A closer look at Cheltenham Town’s new signings and how the squad is shaping up ahead of the 2018/19 season

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.


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).

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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.


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.

Three out of contract or free transfers that Cheltenham Town should consider signing this summer

Most clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two have now released their retained lists, so many players have discovered their futures with many left out of contract or listed for transfer this summer.

Cheltenham Town have already swooped to sign three players as Gary Johnson re-shapes his squad ahead of a targeted promotion push next season.

With that in mind, here are three players that would be able to sign for free that would be good signings for the Robins over the next couple of months.

Three key areas to address here are at right-back, central midfield and up front.

Scott Wagstaff

The versatile former Bristol City midfielder has just been released by League One side Gillingham and would be an excellent addition for the Robins.

Many Gills fans were surprised to see Wagstaff depart after two seasons in his home county of Kent, with the 28-year-old making 38 appearances and scoring two goals in 2017/18.

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Having started his career at Charlton Athletic, Wagstaff has enjoyed most of his playing days in League One, playing a key part in Bristol City’s promotion to the Championship in 2014/15.

Comfortable in defence, the Maidstone-born midfielder spent large parts of last season at right-back – a position in which Cheltenham could do with reinforcements in.

Wagstaff is vastly experienced but is unlikely to return to the Championship, so looks set to join a League One or Two club this summer.

Ollie Banks

6’3” central midfielder Ollie Banks is a free agent that would be an ideal replacement for Harry Pell.

The 25-year-old was released by League Two bound Oldham Athletic after he spent the second half of the 2017/18 season out on loan at Swindon Town.

Banks scored three goals in his first five appearances for Swindon, after impressing in a short loan spell with National League play-off winners Tranmere Rovers.

The Merseyside-club are thought to be keen on bringing Banks back to Prenton Park on a permanent deal now that they have returned to the Football League.


But the former Chesterfield man should certainly be considered by Robins manager Gary Johnson, who looks set re-build his midfield following Pell’s sale to Colchester, Joe Morrell’s return to Bristol City and Carl Winchester’s likely departure.

James Hanson

An out-and-out target man, James Hanson would bring the physical presence that Cheltenham Town need up top.

The 30-year-old  striker has been made available for transfer by Championship side Sheffield United, looking set to leave along with released left-back reportedly on Johnson’s radar, Chris Hussey.

Hanson regularly hit double figures for Bradford City between 2011 and 2016, earning a reputation as being one of the deadliest strikers in lower league football for his renowned ariel threat.

After two seasons in League Two, Hanson adapted well when promoted to League One with the Bantams.

In total, he scored 77 times in an eight-year spell at Valley Parade, but only netted once for Sheffield United after joining them last year.

After failing to score whilst on loan at Bury at the back end of 2017/18, Hanson could very well be returning to League Two in search of a club and with Cheltenham in the market for a proven marksman, he certainly fits the bill.

The ‘Imp-ressive’ rise of Lincoln City and why other clubs should follow suit

Their playing style may not be pleasing to the eye at times, but if you want an example of a club on the up, then look no further than League Two outfit Lincoln City.

The Imps are doing things right, both on and off the pitch, which has attributed to great success in the last two seasons.

Footlong Lincolnshire sausages, fan-zones, noisy crowds and a warm welcome greet any visitor to Sincil Bank, which has become a reliable fortress for its tough to beat tenants.

The stadium has been packed to the rafters this season and generates the best atmosphere in the division, hardly surprising given the feel-good factor around the place.


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The 5,700 capacity Lincolnshire Co-operative stand is home to the 617 Squadron Ultras


Crowds have risen from the 2/3000 mark to near full-capacity numbers that nearly surpass 10,000. If you want everything good about a matchday experience, then heading North East on the A46 is your best bet for an enjoyable afternoon or evening at the football.

Where most teams struggle with low attendances and poor atmosphere in League Two, a leaf could be taken out of Lincoln’s book in how to get the city/ town behind it’s team.

Although this doesn’t happen overnight, as there has to be on-field success to spark such a revolution. Coached by the youthful exuberance of the highly coveted Danny Cowley, Lincoln have gone from mid-table National League fodder to within one match of competing in the League Two play-offs in a remarkable two-year rise – count two brilliant cup runs with that.

