AFC Wimbledon 1, Cheltenham Town 2: Robins flying high with Lowe in a central role
KEITH Lowe eased boss Mark Yates' defensive headache with an accomplished centre-half performance as a 2-1 victory at AFC Wimbledon propelled Cheltenham Town into League Two's top three.
With skipper Alan Bennett suspended, Yates had unsuccessfully attempted to secure loan cover to play alongside senior centre-half Steve Elliott.
But Lowe, who performed so consistently at right-back for Cheltenham before losing his place to Sido Jombati early last season, stepped up and helped the Robins extend their unbeaten away record to six.
He made one error, delaying a clearance and allowing Jack Midson to charge it down in the second half, but he made an excellent recovering challenge in the penalty area and other than that he did not put a foot wrong.
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With Harry Hooman sent to Bath to gain further experience after a poor display in last week's Johnstone's Paint Trophy exit at the hands of Oxford United, Yates may still want to bring in another defender.
But Lowe showed he is capable of filling in, with Bennett forced to miss Saturday's trip to Bradford City before he can return from his three-match ban.
Another major plus for Yates at the Cherry Red Records Stadium was the performance of midfielder Marlon Pack, who opened the scoring in the 25th minute.
It was a sweet strike with his unfavoured left foot from 25 yards which arrowed into the bottom left corner following Chris Zebroski's lay-off after a pass from Darren Carter.
With Russ Penn snapping at Wimbledon's heels and constantly pressing high up the pitch and acting captain Pack and Carter sitting deeper, Cheltenham controlled the centre of the pitch for most of the first half.
With new boss Neal Ardley taking charge for the first time and an expectant home crowd behind them, the Dons improved after falling behind and went close to equalising before the break.
Luke Moore went close with a header and full-back George Francomb shot high after a sharp turn.
Midson, who almost joined Cheltenham two summers ago, beat Scott Brown with a looping header after Moore flicked on Byron Harrison's cross in the 35th minute, but it bounced back off the crossbar.
Wimbledon, big and strong, delivered plenty of balls into the box, but Lowe and Elliott stood up to the task admirably and they survived until the break.
Having been involved in Pack's goal, Zebroski should have been celebrating himself five minutes into the second half.
Will Antwi made a mess of an attempted backpass to Seb Brown, leaving Zebroski all alone in the penalty area with only the goalkeeper to beat, but he contrived to fire harmlessly wide.
Cheltenham scored their second goal in the 56th minute when another excellent corner delivery from Billy Jones was nodded back across goal by Elliott and former Dons player Kaid Mohamed had the simplest of tasks, heading over the line from close range.
Midson went close again after a free-kick from Francomb hit the ball and was lifted back in, but an excellent reaction stop from Brown prevented Wimbledon from reducing the deficit.
Substitute Christian Jolley caused some problems for Cheltenham on the Wimbledon left, but it was from a cross by Jim Fenlon that Harrison pulled one back in the first minute of time added on.
He leapt highest to power a header past Brown and show exactly why Yates was so keen to bring him to Whaddon Road last summer.
Harrison, who terrorised Cheltenham for Stevenage two seasons ago, gave them another major scare a minute later, clipping the top of the bar with another header after reached a cross before Brown.
But Cheltenham deserved the points and they have quietly crept into the automatic promotion places with Yates adamant there is plenty more still to come from them.
AFC WIMBLEDON: S Brown; G Frandcombe, Y Mambo, W Antwi, J Fenlon; R Yussuff (C Jolley 57), L Harris (S Long 57), S Gregory; J Midson, B Harrison, L Moore. Subs not used: C Haynes-Brown, M Jaimez-Ruiz, C Strutton, C Osano, F Merrifield.
CHELTENHAM TOWN: S Brown; S Jombati, K Lowe, S Elliott, B Jones; J McGlashan, M Pack, R Penn, D Carter, K Mohamed (D Duffy 74); C Zebroski. Subs not used: S Harrad, C Roberts, B Graham, S Deering, D Andrew, J Goulding.
REFEREE: T Robinson.
ATTENDANCE: 4,409 (233 away).
STAR MAN: Russ Penn.