Full-time: Robins 1, Bristol City 3Cheltenham Town slipped to defeat by Bristol City in this entertaining Johnstone’s Paint Trophy second round tie tonight.
City arrived at Whaddon Road in fine form, unbeaten at the top of League One, and they turned in another confident display to book their place in the next round.
They didn’t have it all their own way and Mark Yates’ side created plenty of chances to push former boss Steve Cotterill’s City to the end.
Wes Burns had handed the visitors the lead at the break before Korey Smith extended the lead eight minutes into the second half.
Cheltenham though pulled one back through substitute Terry Gornell, who scored his first goal in almost a year, to give the Robins some hope midway through the second half.
But Smith, the stand out performer on the night, added his second - a screamer - to settle the contest six minutes from time.
Cotterill has been back a handful of times in friendly action but this was his first competitive match at the ground he enjoyed three promotions in five seasons.
Evidence of those special times, the best in the club’s history, could be found around the ground, both on the bench and up in the stands with plenty of his former players in attendance.
The television cameras rolled up, hoping for an upset but in the end it was a familiar story, with Cotterill winning at the place he calls home.
There were just two changes to the Cheltenham side that drew here with AFC Wimbledon at the weekend with Jason Taylor and Troy Brown - suspended for that one - replacing Steve Elliot and John Marquis, who dropped to the bench.
Cotterill rang the changes, making the maximum allowed (five) under the rules of the competition, and his side made a bright enough start but it was Cheltenham that created the first chances of the evening.
Jason Taylor drew the first save with a decent volley from 20 yards, although Frankie Fielding saved well to his left.
Byron Harrison met the resulting corner with a good enough header, but the Bristol City number one held on to it.
Then almost immediately the striker was presented with another good chance, this time shooting on the turn but his effort missed the left post by a matter of inches.
Carson didn’t have a lot to do in the opening exchanges, he had watched a shot from Burns travel wide and easily saved Greg Cunningham’s deflected strike.
But City began to get a foothold in the contest by the midway point of the first half and Korey Smith sounded a warning shot moments before City’s first goal when he glanced Scott Wagstaff’s cross a foot wide of the left post.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas played a central role in the opener, winning back possession in midfield before crossing from the left to tee up Burns, who powered home his header from six yards.
Cheltenham’s best chance of the first half arrived on the stroke of half-time and it fell to Lee Vaughan.
There had been a scare moments earlier, Deaman almost heading into his own net although it had taken a slight deflection.
As the corner came across, the Robins quickly turned defence into attack through De Vita down the right, supported by the right wing back who picked up the Italian’s pass to attempt a lob that Fielding tipped over at full stretch.
Yates switched his front line eight minutes after the restart, replacing Byron Harrison with Marquis and Raffaele De Vita with Terry Gornell but it was City that grabbed the next goal to extend their lead.
It was Smith that scored it, racing on to Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’s ball down the right channel before firing the ball under Trevor Carson and inside the left upright.
The strike seemed to put the game out of the Robins’ reach but Gornell pulled one back with 26 minutes left, meeting Braham-Barrett’s delivery from the left with a firm header to leave Frankie rooted to the spot.
It handed Cheltenham the initiative and they produced a passage of good play to pressurise City, who wasted a glorious chance to seal the win when Burns raced clear on goal only to be denied by a fine save by Carson.
Andy Haworth was pressed into action at the expense of Joe Hanks in closing stages and the winger made an immediate impression.
First he set up Gornell from the right, but the striker’s header was saved.
Then he cut inside on the opposite flank, but his shot from the edge of the box was saved by Frankie.
Bristol though sealed the tie six minutes from time when Smith fired home his second on the night, a spectacular effort from 20 yards after twisting away from Brown before beating Carson into the top right-hand corner.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2): Carson; Deaman, M Taylor (c), Brown; Vaughan, Hanks (Haworth 68), J Taylor, Richards, Braham-Barrett; De Vita (Gornell 53), Harrison (Marquis 53). Subs not used: Elliott, Gould (Gk).
BRISTOL CITY (3-5-2): Fielding; Ayling, Flint, Williams (El-Abd 87); Wagstaff, Pack, Smith, Emmanuel-Thomas, Cunningham; Burns, Wilbraham (c) (Wynter 88). Subs not used: Elliott, Richards (Gk), Freeman.
REFEREE: K Stroud
ATTENDANCE: 3,599 (880 from Bristol)