Football: Cheltenham pass winning post

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The Independent Online
Cheltenham Town 3 Yeovil Town 2

CHELTENHAM'S RACING fraternity may have their Gold Cup, but the genteel Cotswold town last night celebrated a piece of silverware with substantially more significance for civic pride. By ending Yeovil's resistance six minutes into stoppage time, the 107-year-old Robins clinched the Nationwide Conference championship and with it promotion to the Third Division.

Remarkably, the goal that had them dancing in the Regency crescents and cul-de-sacs was claimed by two players. Jamie Victory and Michael Duff both felt that they had supplied the decisive touch to Keith Knight's free-kick. Tony Pennock, who had kept Yeovil in the match with a succession of stunning saves after the 78th-minute dismissal of his team-mate Paul Steele, was helpless.

Victory, who was on West Ham's books as a teenager, was adamant that the historic contact had been his. Duff, a former YTS trainee with the Gloucestershire club, may have considered he deserved it more, having scored just two previous goals in some 140 appearances. Either way, establishing the identity of the marksman is the least of Cheltenham's concerns this morning, as the town wakes up to an almighty hangover.

It was a night not only for cracking open the champagne, but for breaking the mould. This was only the second championship in Cheltenham's history, the other being the Southern League in 1984, and only Yeovil's second away loss of the season.

The explosion of relief sparked by the historic goal - whoever scored it - must have rattled the windows at the nearby GCHQ. Yet for long periods, Cheltenham looked likely to be forced to wait at least until Saturday for the points they required to burn off Yeovil and Rushden & Diamonds, having gifted the visitors' goals at the start of each half.

The lapses in concentration and discipline may have had something to do with the fact that Cheltenham were playing their third game in six days.

The sense of expectation among the 6,000 Cheltonians was almost tangible at the kick-off, which had to be delayed with so many besieging the turnstiles for admission. Cheltenham's optimism was punctured after only 80 seconds. A free-kick from deep in Yeovil's half found the 6ft 4in Warren Patmore rising to flick the ball on for Owen Pickard to head firmly beyond Steve Book.

Within two minutes, Cheltenham were level. A corner kick was returned to Lee Howells, whose cross was headed against the post by Dennis Bailey. After the ball rebounded into a packed six-yard area, Victory prodded in the equaliser.

Neil Grayson, whose four small sons sat at the front of the stand bedecked in red-and-white stripes, rewarded strong Cheltenham pressure with a typical predator's goal midway through the first half. Duff swung the ball in from the right, whereupon Grayson stole a yard on his marker to angle a glancing header inside Pennock's near post.

Steve Cotterill, Cheltenham's manager, said later that he had told his team to "keep it tight for 10" at half time. Cotterill meant 10 minutes, but Yeovil's riposte could be measured in seconds. Less than 90 had elapsed before the ubiquitous Victory used a hand to turn away Murray Fishlock's corner. Patmore's penalty left Book helpless.

Steele's sending-off, for a second bookable offence, was the signal for Cheltenham to press forward in numbers. Just when it looked as if Pennock was going to stop everything they could throw at him, Victory struck. Or was it Duff? Cotterill, for one, did not care. "Jamie insists it was his goal," he said, "but we'll talk about that when we've sobered up."

Cheltenham Town (3-5-2): Book; Banks, Freeman, Brough; Duff, Howells, Bloomer, Norton, Victory; Grayson, Bailey ( Knight, 85). Substitutes not used: Yates, Eaton.

Yeovil Town (3-5-2): Pennock; Steele, Brown, Chandler; Piper (Simpson, 70), Cousins, Hayfield, Smith, Fishlock; Pickard (Keeling, 76), Patmore. Substitutes not used: Pounder.

Referee: A Penn (Kingswinford).