Teams like Exeter City and Burton Albion have fared well since coming up from the top tier of non-league football in recent years, with the latter now fighting to stay in the Championship. Even if Burton go back down, they will still be punching above their weight in historical terms.

But with Lincoln, the potential was always there for the club to return to greater things. They have been one of many sleeping giants in the National League, with the likes of Tranmere Rovers and Wrexham still stuck outside of the EFL.

Unlike many huge clubs currently marooned in the fifth tier, the Imps returned to the Football League at last this time last year, for the first time since 2011.


Appointing Cowley was the first step, he came in after guiding lowly Braintree to the National League play-offs the year before, who were then relegated to the National League South after he left the club.

He built a solid team that would go on to storm the division with 99 points (still two off what the mighty Cheltenham managed in 2015/16 though), but the club also managed to catch national media attention for a truly astonishing FA Cup run.

The little mischievous Imps had been transformed into giantkillers. Becoming the first non-league club to reach the quarter-finals in 103 years. They eliminated Championship sides Brighton and Ipswich on their way to the last eight, also knocking out Premier League Burnley 1-0, who rarely lost at home in the Premier League yet alone to a team four division’s below.

Eventual winners Arsenal finally halted Cowley’s heroes, as Lincoln’s first ever trip to Wembley was denied by one of English football’s biggest teams.

Amazingly, they would get another shot at a first trip to the home of football just a season later and in a few weeks’ time, they may grace Wembley Stadium for the second time in one season, after going 133-years without a single trip to the capital.

It’s truly what dreams are made of.

Even in their Checkatrade Trophy final triumph last month, the Imps were still underdogs to Paul Hurst’s high-flying overachieving League One Shrewsbury Town.

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They even coped with some tough departures mid-season. In January, fan-favourite Sean Ragget and centre-back partner Rob Dickie left the club, but with Cowley at the helm, they quickly replaced what was lost and added some top-quality players to the team from higher divisions.

For the second season in a row, Lincoln have combined a marvellous cup run with a successful league campaign and despite potentially being part of what could be one of the most competitive League Two play-off line-ups in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against them to go all the way to League One. Would you?

Five out of contract former Cheltenham Town players that the club could re-sign this summer

As the 2017/18 season comes to a close, it’s getting to that time where EFL clubs release their retained list and announce who is staying and going over the summer. With one game to go in the regular season, Cheltenham Town travel to Crewe Alexandra this coming weekend with nothing to play for but pride. Manager Gary Johnson has already started talking about a summer rebuild ahead of next year’s campaign. But even with the money from potential outgoing transfers, it’s likely that most of the upcoming signings will be free agents.

With that in mind, here are five former Robins players whose contracts are set to expire that could return to the club this summer.

Sido Jombati

A former fan-favourite, Portuguese right-back Jombati spent three years with Cheltenham Town between 2011 and 2014, scoring five goals.

After impressing in non-league with Bath City, the Lisbon-born defender was given his Football League breakthrough at Whaddon Road when Mark Yates signed him after being named as the Romans’ Player of the Season.

Jombati made over 100 appearances for the Robins under Yates, playing a pivotal role in the side that reached the League Two play-off final in 2011/12 and semi-finals in 2012/13.

He joined Wycombe Wanderers in 2014 when his contract at Cheltenham expired, and has been at Adams Park ever since.

Wycombe won automatic promotion last weekend, securing a third-place finish in League Two with Jombati part of the squad.

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But at 30-years-old, he finds himself out of contract again this summer facing an uncertain future having spent part of the season out injured.

With Cheltenham without an out and out right-back in the squad, Jombati could be a candidate to return to Gloucestershire over the next few months.

Joss Labadie

Newport County captain Labadie is exactly the tough-tackling, box to box midfielder that Cheltenham Town could do with.

The 27-year-old has turned into an excellent League Two player since spending a short 11 match loan spell from West Brom at Whaddon Road in 2009/10.

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The Robins are looking for leaders this summer, especially having lost former stalwart Kyle Storer in January and Labadie fits the bill.

