BOTH managers got a point and a clean sheet, but Cheltenham's John Ward will have been far more satisfied than Peter Jackson.

This was a match Town badly needed to win to keep their Third Division promotion prospects bubbling, and they should have had an eighth straight home victory.

But after peppering the the visitors' goal early on, when Danny Schofield twice hit the woodwork, they lost both shape and direction as the game went stale.

It would have been a major injustice, but they might even have lost to a Cheltenham side who had leaked 41 goals, more than any other in the division, and kept just one previous clean sheet all season.

They headed up the M6 - "it was a tortuous journey and we had to shovel down the scrambled eggs at lunchtime," said Ward - with a specific game plan.

"It's clear how strong Huddersfield are at home, and we looked at the reports and watched the videos," explained the man who was boss of the Bristol Rovers team beaten by Neil Warnock's Town in the 1995 Division II play-off final at Wembley.

"We couldn't open up because we'd have been overrun, so it was a case of digging in and making life difficult for them.

"We played five across midfield with Bob Taylor operating as a lone striker, because I wanted to say to Huddersfield: `Okay, you've got your three centre-backs, what do you do against just one opponent?

"The plan was to counter-attack with pace and power, and it could have come off, because we crated some decent chances."

Luckily for Town, Cheltenham aren't Arsenal, the masters of turning defence into attack, and Grant McCann isn't Thierry Henry.

The Northern Ireland man, on target twice when Cheltenham drew 3-3 at the McAlpine in February, when both these sides were on the slide towards relegation, had a great chance on 31 minutes.

Hurtling upfield after a Town corner was cleared, he played a one-two with fellow midfielder Martin Devaney and found himself with space and time on the edge of the penalty area, but blazed the ball over.

"It fell on his weaker right foot, but he's a professional footballer and should at least have been able to force the goalkeeper into making a save," added Ward.

The Cotswolds side also had clear-cut chances in the 41st minute, when Phil Senior saved smartly from John Finnigan after the midfielder pounced on a slip-up by Lee Fowler, and the 54th, when Damian Spencer's diving header from Devaney's cross flew inches over the bar.

Mind you, Town, who lacked nothing in terms of workrate, had even better opportunites, and Ward's gameplan could have been out the window as early as the second minute, when persistent Danny Schofield won the ball in midfield and forced his way into the penalty box before firing in a shot which hit the angle of post and bar to goalkeeper Shane Higgs' right.

With the stopper stranded the ball fell neatly to Jon Stead, but Town's 14-goal top scorer, possibly a little surprised to see the ball at his feet given the speed of Schofield's advance, shot over the bar.

Cheltenham had another let-off 10 minutes later when Senior's upfield punt was worked into the penalty area by Stead and Andy Booth for Schofield to flick a low shot against the base of the same upright.

Former Leeds and West Brom man Taylor stabbed in a low shot which Senior had covered in the 16th minute, but Town had the upper hand, and when right-back Nat Brown surged into the area and set up Booth in the 18th minute, the busy Higgs did well to deny the home striker.

Booth, back after a hamstring niggle and chasing a 10th of the term, twice headed wide from corners by Tony Carss before McCann gave Town that wake-up call.

The game became more even, but Town still managed to threaten before half-time through Stead, whose shot on the turn after Booth's flick-on was saved low down, and left-back Anthony Lloyd, whose 20-yard snap shot was deflected over by Finnigan.

Devaney blasted over from the edge of the area five minutes into the second half, and Booth had to complete the clearance when Senior could only get his fingertips to Finnigan's 50th-minute corner.

Town still had chances to settle the match, however, as Stead had a low shot gathered in the 58th minute, then an effort tipped over the bar from Nathan Clarke's cross three minutes later, in a move which began when the centre-back's troublesome long throw was only partially cleared.

Then, in the 76th minute, Rob Edwards, on as a substitute for his first appearance since damaging a hamstring at Swansea in September, swung in a corner from Town's right, and Brown popped up with a powerful header, only for Taylor to hack the ball off the line.

Jackson sacrificed one of his three centre-backs, Paul Scott, to hand a League debut to on-loan Preston striker Fola Onibuje with 11 minutes left, but the 6ft 7in Nigerian had few opportunities to show either his aerial power or neat footwork as Cheltenham shut up shop.


Phil Senior Having conceded last-gasp goals in the previous three games, will have been happy at this clean sheet. Rating: 7/10

Nat Brown Another solid show at right wing-back for the versatile 22-year-old, who looked lively going forward. Rating: 7/10

Anthony Lloyd Given a tough test by the lively Martin Devaney on only his sixth start and showed up well on the left. Rating: 6/10

Ian Hughes Steadying influence on the right of central defence until being forced off at half-time by a knock to the knee. Rating: 6/10

Nathan Clarke Calm and collected in defence, and dangerous with long throws and runs into opposition territory. Rating: 8/10

Paul Scott Played his part in keeping a clean sheet and taken off for tactical reasons rather than his own performance. Rating: 6/10

Lee Fowler Got stuck in in the engine room but his slip-up just before half-time could have proved costly. Rating: 6/10

Tony Carss Worked hard in a busy midfield zone to prompt Town attacks until being forcd off by a nagging knee injury. Rating: 6/10

Danny Schofield Adventurous going forward, always willing to try his luck with a shot, and unlucky to hit the woodwork twice. Rating: 7/10

Andy Booth Back after a hamstring strain to add presence and know-how to the Town attack but unable to find the net. Rating: 7/10

Jon Stead Blanked by the Cheltenham defence but his failure to score certainly not for the want of trying. Rating: 7/10


Higgs; Bird, Victory, Brough, Duff (M); Devaney, Finnigan, Yates, McCann, Spence; Taylor.

Subs not used: Griffin, Brayson, Howells, Duff (S), Book (gkp).



There's no doubting the quality of some Town youngsters, and while Jon Stead has taken the centre stage recently, the 20-year-old Clarke has been playing with real maturity.


In only the second minute, when Danny Schofield's run into the box ended with the ball hitting the angle rather than the top corner. Jon Stead could only steer the rebound over the crossbar.


Town subs used: Sodje (for Hughes, HT), Edwards (for Carss, 72mins), Onibuje (for Scott, 79mins).

Town subs not used: Holdsworth, Martin (gkp).

Referee: Mike Pike (Cumbria).

Bookings: None.

Shots on target: Town 6 Cheltenham 3.

Corners: Town 9 Cheltenham 5.

Caught offside: Town 2 Cheltenham 2.

Free-kicks awarded: Town 13 Cheltenham 10.

Attendance: 8,442 (third League lowest of season after Northampton and Kidderminster). Away following: 245 (second lowest after Kidderminster).

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