CELTIC loanee Jack Aitchinson stepped off the bench to grab a dramatic winner in a smash and grab at Cambridge United.

In a helter-skelter second-half, Lewis Thomas saved a penalty before  Aitchinson popped up  to strike with 11 minutes to go, sending Rovers up to fifth in the early season table.

Earlier, Forest Green boss Mark Cooper tinkered with the side following their anaemic display against Newport County. Liam Kitching came in for the injured Matt Mills (hamstring). Kevin Dawson replaced Ebou Adams who was on international duty with Gambia.

Celtic loanee Aitchinson was afforded a place on the bench following his transfer deadline day move. Thomas started in goal following Joe Wollacott’s red card last time out.

Rovers started in confident fashion after their Leasing.Com victory over Southampton U21s on Tuesday. Dawson inducing a fifth-minute booking from Cambridge’s Liam O’Neil.

Rovers were bossing possession – Bournemouth loanee Kyle Taylor at the fulcrum, but the U’s started to find their feet Sam Smith and O’Neil taking pot shots from outside the box as the clock reached 20 minutes.

The first worthwhile opportunity dropped to the increasingly influential O’Neil, but Thomas was equal to his strike, dropping comfortably on his fizzer after Paul Lewis had arrowed in a cross.

And it was Cambridge who were profligate on 28 minutes – Smith heading wide of the mark with a free opportunity from a teasing Luke Hannant cross.

Surviving the let off, Rovers’ Dayle Grubb spanked wide after a scampering run on the half-hour.

Cambridge were gifted an opportunity when Dawson’s sloppy ball was picked off by Lewis but he arrowed wide of the goal.

Patient play from the back saw Forest Green with a sniff of an opportunity just five minutes before the break. Taylor picked out Allen, but his arching strike flew wide of the top corner.

Cooper made a change at the break with Bristol City loanne James Morton replacing Allen.

Rovers were at it from the second-half get-go – Carl Winchester poking over. However, it was a hearts in the mouth time as Cambridge came close to breaking the stalemate. Hannant’s howitzer from the angle of the box that had the Cambridge fans off their feet as the ball kissed the underside of the bar with Thomas beaten all ends up.

Cambridge were cranking it up. O’Neil striking wide from the edge of the box and then Joseph Mills keeping the game at deadlock by heading off the line from a Lewis header. With Mills poleaxed in the back of the net following his heroics, Cambridge were calling for a 67th-minute penalty into the build up to the corner and their protests were heard, but Thomas dived across his goal to glove a Marc Richards spot-kick wide.

Moments later boss Cooper went into the book for remonstrating with the referee.

Rovers were in dreamland with 11 minutes to go. Sub Aitchinson drove into the box to pull the trigger with a sumptuous finish in off the post beyond the exposed Dimitar Mitov.

In the dying embers, Aitchinson showed great feet to glide into the box but his strike kissed the foot off the post with a minute of normal time remaining.

Cambridge United: Mitov, Taft, Taylor, Hannant, O’Nei (Maris 56), Darling, Davies, Richards (Ibhere 78), Smith (Dallas 78 ), Carruthers, Lewis Bookings: O’Neil 5

Subs not used: Burton, John, Knibbs, Dunk

Forest Green Rovers: Thomas, Godwin-Malife, Kitching, Rawson, J Mills, Dawson, Winchester, Grubb (Aitchinson 68 ), Taylor (Mondal 74), Stevens, Allen (Morton 45)

Bookings: Stevens 21, J Mills 70

Subs not used: Smith, Bernard, Morton, McCoulsky.

Star Man: Liam Kitching

Attendance: 3, 784

FGR fans: 134

Referee: Mr Anthony Backhouse

Next up: Forest Green welcome Colchester United to the New Lawn next Saturday, 3pm