United slipped to a fourth league defeat in a row as goals in either half from Darren Carter and Shaun Harrad gave Cheltenham a 2-1 victory despite Peter Leven's penalty strike setting up a grandstand finale.
There were three changes to the starting line up with Lee Cox coming back after injury in midfield and JP Pittman and Tom Craddock keeping their places after impressing as subs at Burton last time out.
The first seven minutes saw the two sides exchange shots from Alan Bennett and Pittman, both comfortably held by the keepers before Pittman’s frustrating evening ended early as he limped off inside 13 minutes after twisting awkwardly when sending in another shot two minutes earlier.
United had already sent in three or four long range efforts before Adam Chapman caught one just right and forced home keeper Scott Brown into a smart save down low to his right after 17 minutes, with Cheltenham again responding with a chance of their own and Shaun Harrad gliding a header wide a minute later from a Sido Jombati cross from the right.
It was a good open game with Smalley again testing Brown down by his post with a rasping drive on 21 minutes, but just as United were starting to dominate possession their hosts sprang forward and took the lead after half an hour. McGlasham sprinted down the right and crossed just over the head of Chris Zebroski, but United didn’t clear their lines very far and the ball ran to Darren Carter 25 yards out. He struck the ball sweetly with the outside of his boot and the shot arrowed into the bottom right corner of the net with Clarke helpless.
United rallied and might easily been on level terms within three minutes of the second half kicking off. Chapman had already set his sights with one free kick into the wall before Potter was brought down to earn another, more central. This time Chapman’s drive got beyond the defence but cannoned away off the left hand post with Craddock unable to adjust his feet to steer the rebound on target. It is those tightest of margins that just seem to go against United right now.
Craddock had another effort saved, Potter saw a deflected effort saved by Brown, but try as they might United just could not find a way through and on 60 minutes were made to pay. Batt, under pressure from Harrad, gave the ball away to the former Northampton forward who advanced a few yards then let fly. Right now every shot at the U’s goal seems to fly into the top corner, and this one was no different, reducing Clarke to a mere spectator again.
James Constable and Peter Leven were thrown on to try and retrieve the situation, and on 79 it was those two who got their side back into the game. Constable rolled across Bennett who dragged him to the ground inside the box. Typically Leven did exactly what we all wanted and planted the penalty past Brown with ease
Now United drove forward, sensing their opportunity and Chapman powered an 83 minute effort just over the bar. Potter beat two men and drilled in another fine right footed shot on 84 which the keeper touched round the post at full stretch, and the Robins were undoubtedly rocking. Constable dragged a last minute effort wide from 20 yards, and the last few minutes were all in the home side's half, but sadly an equaliser never quite arrived.
An improved performance, with Cox adding steel in midfield and the return of Leven an unexpected bonus, but a defeat none the less.
Clarke, Batt, Raynes, Wright, Capaldi, Chapman, Heslop (Leven 65) ,Cox, Pittman (Potter 13), Smalley , Craddock (Constable 65)
Brown, O’Brien, Rigg, Boateng,
Report by Chris Williams. Pictures by Darrell Fisher. Stats by Pa Sports