Football Season Review

Champions: Cheltenham Town

Cheltenham were not expected to challenge straight away after relegation from the Football League as the squad was completely overhauled over the summer and the team just did not look good enough to compete at the top end. But Gary Johnson was a huge asset to have and the massively experienced manager somehow compiled what turned out to be a really good side on a limited budget. All of his signings proved hits and all had excellent impact over the course of the season as the Robins enjoyed a stunning campaign. The start was pretty solid and encouraging and it was clear from the word go that this team has nice balance, assured at the back and generally tough to beat, but boasting an attacking duo in Danny Wright and Amari Morgan-Smith that was instilling fear in any defence in the league. After winning just one of the first four games, the Gloucestershire side began to accelerate as they gained momentum, winning six out of the next seven games. They moved quickly to the top end of the table and played an exciting draw with local rivals and fellow pace-setters Forest Green at the end of December. Johnson’s side were dealt a blow in a last-minute loss against Tranmere in the next game but that proved to be their last league loss until all the way to March. It was already clear that this was a very capable side that knew what was needed to get wins at this level and had already accumulated real belief in themselves. Aaron Downes and Danny Parslow proved a brilliant pairing at the back while the signing of Dillon Phillips on loan from Charlton proved a masterstroke as the previously unknown defender became the best keeper in the league by some distance. Kyle Storer and Harry Pell were the lungs in modified while in Billy Waters and Asa Hall the manager could call on unpredictable and prolific midfield players. Cheltenham moved to the top of the table for a first time in November and really started to showcase their consistency and drive as wins much more common than the previously prevailing draws. The Robins won eight out of nine games, with the sole exception being another draw against Forest Green, and then started January with six wins on the bounce too. Johnson was able to get maximum effort and real dedication from his side as they were able to swat aside a challenge after challenge. They secured one of their most vital wins of the season in January when they scored twice late on to defeat a rather strong Dover side on the road. That sort of recovery really gave the players a whole lot of belief and they never weaved as Forest Green kept on the pressure on them in the all-consuming battle at the top. What tipped the scales in favour of Cheltenham would be the inspired singing of Dan Holman from Colchester. The striker had netted 14 goals for mid-table side Woking in the firs half of the season and developed an instant relationship with Wright up front. The goals were raining in and the team did not lose any of its forward momentum, even if they suffered the terrible blow of losing skipper Downes for the the rest of the season during a game at Boreham Wood in the early days of 2016. Cheltenham’s only true wobble during that brilliant season came in March as Eastleigh, Braintree and Wrexham all inflicted them away defeats and they also only drew at a dire Welling side. Suddenly, having been so indefeasible for so long, they now seemed to be doubting themselves as the finishing line appeared in sight. But luckily for Cheltenham, they maintained their brilliant home form and were also massively aided by Forest Green’s collapse as well. That made what seemed like e title race going to the wire actually peter out rather disappointingly for the neutral at the end. But Cheltenham’s huge 3:1 win over Grimsby was what moved them really close to fulfilling the dream. They eventually sealed the title with a 2:0 win over Halifax a couple of weeks before the end. That was a really impressive team effort from the side as a whole but Johnson deserves the biggest credit as he built that squad from scratch and made them instantly challengers in a very tough league. He will be now looking for consolidation in the League Two and even maybe replicating the feat of Bristol Rovers again, the Pirates making it two promotions in a row over the past two seasons.

Player of the Season: Danny Wright