Cheltenham Town 2 Tranmere Rovers 0
Russell Milton has been in charge of Cheltenham Town for just 15 days. He inherited a team devoid of form or confidence, and in broader terms, a club fraught by apathy at every level.
Since then, however, he has brought about a quite incredible transformation. Thanks to his hard work and the efforts of everyone associated with the club, Cheltenham is once again red and white and glad all over.
3,000 Robins’ fans armed with free scarves and inflatable ‘bang bang’ sticks filled Whaddon Road, and the atmosphere was immense. By the end it was europhoric.
The overwhelming sense of unity and pride that descended upon the ground made all the difference, as Milton’s new look side - complete with new boys Shaun Harrad, Pablo Mills and Matt Sparrow - took the game by storm.
Players like Harrad are always a threat in front of goal, and within nine minutes he had fully exemplified this, smashing home the opener via Danny Holmes’ back.
In many ways, this set a precedent for the rest of the 90 minutes, as the Robins produced one of their most gutsy, proficient performances of the season.
Milton’s 4-3-3 formation proved a dream in motion, as Sparrow and Mills brilliantly commanded the midfield, offering a proficient the bridge between defence and attack.
Their intelligent passing appeared to infect Matt Richards, while Wes Burns and Craig Braham-Barrett offered speed and flare in abundance. Lee Vaughan and Matt Taylor, meanwhile, played with the unrelenting passion that we as supporters love.
The only criticism of the Robins’ first-half display was that they didn’t extend their lead, as revered Tranmere striker Kayode Odejayi was successfully nullified, forcing his side to both defend and attack predominantly through petty fouls.
Cheltenham, meanwhile, produced some genuinely auspicious football. For lengthy periods, you wouldn’t have even guessed that the Robins are embroiled in a relegation dogfight.
The visitors enjoyed the odd spell of pressure, but a combination of good fortune and organised defending meant that ‘keeper Trevor Carson only faced two shots on target.
For once, it actually felt likely that Milton’s men would extend their lead, and Troy Brown’s clever header promptly ensured this, as he wheeled away into a sea of red and white behind the goal.
With Whaddon Road rocking, the Robins were virtually home and dry, though this meant no depletion in the player’s effort or hard work, as after 26-game wait, a clean sheet was finally secured.
The reaction of the Cheltenham Town players and supporters at the full-time whistle was tremendous, as Ken Dodd’s ‘Happiness’ blasted across the ground, and Milton and his men enjoyed a deserved ovation.
After some of the utterly diabolical football we have seen this season, it is hard to articulate just how gratifying the Cheltenham Town performance was.
There was a strong sense of ‘make or break’ about the game, and although it didn’t matter how the Robins’ secured victory, it was thoroughly uplifting to see them do so with real aplomb.
‘Red and White Day’ was an overwhelming success. Milton’s fantastic new signings have galvanised the squad, the club is more united than ever, and it is once again a pleasure to be a supporter of Cheltenham Town. We’re all in it together, and with more performances like this, we’ll be just fine.