Mark Perrow reports from Whaddon Road
Korey Smith scored twice to help ensure Steve Cotterill’s first return to Whaddon Road in competitive action ended in a comfortable victory for his much-changed side.
Wes Burns set City on their way with a 28th minute header, while Terry Gornell pulled one back for the hosts in between Smith’s second-half brace – his second a stunning late solo effort.
The result ensures City march on to the southern quarter-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy ahead of Saturday’s draw.
Having fielded the same XI for the past seven league outings, Cotterill made the maximum five changes to his side.
Out went Mark Little, Joe Bryan, Wade Elliott, Luke Freeman and Kieran Agard, with the quintet replaced by Scott Wagstaff, Greg Cunningham, Marlon Pack, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Burns respectively.
City, sporting the popular purple and lime away strip with a black-socked twist, enjoyed much of the early possession and looked menacing when Cunningham’s low cross just evaded the near-post run of Burns.
But it was Cheltenham who looked most likely to make a breakthrough with a flurry of chances on the quarter-hour mark.
First Jason Taylor’s skidding drive through a crowd of bodies required a plunging save from Frank Fielding, before the keeper had to be alert once more to keep out Byron Harrison’s header from the resulting corner.
When City surrendered possession again virtually straight away, Matt Richards supplied Harrison who neatly turned his man only to skew his shot wide from 14 yards.
It was an excellent spell for the hosts, but City soon settled and began to take control, as Smith steered Wagstaff’s left-footed cross a couple of yards wide before Burns
opened the scoring on 28 minutes.
Emmanuel-Thomas, playing deeper than he’s accustomed to in the Freeman role, had been very much on the periphery of things, but it was his teasing cross to the back post which invited Burns to leap and head his second City goal on his second City start.
From then on City controlled the tempo of the first half until Aden Flint’s slip offered half an opening to Harrison, but Smith recovered to make a timely block.
The visitors instantly broke as Burns ran at the Cheltenham defence, delaying his shot before striking the ball against a defender with Aaron Wilbraham ignored to his right.
Emmanuel-Thomas tried his luck from outside the box either side of the break but was too high on both occasions, although his influence would increase as the minutes ticked on.
It was his run from Cunningham’s neat inside pass that completely opened up the hosts, drawing defenders in before supplying Smith
to slot his first City goal.
At this point it was party time in the away end, with the travelling contingent greeting at least 20 consecutive passes with cries of ‘Olé’ in a fantastic team move which took City from their own box into Cheltenham’s before the move eventually broke down.
But protecting leads has become something of a concern for Cotterill in recent matches and his former club threw themselves a lifeline when substitute Gornell
’s header found the bottom corner just after the hour.
Suddenly there was a sense of belief about the home crowd who were urging their team forward, but twice City had clear opportunities to restore their two-goal cushion on the counter.
First the lively Burns showed admirable will to slide in and dispossess Cheltenham skipper Matt Taylor on the halfway line to put himself clean through on goal, but with all the time in the world the youngster tried to disguise his finish and only succeeded in shooting against the legs of Trevor Carson.
The Town keeper was in no position to keep out Wilbraham, captaining City on the night, when more good work from Emmanuel-Thomas laid on another golden chance, but this time the in-form veteran was off target, dragging his shot wide.
The Cheltenham challenge was fading and finally extinguished by a quite brilliant Smith
goal six minutes from time.
Sidestepping two challenges, the midfielder let fly with a rocket of a shot from 20 yards on the angle to beat Carson all ends up.
An unlikely scorer at the best of times, Smith combined with Emmanuel-Thomas before coming only inches away from a hat-trick with a curling effort worthy of the matchball that eluded the far post by no more than a lick of paint.