MARTIN Allen believes Cheltenham Town's 1-1 home draw with Dagenham and Redbridge proves they can live with the toughest competition League Two has to offer.
The Robins recovered from their midweek disappointment against Torquay United with a much-improved display as Allen locked horns with his former mentor and long-serving Daggers boss John Still.
Cheltenham created enough chances to have won the match after fighting back from a goal down through Michael Townsend's headed equaliser in the 81st minute.
It was their first test against a side in the upper reaches of the table and with players such as Shane Duff, Michael Pook and Elvis Hammond still to return from injuries, Allen is confident his team are on the right track.
"We can live with any team in this division, I know we can, and so do the players," Allen said.
"Dagenham are a hard team to play against and I can feel it's coming good and I am very pleased with the players."
Allen was full of praise for Julian Alsop after handing the 36-year-old striker his first Cheltenham start for more than six years.
Alsop arrived in the summer on a month-to-month contract, expecting to be confined to brief substitute appearances after his surprise return from non-League outfit Bishop's Cleeve.
But his cameo contributions earned him a place in the starting line-up and he was a menace for the Dagenham defence for the duration.
"It was a gamble, but Julian deserved to play in this game because he is a threat," Allen said.
"I approached loads of players in the summer to play that role, but I couldn't afford them.
"If you go shopping at Sainsbury's and ask for some fillet steak and you don't have the money, you can't buy it.
"We have ended up with a gristly, old, fatty lump of lard up front, but at the moment he is tasting okay."
Alsop's return was met with a mixed response from Cheltenham supporters, but his increasingly influential performances have made Allen's decision to hand him another chance at full-time football a shrewd one.
"People thought I was mad to take on a player who hadn't played professional football for years," Allen said.
"They should have been here today to see this man's energy, enthusiasm and leadership. He is a shining example."
Cheltenham travel to 19th-placed Bury next week, with joint top scorer Hammond in with a chance of returning from his ankle ligament injury.