The fans asked for experience – they have certainly got it so far
Providing Mo Eisa stays, the spine of the team is essentially already formed.
Scott Flinders is in goal, with 423 appearances behind him and most of those in the EFL, the Cheltenham fans have already seen that he is a reliable and safe pair of hands that communicates with the defence.
With Will Boyle’s exuberance and no-nonsense approach alongside arguably the highest profile signing of the summer so far, Johnny Mullins, the Robins have two natural leaders as centre-back’s. 32-year-old Mullins is likely to be named as captain alongside what could be a future skipper in Boyle. His CV is also very exciting with promotions from League Two with former clubs Luton Town, Oxford United and Rotherham United.
Everyone knows far too many goals were conceded last season, there was enough put in at the other end (largely down to Eisa) but tightening up defensively is a must ahead of the 2018/19 campaign. An added bonus is that Boyle contributed with five goals last season and Mullins has been nicknamed by players and fans as “Magnet Man” at previous clubs due the fact the ball always finds him in the opposition box.
Chris Hussey is another Football League journeyman in the defence, with both Ben Tozer and Conor Thomas racking up plenty of experience as midfield additions.
— Mark Halliwell (@MarkHalliwell1) May 24, 2018
Only the younger trio of Tom Smith, Ryan Broom and Alex Addai are those without many appearances in the EFL, but the new look Robins are already far more experienced in terms of Football League pedigree than the overall set of players used over the past two seasons.
Surely that will help them see out the closer matches where they buckled at times last year.
A right-back at long last
The most recent of the eight summer additions, Sean Long arrives as the first permanent out and out right sided full-back since Jack Barthram left the club last summer.
This is a position that the supporters have especially wanted sorting with Taylor Moore, Jordan Forster, Carl Winchester and Kevin Dawson all playing the position either as a right-back as part of a back four or as a right-wing-back when playing 3-5-2 last season.
It was largely accepted that all of those players could comfortably cover at right-back, but it wasn’t their first-choice position. Before Forster’s unfortunate long-term injury, he played either as a RB or in the middle, but his preferred position is at centre-back. As versatile as Winchester was, he personally preferred playing in midfield, especially further forward as an attacking midfielder. It will be interesting to see where Mark Cooper deploys the Northern Irishman after his controversial move to rivals Forest Green Rovers this summer.
Bristol City loanee Moore had moments of brilliance but also looked shaky at times, like Forster, he was renowned as more of central defender. Dawson rarely featured at RB but did a couple of times as a wing-back, again his main use was as a right midfielder in a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 system.
So, the signing of Sean Long will be celebrated. As a 23-year-old the Dubliner is at a great age to develop on a two-year deal with the Robins. He has benefitted from a few years working with Danny and Nicky Cowley at both Braintree and Lincoln City. It says a lot about a player when a top seven club offers them a deal despite not being first choice, with the large consensus amongst Imps fans that he would have been starting every week during 2017/18 had it not been for the imperious form of Neal Eardley at RB (who scored a screamer against Cheltenham in February).Embed from Getty Images
Long also covered at left-back when Sam Habergham was injured, filling in adequately during his absence and appears to be lauded as a consistent performer despite having sporadic appearances throughout the season.
With his apparent pace and crossing ability, the former Reading trainee ticks the boxes needed as Gary Johnson’s new look defence already appears to be taking shape – with possibly one more addition needed.
A new broom to sweep down the wing
Sticking with the right side and over the last three seasons, Cheltenham Town have rarely deployed a formation devoted to wingers but with the addition of Ryan Broom from Bristol Rovers – there is now the option to do so.
Able to compete with Dawson, Broom is an exciting signing as a 21-year-old hungry to take his chance in the Football League. He has spent his short career contracted down the M5 in Bristol, but rare appearances have meant that he has had to prove his worth out on loan in the non-league pyramid.
At Eastleigh last season, he scored three times in 14 appearances, with Spitfires fans desperate to have him back in Hampshire after showcasing great energy, pace, skill and flair to score some cracking goals in the National League. In total the Newport-born wide-man scored five times in 19 outings including netting twice for Rovers in their Checkatrade Trophy tie at Wycombe Wanderers.
Three signings in already. Alex Addai is a promising former non-league talent looking to make an impression. Johnny Mullins adds vital experience, leadership and proven quality – now Ryan Broom arrives with a good reputation, expected to thrive in League Two. Good business #ctfc
— Luke Saunders (@LukeSaunders17) May 18, 2018
Like with Long, the fanbase at his previous club were disappointed to see a young player that has shown promise leaving their ranks. But League Two appears to be the perfect destination for a player that hasn’t been given an extended chance in League One but is too good for the National League.
The Gas may have leaked a gem here, and Broom could prove to be a very shrewd signing indeed.
Reason to get excited when Johnson brings out his one-liners
This time last summer, Gary Johnson said when signing Jerell Sellars that the midfielder had the quickest feet he had ever worked with and the Robins boss has already made two similar comments about a couple of his new additions.
Sellars certainly did possess Championship standard dribbling ability and the ball regularly stuck to his feet. Unfortunately, all too often he lacked the end product in terms of the final pass or finish which led to just two goals last season. The 22-year-old was offered a new deal presumably because he has the tools to be a brilliant player, but it was recently announced Sellars would not be returning to Cheltenham Town.
The first new signing announced before the end of the season, Alex Addai, came in after impressing in the Central League as a trialist. Having spent his entire career in non-league, the former Merstham winger caught the attention of London-based scout and brother of Gary, Pete Johnson.
