MARK Yates heaped praise on his Cheltenham Town squad for being well positioned to challenge for automatic promotion from League Two with 14 matches left this season.
Ahead of tomorrow's home match against Aldershot Town, just five points separate the third-placed Robins from Southend in seventh, who they beat 2-1 on Tuesday.
Yates admits Cheltenham have not reached the standards they set last season, but he said teams are paying them far more respect this term after they narrowly missed out on promotion via the play-offs.
"We have not been as fluid or as pleasing on the eye as last year, but teams give you more respect and work harder against you because they see us as a scalp now," Yates (inset) said.
"Fair play to my boys because we are third in the table, despite a lot of teams finding out what we are about and trying to stop us play.
"We are aiming to put a run of results together now, but if we have to scrap and fight it out we will."
Yates does not envisage any changes to the starting line-up that defeated Southend, if Paul Benson (thigh) and skipper Russ Penn (calf) are passed fit to play.
He confirmed midfielder Marlon Pack will keep his place after an outstanding performance on his return to the team at Roots Hall.
Pack's future remains uncertain, but Yates will be doing all he can to persuade chairman Paul Baker and the board to let him keep the midfielder until the end of the season, even if Swindon come calling again.
"Marlon is still my player and he'll be in the team tomorrow," Yates said.
"He's never once asked me to go or demanded to go, but we felt it was the right deal at the right time when Swindon made an offer.
"Marlon's attitude has been spot-on, his training has been spot-on and he was superb the other night.
"It's something we have to think about and all I am concerned about is finishing as high in the table as we can and seeing us without him and with him, I know we'd like him here."
Aldershot are set to hand Jeff Goulding a debut tomorrow, having signed the former Cheltenham striker until the end of the season.
Yates said they will be fully aware of a player he brought to the club from Bournemouth in the summer of 2010.
"Jeff had a few doubters here, but we have to be wary of him because he'll want to put one over us, that's the nature of football," Yates said.
"He had a good two and a half years here and I enjoyed working with him.
"If he plays, he'll be a problem for us."
Aldershot's 2-1 defeat at Morecambe on Tuesday night leaves them in the drop zone and two points off the foot of the Football League.
Yates gets on well with their manager Dean Holdsworth and he has backed the former Wimbledon and Bolton Wanderers striker to guide Aldershot to safety.
"Dean is a good manager and a great bloke and I am sure they'll get out of it," Yates said.
"They have some good players, so I am surprised they are where they are, but all I am concerned about is my players being fully prepared and ready to build on what we did on Tuesday night."