Cheltenham 2 Harriers 0

at Whaddon Road

SO much for the theory that if you're good, you get what you deserve for Christmas. Kidderminster Harriers produced their best away performance of the season, certainly in the first half, and still ended up empty-handed.

Quite how Harriers left Whaddon Road without at least a point is anyone's guess because at one stage they seemed destined to take all three.

After the first quarter of the "derby", Kidderminster were controlling possession, creating chances and had the Robins on the rack. But a failure to turn their dominance into goals turned the tide and Cheltenham grew in confidence.

Subsequently, when Stuart Watkiss's men might have been celebrating their first away win of the season they were left surveying the wreckage of their ninth successive defeat on the road.

And that damage will extend to their Boxing Day duel with promotion-chasing Swansea with captain Wayne Hatswell and midfield motivator Dean Keates missing from the backbone of the team.

It had all started so well for Harriers who were cheered on by an impressive away following of almost 700 fans.

With new signing Gary Birch leading the line well with strong hold up play and good movement Harriers caused their hosts plenty of problems.

Playing as a makeshift striker Pedro Matias was also lively and the Spaniard could and should have scored with the best two chances of the game. The first came on 14 minutes when he got his head to a whipped in free kick from Tom Bennett and it took a fabulous point blank parry from Cheltenham keeper Shane Higgs to deny him.

That chance came at the height of Harriers' pressure with Matias and Simon Russell also trying their luck from distance and Jon Beswetherick seeing his shot hacked off the line.

Just before the break there was a great chance for Birch to mark his debut by opening his Harriers account and linking up with Matias.

Gathering a short pass from his former Walsall colleague, Birch strode into the box and tried to guide in a side-footed finish from 15 yards, only for Higgs to produce another brilliant diving save.

Kidderminster's front were involved again after the break when Matias popped up unmarked in the area to fire a left foot volley which Higgs was again equal to, with Birch blasting over from the rebound.

Moments before that, the Birch-Matias partnership had combined to set up Dean Keates, but his burst from midfield ended with a weak off-target effort.

There was always the fear that Kidderminster's failure to convert presentable openings like that would come back to haunt them.

And so it proved as Cheltenham, who had increasingly threatened from set-pieces and dangerous deliveries into the box, began to take the upper hand. Harriers keeper Ryan Clarke had continued his fine form with important saves to deny Grant McCann and Martin Devaney before the break. And the visitors were relieved to see the linesman's flag raised when John Finnigan bundled the ball in after Clarke parried a Steve Guinan header midway through the first half.

But there was no let-off for Harriers when Cheltenham punished them for their inability to defend crosses into the area on 53 minutes. Lee Jenkins seemed to have been fouled in the build up to the opening goal but the play went on and Guinan was able to head in Devaney's centre all too easily.

That left Harriers chasing the game and after failing to rediscover their attacking quality of the first half their frustration came to a head towards the end of the match.

A crunching 79th minute challenge left debutant defender Johnny Mullins in a heap and virtually everybody in the ground expected Cheltenham to put the ball into touch to allow him to receive treatment.

Everybody except substitute Damian Spencer who played on, much to the annoyance of Hatswell who came crunching in and bundled him unceremoniously off the ball.

Being the last man, Hatswell had to go and the Kidderminster captain was duly red carded for a professional foul. To add insult to injury, the Robins broke away to score a second goal with Bennett inadvertently deflecting McCann's shot into his own net.

And Keates compounded Kidderminster's misery with a booking which takes him to five yellow cards and sees him join Hatswell in sitting out Sunday's game.

CHELTENHAM: Higgs, Gill, Victory, Duff (Wilson 51), Caines, Devaney, Vincent (Spencer 64), McCann, Melligan, Finnigan, Guinan (Odejayi 78). Subs not used: Brown, Bird.

HARRIERS: Clarke 8, Mullins 6, Beswetherick 6, Hatswell 7, Weaver 7, Russell 7, Keates 7, Jenkins 6 (Foster 77), Bennett 7, Matias 7 (Beardsley 68, 6), BIRCH 8. Subs not used: Lewis, McHale, Gleeson.

REFEREE: D Drysdale (Lincolnshire).