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6Notts County14121
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9Crawley Town14-120
18Cambridge Utd14-516
19Leyton Orient14-215

24Newport County12-87

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Destiny at Cardiff
Destiny at Cardiff

Cheltenham Preview

By: Richards Hubbert & Lord
Date: 26/05/2006

JUST one game stands between Grimsby Town and League One! A 3-1 aggregate win over local rivals Lincoln City in the play-off semi final sees the Mariners travel to the Millennium Stadium this Sunday, where they will face Cheltenham Town.

Home > 2005-2006 Season > Previews > Cheltenham (n)

Thousands of Town fans will make the long trip to the Welsh capital this weekend hoping that the Mariners will make a return to the third tier of English football. The importance of the game cannot be underestimated. The winner of this match will travel to the likes of Nottingham Forest, Millwall, Brighton and Huddersfield next season. However, the loser will have to make do with trips to Accrington, Barnet, Boston and Hereford instead.

The Opposition

The Robins - managed by former Town player John Ward - finished in fifth place, six points behind the Mariners. But league positions will count for nothing in the League 2 play-off final in Cardiff. It’s a cup final, as the cliché goes - but with more at stake. Interestingly, a fourth-placed finish and 78 points were good enough to win promotion for Cheltenham back in May 2002 when they beat Rushden & Diamonds in the Division 3 play-off final. Four years on, they find themselves back at the Millennium Stadium but this time as underdogs.

Since winning promotion to the Football League under Steve Cotterill (left) in 1999, the Robins continued to improve. Their first season in Division 3 saw them finish just two points outside the play-offs. The following campaign was equally as frustrating when they ended up in ninth place. But at the third time of asking they did achieve a play-off finish - and they made it count, when they beat Rushden and won promotion to Division 2. After winning 118 of his 255 games in charge, Cotterill departed for Stoke. Graham Allner was appointed the new manager at Whaddon Road but he was replaced by Bobby Gould half way through the season following a poor start to the campaign. The former Wales manager nearly kept the Robins up, but it was Chesterfield who ultimately survived - and the Spirites did so again the following season, this time at the expense of Grimsby Town.

The Manager
A consolidation period has seen the Robins finish the past two seasons in 14th place, with a promotion push long overdue. John Ward(left) - who managed Bristol City to promotion the last time the Mariners were involved in a play-off campaign - has done a tremendous job at Whaddon Road since he was appointed in November 2003. Ward started his managerial career at York City in 1991 and he has also had the pleasure of managing both Bristol sides in the 1990s, enjoying relative success with both Rovers and City. Indeed, his success has not gone unnoticed - he is the early favourite to replace Keith Alexander at Lincoln City.

2005/2006 - A Long Season
This will be Cheltenham’s 61st competitive game of the season due to a couple of cup runs. Although they beat League 1 Brentford 5-0 in the first round of the League Cup, they went out in the next round 1-0 at Sunderland - not before taking the Black Cats into extra time. The Robins reached the fourth round of the FA Cup (left), but it took five matches to get there. John Ward’s side beat Carlisle 1-0 at home before they were taken to a replay at Oxford in the second round. A 2-1 win at the Kassam Stadium paired them with Chester in round three, and again it went to a replay - once more away from home - before they secured their passage into round four. Like the Mariners in the League Cup, they were paired with Newcastle United. The Magpies won 2-0 in a game screened live on the BBC, but not without a few scares. Cheltenham also enjoyed success in the Football League Trophy - recently re-named as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Victories at Shrewsbury (2-0) and Woking (5-1) were followed by a home success over Oxford (2-1). They finally came undone in the semi-final at home to League 1 runners-up Colchester (0-1).

Evidence of Cheltenham’s consistency can be seen in a 17-match run, of which they lost just one - at home to Oxford (a team they played five times this season). The run began with that FA Cup first round win over Carlisle on November 5 and ended on January 14 with their last home league defeat of the campaign against Bristol Rovers. The start of that sequence of results also yielded five straight victories (Carlisle (h) 1-0, Notts County (a) 3-2, Lincoln (h) 4-1, Bury (a) 1-0 and Woking (a) 5-1). Contrastingly, their worst run of results was six games without a win (from August 27 to September 20), but they have finished the season strongly - just one defeat in their last eight - and that came at Blundell Park when the Mariners won 1-0!

