Progress made but heartbreak for the Robins as they miss out on Wembley and promotion.
Once again a season of progress but Cheltenham Town missed out on promotion yet again.
A 14th season in the Football League was full of promise despite heartache last May when the Robins were beaten by Crewe in the League Two play-off final but Cheltenham chief Mark Yates was quick to start work on his team in an effort to avoid a play-off hangover. Departures from the club included Luke Summerfield, Theo Lewis, Josh Low and Brian Smikle as well as loanees Luke Garbutt, Jimmy Spencer, Ben Burgess and Steve MacLean. New fresh faces were introduced ahead of the campaign including the likes of Sam Deering, Billy Jones, Connor Roberts and Chris Zebroski with Darren Carter and Shaun Harrad (loan) following soon after.
The 2012-13 campaign began with a sense of déjà vu when the Robins were once again drawn against MK Dons in the first round of the Capital One Cup and, much like the season beforehand, defeat was dealt although Mark Yates' Cheltenham did turn a few heads by taking the League One side all the way to penalties. The league campaign started on a much more positive note with a 2-0 victory over Dagenham & Redbridge courtesy of goals from winger McGlashan and on loan striker Shaun Harrad. Cheltenham were unbeaten for the rest of August but suffered their first league loss of the season at home to Accrington in September. Key results over Morecambe and a stuttering Bristol Rovers, including a dominant performance from former Rovers striker Chris Zebroski, saw a return to form with Cheltenham breaking into the top six of the division - a position that they would not give up for the entire campaign.
Cup disappointment was served up once again when Oxford dumped the Robins out of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy in October but league form remained strong despite a 3-1 loss at Bradford and the Robins were looking in top condition by the time the first round of the FA Cup had come around with strong results over Devon pair Plymouth and Exeter. There was even a professional debut for 17 year-old youth team midfielder Joe Hanks who was brought on as a substitute during the 3-0 win over the Grecians.
A professional performance over non-league minnows Yate Town assured a second round clash with rivals Hereford United and there was also a debut goal for on loan midfielder Lawson D'Ath although the Reading loanee suffered an injury and was soon sent back to his parent club with a lack of first team appearances. Heavy defeats to Rotherham and Chesterfield in November tested the resolve of Cheltenham Town in the build-up to the festive period but wins over Burton and Barnet were welcome before a key clash versus non-league Hereford United in the FA Cup approached. The television cameras descended upon the Abbey Business Stadium hoping for a cup upset but the scores were tied setting up a real grudge match down at Edgar Street with the prize being a money spinning third round match versus Premier League side Everton. A 3-2 win over Northampton, thanks to some inspired goalmouth magic from Darryl Duffy, gave Cheltenham a real lift before their FA Cup replay in Hereford. The replay was a feisty affair with Cheltenham fans praying for an end to the club's poor form against the Bulls and Cheltenham responded by producing one of the moments of the season with a 2-1 victory after extra time with Kaid Mohamed claiming the historic moment with a bullet header. Great scenes at Edgar Street with the promise of Everton in the third round and a match that will live long in the memory.
Back to reality and four points from the next four games maintained the club's position in the top four of League Two but Everton came calling in early January for one of the biggest games in Cheltenham's history. It was a second consecutive third round in the FA Cup for the Robins with a trip to White Hart Lane in the previous season but Mark Yates' side were seriously up against it with David Moyes naming practically his first eleven. The likes of Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic took to the Abbey Business Stadium turf and won the game 5-1 although Cheltenham put in an impressive performance and were rewarded with Russ Penn's first goal of the season.
With the FA Cup done it was now all about League Two. Hopes for promotion were high and they were strengthened by a superb 4-0 win over Wycombe preceding Everton over Christmas but a run of four league games without victory assured Cheltenham that there was much work ahead. The January transfer window allowed Mark Yates to alter his squad how he saw fit as the race for promotion gathered pace and there were key departures from Chris Zebroski, team captain Alan Bennett and Jeff Goulding at the very death plus the signing of AFC Wimbledon striker Byron Harrison just a minute before the deadline. Other signings included Michael Hector and Paul Benson on loan with midfielder Jason Taylor also joining the club following his release from promotion rivals Rotherham United. There was also a near goodbye for Marlon Pack who looked set to join Swindon Town for a fee of £100,000 but issues surrounding the League One club scuppered the deal at the time and Marlon remained a Cheltenham player and went on to his some of his best form since playing in Cheltenham colours.
Wins over Torquay, Southend and AFC Wimbledon kept Cheltenham in the race for automatic promotion and they even broke an unwanted record with a 1-0 win over Chesterfield - a first victory over the Spireites in the club's history.
The last stretch and Cheltenham had the automatic promotion spots in their sights but form was erratic and disappointing results versus Burton, Barnet and Plymouth took the gloss over key wins against Rotherham United and Northampton Town. Mark Yates' side bounced back from a torrid day at Home Park to bite the hand of former manager Martin Allen with a 1-0 win over Gillingham thus denying them the chance to become champions in Gloucestershire. A win over Exeter maintained the club's 100% win rate over the Devon club but a 0-0 draw at home to Bradford and a Rotherham win over Aldershot on the final day condemned Cheltenham to a second consecutive play-off campaign.
The stage was set for a two legged semi-final versus Northampton Town but the Robins were beaten 1-0 at Sixfields and they were left with an uphill task by the time the television cameras turned to the Abbey Business Stadium. Cheltenham Town had chances but nothing seemed to breakthrough the Cobblers defence and their inspired goalkeeper, Lee Nicholls. Luke Guttridge's sensational strike gave the visitors a two goal advantage and the Robins were unable to respond despite the best efforts of Kaid Mohamed and Sam Deering. The final whistle blew on full time and Cheltenham's season with heartache once again providing the last word but hopes were high despite disappointment and Mark Yates quickly switched focus for another promotion push in 2013-14.
Player of the Year: Scott Brown
Top goalscorer: Shaun Harrad (10)
Most appearances (all comps): Scott Brown (54)
npower League Two: 5th with 75 points
League Cup: 1st Round - MK Dons
FA Cup: 3rd Round - Everton
Johnstone's Paint Trophy: Second Round - Oxford United