Burton Albion came within five minutes of grabbing a hard earned point at the Abbey Business Stadium but were finally undone as Chris Zebroski pounced on a loose ball in the six yard box to grab all three points for Cheltenham Town and propel them back into the top three of League 2.
The Brewers had withstood a series of set pieces from left back Billy Jones throughout the game but when the former Exeter man swung in a corner with six minutes to go Albion failed to sufficiently clear their lines and Zebroski was on hand to poke home the ball as Mark Oxley tried in vain to gather the ball in.
Gary Rowett rang the changes for the visit to promotion chasing Cheltenham Town despite winning 2-1 at Plymouth Argyle in the week. Chris Palmer was rewarded for his role in Wednesday's victory with a starting role on the left hand side of midfield with Nathan Stanton moving across to left back to cover for the absence of the suspended Damien McCrory. The former Plymouth and Dagenham full back had played every minute of every game up to Wednesday but picked up his fifth yellow card of the season at Home Park to miss out on the trip to Whaddon Road. Marcus Holness was drafted into the centre of defence to fill the gap left by Stanton.
Albion returned to a 4-4-2 formation which allowed Matt Paterson to return to the starting line-up alongside leading scorer Calvin Zola. There was also a first appearance in the squad this season for club captain John McGrath. The midfielder had been missing from action since the end of February following a foot injury but he made the bench as Jacques Maghoma missed out altogether with an annkle knock picked up at Plymouth.
Albion's defence was soon under pressure and being sternly tested. After one early failed effort to cause problems from a set piece, Billy Jones swung in a seventh minute free kick from the left and defender Alan Bennett got up well to head firmly against the crossbar from six yards with Anthony O'Connor clearing the danger.
The home side had almost all of the play in the early stages and Albion's first effort of note was a twenty five yard effort from Calvin Zola in the twelfth minute that went well over the crossbar.
The danger of Jones' set pieces was evident and Albion had another let off in the eighteenth minute when a teasing centre this time from the right was met by the head of right back Sido Jombati with Burton just able to do enough to block the header.
Burton were struggling to get out of their own half and another free kick from Jones found the head of former Derby defender Steve Elliott on 28 minutes but his towering header failed to trouble Mark Oxley as it sailed over the crossbar.
Albion finally relieved the pressure and won a free kick on the left that was headed clear for a corner and as the ball came out from the set piece Jack Dyer sent a rasping drive just over the frame of the goal.
Cheltenham were soon back on the attack and a sweeping move started by Jones' free kick on the edge of his own penalty area soon had Jermaine McGlashan scampering away down the right with his cross cleared inside his own six yard box by O'Connor. The resulting corner was swung in and Chris Zebroski headed back across goal and just wide of the far post.
Burton quckly won a corner down at the other end and a teasing delivery from Palmer saw Brown half clear under pressure with Zola seeing a deflected effort ripple the side netting.
Albion briefly had shouts for a penalty as Zola held the ball up well inside the box and when he laid the ball into the path of Dyer there appeared to be a stray hand that helped block the youngster's shot.
Matt Paterson did have the ball in the back of the net as the first half came to a close. A neat finish from Jack Dyer's incisive pass was instantly ruled out as the referee's assistant quickly flagged that the Albion striker had made his run too early.
Half time: Cheltenham Town 0-0 Burton Albion
Kaid Mohamed almost gifted Albion an early in the early stages of the second half. His lazy backpass was picked off by Zola but his shot was straight at Scott Brown.
Russell Penn jinked his way into the area on 51 minutes but having worked room for the shot across Oxley the ex-Albion man watched as Oxley stuck out a hand to stop the ball and then gather it in.
The game was starting to open up in the second period and Albion were looking more of a threat. A superbly threaded pass from Chris Palmer on the hour mark picked out Zola and when he went for goal from a tight angle he was foiled by Brown who gathered the ball in at the second attempt.
Both sides made changes with a little over twenty minutes to go. Albion brought on Billy Kee in place of Matt Paterson and Cheltenham responded by taking off Kaid Mohamed and introducing Jeff Goulding.
Just before Cheltenham could make their change Albion made a rapid fire break down the right with Robbie Weir breaking away and seeing his cross just nicked away from Zola by Marlon Pack retreating into his own area.
Chris Palmer had a deflected effort pushed over the bar on 72 minutes as he cut in from the left and tried his luck, the Cheltenham keeper doing well to adjust his feet and tip the ball over.
Marcus Holness earned the first yellow card of the game on 73 minutes when he mistimed a challenge on Chris Zebroski down the Cheltenham left. The resulting free kick was launched into the Burton area by Jones and it came eventually for McGlashan who took aim for the far post only to see Lee Bell head off the line.
Shaun Harrad made his long awaited appearance for the home side with 12 minutes to play and it was in place of the other ex-Albion man Russ Penn as Cheltenham looked to go 4-4-2 for the remainder of the game.
However it was a let off for the hosts moments later as the ball came to Kee on the edge of the area and he unfortunately missed his kick and Cheltenham were able to clear.
Just when it looked like Albion were going to hold out their defence was finally breached on 85 minutes. Another teasing corner from Billy Jones caused havoc in the Burton six yard box and when Mark Oxley dropped the ball at the back post Chris ZEBROSKI was first to react and poke home.
Albion immediately sent on Cleveland Taylor in place of Jack Dyer to try and rescue things and in the 89th minute he sent in a teasing cross that Kee got his head to but could not quite divert into the net.
A late corner from Chris Palmer came nicely for Calvin Zola in the centre but he was foiled by Brown diving to his right.
CHELTENHAM: Brown, Jones, Carter, Elliott, Pack, McGlashan, Bennett, Penn, Jombati, Mohamed, Zebroski. Substitutes: Lowe, Deering, Duffy, Goulding, Roberts, Harrad, Andrew.
BURTON: Oxley; O'Connor, Holness, Diamond, Stanton; Dyer, Weir, Bell, Palmer; Zola, Paterson. Substitutes: Corbett, McGrath, Taylor, Richards, M.Palmer, Lyness, Kee.
Referee: Mr G. Scott (Oxfordshire)
GOALS: Cheltenham: Zebroski (85)
Attendance: 2.804 (236 away)