Full Time: Rovers 1, Robins 0
Another disappointing night for the Robins as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of John Ward's Bristol Rovers.
A first half John-Joe O'Toole strike was enough to finally grasp three points for the jubilant home side but Mark Yates and the Robins struggled to ever find a meaningful effort on goal to push for a point at least.
Still no victory in 2014 and once again a trip back home to Gloucestershire to ponder what went wrong.
This game was close to never happening. A downpour of rain hours before kick off left the Memorial Stadium wet, soggy and muddy but both managers were keen to get the game on and the referee eventually gave the green light. For Mark Yates, he named two changes to his starting XI with Sam Deering and Terry Gornell replacing Lee Lucas and Byron Harrison respectively. With those changes there was also a formation change with the Robins lined up a 4-2-3-1 formation. For Rovers there were some familiar faces as Kaid Mohamed started and Steven Gillespie took his place on the bench but of course, not forgetting, manager John Ward who was the last Robins manager to lead Cheltenham to promotion success.
Tonight's game was going to always be about guts and determination but it was Cheltenham Town who perhaps started the brightest under the floodlights of the Memorial Stadium. After a hopeful John-Joe O'Toole effort, the Robins started to press and had a number of promising attacks towards the Rovers goalmouth. A golden opportunity fell for Jamie Cureton in the 8th minute when a long ball held up well for the veteran striker but his snap shot at was well hunted down by Mildenhall between the posts. It wasn't long before Bristol Rovers had their own opportunity in front of goal though and, as the muddy goalmouths promised, a scrambled ensued with shots raining in on Brown's goal with last ditch blocks and tackles from the Robins defence providing the protection needed. A wayward shot from David Clarkson lacked any composure to test the gloves of Brown in the early stages but Rovers were beginning to build heir confidence in the Cheltenham half and the Robins needed to remain resolute.
A fine effort from Alan Gow whistled past the post on 24 minutes and another strike from O'Toole minutes later started to pile the pressure on Mark Yates' side but still they resisted and Sam Deering could have snatched the opener after a threaded pass from Gornell found the surging midfielder but his effort was quickly blocked off by skipper Tom Parkes. Resolute defending from Cheltenham Town soon counted for nothing however when Rovers top scorer John-Joe O'Toole struck a venomous shot from the edge of the box beyond Scott Brown for 1-0. The pressure applied by Rovers was promising a goal and an eruption of noise from the home crowd greeted the goal as Cheltenham's night got just a little more tougher.
Bristol Rovers were always going to dig deep and try to frustrate Cheltenham after grabbing an opening goal but they may well have doubled their lead right before half time when former Robin Kaid Mohamed shot through the defence before Troy Brown stretched and released the pressure with a fine sliding challenge. The half time whistle blew on the first half shortly after with a happy home crowd applauding their Pirates but much work to do for the visiting Robins.
Half Time: Bristol Rovers 1-0 Cheltenham Town
The Robins needed to react and sooner rather than later. 345 fans have travelled 40 miles to watch their team battle the elements nd Rovers but they were beginning to wonder whether it would be another disappointing 90 minutes. A flick header from Cureton early on threatened an opening but Mildenhall was equal to it and Rovers survived an early setback. Cheltenham themselves suffered an early blow in this half when Troy Brown had to be removed through injury and was replaced by Sido Jombati whilst Ihiekwe slipped into a more central position. The Blackthorn Terrace was picking up noise as the minutes rolled by and that was only helped by a yellow card to Jombati after a rash challenge on Lee Brown. The resulting freekick was in dangerous territory too and as the set piece was dropped in as O'Toole met it with his head although it was over the bar.
Mark Yates made a second substitution shortly after the hour mark with Byron Harrison replacing the frustrated Jamie Cureton. Cheltenham certainly weren't coping with the pitch as well as Rovers but there were brief glimmers of hope for the Robins although a tame header from Gornell collected by Mildenhall did little to warm the blood of the visiting fans. A hopeful but wide snapshot from Kaid Mohamed after 66 minutes did little to threaten Scott Brown's goal and the Robins really should have had their way back into the game shortly after. A speculative strike from distance from Matt Richards forced a save from Mildenhall but the goalkeeper spilled the effort right in front of the incoming Jombati but the full back never made contact with the ball and the goalkeeper's mistake went unpunished.
Cheltenham needed to make something happen and Mark Yates soon opted to throw on Zack Kotwica in the hope that the 18 year-old winger could create something or anything. A Kaid Mohamed strike at goal was well saved by Brown as the final ten minutes beckoned and Rovers were seemingly comfortable as the Robins failed to create anything of note. Frustration was beginning to build in the Robins camp as another effort, this time from Deering, whistled wide of goal after a neat pass from Kotwica onto his right boot and an effort from Terry Gornell from a long ball forward failed to get past the gloves of Mildenhall once again.
As the minutes ticked by it grew increasingly obvious that this wasn't going to be a good night for Cheltenham Town. Mark Yates' men huffed and puffed but could not break the Rovers' defence door down and as the final whistle blew a sense of familiar frustration loomed over the travelling support as the boarded the bus home.
Full Time: Bristol Rovers 1-0 Cheltenham Town
Bristol Rovers FC (4-2-3-1): Mildenhall (GK); Smith, Parkes (C), Lockyer, L Brown; Clucas, O'Toole; Gow (Harding 88), Mohamed, Beardsley; Clarkson (Gillespie 80)
Subs not used: Gough, Keary, Norburn, Harrison, Santos
Cheltenham Town FC (4-2-3-1): S Brown (GK); Ihiekwe, Elliott (C), T Brown (Jombati 54); Braham-Barrett; Taylor (Kotwica 75), Richards; McGlashan, Gornell, Deering; Cureton (Harrison 60)
Subs not used: Roberts (GK), Brundle, Hanks, Lucas
Referee: Mr. Iain Williamson
Attendance: 5,808 (345 from Cheltenham)