The Croydon-born enforcer has excelled since joining Newport in 2016 from then relegated Dagenham and Redbridge, but contract talks have stalled since he suffered an ACL injury a few weeks ago.

With his rehabilitation set to continue in the off-season, Labadie could still leave Rodney Parade for pastures new and with uncertainty over the futures of Harry Pell, Carl Winchester and Bristol City loanee Joe Morrell, a central midfielder could be on Gary Johnson’s wish list.


Scott Brown

Another central midfielder, Accrington Stanley’s Brown shares the same name as former Cheltenham and current Wycombe goalkeeper Scott Brown.

Both players have won promotion to League One with low-budget teams this season against all odds, with the 32-year-old central midfielder helping John Coleman’s Accrington secure the League Two title.

Brown has played for 11 clubs since leaving Everton as a youngster, including three spells with Cheltenham, two of which were on loan, making 25 appearances for the club between 2007 and 2010.

He joined Accrington in 2016 after an injury hit career, helping the overachievers storm the division this season.

Gary Johnson has said that his side needs experience and that’s exactly what Brown would bring if he should become available with his contract set to expire in June.

The pair worked together at Bristol City when Johnson was in charge, and should Brown not be offered a new deal with the Reds, he could be a shrewd signing for Cheltenham.

Wes Thomas

A one season wonder with the Robins in 2010/11, Thomas has recently been made available after Oxford United released the striker this week.


The 31-year-old scored 18 league goals for Cheltenham that season, the third highest player to do in a singe campaign for the club ever.

Current record holder Mo Eisa, who has netted 23 league goals this season (25 in all competitions), is under contract but may leave for the Championship this summer after a sublime first season in the EFL.

Should Eisa go, the Robins will need to find a replacement for his goals and despite his age and injury record, Thomas could be worth the gamble after netting 11 goals in the division above this season.

The well-travelled forward rejected a new contract to move closer to London and joined Crawley Town after one season but has played for eight clubs since 2011.

Brian Wilson

Relegation threatened Oldham have one match left to save their League One status next weekend, but whatever the outcome one player that could be on the move out is Brian Wilson.

The 34-year-old utility player has been playing right-back for the Latics but is out of contract at the end of the season with a new deal unlikely.

Like with Jombati, Cheltenham could be in the hunt for a new right sided full-back and swooping for Wilson would not be a surprise after he was linked with a return to the club in January 2017.

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Wilson stands as one of Cheltenham’s biggest sales, after a successful spell including 118 appearances and 14 goals in the Cotswolds between 2004 and 2007 earned him a move to Johnson’s Bristol City.

Like Scott Brown, he could be another player that links up with the Cheltenham boss once more this summer.

Other former Cheltenham players out of contract this summer: Luke Summerfield, Jake Taylor, David Pipe, Lawson D’Ath, Ashley Eastham, Jermaine McGlashan – would you like to see any of them return?

Aston Villa 1-0 Leeds United: Three talking points from Villa Park

A confident Grealish is too good for the Championship

Jack Grealish has enjoyed a brilliant week in front of the Villa Park faithful.

The 22-year-old fired in a stunning goal to net a late winner against fellow promotion chasers Cardiff City on Tuesday night and dazzled in midfield once more in front of the Sky Sports cameras just three days later.

He set up Lewis Grabban for the opener after 29 minutes, whipping in a pinpoint cross for the Bournemouth loanee to coolly head into the top corner.

That was Grealish’s fifth assist of the campaign, his inconsistency does frustrate the supporters, but he remains a firm fan favourite when on form.

The Birmingham-born playmaker certainly made an impact in the middle of the park, where he seems better suited after playing out wide at times during his career.

The younger Grealish stood out in a poor Villa side during their final couple of seasons in the Premier League and has proven his worth at a higher level, if his side do make a return to the top flight then he can make the step up.

Grabbing three points keeps Villa’s automatic promotion hopes alive

Lewis Grabban’s neat header midway through the first half was his fifth in claret and blue colours since joining the club on loan until the end of the season.

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The well-travelled forward played on the left wing for the first hour but after top-scorer Albert Adomah was subbed on for Jonathan Kodjia in the 66th minute, Grabban moved up front before being replaced himself by Scott Hogan.

