to produce something spectacular to force his way past either Luke Thomas or Jordy Hiwula in one of the wide positions.
Elsewhere, players who need to make more of a case for first-team action will be given an opportunity here. I would expect Liam Kelly and Abu Ogogo to be used in central midfield together, if Amadou Bakayoko can get among the goals here, he’ll improve his chances of at least getting off the bench.
Finally, this could be a chance for the likes of youngsters such as centre-back Morgan Williams, midfielders Josh Eccles and Johnny Ngandu, and forwards Billy Stedman and Dexter Walters to demonstrate to Mark Robins that they are close to the first-team standard.
Our most recent meeting with Cheltenham Town will be viewed fondly in years to come. In the penultimate game of last season, with a place in the play-offs all but secured, the Sky Blues were in a clinical mood as they tore a mid-table Cheltenham side apart in ruthless fashion. With Tom Bayliss and Jordan Shipley wreaking havoc out wide, Marc McNulty grabbed himself a hat-trick, while Maxime Biamou got in on the act with bicycle kick in front of a joyous away end on an occasion the Sky Blues truly played up to – the only snag being results didn’t quite go in our favour, requiring us to pick up a draw against Morecambe on the final day.
Manager – Michael Duff
A hero at Cheltenham Town as a player, where he made 300 league appearances, Michael Duff is starting his managerial career at Whaddon Road, after picking up coaching experience at Burnley. Duff steps into a side reeling from the loss of last season’s top scorer, Mo Eisa, with the club having struggled to attract players of a sufficient calibre despite raising a healthy fee for the forward from Bristol City.
Duff is yet to pick up a win in the league, but used the recent Checkatrade Trophy tie against Arsenal’s youngsters to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation that resulted in a 6-2 victory, leading into a creditable 2-2 draw with play-off chasing Mansfield in which they were unlucky not to come out with all three points.
Ones To Watch
In a poor season thus far, Chelsea loanee Jacob Maddox has been one of few sources of inspiration. A quick and skilful operator, Maddox is one of League Two’s most effective dribblers and has revelled in being switched to a central role in recent games where he can drive at defences.
Elsewhere, Cheltenham have experience and relative solidity at the back with trusty League Two performers to call upon in Jordon Forster, Will Boyle, Johnny Mullins and Ben Tozer. In addition, Chris Hussey has been another beneficiary of the switch to 3-5-2, operating in a left wing-back role where he can hurt teams with his deliveries from out wide, without being shackled with as many defensive responsibilities as he would be in a back four.
Finally, Cheltenham brought in former Sky Blue Conor Thomas over the summer, following a spell in India. Thomas is looking to rebuild his career and has shown flashes of being the player who was once an integral part of Steven Pressley’s 2013/14 side that troubled the League One play-offs despite starting with a 10-point deduction.
Areas To Exploit
Cheltenham’s biggest problem this season has been a lack of goals, which puts a lot of pressure on the defence to be faultless. While Jacob Maddox is a key source of creativity, the likes of Tyrone Barnett, Liam McAlinden, and Kelsey Mooney have struggled for form. The signing of veteran Luke Varney in September was a sign of desperation, driven as a result of non-league gambles Manny Duku and Kalvin Lumbombo failing to hit the ground running.
Given that, this could well be a game where we can afford to throw caution to the wind, knowing that our opponents may not be clinical in punishing any gaps we leave behind. Whether a side likely to feature a midfield pairing of Liam Kelly and Abu Ogogo is capable of dominating possession and pinning a team back is debatable.