NEW signings Lee Vaughan and Asa Hall have been backed to have a big impact for Cheltenham Town this season by former skipper Russ Penn.
Penn, who left Whaddon Road for York in January, believes the pair, recruited from Kidderminster and Shrewsbury respectively, are just the kind of players manager Mark Yates needs to turn the Robins’ fortunes round after a disappointing 2013/14 campaign.
Penn played alongside right-back Vaughan when the pair were youngsters at Birmingham and said: “Lee is a good player and always has his heart on his sleeve.
“He has calmed down a bit recently, which he needed to do, and although we play in different positions, he reminds me of myself in the way he plays.
“He gives everything, as the fans will see from the very first friendly. He leaves nothing out there and I am sure he will be the first name on the teamsheet every week.”
Hall has been a regular opponent for Penn down the years during spells with Luton, Shrewsbury, Aldershot and Oxford.
“I think this will be the seventh season we have played against each other and it’s always a good battle,” said Penn.
“He is quite similar to me as a player, a box-to-box player, but he scores a few more goals than I do.
“Asa is a trusted player at this level and these are just the sort of players Yatesy needs to bring in.
“If he can bring in a few more like this then he is on the right track – and he is one of the best managers out there when it comes to recruiting players.”
Penn has no doubts that Yates is the man to get the club back on track after they fell from play-off contenders two years running to last season’s 17th-place finish.
“He can get them back up there again, but needs people on his side,” said Penn.
“Two good years have been followed by an average year – not disastrous. Look at Bristol Rovers, they got relegated with a much bigger budget.
“Expectations mounted, but it was a bit of a bamboozling season really, and a lot of factors didn’t help.”
One of those was Penn’s departure for York to join former team-mate Keith Lowe, and they helped the Minstermen to the play-off semi-finals, where they lost to Fleetwood.
“I didn’t think I would leave,” he said. “At the time I wasn’t playing regularly, deservedly so on form, and York were interested.
“Keith Lowe being there already was a big factor but still I didn’t think I would leave, then they came up with a great deal. I wanted to do a loan until the end of the season, then come back to make a fresh start at Cheltenham but that wasn’t on the table, so I had to make a decision.
“The fixtures are out next week and I am looking forward to coming back to Cheltenham as I never got the chance to say goodbye to the fans.
“I loved it at Cheltenham, and didn’t want to leave, but at 28 I needed to play regularly. I certainly didn’t fall out with anyone.”
Penn has now been joined in leaving the club by his former travelling partner Scott Brown, and Penn says he will be a “big loss” for the Robins following his move to Aberdeen.
“It is a great move for him. I spoke to him the other day and he has already gone up there as they have started training already because of their early Europa League games.
“There are a few keepers around out there who could come in and do a good job at this level.”
Penn says Yates needs to build a new spine to the team, and also backs the club’s youngsters to play their part.
“Joe Hanks did well at the end of the season I am told,” he said. “I thought he would have played more, but when results are not going your way you look to older heads.
“Look at two years ago, he brought me, Luke Summerfield, Sido Jombati, Alan Bennett, Darryl Duffy, Marlon Pack and Kaid Mohamed in.
“It is amazing to think now that none of those players are at the club any more, so he needs to reproduce what he did then, and bring a whole new team in again.
“Yatesy is one of the best managers around for bringing players in. He can do it.”