His crucial strike keeps Steve Bruce’s side in with a shout of automatic promotion with just three matches to play, leaving them two points off the top two despite having played a game more than Fulham, and two more than Cardiff City.

Leeds have a top stopper in their ranks

Were it not for Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the Leeds goal, Aston Villa would have been out of sight come the final whistle.

The 21-year-old made several important saves in the first half and showcased stunning reactions to make a double save on the hour mark – first denying Kodjia and then Robert Snodgrass’s follow up.

He certainly stood out for a young goalkeeper, and has taken his chance with both hands since replacing Felix Wiedwald as number one.

It may be a disappointing end to the season for Leeds, but in Peacock-Farrell they have a safe pair of hands between the sticks going into next season.

Report: Aston Villa 1-0 Leeds United

A first half header from Lewis Grabban ensured that Aston Villa kept their slim automatic promotion hopes alive with victory over Leeds United at Villa Park in the Sky Bet Championship.

In what was their second 1-0 home triumph in a row, Steve Bruce’s side closed the gap on second place Fulham to two points despite having played a game more.

The decisive goal came after 29 minutes, when Jack Grealish’s brilliant cross was clinically nodded into the top corner by Grabban, for his fifth strike of the season.

An improved second half performance was not enough for the visitors, who were indebted to goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell for the keeping the score down throughout.

Grabban fired wide on the turn after a long ball in an action packed first minute which was headed to him by Spurs loanee Josh Onomah.

Ezgjan Alioski forced Sam Johnstone into a save straight afterwards for Leeds, who were chasing a first away victory since Boxing Day.

The end to end start settled down until the ninth minute, when Stuart Dallas managed to get a vital touch on a low cross from the wide right to send the ball out for a Villa corner.

Steve Bruce’s side threatened again two minutes later when Mile Jedinak opened his body up to shoot from long range, but his powerful curling effort was pushed away by Leeds’s academy graduate goalkeeper Peacock-Farrell.

A vital diving header from the young stopper then denied Jonathan Kodjia when he chased a through ball in on goal as the hosts looked to get their noses ahead after a positive start.

Bruce’s side were constantly bombarding the Leeds penalty box with dangerous crosses and they finally found a way through in the 29th minute through Grabban.

The lively Grealish recycled the ball after Neil Taylor’s cross was headed away and curled in the perfect delivery for Grabban to head into the top corner.

Grabban’s well-placed header across the face of goal was his fifth goal of the season, and it put the hosts on course for a third home victory in a row.

Confidence was flowing through Villa’s veins, as both Onomah and Grealish tried their luck from distance before the half-time whistle.

After Paul Heckingbottom introduced Samuel Saiz at half-time, the Yorkshire side improved in the early stages of the second period as both Kalvin Phillips and Tom Pearce came close.

A superb double save from Peacock-Farrell first denied Kodjia then Robert Snodgrass’s follow-up to keep the improving visitors in the game on the hour mark.

Grealish fired over before delicately lifting a chipped pass into the path of Albert Adomah, but the substitute was denied by the brilliant Peacock-Farrell, who was having a great game.

But a third clean sheet at Villa Park in a row ensured that one goal was enough for the hosts, who still have a slim chance of securing automatic promotion to the Premier League – with a play-off place all but secured.


Aston Villa: Johnstone (Gk), Taylor, Chester ©, Whelan, Snodgrass, Grealish, Jedinak, Onomah (Samba 84), Kodjia (Adomah 66), Elmohamady, Grabban (Hogan 77).

Subs: Bunn (Gk), Lansbury, Hourihane, Bree.

Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell (Gk), Pennington, Roofe (Lasogga 77), Alioski (Grot 66), Dallas, Hernandez ©, Phillips, Vieira, O’Connor, Ekuban (Saiz 45), Pearce.

Subs: Lonergan (Gk), Anita, O’Kane, Struijk.

FC Cologne show why German football is the GOAT for fan experience

Die Geißböcke (The Billy Goats) are unique for their history, success and mascot, but not least for the connection they have with their fans.

