Cheltenham Town produced their most impressive performance of the season to defeat promotion rivals Grimsby Town and move to the top of the league.
The visit to Blundell Park was always likely to be one of Gary Johnson’s side’s toughest assignments this campaign, but they came through it with flying colours to grab their first ever win here in front of the BT Sport cameras.
There was a bumper crowd inside this fantastic old venue but it was the 78 hardy souls that made the long trip up from Gloucestershire making all the noise at the final whistle.
Skipper Aaron Downes grabbed the goal, his fifth of the season, 22 minutes from time to lead his side to the summit of the Vanarama National League this evening.
It was the first time in 13 matches the Lincolnshire side had tasted defeat, and the first in seven that the Robins had kept a clean sheet in the league. It all culminated in a two-point lead this evening.
Johnson was forced into one change after losing Amari Morgan-Smith to injury in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round replay win over Havant & Waterlooville on Tuesday night.
Billy Waters replaced him after six minutes on the night and continued in attack on an unseasonably clement evening in Lincolnshire.
There was no shortage of entertainment in a bustling first 45 minutes but it was low on clear chances.
The home side made the better start to the match, but the Robins dug in and began to get a foothold in the game at the mid-way point.
The Cod Army’s front pairing of Padraig Amond and Omar Bogle have been prolific this term, contributing 27 goals of their team’s 38 to join Bromley as the division’s top scorers, and they made a lively start to test the Cheltenham defence.
First Amond was close to connecting with Danny East’s inswinger in the opening exchanges, but it rolled out harmlessly for a goal kick.
East then forced Dillon Phillips into his first real save of the match with 16 minutes on the clock, and was quickly up to watch Amond’s header drop inches wide.
There was another headed chance for Amond, this time Richard Tait was the provider from the right but it flew wide.
Wright fired his side’s effort over from 20 yards 10 minutes before the interval, and moments later Kyle Storer drew a smart low save from goalkeeper James McKeown, who gathered at the second attempt.
With two minutes of the first half left Storer clipped a 20-yard free-kick over the defensive wall, but McKeown held it.
A final chance fell to Amond before the break, but the striker couldn’t beat Phillips from a tight angle, who saved with his legs.
Cheltenham were brilliant in the second half and created enough chances to take the lead before the goal arrived.
Storer missed the target with the first chance from 25 yards, and Waters slashed at one a minute later and it travelled well wide of the target.
Next Barthram forced a good save after a terrific low ball across goal by McLennan from the left. Wright dummied it, Waters miscued and the right back smashed one on target, but McKeown saved well.
Then there was a chance for Pell, but his wild effort from the edge of the box floated high and wide.
McKeown was in action again to push away Munns’ dangerous free-kick shortly after the hour-mark.
The locals were getting restless, and it came as no surprise when Downes grabbed the winner in the 68th minute.
It started out on the right, with Munns’ whipping in a corner towards Wright. The striker got enough on it to find Waters, who hooked it into the path of the Australian skipper and he made no mistake from eight yards.
He then provided a masterclass in defending, cutting out two menacing balls into the box at full stretch as Grimsby mounted their response.
They dominated the play after the goal, and Disley lifted a shot from an angle over the target as the game entered its final ten minutes.
Phillips needed to be alive to Disley’s stooping header in the final minute of normal time, but Grimsby had nothing to offer in the closing stages.
GRIMSBY TOWN (4-4-2): McKeown; Tait (Marshall 70), Nsiala, Pearson, Townsend; East, Clay (Brown 79), Disley, Arnold; Bogle (Paul-Pittman 73), Amond. Subs not used: Gowling, Mackreth.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2): Phillips; Dickie (Vaughan 87), Downes (c), Parslow; Barthram, Pell, Storer, Munns (Dayton 90), McLennan; Subs not used: Hall, Rowe, Lovett.
REFEREE: J Brooks
ATTENDANCE: 5,218 (78 from Cheltenham)