Tuesday 31 March 2015

Last throw of the dice

EVERY March, punters converge on Cheltenham for four days of the best racing in the world, hoping to strike it lucky - and very few succeed.
Just down the road however, Cheltenham Town's board of directors have, unfortunately, been on a long losing streak - each favourite they have backed in the recent past either tailing off after a promising start, or falling at the first.
Now they have emptied their pockets and come up with their last bits of loose change.
One final gamble, one last spin of the wheel hoping to hit the jackpot and to try to save Cheltenham Town from falling into the abyss.
At the end of August, we came back from a 0-0 draw at Morecambe sat on top of League Two with four wins from six games.
Mark Yates, the second longest serving manager in the Football League, was at the helm. We were held up in the game as a model of stability.
Since he left in November, there have now three incumbents of the hotseat, with one lasting 79 days, and another a mere 45, before this latest move.
That tally of victories has doubled since August, ‘aided’ by the services of 41 players and now four managers along the way.
Those four wins in August are now a godsend. Let alone Gary Johnson, without them we'd be needing so many snookers we would need Joe Johnson to get us out of trouble.
Under Russ Milton, Steve Elliott, Steve Book and Jamie Victory, the club was getting its identity back after the turmoil of Paul Buckle's tenure.
Everyone is finally pulling in the same direction, getting behind men they know had the club’s best interests at heart.
But despite their best efforts - and they are not to blame for what they inherited - the wins were not coming.
Those encouraging away draws at Newport and Portsmouth were not followed up in the Devon double against Exeter and Plymouth, and things hit rock bottom, 92nd out of 92.
So now Paul Baker and the board feel it’s time to spin the wheel again. One final gamble to try and save that precious Football League status.
If Johnson fails, they will be castigated for leaving it too late, slamming the door after the horse has bolted. If it succeeds, the cries will be ‘why wasn’t he brought in earlier’.
I am uneasy about it. I feel sorry for Russ, Jamie and the two Steves and desperately wanted them to see the job through and keep us in the league.
But putting sentiment aside, Johnson’s appointment is a chance Baker clearly feels he and the board had to take - and it could be a defining one for his chairmanship after 16 rollercoaster years.
They feel obviously that they have to do everything in their power to preserve the club’s status, and anyone of a Cheltenham Town persuasion has to hope this favourite comes romping past the winning post.
Johnson has to find a formula from a group of players which three managers have so far failed to do, and find it fast. He can’t change them now - this is what he must work with.
He has seven cup finals starting at York on Friday to get us above that line, and we have to hope he succeeds as the alternative is not a pleasant thought at all.

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