Dave Artell was left exasperated by Crewe skipper George Ray, whose reckless lunge proved to be the “turning point” at Gresty Road.
Ray’s wayward tackle on Jordan Tillson earned him a second booking after 53 minutes with the game delicately poised at 1-1 – and it left Artell lamenting his decision to reinstate the centre-half to his back four as Cheltenham made the most of their man advantage in the closing stages.
Former Crewe players Billy Waters and Luke Varney came back to haunt the Railwaymen as the Robins ended a run of six defeats on the road. Waters was left unmarked to head home Chris Hussey’s 74th-minute cross and leading scorer Luke Varney swept in a fine finish into the far corner.
Crewe boss Artell admitted: “I was disappointed (with George Ray), but we were still in the game at that stage and we weren’t poor. The changes I made to the side in hindsight were probably not the right decisions.
“I thought we were doing okay in the first half and looked the team more likely to win the game without anywhere being near top gear. I felt if we raised it by 10 per cent we would have won the game, but goals change games.
“The sending off and conceding a silly goal after a blatant handball was missed when we were clean through were the turning points.”
On-loan Motherwell full back Aaron Taylor-Sinclair has had limited opportunities since joining Crewe in January, but made the most of only his second start to fire Crewe into a 34th-minute lead. He powered past Tillson’s tame challenge on the edge of the box and fired into the far corner.
The lead was short-lived though as Kevin Dawson tucked home an equaliser for Michael Duff’s side after Ryan Broom launched the ball into the box with Crewe claiming referee Trevor Kettle had failed to see a handball which triggered the visitors’ counter attack.
Cheltenham boss Duff was also none too happy with the officials’ performance, claiming he missed substitute Shaun Miller’s pull on Jacob Maddox’s shirt as the Robins substitute broke clear in the closing minutes.
By then the game was wrapped up for the Robins who, while not impressing their manager, were winning their third game in four.
Duff admitted: “I didn’t think we were great and weirdly it’s probably the worst we’ve been away from home for a while.
“The players are disappointed, but I’ve just told them, football pays you back. We were owed that one, we are disappointed but we’ve won.
“We’ve come off the pitch in the last three away games and been disappointed as we think we’ve done alright but lost.
“We know we can do better, but we have put two back-to-back wins together. It’s pleasing that we have that sort of mentality and we’ve ground it out. I don’t think Crewe hurt us, but we didn’t keep the ball well enough or make simple decisions well enough.”