Derby County sealed a Championship return by beating already-relegated Carlisle United 2-0 at Pride Park on the final day of the League One season.

Derby knew a single point would end their two-year stay in the third tier of English football, with Bolton Wanderers waiting to pounce if the Rams did suffer a shock defeat.

However, such a slip-up never looked likely as Max Bird's powerful strike from outside the area put them ahead within five minutes, and James Collins added a close-range second on the hour mark to make certain of promotion.

Paul Warne's team finished five points behind Portsmouth, who clinched the title earlier this month, and five clear of Bolton – who needed a late equaliser from Cameron Jerome to draw 3-3 with Peterborough. 

Bolton will face Barnsley in the play-offs as the Tykes were not punished for their 1-1 draw with Northampton Town, defeats for Blackpool and Lincoln City denying them the chance to gatecrash the top six.

Fourth-placed Peterborough will face Oxford United in the other play-off semi-final, as the U's clinched a 2-1 win over Exeter City to claim fifth place in the final reckoning. 

Three of the four relegation places had already been decided before Saturday's matches, with Carlisle, Port Vale, and Fleetwood Town on their way to League Two.

Cheltenham will join them after Nick Freeman struck a 90th-minute winner in their 2-1 loss at Stevenage. Darrell Clarke's side needed a win to save themselves and send Burton Albion down in their place, but they were hit with a late sucker punch as their three-year stay in League One came to an end. 

Darrell Clarke has called for Cheltenham’s fans to travel in numbers as they bid to escape the drop in League One with a final-day win at Stevenage.

Tuesday’s 2-0 home victory over Peterborough kept their hopes alive, sealed by first-half goals from Joe Nuttall and Matty Taylor, leaving them two points behind Burton.

They must win at Stevenage and hope Burton fail to beat Fleetwood and or Cambridge lose to Port Vale.

“I thought the boys were magnificent tonight and we needed to be,” Clarke said.

“Now, we take it to the last game of the season. It was a really good atmosphere tonight and the fans were great so hopefully we can get as many of them as possible down to Stevenage and fill the away end because we need everybody there trying to cheer us on for a win.

“When I came in we had one point and no goals, so of course I would have snapped your hand off for this position with one game left, with 44 points.

“The lads have been magnificent over a period of time and there is a real togetherness in the group, even when we took a lot of knocks recently.

“We have bounced back and found that really good performance. We need to find that last really good performance in the last game of the season.”

With their play-off spot already secured, Posh boss Darren Ferguson rested a host of regulars, making seven changes.

And his youthful side were blown away in the first half by the Robins, who knew anything other than a win meant relegation with one game to play.

Nuttall reacted quickest to bundle the ball over the line from close range after goalkeeper Nicholas Bilokapic could only parry Liam Sercombe’s shot in the 11th minute.

The lead was doubled 10 minutes later when Taylor brought down a ball forward from Lewis Freestone and applied an expert finish.

Taylor crashed a shot against the post in the 32nd minute after Liam Kinsella’s pass and Elliott Bonds forced Bilokapic into a smart save two minutes later.

Posh threatened through Ricky-Jade Jones before half-time, but they were second best and Taylor and Bonds both forced Bilokapic into evasive action in the second half.

At the other end, Luke Southwood parried Jonson Clarke-Harris’ shot in the 58th minute and kept out a late header from the centre forward.

Ferguson admitted his team struggled from the first whistle.

“They got on top of us and we couldn’t sustain any sort of control,” he said.

“The goals were terrible goals to give away, you can’t give goals away like that.

“We spoke about the first 20 minutes before we left the hotel – we had to see that through and try and make sure we dealt with them because we knew they’d be straight down our throats and they were and we conceded two soft goals.

“There were certain things we worked on that we didn’t do well enough, but the goals were poor and you can’t give goals away like that, especially tonight because they got so much energy from it.

“The longer the game went on and they hadn’t scored, the more chances we were going to get. We knew we had pace in behind and I have to say we had five or six very good opportunities as well.

