Ten-man Cheltenham Town slipped to their first home defeat of the campaign at the hands of Southend United on a frustrating evening at Whaddon Road.
The contest hinged on a first half incident which handed the Essex side the initiative in this League 2 encounter.
There had been little to write home about until Ryan Leonard injured his hamstring 10 minutes before the break.
It seemed innocuous enough at the time, but it turned out to be the turning point of this spiky match.
Conor Clifford was pressed into action and less than two minutes after the change, Jason Taylor saw red for his reaction to a clumsy challenge by the substitute.
They were then made to pay seven minutes after the restart when Clifford beat Trevor Carson from 25 yards with a fantastic strike.
It could have been more, but the Robins though turned in a committed display despite their numerical disadvantage.
Ultimately, they drew a blank for the third match in succession.
Cheltenham’s record against tonight’s opponents at home is pretty abysmal and that was stretched with this result to only three wins in 13 matches since 1999, with only one success since 2001.
Boss Mark Yates made two changes to the side defeated by Luton Town four days ago.
Byron Harrison was restored to the side, taking the place left vacant by Koby Arthur’s return to parent club Birmingham City at the weekend.
Omari Sterling-James was handed a belated birthday present, making his first League Two start at the expense of Joe Hanks in midfield. He celebrated his 21st birthday the day before this match.
Southend made one change of their own, bringing in Tottenham Hotspur loanee Shaquille Coulthirst to replace injured Barry Corr in attack. The Spurs striker came close to joining Yates’ squad in the summer before opting for Essex where he’s netted once in six appearances after tonight.
Southend made a promising start and enjoyed plenty of early possession but it was Cheltenham, through Jordan Wynter, who drew the first save with 12 minutes on the clock.
Sterling-James and Coulthirst also went close, but neither goalkeeper was seriously troubled before the interval where everyone inside Whaddon Road tried to make sense of the incident that lead to Taylor’s dismissal.
It came about eight minutes before the break, when the Robins man was fouled by Clifford in midfield.
Perhaps he wasn’t up to speed, but the Southend substitute had only been on the pitch for less than two minutes when he mistimed his challenge.
It drew a reaction from Taylor that sparked an ugly melee, after which the midfielder was given his marching orders.
It was the first time in almost two years, since Alan Bennett
was dismissed here against Fleetwood Town, that the manager has seen his side reduced to ten men.
Then seven minutes into the second half, the Essex side made their numerical advantage count when Clifford picked up a poor clearance over 25 yards from goal and drilled one low to Carson’s right to put his side in front.
The goal handed Phil Brown’s side the initiative, and they created plenty of chances to seal the win but Kevan Hurst, Miles Weston and Jack Payne all squandered great chances to extend their side’s lead.
At the other John Marquis fired narrowly over, and Matt Taylor headed Troy Brown’s long throw on target although Daniel Bentley, the Blues number one, held it.
Then Hurst then rattled the crossbar with a thunderous strike 19 minutes from time, and Jerome Binnom-Williams lasered one a foot wide from the left channel.
Matt Richards had a chance in the final minute to level the match, but Bentley, the impressive goalkeeper, got down well to deny the midfielder at the death.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2):
Carson; Brown, M Taylor (c), Elliott; Wynter (Gornell 80), Sterling-James (Hanks 61), J Taylor, Richards, Braham-Barrett; Harrison, Marquis. Subs not used: Haworth, Deaman, Kotwica, Black, Reynolds (Gk).
SOUTHEND UNITED (3-5-2):
Bentley; White (c), Thompson, Prosser; Hurst, Payne (Atkinson 84), Deegan, Leonard (Clifford 35), Binnom-Williams; Weston, Coulthirst (Barnard 76). Subs not used: Ibenfeldt, Worrall, Smith (Gk), Williams
2,303 (196 from Southend)