Forest Green 1 Mansfield 0
The electric open-top bus tour of Nailsworth is gaining wheels as Forest Green motor to the title.
Josh March who was drafted in following the season-ending ACL injury to top scorer Matty Stevens, capped a livewire performance with the only goal as Rovers tightened their grip on automatic promotion against a Mansfield side reduced to 10 after George Lapslie’s second-half straight red.
March pounced on 15 minutes with a clinical finish, with his team-mates holding up Stevens’ no9 shirt in celebration as Rovers made it three wins on the spin and a gap of 12 points on fourth-placed Northampton Town, with seven games to go.
Forest Green boss Rob Edwards urged his side to win the title for the stricken striker.
“The players face-timed Matty (Stevens) after the game and we want to do it for him and make sure he’s playing League One football next season.”
Edwards felt Mansfield made a bright start to the game and were more of a threat when reduced to 10 men after the break.
He added: ” Mansfield were one of the teams that can catch us and that was one of our best performances of the season. They started really well in the initial 10 minutes, but we settled, but the game was more in the balance when they went down to 10.”
Edwards heaped praise on striker March who came in for Stevens, he added: “If there are any young kids listening, take a leaf out of this lad’s book,” said Edwards “He trains so hard every day. He’s the hardest worker. That’s why he’s still running around in the 96th minute.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him. Yes, I’m emotional now because it’s immediately after the game, but I’m really proud of him. He’s somebody who younger players should look up to, definitely.
“Tonight, put a bit of daylight between us and the chasing pack, but we have a huge seven games to go and I’ve told the boys I want three wins in a week.”
Mansfield boss Nigel Clough was seething after seeing midfielder George Lapslie red-carded for a rash challenge on opposite number Ebou Adams and said: “There was no contact whatsoever. The player jumped in the air and the referee was only a few yards away and got it wrong.
“The lad got up, played the rest of the game and could’ve had several more bookings himself.
“I thought we were very, very good tonight. Right until the end we were pressing.
“We can take a lot of heart from the game.
“I think we’ll be alright for the last seven games after what I saw tonight.
“They are the best team in the league, but I thought they were very wary of us.”
From the get-go promotion-chasing, Mansfield started brightly – Stephen Quinn fizzing wide. The Stags should have nosed ahead on eight minutes – Lucas Atkins contrived to skew wide with just Luke McGee to beat.
Rovers turned the screw and scored against the run of play. Stags’ keeper Nathan Bishop gloved Jamille Matt’s diving header but the ball broke to March who finished with aplomb.
March came close to a second when he got on the end of a Danny Sweeney header only for Bishop to glove his strike away from the danger zone.
Mansfield were reduced to 10 men on 50 minutes when Lapslie was handed a straight red for a high tackle on Ebou Adams.
Just beyond the hour mark, Clough rolled the dice bringing Danny Johnson on – his third substitute used in the second-half.
Newcastle loanee Matt Longstaff forced McGee to plunge onto his shot with 20 minutes to go as the Stags hunted parity, but Rovers comfortably saw the game out despite six minutes of injury time.
FOREST GREEN: McGee, Sweeney, Moore-Taylor, Cargill, Wilson, Stevenson (Hendry, 83), Adams, Cadden, Aitchison, Matt, March.
SUBS NOT USED: Godwin-Malife, Bernard, Young, Thomas, Diallo, McAteer.
MANSFIELD: Bishop, Hewitt, O’Toole, Hawkins (Perch HT), McLaughlin, Wallace (Stirk HT), Lapslie, Quinn (Johnson, 60), Longstaff, Akins, Bowery.
SUBS NOT USED: Stech, Law, Rawson,
REFEREE: Carl Brook.
STAR MAN: Josh March
NEXT UP: Forest Green welcome Hartlepool to the Fully Charged New Lawn on Saturday