Robins still feeling the Wembley pain
Hands up, it’s taken me a while to write this. But I hope I can be forgiven for not waltzing home and putting pen to paper in the direct aftermath of our Wembley heartache.
In the fourteen years I’ve supported the club, I’ve been privileged to make three playoff finals. The third was our and my first taste of defeat. I didn’t enjoy it. It was baking hot, Wembley an unbelievable spectacle, but Crewe as an opponent were simply too good on the day.
Admittedly the margins were small but, when Nick Powell, an 18 year old wonder kid, plugs his trade in those margins, you simply have to concede. Powell, freshly signed for Manchester United, lit up the game early on with a coruscating half volley that left keeper Scott Brown and his side clutching at the future’s coattails.
The Robins drew on the grit and fight so inherent in their unexpected success in an attempt to salvage the game. Jeff Goulding, a surprise addition to the starting 11, rattled the bar from 30 yards, and a series of corners caused havoc in the Crewe box, with two goal line clearances and several other half chances wasted. It was all huff and puff, but half time arrived with the distinct reality of nothing to show.
When Kaid Mohamed burst through one on one early in the second half, ten thousand Robins fans, resplendent in Ruby, rose as one, open-armed to welcome their saviour. But ‘Mo’ fluffed his lines. One touch too many and a decent save left him, and the crowd, clutching faces, punching seats, staring at the skies and floors in anguish. Unfortunately, the theme was set.
When Byron Moore broke free on the right late on and gleefully slotted home for 2-0, the deafening Crewe celebrations ripped through Wembley’s silent west stand, decimating dreams in its wake. The game, and promotion, was over. It was a limp finish to an almost incredible season.
Two months later, more International penalty heartache in the bag, and Cheltenham are returning quietly to pre-season training. All but one of the wanted ‘out of contract’ players have signed, although that one, Luke Summerfield, was almost certainly the most influential. That loss has been tempered with the signing of Sam Deering, a young and technically gifted player who, after 50 plus appearances for Barnet last season, is a proven performer at League 2 level. Boss, Mark Yates, has promised more signings to come, and you feel they must. The nucleus is there, last season proved that. But new, quality blood is required if the Wembley hangover is to dissipate quickly.
It’s always worth having that check around for a bit of reality, however. Cheltenham’s finances are healthier than they’ve been in a long time but, realistically, we’re still a small club. Fleetwood, replacing Crawley as wealthy promoted upstarts, will undoubtedly challenge along with a host of other big spending clubs who rub their big bellied budgets with barely contained smugness at this time of year.
We’ve done it once, however, and under Yates, I believe we can do it again.