Cheltenham Town have moved to the League Two summit after beating Southend United 1-0 at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Conor Thomas’ second-half penalty proved the difference between the two sides as Michael Duff’s Robins top the League Two standings having put together a three-match winning run in recent weeks.
After taking maximum points on the road in successive away ties against Scunthorpe United and Cambridge United last time out, Cheltenham were looking to kick-start a run of home form to cement an automatic promotion place as the business end of the League Two campaign approaches.
Cheltenham had taken nine fewer points at home compared to the points total accumulated on away trips this season, before entertaining Southend at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium. After winning successive away games for the third time this League Two campaign last week- a fete the Robins failed to manage throughout the whole of last season - the hosts knew that dropping points on home turf would dent their promotion chances come May.
Before entertaining Mark Molesley’s Southend, the Robins had in fact failed to win more games at home than not, with only six wins taken in 14 this term, and so the hosts started slowly against the league’s 22nd placed side.
With a lack of attacking impetus from Cheltenham in the opening exchanges, the first half went by without a meaningful attempt on goal from either side.
Southend, despite their lowly league position before travelling to Cheltenham, had taken points of the Robins’ fellow-promotion chasers Newport County and Forest Green Rovers in recent weeks.
Those two wins for The Shrimpers had come in a run of ten games that saw Molesley’s side lose five and draw three. Eight points from a possible 15 isn’t however a bad accumulation of away points considering their hosts on the night, Cheltenham had only won one home game in eight, since the start of December.
Southend were poised to make an assault on Cheltenham’s home territory early on, but after a succession of long throw-ins from Greg Halford failed to produce anything in the way of goal-scoring chances for the visitors, Cheltenham’s defence remained untested through the first 45 minutes.
Goals have been few and far between for Southend this term, having found the net on fewer occasions than any other team in the division before travelling to the Jonny-Rocks - their defensive record too leaves a lot to be desired.
After conceding the second most goals in the division, Cheltenham were left frustrated not to have forced an advantage before the interval.
James Montgomery’s goal was hardly living a charmed life without the immediate danger of Alfie May’s clever movement nor the creativity of Callum Wright coming to fruition in the first period, but the Leicester loanee would shortly make his influence count.
As Wright progressed into the box at a wide angle, he won a penalty on the 51st minute after being fouled under a challenge from Shaun Hobson. Conor Thomas duly dispatched to add a second goal to his tally for the season, but more importantly, opened the scoring against what was proving to be a resolute Southend defence.
While Cheltenham goalkeeper Josh Griffiths went in search of his 15th clean sheet for the league campaign, his defence stood strong in the face of Southend’s late scramble for an equaliser.
Cheltenham will return to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium on Saturday to host Port Vale (kick off 15:00) in search of their first successive home League Two wins of the season.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2): J Griffiths (GK); C Raglan, B Tozer, S Long; M Blair, C Hussey, F Azaz; C Thomas, C Wright (L Sercombe ’74); A May (A Williams ’74), S Smith. Subs not used: S Flinders (GK), L Freestone, G Horton, T Chamberlain, I Vassilev.
SOUTHEND UNITED (4-5-1): J Montgomery (GK); S Hobson, J White, T Cordner, T Clifford; J Demetriou (S Akinola ’60), T Dieng; G Halford (K Taylor ’78), A Nathaniel-George, R Holmes (N Ferguson ’60); E Acquah (R Hackett-Farchild ’60). Subs not used: H Seadon (GK), A McCormack.
REFEREE: Will Finnie. Assistants: Kevin Howick, Mike Desborough. Fourth Official: Carl Brook.