EVESHAM United failed to become the first side this season to defeat Cinderford Town at their Causeway Ground as the table-topping Foresters eased to a 3-1 victory which leaves the Robins’ play-off hopes hanging by a thread.
It was just a third defeat in 22 league games for Paul Collicutt’s side but their early-season inconsistency looks set to cost them a top five finish despite some superb form in 2016.
With just seven matches to play, sixth placed Evesham are eight points behind fifth placed Winchester City, who have a game in hand on the Robins, so maximum points from here on in really is the order of the day for United.
However, Collicutt’s men have, on paper at least, a favourable run-in and will fancy their chances of taking six points from Easter fixtures at Bridgwater Town on Saturday (3pm) and at home to Bishops Cleeve on Monday (3pm).
United, who had Linden Dovey sent off in the second half, could have no complaints on Saturday as Cinderford gained revenge for their heaviest defeat of the campaign at the Jubilee Stadium in December, when they were beaten 3-0.
The Red & Whites gift-wrapped three goals to former striker Ethan Moore who will never score an easier hat-trick.
It was especially disappionting for United’s travelling supporters who made up the majority of Cinderford’s biggest crowd of the season.
From the off, the home side looked up for a battle as Lee Smith forced Kevin Sawyer into an early save and Josh Nelmes fired just wide at the near post from Sammie Hicks’ corner.
It took Cinderford until the 36th minute before finally making the breakthrough when Moore raced clear of the United defence before slotting home past Sawyer.
Within 60 seconds, however, the Robins were on level terms courtesy of Nick Stanley’s penalty after Town defender Nick Rhodes had used a hand when challenging Lance Smith in the box.
The game was still in the balance at half time but, after Smith spurned a glorious opportunity to put United ahead, play immediately switched to the other end and last man Dovey brought down Moore in the penalty area and saw red before the forward confidently netted from the spot to fire the leaders ahead on 48 minutes.
Collicutt’s side had a decent spell despite going down to ten men but Cinderford used their extra man to devastating effect when Moore seized on Ashley Williams’ under-hit back pass to coolly round Sawyer and complete his fourth hat-trick of the season.
By now United had lost their shape and Hicks tested Sawyer with a well struck free kick and Matt Sysum stuck a foot out to deflect Smith’s drive over as United struggled to make any headway.
Substitute Carl Brown did force Town stopper Alex Harris to save under his crossbar but there were no further alarms for the Forest of Dean side who ended United’s eight-match unbeaten run.
Collicutt reflected: “The first half was fairly even but the turning point for me was going down to ten early in the second half and after that we faced an uphill battle.
“I thought the decision to send Linden off was a bit harsh and thought he got the ball first, but decisions like that win or lose you matches and it’s gone against us.
“Had we kept 11 players on the park I felt we would have got something out of the game. It’s history now and we need to bounce back with a positive result at Bridgwater on Saturday.”