The teams are out, and over 40,000 supporters rise to their feet, all in unison, orchestrated by the entrance of their team. As every single fan twirls their scarf, they sing, creating a spine-tingling atmosphere that is unrivalled anywhere else but in Germany. This is a fan base firmly intertwined with their club, their religion, and what they sing is not an anthem or song, but a hymn that serenades their weekly worship. ‘Mer stonn zo dir FC Kölle’- We stand by you, FC Koln.

This is the scene at a match day in Cologne, where 48,000 people have turned out to support a side that sit rock bottom of the German Bundesliga, not that you’d know given the positive vibe around the RheinEnergieStadion.

Yet a near sell out crowd are packed in see FC Cologne play an in-form Hannover 96, despite the fact their local side have picked up a mere 13 points from 22 games. Before kick-off, Effzeh (otherwise known as FC) sit 10 points from safety, a target that looks very hard to meet with just 12 matches to play.

Colonge stadium entrance

But even though the club stare relegation in the face, dropping down a division wouldn’t be as tragic and as consequential as many teams would find. That’s because the passionate support that Cologne have will still be here next season, regardless of where they finish.

The reason for this is not just down to loyalty but because the fan experience is worth coming back for time and again, like a giant magnet pulling in support from elsewhere which is typically as efficient as Germany itself.

German football attracts thousands of English tourists every season. Most flock to the likes of Dortmund, where crowds of around 80,000 cheer on one of Germany and Europe’s biggest teams in one of the largest club stadiums in the world.

However, the reality is that any stadium in the German nation can provide this experience that is severely lacking across the UK.

The city of Cologne is plastered with propaganda for Effzeh. Stickers, banners, billboards, shops and even the food is branded with the football team in mind. How many cities in England go that far in establishing a connection with their local sports team?

Cologne city view

On entry to the stadium, which is surrounded by green fields and trees, there is a walkway that caters for anything a supporter needs. Endless food wagons, merchandise and of course beer is readily available not just outside the arena, but also during the match. What’s not to like!

Chuck in a few bags of free crisps and Mentos, and you have one truly satisfied fan, and that’s even before a ball has been kicked.

Then there’s the match day itself, the atmosphere is electric from start to finish, leaving you tapping the seat in the tram on the way home. Even though you may not understand the choruses of German chants, they stick in your head afterwards.

The supporters are generally well behaved, often mixing with each other and enjoying a beer, as many Hannover fans did with the Cologne faithful. Whilst around 5,000 segregated away supporters chant continuously, safely fenced away in a section where it is near enough impossible for invasion by the oppositions faithful.

Giant flags are remarkably waved left to right for 90 minutes, even through half-time, where if the food and alcohol isn’t enough to keep you busy, then stewards shooting free T-shirts through cannons into the crowd will sustain that level of entertainment.

Amongst the constant drum beats in the crowd, there’s often a bleat from the tannoy, courtesy of the club’s beloved mascot, Hennes the goat.

Embed from Getty Images

The stadium announcer constantly keeps everyone on their toes, encouraging vocal support at any given moment, whilst the ultras bounce and mosh, orchestrated by men with megaphones. Utilising safe standing in the best possible way, which is something that simply needs to be successfully instilled across English football grounds.

As for the action on the pitch, a poor game that ends 1-1 is overshadowed by VAR, which denies the hosts what would have been a vital last-minute winner just as Hannover are set to restart, prompting deafening whistles and jeers from the stands.

But that’s another matter altogether, as for the whole match day experience, it was 10 out of 10. Cologne fans caught the eye of the media worldwide when they took 20,000 fans to London, invading Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium back in September during the Billy Goats’ first European fixture in decades.

Four months later, I can see what the fuss was about. The team may be a shadow of the side that finished fifth in the Bundesliga last term, but the fans and connection they have with each other will forever be prominent.

‘Mer stonn zo dir FC Kölle’

Ehrenfeld, Raderthal, Nippes, Poll, Esch, Pesch, and Kalk
Everywhere, there are fans of FC Köln
In Rio, in Rome, (Bergisch, definitely not Mönchen) Gladbach, Prüm, and Habbelrath
Everywhere, there are fans of FC Köln
Joy or sorrow, future and past
a feeling that unites – FC Köln
Whether forward, whether back – a new match means a new chance
a feeling that unites – FC Köln
We pledge to you here our loyalty and honor
We stand by you, FC Köln
and we walk with you, through fire if it must be
remaining always by your side
(whether) Young or old – poor or rich
together, we are strong, FC Köln
through thick and through thin – no matter where
only together are we strong, FC Köln
We pledge to you here our loyalty and honor
We stand by you, FC Köln
and we walk with you, through fire if it must be
remaining always by your side.

