Bristol Rovers 1 Forest Green 2
One swallow does not make a summer, but sizzling Forest Green certainly hit the dizzy heights in a thrilling victory at west country rivals Bristol Rovers.
New boss Ian Burchnall got his tenure at Forest Green to a flyer as Regan Hendry’s sumptuous chip from outside the box, with sixt seconds left on the watch, handed the League One newbies a winning start.
Earlier, it was Bristol Rovers, roared on by a vociferous home crowd, who made the brightest start. However, Forest Green nullified the Gas and grew into the game and had the better opportunities. Baily Cargill almost induced the Mem into a collective gulp when his thumping header was gloved over by the outstanding James Belshaw from a pin-point Hendry cross. At the other end, the previously under employed Luke McGee was on his mettle to gather a Harry Anderson stinger.
It was end-to-end – McGee’s torpedo kick saw Kyle McAllister, one of four impressive debuts, watch his header clawed to safety by Belshaw.
Forest Green were strutting their stuff – Jordan Moore-Taylor’s exquisite ball saw Reece Brown kill the ball and fizz a sumptuous strike that Belshaw tipped to safety. Forest Green smelt blood. Belshaw was at it again – frustrating McAllister, David Davis and then watching Jamille Matt’s strike canon off the foot of the post.
The second-half Bristol Rovers storm failed to come and it was Forest Green who took the lead when Moore-Taylor got on the end of Hendry’s corner to nod in on 55 minutes.
Forest Green went for the jugular. The impressive Corey O’Keefe thought he had made it 2-0 when slotting home in a flowing move instigated by McAllister and Brown, only to be denied by a contentious flag.
Joey Barton’s Gas netted parity on 71 minutes. Aaron Collins ghosting into the box to score against his former club.
In the dying embers of the contest it was Hendry who made history. A one-two with McAllister saw the flying scotsman arch his strike over the sprawling Belshaw with a minute to go.
Forest Green boss Ian Burchnall was delighted to get off to a winning start, but remained measured with the visit of Ipswich Town this Saturday.
He said: “It’s great, the first game in the Football League and it’s been a lot of hard work to get here.
“The performance all-round was really, really good and I’m extremely happy with the players today.”
Burchnall felt Joey Barton’s Gas provided a stern test from the get go, he added: “Credit to Bristol Rovers, we had to be resilient, and we knew the first 20 minutes would be tough, the stadium was bouncing – they gained a lot of territory, but once we bedded ourselves into the game and got a foothold, I thought we played some good stuff.”
Burchnall reserved high praise for Gas keeper James Belshaw who thwarted his side in a high-octane opening 45 minutes, he added: “Belshaw was outstanding for Bristol Rovers and pulled off some great saves.”
And Burchnall felt his side managed the game well when former Forest Green striker Aaron Collins netted parity: “We were brave and managed the game well after Collins equalised.
The Rovers’ boss revealed he had a word in Regan Hendry’s ear earlier in the week as the tenacious midfielder thumped home a late winner.
“I’ve told him to shoot more, you should see the way he finishes in training is outstanding but his finish was outstanding – he’s a great player with a great mentality, but everyone contributed in a positive way.”
Rovers face Ipswich Town at The Bolt New Lawn on Saturday and Burchnall remains grounded: “I never get too carried away with a win, it’s a nice one but we look at the fixture list, and Ipswich at home next week will be really tough.”
Under director of football Richard Hughes pre-season recruitment has been incisive with nine newbies coming through The Bolt New Lawn to negate the loss of Ebou Adams and Kane Wilson to Championship clubs Cardiff City and Bristol City respectively, and Nicky Cadden joining Michael Duff’s Barnsley.
Saturday saw new signings Corey O’Keeffe, David Davis, Reece Brown and Kyle McAllister step up to the plate at Bristol Rovers, giving fans plenty to shout about.
Survial is key and of course finishing above Cheltenham is paramount for Rovers’ fans. Ian Burchnall’s little club on thevtop of the hill will be in a mini survial league as the big guns of Derby, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Barnsley Charlton, Bolton and Portsmouth fight it out at the top table.
Bristol Rovers: Belshaw, Connolly, Westbrooke (Saunders 67), Marquis, Collins, Rossiter, Anderson, Clarke (Loft 67), Evans (c), Gibbons, Hoole. Subs not used: Jaakkola, Kilgour, Whelan, Lawrence, Jones.
Player ratings out of 10
Forest Green Rovers: McGee 7, O’Keeffe 8 (Casey 85), Cargill 7, Stevenson 8, Hendry 9, Matt 8 (c), Moore-Taylor 9, McAllister 7 (Bernard 90+4), Godwin-Malife 8, Davis 8, Brown 8 (March 82).
Subs not used: Thomas, Little, Jones, Bunker.
Referee: Robert Lewis.
Attendance: 9,064 (796 away).
Star Man: Regan Hendry. Pivotal in Rovers’ midfield and capped a fine performance with a stunning winner.
Next up: Rovers entertain Ipswich Town on Saturday, August 6, 3pm