Interim Forest Green head coach Jimmy Ball insists Rovers’ Wembley dream is far from over despite Newport County taking a big step towards the League Two play-off final with a 2-0 first-leg victory.
Rovers huffed and puffed in a turgid first-half with Newport taking the lead on 31 minutes when Matt Dolan fizzed in a sumptuous stunning 25 yards strike.
Rovers offered little going forward but Odin Bailey’s free-kick clipped the crossbar just before the interval.
Ball’s side looked perkier after the interval, but Aaron Collins flashed a header wide. Newport doubled their lead sixty seconds later when the younger Collins brother Lewis, raced clear from a long goal kick and calmly clipped the ball past the exposed Luke McGee.
Shell-shocked Rovers responded – the move of the match saw Collins play in Bailey, but Newport goalkeeper Tom King then made an outstanding block. At the other end, Padraig Amond should have put the tie out of reach when he could only dink the ball onto the roof of the net.
Aaron Lewis somehow contrived to skew wide with just McGee to beat, leaving Rovers with a fighting chance in the second-leg on Sunday.
Rovers were boosted with the return of Jamille Matt, Nicky Cadden, and Dan Sweeney, who all made a second-half impact off the bench and ebullient Ball is confident his side can turn the deficit around, he told BBC Radio Gloucestershire: “There is a lot of football to be played and 2-0 is not a comfortable place to be by any means.
“I would have liked one of our chances to go in, we hit the bar, Aaron Collins had one flash past the post and the goalkeeper made a top-class save. There were chances for us and it isn’t over.
“Newport could have put it to bed. We were a bit jittery and turned the ball over a lot and that isn’t like us.
“But I believe in these boys. I have absolute faith in them. We have to lick our wounds and show some grit. Hopefully, our fans will have as big an effect as the Newport ones did tonight.”