And now in Gloucester, United Kingdom, even there, are fans of FC Koln.

Koln away two

Wycombe Wanderers 3-3 Cheltenham Town: Five things we learned

Fans certainly got their value for money at Adams Park

A second successive 3-3 draw between Wycombe and Cheltenham had both home and away supporters entertained right up until the last minute at Adams Park.

The match had a similar feeling to the encounter last year where the Robins surrendered a lead before coming back into the game late into the second half.

Both teams have been enjoyable to watch this season, scoring 54 between them, and that fashion continued as five goals were scored in a frantic second period.

Wycombe have one of the most potent front-lines in the division, even without the injured Scott Kashket, who netted 16 times last season.

Cheltenham are much better going forward too, sharing the goal haul across the pitch a lot better than the previous campaign where Billy Waters was often the only outlet.

Storm Brian strikes twice in one week

Brian Graham started up front with Danny Wright again as Gary Johnson named an unchanged side from the team that beat Lincoln last week and the Scotsman enjoyed his best display yet against Wycombe.

His brace helped earn the visitors a deserved point as he took his goal tally up to four since joining from Hibernian late in the summer transfer window.



The 29-year-old showed his poacher instinct to tap in a Jamie Grimes’ cut back for the opener, before steering a brilliant header in off the post in the last minute to rescue a point for the Robins.

The well travelled forward has started to win over his critics in recent weeks and on this display, Graham’s first spell in English football could be successful one.

It was far too Eze for Wycombe after half time

Cheltenham lacked midfield protection until Kyle Storer came off the bench three quarters of the way through the match to sit in front of the back four.

Joe Morrell and Carl Winchester are both a cut above in creativity at this level, but were clearly missing someone to mop up in behind and despite a positive first half, the midfield and defence crumbled between the 45th and 55th minute against Wycombe.

Gareth Ainsworth’s side hit back with two goals in two minutes and Eberechi Eze was the architect in the turnaround.

The QPR loanee shone in midfield for the Chairboys, and swept home the equaliser after 48 minutes before running a huge distance in the set up for Adebayo Akinfenwa’s goals.

The 19-year-old has tremendous physique and dribbling ability, he has also scored a couple of crackers this season too.

It was the fifth time this year that Cheltenham had conceded two goals in two minutes and when 3-1 down after 62 minutes, it required a massive effort to save the day and earn a draw.

The Robins deserve huge credit for not allowing the Chairboys to sit on their lead

The early second half capitulation did not deter Cheltenham from hitting back and the introduction of Harry Pell, Kyle Storer and former Wycombe loanee Jerell Sellars helped turn the game around.

Cheltenham did not give up, and when Carl Winchester made it 3-2 with 20 minutes to go, momentum aided the visitors in scoring the equaliser, despite a clear push from Mo Eisa in the build up.

The healthy band of travelling supporters rallied the team in earning a deserved point in a match that could have quite easily gone horribly wrong at one stage.


Such character and fighting spirit has been prevalent in recent matches such as against Port Vale and Grimsby Town, albeit without reward. But Cheltenham must learn not to put themselves in such a desperate position if they are to continue climbing the table.

Taming the beast remains a difficulty

Despite being 35 years of age, Adebayo Akinfenwa is still scoring goals in the Football League.

Finding the back of the net at this level is his bread and butter, and doing so against Cheltenham is also something he tends to enjoy.


‘The Beast’ has now scored 23 goals in 46 appearances for Wycombe and has bagged 11 against the Robins over the years for four different clubs.

Jamie Grimes and Will Boyle did superbly to win most aerial challenges with Akinfenwa and kept him quiet in the first half, but the man who is widely regarded as the strongest in football soon found his form with two after the interval.

It was another vital lesson for Cheltenham’s relatively young back four, who will now face the most prolific attack in League Two when they face Luton Town after FA Cup weekend.

