Cheltenham Town slumped to a hugely dispiriting defeat by Plymouth Argyle, a result that leaves them propping up the Football League for the first time in their history.
Two goals by Reuben Reid and a third by Zak Ansah handed the Devon side a comfortable victory to move them back into the play-off reckoning tonight.
Russell Milton’s team never looked like troubling the Pilgrims this afternoon, and were as profligate here as they were at Home Park in October when they were just as easily beaten.
Six games then to plot an escape, three here and four on the road beginning with that hugely important trip to relegation rivals York City on Good Friday.
Milton made four changes to the side beaten by Exeter City last week.
Wes Burns and Will Packwood were both away on international duty while Durrell Berry dropped to the bench. Danny Haynes missed out.
In came Lee Vaughan and Jack Deaman into a three-man back line, with Joe Hanks deployed in the midfield and Mathieu Manset partnered with Shaun Harrad in attack.
There was plenty of bluster throughout the opening 45 minutes, but Cheltenham never looked liked producing the quality needed to threaten the well-drilled Plymouth defence.
There was a wicked cross by Joe Hanks, which jimmied open the Devon side on the half-hour but Shaun Harrad couldn’t force it home.
Four minutes later, the visitors were in front.
Carl McHugh was given the freedom of Whaddon to surge down the middle, carrying the ball for fully 50 yards before finding Reuben Reid unmarked on the edge of the box, who measured his finish beyond Carson to add and to the goal he scored when the two teams met in Devon.
Matt Richards put Harrad through a moment later, but again the striker couldn’t take advantage of a promising position 12 yards from goal.
The striker combined nicely with Manset with the interval approaching, but the Frenchman dragged his shot wide.
Eliot Richards took up position behind the strikers for the second half, replacing Matt Sparrow, and played his part in Cheltenham’s first attack which saw Hanks fire over from 20 yards.
But all the action came at the other end, starting with a fine one-handed save by Carson to deny Lewis Alessandra.
Reuben Reid hooked one wide and Peter Hartley headed over, meeting Bobby Reid’s inswinging effort with a looping effort at the far post.
There was a sense of inevitability about John Sheridan’s side’s second goal, taken once again by Reuben Reid on the hour.
The combative striker raced onto a ball over the top from the left, skipped past Deaman and beat Carson with a heavily deflected shot, looping over the Northern Irishman with a decisive touch from Matt Taylor’s outstretched leg.
Manset showed good strength to get a low angled drive away shortly after the goal, but Luke McCormick got down well to smother the danger at his near post.
Joe Hanks and Lee Vaughan went into the book as frustrations bubbled over, then Harrad was withdrawn and replaced with new boy Shaquille McDonald, the 41st player to make an appearance for the club this season. Omari Sterling-James was also handed a late cameo.
But Plymouth always looked more likely to extend their lead that squander it, and with four minutes remaining they eased their way down field, finding Anthony O’Connor out wide on the left who whipped in a ball for substitute Zak Ansah to glance home and boost his side's promotion hopes.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2): Carson; Mills, Taylor (c), Deaman; Vaughan, Hanks, M Richards, Sparrow (E Richards 46), Braham-Barrett (Sterling-James); Harrad (McDonald 70), Manset. Subs not used: Ferdinand, Sterling-James, Wynter, Berry, McDonald, Reynolds (Gk).
PLYMOUTH ARGYLE (3-5-2): Hartley, McHugh, Nelson (c); O’Connor, B Reid, Banton (Ansah 75), Blizzard, Holmes-Dennis; Alessandra (Lee 89), R Reid (Brunt 76). Subs not used: Bittner (Gk), Norburn, Harvey, Bentley.
REFEREE: K Hill
ATTENDANCE: 3,831 (1,422 from Plymouth)