Accrington Stanley put in a fantastic performance to come away from the Abbey Business Stadium with a 2-1 victory over Cheltenham Town.
A pair of first half headers from George Bowerman and Luke Joyce set Stanley on their way to a vital victory which lifted them four places to 18th in the League Two table.
Jamie Cureton pulled a goal back for the hosts but the defence stood firm and held on to claim all three points on a bitterly cold afternoon in Gloucestershire.
James Beattie made two changes from the draw with Newport as Laurence Wilson replaced the departed Lee Naylor at left back whilst George Bowerman was preferred to Danny Webber up front.
In the opening ten minutes, it was Stanley who were the better side and had all of the opportunities. First, Bowerman linked up well with Kayode Odejayi, who was playing against his former club, but could only curl high over the bar from 25 yards.
Wilson then tested Scott Brown in the home goal with a rasping free-kick from 35 yards that had to be tipped behind for a corner. The left-back later tried his luck from 25 yards but it was an easy take for the goalkeeper.
With their next attack Stanley took the lead as Nicky Hunt’s cross was placed perfectly onto the head of Bowerman and the former Cheltenham trialist buried his header into the bottom corner to the dismay of the home crowd.
There was a 15 minute lull in the game as both sides scrapped it out in midfield but the hosts began to grow into the contest and had chances of their own. Matt Richards put a free-kick over the top of Marcus Bettinelli’s goal before the Fulham loanee was forced into action as Jermaine McGlashan’s surging run ended with a shot that was destined for the top corner.
The hosts came even closer to scoring three minutes before the interval. Veteran striker Jamie Cureton collected a long pass from Richards and crashed a shot off the crossbar with Bettinelli grasping at thin air.
Football, as it is well known, has a funny way of working and less than a minute after that golden chance, Stanley would double their lead.
Goalscorer Bowerman turned provider after being sent scuttling down the left wing by Odejayi’s flick-on; his cross was perfect for Luke Joyce to head home his first goal since March 2012.
It was almost 3-0 in first half injury-time but Kal Naismith could only lash his snapshot wide of the post following an excellent cross by Wilson. As it was, James Beattie had to settle for a two-goal lead at the break.
The hosts came out at the start of the second half looking to cut the deficit as quickly as possible.
They came close when Kemar Roofe rifled an effort narrowly wide of the post. Ex-Stanley striker Terry Gornell then found himself one-on-one with Bettinelli after some penalty-area pinball but the goalkeeper made a great save with his legs to keep Stanley in front.
He was called into action again shortly after but Cureton’s shot from 12 yards was tame and easily collected as the Robins piled on the pressure. The 38 year-old had another chance as he wriggled his way free on the edge of the area and got into a shooting position but cleared the stand with his effort.
Home manager Mark Yates shuffled his pack by making a double change with Gornell and Jason Taylor replaced with top goalscorer Byron Harrison and Sam Deering.
Deering would create a fantastic chance with his first touch of the ball, whipping in a cross that Roofe somehow managed to put over the bar from 3 yards out. It was a miss of the season contender and a massive let-off for the Stanley back-line.
Cureton, however, was not so profligate with his next attempt, hooking the ball beyond Bettinelli from a long throw to halve the deficit.
This brought a change from both managers with Webber and Hatfield replacing Bowerman and Mingoia for Stanley whilst the hosts replaced McGlashan with Ashley Vincent.
The Reds were living dangerously and the substitute Vincent put the ball across the face of goal but fortunately, there was no telling touch made and it rolled out for a goal kick.
Home skipper Steve Elliott then sent a warning shot as he met a Vincent corner but his header was just over the top of Bettinelli’s goal.
Hunt, Murphy and Odejayi all found themselves in the referee’s book within five minutes of each other and Odejayi was taken off after his misdemeanour with Rob Atkinson sent on to strengthen the defence.
It was a nervy last five minutes for Stanley with Roofe’s clipped cross drifting just wide of the far post as the clock ticked into five minutes of injury time.
The added time was only notable for Bettinelli being booked for time wasting as Stanley held on for a priceless victory and their fourth in their last six away trips.
Stanley: Bettinelli; Hunt, Aldred, Winnard, Wilson; Naismith, Joyce, Murphy, Mingoia (Hatfield 75); Bowerman (Webber 72), Odejayi (Atkinson 87).
Subs not used: Liddle, McCartan, Gray, Windass.
Report by Sam Robinson