THE mini revival ended in slightly meek fashion for United on a difficult afternoon at high-flying Cheltenham.
After a tremendous win at Exeter ended a run of six games without victory, the Gulls made the relatively short trip up the M5 with confidence returning to Yellow veins but the home side quelled visiting hope with a first-half header from Keith Lowe.
United were unable to find their rhythm and Shaun Harrad deservedly added a second for the Robins soon after the restart. Defeat looked certain for the rest of the afternoon and a late strike from Rene Howe was only a consolation.
As promised, United stuck with the same starting 11 and replacements from the team that triumphed in fabulous fashion at Exeter on Monday night. Also unchanged from the Devon derby was the absence of manager Martin Ling with a virus, leaving his assistant Shaun Taylor to take charge.
The Cheltenham line-up was a reflection of their busy work on transfer deadline day, with boss Mark Yates making three alterations from their 0-0 draw with Rochdale last weekend. New loan signing from Reading Michael Hector came in for the injured Billy Jones at the back.
Looking further forward, the gifted Marlon Pack was unavailable and Sam Deering also missed out, with Jason Taylor coming into the engine room and the experienced Paul Benson, on loan from Swindon, starting in attack. Another new face, Byron Harrison, signed from Wimbledon, was on the bench.
The Gulls survived an early scare with help from the assistant’s flag, as Benson had the freedom of Whaddon Road to turn the ball past Michael Poke but the offside decision was given against Harrad, although it was perhaps questionable whether he was interfering with play.
United happily accepted the reprieve and Billy Bodin introduced his silky skills to the party with a jinking run from the wing but the final shot with his weaker right foot was way off target.
Cheltenham responded with a decent spell of pressure and a corner from Kaid Mohamed found its way to Hector, who forced Poke into a smart save with his feet to keep the scores blank in the winter sun.
The Robins were handed a terrific position to punish United from a free-kick when Jermaine McGlashan tumbled on the edge of the area. The decision looked soft and the Gulls would have been upset if Lowe had got more of a touch on the Mohamed delivery to turn in the opener.
Howe then forced Scott Brown into his first save of the afternoon, as the big striker turned beautifully to create space and lash in an ambitious drive that the Cheltenham stopper was alert enough to turn away from Ryan Jarvis, who was sniffing for the rebound.
The game settled into a period of calm until a cross from Bodin sought out Jarvis at the back post and the clumsy intervention from Hector prompted huge shouts for a handball, but referee Carl Berry swiftly dismissed Yellow queries.
More midfield sparring was interrupted in frustrating fashion for the Gulls, as a corner from Mohamed found Lowe unmarked for the second occasion in 32 minutes and this time the full-back could hardly miss with a powerful header from close range.
After successfully repelling countless corners at Exeter five days ago, the simplicity of this goal would have been a killer for Taylor and his team. The delivery was decent but still no excuses for United.
The rest of the first was a meandering affair for the Gulls and United’s lack of attacking penetration was the obvious issue to address at the interval, with greater support to Howe a clear priority.
Barely 30 seconds into the restart, any changes to the Yellow approach were almost rendered futile by another Mohamed set-piece whistling across Poke’s goal and coming worryingly close to doubling Cheltenham’s lead.
The Robins did not have to wait long to seal victory, however, as McGlashan strolled into the United penalty area and picked out Harrad with a clipped cross, and the dangerous forward controlled the ball smartly before burying the finish.
A lack of goals on the road has been a problem for United all season and a two-goal deficit at one of the best sides in League 2 all added together for a huge task. The afternoon soon got worse with Howe picking up his tenth booking of the season, ruling him out of the home games with Fleetwood and Rotherham.
Harrad was clearly in the mood to pile up the Yellow misery but Poke was equal to his long-range effort. Moments later, a poor first touch from Harrad after neat work by McGlashan allowed Poke the opportunity to smother the ball.
Cheltenham were in complete control and a chance for Mohamed was spurned at the back post as the game went past the hour-mark. Taylor had seen enough, introducing Lloyd Macklin for the strangely quiet Nathan Craig.
Unfortunately, the pattern of proceedings remained bleak for United. This time, Russell Penn unleashed a corker from distance that Poke did well to turn over his own crossbar.
The next Yellow change saw Thomas Cruise replace the injured Joe Oastler at right-back, while Cheltenham introduced Harrison and Darryl Duffy for Benson and Harrad. United then finally caused some concern in the home penalty area, but Bodin’s deflected volley was comfortable for Brown.
Mohamed curled yet another free-kick perilously close to Poke’s goal on 82 minutes and that would be the final act of an influential afternoon for the gifted winger, as he was withdrawn for Darren Carter.
Cruise then had an aberration with a back-pass, leaving Duffy with a glorious chance to add gloss to the win but his finish was poor. However, it was a miss that failed to mask a disappointing afternoon for the Gulls.
There was no disguising a bad day at the office and the game was surely over, but Howe had other ideas. His snapshot from a Jarvis pass probably should have been blocked by Brown but the ball squirmed past the Cheltenham custodian for a Yellow consolation.
Five minutes of injury time gave the Gulls unwarranted hope and skipper Lee Mansell forced Brown into a vital save, giving the Robins all three points.
Cheltenham (4-4-2): 1 Scott Brown; 2 Keith Lowe, 6 Steve Elliott, 27 Michael Hector, 22 Sido Jombati; 11 Jermaine McGlashan, 16 Russell Penn, 25 Jason Taylor, 23 Kaid Mohamed (4 Darren Carter 83); 14 Shaun Harrad (9 Darryl Duffy 77), 19 Paul Benson (29 Byron Harrison 77). Substitutes (not used): 8 Sam Deering, 12 Connor Roberts (GK), 24 Luke McCullough, 34 Joe Hanks.
Booked: McGlashan 68
Gulls (4-4-1-1): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler (21 Thomas Cruise 76), 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 20 Nathan Craig (14 Lloyd Macklin 65), 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 6 Damon Lathrope, 15 Billy Bodin; 8 Ryan Jarvis, 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes (not used): 13 Martin Rice (GK), 16 Angus MacDonald, 18 Craig Easton, 19 Danny Stevens, 23 Ashley Yeoman.
Booked: Lathrope 20, Howe 53
Referee: Carl Berry