D3D4 Cheltenham Town Correspondent Luke Saunders analyses The Robins defeat to Exeter City…
Cheltenham Town 3-4 Exeter City
Five Talking Points
If Oxford away was seven goal heaven then this was seven goal hell for Cheltenham
The Robins staged a stunning second half comeback to win 4-3 at Oxford United in the Carabao Cup first round earlier on this month, but it was a case of the complete opposite against Exeter City.
Cheltenham flew out of the blocks and stifled the visitors, using lessons learnt from West Ham in how to move the ball quickly and effectively switch the play.
Many would have expected the hammering that would ensue to happen against the Premier League outfit that Gary Johnson’s side faced midweek, rather than against League Two opposition the following weekend.
But Exeter fought back well, living up to their billings as one of the fourth division’s top teams with some well taken goals.
The Grecians admirably stuck to their guns and rather than playing route one in an attempt to get back into the game, they kept the ball down and played some tidy football.
In Ruben Reid and Liam McAlinden, the 2016/17 League Two play-off finalists have a pair of savvy strikers and a very well drilled team who will undoubtedly challenge for promotion once again this season.
The Exeter City curse continues
Cheltenham have not beaten Exeter City in any of their last six competitive meetings.
The Grecians’ comeback victory means that they have now won five in a row against Cheltenham and have subsequently been labelled as a bogey team for the Robins, despite having never beaten them before 2013.
Paul Tisdale’s side are no doubt the benchmark for a Cheltenham squad who face an uphill battle to avoid a campaign of struggle, much like last season.
That being said there were many positives including the attacking potential that was shown by scoring three goals, including a much needed confidence boost for Dan Holman.
But the individual errors have to be cut out first and foremost and that will go a long way in stopping the flurry of goals that have been conceded in a busy first month of the 2017/18 season for Gary Johnson’s men.
Double delight for Kevin Dawson despite being short lived
For half an hour, Cheltenham Town were in complete control against Paul Tisdale’s Exeter City.
Kevin Dawson showed exactly why Gary Johnson swooped to sign him all the way back in May with two goals in the opening 12 minutes.
It was a dream full debut for the 27-year-old, who along with Carl Winchester, gave Exeter no end of trouble down the right hand side.
Cheltenham capitulated before half time but the overall performance of Dawson will give supporters encouragement that the Irishman will surely be a key asset in future matches.
Dawson was part of Johnson’s Yeovil revolution, helping the Glovers reach the Championship at one stage, and that brace already leaves him one off of his whole goal tally for last season.
Back under the management of Johnson, Dawson could thrive as one of the few natural wide players at the club.
Everything went flat for the Robins after 39 minutes
The LCI Rail Stadium was bouncing after Kevin Dawson had put Cheltenham 2-0 up.
But that jubilation soon turned to nervous silence as Jordan Moore-Taylor curled a free-kick beyond the reach of Cheltenham keeper Jon Flatt and into the top corner.
Flatt could have perhaps done better with the first two Exeter goals, but Cheltenham’s defensive problems don’t just lie with the Wolves loanee, as the third and fourth goals proved.
The 22-year-old made some good saves during the second half but has been subject to criticism from home supporters over the last few weeks.
Perhaps we have been spoiled with top goalkeepers at Whaddon Road recently but what was more concerning was how easily Cheltenham fell apart after surrendering their early lead.
The defence was not an area that was anticipated to need tightening up after Jamie Grimes and Jordan Forster joined Will Boyle and Daniel O’Shaughnessy as first choice centre back options in the summer.
But with Forster now facing a long term absence through injury and Grimes banned after receiving a straight red card, Johnson faces a defensive crisis and could be forced to sign cover on loan before the transfer window slams shut on Thursday.
Next week is crucial for Cheltenham Town with the transfer deadline looming
The Cheltenham squad is small enough as it is but after the Exeter game reinforcements can’t come soon enough for Gary Johnson.
As mentioned before a defender is likely to come in due to the absence of at least two centre backs ahead of the clash with Stevenage next weekend, in what is certain to be busy few days for the management team.
The cash generated from the money spinning West Ham tie will help find what fans hope will be good quality players to add to the thin number of playing staff currently available.
Last January the recruitment had to be spot on in order to turn the season around and fortunately led the Robins to safety.
But with no emergency loans this season, there has to be enough cover to get the team through the hectic schedule of League Two and Checkatrade Trophy fixtures.
Whether they are loans or permanent additions, there is no doubt that an influx of at least two or three new signings are needed if Cheltenham are to start climbing the table.
Words Luke Saunders, D3D4 Cheltenham Town Correspondent