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Cheltenham Town gain promotion to League One following ???? with Carlisle United

Cheltenham Town have been promoted to League One after ?????

The Robins have ended a 12 year exile from the third tier of English football having spent 10 seasons in League Two and even a year in the National League during that time.

Since Michael Duff’s appointment in September 2018, Cheltenham have won games to stave off League Two relegation, reach the play-offs last season and this campaign, reach League One through automatic promotion.

With season on season improvements seen at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium since the 2018-19 campaign, Duff boasts a 46% win rate after overseeing 66 wins in 144 games as the Robins’ boss.

This term, Cheltenham have clinched automatic promotion with two games left to play in League Two. Duff’s side will travel to Newport County on Saturday with an opportunity to win the league, before ending the season by welcoming Harrogate Town to Gloucestershire the following weekend to end a memorable campaign.

After falling to a 3-0 defeat to Northampton Town in the second-leg of the 2019-2020 League Two play-off semi-final, half of Duff’s job during the weeks that followed was to pick up a group of players left devastated on the Jonny-Rocks turf in August.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Robins’ campaign was postponed with ten games left to play. Narrowly missing the cut as automatic promotion was decided on points-per-game, the play-offs offered hope to a side who still had a game in hand on all three teams occupying the automatic promotion places.

Defeat to Northampton in the play-offs was a crushing blow to Cheltenham, but it’s often the setbacks that make a team stronger and in this case, Cheltenham’s stumble prevented a fall.

Duff turned towards the summer transfer market to supplement his squad with the calibre of player worthy of propelling a team on the fringes of automatic promotion last season to a side capable of a going one better this time round.

Liam Sercombe, Andy Williams, Lewis Freestone and Matty Blair all signed on free transfers while Finn Azaz, Joshua Griffiths, Elliot Bonds and Tom Sang all penned loan deals. With enough quality and experience in the dressing room, Cheltenham were in a good place after winning back-to-back away games against Peterborough and Newport County in the EFL Cup and Football League Trophy to kickstart the campaign.

September – October: Cheltenham out the blocks

The League season started later than usual as Morecambe travelled to Gloucestershire on September 12 some five weeks later than a normal League Two campaign. A league hangover would however stain Cheltenham’s start to the campaign.

Two late Morecambe goals overturned the Robins’ lead as Alfie May scored his first of the season against The Shrimps – Carlos Mendes Gomes’ 90th minute strike was a bitter pill to swallow for Duff’s side. With the right characters in the Cheltenham camp, Duff’s side would soon get back to winning ways.

Following a 3-1 loss to Millwall in the EFL cup, Cheltenham found some winning form to take maximum points from their following three League Two ties against Tranmere Rovers, Leyton Orient, and Crawley Town.

Scoring nine goals in that time, the Robins climbed into the automatic promotion spots for the first time since last season. On loan goalkeeper Josh Griffiths kept four consecutive clean sheets to make his start to life at the club an impressive one, before a shock defeat to Grimsby Town briefly derailed Cheltenham’s fine start to the season.

A mixed bag of results would follow the Robins’ second home loss of the season as Duff’s side won three, drew one and lost another to end the month of October. Notable wins against Southend at Roots Hall and later Forest Green in the first El Glosico of the season put Cheltenham back amongst the automatic promotion chasing pack.

November – December: Winless runs and lucrative FA Cup ties

While Cheltenham started November with their first away defat of the campaign against Oldham thanks to a late Harry Clarke goal, the Robins went on to win four games in a row. With the club’s first FA Cup victory of the year coming against South Shields, Cheltenham followed up the 3-1 win with a 1-0 win over Norwich City’s Under-21s.

Successive League Two wins against Carlisle and Walsall earned Cheltenham a place back amongst the early promotion favourites before a home draw against Cambridge United ended the month’s league duties.

While the Robins were fully focused on promotion out of League Two with festive fixture list looming, an FA Cup run would however provide the club with much needed financial assistance without any gate-receipts coming in and profits dramatically affected by COVID-19. An extra-time win over Crewe in the second-round would set the club up with one of the most lucrative cup ties in their history in the next round.

Followed by a 2-1 home win over Bradford City that welcomed in the months of December, a limited number of supporters were then welcomed back to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium for the home tie against Exeter City and they weren’t disappointed.

Liam Sercombe’s second and third goals of the League Two season helped Cheltenham to a 5-3 victory over fellow promotion chasers Exeter. Though, after the Robins fans had their day out in the sun, Cheltenham wouldn’t find a win in the following ten games in all competitions.

January – February: Getting back on track in League Two

With little to shout about as Cheltenham fell out of the play-off places at the end of December following their failure to beat Newport, Bolton, Colchester, Stevenage, Barrow and Salford during a poor run of form, the Robins were required to make a swift recovery to form, but not before entertaining Premier League title favourites Manchester City in the FA Cup.

After former England striker Peter Crouch pulled ball number three out of the FA Cup hat, swiftly followed by the big hitters from the Etihad Stadium, Cheltenham fans would’ve been celebrating a bittersweet moment, knowing that one of the biggest occasions in the club’s history will come and go without their attendance.

Having spent over £800million on transfer fees alone in the past five years, Pep Guardiola’s star-studded Man City side travelled to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium 16 games unbeaten, having qualified for the Champions League Round of 16 and made an assault on Liverpool’s Premier League title in recent months.

Welcomed by neighbouring Cheltenham fans on the doorsteps of Whaddon Road, the likes of Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus would demonstrate their superior quality to score three late goals after May put the hosts in a shock second-half lead. But with a strong virtual following, Cheltenham fans were keen to back their local club in any way possible.

Including 2,305 backers from the 1887 Army, Cheltenham managed to amass an attendance of 7,518 – a virtual attendance that incredibly surpasses the capacity of the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.

Opinion: Manchester City Show True FA Cup Spirit In Aiding Cheltenham Town’s Financial Shortcomings

Back to league duties and Cheltenham would win their first game in seven against Oldham at home. Followed up by a 0-0 stalemate against Forest Green, four wins out of the remaining five league games in February would follow for Duff’s side who were keen to make up for ground lost over the festive period.

Taking maximum points from four consecutive away trips to Harrogate, Walsall, Cambridge and Scunthorpe, Cheltenham were back on course to attack the business end of the season with a degree of momentum capable of lasting the course.

March – April: The months that sealed League Two promotion

Home wins over Southend and Port Vale made it six wins out of seven at the start of March and with 14 games left to play, Cheltenham’s fate was in their owns hands.

Although, after failing to capitalise on wins on four separate occasions, Duff’s side wouldn’t win back-to-back games until a decisive 1-0 victory over Colchester United last weekend followed an away win at Stevenage, which all but sealed their place in League One next season.

Conor Thomas’ goal on the 83rd minute proved the difference and indeed a strike that had Cheltenham with one foot in the league above before hosting Carlisle three days later.

Robins’ manager, Duff won’t allow his players to celebrate just yet though, with the League Two title there for Cheltenham’s taking in the coming days.

Cheltenham will travel to Newport County on Saturday in their final away trip of the League Two campaign, with the possibility of becoming champions if results elsewhere go their way.

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