Cheltenham Town: Finishing touches are all that is missing
CHELTENHAM Town shone in every department apart from the one that counts the most as they were held to a draw by promotion rivals Port Vale on Saturday.
Mark Yates' side looked a cut above second placed Vale for most of the match, but a series of spurned opportunities prevented them from leapfrogging their visitors in the table.
Victories at Northampton Town and Hereford United followed by a home draw still represents an impressive week's work.
But it could have been even better if they had made their superiority count during an entertaining contest.
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With his team needing extra-time to knock Hereford out of the FA Cup, Yates could have chopped and changed, but his solitary switch was a recall for midfielder Marlon Pack in favour of winger Jermaine McGlashan.
Pack partnered Darren Carter in the middle, with Russ Penn dosed up on painkillers and operating on the right side, where he was particularly effective.
Penn, known for his never-say-die attitude and battling qualities, set up two of Cheltenham's best openings of the match with no little skill on the wing.
The first saw him manoeuvre into a crossing position and his ball reached Chris Zebroski at the far post.
Zebroski looked set to nod it in, but he misdirected his header and Vale survived until half-time without conceding.
Their defence was nearly breached in the 41st minute, but again Zebroski was wasteful, slicing a shot wide.
Vale rarely threatened and when they did it was on the counter attack, with Scott Brown forced into one save by former Robins winger Ashley Vincent, immediately after Zebroski's headed effort.
If Cheltenham had been on top in the first half, they started the second half with total dominance, laying siege to the Vale goal.
Billy Jones, so often the provider this season, went within millimetres of opening his own scoring account for Cheltenham in the 48th minute.
His initial shot was well blocked by a lunging Richard Duffy, but he caught his second attempt sweetly only to see it cannon against the frame of the goal.
Pack saw a header from Jones' corner cleared off the line by Doug Loft three minutes later and Chris Neal saved from Steve Elliott.
The one-way traffic continued with Penn driving one across goal and past the far post and Neal made a fine reaction stop in the 58th minute.
Penn's cross found Jake Taylor in space and his header looked destined for the top right corner, but Neal reached it and turned it away acrobatically to frustrate the healthy home crowd.
But the deadlock was finally broken in the 62nd minute when Zebroski showed a turn of pace to keep the ball in play on the byline and pull back towards Shaun Harrad.
It was half cleared to Carter, who scored with his weaker right foot for the second Saturday in succession.
His fifth strike of the season gave Cheltenham a lead they looked fully capable of capitalising on and adding to, but five minutes later Vale upset their calculations.
League Two's top scorer Tom Pope had been well shackled by Steve Elliott and Alan Bennett, but he found space to connect with Loft's cross, drawing a fine block from Brown.
But the ball fell to Louis Dodds, who followed up to register his first goal since September, making it 1-1 as Cheltenham's habit of conceded soon after scoring continued.
Pack demonstrated his technique with a shot from near the halfway line which worried Neal as it drifted narrowly over the bar in the 82nd minute, but Vale showed an improvement after their equaliser.
Cheltenham-born Ryan Burge tested Brown after a mistake from Sido Jombati, but the goalkeeper was equal to it with three minutes remaining.
Darryl Duffy, the late hero at Northampton in Cheltenham's 3-2 success, went on in place of Harrad and had a glorious chance to win it.
Elliott fed Carter, whose cross was nodded across goal by Jombati to Duffy, who just had to force it over the line from close range.
He completely scuffed his shot, allowing Chris Shuker to clear and that was the last opening of an entertaining, but ultimately frustrating afternoon for Cheltenham.
Cheltenham Town: S Brown; S Jombati, A Bennett, S Elliott, B Jones; R Penn (J McGlashan 75), M Pack, D Carter, J Taylor (J Goulding 89); S Harrad (D Duffy 75), C Zebroski. Subs not used: K Lowe, S Deering, C Roberts, L D'Ath
Port Vale: C Neal; R Duffy, J McCombe, L Chilvers, D Loft; A Vincent (B Williamson 82), S Morsy, R Burge, R Taylor (C Shuker 87); T Pope, L Dodds (C Andrew 90). Subs not used: A Yates, S Johnson, Andrew, K James, C McDonald.
Referee: M Haywood.
Attendance: 3,760 (331 away).
Star Man: Russ Penn.