Robins should have been out of sight before fightback
CHELTENHAM TOWN manager Mark Yates' after-match quote – "I was wondering how we managed to make it so hard for ourselves in the last six minutes" – was a telling hint that the scoreline was kind to Torquay United at Whaddon Road's Abbey Business Stadium.
The Robins, with three of Yates' January signings making their debuts and another two on the bench, should have been out of sight long before Rene Howe's 88th-minute consolation goal for the Gulls.
Howe's 14th goal of the season (pictured right), struck well enough, was straight at Town goalie Scott Brown, but then spun out of his grasp and over the line.
But a potentially more important moment had occurred more than half-an-hour earlier.
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In the 52nd minute United's centre-forward finally picked up his 10th booking of the season, and a two-match ban to boot, for a frustrated barge which sent Robins winger Jermaine McGlashan over the touchline.
McGlashan had just delivered the cross for Shaun Harrad to hit Cheltenham's second goal.
But instead of sparking a fightback by United, it prompted a long period of dominance which saw the home side create enough chances to have won 3-0 or 4-0. That was the most disappointing aspect of Saturday's display.
With goalkeeper Michael Poke and his defence, Brian Saah and Aaron Downes in particular, delivering their usual combative and effective display, United offered stout resistance.
Cheltenham had a goal disallowed for offside after only three minutes.
And after he'd missed one great heading chance in the 18th minute, Town defender Keith Lowe got on the end of another set-piece by ex-Gulls loanee Kaid Mohamed and powered his side ahead from six yards in the 33rd minute.
Still, United had gone close through Howe, with a run and shot parried by Brown, and although it took them until first-half stoppage time to force their first corner, they were still in it at the interval.
But while they may be set up to defend the sort of lead they secured at Exeter City last Monday, United do sometimes look limited when they have to chase a game.
That was the case as soon as McGlashan crossed from the right in the 51st minute, Harrad controlling the ball, turning and firing past Poke from ten yards...2-0.
Despite the introduction of Lloyd Macklin for Nathan Craig on the right wing, United fell away in the second half.
The support that Howe received early in the game largely disappeared.
Harrad, Jason Taylor, Mohamed and Russell Penn, denied by a brilliant fingertip save by Poke, all could or should have scored for the Robins.
United's assistant manager Shaun Taylor was about to send on Craig Easton for Damon Lathrope in midfield when he spotted that right-back Joe Oastler was struggling with an ankle problem.
So Easton pulled his tracksuit on again and Tom Cruise went on for Oastler.
At the same time Yates made a statement of his own, taking off his two strikers, Harrad and Swindon loanee Paul Benson, and introducing two more, new signing Byron Harrison and Darryl Duffy. A few minutes later it was former Birmingham, WBA and Preston midfielder Darren Carter for Mohamed on the left wing. Enough said.
Former Arsenal youngster Cruise, an able player on his left foot, didn't look happy on the right and he was relieved when Duffy cut out his backpass and then missed with Poke to beat in the 85th minute.
Three minutes later Ryan Jarvis fed Macklin on the right, Howe met his low cross first time from just inside the area and the shot was too much for Brown to hold...2-1.
With five minutes of stoppage time thrown in, there was still a chance that United might have saved themselves.
They nearly did it too.
Kevin Nicholson swung a free-kick from left to right, Downes headed down at the far post, skipper Lee Mansell was onto it but Brown just deflected his hook-shot behind.
What Yates would have said if United had snatched an equaliser, one dreads to think.
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): Brown; Lowe, Hector, Elliott, Jombarti; McGlashan, Penn, Taylor, Mohamed (Carter 82); Harrad (Duffy 77), Benson (Harrison 77); subs not used – Deering, Roberts (gk), McCullough, Hanks.
Torquay United (4-2-3-1): Poke; Oastler (Cruise 77), Saah, Downes, Nicholson; Lathrope, Mansell; Craig (Macklin 65), Jarvis, Bodin; Howe; subs not used – Rice (gk), MacDonald, Easton, Stevens, Yeoman.
Referee: Carl Berry (Surrey).
Bookings: Cheltenham – Harrad (shirt removal 51), McGlashan (foul 68); United – Lathrope (foul 20), Howe (foul 52).
Attendance: 2,961 (389 Gulls fans).
Statistics: Fouls – Cheltenham 12, United 12; Offsides – Cheltenham 0, United 3; Corners – Cheltenham 3, United 3; Shots/Headers On Target – Cheltenham 6, United 3; Off Target – Cheltenham 10, United 5; Hit Woodwork – Cheltenham 1, United 0.