Devaney inspires Cheltenham to uncharted heights

Cheltenham Town 3 Rushden & Diamonds 1
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There was absolutely no interruption yesterday in the remarkable progress of Cheltenham Town. The club which left the Dr Martens League just five years ago, secured a place in the Nationwide Second Division with a thoroughly deserved victory here over Rushden & Diamonds, their former rivals from the Nationwide Conference.

Rushden's defeat extended the Millennium Stadium's dressing-room jinx. They became the 11th successive club to leave Cardiff vanquished after using the southern changing room, which is bad news for both Stoke and Birmingham who are due to don their gear there next Saturday and Sunday.

Brian Talbot, Rushden's manager, was contemptuous of the hoodoo. "It's absolute nonsense,'' he said. "Dressing-rooms don't score goals,'' but his view was not shared by the victorious manager, who was glad to be there.

"We had no pressure on us because of the dressing-room," Steve Cotterill said. "I would hate to become the 13th team to have the honour."

There is no denying the debt Cheltenham owe Cotterill, who has masterminded their progress through the divisions. After this latest triumph they will be imploring him to ignore overtures from Portsmouth and Wimbledon to manage at the next level. But they may not be lucky.

Cotterill admitted that he had an understanding with his chairman to speak to any inquiring club. Before he departs, however, he would like the townsfolk of Cheltenham to wake up to the fact that they have a club worth supporting.

"Cheltenham does need to realise it's got a football team,'' Cotterill said. "Gloucestershire is very much rugby orientated.''

For all that, Cheltenham garnered two-thirds of the support in Cardiff, where their team was better organised and faster to the ball. Indeed, Cheltenham recovered well from conceding an equaliser moments after they had gone ahead to control the second half when they rounded off their victory with great conviction.

Cotterill certainly came up trumps with his selection after losing his regular left-sided midfielder Russell Milton to a groin injury. Either Martyn Lee or Neil Grayson could have deputised, but Cotterill plumped for Martin Devaney who not only scored Cheltenham's opening goal but was the obvious choice as man of the match.

Devaney was both instigator and scorer when Cheltenham took their 27th-minute lead. He cut in from the left, tried to find Tony Naylor and somewhat fortuitously got in the way of Garry Butterworth's attempted clearance. The ball flew past the startled Billy Turley from an acute angle.

Rushden's immediate equaliser was far more clear-cut. With Cheltenham still celebrating, Paul Hall swept through the centre of their defence to chip the ball past Steve Book. Cheltenham dropped their heads for a while, but emerged after half-time motivated by Cotterill's interval speech.

Andy Tillson made a dreadful hash of clearing Julian Alsop's header which left the Cheltenham striker with surely the simplest of his 26 goals this season. Rushden, badly missing the tantalising touch of the suspended Andy Burgess, finally succumbed when Grayson, a recent substitute, hammered his shot against the bar, and John Finnigan collected the rebound to shoot past Turley with admirable composure.

Cheltenham (4-4-2): Book; Griffin, Duff, Walker, Victory; Williams, Finnigan, Yates, Devaney (Grayson, 75); Naylor, Alsop. Substitutes not used: Haworth, Muggleton (gk), Lee, Tyson,

Rushden & Diamonds (4-4-2): Turley; Mustafa, Peters, Tillson, Underwood; Hall, Wardley, Butterworth, Gray (Brady, 69); Lowe, Partridge (Angell, 69). Substitutes not used: Pennock (gk), Setchell, Hunter.

Referee: A R Leake (Lancashire).