RR: You got in touch with us after the game just to pass on your praise of the way you were treated by the club on Tuesday night - could you just explain to our readers what it was like coming to the Stadium of Light?
Jon Palmer: I’d been once before as a fan for the 2005 League Cup tie, but this was my first media visit. Every person we came into contact with was friendly, welcoming and professional. The whole set-up belongs at a much higher level. It was well organised and it’s great to see such a great club moving in the right direction again.
RR: How does it fare in comparison to other clubs you visit with Cheltenham - I imagine it’s a very different experience...
Jon Palmer: Cheltenham have been to Charlton and Wigan Athletic in recent weeks, both with excellent facilities and great places to watch football, but Sunderland was another cut above.
The view from the press box was a bit higher than we’re used to! It’s the sort of venue Cheltenham worked so hard for last year in League Two to earn the right to perform at in League One this season.
The clubs are miles apart off the field and unfortunately for the travelling fans, it was the same on the pitch on this occasion.
RR: What about the game then... obviously, Sunderland ran rampant. What did you make of the way we played?
Jon Palmer: Sunderland were on song from kick-off and as soon as the first goal went in, I feared it’d be a long night for Cheltenham. Michael Duff will be particularly disappointed to concede from a corner, which has happened regularly so far this season.
Sunderland had quality all over the pitch and Cheltenham were chasing shadows for long periods. It’s a shame as Cheltenham are a better side than they showed on Tuesday and missing two experienced defenders didn’t help their cause. It was a mismatch on the night and Sunderland look every bit capable of going on to win promotion to the Championship, as the calibre of player in the squad is frightening.
RR: Did you expect Cheltenham to play as badly as they did? Lots of our fans are surprised that the Cheltenham manager played with such a high line against our incredibly mobile attackers...
Jon Palmer: I agree about the high line. Missing Will Boyle and Charlie Raglan meant it was a young back three, and Sunderland could seemingly get in behind at will. They’ll be disappointed not to have made Sunderland work harder for the goals, particularly the first-half three. But, it could have been several more on the night.
RR: Carl Winchester is someone familiar to Cheltenham supporters. He actually played a bit at right back during his time with CTFC - he’s been a revelation there so far for us. Does he look to have improved since those days?
Jon Palmer: Carl Winchester was very good for Cheltenham, both in midfield and at right-back. He makes it look easy and rarely gives the ball away.
Maybe a sustained run at right-back has brought out the best in him, and put him back in contention for Northern Ireland too. He’s a lovely lad, who I’ve kept in touch with since he left Cheltenham, and it’s great to see him playing at such a great club, as he belongs at the top end of League One at least.
RR: Sunderland are top and are hoping to gain promotion after the fourth time of asking. Based on what you saw, do you think we’ll finally do it?
Jon Palmer: Based on Tuesday night, Sunderland will take some stopping. I can’t see many teams taking points off them at the Stadium of Light.
Wigan were impressive too on Saturday and their squad is also packed with quality, so I’d expect that to be the top two at the end of the season, although a few other clubs will be in the mix too. It’s a strong, competitive division for sure.
RR: And how about Cheltenham then - what’s the expectation of where they’ll finish? Would just staying up be enough, or are fans expecting more after winning L2 last year and having a decent start to life in the third tier?
Jon Palmer: Most Cheltenham fans would probably settle for survival, but Duff will have his eye on beating 17th as that’s the club’s highest finish so far (2006/07). Based on the way they’ve started, I expect them to be lower mid-table, with home form looking okay.
They’ve only had four at home out of 14 in all competitions this season, so it’s been a really tough start and when key men are back, I’m sure they’ll cause a few more upsets along the way.