Cheltenham produced a professional performance to beat Exeter for an 8th consecutive time courtesy of a 5th minute Russell Penn strike.
The Robins had a perfect start to their afternoon when Russ Penn broke away from his marker before drilling a shot over a bobbly goalmouth and into the bottom corner of Exeter's goal. The Grecians reacted well and really should have grabbed an equaliser from numerous efforts from Cureton, Reid and D'Ath. Exeter gave it their all in the second half but it wasn't good enough as Cheltenham held on for a massive three points.
Robins manager Mark Yates named an unchanged side to kick things off here at St. James' Park. It was the same team that took all three points off league leaders Gillingham last weekend and a mass of travelling Cheltenham supporters were hoping for a similar result here in Devon. Special mention must go out to the travelling Robins who arrived at St James' Park in their numbers after the Cheltenham directors funded seven coaches. Cheltenham's away form needed to be improved upon and a win here for Mark Yates' side would guarantee the race for third place would run until the very last day. Exeter's home form was equally as bad though and they were looking to banish an unwanted record of having lost seven out of seven against the Robins over the years.
Kick off on what was an incredibly important day for the Robins as they looked to keep up the pressure on for automatic promotion and they had an early effort lift just over the bar from Marlon Pack's freekick. It was Russell Penn who was fouled for that set piece and the attacking midfielder was causing havoc again minutes later but this time it resulted in a goal. Five minutes in and Penn picked up the ball on the outside of the area and swang past his marker before driving a shot in at goal with his left foot and it nestled into the bottom corner for an early lead.
It was a great start for the Robins but Exeter weren't without their early threats with both Cureton and D'Ath coming close. The Grecians soon settled down and started to play some nice football and Jamie Reid really should have hit the target after Cureton broke away through on goal and set the young striker up with a golden opportunity. Exeter were pushing for an equaliser and on 19 minutes Cureton came close when he burst past Elliott and fired wide of the far post before being bundled over by the incoming Scott Brown. The home fans had a lot to be hopeful about with their side reacting well to going 1-0 down. The experienced striker was enjoying himself in the sunshine and he was constantly plaguing the Cheltenham defence but he was perhaps unlucky to see another effort glide over the bar after a piece of individual skill took Michael Hector out of the equation.
It was looking like a game where Cheltenham perhaps needed a second goal because Exeter were piling forward with a number of good attacks but Kaid Mohamed had the chance to grab that second goal when he broke into the Exeter half with a pacey run but his 18 yard effort was tame and Krysiak saved comfortably. Byron Harrison also had a great chance to double the lead when he drove himself deep into Exeter's area from the left wing but he didn't get his boot behind his shot and it dribbled harmlessly wide of it's target. Both sides were playing decent football but Cheltenham were starting to become comfortable in possession although Jombati was shown a yellow card for playing the clock down towards the end of the first 45.
Half Time: Exeter City 0-1 Cheltenham Town
Exeter needed to win and they made their intentions clear with firm pressure on the Cheltenham defence from the minute the second half kicked off. They even had the ball in the back of the net five minutes in although it had already been flagged for offside. Scott Brown was called upon to make a clearing header ten minutes into the half before former Cheltenham loanee Lawson D'Ath saw another shot fly over the bar. It was a subdued atmosphere at St James' Park with the only real noise coming from the away stand behind the goal courtesy of the Cheltenham faithful and they were almost given another goal to cheer but Billy Jones put his freekick over the bar.
Sam Deering was introduced at the expense of Jason Taylor on 64 minutes and he immediately got to work hassling his opposition midfielders. Exeter made their first substitution on 68 minutes when the lively Jamie Reid was taken off for Scot Bennett but the Grecians keeper Krysiak was forced to make a good save when Michael Hector's header from Pack's corner almost found the inside far post. Exeter were being largely wasteful when opportunities presented themselves but Exeter tried to force the issue by replacing Tully with Keohane on 73 minutes but Scot Bennett wasted another long range effort minutes later and the home fans grew frustrated.
It really wasn't happening for Exeter and again Byron Harrison couldn't make his chances count when Steve Elliott's long range clearance dropped right in front of him through on goal but he couldn't get his effort in at goal and Exeter cleared their lines quickly. Harrison was withdrawn soon after and replaced by Darryl Duffy who really would have felt he had a point to prove and his energy would be needed in the final minutes of this match. Jimmy Keohane's first action of the afternoon was a wasteful shot over the bar after Bennett did well to nod it down into the substitute's path but it was becoming do or die for Exeter who were minutes away from seeing their play-off hopes destroyed.
Exeter needed to give it everything Keohane very almost did with a driven effort on the edge of the area but Scott Brown produced a wonderful save to deny the Exeter midfielder and Cheltenham breathed a collected sigh of relief. Again they continued to push and a freekick dropped inside the penalty area presented Bauze with a shot at goal but it was an awful attempt and it flew high into the stand. Exeter were giving it their all but their all was not good enough as Cheltenham continued to hold them at arm's length right up until the full time whistle for an important three points. The promotion race would go through to the final day.
Full Time: Exeter City 0-1 Cheltenham Town
Exeter City FC (4-3-1-2): Krysiak (GK); Tully (Keohane 73), Coles (C), Moore-Taylor, Woodman; Davies, Doherty, D'Ath; Gow (Bauza 78); Cureton, Reid (Bennett 68)
Subs not used: Evans (GK), Dawson, Chamberlain, Gosling
Cheltenham Town FC (4-2-3-1): Brown (GK); Jombati, Hector, Elliott, Jones; Taylor (Deering 64), Pack; McGlashan, Penn (C), Mohamed; Harrison (Duffy 82)
Subs not used: Roberts (GK), Lowe, Deaman, Carter, Harrad
Referee: Mr. Dean Whitestone
Attendance: 5,247 (841 from Cheltenham)
Robins Star Man: Russ Penn