Cheltenham Town have been promoted to League One after drawing 1-1 with Carlisle United at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
The Robins will be playing in the English third tier next season after Chris Hussey’s spectacular free-kick levelled the scores in the second half.
A single point was required to ensure Cheltenham’s promotion ahead of Carlisle’s visit to Gloucestershire.
The Robins had secured back-to-back wins for the first time in seven weeks at the weekend and with the carrot of securing promotion for good, the Robins were aiming for a third straight win against 10th placed Carlisle.
The opening half an hour of play might have been devoid of chances for either side to open the scoring with but it was Cheltenham’s George Lloyd who typified the desire and application that the hosts have played with throughout this campaign.
Cheltenham’s academy product ended his four month wait for his third league goal this season by scoring a vital winner at Stevenage last week. Followed up by another 1-0 win over Colchester United on Saturday, the Robins had one foot in League One ahead of tonight’s clash.
With Cheltenham's sights firmly set on a first place finish, Carlisle were in no mood to let their hosts earn a season defining result. With promotion hopes of their own very much alive still, the Blues took the lead at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium on the 32nd minute.
Callum Guy’s delivery from a free-kick wide of Joshua Griffiths’ goal was headed in by Joshua Kayode to break the deadlock.
Despite winning three in a row without conceding a goal during a run which propelled Carlisle within three points of the play-off picture, Chris Beech's side had failed to win any of the last five.
In fact, Carlisle’s away for this term is only better than the bottom five placed teams this League Two campaign. Having lost nearly half of their away trips this season, there was still more than enough time for Cheltenham to turn the game on its head after falling behind.
With the Robins unable to conjure up a swift reply before half-time, a second half improvement was required if promotion was to be sealed with two games spare.
Duff turned to Alfie May in need of some extra attacking verve after the interval. The striker, who has already provided so many memorable moments for the club this season, came into proceedings looking to make a significant contribution once more.
Cheltenham’s leveller however would come through an unlikely source on the 56th minute, but with the technique required to pull it off you wouldn’t have thought Chris Hussey would’ve taken over a year to score his latest free kick.
The left-back bent the ball over the Carlisle wall from all of 20 yards and with it coming back down off the underside of the crossbar, Hussey wheeled away in celebration as his teammates watched the ball nestle in Magnus Norman’s goal.
Cheltenham continued to probe in search of a second but with Carlisle keen to get a winner of their own, it was set up for a grandstand finish at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Carlisle would come the closest to snatching a late goal as Kayode almost doubled his and the Blues' tally for the evening. Nick Anderton's inswinging delivery from the left wing was headed onto the woodwork by Kayode as the crossbar at the other end was still shaking from Hussey’s all-important equaliser.
A resolute defensive shift in the final ten minutes would eventually see Cheltenham through for a draw.
22 years after Duff scored the winning goal against Yeovil Town in 1999 to help Cheltenham clinch promotion to the Football League for the first time, the Robins boss has helped orchestrate the club's return to League One.
Such are the standards set by Duff, he's challenged his players to fight for the league title ahead of a trip to Rodney Parade to face Newport County on Saturday (kick-off 15:00).
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2): J Griffiths (GK); S Long, B Tozer, C Raglan; M Blair, C Hussey, C Thomas, F Azaz (E Chapman '88), L Sercombe (L Freestone '90); G Lloyd (A May ’45), S Smith (A Williams '88).
Subs not used: S Flinders (GK), C Wright, I Vassilev.
CARLISLE UNITED (3-5-2): M Norman (GK); A Hayden, R Bennett (D Devine ’22), N Anderton; G Tanner (O Patrick '74), J Riley (E Walker ’65), C Guy, J Mellish, J Armer; O Zanazala (L Alessandra '74), J Kayode.
Subs not used: P Farman (GK), C Scott, T Charters.
Referee: Kevin Johnson
Assistants: Christopher Husband, Greg Read. Fourth Official: Lee Swabey.