A seasonal Trash Talk for you today as we catch up with Robin’s fan Ben Nicholls for his take on his team and our next opponents Cheltenham Town, and I have to say it, a very good and interesting read. Many thanks to Ben, hope you are having a good Christmas, and wishing you a Happy New Year.
We are about a halfway through the season, so how is it looking for your team so far?
Well, when you first asked me to write this, things were going quite well, we were on track for a record finish in the football pyramid and having far more good moments than bad. That all changed recently but we’re all hopeful Duff will be able to turn in around. Injuries haven’t been kind to us, and I can’t remember the last time we played something close to a full-strength side. Will Boyle comes in and out, Charlie Raglan has missed a large chunk of the season, and Callum Wright has only just returned after a lengthy spell out. Focusing on the positives, we’ve had great results against Ipswich, Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday which got our hopes up but a 5-0 loss to Cambridge (the worst I’ve seen Cheltenham play since I can remember) and losses against Shrewsbury, AFC Wimbledon, and now Plymouth haven’t been too enjoyable. Overall, though, we can only be happy.
We are noticing that some clubs are struggling with attendances, are you back anywhere near to your pre-Covid attendances?
I think our attendances have gone up, which you wouldn’t expect really for a place like Cheltenham. It’s not a football town with the races here and rugby down the A40 but having the bigger clubs come here and the appeal of third tier football for the first time since 2008 has brought people back in their droves. We had just over 5700 against Plymouth, 5500 against Wednesday and 5000 versus Oxford which for us is quite good, pre covid in League Two we’d be getting 2/3000 normally but is obvious that the clubs visiting decide our attendance really. The smaller clubs see around 3000-3700 and the bigger clubs near the 5000 marks. For us, in terms of crowds this season, it’s been higher.
We note that many clubs are going across to digital tickets and cashless stadiums and this has caused major problems for fans, is this something that has affected you as a fan, home or away?
That’s a good way to annoy a few Cheltenham fans. We stopped accepting cash on the turnstiles this season and everyone needed to buy in advance and collect on the day, unfortunately that led to very long queues and a lot of not very happy fans. I’m not really bothered, I have my season ticket and I show up, watch, then leave, cash or card makes no difference. Our season tickets are an individual ticket for each match, which works fine. Some of us want digital tickets and to be able to have a season card or something similar but for the moment we make do with what we’ve got. The weird thing is inside the ground is cash only, everyone was under the impression you couldn’t use cash so a lot of people couldn’t get food or drinks or anything once inside which obviously caused problems. The man everyone blames has since left, coincidence or not I don’t know. I prefer cashless but never know what a ground will accept which can make things awkward but cashless and digital are the way forward it’s just about reaching that point for the time being.
Every club has played about half the teams in League 1, who do you think is the best and the worst team you have played so far?
Weirdly enough I thought Cambridge were one of the poorer teams we’ve faced. We’ve had a habit of getting a result against the better teams and losing to those who, at least on the day, aren’t as good as us. Fleetwood, Burton, and Doncaster spring to mind. The best we’ve played are probably Wycombe, not in terms of technical ability or being out classed, they were just better than us all round and there’s no shame in admitting that and it’s the same with Rotherham. We lost 5-0 to Sunderland after quite a long trip up north, that’s the only time we’ve been thrashed by a team better than us but even with that, I don’t think Sunderland are on Wycombe or Rotherham’s level.
In our forthcoming game what sort of style can we expect to see from your team?
I don’t think many people know what to expect at the moment, it’s that cliché of your opponent can’t know what you’re doing if you don’t either. Injuries and losing players have seen us change shape and play style, sometimes we play a back three, sometimes it’s a four or five. Sometimes Alfie May is up top, sometimes in midfield, sometimes tracking back to defence. I expect three centre backs, with wingbacks, and some form of two strikers with a man in behind.
Is there any current MK Dons player that you would like to see playing for your team?
Mo Eisa. Please…let him come back.
We had Eisa for a season, he bagged twenty-three goals and become our record sale when he went to Bristol City for around one and a half million pounds. The fans weren’t keen on the deal, it all seemed a bit dodgy with-it being father to son, but I won’t comment on that. He’s one of those where if you can get a former player back, most would pick him.
Every lower league club fear that the big boys are monitoring their players, is there anybody in your team that is attracting unwanted attention, and might be lured away in January?
Portsmouth are apparently after Will Boyle, but most clubs are most windows, and he’s still here. Boyle’s is one of our best defenders I’ve seen play for us and is our second highest scorer of current players, but he’s injured often which is what probably keeps him here. He’s only become the player he is thanks to Michael Duff, and it will be the same as with Tozer who went to Wrexham, as soon as they aren’t playing under Duff they just aren’t as good. No one else seems interested in any of our players which is good and bad, good that they’re staying and bad that maybe they aren’t impressing enough to be wanted. Either way, it’s a solid set of players and we haven’t had Boyle in the team that often recently so we’re ready for if he does go but we really hope he doesn’t. Crowley is another being looked at but he’s only here until January and only joined recently, fitness for him and cover for us so not too much of a loss there either.
Is there anyone in your team that we should really fear as a potential game changer?
I don’t really know to be honest, none of our players stand out as an individual game changer at the moment. If Callum Wright is on form, then maybe him because he is one of the best players I’ve seen at the club and a real asset as a goal scoring midfielder it’s just a shame he’s only on loan. Go have a look at our 4-0 win over Tranmere last season and you’ll see what he can do. If by some miracle Boyle returns and is at his peak of what we’ve seen, then he’d be another shout but at the moment we’re good as a team and as a unit rather than individually.
Can you predict where you think your club will finish at the end of the season, and where the MK Dons will finish?
Even with this run of form, we’re on track for our highest ever finish. I’d like to think 14th to 10th but I expect 16th to 14th and that’s fine. 50 is the magic number of points to reach for survival, I don’t think survival is our only aim any more. We want to push and finish as high as we can, maybe even top half of the table. You’ll probably finish above us and that’s alright, I don’t back either side for a play-off campaign but if we start to catch up with you and both finish top half that would be great.
Many thanks for taking part, all we need now is your prediction for the game.
Last season we played each other, you breezed past us at your place, and we breezed past you at ours. but this season was a draw and I back another, I’ll go for a Desmond at 2-2.