Cheltenham Town's unbeaten run was ended by Mansfield Town here at the Abbey Business Stadium this afternoon by a 2-1 scoreline.
Positivity had surrounded the Abbey Business Stadium ahead of kick off but Mansfield drew first blood in this match with Anthony Howell's deflected shot. Cheltenham had chances to get themselves back in the game but it was Mansfield's Matt Rhead that took advantage of his opportunities by netting right before half time. The Robins made changes to formation and personnel in the second half and they had a glimmer of hope towards the end of the game with Sido Jombati's headed finish slipping past Marriott in goal but it wasn't to be and they were undone by a delighted Mansfield Town.
The unbeaten run was over and the Robins brought back to earth with a bump but 2014 was approaching quickly with a chance to react away at Bristol Rovers' Memorial Stadium.
The final game of 2013 promised so much for Cheltenham Town ahead of kick off. Mark Yates' men were 11 games unbeaten and had just recorded their first back to back wins of the season with victory over both Fleetwood and Exeter. On the other hand, Mansfield hadn't won a game for 92 days and if they failed to win here this afternoon then it would equal a club record that no Stags supporters wanted on their history books. Of course the form book had been thrown out of the window in League Two long ago so a solid performance from the Robins was required here today. The only concern for Mark Yates ahead of kick off was that of the fitness of David Noble. The Rotherham loanee had taken a hefty knock to his knee in the 1-0 win over Exeter but he passed a fitness test ahead of the game to ensure he would remain part of the diamond midfield.
The Stags were desperate for a result but Cheltenham certainly weren't keen on allowing Mansfield an easy run here this afternoon and early chances for Jermaine McGlashan and Byron Harrison promised a positive start after just 5 minutes. Mansfield weren't without their early threats however and they really should have had an opener when Anthony Howell found himself free on the back post but his swinging effort struck the side netting much to the frustration of the travelling Stags fans. Members of the Mansfield press team were pleasantly optimistic with their team's start to this game and their next effort on goal helped settle the Stags down into the game although Rhead's back post header had been an easy save for Brown. In the opening 15 minutes Cheltenham were very much at their best when they played patient passing football and Byron Harrison almost capitalised on some of that football with a thumping strike 25 yards from goal. The ball was knocked about between Jason Taylor and Sido Jombati before Harrison's strike had Marriott wheeling back towards his goal but it was inches over the bar.
One thing to take away from this game at this point was that Mansfield certainly didn't look like a side without confidence and they soon had a goal to their name on 21 minutes. The Stags were pressing Cheltenham's backline and a 20 yard strike from Anthony Howell was deflected past Scott Brown to hand Mansfield a lead. The few hardy souls that had travelled down from Field Mill were jubilant whilst the home fans were silent. The Robins could have had an instant react with some deep crosses teasing a Cureton finish but the Stags were holding their lines well and were causing Cheltenham early frustration. A Richards freekick was saved, a Noble strike was deflected wide and a Cureton header dropped over the bar - all cause for optimism as Cheltenham started to test the Stags but the closest they came was on 42 minutes when Noble's drifted lob into the area and Byron Harrison headed over from 6 yards. The striker had another good chance just minutes later when Jombati slipped past two defenders before threading a ball in but the striker couldn't get his boot behind the ball and Jombati's rebound was smashed over the crossbar.
Promising stuff from Cheltenham but they almost found themselves 2-0 down with a beautiful through ball placed for the emerging Oliver Palmer but his effort was well saved by Scott Brown to deny Mansfield a second goal. They weren't able to deny Mansfield for a second time in quick succession however and just before half time Matt Richards handed the visitors a corner. The set piece was whipped in and Matt Rhead powered into the area before stopping low to head the ball into the back of the net for 2-0. A big blow to the Robins and their unbeaten run.
Half Time: Cheltenham Town 0-2 Mansfield Town
A response will have been politely asked for by Mark Yates at the break and they were certainly looking for the early goal in this half but there was a lack of quality in front of goal and in the attacking build-up which was cause for concern considering the Robins looked at their best when playing the passing game. Byron Harrison had another good effort just wide of the post from a stooping header but the head of Sutton pushed it out for a corner. That proved to be Harrison's last action of the game with Mark Yates replacing him with Terry Gornell just before the hour mark and Craig Braham-Barrett was another casualty with his day proving over after being replaced by Kemar Roofe. Attacking intent from the Robins chief and it was needed because the Robins looked lacking in ideas.
Patience was needed but frustration was bubbling over for the Robins support and the players too. Colin Daniel missed an effort 63 minutes into the game with a shot dragged wide of goal but the substitution almost sealed the match one minute later when he sailed through on goal only to be denied by Scott Brown who was quickly at his feet. It was tight and Mansfield were not giving Cheltenham any freedom to create anything of note in front of goal and Mark Yates brought Sam Deering on for Jason Taylor in an effort to force something in this game. The game itself could have turned on it's head when Howell produced a two footed challenge on Roofe which forced the referee to show a yellow card despite it looking like a red card offence. An effort from Terry Gornell moments later was whipped just over the bar as we reached the 80 minute mark and Cheltenham were still not creating the wholesale chances they needed to get themselves back into this match.
A glimmer of hope was handed to the Robins minutes before full time when Sido Jombati headed home from the corner to pull a goal back for the Robins which sent an eruption of noise from the home crowd. There was still a lot of work to do for the Robins but they had given themselves the foundation to grab an unlikely equaliser and the fourth official lifted the board to show 5 minutes additional time. Tense scenes within the Abbey Business Stadium as the home fans roared them team on and a freekick in injury time handed Cheltenham the perfect opportunity but Kemar Roofe's freekick was thumped into the wall. A late chance for Troy Brown flew over the bar but it was game over as the referee called time on a frantic finish handing Mansfield a first win since September.
Cheltenham Town's 11 game unbeaten run in Sky Bet League 2 was over and 2013 ended with defeat.
Full Time: Cheltenham Town 1-2 Mansfield Town
Cheltenham Town FC (4-4-2 Diamond): S. Brown (GK); Jombati, T. Brown, Goldson, Braham-Barrett (Roofe 58); Noble, Taylor (Deering 75), Richards, McGlashan; Harrison (Gornell 58), Cureton.
Subs not used: Roberts (GK), Penn, Ajala, Vincent
Mansfield Town FC (3-5-2): Marriott (GK); Sutton, Riley, Tafazoli; Westlake, McGuire (C) (Daniel 46), Howell, Clements, Jennings; Palmer (Meikle 80), Rhead
Subs not used: Deakin (GK), Dempster, Dyer, Beevers, Stevenson
Referee: Mr. Stephen Martin
Attendance: 2,928 (166 from Mansfield)