“Congratulations to Cheltenham, they go into Saturday still with a chance of staying up.”

Michael Skubala hailed the character of his Lincoln side after they came from behind to win 2-1 at Cheltenham and move into the League One play-off places with one game left.

Relegation battlers Cheltenham led through Liam Sercombe’s early penalty, but Joe Taylor levelled before half-time and Freddie Draper won it seven minutes after the break.

The Imps’ top six destiny is in their own hands, with a home match against champions Portsmouth to finish, while Cheltenham’s place in the third tier is now hanging by a thread.

“We knew it was going to be tough coming here,” Skubala said.

“We know how much they were fighting for every point so they could stay up.

“They started the game brighter than us and we didn’t begin it as ourselves.

“In the second half we came out and blew them away a little bit and could have probably scored more.

“It was a brilliant second half and everyone worked hard, digging deep to get those points.

“The 1,000-plus fans really got behind the team and pushed us on when we were 1-0 down.

“It really counted and helped us get back into the game. They drove us on.

“The character of the group is amazing and if we looked back months ago to be told we’d be in a position where we’re sixth with the champions coming to our place to face us as we look to clinch a place in the play-offs we’d have all taken it. It’s up to us now.”

A midweek win at Burton had kept Cheltenham’s survival hopes alive but the defeat leaves them five points from safety with just two games left to play.

Manager Darrell Clarke is refusing to throw in the towel while survival remains a possibility.

“I am gutted, first of all, but we still have to try and take it to the last game of the season,” Clarke said.

“We have to win on Tuesday night (Peterborough at home) and then anything can happen in the last game (at Stevenage). We have to do that.

“We have to appreciate moments in the game today where we should score.

“In the first half we had some golden opportunities so to come in at half-time only 1-1 is disappointing because we’d opened them up a few times and the gameplan was working.

“The first half was the best we’ve played at home for a long time.

“I was then disappointed with the second half as a whole because we huffed and puffed, with players tiring.”

Darrell Clarke was delighted to see his out-of-form Cheltenham side come from behind to take a 2-1 League One win from relegation rivals Burton.

“It’s a good comeback win,” Clarke said. “It’s a must comeback win in a real pressure game where I thought we had to win it and we’ve done that.”

Albion had edged ahead in a poor first half when substitute Steve Seddon fired home after a long throw into the Cheltenham box in first half added time.

But the visitors hit back after half-time through the experience of striker Matty Taylor, with the equaliser and a first goal for the club for 39-year-old Curtis Davies to seal the win with a header from Will Ferry’s corner.

“The response in the second half was very good,” Clarke added. “Matty Taylor does what he does with a great finish and it was about time Curtis got a goal. He is a proper guy and I have got a lot of time for him.

“He has really stood up and been counted over a consistent period this season and I am delighted for him to get the winner.”

Cheltenham now have their fate in their own hands and Clarke issued a “call to arms” to fans to get behind the side with two home games to come.

“Now we take it to the final week of the season in our own hands, so this is a call to arms,” he said.

“We are depleted with a lot of players out and I just want the fans to turn up in their numbers on Saturday and Tuesday and really get behind the boys because I think they deserve it.

“We need to turn the next two games into a fortress and see if we can get over the line.”

Burton boss Martin Paterson was left facing up to an eighth home loss in a row which keeps the Brewers firmly in the relegation dogfight and frustrated at how his side failed to build on a first-half lead.

“We didn’t come out for the second half,” he said. “I thought they started the game brighter than us then after 20 minutes, we started stepping towards the ball and looking dangerous and we got a goal to go in at half-time with everything in our own hands.

“Two set plays and goals in the second half and people not doing their jobs. Simple as that.”

Albion have one last chance on home soil against Reading on Saturday to grab a much-needed home win and the magnitude of the game was not lost on Paterson.

He added: “This was a huge game and Saturday is a huge game. We have just come off the back of a good performance at Stevenage so if the drop off can go one way, I am pretty sure it can go the other way as well.”

