Cheltenham Town writer's verdict on their return to League One, current form, Alfie May and Jacob Ramsey's younger brother ahead of Doncaster Rovers clash
The Robins have exceeded expectations in the third tier after winning the League Two title last season and should have done enough to avoid becoming embroiled in the relegation dogfight.
Michael Duff’s men, however, are not in great form going into Saturday’s game and lost at home to bottom side Crewe last weekend.
Rovers remain four points adrift of fifth bottom AFC Wimbledon following their draw at Plough Lane last time out. They will be hoping some familiar faces don’t come back to haunt them at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium on Saturday.
We spoke to Jon Palmer, who covers Cheltenham Town for Gloucestershire Live, to get the lowdown on Rovers’ next opponents.
How do you assess Cheltenham Town’s first season back in League One?
They are exceeding expectations by steering clear of the relegation mire so far.
To be 15th with 12 games left, when the club’s highest ever finish is 17th puts things into perspective.
Cheltenham have the second lowest budget in League One, so staying up is an achievement in itself.
They have upset some of the bigger clubs in the division and been difficult to beat in recent months, but away wins have still been hard to come by.
How much of a concern is the current form, two wins from 16 in the league?
Performances have generally been encouraging during that run, but last Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat by Crewe Alexandra was flat, probably a result of their exertions at Wycombe (5-5) and Ipswich (0-0) in the previous two matches.
They have not lost many during that period, with a few too many draws for Michael Duff’s liking, but overall he’s been satisfied with the way they are performing since a major January window overhaul of the squad and they should have enough to stay up comfortably.
What type of football has Michael Duff got the Robins playing?
They can be direct at times, but primarily they like to keep it on the floor and retain possession in their 3-5-2 shape.
The wing-backs have an important role to play and Matty Blair has been excellent on the right, with new signing Ben Williams on the left showing some positive early signs.
They have some good, technical operators such as loan duo Aaron Ramsey and Callum Wright, but they can also battle well, as they showed at Portman Road and Elliot Bonds is currently playing the anchor role in midfield, where he has proved adept at breaking up play and giving it to the more creative players ahead of him.
What are Cheltenham Town’s strengths and weaknesses on the pitch?
The centre of midfield has been switched around regularly in recent games as Duff looks for the right blend and Conor Thomas’ absence due to a calf injury has been felt.
They conceded too many goals from set pieces in the early part of the season and while this looked to have been addressed, Crewe had some joy from dead ball deliveries last weekend, so that is something they will be working on this week ahead of the visit of Doncaster.
How has ex-Rovers striker Alfie May developed during his time at the club and how are Matty Blair and Andy Williams getting on?
May has been outstanding this season and is firmly on course to be named player of the year.
He recently enjoyed a run of eight goals in four games, including four at Wycombe.
He is playing with real confidence and has improved his fitness, professionalism and leadership skills under Duff’s management.
He has definitely improved since signing in January 2020 and he is now only nine goals away from the club Football League scoring record of 39.
Blair has been an excellent addition and the wing-back role suits his strengths.
He still has plenty of pace and energy to bomb up and down and he rarely has a bad game.
Another great character to have in the dressing room too.
Williams has been forced to bide his time this season after playing a significant role in last season’s title success.
He remains a positive character around the place and has been praised by Duff for his attitude and influence.
He is unlikely to start on Saturday unless Kion Etete withdraws due to a niggling ankle injury.
But May and Blair certainly will be in the XI against their old club.
Rovers had Jacob Ramsey on loan two seasons ago. What impact has his younger brother Aaron made at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium?
His ability is clear, but he is currently adapting to League One style after shining at Under-23 level.
An exciting player, with dribbling skills, vision and wonderful balance, he will become more influential as he learns the level, but Duff has already said he has the quality needed to one day play in the Premier League like Jacob.