Cheltenham Town 4, Wycombe Wanderers 0.
TWO goals in the space of three first half minutes laid the foundations for Wanderers’ first defeat in six matches at promotion chasing Cheltenham.
Jake Taylor and Jeff Goulding were the men to do the damage as an inexperienced Blues team were beaten in League Two for the first time in over a month.
Defeat was sealed after the break by Darryl Duffy and Jermaine McGlashan as the Gloucestershire side stepped things up a gear on their way to a convincing Boxing Day victory.
Blues were without several key players but in truth even with their big players back they would have struggled to contain a Cheltenham side out to bounce back from a 4-1 loss against Rochdale that boss Mark Yates had described as a disgrace.
The Robins had impressed when they visited Adams Park earlier in the season and Blues can take some comfort from knowing they had come up against one of the top sides in the division.
Wanderers actually started on the front foot though and Charles Dunne headed wide from an early corner that had been won thanks to good hold up play from Dennis Oli.
The other half of the new-look Blues strike force, Jo Kuffour, bent the ball into the net at the culmination of a swift counter attack after the home side’s Darren Carter had a shot blocked by Kortney Hause, only to be denied by an offside flag.
The patched up Wanderers attack of Oli and Kuffour had played together for just 80 minutes in their respective Blues careers, and aside from goalkeeping coach Lee Harrison the substitutes’ bench consisted exclusively of teenagers.
That lack of experience showed as Cheltenham shook off their initial failure to make much of an attacking impression to pepper the visiting goal with shots, although the first from Goulding was slightly comical as he misdirected his flick on and Jordan Archer had to stretch to take the ball to stop the big striker accidentally opening the scoring.
The keeper then grabbed the ball at the second attempt as Taylor’s powerful long range effort slipped past him, before Sam Wood made a superb sliding recovery tackle on Darryl Duffy just when the number nine looked like he was clean through with just Archer to get past.
A series of corners to Wycombe followed as the inexperienced Blues felt their way back into the game before they were hit by two quickfire goals.
Firstly Wood’s acrobatic clearance was cleverly nodded out wide by Duffy and into Taylor’s path, with the Reading loanee confidently firing into the top corner of Archer’s net for his first Robins goal.
The celebrations for that goal had barely died down when Portuguese full-back Sido Jombati bought himself enough space on the right to whip over a perfect cross that Goulding didn’t even have to jump for as he despatched a header past the visiting keeper.
The Robins were now confidently bobbing along after that two goal salvo and Duffy almost added to that as his dinked effort clipped the woodwork on its way over, before the same player had a near post shot beaten out by Archer.
Things became even more testing for Blues as two changes were made to their line-up at the start of the second half, with Anthony Stewart replacing Dunne and Georges Ehui coming on for Josh Scowen.
Chances continued to go the home side’s way as winger Jermaine McGlashan cut inside off the right before testing Archer with a low drive that was well fielded by the Wycombe goalkeeper.
And it wasn’t long before the Robins added to their total. A wonderful disguised pass from Russell Penn set Taylor in the clear down the left, and his pinpoint cross was nodded home by Duffy for the goal his impressive all-round display warranted.
It was now starting to look like a question of how many Cheltenham would score as Taylor cut in off the left before Archer pulled off an excellent full-length save to tip his rasping effort around the post.
If fans were impressed by that then they were left stunned as a hammer of a volley from Darren Carter off a corner was somehow turned over the bar by the Scotland U21 international in a save that was followed by the sound of 3,000 jaws collectively hitting the ground in amazement.
But not even Wycombe’s in-form keeper could do anything about the fourth Cheltenham goal as Duffy and Carter toyed with the visiting defence on the edge of the area before Carter wriggled his way to the byline and pulled it back for McGlashan to tap home from a matter of inches.
In a rare moment of action in front of the 506 travelling fans substitute Keith Lowe came close to putting the ball into his own net during a goalmouth scramble, before normal service resumed as Taylor’s shot rose over the bar.
The impressive Carter twice came close to adding a fifth with powerful long range efforts, the first flying just wide and the second clattering off Hause before going over.
Kuffour headed a rare chance wide from a Gareth Ainsworth cross before substitute Lawson D’Ath was unlucky not to add to the Cheltenham total as his skidding shot was deflected agonisingly wide of the post.
Wanderers: Archer, McCoy, Hause, Dunne (sub Stewart), Wood, Ainsworth, Lewis, Scowen (sub Ehui), Andrade, Oli (sub Morias), Kuffour. Substitutes not used: Harrison, Angol, Kretzschmar, Ighorae.
Attendance: 3,501 (506 from Wycombe)