Cheltenham Town video: Home win for Robins as Bennett wins applause
IT DID not matter how they did it, Cheltenham Town simply had to win this match.
They have slipped up against struggling sides too often in recent weeks and all that mattered on Saturday was the final score, which put their promotion push back on track after three consecutive draws.
The last half an hour may have been rather more tense that it needed to be, but Mark Yates' men deserved their tenth home League Two win of the season.
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While the points went to Cheltenham, a big part of the occasion belonged to their former skipper Alan Bennett.
As expected, the Irishman was given a hero's welcome back at the Abbey Business Stadium.
All four sides of the ground rose to applaud him off the pitch after the match as he seized the chance to say an emotional farewell to the Robins fans following his unexpectedly abrupt departure on the final day of the January transfer window.
It was one of the most rousing responses to a returning player in recent memory and fully deserved.
The ultra-competitive Bennett did not do much wrong for new club Wimbledon, but it was his old defensive partner Steve Elliott who provided the spark in the tenth minute.
Vastly experienced goalkeeper Neil Sullivan showed he has not lost his agility at the age of 43 with a fine save low to his right, denying Darren Carter two minutes earlier, but a Cheltenham goal seemed inevitable.
Yates kept faith with the same side that performed well in last Tuesday's 1-1 draw at Fleetwood Town, with Elliott passed fit after picking up an ankle knock at the Highbury Stadium.
Rated as 70/30 against to make it by senior sports therapist Ian Weston on Thursday, Elliott was determined not to lose his ever-present record in League Two this term.
The 34-year-old lost his marker Pim Balkenstein, who was cleverly blocked by Paul Benson, enabling him to power Billy Jones' free-kick past Sullivan with his head.
It was Elliott's second goal of the campaign and he also produced another outstanding defensive performance alongside Michael Hector, who has shown all the necessary qualities to suggest he can thrive at a higher level as his career progresses.
Scott Brown was forced to catch a free-kick from Chris Hussey underneath the crossbar in the 33rd minute, but Cheltenham's five-man midfield once again kept the ball well, playing with confidence on a deteriorating pitch due to the recent weather and sheer volume of matches on groundsman Terry Roberts' pride and joy. Sam Deering was prominent in his free role in behind Benson, with the insurance of Carter, Russ Penn, a rejuvenated Marlon Pack and the influential Jason Taylor behind him.
Cheltenham did not create as many clear chances as they had at Fleetwood, but they dominated territorially and appealed for a penalty when Penn went down under a challenge from Mat Mitchel-King, but nothing was given.
The only surprise was it took them until the 56th minute to double their lead and it was a fine move that pierced Wimbledon's backline for a second time.
It started with some calm play by goalkeeper Brown, who could have hacked clear under pressure from a forward, but he played a short pass to Hector.
The Reading loan youngster aimed a long pass towards Penn on the right and the midfielder powered into the Dons' half and cut across the edge of the penalty area.
He looked intent on shooting, but as the ball ran away from him he prodded it to Carter, who showed his technique with an accurate left-foot finish.
Cheltenham looked capable of going on to score a couple more, but they have a habit of doing things the hard way.
It took a double substitution from Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley to swing the momentum in his team's favour, with wide men Kevin Sainte-Luce and Brennan Dickenson going on in the 62nd minute.
Less than 60 seconds later Dickenson had scored with his first touch, smashing in a first-time shot after Sainte-Luce had fed Hussey following some wing play on the right.
There were suddenly some worried faces around and Jack Midson should have levelled in the 77th minute.
The one-time Robins transfer target lifted a shot high over the bar from a glorious position after Gary Alexander wrestled himself goal side of Hector.
Not surprisingly he was substituted immediately, but Wimbledon did not seriously look like scoring in the remaining minutes and an audible sigh of relief greeted the final whistle as Cheltenham celebrated their first home win over Wimbledon since September 1967.
Cheltenham Town: S Brown; K Lowe, M Hector, S Elliott, B Jones; R Penn (J McGlashan 86), M Pack, J Taylor, D Carter (K Mohamed 71); S Deering; P Benson (B Harrison 80). Subs not used: D Duffy, C Roberts, S Harrad, S Jombati.
AFC Wimbledon: N Sullivan; M Mitchel-King (K Sainte-Luce 62), P Balkestein, A Bennett, C Hussey; S Moore, L Moore, H Pell, J Midson (C Strutton 77); G Alexander, J Darko (B Dickenson 62). Subs not used: W Cummings, S Long, R Yussuff, M Jaimez-Ruiz.
Referee: A Davies
Attendance: 3,177 (500 away)
Star Man: Michael Hector