Robins fan Will Edden discusses what positives can be taken from the 2013-14 season.
It's amazing how much can change in a year, writes Will Edden
It doesn't feel like five minutes since a gloriously sunny afternoon last April saw us keep our automatic promotion hopes alive with a 1-0 win at Exeter. There was a big away following that afternoon and those that were there will remember the unusually hot sun beating down on the uncovered away terrace. The beer was flowing, the fans were singing and things were looking rosy for the Robins.
Fast forward nearly a year and again we travel to St James' Park on a potentially sunny April afternoon. Only this time the stakes aren't quite as high. We find ourselves firmly mid-table, eight points clear of relegation and nine points off the play-offs whilst Exeter sit a little too close to the drop zone for comfort.
Clearly this season hasn't gone to plan but as we approach the final five games – it's time for us to stop moaning, stop focusing on the negatives and try and draw on some of the positives. What positives I hear you ask? Well, let's have a look.
The main positive Mark Yates will take from this season is our away form. Despite a couple of heavy defeats, some poor performances and one or two unexplainable collapses, Cheltenham's away form this season has been very good. We have 27 points on the road so far this campaign which is already one more than the 26 we achieved last time around. In fact, top of the table Rochdale have only taken three points more on their travels than the Robins.
Another positive we can take from this season is our record against the teams in the lower half of the League Two table. Last season we took 41 points from games versus teams in the bottom half of the league – averaging at 1.71 a game. The comparison this year isn't quite that good, but it's not far off and can still be improved – so far we have 35 points averaging at 1.67 a game. Not too bad for a team of useless, spineless cowards or whatever the rest of Twitter would have you believe.
In risk of stating the blindingly obvious here – these statistics prove that there are clear areas for Yates and the back room staff to work on. First and foremost they need to find a way of sorting out our home form. We don't need reminding how dismal some of our home displays have been and unless we become considerably more competitive at Whaddon Road next year then any ambitions of promotion or play-offs will be unfulfilled.
Clearly the other area we have a bit of a problem in is the games against some the better sides. This stat actually shocked me – in home games against sides in the top half we rank 24th out of 24. We've won one game from ten, keeping no clean sheets in the process. This form is truly awful and it's the sort of performances that we've seen in recent weeks against Scunthorpe and then Southend that have understandably riled some of our support and even Mark Yates himself. If we are to make progress next season then we simply have to take more points away from the better sides – we're making it too easy for them.
Enough of that – back to the positives (yes I have more). It seems that over the past few weeks our youth team seems to be getting a lot more attention than usual. With our season stuttering and our current team spluttering to the finishing post, many have been pointing to the likes of Zack Kotwica and Harry Williams to inject some freshness into our starting XI and asking for them to be given a chance. From what Neil Howarth has said to the press on Thursday morning it looks as if at least one or both will be given a chance against Exeter and this is great news. I've seen both turn out in reserve games alongside senior players earlier in the season and neither looked out of place. Ultimately, as a lower league club with a small budget, we may find in a few years time that we are only as good as the young players we can bring through.
And finally, we may find that a season of mid-table mediocrity might not be too much of a terrible thing. Now I know these are very different circumstances but I'll always remember the awful state Newcastle United were in when they were relegated from the Premier League in 2009. They were a mess but the relegation enabled them to rebuild, regain the confidence of the fans and in the end they came back a much better side for it. What I'm getting at is that without any play-off drama or increased pressure a relegation battle brings, a mid-table finish may allow us to rebuild carefully in the summer, give the fans and players a longer break and could mean that we come back stronger next season. Lessons will be learnt from this campaign, and sometimes you have to go backwards in order to move forwards.
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