Cheltenham Town have all but cemented their place in the League Two automatic promotion spots after beating Colchester United 1-0 at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Conor Thomas' goal in the 83rd minute proved decisive as the Robins claimed their 23rd win of the League Two campaign.
Cheltenham now have one foot in League One after winning three games in a row as the race for automatic promotion comes to a head with only three games left to play this season.
Back-to-back wins against Walsall and Southend had provided a major boost to Cheltenham’s opponents Colchester before they travelled to Gloucestershire in search of extending their joint-best winning run of the league campaign.
After what was a tepid start to the first half, Cheltenham were made to wait to create their first chance of the game, even if opponents Colchester had conceded the third most goals in League Two so far this season.
With Fin Azaz without a goal since November, the on-loan West Bromwich Albion midfielder came the closest to breaking the stalemate after 25 minutes had passed.
As Thomas won a challenge in the middle of the pitch, the Robins overcame Colchester’s press before Azaz cut inside after receiving the ball from Thomas and unleashed an effort towards goalkeeper Shamal George’s far post. George saved well and collected the ball before Sam Smith had the chance to pounce.
After reaching last season's play-off semi-finals, few would have expected Colchester to be battling against the drop this season. The U’s came into this one with the prospect of relegation still in the balance despite a nine point gap on Southend who occupy the final relegation place.
Cheltenham were unable to break the deadlock before referee Paul Howard blew for half-time as both sides cancelled each other out with three points precious at both ends of the League Two table.
With goal scoring chances few and far between for either side before the interval, former Cheltenham midfielder Harry Pell was lucky to escape further punishment when he was booked for a lunging tackle on Sam Smith in the 40th minute, to the frustrations of those in the home bench.
With the second half starting much like the first had ended, with little to do for either Cheltenham’s goalkeeper Josh Griffiths or Colchester’s George, it was Azaz who again came close to opening the scoring.
Turning provider, Azaz collected the ball off Charlie Raglan and after entering the penalty box twisted and turned before picking out Matty Blair who from ten yards struck towards goal.
His effort was blocked by Miles Welch-Hayes as the away side stood up to Cheltenham’s attacking threat in the second half, but as the clock ticked down, the hosts would find a deserved breakthrough.
Liam Sercombe's corner on the 83rd minute wasn't dealt with by the Cambridge defence this time and with Thomas standing on the line, the midfielder helped himself to a fifth league goal this season.
Cheltenham will return to Jonny-Rocks Stadium to entertain Carlisle United on Tuesday night in search of another important three points towards automatic promotion (kick-off 19:00).