Cheltenham Town have won a fourth League Two game in a row, after beating Port Vale 3-2 at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Alfie May’s opener in the first half was swiftly followed by an own goal from former Cheltenham goalkeeper, Scott Brown, before Liam Sercombe scored his first goal since Boxing Day, after returning from injury- the Robins are now one point clear at the League Two summit.
The hosts staved off a late comeback from Port Vale, who found late goals through Will Swan and Alex Hurst.
Michael Duff’s side have discovered a rich vein of form having taken maximum points on offer from their previous four ties, which is the club’s best winning run for a year. Having won five successive league games towards the end of last season, Duff's side came within a point of the automatic promotion places 12 months ago.
Followed by a stalemate at home against today’s opponents Port Vale, an unbeaten run of six would end Cheltenham's League Two campaign as the coronavirus pandemic suspended the season.
Almost exactly one year on, Cheltenham now sit at the top of the League Two table thanks to a well-earned win over the Valiants.
Robins midfielder Sercombe was fit enough to make the substitutes bench after making his first home appearance since December against Southend United in midweek, while Ellis Chapman, Will Boyle, George Lloyd, Alex Addai and Chris Clements all missed out due to respite injury problems.
The Robins have managed to cope without their talismanic midfielder through the winter months and loan signing Callum Wright has played his part in covering for the injury stricken Sercombe in recent weeks, having scored twice in his first four appearances for the club.
The Leicester City loanee came close to adding a third to his tally for the league season as Cheltenham started on the front foot against Port Vale. Chris Hussey’s quality from the left flank would soon show, but not before he threatened to notch his fifth assist of the campaign in the game’s opening exchanges.
Wright’s powerful run into the box was so nearly rewarded, if it wasn’t for Scott Brown’s miraculous stop at the near post, as the midfielder connected with Hussey’s delivery from the left. Sam Smith was on hand for a rebound, but his effort hit the post as the hosts went in search of an early advantage.
That lead would soon come through Alfie May, who is now in double figures for the season in all competitions. Former Cheltenham goalkeeper, Brown - who made over 250 appearances over two different spells at the club - was in two minds whether to come for Matty Blair’s ball forward, while Zak Mills was also hesitant in clearing the immediate danger.
May was able to sneak between the two in order to take control of the ball and roll into an empty net to bag his first League Two goal in seven games. In the mood to grab a second in double-quick time, May was again involved as the Robins doubled their advantage soon after breaking the deadlock on the 14th minute.
Hussey’s delivery from the left was proving a key weapon in the Robins’ pursuit of a second goal, and several minutes later, the left-back delivered towards Sam Smith, whose header dropped at the feet of May.
Cheltenham’s in form forward crashed the ball in off the bar thanks to a generous deflection off goalkeeper Brown, who will have to carry the burden of conceding own goal.
Though, the former Robins stopper was keen to rectify for his unfortunate start to the game. As Hussey eyed a goal for himself, the full-back connected with a cross from the right-wing, and on the half-volley drew an impressive, acrobatic stop from Brown.
Port Vale failed to make much in the way of goalscoring opportunities in the first period, with the hosts keen to mitigate the threat posed by the Valiants top-scorer this term, Devante Rodney.
With ten goals to his name this season, Rodney was afforded little room to work in as Matty Clair nullified his threat throughout. Before travelling to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium, Darrell Clarke’s side had scored 41 goals this campaign, which matched Cheltenham’s return for the campaign, but while Josh Griffiths had kept the joint-most clean sheets this term, Port Vale were made to work for their chances in the second half.
The away side were made to pay for their lack of attacking thrust as Sercombe added a third for the hosts having come off the substitutes bench on the hour mark. Judging the flight of the ball, Cheltenham’s midfielder managed to get under an awkward bounce inside the Port Vale penalty box and strike a half-volley into the ground and under the bar.
Port Vale's substitute, Will Sawn was on hand to score a goal from the bench himself, as he started a late comeback in the 83rd minute. After Cheltenham goalkeeper Griffiths made a brilliant stop to preserve what would have been his 16th clean sheet of the campaign, Swan converted from close range.
Two minutes later and the situation was made even more precarious, as Alex Hurst arrived at the back post to strike fear into the Cheltenham side, with seven minutes to be added in additional time. The Robins would eventually hold on for a precious three points.
Cheltenham will travel to Field Mill on Tuesday night (kick-off 19:00) to contest another important three points in League Two against Mansfield.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2): J Griffiths (GK); C Raglan, B Tozer, S Long; M Blair, C Hussey, F Azaz (Sercombe 61); C Thomas, C Wright; A May (Vassilev ’79), S Smith (Williams ’79). Subs not used: S Flinders (GK), G Horton, L Freestone, T Chamberlain.
PORT VALE (4-3-3): S Brown (GK); Z Mills, L Legge, N Smith, A Crookes; J Taylor (Robinson ’67), L Joyce, T Conlon; A Hurst, D Rodney, K Guthrie (Swan ’67). Subs not used: T Scott (GK), M Cullen, S Brisley, D Whitehead, M Olagunju.
REFEREE: Robert Lewis. Assistants: Simon Shaw, Andrew Laver. Fourth Official: Louis Marks.