Full-time: Rochdale 4, Cheltenham Town 1
Cheltenham Town's final away match of the calendar year ended in disappointment at Rochdale's Spotland Stadium.
It was a night to forget as the home team consigned the Robins to their first ever defeat at this venue on a frustrating evening in Greater Manchester.
And in producing this disjointed display, Mark Yates' side missed the chance to go second on a testing night for the defenders in ruby.
Scott Brown was the Robins' outstanding performer on the night, producing a string of fantastic saves to keep the contest alive despite conceding four on the night.
Rochdale have had a tradition of nurturing fine attacking talent down the years and Bobby Grant, who got the ball rolling here with his 13th goal of the season, looks set to follow Rickie Lambert, Grant Holt and Adam Le Fondre through the ranks at Spotland.
Ashley Grimes put his side firmly in control at the break, doubling the advantage in first half injury time leaving the Robins with it all to do in the second period.
But the Robins were handed a lifeline thanks to Phil Edwards, who turned the ball into his own net under no real pressure.
Rochdale though responded in positive fashion, Grimes adding his second - his eighth of the season - before journeyman striker Dele Adebola put the seal on the result.
Alarmingly Cheltenham have now conceded 17 goals in the six most recent away games in the league, including the clean sheet at Gillingham.
Yates kept faith with the side that had to settle for a point against Port Vale at the Abbey Business Stadium last weekend, deploying a 4-4-2 formation with Shaun Harrad and Chris Zebroski starting up front.
However it was the Cheltenham defence, and goalkeeper Brown in particular, who was called into all the early action.
Rochdale came into this one on the back of four successive defeats but they started the evening full of attacking intent and created all the early chances.
Brown produced a brilliant double save to first deny Ashley Grimes, on the volley, and then Andrew Tutte, with the follow-up from an acute angle, in the seventh minute.
Then Jason Kennedy drew a smart stop after receiving the ball 16 yards from goal when a ricochet fell in his favour.
The Cheltenham number one had been forced into his fourth significant stop by the 15-minute mark, dropping to prevent Dele Adebola from the edge of the box after the Cheltenham defence had been breached by Kennedy's threaded ball.
Next the crossbar came to Cheltenham's rescue after a rasping shot by Grant from all of 30 yards had evaded Brown's diving effort.
Cheltenham had fashioned a half-chance, Alan Bennett glancing a Billy Jones corner wide of the mark while Zebroski saw a shot held on the half-hour.
But Yates' side lacked a fluency to their game, and were guilty of sloppy play on too many occasions as half-time approached.
Rochdale poured forward with pace at every opportunity and it was no surprise when Grant gave Rochdale a deserved lead seven minutes before the break.
Kennedy burst down the right and cut one back into the path of Adebola, who teed up the Rochdale striker from 20 yards.
Brown had performed magnificently all evening, but there was nothing he could do as the ball sailed into the top left-hand corner.
Brown came to the rescue yet again as half-time approached, this time to prevent Kennedy doubling his side's advantage after a slick move down the left.
Seconds later though, Rochdale had increased their lead through Grimes, who twisted away from Darren Carter before finding the top right-hand corner from 25 yards.
Yates reacted to the first half performance by making a double substitution at the break, withdrawing Harrad and Marlon Pack and sending on Jeff Goulding and Jermaine McGlashan and it paid off only three minutes after the restart in somewhat innocuous circumstances.
Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis was equal to a low Jake Taylor effort from the left, pushing it away from danger but under no pressure, Phil Edwards skewed his clearance into the empty net to hand the Robins a foothold in the contest.
They could, and perhaps should have been level five minutes level when Steve Elliott flicked on Jones' free-kick from the right into Bennett's path, but the captain fluffed his lines at the far post.
At the other end Brown denied Grimes, and then Adebola with two further notable saves to keep his side in it with an hour played.
Then the home side felt they had a claim for a penalty, but Russell Penn appeared to out-muscle Kevin McIntyre rather than infringe the left back inside the box.
Grant had a great opportunity to restore his side's two-goal advantage in the 65th minute after Kennedy had found the striker with a menacing cross from the right, but his header flew wide.
But the home side added the third 23 minutes from time when Grimes skipped past a couple of defenders and beat Brown from 18 yards.
And things went from bad to worse when Adebola made it four only two minutes later, reacting quickest after Brown had parried Grant's shot from the right into the six yard area.
Still Brown had work to do, grasping substitute George Donnelly's flicker header in the dying moments of the game as Rochdale made a series of changes to extinguish any hopes of Cheltenham producing a remarkable comeback.
ROCHDALE (4-2-3-1): Lillis; Bennett, R Edwards, P Edwards, McIntyre; Grant (Putterill 82), Cavanagh ©, Tutte, Kennedy (Craney 88), Grimes; Adebola (Donnelly 75). Subs not used: Rafferty, Barry-Murphy, Pearson, Smith.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (4-2-2): Brown; Jombati, Bennett ©, Elliott, Jones; Penn, Pack (McGlashan 46), Carter, Taylor (Duffy 67); Zebroski, Harrad (Goulding 46). Subs not used: Lowe, Deering, Roberts (Gk), D'Ath.
REFEREE: Michael Naylor