Bristol Rovers midfielder Oliver Norburn scores sensational stoppage-time equaliser at Cheltenham
Oliver Norburn scored a sensational stoppage time strike from all of 30-yards to earn Bristol Rovers a draw at promotion-chasing Cheltenham Town.
A strike in first-half stoppage-time off the boot of Cheltenham striker Shaun Harrad looked set to end Rovers' hopes of extending their recent unbeaten run before Norburn intervened to slam home a spectacular equaliser with virtually the last kick of the game at Whaddon Road.
Ward's side deserved their leveller for the hard work and discipline they showed to keep going until the end of a game during which they were the better side at times.
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John-Joe O'Toole – Rovers' best player on the night – and skipper Tom Parkes were both denied in the first-half by Cheltenham goalkeeper Scott Brown before Harrad enjoyed a lucky deflection to give him the chance to slot past Steve Mildenhall seconds before the half-time break.
Brown had to be on his mettle after the break to beat out another effort from O'Toole before Norburn last-gasp intervention to deny Cheltenham what would have been three hard-earned points which would have offered further momentum to their automatic promotion bid.
Rovers, meanwhile, will gratefully accept a point in their continuing survival bid, which now sees them move to within five points of 18th-placed York City ahead of a trip to Oxford United on Saturday.
Wary of the threat posed by Cheltenham going forward and down the flanks, Ward had moved to tighten things up by drafting in Danny Woodards to play on the left-hand side of midfield in place of Fabian Broghammer.
It was the only change to the side that had secured a thrilling last-gasp 2-1 victory over Barnet on Friday night. Cheltenham were unchanged from the side that Ward watched beat Torquay United at the weekend to move in to the automatic promotion places.
Ward's side arrived at Whaddon Road on the back of three staright victories – and could have put themselves well on the way to fourth been inside ten minutes had it not been for the heroics of Scott Brown in the Cheltenham goal to deny both O'Toole and Tom Parkes.
Rovers continued to move the ball crisply, O'Toole the pick of the orchestrators in midfield – although Harrad and Steve Elliot both had chances for Yates' side as they pushed Ward's well-drilled troops further and further back towards their own goal before the opening period came to a close.
It was Rovers who had started the brighter by causing an early moment of panic inside the Cheltenham penalty area when a Lee Brown cross had to be headed away from danger by defender Michael Hector.
Cheltenham had the first meaningful opportunity, however, with a good move from left to right started by full-back Sido Jombati that ended harmlessly off the head of Harrad following a searching Jermaine McGlashan cross in the third minute.
Rovers continued to move the ball well themselves, though, and only a fine save by Brown prevented O'Toole from breaking the deadlock with a powerful effort from the edge of the penalty area.
Brown was again called into action minutes later to stop Parkes' side-foot volley from creeping over the line after the defender had connected sweetly with O'Toole's delivery at a corner.
A period of midfield jousting for supremacy followed before Cheltenham carved out a 24th minute chance that saw Harrad's vicious volley collected by Mildenhall after a delicate cushioned touch by Paul Benson had created the opportunity.
Ward didn't wait long after the return of the players for the second-half to make a change designed to add some attacking potency in a bid to find a leveller.
Broghammer, who scored the first goal in Friday night's victory over Barnet, was introduced in place of Woodards to inject some pace down the flanks – but it was Cheltenham who almost immediately doubled their advantage soon after the young winger's introduction.
Had Mildenhall not spread himself like an eagle to deny McGlashan from close-range in the 54th minute, Rovers' would have found themselves at the foot of a mountain in their hopes to get anything from the game.
The equaliser almost came off the boot of O'Toole in the 63rd minute – but a low shot from the edge of the penalty area following good work from Norburn skipped inches wide of the post.
Ward moved again in a bid to find the equaliser by throwing Eliot Richards and Tom Hitchcock into the mix – but another effort from O'Toole that had to be palmed around the post by Brown was the sum total of their chances before Norburn flashed in a sensational leveller with just seconds to spare.
Rovers (4-5-1): Mildenhall; Smith, Parkes, McChrystal, Brown; Woodards (Broghammer, 54), Clucas (Richards, 70) O'Toole, Norburn, Anyinsah (Hitchcock 78); Brunt. Subs: Clarkson, Harrison, Gough, McDonald.
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): Brown; Lowe, Hector, Elliott, Jombati; McGlashan, Penn, Taylor, Mohamed (Deering 88); Benson (Harrison 80), Harrad (Carter, 73). Subs: Pack, Duffy, McCullough, Hanks.