It was frustration under the floodlights this evening as Cheltenham had to settle for a second consecutive 0-0 draw.
Bristol Rovers set themselves up in true John Ward fashion and were tight and organised all night. Cheltenham had their moments throughout the game but lacked any real quality in front of goal on an evening when it was really needed. Rovers had played for a point and they got what they wanted but that wasn't to say they didn't have their own threats in a game that lacked any real goal mouth action.
It was six games unbeaten in the league for the Robins but there will be a tinge of frustration and disappointment in the changing room tonight with a victory over their rivals very much within their grasp.
Mark Yates' wasn't a far cry from the team that held a busy Newport County side to a 0-0 stalemate at the weekend but the Robins chief did opt to recall Terry Gornell back into the side at the expense of top scorer Byron Harrison to partner former Rovers hot shot Jamie Cureton in attack. Another former Rovers stalwart, Steve Elliott, was making his 150th start for Cheltenham Town and held the captain's armband upon a memorable day for the 35 year-old. The Robins were at full strength while Bristol Rovers had a few absentees but the returning John Ward was sure to have a few tricks up his sleeve as he aimed to get one over on his old club.
Robins manager Mark Yates warned that his opposite number would not spare a thought for his old club during the 90 minutes here tonight with the Rovers in need of points but it was Cheltenham that nearly showed the ruthlessness needed in the opening minutes with Jamie Cureton's point blank back post strike being well saved by Mildenhall. The veteran striker was at it again just minutes later when he provided the flick header into the path of San Deering but the attacking midfielder's lofted effort was a tough short and therefore an easy catch for Mildenhall. Bristol Rovers' first effort on goal in this game was a forgettable one as David Clarkson's punt wandered out for a throw on the opposite end of the pitch but as the minutes ticked by Rovers did settle and were showing the true trademark of a John Ward team - solid and organised. This frustrated the Robins as they drifted ball after ball to the head of Gornell trying to find some way of unlocking the stubborn backline of Rovers.
Tough and defensive they may have been but Rovers were capable of getting the ball down and playing some decent football too and a spell such as that almost brought about the first goal. A string of passes between Norburn and Brown eventually led to the left back surging through on goal but he only found the body of Brown denying him with a low save. Mildenhall denied Cureton on 37 minutes following some good wing play from Braham-Barrett but it was a Richards' cross arriving at the back post just minutes later that really should have put Rovers to the sword with right back Jombati charging in at the back post but the right back's effort was more like a clearance much to the delight of the large contingent of Rovers fans behind the goal. The majority of Cheltenham's attacks were coming down the left with Braham-Barrett applying the width and it was lovely run on 42 minutes that supplied Cureton with another effort on goal although once again it was collected comfortably by Mildenhall.
There was enough time at the end of the first period for Mildenhall to catch his breath after colliding with Elliott during a Cheltenham corner and for Jamie Cureton to misfire a loose ball in the area but both sides would have been happy with a 0-0 scoreline at the break and a chance to regroup.
Half Time: Cheltenham Town 0-0 Bristol Rovers
The temperate dropped in the second half with the fans collectively hoping for something to warm them up but Lee Brown's wild miss early on didn't offer much hope to the travelling fans. They were celebrating a minute later however when Lee Brown smashed the ball into the back of the net from Norburn's deep cross with the Hazlewood Stand celebrating in full voice. Little did they know the linesman had lifted his flag up for an offside and Rovers were back to square one.
It didn't take long for Mark Yates to make his first personnel change and it was Jermaine McGlashan at the expense of the industrious Jason Taylor. Bristol Rovers threatened once again with the head of Lee Brown just slipping wide of Scott Brown's goal as Rovers looked to capitalise on their strong start to this half but Cheltenham reacted again on 60 minutes with a second substitution this time Harrison replacing Gornell. The big striker had the chance to pull the trigger on 66 minutes with some good link up play between Cureton and Deering paying dividends but there seemed to be a hesitation amongst the strikers this evening and the chance eventually deflated. When he finally did get his shot in at goal the Rovers goalkeeper Mildenhall stood in his way and forced a corner but Cheltenham needed to find a way past their current nemesis.
A yellow card for Steve Elliott on 73 minutes held a Rovers counter attack at bay and a stretch Cureton shot on 78 minutes threatened to give the Robins an advantage but there was an increasing amount of frustration building inside the stadium as they failed to finish chances and Rovers threatened to rob the game. A spark was needed and the bench hoped that Zack Kotwica would provide just that after he replaced Deering ten minutes from time. The young winger had scored two hat tricks in his previous two appearances at the Abbey Business Stadium - albeit in the FA Youth Cup. It was very nearly some wing work from Michael Smith that provided a spark in this game however with him surging past Braham-Barrett who had sold himself too early into the challenge. The right back drove his way into the area before testing the gloves of Brown and then heading the loose ball back across goal only for Jombati to clear.
Nervous times and Cheltenham weren't doing themselves any favours with a lack of control with the simplest of balls and time was running out. Effort and determination was clear to see but the necessary quality in front of goal hadn't been there this evening and the Robins were left frustrated.
Full Time: Cheltenham Town 0-0 Bristol Rovers
Cheltenham Town FC (4-4-2 Diamond): S. Brown (GK); Jombati, T. Brown, Elliott (C), Braham-Barrett; Noble, Taylor (McGlashan 59), Richards, Deering (Kotwica 80); Gornell (Harrison 62), Cureton
Subs not used: Roberts (GK), Hanks, Penn, Vincent
Bristol Rovers FC (4-4-2): Mildenhall (GK); Smith, Packwood, Parkes (C), Brown; Norburn, Lockyer, Harding, Clarkson; Richards (Harrison 90), Harrold
Subs not used: Gough (GK), Keary, Green, Southway, Harrison
Referee: Mr. David Coote
Attendance: 3,556 (1,184 from Bristol)