Swindon Town moved three points clear of the relegation zone after Jack Payne’s magnificent solo goal secured a memorable 1-0 away victory against Bristol Rovers.
The Town midfielder combined excellent dexterity with a ruthless finish to give John Sheridan’s side a vital lead in the second half.
Rovers thought they had the lead when substitute Zain Westbrooke found the far corner with an accurate drive from 20 yards, but the linesman raised his flag to ruin Rovers’ celebrations.
Substitute Jordon Garrick and Matty Palmer both put in particularly impressive shifts, but overall, a strong, second-half team performance earned what could be a vital three points come the end of the season.
An atmosphere of nervousness permeated through the Memorial Stadium with neither team forcing the opposition goalkeeper into a save.
The influential Scott Twine tried his luck from range on many occasions, the closest of which came when he cut in from the left-hand side and bent an effort towards the far corner, but his shot was rising rather than dipping.
Brett Pitman enjoyed a physical, aerial battle with Rovers’ defenders Ed Upson, Jack Baldwin and Joe Day throughout the first-half.
Paul Caddis tested the Town captain’s leap with a raking cross-field drive, but the Town number eight was beaten to it by a charging Joe Day, who bravely punched the ball to safety.
Jonah Ayunga, rather fortunately, had the chance of the game when he capitalised on a loose ball from a perfectly timed tackle by Matty Palmer, but he could not guide his effort on target.
Rovers adjusted their starting eleven by introducing Zain Westbrooke and Josh Hare from the bench in place off Josh Hare and Ed Upson, of which the latter was carrying a yellow card.
It appeared the early change had paid dividends with Westbrooke firing Joey Barton’s side into the lead with a crisp half-volley into the bottom corner.
However, after conversation with his assistant, referee Andy Woolmer ruled the goal out for an offside in the build-up to the goal, to the Town’s relief.
Rovers’ substitutes injected energy and freshness into the home side’s attack and looked threatening with every attack.
After some tidy footwork down the right flank, Hare found Ayunga with an eye of the needle pass, but the striker’s first-time effort was wide of the near post.
The Reds had to man the barricades and ride out an early Rovers storm in the early stages of the second-half.
Sheridan turned to his bench and responded to the early pressure by swapping Jordon Garrick for Joel Grant on 65 minutes.
Garrick’s impact was instant with the 22-year-old dazzling the Rovers defence, cutting in and bending a goal bound effort which had to be headed away from the far corner at the last minute.
Jack Payne was playing deeper than usual, but it did not stop him from hammering home his third goal of the season.
A 20-yard free-kick from Twine was deflected into the path of Payne, who danced through many blue and white shirts, before firing into the far corner with the outside of his left foot.
Town had to hang on to their lead as The Gas turned to their bench once more, bringing on Erhun Oztumer and David Tutonda for Josh Grant and Jack Baldwin.
Time stood still for the Town, when a defensive header fell kindly to Ayunga, who controlled well and struck from 20 yards, forcing a smart save from Town goalkeeper Lee Camp.
Three minutes of added time were added by fourth official Mark Pottage and The Reds held their breath.
Hearts were firmly in mouths when a flick on sent Rovers striker Brandon Hanlan through on goal, but a gut busting, recovery run followed by an inch perfect tackle from Akin Odimayo rescued the Reds.
It was a vital challenge as well as Sheridan’s side held on to secure one of the most important results of the season.