ROCHDALE 4 CHELTENHAM TOWN 1
A DISGRACE, a joke, pathetic, unacceptable and absolutely shocking.
Those were the words used by manager Mark Yates to describe Cheltenham Town's performance in their 4-1 defeat at Rochdale.
Only a virtuoso display from goalkeeper Scott Brown prevented an even more humiliating result against a team that had lost their previous four matches.
Brown has made more than 200 appearances for Cheltenham and it is unlikely he has ever been busier than he was at Spotland on Friday night, with the home side firing in 22 shots.
It was his heroics that kept the Robins on level terms until the 39th minute as they were completely overrun.
Centre-forward Dele Adebola was Rochdale's focal point, while wide men Ashley Grimes and Bobby Grant shone to leave Cheltenham chasing shadows.
No other team in League Two have kept more clean sheets than Cheltenham this season and that is what makes the amount of goals they have conceded away from home in recent weeks all the more bemusing.
They have shipped 17 goals in their last six away trips in the league and that includes a creditable clean sheet against leaders Gillingham.
When they lose, they do so spectacularly and that tendency to cave in points to mental weakness.
Brown was called into evasive action five times in the opening 15 minutes as Cheltenham's defence parted time and time again.
He made a remarkable triple save in the seventh minute, denying Grant and Grimes in quick succession before somehow recovering to touch Andrew Tutte's powerfully struck drive over the bar with his fingertips.
Brown then blocked Jason Kennedy's shot with his feet in the 12th minute and four minutes later Adebola raced through one-on-one, but once again Brown blocked to keep Rochdale out almost single-handedly.
Grant cracked a shot against the bar from 30 yards in the 18th minute with Brown for once a spectator.
It was going to take something special to beat him and Grant curled a perfectly placed shot inside the top left corner from the edge of the box after Kennedy had fed Adebola from the right.
Brown pulled off yet another save in the 44th minute, denying Kennedy, but Grimes latched onto a pass from Peter Cavanagh, after a mistake from Darren Carter, before finding the top right corner for a goal which matched the accuracy of Grant's opener.
Cheltenham had looked capable of causing Rochdale problems themselves earlier in the half, with Alan Bennett nodding a corner from Billy Jones wide and Shaun Harrad rounding goalkeeper Josh Lillis before seeing his shot cleared by a defender.
But they faded badly and the only surprise at the break was that Rochdale had only scored twice.
Yates sent on Jermaine McGlashan and Jeff Goulding at half-time, with Marlon Pack and Harrad making way.
Within three minutes Cheltenham had been handed a scarcely deserved lifeline as Jake Taylor's tame shot was parried by Lillis, only for defender Phil Edwards to inexplicably slice into his own net under very little pressure.
Bennett popped up at the far post to reach a flick on from Steve Elliott after a lovely Jones cross, but the skipper shot harmlessly wide and Rochdale soon regained the initiative.
A mistake from Bennett allowed Adebola to run through on goal again in the 57th minute, but Brown was once again equal to it.
Despite their defensive frailties, Cheltenham looked capable of finding a leveller, but Grimes scored his second in the 67th minute, curling another well placed shot inside the bottom right corner.
Less than two minutes later Grant cut inside Jones and shot low across Brown who stopped it, but he could only scoop it to Adebola, who tapped in from close range to complete Cheltenham's nightmare before Christmas.
They did rediscover a degree of solidity for the remainder of the match, although Brown remained overworked, leaving Yates fuming at his team's ineptitude.
ROCHDALE: J Lillis; R Bennett, R Edwards, P Edwards, K McIntyre; B Grant (R Putterill 82), A Tutte, J Kennedy (I Craney 86), P Cavanagh, A Grimes; D Adebola (G Donnelly 75). Subs not used: J Rafferty, B Barry-Murphy, M Pearson, B Smith.
CHELTENHAM TOWN: S Brown; S Jombati, A Bennett, S Elliott, B Jones; R Penn, M Pack (J McGlashan 46), D Carter, J Taylor (D Duffy 67); S Harrad (J Goulding 46), C Zebroski. Subs not used: K Lowe, S Deering, C Roberts, L D'Ath.
REFEREE: M Naylor.
STAR MAN: Scott Brown.