Bullish Swindon Town boss Ben Garner admitted he nearly hooked maverick forward Harry McKirdy before he conjured the winning assist to help the Wiltshire side gain the west-country bragging rights over league leaders Forest Green.
The pony-tailed McKirdy had earlier given Town the lead with a poked volley after the break and a tap-in for Ipswich Town loanee Tyreece Simpson proved the difference between the two sides in a captivating lunchtime televised game.
Garner said: “We said coming into the game we were confident we could win even though we had five missing on international duty and I am delighted for that to be proved to be the case.
The Swindon boss confessed McKirdy was set for an early shower and was booked, just before he provided the assist for the second.
“We were talking about taking him off and then he popped up with a bit of magic – a little dinked cross
“Harry McKirdy is an outstanding talent – he just needs to be loved and he is loved and he is loved here.
“He is a character and we embrace that, we want people to be comfortable with who they are.
“He’s an extrovert who put a smile on people’s faces He’s always cracking jokes and telling stories.
“You dress how you want to dress. He’s got some great hoodies and a bucket hat I am told is very trendy -We are not going to try and change anyone.
“And I am delighted for Tyreece to get that goal because he had a perfectly good one disallowed in the first half.
“It was disappointing because we had good momentum. I’ve seen it back, it’s not a foul.”
Garner said the foundations for the victory were laid before a ball was kicked in anger.
He said: “The work on the training ground this week laid the foundations for that win. The attitude of the players, their work rate, and their application, it was all outstanding all week.
“That gives you confidence all week as a head coach going into the game – you’ve seen how hard they’ve worked and the preparation they’ve done.
“I sensed in the dressing room they were in a good place before the game – to a man, they were outstanding.”
Swindon, missing five players on international duty, started brightly and thought they had nosed ahead on 15 minutes – Luke McGee spilled McKirdy’s strike for Simpson to turn in the rebound – only for the goal to be chalked off.
McGee preserved the deadlock with a strong glove to deny McKirdy after Dom Bernard gave the ball away.
In first-half stoppage-time Rovers,’ Dan Sweeney and Jamille Matt incurred bookings,
Jack Aitchison should have nosed Rovers ahead on 53 minutes but somehow spanked his shot wide with just Lewis Ward to beat.
Two minutes later McKirdy volleyed in from an arrowed Ben Gladwin cross, ending Rovers’ five-game shut out. McKirdy should have made it 2-0 when planting his header wide of the mark from Jack Payne’s exquisite cross.
Ward gloved a Matt Stevens strike as Rovers hunted parity and did even better to finger a deflected Jake Young strike. Ward kept Swindon’s noses in front when clawing a point-blank Josh March header out of the air. Swindon put the game to bed with nine minutes to go – McKirdy squeezed through to clip a ball for Ipswich Town loanee Simpson to tap into the empty net.
In the fourth minute of stoppage-time, Ward upended March, but he spared his blushes by saving the resultant March spot-kick.
Measured Forest Green boss Rob Edwards took it on the chin as Rovers fell to defeat for only the second time this season.
He said: “I can’t complain, we will learn from it and move on. I’ve challenged the players to go on another unbeaten run and give me a reaction like they did when we lost our only other game 2-0 at home Port Vale.
“Both teams had similar threats and it was two good teams. We had five clean sheets in a row before today and we were going to concede at some point.”
FOREST GREEN: McGee, Wilson, Bernard, Sweeney, Stevenson, Stevens, Aitchison, Cadden, Matt, Moore-Taylor, Hendry.
SUBS: Thomas, Cargill, Evans, Edwards, Young, Diallo, March.
SWINDON TOWN: Ward, Hunt, Odimayo, Conroy, Crichlow, Iandolo, Reed, Payne, Gladwin, McKirdy, Simpson.
SUBS: Baudry, Lyden, Mitchell-Lawson, East, Aguiar, Parsons, Dabre.
STAR MEN: Ben Stevenson (Forest Green), Lewis Ward (Swindon Town)