Cheltenham Town have returned to winning ways after beating Salford City 2-0 at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
First half goals from Seàn Long and Liam Sercombe handed hosts Cheltenham the early advantage and ultimately another three points in pursuit of automatic promotion.
The shortened 2019/20 campaign meant Salford didn't make the journey to Cheltenham last season in what was Salford's first season in the Football League.
Though, Michael Duff’s Robins were in no mood to make The Ammies' first trip to face Cheltenham a memorable one. Despite boasting the meanest defence in League Two this season, Salford found themselves on the back foot with only three minutes on the clock.
The threat Ben Tozer’s long-throw poses might be common knowledge to most teams in the country after his infamous launch caused Manchester City problems this season, but against Richie Wellens’ Salford, Tozer's trademark would bear fruits once again.
Having put the ball in the wrong net last time out against Barrow, it was Long who turned the ball in at the right end against Salford, as he connected with Tozer’s hurl into the penalty box.
Wellens has now been in position as Salford manager since the start of November after he left Swindon Town who he had guided to promotion to League One last season after the season was ended on a points per game basis.
This term, Salford have maintained their bid to secure a play-off place come May, but with only one win from their last seven before travelling south to Gloucestershire, Cheltenham were keen to mitigate any upset, if the form table is anything to go by.
As little as eight weeks ago, Salford sat two places above Cheltenham in the League Two table, but as the business end of the campaign nears, the Robins have cemented their place at the summit of the table, now 14 points ahead of today’s opponents.
While goal-scoring chances were few and far between after Long’s header put the hosts ahead in the third minute, Cheltenham threatened to double their advantage with a succession of dead ball situations, but Salford goalkeeper, Václav Hladký was proving dominant in and around his 18-yard box.
A second goal would however come for the hosts before half-time, as a counter-attack on the 42nd provided Liam Sercombe with the opportunity to net his fifth goal of the league campaign, and his second since returning from injury last month.
As Sam Smith held the ball up with great success, it was Matty Blair who offered energy down the right flank, before his cross-cum-shot landed at the far post, where Sercombe stole in on Salford’s Manchester United loanee, Di’Shon Bernard to knock the ball over the line for goal number two.
Wellens chose to make three alterations before the start of the second period, with Brandon Thomas-Asante and Emmanuel Dieseruvwe both coming into the fold with chance creation limited in the first 45 minutes for the away side.
Salford had scored the second-fewest goals amongst top-half teams in League Two this term before traveling to the Jonny-Rocks, but despite goal-scoring deficiencies this term, Salford have retained a solid defensive base through the campaign.
Cheltenham goalkeeper Josh Griffiths was level pegging on clean sheets with Hladký this term, before Long’s opener at the start of the contest cancelled out the possibility of clean sheet number 17 for Salford's stopper.
With Salford keen to get going from a goal kick in the 65th minute, the Czech goalkeeper passed the ball blindly to Jordan Turnbull who was dispossessed inside his own box, before Alfie May failed to convert from close range.
Such gilt-edged opportunities to seal games are usually punished, but with a stroke of luck and a lengthy consultation between linesman and referee, Dieseruvwe’s acrobatic overhead kick on the 70th minute was ruled out for offside.
Cheltenham Town will travel to the Mazuma Stadium on Saturday to face Morecambe (kick-off 15:00).
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2): J Griffiths (GK); S Long, B Tozer, L Freestone; M Blair, C Hussey, C Wright (E Chapman '83), C Thomas, L Sercombe; A May (A Williams '83), S Smith (F Azaz '87)
Subs not used: S Flinders (GK), G Horton, T Chamberlain, I Vassilev.
SALFORD CITY (3-4-2-1): V Hladky (GK); D Bernard (T James ’45), T Eastham, J Turnbull; A Hunter, I Touray, J Lowe, O Threlkeld; R Gotts (B Thomas-Asante ’45), J Wilson (E Dieseruvwe ’45); I Henderson.
Subs not used: W Evans (GK), L Burgess, L Loughlan, D Hawkins.
Referee: Lee Swabey.
Assistants: Mark Derrien, Christopher Kidd. Fourth Official: Ollie Yates.