By Tony Leighton
The battle for success in npower League 2 is getting increasingly tough thanks to the impressive way that clubs promoted from the Blue Square Premier are handling their new-found status, says Cheltenham Town manager Mark Yates, as his team sit between games against recently promoted sides that are acquitting themselves well.
Oxford United, who Cheltenham beat 2-1 in a hard-fought encounter on Tuesday evening, have re-established themselves as a Football League outfit after promotion via the Blue Square Play-Offs - the same route by which York City, the Robins' Saturday opponents, made their way into npower League 2 four months ago.
Yates, who on Wednesday night watched York in action as they went down 3-1 at Burton Albion - themselves promoted to the League only three years ago - told football-league.co.uk: "Clubs coming up from the Blue Square expect to do well and Stevenage and Crawley have certainly proved that point in the last couple of seasons.
"It's made League 2 tougher than ever and there must be 17 or 18 managers thinking that if they can get their teams on a run then they can make a real challenge. Oxford did that last year and just missed reaching the Play-Offs, and Chris [manager, Wilder] has got a good team who showed at our place that they'll be strong again this season.
"I think that York will give a good account of themselves as well. Gary [manager, Mills] has done a great job there and after winning the FA Trophy and promotion last season they'll be confident. They play the right way, they've made a decent start to the season, in spite of losing at Burton, and they'll be difficult opponents for us."
Former Birmingham City, Burnley and Doncaster Rovers midfielder Yates knows all about getting used to life as a new Football League club, having been captain of Cheltenham when they were promoted from the non-league ranks in 1999 and then three years later as they moved up a division by winning the League 2 Play-Offs.
The Robins boss came within 90 minutes of repeating that 2002 feat as manager last season, when his team reached the Wembley Play-Off final but lost out to Crewe Alexandra. That was a massive disappointment for all concerned at Whaddon Road, but Yates has dusted himself down and is aiming to go one better this time.
"I had a week away from football after the Play-Off Final," recalled the 42-year-old manager, "but then it was back to work and you just have to get on with it.
"Disappointments can make you stronger and hopefully that will be the case with us after a good summer's work in assembling what I feel is a very decent playing squad.
"We've had a couple of home defeats and that's obviously disappointing, but against Oxford at our place on Tuesday we showed what a good side we can be and I'm happy with the way we are looking at this early stage of the season. The long term aim is to do better than we did last year, and we'll work very hard to do that."
For all the latest news on Cheltenham Town please click here