Full Time: Robins 1, Grecians 0
The Robins defeated Exeter 1-0 this afternoon to record their first back to back wins of the season.
A fifth goal of the season for Jamie Cureton handed Cheltenham a 12th minute lead against his former club and the Robins had numerous chances to extend that lead in the first period through Harrison, McGlashan, Goldson and Cureton himself but Exeter withstood as best they could to limit the damage at half time. They had to withstand heavy pressure throughout the second half as Exeter looked to grab an equaliser but a stunning performance from Scott Brown and his defence ensured maximum points and the perfect finish to Christmas.
It was now 11 league games unbeaten for the Robins with focus now switching to the final match of 2013 versus Mansfield.
Ten games unbeaten in the league was certainly a nice present heading into Christmas for Mark Yates and his Robins but an 11th match unbeaten, preferably with the 3 points, would be the ultimate icing on the Christmas pudding. Yates showed trust in the players that started out at Fleetwood at the weekend following what was possibly the performance of the season so far. A 2-0 victory over promotion contenders did much to warm the soul but Exeter would be no pushovers. The odds were in Cheltenham's favour with the last 8 meetings ending in victory but with League Two proving so unpredictable this season, you could hardly rely on the form book.
Predictions were never a common theme in press boxes these days with a tight division proving to provide surprises week in and week out but one prediction made by the travelling media was that of Jamie Cureton grabbing a goal against his former club and the veteran striker almost made that statement come true in the opening stages. A long ball forward was picked up on the edge of the area by Cureton but his shot was just wide of the near post. Another former Grecian came close minutes later when Noble's 20 yard effort took a minor deflection and forced Krysiak into a very good save low down at his near post. It was a decent start for Cheltenham but Exeter weren't without their threats and a Butterfield low cross looked to be heading straight to the feet of Gow before Sido Jombati made a timely intervention. That didn't faze the Robins however and they were soon on the attack again with Matt Richards' thunderous shot forcing another save from the gloves of Krysiak - a lively opening ten minutes.
If anyone was going to score in the opening stages of the game then it looked as though it would have been Cheltenham Town and so it proved with the press box prediction ringing true. A goal kick flicked on by the head of Harrison found Jamie Cureton in dangerous territory and Exeter's former dangerman made no mistake in slotting it into the back of the net for 1-0. A great start for the Robins but it was worth nothing that Jamie Cureton showed ultimate respect to his former employers by not celebrating his 5th goal of the season - not that it stopped his team-mates on the other hand.
That goal was a signal of intent from the Robins and a spell of pressure following that opening goal threatened to dig a further hole for the Grecians but Scot Bennett handed himself well and kept Cheltenham's wave of attacks at bay. Mark Yates must have been pleased with the way his side were playing but they had a superb chance to try and double their lead midway through the half when Harrison dispossessed the uncharacteristically sloppy Bennett and he had a clear run through on goal. The Robins top scorer went for an ambitious chipped effort 35 yards from goal and had to watch as it sailed wide. Exeter weren't without their moments and they looked at their best when the ball was at feet being passed around the midfield. The brand of football almost created something for Tisdale's side after a chain of 8 of 9 passes set Nichols through on goal but he couldn't quite wrap his boot around the ball and Brown collected with ease.
An Exeter freekick gave Sercombe a chance to level the playing field but the set piece, ten minutes from the break, was an easy collection for Brown in goal and it was a Cheltenham attack moments later that almost threatened to bag the next goal of the game. A long ball deep into Exeter's box was caught and then dropped by Krysiak who had flown over the back of Cureton but Harrison couldn't steer his header towards goal before Cureton snatched an effort over the bar. The Grecians reacted by switching to a 4-4-2 formation but again it was Cheltenham who threatened to score. The passing football between Jombati and McGlashan down the right wing was applauded by the home fans with the eventual ball finding Connor Goldson on the edge of the box but his effort was deflected wide of goal.
