LATE drama at Dean Court denied Cherries a much-needed win in their battle to avoid the drop.

Max Gradel's first-half penalty and a well-taken goal from Marvin Bartley looked to have earned Kevin Bond's side a vital victory.

But visitors Cheltenham struck at the end of both halves to steal a point. David Bird gave the Robins hope of a revival on the stroke of half-time before on-loan striker Steve Brooker headed a late leveller.

Boss Bond made just one alteration to the team that lost at Southend United last weekend, with Shaun Cooper back from a one-match ban in place of influential midfielder Danny Hollands, who was suspended after receiving his fifth caution of the season in the Roots Hall reverse.

Neil Young, who moved into second place on the club's Football League all-time appearance-makers list, led the hosts.

Former Tottenham trainee Young was congratulated on his sterling, south coast service with a big cheer from the Dean Court crowd.

And the fans were almost on their feet again with less than two minutes on the clock.

Winger Gradel whipped in a low cross from the right but in-form striker Jo Kuffour failed to direct his shot goalwards.

Cherries again went close in the eighth minute with what would have been a carbon copy of their goal at Southend. A short-corner routine between Gradel and Warren Cummings saw the delivery find the head of Jason Pearce but, unlike last week, the young defender could not hit the target.

But the hosts were rewarded for their early pressure with an opening goal in the 17th minute, which owed much to the energy of midfielder Bartley.

The former non-league star broke into the box with a trademark run to latch on to a Cummings pass. And just when it looked as if Bartley had lost the opportunity, he turned sharply and was brought down by Cheltenham captain Jerry Gill.

Referee Darren Drysdale took his time in awarding the spot kick and Gradel accepted the gift as he calmly slotted the penalty low to Shane Higgs's left.

Cheltenham responded well to the setback but, as they attempted to find a way through Cherries' resolute defence, the hosts doubled the lead with a fine 39th-minute strike.

Josh Gowling's long ball found Gradel and his fizzing cross made its way to Lee Bradbury at the back post, but the forward's fierce shot cannoned back off the woodwork. The disappointment was short-lived, though, as a Cummings cross almost immediately found Bartley on the edge of the penalty area and his 20-yard shot looped over Higgs and into the net.

It was the midfielder's first professional goal and no more than his impressive display had warranted.

But the jubilant mood of the Cherries supporters did not last long as the Robins grabbed a lifeline on the stroke of half-time.

Good hold-up play from Brooker saw the ball break to David Bird and the midfielder showed a good first touch before coolly firing past the unprotected Gareth Stewart.

Cheltenham's goal did not seem to worry Cherries too much as they started the second half confidently.

It took 11 minutes for the first clear opening of the second period and Bartley was again at the centre of the action. Another powerful run saw the midfielder burst on to Kuffour's long ball but his shot was too high to trouble Higgs.

Kuffour had a golden opportunity to seal the points in the 68th minute as Cherries broke clear but Higgs managed to tip the striker's powerful effort over the bar.

And, as the action switched to the other end moments later, Cherries keeper Stewart took his chance to catch the eye as he dived full length to keep Ashley Vincent's curling effort out.

Chances were beginning to come at a rapid rate as the game became more open and Sam Vokes came close with 17 minutes remaining. The Welsh under-21 star ran past Cheltenham's last defender Andy Gallinagh as Cherries broke on the counter attack, only to see his 20-yard strike brilliantly kept out by the impressive Higgs.

Vokes has another chance to get himself on the scoresheet in the 79th minute but the Lymington-based youngster could not get his back-post header on target.

And Higgs's saves looked all the more crucial as Brooker met Alan Wright's corner to leave Cherries struggling for League One survival.

More late drama came when Scott Brown saw red for a last-minute challenge on Bartley.

Cherries (4-4-2): Stewart 7, Young 7.5, Gowling 8, J Pearce 7, Cummings 7.5, Bradbury 7, Cooper 6.5, Bartley 8.5*, Gradel 7.5, Vokes 7.5 (Pitman, 86), Kuffour 7 (Tessem, 78). Unused subs: Pryce, McQuoid, Partington.

Booked: Cummings

Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): Higgs, Gill, Duff, Gallinagh, Wright, D'Agostino (Vincent, h-t), Bird, Armstrong (Connor, 70), Lindegaard (S Brown, h-t), Brooker, Gillespie. Unused subs: Spencer, SP Brown.

Sent off: S Brown

Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire)