Iron captain Sam Slocombe expressed his delight after seeing his side secure a potentially crucial 2-0 victory over Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road on Tuesday night.Having dominated the majority of the opening half, United took the lead on the stroke of half-time when leading marksman Sam Winnall’s netted his 20th of the season with an improvised overhead-kick from a Gary McSheffrey free-kick.
The pair combined again just before the hour-mark to double the Iron’s advantage, this time Winnall rising highest to flick a McSheffrey delivery from wide past Robins goalkeeper Scott Brown.
That goal seemed to have put United on course for a routine victory in Gloucestershire, but within moments of Winnall’s second they found their authority called into question when David Mirfin was adjudged to have pushed Jermaine McGlashan in the penalty-area – with referee Charles Breakspear pointing to the spot.
However, Slocombe produced some increasingly characteristic heroics to palm away Matt Richards’ spot-kick low to his right and preserve the Iron’s 2-0 lead as they eventually saw out the win with few other dramas to mention.
The result saw United rack up their third successive victory following wins over Plymouth Argyle and Burton Albion in the previous 10 days, and Slocombe told The Iron Player: “It was quite a difficult game today, off the back of Saturday.
“It’s come quite quickly, and I think if you watched how we started the game it’s taken us a while to get into it. In the first 10 minutes we actually dealt with their shape quite well, but after that they got into the game a bit more and we didn’t really step on.
“I think that was a bit of tired legs from Saturday, but also getting used to their shape. They played a bit of a different shape compared to most teams who have come up against us, but once we got hold of that and linked some passes together we had a lot of chances in the first half.
“They were half-chances, not clear-cut, but the football we played was decent. After that, we stepped on the gas in the second half. It was a good early goal in the second half to take us to 2-0, and then we’ve seen the game out fantastically in the last 10 minutes.”
In scoring just seconds before the interval, United set themselves up perfectly for the second period while also sapping the morale out of a Chesterfield outfit who may well have been satisfied with their efforts had they gone into the break level.
It also changed the approach of each of Iron boss Russ Wilcox and Robins manager Mark Yates ahead of the restart, and Slocombe added: “It’s always nice to come out in the second half leading, and the point in time when we did get it [the first goal] was massive.
“That would have changed his [Yates’] team-talk at half-time massively. If it’s 0-0 going into half-time he’s going to be delighted, but it changes it a bit at 1-0.
“You could see by the way they played the second half that it did affect it, because the game became a bit more stretched and we got on the ball more and took our chances.”
Slocombe’s 61st minute penalty save – his fourth denial out of five spot-kicks faced so far this season – is proof of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in preparation for matches, with Head Performance Analyst Harry Dunn heavily involved in researching such matters.
It also helped the 25-year-old ‘stopper register his 17th clean sheet of the current campaign, and he admitted: “It did give us a little boost [the save].
“To be honest, I’ve not really been the busiest of goalkeepers for the past two games, and that’s all credit to the lads in front of us.
“I don’t believe it was a penalty today. If it was, it was a very soft one, but it was important to make the safe and then see out the game from them on.
United’s ability to do just that saw them maintain their seven point lead over the teams sitting outside the automatic promotion places, while also keeping them within touching distance of league leaders Rochdale as they look to continue their charge towards a return to League One at the first time of asking.
Given the Iron are now unbeaten in 23 matches – equalling a 125-year Football League record in the process – such an advantage with just seven games of the regular season now remaining is significant, and
Slocombe added: “It’s one more game down, so it’s one game less for somebody else to make a little charge.
“The important thing was we had to match what everyone else had done. I think everyone else was at home; we’ve gone away and won the game, so when we’re playing at home the majority of them will be playing away.
“We’ve just got to make sure we really step on the gas now.”
See much more from Sam Slocombe, Russ Wilcox and Sam Winnall on The Iron Player.