Darrell Clarke admitted his Cheltenham side are “falling at the last hurdle” in their survival bid after they went down 1-0 at home to already-relegated Carlisle.

Sam Lavelle’s first-half goal was enough to seal the points for the Cumbrians, whose fate was sealed by a 2-0 defeat at Northampton last Saturday.

Cheltenham knew a win would lift them out of the bottom four for the first time since mid-August, but they came up short and Clarke admitted he is scratching his head over the performance.

“I am very disappointed with our performance and with the whole night,” Clarke said.

“Yet again, after a poor first half, I am searching for answers and I am not coming up with the right solutions at the minute.

“The group is lacking a bit of confidence, but it’s no excuse and I’ll take responsibility as manager.

“We are falling at the last hurdle as things stand, and that’s not acceptable after working so hard to give ourselves a platform to stay in this division.

“I have to get better, the group has to get better as well and we have to give our supporters a lift come 3pm on Saturday (at home to Bristol Rovers).”

Carlisle were the better side during a cagey first half.

Joe Nuttall missed a good opportunity to give Cheltenham the lead in the sixth minute, side-footing wide after Liam Sercombe’s pass.

Georgie Kelly saw a shot saved by Luke Southwood at the other end and Luke Armstrong fired wide of the near post.

Jack Armer blasted over the bar for the Cumbrians, but the deadlock was broken three minutes before half-time.

Jack Robinson’s corner was headed back across goal by Ben Barclay and Lavelle touched it in from close range.

Cheltenham sent on four substitutes at half-time and changed formation, resulting in some early pressure on the visitors’ goal.

But goalkeeper Harry Lewis was rarely troubled and Southwood had to fly at full stretch to keep out a looping effort from Jon Mellish in the 77th minute.

Carlisle boss Paul Simpson was pleased with his side’s attitude.

“It was one of those games where we had to roll our sleeves up, put our tin hats on and defend for our lives and that’s what we did,” he said.

“I was really pleased with so many things in what has been a tough time for us.

“It was a good goal and then we had to hang on because Cheltenham are fighting for their lives.

“It’s a good result and makes the journey home more enjoyable. I’m still adamant I want the players to do something now at home for our fans as they’ve been starved of a good 90 minutes. We now have two home games to do that.

“It’s been really painful what we’ve been through this year, but the truth is we just haven’t been good enough.

“I think the players who are still here next year will be better for the experience.”

Darrell Clarke admitted it had been a frustrating afternoon for the visitors after his Cheltenham side suffered a 3-1 defeat at Leyton Orient to leave them two points from safety in the Sky Bet League One relegation zone.

Ethan Galbraith and Ollie O’Neill left the visitors chasing the game with first-half goals before Orient’s leading scorer Ruel Sotiriou ended his nine-match barren run with a superb strike late on.

Substitute Joe Nuttall reduced the deficit with a goal in the final minute of stoppage time but Clarke was left to ponder the uphill struggle ahead if his team are to avoid the drop.

“We started the game quite well, particularly in the first 20 minutes, but then we conceded two goals from outside the box that really we could have done better by getting closer at the edge of the box and blocking the shots,” Clarke said.

“I was frustrated at half-time and looking for solutions to the problems we had in the first half and try to get the next goal because the game is not over at 2-0. I think if we had taken our chances and got that next goal, we would have kicked on. It’s all ifs, buts and maybes and now we have to go again.

“Probably the last two or three games have been 45-minute performances and we need to start putting 90-minute performances together.

“I’ve just said to the players, ‘we’re still in this race’, we kept going to the end and I believe there is enough in there to keep us in this division, albeit not on today’s showing.

“I will make sure I get the right answers for the team but we will have to perform better than we did today.”

O’s boss Richie Wellens saw his side collect maximum points at home for the first time in four matches.

“We missed the easier chances today with a couple of one-on-ones and could have scored a few more goals but we also scored three excellent finishes,” he said.

“I thought the keeper should have saved Galbraith’s goal but O’Neill’s goal was good and so was Sotiriou’s. I wasn’t happy with him to be honest because he was a bit sulky and his reactions weren’t great but I know he has a goal in him.

