Billy Bricknell put the Clarets in front with a well-taken finish early on after he prodded home Marvin Ekpiteta’s flick-on and the lead almost lasted until half-time, but Rob Dickie headed home with three minutes to spare moments after James Rowe hit a post from outside the box.
Dickie then headed home again with 23 minutes remaining before netting his third from the penalty-spot ten minutes later.
It was Cheltenham’s first FA Trophy match for over a decade and the Robins, who were relegated from League Two last season, were thoroughly deserving of the win despite an unassured start that saw City shade it.
City boss Mark Hawkes made just the one change to the starting eleven that lost 2-1 to Gosport Borough last week, with Academy graduate Harry Morgan replacing Lee Sawyer, who dropped to the bench.
Hawkes’ opposite number, former Yeovil Town boss Gary Johnson, tinkered with his side as many had expected, with no more than six changes. In came Calum Kitscha in goal, as well as full-back Jack Barthram and midfield duo Asa Hall and Rowe. James Dayton occupied the left-flank for the Robins, while Reading loanee Andrija Novakovic partnered top-scorer Billy Waters in the side’s attacking berth.
Cheltenham were, however, put under some pressure early on, with ex-Robins winger Bagasan Graham testing Kitscha with a teasing set-piece. His delivery from the right-flank was just too far in front of the outstretched Rory McAuley, but it forced the ‘keeper into a low save as he palmed the ball away at the far post.
For all of Chelmsford’s early pressure they were almost undone when Luke Daley’s clearance fell kindly to the feet of James Dayton. Fortunately for the Clarets, the winger struggled to get the ball out of his feet before eventually dragging a shot wide.
The hosts threatened again soon after Daley shot narrowly over from 30-yards, although the physical Novakovich was unable to test Tim Brown as he caught the Clarets’ backline off-guard.
But the visitors were rewarded for being the better of the two sides when Billy Bricknell made the breakthrough on the stroke of 20 minutes. Graham’s long-throw was nodded on by Marvin Ekpiteta who rose highest in the area, and the ball fell to Bricknell who stabbed home his eighth goal of the season from close-range.
The goal appeared to give the Clarets newfound confidence and a belief going forward, although Cheltenham, who are four points clear at the top of the National League, remained a threat and looked to only require a half-chance in order to pull themselves level.
And that was almost the case five minutes before the interval when Cheltenham’s James Rowe hit a post after finding some space outside the area.
Chelmsford were only momentarily spared, though, as with three minutes to go the Robins were level. Dayton was fouled unnecessarily by McAuley on wing, allowing Rowe to pitch in a set-piece that Rob Dickie powered home at the back post to level.
The wind was with Cheltenham in the second-half, which appeared to be telling, and they almost forced the ball home with Asa Hall – making his first start since the Robins’ match with Tranmere Rovers on September 26th – prodding in, only to be denied by the offside flag.
City skipper Hughes then stuck a leg out to deflect Ryan Jennings’ dangerous effort around the post as Cheltenham looked incentivised and ready to punish the Clarets for their poor ball retention.
They almost gained the lead when substitute Danny Wright’s half-volley was pushed out for a corner, and then Hall missed a glaring header, nodding wide Dayton’s corner from the left.
The Clarets were holding on by the skin of their teeth as the Robins kept on producing chance after chance, although their lack of profligacy gave Chelmsford a glimmer of hope as the full-time whistle approached.
The dreams were soon erased when Dayton was needlessly fouled again on the flank in a carbon-copy goal that came with just over 20 minutes remaining. It allowed for Rowe and Dickie to combine again, with the latter heading home his second of the game to steer the hosts in front.
Chelmsford were then unable to cope as Cheltenham stepped it up a gear, with Dickie sealing the win and the Robins’ place in Monday’s draw with a well-taken spot-kick after Jennings was brought down, although it looked as if the initial contact was outside the box.
It was an uphill battle for the Clarets, who struggled to string many passes together, as soon as the hosts clawed their way back before half-time. The afternoon was summed up concisely when Bricknell’s late effort cracked an upright, and now attention turns to Wednesday night’s Essex Senior Cup tie at home to Witham Town.
12. Calum Kitscha
2. Jack Barthram
3. George McLennan
5. Aaron Downes (C)
8. Billy Waters
14. Asa Hall
18. James Rowe
24. Rob Dickie
27. James Dayton
29. Ryan Jennings
30. Andrija Novakovich
1. Dillon Phillips (GK)
6. Daniel Parslow (On for James Rowe, 68’)
7. Harry Pell
9. Danny Wright (On for Billy Waters, 57’)
26. Luke Thomas (On for James Dayton, 72’)
1. Tim Brown
2. Rob Girdlestone
3. Bagasan Graham
4. Mark Hughes (C)
5. Marvin Ekpiteta
6. Rory McAuley
7. Ben Marlow
8. Luke Daley
9. Billy Bricknell
10. Matt Whichelow
11. Harry Morgan
12. Lee Sawyer (On for Mark Hughes, 82’)
14. Michael Thalassitis (On for Harry Morgan, 71’)
15. Damien Green (On for Luke Daley, 83’)
16. Marvel Ekpiteta
17. Connor Pearce (GK)
Referee: Mr. Mark Pottage
Assistant Referees: Mr. Gary Parsons and Mr. James Durkin
Fourth Official: Mr. Martin Bloor
Cheltenham Town: Rob Dickie (42’, 67’, 77’, p)
Chelmsford City: Billy Bricknell (20’)
Cheltenham Town: James Rowe (35’, persistent fouling), Asa Hall (59’, foul)
Chelmsford City: Bagasan Graham (45+1’, foul), Marvin Ekpiteta (74’, foul)
HT score: 1-1
FT score: 3-1
City Man of the Match: Bagasan Graham