A disastrous first half lost this game for the Robins tonight as the league leaders Chesterfield ran out 4-1 winners.
Cheltenham hadn't started so bad despite heavy Chesterfield pressure and even had the better chances in the opening minutes but the Spireites soon stunned the Robins with four goals in seven minutes. Goals from Dan Gardner, Eoin Doyle, Ollie Banks and Liam Cooper ensured a clear and comfortable lead at the break. Cheltenham improved leaps and bounds in the second half and even managed to grab a goal back from Byron Harrison but the damage had been done.
A 4-1 defeat and victory for the visitors completed within six minutes of a shambolic first half of football for the Robins. Chesterfield were outstanding and look destined for League One but there is much work ahead for Mark Yates' squad.
Fresh from the first win of 2014, Mark Yates was in no mood to change a starting eleven that had so successfully frustrated and beaten promotion chasers Newport County at the weekend. The same eleven was named in the hope that another positive result could really start to turn the tide for the Robins in their 2013-14 campaign. In their way however was a side full of confidence and flying high at the top of the Sky Bet League Two table. Chesterfield, led by Paul Cook, were going to be tough adversaries and they were perhaps more dangerous than ever having lost 1-0 to Wycombe at the weekend.
The Spireites were in no mood to wait on the starting whistle and they were instantly on the attack looking for an early advantage against the Robins. Cheltenham Town held their own in the opening minutes however although there was an early worry with Sam Deering going down holding his ankle after a sloppy challenge from Morsy. The versatile midfielder was fine after some treatment from the physio and the Robins soon had the first effort on goal despite plenty of Chesterfield possession in the opening stages. A long throw from Brundle found the feet of Gornell who held well and shot on the turn only for it to be saved by Tommy Lee. Long shots from Humphreys and Gardner threatened little as the Spireites were kept at arm's length but the stubborn defensive line that Mark Yates had set out. Chesterfield may have had the possession but Cheltenham were looking neat on the attack and they had a decent chance to score when a corner ball led to Harrison's overhead kick and Brundle's bundled effort. Neither hit it's mark and Chesterfield immediately punished the Robins in a swift counter attack move. A long ball was thumped over the head of Deering and Gary Roberts charged down the right wing before delivering a wonderful cross to Dan Gardner on the far side of the area. Gardner struck the cross as sweet as you could possibly dream on the volley leaving Brown with no chance whatsoever.
1-0 down but it was about to get worse for the Robins as they were soon 2-0 down after just over 20 minutes. A long ball forward found the emerging figure of Eoin Doyle up front and the striker made no mistake with a lifted effort into the top corner from close range. Cheltenham were sinking fast.
A brief respite saw Terry Gornell test the gloves of Tommy Lee but soon after it was once again Chesterfield who had put their foot to the floor. Further problems down Cheltenham's right hand side saw Brundle beaten after a defensive mishap and Ollie Banks, the full back, nipped in before curling a shot into the bottom corner for 3-0. It was hard to keep up with the relentless Chesterfield attack and the Robins were in serious serious trouble - but it was going to get a lot worse. A corner for Chesterfield promised danger and so it proved as Liam Cooper rose highest in the box to nod in the set piece from close range to make it 4-0. It was four goals in six minutes and the Abbey Business Stadium crowd were left bemused.
Something needed to change because memories of former big losses started to flood back but for the next ten minutes Cheltenham did settle and at least held Chesterfield at bay again. That didn't mean the Spireites didn't enjoy strong possession though. The backroom staff were left scratching their heads and as an Ashley Vincent shot flew wide of the near post it became clear that a 4-0 deficit at half time could have been the best hope for the Robins. An Ian Evatt header was quickly cleared by Matt Richards minutes before the half time whistle but Cheltenham had survived further embarrassment. The half time team talk could well have been sold as a pay per view event.
Half Time: Cheltenham Town 0-4 Chesterfield
What would the message have been at half time? We could hazard a guess but Mark Yates would have been keen for his Cheltenham side to shut the door in defence that had been gaping open for almost the entire first half. An early effort from McGlashan struck the side netting before Steve Elliott tussled with Doyle which left Spireites boss Paul Cook fuming on the touchline that a freekick had not been rewarded. The Robins were clearly performing better and another McGlashan effort into the side netting was promising and there a minute, tiny and small glimmer of hope just shy of the hour mark for Cheltenham. The corner, whipped in by Richards, was thumped in from close range at the near post by Byron Harrison to make the scoreline 4-1. Just three to go...
It was all getting a little tense and despite seeing his side comfortably ahead, Chesterfield manager Paul Cook was showing his grief at every decision that went against his side. Cheltenham were beginning to get in to the faces of Chesterfield and it was miles away from the first half performance. A Sam Morsy effort did sting the gloves of Scott Brown on 70 minutes before Ashley Vincent fired a wide shot far from goal in a desperate attempt to grab another back. The winger had a golden chance a few minutes later when McGlashan's cross across goal found the boot of Vincent but his effort was buried into the body of Tommy Lee. It was a let off for Chesterfield but just another sign of how Cheltenham weren't giving up.
Zack Kotwica and Jamie Cureton were introduced on 75 minutes at the expense of Ashley Vincent and Byron Harrison but their first job was to nearly watch Gary Roberts extend the lead but the winger's effort slipped wide of the far post despite the best hopes of the travelling fans. Cheltenham had another golden opportunity to grab a goal ten minutes from time as Matt Richards' long ball into the area was bumped back across goal by Brundle and Gornell arrived quickly at the back post only to steer his effort wide.
As the minutes passed it was becoming clearer than ever that defeat was on the cards for Cheltenham with the sole aim now being to stop Chesterfield from scoring again and to try and steal another to limit damage to the goal difference. Jason Taylor was brought on to replace Deering to shore up the defence but the Spireites were close to a fifth a Roberts ball across the box was struck in at goal only for Brown to pull off a fine save. A long range effort minutes later for the boot of Gornell forced Tommy Lee into a very good save and that was the closest they came to hurting the league leaders again. The result of course was a foregone conclusion with the improved second half fight and spirit the only crumb of comfort from a bad night the Abbey Business Stadium.
Full Time: Cheltenham Town 1-4 Chesterfield
Cheltenham Town FC (4-2-3-1): S Brown (GK); Brundle, Ihiekwe, Elliott (C), Braham-Barrett; Deering (Taylor 85), Richards; McGlashan, Gornell, Vincent (Kotwica 75); Harrison (Cureton 75)
Subs not used: Roberts (GK), Jombati, Lucas, Taylor, H. Williams
Chesterfield FC (4-4-2): Lee (GK); Darikwa, Cooper, Evatt, Humphreys; Ryan (Togwell 85), Morsy; Banks (Gnanduillet 56), Gardner (Hird 65), Roberts; Doyle
Subs not used: Dunbavin (GK), Smith, O'Shea, Richards
Referee: Mr. Mick Russell
Attendance: 2,217 (200 from Chesterfield)