By Tony Leighton
A concerted but ultimately doomed 2011/12 promotion challenge is the psychological underpinning of Cheltenham Town's bid to reach npower League 1 in the current campaign, says midfielder Russ Penn.
The Robins lost out to Crewe Alexandra in May's Play-Off Final after a season in which, from early November, they had spent four months in the automatic promotion places before finishing sixth in the table.
This time round they have climbed into the top three at the same stage of the season and, after losing just once in their last 11 League games - taking 24 points from the 33 available - there is a steely determination among all concerned at Whaddon Road that it will be celebration time come next May.
Penn, a driving force in the Robins midfield since joining from Burton Albion at the start of last season, told football-league.co.uk: "It was devastating to finish last season like we did, but the experience of the whole campaign will stand us in good stead and we firmly believe we can get up to League 1 this season.
"We've got good strength in depth in our playing squad and I think that we're tougher mentally this year after what we went through last season.
"We were the underdogs in the race for automatic promotion, people thought that we'd falter and unfortunately we did at the back end of the season.
"We had proved what a good team we were though, and after getting over the disappointment of the Play-Offs we're proving it again now as recent results show.
"We're probably not being seen as promotion underdogs this season and expectations have certainly increased among our supporters, so that might add a bit of pressure.
"But I'm sure that we'll be able to handle it - we'll just remind ourselves of how close we came last season, and that in itself is a driving force for us."
Penn is enjoying the best days of his career after linking up again with Cheltenham manager Mark Yates, under whom he played for four years at non-league Kidderminster Harriers before moving up to Football League level with Burton.
After two years at the Pirelli Stadium, he switched to Cheltenham and has blossomed in the heart of the Robins midfield. "People questioned my move here," said the 27-year-old Penn. "They said it was just a sideways step rather than an upward move.
"But last season was one of the best of my career - as well as being in the thick of the promotion race we also had a great FA Cup run and played against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the third round. And in spite of the devastation of losing the Play-Off Final, we also had the fantastic experience of playing at Wembley.
"The only way we can top all that this season is by winning promotion - and if we can build on our recent form and stay consistent then we can do it."
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