“That game should have been more comfortable than it was but we lacked discipline and gave opportunities away. They could have scored four goals today. I was disappointed we conceded to the one at the end because we wanted the clean sheet.

“This is the first game we’ve played when we can’t achieve anything but we respect the league and the teams fighting, so we played a strong team as well as given Zech Obiero a start at 18 years old, so overall it was a good day.”

Boss Darrell Clarke hailed the attitude of Cheltenham striker Aidan Keena after the Irishman’s first goal of the season secured a vital 2-1 win at relegation rivals Fleetwood.

Liam Sercombe put the Robins in front after half an hour but Ryan Graydon levelled for Fleetwood in the 79th minute.

Keena, publicly backed by Clarke all season, then fired in from close range after good work from Joe Nuttall on the left to end a 327-day drought and Fleetwood’s six-game unbeaten run.

Clarke said: “It’s about the lad’s attitude and how he goes about it. He is a great character in the changing room and he has a lot of bad banter but he is working very hard to improve his game.

“That’s all you can ask from your players, showing that commitment and desire and when you work hard and play well you get those opportunities to be able to score a goal.

“It was a nice bit of play, with a great little ball from Joe, who is getting fitter and stronger by the day which is good because we are going to need him with the injuries to our forwards.

“All I can ever ask of my boys is to keep listening, taking on board what we are trying to do and I back everybody that plays for me, giving the effort and commitment that these lads do.

“Keeno has done that since I’ve been in the building and I said to him when you do that, when you work hard, your luck changes. It’s a massive win for us.”

Cheltenham were the better side during a first half played in almost continuous rain on a heavy pitch.

Sercombe opened the scoring after a nod down from George Lloyd, switching the ball on to his left foot and curling into the bottom-left corner for his ninth of the season.

Cheltenham pushed for a second but it remained 1-0 at half-time and Fleetwood asked more questions of their visitors in the second period.

Bosun Lawal shot just wide in the 59th minute after Ryan Broom’s pass and Graydon saw an effort parried by Robins goalkeeper Luke Southwood.

Promise Omochere set up the equaliser for substitute Graydon but Fleetwood were only on level terms for three minutes as Keena won it to take Cheltenham to within two points of Burton in 20th.

Fleetwood boss Charlie Adam was angry with his team’s performance.

He said: “We are extremely disappointed. We asked the crowd to come and give us energy and enthusiasm and they did that.

“But unfortunately we never performed. In the first half, it was unacceptable. I felt it was back to where we were at the start, when we first came in the building.

“Again, I won’t accept it. I won’t accept people jogging or not being at it because it’s not what we can afford.

“We’ll look at it, we’ll dissect it and we are hugely disappointed in terms of the result. It’s a little setback for us but we have to go again on Monday.”

Barnsley head coach Neill Collins was left frustrated as his promotion-chasing side were held to a 0-0 draw by League One strugglers Cheltenham.

The Tykes had numerous chances to break the deadlock but could not find a way through a resilient Cheltenham side who are fighting for survival.

The draw prevented Barnsley from moving up to fourth and they now sit seven points behind the automatic promotion places.

Collins said: “I don’t think the players did an awful lot wrong. We’re really frustrated because obviously it’s a game at home that we expect to win.

“It felt right up until the 96th minute that we could score.

“It’s hard to be too critical because I think on another day we get that first goal and we go on and win the game.

“(We’ve got) a couple of lessons to learn. We’re all frustrated but I think what probably makes it feel worse is we just had that disappointment here last week (a 5-1 home defeat to Lincoln) and we wanted to put it right today.”

On regular captain Jordan Williams dropping to the bench, Collins said: “Jordan’s played more football than anyone in our team.

“I felt today we needed the extra height at the back to deal with aerial balls. Then (at) right wing-back, I felt Corey (O’Keefe) deserved the opportunity because I think he’s been good.”

Cheltenham head coach Darrell Clarke was pleased with the result, which edged his side to within four points of safety.