Their Squad
The Robins have prided themselves on the quality of youth making its way into the squad this season. There are also some older members of the team who have provided experience to help the youngsters on their way. In goal is the dependable Shane Higgs. Since joining the Robins in 1999 for £10,000 from Worcester City he has made over 150 appearances. Cheltenham's defence includes the experience of full-back Jerry Gill and former Town loan man Craig Armstrong. Their captain John Finnigan played in their 2002 play-off success and earlier this week, challenged the Mariners to beat the Robins for the third time this season. Fellow midfielders Brian Wilson and JJ Melligan have been consistent performers for John Ward's side, and one time Town trialist Grant McCann is the one to watch for the Robins. The Northern Irish midfielder has notched 11 goals from the left of midfield this season. In attack they have top scorer Kayode Odejayi (left), cousin of Sheffield United frontman Ade Akinbiyi. Odejayi was snapped up in 2003 by then manager Bobby Gould for a small fee of £5,000 from Forest Green. Steve Guinan has netted nine goals this season including one in the first leg of the play-off semi final with Wycombe. Guinan has played for 12 football league clubs, including Scunthorpe, Cambridge and Burnley.

Key Player
Grant McCann. Having scored 11 goals from midfield and creating countless others, Gary Croft will have his hands full down Cheltenham’s left hand side. McCann is a firm fans favourite who has one of the sweetest left foots in the division. If he can be nullified, service to the likes of Guinan and Odejayi will be reduced.

Recent Form

The Mariners form meanwhile has been solid, if unspectacular. Town have not lost in the last seven, despite four of those being draws. It was this failure to turn draws into wins that cost Town automatic promotion. Yet when it mattered in the play off semi-finals, two wins were secured against Lincoln City. One man bang in form at the moment is Gary Jones. Now he is able to play in the final, he will hope to continue the sort of form that has seen him net 10 in his last 15 starts.

Ward’s side finished the season in good form and finished on a high, winning 5-0 at Mansfield. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles in Cheltenham’s season was their home form - no other team in League 2 conceded more goals at home (31). However, they finished the season strongly at Whaddon Road, and the last of their seven home defeats came against Bristol Rovers in mid-January.

WLincoln (PO SF)(h)2-1
WLincoln (PO SF)(a)1-0
Finished 4th in League Two.
DWycombe (PO SF)(h)0-0
WWycombe (PO SF)(a)2-1
WNotts C(h)2-0
Finished 5th in League Two.

Top Scorers

Gary Jones17
Michael Reddy14

Team News


  • Mariners boss Russell Slade has nearly a fully fit squad to pick from as he plots promotion the League 1. The only absentee will be club legend John McDermott. Unfortunately the 37-year-old defender has a thigh injury.

  • As all Town fans will know, Gary Jones is now able to play after his appeal against that red card against Lincoln was successful. The question is who his partner will be.

  • Russell Slade has hinted that Michael Reddy will start the match. Reddy has not completed 90 minutes since mid-April in the 1-1 draw with Shrewsbury. This has been due to an ongoing hamstring injury.

  • But with the prospect of 90 minutes plus extra time, Slade may opt to give Junior Mendes another start in attack. The loan striker has improved recently and Slade might decide it is more dangerous to have Reddy coming off the bench.

  • In midfield, Andy Parkinson is likely to keep his place on the wing, although Gary Cohen has competition from the likes of Marc Goodfellow and Ciaran Toner for his starting place.

  • Another big decision has to be made at the back. Ben Futcher was impressive over the two legs against Lincoln alongside Justin Whittle. However, until he was forced off with a head injury in the second leg against Lincoln, Rob Jones was immaculate and has been so all season.

  • Jones has now recovered from his head injury and is expected to get the nod ahead of Futcher.
  • The Robins also have just one first team regular sidelined. Coincidentally, they are also deprived of their very own long serving full back in the shape of Jamie Victory. Victory has made over 250 appearances for Cheltenham but will miss out with a foot injury.

