Ten man Cambridge United fell short in a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Cheltenham Town in Sky Bet League Two, with a George Taft own goal and a Conor Thomas penalty deciding the encounter at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Colin Calderwood made five changes from United’s previous League Two encounter, as Jake Doyle-Hayes and Hayden Coulson made their first starts for the U’s whilst Paul Lewis, Jake Carroll and Louis John all moved into the starting eleven.
A clever pass clipped in behind by Jevani Brown opened up the first chance of the game on five minutes, with Jabo Ibehre not quite able to stretch out a toe enough to nudge the ball beyond the onrushing Scott Flinders.
Paul Lewis pulled back a dangerous cross to find Jake Doyle-Hayes in space inside the Robins area two minutes later, but the midfielder’s side footer at goal was blocked by Ben Tozer ten yards out.
United suffered a heart in mouth moment on 19 minutes when a spill by Mitov under pressure from Rakish Bingham saw the ball ricochet across the U’s area where George Taft was fortunately able to clear.
They were not so lucky two minutes later though as Chris Hussey’s deep free kick found an unmarked Ben Tozer at the far post, whose pass back into United’s six yard box rebounded off Taft and into the net to open the scores.
Ibehre spurned the chance to level shortly before the half hour mark when he pulled an effort across the face of goal from an acute angle on the end of a well-played through ball from Brown.
Hayden Coulson looked to have got the better of Flinders moments before half time when the youngster’s cushioned volley looped over the Robins keeper but onto the top of the cross bar.
Ibehre tested Flinders with a fierce strike towards the bottom corner five minutes after half time, which the Robins keeper dived wildly to his right to get a strong right palm to.
However, it turned into a real uphill battle for the U’s on 55 minutes when Jacob Maddox wriggled away from four United would-be tacklers in midfield, and then set Billy Waters away down the left whose cross into the United area was directed goalwards and blocked on the line by Jake Carroll with his hand.
That resulted in the straight dismissal of the left-back and Conor Thomas stepped up for the following spot kick and sent Mitov the wrong way to double the host’s advantage.
Colin Calderwood increased the U’s attacking personnel introducing David Amoo and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy soon after, as they went in search of a way back into the encounter. With a man down they did look highly susceptible to a counter attack though and would have conceded a third were it not for an excellent stop by Mitov down quickly to his left to get a glove to a shot from Ryan Broom.
United looked certain to have pulled a goal back when Hepburn-Murphy angled an effort off his hip from Paul Lewis’ initial shot but denied with a point blank save from Flinders on 73 minutes.
An action packed second half continued when United were first denied a penalty at one end when both Taft and Amoo went to ground in the Robins area, before Billy Waters hit the U’s on the break in the same spell of play and was brought down by Doyle-Hayes for a second Cheltenham spot kick.
The former U’s loanee could not convert though as he fired high and wide which meant United just about hung in the encounter.
It mattered not come the final whistle though with the U’s unable to grab a foothold in the game as the hosts saw out their two goal advantage.
Cheltenham Town: Flinders, Hussey, Tozer, Thomas, Dawson, Broom, Boyle, Maddox, Waters (Lloyd, 90 mins), Raglan, Bingham (Duku, 84 mins)
Cambridge United: Mitov, John, Taylor, Taft, Carroll, Doyle-Hayes, Deegan (Hepburn-Murphy, 65 mins), Lewis, Brown, Coulson (Amoo, 65 mins), Ibehre (Jones, 76 mins)
Attendance: 2,339 (203)