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Opposition Lowdown: Darrell Clarke’s Cheltenham Town

Reading’s second game of the busy festive period sees the Royals travel to Gloucestershire to take on fellow League One strugglers Cheltenham Town. Join us as we take a closer look at the opposition.

Cheltenham Town v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Form

Cheltenham Town finished last season in 16th place in their second season in League One. They were promoted to the third tier of English football in 2021, after winning the League Two title, before finishing 15th in their first season in League One.

They have had a tough season so far, sitting one place below Reading in 22nd place after five wins, four draws and 13 losses. Their recent form has been stronger than most of the other teams towards the bottom of the table and they come into Friday’s fixture off the back of two straight wins, having beaten Carlisle United away and Shrewsbury Town at home.

Reading will be looking to claim the double over the Robins, having already beaten them 1-0 at the Select Car Leasing Stadium back in August, after an own goal from midfielder Will Ferry.

The boss

Darrell Clarke: Clarke was appointed Cheltenham manager in September, following the sacking of Wade Elliott, after a poor start to the season saw the Robins lose seven out of their first eight games and failing to score a single goal.

Clarke had an 18-year career as a player in which he represented the likes of Mansfield Town, Hartlepool United and Salisbury City. The former midfielder saw his first managerial role come at Salisbury City, where he became player-manager in 2010. He secured two promotions in his three years at the club and went on to join Bristol Rovers as assistant manager in 2013.

He took over as full-time manager in 2014 and spent over four years in charge of the Gas, where he won consecutive promotions in 2015 and 2016, guiding the side back to League One.

A spell in charge of Walsall followed before he became Port Vale manager in 2021, where he secured another promotion, guiding Vale back to League One via the playoffs last year. He was sacked as Port Vale manager in May this year before returning to football with Cheltenham in September. He has picked up 18 points in his first 12 league games so far.

Expected lineup

Southwood, Smith, Davies, Freestone, Long, Ferry, Sercombe, Thompson, Bonds, Street, Lloyd

Key player

Curtis Davies: Experienced defender Davies joined Cheltenham this summer, signing on a free transfer after he was released by Derby County.

Davies started his youth career at Wimbledon before joining the youth setup at Luton Town. He made his professional debut in 2003 and secured a move to Premier League West Bromwich Albion in 2005. He spent two season at the Baggies before moving to Aston Villa, originally on loan, before securing a permanent move in 2008.

He went on to play for Birmingham City, Hull City and Derby County, the club where he has played the most games, while also captaining the side.

Davies has played as a centre-back throughout his career, making over 450 appearances and scoring 26 goals. Despite being in the twilight of his career at 38 years old, Davies is a solid League One defender who is strong in the air.

One to watch

George Lloyd: Forward Lloyd is a product of the Cheltenham Town youth system and has been with the club since the age of nine. He made his debut for the Robins and signed his first pro deal in 2017.

Lloyd had two loan spells with Hereford in 2018/19, before becoming a regular first-team player for Cheltenham in the 2020/21 season when they were playing in League Two. Following Cheltenham’s promotion he then had two loan spells in League Two with Port Vale and Grimsby Town.

The 23-year-old has gone on to make 118 appearances for the Robins, scoring 12 goals. He has two goals to his name so far this season with both coming in Cheltenham’s Boxing Day win at home to Shrewsbury.

Lloyd is a hard-working striker with good pace and heading skills, but he can also play on the wing.