“Clean sheet, point at a tough, top-six team to come up against,” Clarke said.

“They ask you a lot of questions in different variations of the game and we defended our box well at times. We had a couple of opportunities as well.

“We’ve had a lot of illness, a lot of injury in the camp and the boys dug in well to gain that point.

“It wasn’t pretty on the eye at times. We didn’t have enough control, for me.

“We had to dig in, we had to defend. But like I said, the lads are putting their bodies on the line.

“The lads were on their last legs at the end there.

“We huffed and we puffed, couldn’t quite get that goal but a clean sheet away at Barnsley, against a team that scores a lot of goals is pleasing.”

Clarke picked out the performance of 39-year-old defender Curtis Davies.

“That experience in the backline helps us at times just to settle things down,” Clarke added.

“I’ve forgotten the amount of balls he headed out the six-yard-box for us, which is why he’s in there and he’s important for us. A great lad.”

Cheltenham boss Darrell Clarke praised defender Tom Bradbury for another fine performance after his late goal-line clearance preserved a valuable point against Burton.

It was an uninspiring contest between the relegation rivals, with Cheltenham controlling much of the first half without seriously testing visiting goalkeeper Max Crocombe.

However, Burton nearly snatched the points deep into added time at the end of the game, when Manchester United loanee Joe Hugill reached a ball over the top ahead of advancing Cheltenham keeper Luke Southwood.

His shot rolled towards an empty net, but Bradbury chased it and timed his lunge to perfection, clearing just as the ball was about to cross the line.

“It was great defending,” Clarke said. “Tom has been great since I’ve been in the building.

“He’s had to wait for his chance and he’s taken it because he is defending superbly at the minute.

“He has to keep that focus and concentration levels to try and turn him into a decent League One player and that’s what we are trying to do with Tom and numerous players we have in the squad, trying to get them to hit the levels.

“With recent performances and not just today, Tom is doing that because he’s been very strong.”

Clarke was disappointed to see his side lose their impetus in the second half and he felt a draw was the fair result.

“It was a frustrating second-half performance from ourselves,” he said.

“In the first half, we had a lot of control, got into some dangerous areas and I was hoping for us to kick on second half, but we didn’t do that.

“We didn’t create the opportunities I like to create and we didn’t get our forward play going.”

Despite having most of the possession during the first half, they could not muster a shot on target.

Burton’s Ademola Ola-Adebomi saw an effort comfortably saved by Southwood in the 13th minute, but defences were very much on top, with several important blocks in both boxes.

Cheltenham felt they should have been awarded a penalty in the 28th minute when George Lloyd went down under a challenge from Steve Seddon, but referee Thomas Parsons waved away their appeals.

Tom Hamer made an excellent challenge on the line to deny Matty Taylor in the 32nd minute before Seddon fired one high over the bar.

Ola-Adebomi also shot over in the 58th minute and Cheltenham threatened late on when Josh Harrop’s cross was met by Taylor, but it was blocked in the box, before Bradbury’s stoppage-time intervention saved a point for the hosts.

Burton boss Martin Paterson admitted he thought Hugill’s shot was going to trickle in.

“As I was watching it roll, I was right behind it and I was trying everything, I even tried to let a little blow out,” he said.

“I don’t know what was going on and whether it got stuck in the mud, but I was trying to get that ball over the line, even though it’s impossible!

“Joe came on and looked sharp and again, had a chance on goal, so that is food for thought.

“Cheltenham are fourth in the form table so I knew it was going to be a hard combative game.

“I thought we defended really well and we were better in the second half. We showed promise in front of goal, but we’ll respect the point and ultimately it’s a good point.”

Cheltenham twice hit back from behind to claim a 3-2 home win over League One relegation rivals Port Vale and spoil Darren Moore’s first game in charge.

Nathan Smith’s header and an own goal from Curtis Davies put Vale ahead, but strikes from Matt Taylor, Jack Shepherd and Will Ferry secured the points for Darrell Clarke’s side against his former club.

