Cheltenham Town travel to Swindon on Saturday in the Sky Bet League Two, and with their season already over, the supporters and club are in for an uninspiring end to the season.
Town are 16th in the league, 11 points above the relegation zone and 16 points shy of a play-off spot; a position where no heroes are made.
A team’s season is defined by what happens in April and May and Cheltenham fans are no stranger to this. In 2016 they sealed promotion from the National League late in the season and last year the club avoided relegation late in the campaign.
The point is, this season is the first time in recent memory that Cheltenham have little to play for at the end of the year, and that can be a confusing and frustrating time.
At a recent fans’ forum where the Chairman Paul Baker and manager Gary Johnson took questions from fans, questions such as: ‘Can you prove people like me wrong who want a manager change?’ and ‘Do you not know your best team?’
More than happy I got to ask my question to GJ about how he’s going to change my view of wanting new management. To be first responded “well your minds already made up” after I said in my question TWICE I want to be proved wrong #ctfc
— Owen. (@Owen__Knight) March 9, 2018
The evening was largely positive and constructive but there were grumbles of discontent, and you have to wonder why?
A mid-table finish is a boring end to the season but by no means a poor reflection on a years work.
“It will be a bit difficult to make the play-off this season so we are thinking about the next season now,” conceded summer signing Nigel Antangana.
“You’ve got to have players that are self-motivated anyway,” added Johnson when asked about keeping his side playing at their best all season.
There’s also financial incentives to finishing a season strongly, both for the club in terms of prize money, but also for players. “Earn a living, don’t nick a living. You are being paid to be a professional footballer, put in the effort, show what you’ve got,” added the manager.
The vacuum of excitement is likely to continue until August when the curtain rises on another season in the fourth tier of English football, and is that really a bad thing?
‘Fans don’t know how lucky they are to have Gary Johnson in charge’ announced Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports, and for Cheltenham fans, it’s time to get behind their manager, their teams and get ready for next season.
“When I came here the project was to go into the play-off in the first season but if can’t do, we’ll be ready for the next season,” said Atangana.
Plans are already in place for next season are already being put in place as Johson now has to prove himself by taking the club to the next level. He’s got them back into the football league, he’s consolidated their place in League Two, now it’s time to challenge.
“You build up,” said Johnson, “look at what you have and you need to get to a stage when you are thinking if a player comes up, will get us promoted.
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“Sometimes you are still building, but we have a good core and maybe not we need three or four players when you can say ‘yes they can win us the league.'”
What could be the biggest incentive for Cheltenham is to now focus on finishing above local rivals Forest Green. The vegan inspired club are four points behind their neighbours but Mark Cooper’s side have a game in hand.
Finishing in mid-table should not be regarded as a disaster, it’s a success and Gary Johnson is taking the club forward. Next season is when expectations should be raised, not this year.