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In the words of comedian Jim Bowen on the TV show Bullseye, “here’s what you could have won.”

Cheltenham Town could have been playing Premier League Crystal Palace at home in the FA Cup 3rd round if they had beaten Dover Athletic – not quite the top prize, but a decent one none the less, and definitely not the equivalent of a speedboat for someone living in Alfreton.

It would have provided a vital injection of interest as well as cash, probably doubling the £50,000-£60,000 estimate the Robins banked anyway, but it’s gone now and there’s no use crying over spilt milk.

Former Cheltenham boss John Ward once told me any manager worth his salary could work out in six weeks the strengths and weaknesses in his squad and what he needed to correct the flaws. That’s just about the time frame Paul Buckle had in front of him between his appointment and the transfer window opening on January the 1st, so in front of him are four matches when all the players are in essence on trial. It’s not too strong to say their careers could be on the line.

That was certainly the view of Keith Curle at Carlisle, who in a recent BBC interview admitted he had to freshen up their squad and would be telling certain players – and I quote – “it’s in your interest to get your agent to get you a move to make sure you’ve got a career after this year.”

Paul Buckle could equally be having those conversations at Cheltenham. It’s hard to think he won’t want to make some signings. Frankly the squad needs it. It is small and not very well balanced, but thoughts of permanent deals at this stage for new players may have been quashed by Connor Essam’s goal on Sunday. The board will no doubt try and be supportive but they and Buckle must also be sensible.

It’s not a very motivating concept, but the season doesn’t look anything more than one of consolidation. I believe only four players – Trevor Carson, Lee Vaughan, Matt Taylor and the hopefully soon to be fit Asa Hall – have contracts beyond the summer. That is the time when Buckle can put his mark on the team – until then it’s out with the sticking plaster.

Sterling-James and De Vita may be victims of circumstance. Their deals are up at the end of December and merely to make some room in the budget and re-balance the numbers a bit, they look likely to be released.

It’s also not impossible that Buckle could have a Keith Curle type conversation with almost all of his senior squad whose deals have six months to run. In the summer, the market is flooded with released players. One or two may see an 18 month offer now from an another club as a realistic option if they is not in the manager’s plans.

Where Buckle goes to fill any gaps he creates is anyone’s guess at this stage, but – and I know this won’t be popular – we may see several loans during the rest of the season.

Given the “loss” of the extra FA Cup revenue, I don’t see any alternative, short of paying up contracts or another club paying a fee for one of the Cheltenham players. Whichever way you approach it from, neither seem logical.

It’s all a bit reminiscent of when Mark Yates took over in 2009. Similar timing, similar problems. Safety, again, is the same target without breaking the bank.

Photograph : copyright http://www.dover-express.co.uk

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