Luke Southwood had to save well twice to deny Ethan Chislett as Vale threatened early on and they went ahead when Smith headed in Conor Grant’s corner in the 25th minute.

Lewis Freestone was close to a leveller and Vale goalkeeper Connor Ripley blocked well from George Lloyd.

Taylor levelled after a free-kick routine involving Tom Pett, with the veteran striker stroking in his third goal in four appearances since joining the club.

Liam Kinsella and Taylor went close to giving Cheltenham the lead early in the second half.

Vale claimed the next goal when Southwood parried Chislett’s shot and Davies turned the ball into his own net under pressure from James Wilson in the 65th minute.

But Cheltenham responded quickly with Shepherd lashing in a superb volley four minutes later.

Ferry then won it, jinking past several challenges in the box before applying a neat finish for his first Cheltenham goal in the 73rd minute.

Darrell Clarke praised midfielder Elliot Bonds after his brace earned Cheltenham a comfortable 2-0 home win over Blackpool.

The midfielder scored the first double of his career on his 100th appearance for the club, finding the net in each half to give the Robins’ survival chances a huge lift.

“He’s taken his goals well, run up and down the pitch and defended well so it was a top all-round performance from Elliot Bonds,” Clarke said.

“He had a bit of a breather on Saturday, came back in and scored a couple, which is great.

“They have good players and if we allowed them too much possession they could have hurt us so we played two eights, with Kins (Liam Kinsella) and Bondsy ready to jump and they did that job brilliantly.

“I’d probably go as far as to say that’s our best performance since I have been at the club.”

Sean Long’s 31st-minute corner from the right fell to Bonds after a scramble and he found the net with a low left-footed finish.

George Lloyd was tripped in the box by Jordan Gabriel but Daniel Grimshaw dived low to his right to push away Aidan Keena’s well-struck spot kick in the 75th minute.

Bonds then made sure of the points five minutes from the end, beating Grimshaw after a neat turn and finish.

Blackpool boss Neil Critchley felt his side were second best on the night.

“We got what we deserved because we weren’t good enough from start to finish,” he said.

“I’ve praised the players recently for their spirit and fight but we were well off it.

“The better team won and that’s hard to take.

“That’s not a performance I’d associate with a Blackpool team while I’ve been in charge. We had a vulnerability about us all night which isn’t like us.

“The performances in the last few games have deserved more – not tonight.

“There are still games to go and I’d have said before tonight we could go on a run. Tonight makes that look less likely.

“Cheltenham thoroughly deserved their win and we respect them.”

Cheltenham boss Darrell Clarke was left “bewildered” after Victor Adeboyejo earned Bolton a controversial 1-0 Sky Bet League One victory.

Adeboyejo netted his eighth goal of the campaign after 24 minutes but Clarke and his players were convinced George Lloyd had equalised nine minutes into the second half.

Instead, referee Ben Speedie signalled offside against Town skipper Sean Long, even though his assistant Joe Simpson did not initially raise his flag. The two consulted before Lloyd’s effort was finally chalked off.

“The performance was good with chances and opportunities created,” said Clarke. “But I need to ask the referee why he disallowed a goal and the linesman didn’t give offside.

“I’m still bewildered by it to be honest. I’m going to ask for answers.

“It looked to me the referee has given offside. How does that work? I’m angry and frustrated.

“When you are coming to a top team like Bolton you need the rub of the green. I think they are going to finish in the top two at the end of the season.

“For me, my boys deserved a bit of that but it wasn’t to be.”

Cheltenham’s defeat leaves them 22nd and seven points from safety. But Clarke issued a defiant message.

“We are going to go toe-to-toe with everyone and have a right go until the end of the season. We’re not going to make things comfortable for any opposition.”

Bolton’s return to winning ways after last Saturday’s defeat at Leyton Orient sees them just one point off an automatic promotion place.

On the game’s potential turning point, Evatt said: “It was a brilliant decision by the ref.

“Darrell was furious at the time because the player was actually onside. But it was impacting players who started offside and blocked our defenders from recovering.

