Home com­forts are tak­ing Robins to­wards safety

Jon Palmer as­sesses the main talk­ing points from Chel­tenham Town’s 1-0 vic­tory over Port Vale

Gloucestershire Echo - - CHELTENHAM TOWN -

» Home form trans­formed since sea­son’s low­est point

When Chel­tenham Town went down 2-0 to Steve­nage at the Jonny-rocks Sta­dium on Oc­to­ber 27, they looked ev­ery bit a rel­e­ga­tion team.

But only one de­feat (ex­clud­ing shootouts) in the sub­se­quent 15 matches on their own pitch looks to have saved the sea­son.

Michael Duff’s side have won four in a row at home and have not con­ceded in the last three, giv­ing them an 11 point ad­van­tage over 23rd placed Mac­cles­field Town with 12 matches re­main­ing.

They are two points bet­ter off than they were at the same stage last term and in with a chance of fin­ish­ing in their high­est po­si­tion since 2012/13.

The play­ing bud­get should have been com­pet­i­tive enough to avoid a bat­tle against the drop, but Duff has turned things around ad­mirably af­ter a hugely chal­leng­ing start to his se­nior man­age­rial ca­reer.

» Luke Var­ney con­tin­ues to make the dif­fer­ence

Duff’s first sign­ing as Chel­tenham boss was free agent Var­ney, who had been turned down by sev­eral other clubs in the sum­mer due to his age.

His 10th goal of the sea­son was enough to sink a Port Vale team who are now only three points above the rel­e­ga­tion zone them­selves.

The 36-year-old had al­ready forced ex-robins goal­keeper Scott Brown into an out­stand­ing save with a 10th minute header af­ter Ryan Broom’s cross from the right.

Var­ney was also clos­est to mak­ing it 2-0 when he met a Chris Hussey free­kick in the 57th minute, but volleyed it over the bar, when he knows he should have used his head.

His ac­ro­batic ef­fort sparked the come­back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against Mac­cles­field Town and he also net­ted the only goal against Yeovil Town.

He has been a su­perb sign­ing and aside from his goals, it is his at­ti­tude and all-round en­thu­si­asm for the game which makes him an even more valu­able pres­ence in the chang­ing room.

» Skip­per vi­tal to im­proved de­fen­sive record

As 1-0 wins go, this was just about as com­fort­able as it could have been.

Vale had a goal dis­al­lowed in the 22nd minute and Cris­tian Mon­tano headed just wide in first half stop­page time.

But in the sec­ond half Scott Flin­ders was well pro­tected, al­though he did have to punch one dan­ger­ous cross to safety and claim a cou­ple of oth­ers un­der pres­sure from Tom Pope.

Ex-vale de­fender Char­lie Raglan and Will Boyle both per­formed well ei­ther side of Ben Tozer, a rev­e­la­tion in the mid­dle of the back three since com­ing in against Ar­se­nal Un­der-21s in the match im­me­di­ately af­ter the Steve­nage de­feat.

He started the sea­son in the cen­tre of mid­field and was used to much de­ri­sion as an emer­gency striker by Gary John­son in the sec­ond half against Carlisle United on Au­gust 18.

But his cur­rent role seems to suit him per­fectly, mak­ing use of his aerial abil­ity, com­po­sure on the ball and or­gan­i­sa­tional skills.

There have been times this sea­son when Chel­tenham have looked chaotic de­fen­sively, but their re­dis­cov­ered de­fen­sive so­lid­ity is cer­tain to be put the test at Mans­field Town next week, but Tyler Walker, who scored both of the Stags’ goals in their 2-2 draw at Whad­don Road in Novem­ber will miss out through sus­pen­sion af­ter a late red card in Sat­ur­day’s 1-0 vic­tory over For­est Green Rovers.

» Bench as strong as it has been all sea­son

With Var­ney, Ty­rone Bar­nett and Jor­dan Till­son back from mi­nor in­juries, Duff was able to name a strong bench, with Manny Duku, Ge­orge Lloyd and Sean Long miss­ing out on a place in the 18.

Bar­nett went on for Var­ney against his pre­vi­ous club in the 84th minute, with Chris Cle­ments and Till­son both sent on in mid­field to help shore things up dur­ing the fi­nal stages.

Rak­ish Bing­ham, Cameron Pring and Jor­don Forster were the un­used subs, and even with­out long-term ab­sen­tees Nigel Atan­gana and Alex Ad­dai, Duff is well cov­ered in all ar­eas for the fi­nal quar­ter of the cam­paign.

» The ear­lier safety is con­firmed, the sooner plan­ning can be­gin for 2019/20 Duff told his play­ers on Fe­bru­ary 1 that no dis­cus­sions would take place over new con­tracts un­til they had made ab­so­lutely sure they will be play­ing League Two foot­ball next sea­son.

Sur­vival was se­cured four weeks be­fore the end of the sea­son last year, fand Chel­tenham only guar­an­teed safety on the penul­ti­mate Sat­ur­day in 2016/17, de­feat­ing Hartle­pool United 1-0 on a nervy af­ter­noon at Whad­don Road, with a 6-1 thrash­ing at the hands of cham­pi­ons Portsmouth a week later.

The ear­lier they can con­firm their Foot­ball League sta­tus, the bet­ter for Duff, who has a sum­mer of strength­en­ing ahead as he plots a way to start look­ing up rather than ner­vously over their shoul­ders in his first full cam­paign in charge.

Chel­tenham Town man­ager Michael Duff with skip­per Ben Tozer

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