Accrington Stanley 2 Cheltenham Town 2: Mark Yates still searching for a winning formula
MARK Yates must rediscover a winning formula quickly to avoid another season of promise ending in anti-climax for draw specialists Cheltenham Town.
A sixth single-point haul from their last nine matches at Accrington Stanley on Saturday saw the Robins slip to sixth in the League Two table.
While nobody should have expected an easy match against relegation-threatened opposition, Cheltenham did not show anywhere near enough cohesion or cutting edge and they were fortunate to leave the Crown Ground with a point.
For the second match in succession they took on a side one place off the foot of the table and matched them for effort, but were unable to make their extra quality tell and Yates is likely to make more changes for tomorrow night's first ever trip to Fleetwood Town.
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Two of the players introduced in the second half, Darren Carter and Sam Deering, both made positive impacts after wingers Jermaine McGlashan and Kaid Mohamed had struggled to make headway.
Most wingers, particularly at League Two level, are unpredictable and inconsistent but Cheltenham's wide men have too often been anonymous in recent weeks.
The three players in the starting line-up to shine on Saturday were Cheltenham's two most consistent performers throughout the campaign and the man with arguably the most technical ability.
Goalkeeper Scott Brown and Steve Elliott were two of the main reasons Accrington's superiority did not see them complete a win double over the Robins, while the first brace of Marlon Pack's professional career was backed up by an impressive all-round midfield display. Pack has looked revitalised since returning to the team after the saga over his proposed transfer to Swindon Town on January 31 and he now looks like the player Yates wanted to build his team around at the start of last term.
Yates took the difficult decision of dropping Russ Penn, who has been enjoying one of his best runs of form since joining the club from Burton Albion in the summer of 2011.
He was pushed out to the left at Southend and did an admirable job, but he was taken off at half-time against Aldershot and left on the bench at the Crown Ground.
Penn has been carrying a calf strain, which may have been a factor in Yates' decision, but he can consider himself unfortunate not to have been included, particularly as it was the sort of match in which he usually thrives.
Accrington made by the far the stronger start on a poor pitch under light Lancashire snowfall and they appealed for a penalty in the ninth minute.
James Beattie thought he was pushed by Michael Hector as he attempted to follow up after Brown had parried James Gray's shot, but referee Andy D'Urso was not convinced.
Gray cut inside and forced Brown into action again with a diving save in the 12th minute and Gray nodded Beattie's cross over eight minutes later as Accrington created far more clear chances.
But Cheltenham opened the scoring against the run of play in the 31st minute when new skipper Jason Taylor was tripped by Mark Hughes and a penalty was given, much to the disgust of the home crowd.
Taylor may have made the most of his fall, but he was caught and Pack stepped up, calmly sending Paul Rachubka the wrong way from the spot.
Paul Benson flicked on a long kick from Brown to Byron Harrison in the 39th minute, but the striker missed a chance to open his account for Cheltenham, sending his shot wide of the right post.
A minute later Accrington were level when Hector deflected Lawrence Wilson's shot over the bar for a corner, which Cheltenham failed to deal with.
Former Southampton, Everton and England striker Beattie rose to nod Wilson's delivery past Brown for his first goal since December 22.
Brown made an excellent stop to keep out Romuald Boco's low drive in the 42nd minute after Elliott half-cleared another Wilson corner and Cheltenham were fortunate to reach half-time on level terms.
Carter and Deering were sent on in the 59th minute, but player coach Beattie crashed in his second in the 63rd minute.
Another corner caused problems and Taylor kicked Hughes' header off the line, but Beattie connected brilliantly with the loose ball, smashing it into the roof of the net, via a slight deflection off Pack.
Elliott was passed fit to play having picked up a dead leg against Aldershot and he underlined his worth with several vital interventions and at 34, the big defender looks fully deserving of a new deal this summer.
He and Brown did more than anyone else to ensure their team did not leave the Crown Ground empty-handed, but Cheltenham must do better with the ball.
Accrington Stanley: P Rachubka; N Hunt, M Hughes, D Winnard, M Liddle; R Boco, P Murphy, L Joyce, L Wilson; J Beattie (A Linganzi 74), J Gray (P Amond 88). Subs not used: W Hatfield, G Miller, A Dawber, L Molyneux, T Aldred.
Cheltenham Town: S Brown; K Lowe, M Hector, S Elliott, S Jombati; J McGlashan (S Deering 59), M Pack, J Taylor, K Mohamed (D Carter 59); B Harrison (S Harrad 82), P Benson. Subs not used: B Jones, C Roberts, R Penn, D Duffy.
Referee: Andy D'Urso.
Attendance: 1,216 (141 away).
Star Man: Scott Brown.