“They have impacted the action, so it was a fantastic decision.”

On his team’s below-par display, Evatt added: “Come the end of the season no one will remember the performance.

“The most important thing was the three points. Believe it or not that’s five wins out of six

“This league is hard, no one is going to make it easy for you. It’s amazing how one defeat can effect your psyche and mindset.

“It is finding a way to win because you can’t play well every week.

“We looked a bit jittery and nervous which I don’t really understand.

“The way to deal with that is to go for it even more and not try and go safe and do what we did tonight.

“We are not used to losing games, so we have to deal better with the losses.

“That win will do them a world of good.”

Cheltenham boss Darrell Clarke hailed midfielder Liam Sercombe’s influence after his quickfire brace sealed a shock 2-1 home win over leaders Portsmouth.

Pompey had taken the lead through a 49th-minute own goal but the Robins responded quickly, with Sercombe’s first brace for the club sealing three valuable points in their battle against the drop.

The vastly experienced Sercombe has scored four goals in his last five games and is clearly enjoying life under Clarke, who also managed him at Bristol Rovers.

“Sercs has done that all his career and he knows where the back of the net is,” Clarke said.

“They were great goals and he is leading by example. He’s an important, senior member of my team and he’s done the business today.

“He did his job and then I took him off to shore it up in midfield and said ‘come and sit with me Sercs – two brilliant goals mate!’ but he was excellent.”

Cheltenham remain in the bottom four, but their sixth win in 15 games under Clarke has given them renewed belief that they can survive.

“The way the boys put their bodies on the line was absolutely tremendous,” he said.

“I am delighted to come back from a goal down and win the game as well. I am over the moon with it.”

Portsmouth were on top for much of the first half, with Abu Kamara a major threat.

But they failed to seriously test goalkeeper Luke Southwood, who made comfortable saves from Sean Raggett and Marlon Pack.

Kamara had the ball in the net before half-time, but the whistle had already been blown for a foul on him and it was ruled out.

But Paddy Lane’s cross was helped on by Raggett and Tom Bradbury deflected it into his own net under pressure from Colby Bishop in the 49th minute.

Portsmouth were in front for less than two minutes, with Will Ferry’s long throw-in hooked in by Sercombe in the 51st minute.

The winner came when George Lloyd dispossessed Conor Shaughnessy in the 54th minute, allowing Sercombe to smash into the roof of the net for his sixth of the season.

Pompey boss John Mousinho felt his team controlled the game and should have had two penalties.

“By the time we went 1-0 up I felt we deserved the lead,” Mousinho said.

“There were five minutes of absolute madness from us when they scored, but after that we dominated.

“We should’ve had two penalties, but ended up with two bookings for diving. It was a disappointing afternoon.

“A lot of stuff didn’t go for us as far as refereeing decisions go, but we didn’t lose the game because of that, we lost it because of our own sloppy errors.

“I can live with today because we performed pretty well, but I’m still puzzled as to how we lost it.

“As much as it’s a blow, we need to dust ourselves down and go again.”

Cheltenham boss Darrell Clarke said he would have “snapped your hand off” to be on 20 points at the halfway stage of the League One campaign after their 2-2 home draw with Reading.

The Robins led 2-0 before a quickfire double from the Royals just before half-time levelled things up and Cheltenham had to settle for a point against the team directly above them in the table.

But when Clarke took over at the end of September, Cheltenham looked to be in a hopeless position, with no goals and just one point on the board.

“We are disappointed we haven’t won the game because we had a mad five-minute spell at the end of the first half,” he said.

“In the first half we were in full control and their keeper pulled off two or three great saves.

“But I am a realist at the same time and seven points out of the three Christmas games so far and to be on 20 points at the halfway mark of the season after only getting one from the first 11 has given us a decent building block to try and attack the second half of the season.

“I am going to give my players lots of credit, sitting here on 20 points after having one from 11, I’d have snapped your hand off for that.

“We now have to keep working hard and improving what we are doing but we look like a side now, which is pleasing. We didn’t look like a side when I first came into the building.”