Half time approached and Exeter could have had a way back into the game after a scramble in the box fell in Cheltenham's favour but it would have been David Wheeler kicking himself at the break after he had a stunning opportunity to score but he put it inches wide with Scott Brown in no man's land and the scores remained 1-0 to Cheltenham as the referee blew on his whistle.
Half Time: Cheltenham Town 1-0 Exeter City
If Mark Yates' team talk was to about keeping it tight and not conceding then he may well have been left scratching his head a minutes into the second half when Gow was able to flick the ball on for Wheeler who burst through on goal before having a shot denied by Scott Brown. It was a close call for the Robins but one they needed to learn from if they were going to maintain their lead in this fixture. Exeter were reacting well to whatever Paul Tisdale had said at half time and Tim Nichols came close to grabbing an equaliser with a powerful shot on the edge of the area but again Scott Brown provided the necessary save. Again Exeter came close on 56 minutes with Grimes dragging a shot wide from just six yards out and that forced Mark Yates into a substitution minutes later with David Noble being withdrawn and Russ Penn introduced.
You could feel the nerves in the stadium as Cheltenham fans willed their team on to grab another goal before Exeter could make the impact they were looking for. The Robins' track record of keeping a lead at home in recent weeks has been poor and the Grecians' support was now building the noise within the Abbey Business Stadium. Those travelling fans almost had a chance to roar when Tom Nichols fired a delightful shot in at goal following a mistake from Matt Richards but once again Scott Brown was on hand to make the save and push it over the bar. The resulting corner from Alan Gow was a strong delivery to the near post but substitute Parkin could only head wide. Cheltenham had a good chance to grab a goal 20 minutes from time as Jason Taylor fired in a deep cross towards the back post but Cureton's header came back off the base of the post to the frustration of the home support.
Cheltenham's goalscorer was soon replaced by Kemar Roofe who was back from injury but his first duty was to help defend an Exeter freekick just outside the area. Alan Gow stepped up and fired a wonderful effort in at goal only to see it cannon back off the post and wide for a goal kick. The Grecians were seriously testing the Cheltenham resolve here and another freekick just outside the area had to be collected once again by Brown. Mark Yates watched on as his side battled against an Exeter side growing with confidence but McGlashan almost forced a second Cheltenham goal after powering past Bennett but his effort was well saved and Harrison's rebounded effort was cleared just in time by Jordan Moore-Taylor. Back and forth this game went and you couldn't take your eyes away but Mark Yates reacted to growing pressure by introducing Terry Gornell in an effort to keep the ball towards the top of the pitch.
An effort two minutes from the full ninety from Wheeler had the travelling fans almost on their feet until they had realised it had slipped wide but the Grecians were quickly running out of time and, despite their best efforts, Cheltenham were holding onto their lead with gritted teeth. The stubborn backline of the Robins, particularity Scott Brown, were having a busy afternoon and they needed to hold on for another four minutes additional time if they were going to take maximum points. Mark Yates was barking out instructions and urging his team to maintain their concentration but it took a wonder save from Brown to deny Sercombe's thunderous drive and you could literally feel the nerves bubbling over from the home fans as they began to chant for their side. They didn't need to wait too much longer as the referee called time on the game and the Abbey Business Stadium erupted with elation. This was a big three points for Cheltenham and a huge performance from Scott Brown helped them earn their first back to back wins of the season.
Cheltenham Town FC (4-4-2 Diamond): S. Brown (GK); Jombati, T. Brown, Goldson, Braham-Barrett; Noble (Penn 59), Taylor, Richards, McGlashan; Harrison (Gornell 86), Cureton (Roofe 76).
Subs not used: Roberts (GK), Deering, Ajala, Vincent
Exeter City FC (4-5-1): Krysiak (GK); Butterfield, Bennett (Gosling 88), Baldwin (C), Moore-Taylor; Wheeler, Sercombe, Gill, Grimes (Parkin 63), Gow; Nichols
Subs not used: Pym (GK), Woodman, Keohane, Davies, Doherty
Referee: Mr. Simon Hooper
Attendance: 3,562 (437 from Exeter)