Cheltenham Town stepped up their pre-season preparations for League One against Championship side Birmingham City, as the visitors ran out 3-0 winners at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
This was the first time that the clubs had met since a friendly in 2018, with the scoreline the same as the Robins suffered their first defeat of pre-season courtesy of goals from Gary Gardner, Scott Hogan and Jonathan Leko.
Michael Duff named a strong first XI for the visit from their Championship opponents with plenty of youth team players to come on from the bench following opening friendly victories vs Southern League Division One South sides Cinderford Town and Evesham United.
Scott Flinders was forced into action three times in the opening two minutes as Blues started brightly in their first run out of the summer with Kristian Pedersen, Harlee Dean and Jeremie Bela testing the 35-year-old.
That bright start from Lee Bowyer’s side continued and they took a sixth minute lead when Gardner powered a header into the roof of the net from Ivan Sanchez’s corner.
The Robins responded very well to the early set back as Timmy Abraham was denied by a fine Matija Sarkic save from point blank range following George Lloyd’s lay-off.
From the resulting corner, Will Boyle had a towering header cleared off the line and Alfie May fired over during the next phase of play after an entertaining opening ten minutes.
The busy Flinders then made a fine stop to deny Lukas Jutkiewicz’s powerful header before George Lloyd was replaced by Felix Miles after 23 minutes for the hosts.
Jutkiewicz missed a big chance from just a few yards out after half an hour, scooping an effort onto the crossbar following a heavy deflection putting the ball into his path.
Bowyer’s men didn’t have to wait too long for their second, as Bela teased his way into the box and crossed for Republic of Ireland international Hogan to head in unopposed at the back post.
Abraham had the Robins’ next best opportunity before the interval, showing good pace to chase a long ball before cutting inside and firing an effort straight at Sarkic.
May stretched to reach a through ball at the start of the second period but Sarkic just beat him to it as the hosts sought for a way back in the scorching heat at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
The no.10 started a neat passage of play as the match approached the hour mark, finding Liam Sercombe on the edge of the penalty box, who exchanged passes with Sean Long before his outside of the boot effort was deflected wide.
Birmingham then made nine changes after 62 minutes and one of those in Leko, smashed over from close range following a burst down the left.
The visitors’ summer signing Jordan Graham then struck from range with a dipping strike that Flinders acrobatically tipped over the crossbar, as the experienced stopper continued to impress.
Duff used his entire bench with 14 minutes left to play, meaning that most of the team finishing the game were from the youth academy, gaining valuable experience against Championship opposition.
Leko then added a third for Blues with eight minutes remaining, turning in from a tight angle to squeeze past summer signing Owen Evans, who replaced Flinders.
Cheltenham take on National League North Kidderminster Harriers on Tuesday evening before facing another second-tier side in Coventry City next Saturday.
ROBINS: Flinders (GK) (Evans 76), Long (Hunt 76), Hussey (Harper 46), Raglan (Armitage 76), Freestone (Taylor 76), Thomas (Holland 76), Sercombe (Aldridge 76), May (Spencer 76), Abraham, Boyle © (Horton 76), Lloyd (Miles 23).
Subs not used: N/A
BIRMINGHAM: Sarkic (GK), Colin (Roberts 62), Pedersen (Graham 62), Friend (Leko 62), Woods (Castillo 62), Hogan (Aneke 62), Jutkiewicz (Lakin 62), Bela (Stirk 62), Dean © (Campbell 62), Sanchez (Bailey 46, Villaba 76), Gardner (Oakley 62).
Subs not used: Trueman (GK), Jeacock (GK)