Ten-man Cheltenham Town produced their best performance of the campaign to date to record a comprehensive Vanarama National League win at Torquay United’s Launa Windows Stadium.
Their task wasn’t helped by a controversial early red card for George McLennan, but despite playing 83 minutes of this one with a numerical disadvantage the Robins were the better side from start to finish.
Captain Aaron Downes grabbed the first with 29 minutes played, against his former club, and man-of-the-match Danny Wright added his first two goals of the campaign after the break to round off an impressive victory in Devon.
Wright’s former club Wrexham will visit the World of Smile Stadium in little over 48 hours in front of the BT Sport cameras, and this display will fill Johnson's side full of confidence ahead of that contest with the early pacesetters.
Gary Johnson made one change to his side after edging out Barrow last weekend at the World of Smile Stadium.
In came last-gasp goal hero Rob Dickie at right back, initially pushing Jack Barthram into a more advanced role in midfield alongside Harry Pell, who started in the middle for the first time this term.
The manager resisted the chance to match the home side in a 3-5-2 formation, the shape his side finished last weekend’s match and kept faith with 4-4-2 from the start here.
Billy Waters made way for the England Under-19 defender and took his place on the bench.
Nathan Smith crashed into Wright in the opening exchanges, earning the first caution of the afternoon to present Jack Munns with the first opportunity to deliver a ball into the box, but Rob Dickie headed wide.
But with exactly seven minutes on the clock, McLennan was dismissed in controversial circumstances when he stretched to challenge Josh Carmichael in midfield. It was nothing more than a 50-50 in which each player reached the ball, but the referee deemed it to be reckless and the defender was given his marching orders.
The decision handed the Gulls the initiative and they went on to create a handful of chances to open the scoring.
Barthram was re-deployed at left back and instantly prevented James Hurst from scoring six yards from goal, conceding a corner that came to nothing. Then Dillon Phillips was called into action to deny Alex Fisher and Dan Butler.
But Cheltenham stuck to their task and began to press the home side and finished the half the brighter side.
Jack Munns couldn’t find a finish to match a Cheltenham move of real quality down the right, sparked by Dickie and the Reading loanee went on to force an opening of his own, charging down the middle before firing an 18-yard effort well over the target.
It fell to skipper Downes to break the deadlock, meeting Munns’ pinpoint delivery from the left with a downward header in the 29th minute to give his side the lead at half-time.
Torquay had a chance to post an immediate reply, opening up Cheltenham down the right where Fisher tested Phillips with a half-volley from the angle, but Phillips turned it around for a corner.
Paul Cox, the Torquay boss, made a double substitution at the break, sending on Louis Briscoe (for Heslop) and Shepherd Murombedzi (Smith) to try to improve his side’s fortunes.
Johnson reacted by shoring up his midfield with Asa Hall, at the expense of Munns, and it did the trick because his side doubled their shortly after the move.
Wright’s hard work paid off just after the hour when the striker barged his way to his first goal of the campaign, a just reward for his industry in attack.
It came about after a poor kick by Gulls goalkeeper Fabian Spiess, who found Morgan-Smith out on the right. He surged forward, skipped past a couple of defenders and rolled it into the path Wright.
His first touch wasn’t great, but he won his battle with the goalkeeper and was left with the simple task of rolling the ball into the empty net.
He could have had a second moments later, but his attempted lob from 40 yards wasn’t good enough to beat Spiess.
Phillips was equal to efforts by Briscoe, Richards and Hurst while at the other end, Spiess prevented Wright sealing the win with a smart save of his own.
Wright though added number two with five minutes remaining, cooly converting the penalty he earned after some more persistent forward play.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (4-4-2): Phillips; Dickie, Downes, Parslow, McLennan; Barthram, Storer, Pell, Munns (Hall 55); Wright (Cooke 86), Morgan-Smith (Rowe 86). Subs not used: Waters, Lovett.
TORQUAY UNITED (3-5-2): Spiess; MacDonald, Geohaghon, Smith (Murombedzi 46); Hurst, Heslop (Briscoe 46), Richards, Carmichael, Hurst; Fisher, Quigley (Marsh 71). Subs not used: Fenwick, Marsh, Richards.
REFEREE: S Rushton
ATTENDANCE: 2,018 (277 from Cheltenham)