Cheltenham Town 1-2 Forest Green: Five things we learned from Checkatrade Trophy tie as Wright sees red

Cheltenham Town lost their second successive Checkatrade Trophy game as Gloucestershire rivals Forest Green Rovers emerged victorious at Whaddon Road.

Freddie Hinds fired the hosts ahead shortly after the interval but two late goals from Reece Brown and Jordan Stevens sealed a morale boosting victory for Mark Cooper’s side.

Here are five things we learned from the first “El Glosico” meeting of the season.

Trevor Kettle wasn’t afraid to get his cards out when the match reached boiling point

Referee Trevor Kettle dished out five cards in a feisty encounter at the LCI Rail Stadium, including a straight red for Cheltenham striker Danny Wright.

FGR goal scorer Brown was the only recipient of a booking for the visitors while Matt Bower, Alex Davey and Jordan Cranston were all shown yellow cards for Cheltenham.

This fixture may only be a recently rekindled rivalry but tempers were running high and former Forest Green front man Wright was dismissed when he appeared to stamp on Reece Brown in the 83rd minute, leaving Gary Johnson’s team a man down and a goal down in the closing stages.

The 33-year-old was given a three match ban for a similar incident against Grimsby Town during their National League meeting live on BT Sport in April 2016.

If he is found guilty again, manager Gary Johnson confirmed that Wright could face a hefty club fine.

Old habits die hard for Cheltenham Town defensively

Despite the fact that Forest Green edged the game in terms of chances, Cheltenham Town were relatively comfortable up until the 79th minute.

Robins goalkeeper Jon Flatt made several fine saves in the first half to deny Christian Doidge, Charlie Cooper and Luke James as the score remained 0-0 at half time.

The Wolves loanee then turned another Doidge effort around the post when his side led 1-0, before Reece Brown found the bottom corner to equalise with 11 minutes remaining.

But just as they did against West Ham United and Exeter City earlier on in the season, Cheltenham conceded two goals in two minutes once more as Forest Green completely turned the game on its head.

Flatt was at fault as he tried to save a Jordan Stevens effort with his legs but completely made a hash of it, and unfortunately all of his hard work in the first half will be forgotten in the minds of many home supporters after that error.

Concern will also be expressed by how FGR scored two goals so quickly, even when there were six CTFC defenders on the pitch at the time.

The real “El Glosico” is set to kick off in November

There was an unusually large crowd for a Checkatrade Trophy game at Whaddon Road due to the fact that Forest Green were the visitors for the first time since their National League encounter in November 2015.

Around double the figure that attended the first competition fixture against Swansea City U23’s in August watched on in one of the highest attendances the competition has seen in the group phase since its controversial rebranding from the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

1,576 fans were in the stadium and those that chose not to boycott were also able to witness a mini-preview to what can be expected when the two sides meet in League Two in November.

Constant banter and chanting between both home and away supporters is a rarity in this competition, but a boisterous atmosphere could be heard throughout as Cheltenham and Forest Green fans geared up for what is sure to be another noisy encounter at The New Lawn next month.

Freddie Hinds loves a goal from long range

On loan Bristol City striker Freddie Hinds was given his first start for Cheltenham Town after six substitute appearances in League Two.

The 18-year-old marked it with a well taken strike that swerved over Forest Green keeper Sam Russell, adding to the two stunners he scored for Bristol City against Watford and Plymouth Argyle in the Carabao Cup before moving up the M5.

Fellow City loan pair Joe Morrell and Taylor Moore have shone since joining Cheltenham, establishing themselves as first team regulars.

Now that Hinds is off the mark, he too will hope to make an impression on the starting 11 if the opportunity should present itself in the future.

Cheltenham will make wholesale changes ahead of another home derby this Saturday

Gary Johnson made a total of eight changes for the cup tie, in comparison to Forest Green’s two.

While the victory will give Mark Cooper and his team a huge confidence boost, they still remain bottom of the Football League with just five points and without a league triumph since beating Yeovil Town 4-3 in August.

The Green Devils also face the daunting task of a trip to leaders Notts County this weekend, while Cheltenham will look to get back on track and build on their good league form versus Swindon Town.

