Even when Michael Duff began to steadily turn Cheltenham Town’s results around during the 2018/19 campaign, they still found life particularly difficult away from the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
The Robins won three of Duff’s first 26 away matches in all competitions, with success at struggling Notts County and Yeovil Town, along with an impressive 3-1 triumph at Crewe Alexandra their only high points on the road.
After the final day defeat at Stevenage in May 2019, Duff promptly boarded the supporters’ coach and vowed that his team would “not be s*** away from home any more” and he was absolutely right.
A quite remarkable turnaround since the 2-0 victory at Salford City in September last year has seen Cheltenham win 13 and draw seven of 23 trips, with only three defeats.
They maintained their 100 per cent away record in League Two this term with another comfortable win at Southend United on Saturday.
That result made it eight wins out of nine away from home, with clean sheets kept in each of those wins and their only defeat at Championship club Millwall in the Carabao Cup second round.
Duff has often spoken in recent weeks about not taking anything for granted in League Two, which he regards as the most unpredictable of divisions.
Southend were poor, but Cheltenham took advantage and put in another solid and accomplished display to climb into third place ahead of Tuesday’s home match against Scunthorpe United.
George Lloyd made his fifth successive League Two start and while his performances have been positive, he needed to find the net after his effort at Leyton Orient had been officially awarded as an own goal.
Lloyd won a spot kick in the 10th minute after he was shoved by Kyle Taylor and with Conor Thomas on the bench, Cheltenham were without their usual penalty taker.
Liam Sercombe stepped up and scored his second of the season, but it was probably the least convincing thing he has done in a Robins shirt so far.
The summer signing from Bristol Rovers has been excellent in the opening weeks, but his penalty was weak.
Goalkeeper Mark Oxley dived to his left and looked set to save it, but it squirmed underneath him and rolled tamely over the line.
It could be argued that any penalty that finds the net is a good one, but this was a rare occasion where a goalkeeping error leads to a penalty being scored.
Sercombe will not mind at all and it set his team on their way, with Southend offering very little in attack.
Brandon Goodship had one sight of goal when the ball fell to him in a good position, but the ball came off him into the grateful arms of Josh Griffiths, who was a spectator for much of the afternoon.
Cheltenham were not at their flowing best, but Chris Clements performed the role he was asked to by keeping the ball and contributing to a performance that was far less frantic than the home defeat by Grimsby Town four days earlier.
Duff felt his side were guilty of becoming involved in a ‘basketball match’ against Ian Holloway’s side, but on this occasion it was more like attack against defence, particularly in the second half.
There was no rally from the home side, who have been in League One for the last five years, but have very much fallen on hard times and even their Roots Hall home looks dilapidated both inside and out.
The goal Lloyd has been waiting for and thoroughly deserved arrived seven minutes after half-time.
It was a slick move which ended with Chris Hussey receiving the ball in space on the left and his cross was headed into the far corner by Lloyd for his fourth League Two goal – all of which have come away from Whaddon Road.
The rest of the game was negotiated with little in the way of incident, with Griffiths untroubled.
Alfie May went on from the bench along with Lewis Freestone and Thomas.
They completed some post-match fitness work on the pitch along with coach Wade Elliott and unused substitutes Max Harris, Reuben Reid, Alex Addai and Grant Horton.
The work is gruelling and sometimes soul-destroying having travelled for more than three hours and stayed overnight without any, or very limited football.
But Cheltenham’s contingent completed their work thoroughly and in jubilant mood, clearly illustrating the current mood in the camp, with every player leaving the pitch just after 5pm with big grins on their faces.
Nobody is sulking and everyone wants to be a part of the united effort, with the likes of Tom Sang, Finn Azaz, Callum Ebanks, Sean Long and Scott Flinders still to come back into the mix.
The squad has real depth and looks fully capable of handling the quicker turnaround in matches this condensed campaign entails.
Duff’s priority now will be to regain form at home and make themselves familiar with the automatic promotion places – somewhere the club are yet to reach at the end of a Football League campaign.
Southend United: Oxley; Hobson, Dieng, Lennon; Bwomono, Sterling, Demetriou, K Taylor (Egbri 56), Ralph; Acquah (Nathaniel-George 56), Goodship (Coker 83). Subs not used: Seaden, Clifford, Phillips, R Taylor.
Cheltenham Town: Griffiths; Raglan (Freestone 88), Tozer, Boyle; Blair, Clements, Bonds (Thomas 82), Sercombe, Hussey; Williams, Lloyd (May 82). Subs not used : Harris, Reid, Addai, Horton.
Referee: J Oldham.