An inspired David Button denied Liam Sercombe, George Lloyd and Lewis Freestone as Reading were forced to withstand considerable pressure in the opening 25 minutes at a packed Completely-Suzuki Stadium.

But the opener arrived in the 29th minute with Sercombe sliding to touch Sean Long’s low ball in from the right.

The lead was doubled in the 37th minute when Button blocked an effort from Freestone only for a clearance from Amadou Mbengue to hit his own goalkeeper and fly into the net.

The overworked Button denied Ben Williams in the 42nd minute but the game then turned with Lewis Wing’s corner headed in at the back post by Jeriel Dorsett in the 45th minute.

Then, two minutes into time added on at the end of the first half, Wing’s cross was glanced into the net by Paul Mukairu.

Wing’s free-kick was pushed away by a diving Luke Southwood in the 69th minute and Nathan Butler-Oyedeji curled one just wide for Cheltenham deep into stoppage time as it finished all square.

Reading boss Ruben Selles was pleased with the way his team fought their way back into the game.

He said: “They were the best team in the first 45 minutes but after it was 2-0 we realised we could compete in the game.

“The good thing is the boys went through some difficult moments together but fought back. We changed the momentum after 40 minutes.

“I’m very proud of the effort and togetherness they showed. We now just want to play more games and get more points. You always want more but the team looks solid.”

George Lloyd was described as “unplayable” by Cheltenham assistant boss Adam Murray after the striker’s brace helped the Robins move off the bottom of the League One table with a 2-0 home win over Shrewsbury.

Lloyd nodded in the hosts’ opener in the first half before sealing matters with a second goal five minutes from time.

Cheltenham have now picked up five wins from 12 games under boss Darrell Clarke and assistant Murray hailed Lloyd’s impact on his return to the starting XI.

“From what I’ve seen of Lloydy, he is one unbelievable player,” Murray said.

“I know he’s been at the club a long time and probably not got the goals that his work-rate and talent deserves.

“I know in the past, Micky Moore (former director of football, now at Shrewsbury) has worked really hard to keep him at the club and it’s
paid dividends because when he is like that, he truly is unplayable.

“I’d imagine if we cut him open, his heart would be as big as him.”

Lloyd nodded in Liam Sercombe’s free-kick from the right in the 34th minute to put the fast-improving Robins on course in front of their highest home turnout of the campaign.

And Lloyd touched in Tom Bradbury’s downward header from Sean Long’s corner to seal the points five minutes from the end.

Sercombe tested Marko Marosi with a powerful drive in the ninth minute, but chances were at a premium in a cagey first half.

A low shot from Shrews midfielder Carl Winchester was well blocked by Lewis Freestone and Winchester blasted one wide against his old club before Lloyd’s opener.

Taylor Perry fizzed a shot wide early in the second half for the visitors, before Cheltenham nearly doubled their lead in the 63rd minute.

The outstanding Lloyd set up ex-Shrews striker Rob Street, who saw his effort cleared off the line by Jordan Shipley.

Ben Williams had a free-kick touched over the bar by Marosi and another set-piece from the left wing-back crashed against the bar in the 81st minute, before Lloyd had the final say.

Shrewsbury boss Matt Taylor lost two more players to injury at the Completely-Suzuki Stadium, with Perry and Daniel Udoh both hobbling off.

“Everything that can go against us at the moment, is,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to come out swinging.

“I’ve never known a treatment room at any football club to be so full. We’re stretched at the moment.

“While we’re disappointed at the moment though, fast forward three days and we have a chance to put things right (in Friday’s game at Burton).

“It’s a tough day because we didn’t see anything from Cheltenham that we didn’t prepare for. You can’t give the opposition two goals from set-plays, though.

“The way we defended at those two set-plays and to give two free headers is nowhere good enough. We didn’t make the opposition work too hard for those two goals.

“The fans will have left here feeling very frustrated, as I will, because today is nowhere good enough by any stretch of the imagination for this football club.”

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