High-flying Cheltenham will give suffering Mansfield Town a big test on Saturday

Cheltenham Town manager Michael DuffCheltenham Town manager Michael Duff
Cheltenham Town manager Michael Duff | Getty Images
Cheltenham Town arrives at the One Call Stadium on Saturday enjoying an unexpectedly excellent season so far ahead of their clash with Mansfield Town.

The campaign so far as definitely exceeded expectations, sitting fifth after having struggled for much of last term.

Boss Michael Duff has turned things around and continued the improvement shown during the second half of the last campaign.

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“They are a well balanced side and their starting XI is a very good one,” said Stags boss John Dempster.

“They've got goals in their team and play a formation they never really go away from.

“They have some experience at the back and a very good young manager who has been at it a season and a bit.

“They have got it right at this moment in time with the finances they've got. They have been very clever in the transfer market over a period of time and they have built a good team there.

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“He (Duff) would rather have a player in his side working his socks off than a talented player that's not putting it in which I completely agree with. But, make no mistake, they do play some great football at times.

“They will be coming to frustrate though and hope the crowd turn early as that's what opposition do, even though it doesn't sound very nice.”

Cheltenham's success this season appears to be down to Duff getting more out of players who were maybe underperforming, or not being used in the right roles and also adding some quality, particularly with his four loan signings. Jacob Greaves, Max Sheaf, Jake Doyle-Hayes and Gavin Reilly.

The summer was not a complete overhaul by any means, but there was some astute business conducted and the squad is miles ahead of where it was this time last year, both in terms of organisation and morale.

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Duff was already a popular figure from his playing days and, while fans had to wait a while for his first win as boss, he has done a fine job so far in what is his first senior job.

He took over what was a bit of a mess and has since introduced an attractive brand of football. He is said to react to the players properly and the spirit in the camp is excellent, with the players responding well to his coaching and man management methods, suggesting he will manage at a higher level at some stage.

Welsh attacking central midfield Ryan Broom has been in fine form since the start of the season.

He is being tracked by several higher level clubs and Cheltenham could face a battle to keep him in January.

He has energy in abundance and real quality on the ball.

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At the back, left sided central defender Jacob Greaves, on loan from Hull, at only 19, appears to have a bright future.

Composed on the ball, with a cultured left foot, he has handled the physical side of League Two extremely well so far.

Squad-wise for Saturday, vastly experienced striker Luke Varney is recovering from a routine 'clear out' knee operation and is likely to be out for another two or three weeks.

Reuben Reid, Cheltenham's other experienced front man, suffered a hamstring injury during Saturday's FA Cup second round defeat by Port Vale so he will also miss out.

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Striker Tahvon Campbell and left wing-back Josh Debayo are working their way back from long-term knee and groin injuries respectively while midfielder Conor Thomas is out for around a month with a torn calf.