One leg down another leg to go, it is advantage Cheltenham Town with a 2-0 victory away to Northampton Town in the first leg. Here are my five talking points.

Two well timed goals and the perfect away performance

To go 103 days without playing a competitive match and then produce a decent away performance is something not to be sniffed at. An immense away showing against a Northampton side who certainly threw the kitchen sink at Cheltenham throughout the 90 minutes. The corner by Jake Doyle-Hayes was met by a beautifully timed header from Charlie Raglan, only his third career goal for the Robins and the perfect game to score in.

On top in the possession stats it certainly showed with build up to what could be an important second goal in the tie. Substitute Jonte Smith with brilliant skill into the box, a few lucky deflections and a simple finish for Connor Thomas. Raglan and Thomas scoring just proves that Cheltenham have more than just strikers to rely when scoring crucial goals at the most crucial time. Goals from this Cheltenham team can come from any position and that’s credit to them.

Superb goalkeeping from Owen Evans

Owen Evans has been a worthy addition after the injury to Scott Flinders in January and his heroics backed that up. Important saves and of course the turning point was saving Ryan Watson’s penalty. A good hand to his right side after Ryan Broom clipped Michael Harriman in the box. With usual penalty taker Sam Hoskins suspended, would it have been different?

Efforts by Vadaine Oliver and James Olayinka were two examples of crucial saves to deny Northampton. Evans made five crucial saves with four inside the box. With steady headed defenders in front of him, he also shows terrific command of the box. A talented young goalkeeper with a very bright future.

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A solid defensive display

Both teams used a 3-5-2 formation and before the game it was clear that Cheltenham would face a key test in Northampton’s strong use of the set piece. Nicky Adams certainly offered an early threat in the game with his crosses, loanee Callum Morton caused a few problems and captain Charlie Goode’s long throw-ins were always going to be nervy moments. An aerial battle was defended and it tells with Cheltenham conceding the fewest goals in the league this season. Northampton now have nothing to lose and will have a free hit in the second leg. Cheltenham are nowhere near the finish line just yet but defend like that again on Monday and they’ll see the game through.

Michael Duff’s use of the bench

Alfie May not starting the game was the right decision and it paid off. He came on and found some good passages of play. I thought Reuben Reid caused a few problems and had a decent attempt in the second half to draw Steve Arnold into a save. Ryan Broom was exceptional. He didn’t cause too many issues for Northampton in the second half but he’ll remain the key player for the second leg plus a potential play-off final. But the big substitute was Jonte Smith. For me he’s been an unsung hero with his little moments of skill which has set up goals this season with Macclesfield at home a specific example. Tactically spot on by Michael Duff to leave out May and if I were the manager do you play the same side again or start with Alfie May and wrap up the tie?

Two goals up but nowhere near over

You couldn’t have asked for a better start to a play-off campaign. Two crucial goals in both halves, defensively strong and good use of the bench – it’s Michael Duff’s superb management that has delivered yet again. The play-offs are far from over and it is important not to get carried away.

For Northampton, they were perhaps the better side with attempts and will rue the chances they missed. What Cheltenham cannot afford is Northampton to score the first goal and a bad start to the game is not what Michael Duff will want. He’ll know that the tie is far from over and Keith Curle will know exactly the same. Northampton’s dangerous set piece and with Sam Hoskins back from suspension don’t count Northampton out just yet.

The club I’ve supported since the age of ten is just one game away from Wembley. Of course it’s a shame there’s no crowd and I’ll be disappointed not being there to see the second leg in person on Monday but getting on with watching on the TV is better than nothing.

Promotion hasn’t been achieved yet. So far so good but don’t forget the lottery of the playoffs.

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