Cheltenham Town’s 10th away win of the League Two campaign has cemented the Robins’ place at the league’s summit with 12 games to play.
Andy Williams came off the substitutes bench to score in time added to earn Cheltenham a 1-0 win at Exeter City on Saturday.
Despite an ongoing injury crisis at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium, Michael Duff’s side have managed to win seven of their last nine League Two ties. With five clean sheets taken during that time, goalkeeper Josh Griffiths has become a vital part of the Robins’ successes so far this term.
The on-loan West Bromwich Albion shot-stopper has kept 16 clean sheets this season – more than any other goalkeeper in League Two, while only Swansea City, Hull City and Watford have recorded more during their respective EFL campaigns.
Away from home this season, Griffiths has kept clean sheets in 56% of the trips Cheltenham have made away from the West Country this campaign.
At St James Park, Griffiths made a crucial save to deny Robbie Willmott in the 84th minute, just before Alfie May was kept out by a fine stop at the other end by Jökull Andrésson.
Duff lauded his young goalkeeper after he watched his side collect an 18th win of the League Two campaign against the Grecians.
“The two keepers have made a good save each,” Duff said.
“They are vital and neither of them had much to do, but it’s big saves at big moments, when called upon. That save gives us the chance to go on and win the game.
“I thought it was a 1-0 game and if they’d scored that, we’d probably have been beaten 1-0. It had that feel about it, from quite an early stage.”
Despite Cheltenham having to manage an ongoing injury crisis, Griffiths has managed to provide a secure backbone behind a defensive line that has been chopped and changed in recent months.
Charlie Raglan missed Cheltenham’s win against Matt Taylor’s promotion-chasing Exeter in what was another injury blow to Duff on the eve of another important League Two clash.
The defender, who made his 100th Cheltenham appearance in an away defeat to Mansfield prior to the win in Devon on Saturday, has been played through the pain barrier in recent weeks.
“Rags is probably two or three weeks. He’s been playing with it for a while, but it got to a point when he couldn’t play,” Duff revealed.
“We took him off on Tuesday as a precaution, rather than the fact he was struggling, but he woke up the next day and eventually these things are going to catch up with you.
“It’s a case of do you take him out of the team, or potentially let it come off the bone. The key is rest him up, but this is why you have a squad and why you don’t just work with what could be perceived as the starting back five for most of the season.
“Everyone needs to know their jobs so when they do come in, because there is no time on the training ground, so a lot of the classroom work is with all of them involved.
“I am delighted for Lewis (Freestone), who came in and then back out. To come in again in such a big game, it was a close call between him and Grant (Horton), but he’s taken his chance and done well. Longy (Sean Long) has been excellent since he’s come in.
“I don’t know whether it’s his preferred position or not, but all last year he played right wing-back, but he’s added another string to his bow, playing as one of the side centre-halves. Obviously the lynch-pin of all that has been the captain (Ben Tozer).”
Defensive solidity is the foundation in which Duff’s side have been built for the past 18 months, having managed to shut-out their opposition on 30 occasions in the 70 games since the start of the last League Two campaign.
Against Exeter on Saturday, Cheltenham’s new-look back three marshalled danger man, Ryan Bowman, who has managed 12 goals for the Grecians this campaign in all competitions.
“I genuinely think he’s a good player and he does what he does really well. So I challenged the back three to be at it because if they didn’t look after him, we wouldn’t win the game,” Duff explained.
“They looked after him and kept him down to a minimum, especially when you look at the chances they’ve been creating and the goals they’ve been scoring this season.
“Even the Walsall game here, it was 0-0, but I am not sure how because they peppered the goal. I am really pleased with every aspect of the game today.”
Duff’s Cheltenham will continue to mount a League Two promotion bid as they welcome Barrow to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium on Tuesday evening for a 7pm kick-off.