A Charlie Raglan first-half header and a late goal by Conor Thomas handed Jonte Smith and his Cheltenham Town teammates a useful advantage after tonight's first leg of the Play-off Semi-Finals, picking up a 2 – 0 win over Northampton Town.
The goals capped an impressive performance at an eerie PTS Academy Stadium, although they didn't have it all their own way and a string of fine saves by Owen Evans kept Michael Duff's side in it ahead of the return fixture in four days' time.
The big moment in this one arrived in the opening exchanges when Evans brilliantly saved a penalty, nine minutes before the opening goal at the other end.
Cheltenham combined some sublime football with resilient defending to restrict Northampton Town over the course of the evening before finding the late goal to cap a satisfying evening's work.
There were three changes to the side that last turned out 103 days ago with Duff partnering strikers Reuben Reid and Tom Nichols, who had previously only made one start.
The early drama arrived with 16 minutes on the clock when the home side was handed the spot-kick. Ryan Broom had brought down Michael Harriman to concede a penalty after the game had been held up for several minutes due to an injury to assistant referee Alan Clayton.
It handed Ryan Watson the opportunity to put his side in front but Evans guessed correctly, diving to his right to produce a fine save to keep Cheltenham in it.
Nine minutes later they were in front through Raglan who met a Jake Doyle-Hayes corner with a firm header to open the scoring with his second goal of the campaign.
Cheltenham produced some fantastic football at times and Reid went one to force Steve Arnold into a low save as they searched for a second.
Northampton Town though finished the half strongly and called Evans into a couple of smart saves before James Olayinka produced a brilliant piece of skill to force the Robins number one into a flying stop deep into added on time.
There was some more defending to do at the start of the second half with Northampton starting strongly. Evans came to the rescue again to deny Callum Morton, who was found in an acre of space by Olayinka from the left. However the striker was ponderous and Evans took advantage, diving at his feet to clear the danger.
Duff swapped his forward line to press Alfie May and Jonte Smith into action for the final 16 minutes of the contest.
Cheltenham then dealt a major blow to Northampton's hopes of salvaging a result when Thomas slotted home four minutes from time to record his seventh goal of the campaign, putting Duff's side in the driving seat for the return tie in four days time.