Cheltenham 2 United 4
United went through to the area quarter-finals of the Johnstone Paints Trophy with a four star performance at Whaddon Road. Twice behind, United showed tremendous character to overcome a lack of manpower and beat the Robins 4-2 thanks to goals from Tom Craddock, Harry Worley, James Constable and Peter Leven
With no fewer than ten players unavailable (Brown, Batt, Duberry, Davis, Wright, Raynes, Pittman, Smalley and Cox through injury, Mullins cup-tied) and two not fully fit (Potter and Whing on the bench but not able to play 90 minutes) United were forced into a reshuffle which saw Daniel Boateng at right-back, Worley and Tony Capaldi forming a new look defensive pairing and Luke O’Brien at left-back. In midfield Simon Heslop and Jake Forster-Caskey provided width outside Adam Chapman and captain Leven, while Constable and Craddock led the line.
Forster-Caskey had the first shot of the night, home keeper Scott Brown touching his seventh minute free kick around a post, with the Robins’ Darryl Duffy fluffing his side’s first opening with a soft side-foot into the arms of Ryan Clarke after 12 minutes.
That midfield pair of Leven and Chapman possess great quality on the ball and a sublime pass from Chapman and a good run from Heslop after 18 minutes set up Constable for a shot from the edge of the area which flew into the empty Liberty Mutual Insurance Stand behind the goal.
Constable then cracked a left footed shot wide of the left hand post after Craddock had chested down another superb pass from Chapman on 21, before Worley had to head a Steve Elliott header off the line from a corner at the other end two minutes later.
That was a let-off, but on 31 minutes there was no such reprieve as the Robins took the lead with a well worked move. Jeff Goulding held the ball then timed his pass into the right channel to invite Duffy to gallop into the area. Duffy showed no mercy by curling the ball past Clarke with the outside of his right boot to make it 1-0.
With so many changes, and having already lost on the same ground earlier this season in the league, United might have been excused for feeling sorry for themselves, but back they came and on 35 minutes they were level. Unusually for the U’s it was a ‘Route One’ sort of goal that got them back on terms. Clarke launched a long ball, everyone ran under it and Craddock outmuscled Harry Hooman to bustle into the area and slot the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to make it 1-1 with his third of the season.
Leven then tested Brown with a 25 yard strike after 42 minutes and United were looking good for even-stevens at the break, until they engineered their own downfall right on the whistle. Clarke, backpedalling, spilled a cross near the touchline, beyond the far post. Boateng, not realising how much time he had, tapped the loose ball back to the keeper from a yard away and ref Stuart Attwell awarded a free-kick inside the penalty area for a deliberate backpass.
The U’s packed the near post as Shaun Harrad lined up the kick, but were left flat footed as the striker instead lobbed the ball across the area for right-back Keith Lowe to arrive unmarked and thrash a volley into the roof of the net to make it 2-1 at the break.
The Robins then started the second half strongly, with Clarke forced to dash from his goal and save bravely from Duffy and then making a good save from a Sam Deering drive on the hour, after which United eased Andy Whing back into action as a replacement for Boateng at right-back.
You wouldn't put it down as an assist but Whing was soon in action as he took the ball forward and started United on the attack which led to their second equaliser on 67 minutes. Constable won a corner, which Leven delivered deep and invitingly for Worley to make his own. The centre-half's header was firm and true and suddenly we were 2-2 and United were on top.
They started to enjoy the lion's share of possession and on 71 went in front for the first time as Constable joyously lashed home his first goal of the season. Another long ball did the trick and Constable once again got Hooman to storm into the six yard box and thrash the ball through the keeper to make it 3-2 in front of the United fans.
It took some excellent defending from the splendid Worley to keep that lead before United made it 4-2 and booked their place in the next round. The Yellows' revival has coincided with Simon Heslop hitting his stride in the midfield and on 80 minutes he made yet another draining run into the box to try and reach Craddock's left wing cross. Elliott tripped Heslop and there was no stopping Leven as he did what he wanted once again and converted his second penalty on this ground this season.
A good game to watch, played at tempo by two committed teams, and United now go into the draw on Soccer AM on Saturday morning. A triumph over adversity, based on belief and team spirit. Two wins and a good draw against the league leaders over the last seven days mean a good week for United who are starting to motor. Once everyone's fit, who knows what the season holds...
Report by Chris Williams. Pictures by Darrell Fisher. Stats by PA Sports
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