Former Forest Green goalkeeper Jonny Maxted’s masterclass helped Exeter City start the new decade with a 1-0 victory to underpin their automatic promotion hopes despite a second-half red for Nigel Atangana.

Maxted kept Rovers at bay, saving Liam Shephard’s second-half penalty as the 10 men of Exeter shut the door after Atangana, who had given the Grecians a first-half lead, was sent off in the opening minutes of the second-half for a lunge on his former Cheltenham Town team-mate Kevin Dawson.

Atangana handed the Grecians the lead on five minutes - picking his spot from outside the box after the all-action Nicky Law had teed him up, the former Cheltenham Town midfielder placing his shot beyond the flat-footed Adam Smith with unnerving precision.

Rovers were on the ropes - Law slalomed through a statuesque defence to watch his deflected strike clip the top of the bar.

Cooper hooked Matt Mills and Matty Stevens at the break for the fresh legs of Elliott Frear and Jack Aitchison.

And Rovers were handed a numerical advantage with Atangana off just sixty-seconds into the second period and they were handed a penalty when Jack Aitchison was floored by Aaron Martin, but Maxted spared his blushes to repel Liam Shephard’s 57th minute free-kick.

Cooper introduced 16-year-old Vaughn Covil with nine minutes of normal time to go.

And as the clock ticked, Maxted was inspired as he denied Winchester for a second time and then superbly gloved a point-blank Junior Mondal strike wide of the goal.

Exeter remain second, with Rovers in fifth.

FOREST GREEN: Smith, M. Mills (Frear 45), Shephard, Kitching, Rawson, McGinley, Winchester, Adams, Dawson (Covil 81), Mondal, Stevens ( Aitchison 45)

Subs: Thomas, Bernard, Morton, Frear, Godwin-Malife, Aitchison

 Bookings: Shephard 36, M Mills 44 ,Kitching 72

EXETER CITY: Maxted, Sweeney, Atangana, A Martin, Law (Tillson 88), L Martin, Williams, Bowman, Parkes, Richardson, Collins

Subs not used: Ward

Bookings: Sweeney 70, Williams 72, Collins 81

Attendance:3,012

Away fans:703

Referee: Lee Swabey (Devon)

Star Man: Carl Winchester

Next up: Forest Green travel to Crawley Town on Saturday, 3pm.