THEY play pretty football, but Forest Green are no Arsenal - not now the last chance of an ‘Invincible’ Blue Square Bet Premier promotion campaign was sunk by Nathan Pond, writes Stuart Hammonds, NLP .
Grimsby’s on-loan Fleetwood defender, a man who can tell the Rovers hopefuls what it takes to win this league, netted the only goal to inflict a first defeat on David Hockaday’s team in their eighth game, knocking them off the top of the table.
Forest Green’s passing was neat, and it could be argued - as Hockaday did - that it deserved reward. And it would have, but for an inspired display by home goalkeeper James McKeown.
But the Rovers boss also admitted their tiki-taka was not as crisp as it should be, unlike Arsene Wenger’s side during their unbeaten Premier League campaign of 2003-04.
“With a young squad, it’s almost like a relief,” said Hockaday.
“I keep hearing ‘We’re unbeaten, we’re unbeaten’, and they say it’s got to come to an end at some point. But you can go through a season unbeaten, as Arsenal showed in the toughest league in the world.
“But it’s gone now. The mark of a good team is bouncing back, and we’ve got to learn from this because we had killed the game but seemed quite happy at nil-nil.
“I said ‘No, we want to win the game’, and then they got the goal. We upped it and we had chances to equalise - and we should have equalised. But we can’t keep chasing games.”
Rovers had scored injury-time goals to earn points on three occasions already this term, but here there was no ‘Fergie Time’ goal to rescue them.
Grimsby were more direct, but they weren’t helped by losing striker Andy Cook - who had aimed a third-minute header off target - early on following a late challenge by Aaron Racine.
The most threatening action of the first 39 minutes actually came from a topless, denim jean-wearing pitch invader.
Unfortunately for the men present, the idiot was more ‘Eric Up For a Row’ than Erica Roe, ten stewards needed to carry him kicking and punching from the field.
Rovers’ one-touch triangles between midfield trio Jamie Collins, Al Bangura and Kieron Forbes were easy on the eye.
But their best two first-half openings came from Ben Wright set-pieces - the first a 20-yard shot that McKeown pushed away; the second a vicious delivery that found Racine’s head to stretch the keeper again, just after Cook’s replacement, Dayle Southwell, had tested Sam Russell at the other end.
The winner came in the 63rd minute when referee Seb Stockbridge harshly penalised Jamie Collins for a foul on Joe Colbeck. Frankie Artus whipped in the free-kick and Pond rose in front of the wandering visiting goalkeeper to flick a punishing header into the net.
It was a goal that brought Rovers back to life, after Hockaday had dragged the pedestrian Bangura and Wright off.
Bangura, the ex-Watford man, sat sulking in the dugout as sub Matty Taylor twice tried his luck, before another replacement - James Rowe - set James Norwood free in stoppage time.
This time the late salvation did not arrive, Norwood again finding McKeown unbeatable. Mariners joint-boss Paul Hurst, sent off moments earlier by the hapless Stockbridge for trying to trap the ball in his technical area as Rovers left-back Ed Asafu-Adjaye went to retrieve it, was delighted to see his side stretch their own unbeaten run to six matches.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we hammered Forest Green, that’s not the case,” said Hurst.
“It was a very tight affair, lots of fair challenges going in and a bit of cat and mouse. But obviously I’m going to say I felt we deserved the win over the course of the game.”
Forest Green: (4-3-3) Russell 6, Turley 7, Racine 6, Oshodi 7, Asafu-Adjaye 7, Collins 7, Bangura 6 (Rowe 66, 6), Forbes 7, Norwood 7, Wright 6 (Koroma 64, 5), Styche 6 (Taylor 60, 6).
Subs not used: Bulman, Marsh.
Att : 3,270.
Star man: Eddie Oshodi.
OLYMPIC rowing gold medal winner Pete Reed will be the guest of honour at Forest Green’s home match against Alfreton Town on Saturday, 3pm.
FOREST Green U18s will welcome Newport County in the first round of the FA Youth cup on Monday, 7.45pm.
Rovers defeated Bishops Cleeve 3-1 in the preliminary round thanks to goals from Jonny Brodie, Cameron Gordon and an own goal.