No-one ever said it was going to be easy!
Cheltenham Town dropped back into the bottom two this evening after slipping to a narrow defeat at fellow strugglers Carlisle United.
Russell Milton’s side held a point advantage over League Two's most northerly team ahead of this match despite winning two games fewer this term, but results on the night conspired against the Robins.
Charlie Wyke grabbed the only goal of the contest before the break to hand the Cumbrians three priceless points. The relegation scrap looks set to go to the wire.
Cheltenham had their chances, and there was no shortage of endeavour but Keith Curle’s side, who had lost four matches in succession coming into this one, held firm to get back to give their survival hopes a huge boost.
Milton named an unchanged team, using the same 11 that performed so well in the win over Tranmere Rovers at the weekend.
Carlisle adapted better to the swirling conditions in the first half on a bitterly cold night, and merited their lead at the break.
The home side, with the wind on their backs, created all the chances and successfully restricted the Robins in attack.
Steven Rigg went close in the opening minutes, meeting a long clearance by Carlisle goalkeeper Dan Hanford with a looping header but Trevor Carson produced a fingertip save to prevent the home side taking an early lead.
Hanford had to be sharp to keep out Troy Brown with 12 minutes on the clock, dropping to save the centre half’s header after Richards had supplied the cross from the left.
There was a moment of concern four minutes later when the home side turned defence into attack, but Rigg screwed his shot wide in a promising position 18 yards from goal.
Carson came to the rescue again with a smart stop to deny Wyke, who had rounded the Northern Irishman but was unable to force the ball home from a tight angle down the left.
Wyke though opened the scoring after Eliot Richards had conceded a free-kick on the right touchline shortly after the half-hour mark.
Patrick Brough slung the ball to the far post, where Antony Sweeney bravely headed it back across goal, and with Carson committed it left the striker the simple task of stabbing home from six yards.
The two combined to almost fashion a second minutes into the second half, but this time Carson was alive to Wyke’s inventive effort from six yards.
Eliot Richards made way for Mathieu Manset in the 55th minute in an attempt to combat Carlisle’s physicality, and Cheltenham began to create some chances to get back on terms.
Mills was typically combative in the midfield battle, but a strong tackle on Rigg shortly after the substitution earned the Bury loanee a yellow card.
The big man joined Matt Sparrow, and substitutes Manset and Jordan Wynter in the book on the night.
Brown was called into a fantastic last-ditch block to prevent Sweeney doubling his side’s lead, while at the other end Sean O’Hanlon was forced into a desperate goal line clearance after Matt Taylor had thumped in a low effort from the edge of the box.
Matt Richards saw a free-kick comfortably held, while Manset’s industry in the 71st minute engineered a shooting chance for Shaun Harrad, but the striker pulled his shot wide.
Jordan Wynter was pressed into action with 11 minutes remaining, replacing Mills as the game entered a nervy finale with Cheltenham doing all the attacking.
There was a fantastic late chance for Taylor, but the captain lost his compass fluffed his free header to steal a point in a frantic ending.
CARLISLE UNITED (4-4-2): Hanford; Young, O’Hanlon, Archibald-Henville, Brough; Amoo, Griffith, Dempsey (c), Sweeney; Wyke, Rigg (Asamoah 90). Subs not used: Buddle, Paynter, Thirlwell, Gillies, Meppen-Walter, Spiegel (Gk).
CHELTENHAM TOWN (4-5-1): Carson; Vaughan, Brown, Taylor (c), Braham-Barrett; Burns, Sparrow, Mills (Wynter 79), M Richards, E Richards (Manset 55); Harrad. Subs not used: Johnstone, Gould (Gk), Hanks, Kotwica, Berry.
REFEREE: C Pawson
ATTENDANCE: 3,118 (92 from Cheltenham)