Cheltenham Town v Aldershot: Listless Robins unable to call the Shots
CHELTENHAM Town failed to overcome relegation-threatened Aldershot Town's spoiling tactics as their automatic promotion hopes were jolted at the Abbey Business Stadium on Saturday.
Despite Aldershot's determination to slow things down, particularly after they had taken a 23rd minute lead, a team harbouring hopes of League One football next season should have been able to carve through and score more than Paul Benson's 67th minute leveller.
It is difficult to criticise Mark Yates for sticking with the same starting line-up that performed well at Southend United and returned home with a deserved 2-1 victory last Tuesday night.
But it soon became clear the same set-up was not going to work at home against Aldershot, who deployed damage limitation tactics from the off.
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The first half was particularly poor to watch, with some agricultural challenges from Aldershot and some theatrical performances from their players, all in attempt to run down the clock.
Shots boss Dean Holdsworth felt his side were hard done by in terms of refereeing decisions, but Cheltenham were the only team who tried to play any kind of flowing football and their passing moves were frequently ended by a mistimed tackle.
It was niggly and disjointed, but Michael Hector showed his class with two of the best moments of the first half from a Cheltenham point of view.
The Reading loan youngster dropped a shoulder and smashed a fierce left-footed drive against the bar in the eighth minute before delivering the sort of cross strikers thrive on later in the half – not bad for a central defender.
Unfortunately Cheltenham allowed their concentration to slip midway through the first period and Jeff Goulding played a part in the opening goal.
He leapt to flick on a cross from the right to Peter Vincenti at the far post and he teed up Danny Rose, who applied a neat finish past Scott Brown into the centre of the goal from six yards.
Apart from the goal and a dipping volley from substitute Kieron Cadogan which cleared the bar, Brown had a particularly quiet afternoon.
Several Cheltenham players were in the wars going into the match, with Russ Penn shaking off a calf problem and Benson battling on with a thigh knock, both picked up at Southend.
It was not long before other players were hobbling around, with Steve Elliott given a bloody nose and also forced to leave the field during first half stoppage time due to a dead leg.
His replacement was Manchester United's Luke McCullough, who went on for his Football League debut the day after his 19th birthday.
The Northern Irish centre-half settled in immediately alongside Hector, forming one of the youngest central defensive pairings in Cheltenham's history, with a combined age of just 39, compared to Elliott and previous partner Alan Bennett, whose years total 65.
McCullough looked confident and comfortable on the ball, as to be expected from a player who spends his days learning from the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
He has been unlucky not to have featured earlier on in his loan spell and his lack of football may see him return to Old Trafford upon the completion of his first month at Cheltenham.
With Hector and McCullough looking watertight, Aldershot did not even remotely look like scoring after half-time as Cheltenham improved as an attacking force.
The introduction of Kaid Mohamed in place of Penn added more width and pace on the left and Jermaine McGlashan became more prominent against his old club.
Marlon Pack continued to look back to somewhere near his best having dealt with recent uncertainty over his future better than anyone could have expected.
He lifted a chance over the bar in the 49th minute after good work from McGlashan and Mohamed forced Young into evasive action.
The equaliser arrived in the 67th minute, with Keith Lowe's throw-in flicked on by Sido Jombati to Benson, who looped a header over Jamie Young and into the net for his second goal in two games and the 100th league goal of his professional career.
McGlashan was hacked down by left-back Anthony Tonkin twice in quick succession, resulting in a second yellow card and a red for the left-back in the 74th minute.
Firmly on top against the team second from bottom of the table, who were a man down, with the crowd willing them on, the onus was very much on Cheltenham to snatch a winner.
Shaun Harrad also made a difference after replacing Byron Harrison up front, but he skewed his best chance wide after racing through and using the outside of his right foot with only Young to beat.
The crowd made plenty of noise, willing Cheltenham on in the final stages, but McGlashan's shot was parried by Young and Harrad could not follow up as the frustration built as two more points went begging.
Cheltenham Town: S Brown; K Lowe, M Hector, S Elliott (L McCullough 45), S Jombati; J McGlashan, M Pack, J Taylor, R Penn (K Mohamed 46); P Benson, B Harrison (S Harrad 63). Subs not used: D Carter, S Deering, D Duffy, C Roberts.
Aldershot Town: J Young; B Herd, S Bradley, T Brown, A Tonkin; L Ainsworth (K Cadogan 37, A Morris 75), O Risser, D Rose, P Vincenti; J Goulding, D Hylton (A Hall 60). Subs not used: A McNamee, A Mekki, T Forbes, G Morris.
Referee: K Hill.
Attendance: 3,119 (270 away).
Star man: Jermaine McGlashan.