  • Boss John Ward also has some tough decisions to make. He spoke earlier this week about disappointing some players by leaving them out of the squad of 16. The likes of Adam Connolly, Michael Townsend and JJ Melligan are likely to miss out of the squad altogether.
  • Probable Teams

    1Steve Mildenhall
    20Gary Croft
    17Tom Newey
    12Rob Jones
    6Justin Whittle
    15Gary Cohen
    32Curtis Woodhouse
    8Paul Bolland
    11Andy Parkinson
    19Gary Jones
    9Michael Reddy
    1Shane Higgs
    2Jeremy Gill
    5Gavin Caines
    4Shane Duff
    19Craig Armstrong
    18Ashley Vincent
    8John Finnigan
    7Brian Wilson
    11Grant McCann
    9Steve Guinan
    17Kayode Odejayi


    4Ben Futcher
    31Junior Mendes
    18Ciaran Toner
    10Marc Goodfellow
    7JPK Kalala
    10Damian Spencer
    25Steve Gillespie
    14David Bird
    33Mickey Bell
    12Scott Brown

    Play Off Facts

  • The Mariners have three players who have appeared in play off finals for other clubs. Gary Croft was a 70th minute substitute for Cardiff in their 2003 success over QPR. The game went to extra time with one-time Mariners target Andy Campbell netting the only goal.

  • Ben Futcher was of course less successful with Lincoln City, losing twice to Southend and Bournemouth. However, Futch did grab a goal in one of those games.

  • Striker Junior Mendes has also experienced play off misery with Mansfield Town. In 2004 they lost in a penalty shoot out to Huddersfield, whom he eventually joined later that summer.

  • Cheltenham, like the Mariners have a played in just one play off final and also won. They defeated Rushden and Diamonds in 2002 with a 3-1 win.

  • It has been well documented that those who finish in 4th place in the bottom division are successful in the play offs. In the last ten years, eight of the winners have been sides finishing in 4th place. The exceptions game in 2000 and 2001 when 5th and 7th placed teams won.

  • Town have lost only one game in the league in which Gary Jones has scored - that coming all the way back in September in the 3-1 loss at home to Stockport. Similarly, when Gary Cohen nets for Town, we always win.

  • Both sides seem to concede late goals quite regularly. Both sides have conceded 14 goals in the last 15 minutes of the match over the season. So be prepared for some last minute drama!

  • Head to Head

    The two teams have met on just four occasions, yet the Mariners have the upper edge having not lost to the Robins yet. The first game was in October 2004 where Cheltenham pinched a goal in the last five minutes to deny Town victory and make the score 1-1. The Mariners got revenge at Whaddon Road the next January with a thrilling 3-2 victory. Goals from Terry Fleming and a brace from Michael Reddy gave Town the win. Town scored three goals at Whaddon Road again earlier this season when strikes from Cohen, Bolland and Reddy secured a 3-0 victory. The last game between the sides was of course a month ago at Blundell Park. A solitary Gary Jones goal in the second half gave Town another victory against the Robins.

    P 4 W 3 D 1 L 0 F 8 A 3

    Cheltenham Head-to-Head (Not on The Opposition Ladder)

    Last Meeting

    Grimsby Team: Mildenhall, Cohen, Whittle, Robert Jones, Croft, Mendes, Bolland, Woodhouse, Goodfellow (Toner, 85), Reddy (Parkinson, 78), Gary Jones Subs (not used): Futcher, Kamudimba, Downey

    Cheltenham Team: Higgs, Gill, Duff, Caines, Armstrong, Melligan (Bird, 70), Finnigan, McCann, Wilson (Vincent, 82), Odejayi, Guinan (Spencer, 63)
    Subs: (not used) Scott Brown, Bell

    Attendance: 5,863  Report


    A one off game like this is hard to predict. All the form points to a Mariners victory, but we all know that counts for nothing! Undoubtedly John Ward will have his side pumped up for the game. Cheltenham have shown that they are a handy side. They thrashed Mansfield 5-0 at Field Mill a few weeks ago, a place where Town lost whilst they also managed to do something the Mariners never did - beat Wycombe. I am not sure there will be many goals during the game. Therefore I predict a 2-1 victory for Grimsby. I hope I am right!

    2-1 to the Mariners

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