Just like with Sellars, Gary Johnson has been very complimentary of Addai’s ability, quoted saying that the 24-year-old “has the most pace I have ever worked with,” when the deal was struck.
Pace is something that has been lacking at Cheltenham in recent years, so with the addition of Addai and Broom out wide, fans will be eager to see what they can bring in pre-season.
Eisa rose to stardom after being discovered by the Johnson’s last summer and they may have found another non-league diamond here.
The seventh signing, Chris Hussey, is an outstanding addition to the team and one that was anticipated for a while.
Johnson described the experienced left-back as “probably the best crosser of a ball in the division” and looking at Hussey’s history, you can see why he has chosen such praising words.
On loan at Swindon in League Two last season, the 29-year-old scored once and assisted four times in 18 appearances – prompting Town fans to hope for his permanent return to the County Ground, but Cheltenham swooped in after the former Coventry City man was released by Sheffield United.
Hussey wasn’t quite good enough for the Championship, but he has had a reputation for being a quality left-back in League One and Two after successful spells with Burton Albion and Bury.
With Jordan Cranston’s two and a half year stay at Whaddon Road ended last month and Ilias Chatzitheodoridis’ return to parent club Brentford confirmed – signing a left-back was a must and CTFC have got one of the best available to a club at their level.
Cranston won fans over before his release after improving and cutting out mistakes, but he was still probably considered better going forward than defensively. Hussey is renowned for being good going forward and solid defensively, getting the full package is a real coup for Johnson and Cheltenham.
The engine room is all but complete with three additions to add to Atangana’s va-va-voom
At one stage around February and March, the middle of the park seemed to be a settled area with Nigel Atangana sitting deeper in a 4-5-1 with two of Joe Morrell, Carl Winchester or Harry Pell playing a little bit further forward.
After the dominant midfield displays when switching to that shape, highlighted by performances at Luton and Swindon – the 2018/19 season was promising as CTFC appeared to have a settled engine room that could comfortably provide the basis to push for the play-offs.
But by the end of the campaign it became clear that would not be the case, as club legend Pell moved closer to home with Colchester, Morrell returned to Bristol City and Winchester decided to move to what he perceives to be ‘greener pastures’ – not that many Cheltenham fans would agree!
That left fan favourite Atangana, who was under contract until next summer anyway. But Johnson has wasted no time in bringing in a new look midfield to accompany the energetic Frenchman.
Ben Tozer’s arrival was the first in midfield, the 28-year-old adds Football League experience having played for six other clubs at League One and Two level. A tall and versatile enforcer from defensive midfield – his arrival may allow Atangana to venture forward more, alternatively, they can both sit deep when defending a lead.
It’s always good to have a unique weapon too because if Cheltenham want to go more direct, Tozer can launch a giant throw-in that the Robins have lacked since Daniel O’Shaughnessy returned home to Finland. The former Swindon youngster also enjoyed his most prolific season in front of goal last year for Newport, netting four times.
The next two players to walk through the doors at Seasons Training Ground are probably the more creative, forward thinking central midfielders. Conor Thomas returns to England after a spell in India, penning a two-year contract at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium. His injury history isn’t great, but there is clearly a player with a pedigree there. The 24-year-old made over 100 appearances for Coventry City before Liverpool moved to sign him on loan. It may not have worked out at Anfield, but for the Reds to be interested proves that Thomas possesses some real quality.
Tom Smith was the other midfield addition, released by rivals Swindon Town (where four of the eight signings have formerly played at some point) he is what Johnson calls a “pocket dynamo” who can make things happen and chips in with a few goals.
This title has been given to the likes of Jack Munns and Morrell before, and that little creative spark in midfield who can also take a set-piece is what the gaffer has moved towards again by adding the 20-year-old to his ranks. You only have to see the sort of goals and impact Smith made at Bath City, to see what he is capable of if nurtured correctly.
With seventh arrival Hussey in the side, set-pieces already appear to have been accounted for with the left-back and Smith, not to mention Eisa, able to take free-kicks.
Eight are on board, but how many more are needed and who will jump ship?
There are now 18 players at Cheltenham Town in total, with the new signings joining the 10 already under contract for next season.
The £1.5 million price tag set on top scorer Mo Eisa is yet to be offered, despite interest from plenty of League One and Championship clubs.
If the Sudan-born striker’s valuation is not met, then he will stay in Gloucestershire until January at least but it is widely expected that someone will come in with a substantial offer closer to the new season.
Eisa’s 25 goals in all competitions put him up there with the best in the Football League and it’s a win-win situation should he leave for a club-record fee or stay in the side to push for promotion in 2018/19.
Regardless of what happens with Cheltenham’s most valuable asset, they will still need one or two more new strikers to share the goal-scoring burden. Brian Graham’s future is uncertain as the Scottish forward will have to prove his fitness and improve on his five-goal haul to be part of Johnson’s plans.
Addai can be utilised as a striker and of course there’s home-grown academy product George Lloyd pushing to be more involved after impressing with two goals right at the end of the season.
The 18-year-old has a bright future, hopefully at Cheltenham Town but the Robins will need a target man if they are to fly towards the play-offs and above.
With Tozer’s long-throws and Hussey’s crossing/set-pieces, a tall and strong striker to win the aerial battles and hold the ball up is the main missing jigsaw piece in this nearly completed squad.
There is sure to be a couple of loan additions too, with cover at left-back needed for Hussey as he misses the first four matches due to a suspension – the striker could even be a player borrowed from a higher division club.
All in all, Cheltenham Town are in a strong position with pre-season now underway. Johnson and his staff should be commended for their prompt business so far but now it’s time for the hard work to start as the countdown to August begins.