THE most successful season in Cheltenham Town's history came to an end yesterday with victory in the FA Umbro Trophy final at Wembley.
The Gloucestershire club's first visit to the national stadium was the conclusion of a campaign which saw them finish second in the GM Vauxhall Conference, reach the third round of the FA Cup and bring their ground up to Football League standards. For their bright young manager, Steve Cotterill, and his side there is much to be pleased about.
The party they had last night will probably live longer in their memories than the final itself, though. Two well-matched sides cancelled each other out until one lapse by Southport's defence, 11 minutes from full-time, allowed Jason Eaton to head the winning goal.
Southport were the first to show some attacking intent, with Steve Book in the Cheltenham goal parrying a drive from Kevin Formby in the fifth minute. Then the busy Brian Butler accepted a pass from Dave Thompson and sent a rising cross-shot just wide of the target. At the other end the lively Eaton made space for himself in Southport's penalty area but Billy Stewart was off his line quickly to save at the Cheltenham striker's feet.
After a quiet spell, the game came to life again in the last 10 minutes of the first half. Stewart flapped at a Keith Knight cross from the right but the 40-year-old Clive Walker, with an unguarded goal to aim for, could only direct his header into the keeper's midriff.
Stewart was soon called into action again when he had to be alert to save at Dale Watkins' feet after the Cheltenham forward had broken through the Southport defence.
The second half also started quietly, and 63 minutes had elapsed before either keeper was bothered. Southport's Brian Ross shook off Mark Freeman and had just Book to beat, but he was torn between shooting or squaring to Butler and did neither, thus giving the keeper the chance to smother the ball.
With 13 minutes to go Cotterill took off both the disappointing Walker and Knight, and both substitutes made a rapid impact. One, Jimmy Smith, was fouled on the right wing. The other, Russell Milton, took the free- kick which was flicked on by Jamie Victory for Eaton to head home from close range at the far post.
Prompted from the back by their 41-year-old player-manager, Paul Futcher, and driven on from midfield by the indefatigable Butler, Southport tried hard to reply in the little time that was left, but it was not to be.
Goal: Eaton (79) 1-0.
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): Book; Duff, Freeman, Banks, Victory; Knight (Milton, 77), Howells, Bloomer, Walker (Smith, 77); Eaton, Watkins. Substitute not used: Wright.
Southport (3-5-2): Stewart; Horner, Futcher, Ryan; Farley, Kielty, Butler, Gamble, Formby (Whittaker, 80); Thompson (Bolland, 86), Ross. Substitute not used: Mitten.
Referee: G Willard (Worthing).
Man of the match: Butler. Attendance: 26,837.