Carl Winchester’s fifth goal of the season wasn’t enough to prevent Cheltenham Town from losing on the road for the first time in three matches as Exeter City came from behind to win at St James Park.
In a first half where both sides hit the woodwork, Robins captain Winchester opened the scoring after taking aim from distance and finding the bottom corner to net after 37 minutes.
But the Grecians hit back just five minutes later as Robbie Simpson volleyed in a great cross from Pierce Sweeney to bring Paul Tisdale’s side level before the break.
Jerell Sellars and Hiram Boateng hit the post and crossbar in the second half as both teams pushed for a winner, but the hosts got it when Jordan Storey powered home a free header nine minutes from time to give the promotion chasers all three points.
Gary Johnson made one change to the team that lost to Carlisle United on Good Friday as Joe Rodon replaced the injured Jamie Grimes in defence.
Rodon was making his fifth start for Cheltenham Town as both Jake Andrews and Matt Bower returned to the bench.
Exeter striker Jayden Stockley was making his presence known early on, stretching to cross in the third minute before heading straight at Scott Flinders shortly afterwards.
A misplaced pass from Sellars then fell at the feet of former Robin Jake Taylor, but the City captain fired over the top from just outside the box.
It took until the 12th minute for the visitors to have their first attempt on goal as Sellars regained possession after losing it before laying the ball off for Kevin Dawson, but the Irishman shot well wide with his half-volley.
A quick break then saw Dawson play in Mo Eisa, but after beating his man the Sudan-born striker’s cross was hacked away inside the six-yard-box.
Then in the 20th minute, Nigel Atangana unleashed a rocket of a shot from the edge of the area which clipped the top of the crossbar on it’s way into St James Park’s Big Bank terrace.
Down at the other end, a dangerous cross forced a corner which after being cleared, fell for Sweeney just inside the penalty area, but the full-back curled his attempt high and wide.
The match was starting to open up as Sellars exchanged passes with Winchester before hitting a low shot inches wide of the far post.
The home side then hit the crossbar themselves after half an hour as Jordan Tillson’s diving header was saved by Flinders before Stockley’s deflected follow up shot hit the woodwork.
The marauding Atangana then set up Winchester, who hit a shot from all but 30-yards-out which nestled in the bottom corner despite the best efforts of Grecians’ keeper Christy Pym in the 37th minute.
It was the fourth away match in a row that the Robins had scored first, but their joy was short lived as Exeter hit back when Simpson’s superb close-range volley made it 1-1 in the 42nd minute.
Winchester was replaced at the interval by Harry Pell for Cheltenham, but it was the hosts who threatened first attacking their home end as Boateng set up Dean Moxey to shoot from a set-piece, but the attempt just went wide.
A burst down the right-hand side from Sweeney allowed Taylor to steady himself, but after being crowded out by the Robins defence, Boateng’s snap shot rolled off target.
The game settled down briefly before Sellars hit the post after dancing through the Exeter defence, making it the second time that Cheltenham were denied by the frame of the goal.
The visitors were starting to enjoy a good spell of pressure approaching the 70-minute mark, but the home back-line were holding firm despite some clever passing and build-up play from Johnson’s side.
Boateng’s deflected shot hit the top of the crossbar as Exeter came within inches for the second time, as the match was evenly poised heading into the final 15 minutes.
The Grecians took the lead for the first time when Storey rose highest to meet a corner with a towering header nine minutes from time in what was a cruel blow for the battling Robins.
That goal was enough to condemn Cheltenham to back to back losses over the Easter period.
EXETER CITY: Pym (Gk), Sweeney, Woodman, James, Tillson, Simpson (Jay 72), Stockley, Moxey, Taylor, Storey, Boateng. Subs not used:Jones (Gk), Archibald-Henville, Brunt, Wilson, Croll, Loft.
ROBINS: Flinders (Gk), Atangana, Dawson (Andrews 83), Winchester (Pell 45), Boyle, Sellars, Eisa, Morrell, Rodon, Moore, Chatzitheodoridis (Cranston 83). Subs not used:Lovett (Gk), Bower, Graham, Lloyd.
REFEREE: Charles Breakspear
ATTENDANCE: 4,420 (233 from Cheltenham)