In the battle between ‘The Robins’ Johnson is likely to bring back a number of first team regulars from the start such as Scott Flinders, Harry Pell, Mohamed Eisa, Brian Graham, Carl Winchester, Jamie Grimes and Joe Morrell (providing he returns from international duty unscathed).

Cheltenham are unbeaten in four League Two matches, a run that has carried them up to 13th in the table.

If they continue their fine home form against Swindon by getting three points, then this defeat will soon be forgotten come 5pm on Saturday afternoon.

Cheltenham Town 3-0 Mansfield Town: Five things we learned as the Robins secured a third League Two win of the season

Cheltenham Town moved up to 16th place in League Two after an impressive second half display helped dispatch Mansfield Town.

Here are five things we learned at the LCI Rail Stadium.

Joe Morrell was the smallest player on the pitch but had the biggest influence

Cheltenham Town may have unearthed a gem in the loan market judging by the contribution of Joe Morrell in his first month at the club.

Of the three Bristol City youngsters that Gary Johnson borrowed from his son Lee, Morrell was the least well known and expected to act as a squad player during his time in Gloucestershire.

But since making his debut against Stevenage after Nigel Atangana’s late withdrawal, the 20-year-old has been a standout performer in the centre of the pitch.

His stature allows for nimble footwork and the Welshman has also taken over on set piece duty, providing real quality deliveries, as proved by the assist for Brian Graham’s opener against Mansfield. He does not shy away from defensive duties either.

A well taken curled shot from the edge of the penalty area capped off a man of the match display for Morrell, who also bagged his first Football League goal versus the Stags.

Cheltenham have finally found their goal scoring touch

Gary Johnson’s side netted a quarter of their overall goal tally this season in the 3-0 rout, adding to the nine scored in their entire season so far.  

Converting chances created has been an issue in most of the ten league games, especially when dominating in the 0-0 draw at Yeovil and 1-0 defeat at Newport.

But the last three results have seen a real change in fortunes as Cheltenham made their pressure tell. They have already scored three goals in three home fixtures this season when netting more than two was a struggle throughout the majority of 2016/17.

Goals are coming from everywhere, and six different players have already opened their League Two accounts with Mohamed Eisa and Kevin Dawson leading the way in numbers.

You will struggle to find a more one sided second half this season

A scrappy disallowed goal was as good as the first half got in terms of action, that’s if you don’t count Mansfield manager Steve Evans’ antics in the away dugout.

But all the action during the second period was aimed towards the Speedy Skips end as the hosts put their big spending visitors to the sword.

Harry Pell crashed the post with a long range effort and Kevin Dawson had a header blocked on the line but three well taken strikes by Graham, Morrell and Wright was enough to seal victory for Cheltenham.

Before this game Cheltenham had scored all but two of their League Two goals in the first half but persistence paid off this time with three after the interval.

Momentum is building and Chesterfield away this coming Saturday provides a real opportunity to grab a maiden away victory, which would be the first since February.

The Robins have more chance of keeping clean sheets with Taylor at the back

Along with Joe Morrell and Freddie Hinds, Taylor Moore has thrived since arriving from Bristol City.

The young but experienced centre back has enjoyed a playing spell in France and has also proved himself at League One level on loan with Bury.

Moore has hardly put a foot wrong since pulling on a red and white shirt and has dealt with wily strikers such as Frank Nouble and Billy Kee with relatively little hassle as well as demonstrating a calm and composed partnership with either Jamie Grimes or Will Boyle.

The versatile 20-year-old shone again in a back four with the equally impressive Grimes, Carl Winchester and Daniel O’Shaughnessy against the Stags.

Brian Graham is heading in the right direction

Brian Graham finally stooped to head home his first Cheltenham goal after eight appearances.

The well travelled Scottish striker broke his Football League duck after a challenging start to life in English football.

After missing a penalty against Colchester a couple of weeks ago and blazing a one on one over the crossbar at Accrington Stanley, the 29-year-old was understandably delighted to hit the back of the net against Mansfield.

He will have to do that a lot more if he is to continue endearing himself to the Robins faithful but now that the monkey is off of his back, Graham will hope to add to his tally as one of the two target men at the club.