Manager Rob Edwards lauded his 10-man Forest Green side as the table-toppers gained the West Country bragging rights with a 2-0 win over Bristol Rovers.
A Jamille Matt brace extended Forest Green’s lead at the top of the table to six points as Joey Barton’s men fell to a first defeat in five.
Matt opened the scoring in the first half and added a second after the break from the penalty spot as Edwards’ side finished the game with 10 men following a Udoka Godwin-Malife red card after 63 minutes.
On the whistle, an ecstatic Edwards celebrated with the fans in a style reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp as Forest Green underpinned their title credentials.
Edwards beamed: “The fans were brilliant and I was bouncing off them and I let out a bit of emotion at the end but I think the fans enjoyed that and I certainly did and everyone can go home happy.
“Nine points in the week doesn’t often happen at any level and it has been a fantastic week for us.
“The performance spoke volumes and I thought we were really aggressive and we deserved more than one at half-time.
“When we went down to 10, I thought we remained a threat and resilient and the penalty gave us a buffer.
“We’ve got to continue the momentum and are not even halfway through the season but when you marry it up with hard work and fight for each other and back each other up, you’ve got a chance.”
Forest Green bossed the game from the start, flying Scotsman Nicky Cadden fizzing over the bar and then conjuring a cross for the stretching James Belshaw to superbly block Matty Stevens’ poked strike.
They finally unlocked Bristol Rovers as Ben Stevenson’s pass released the scampering Matt, who ran through to plant the ball under Belshaw for the opener after 20 minutes.
Stevens then nodded on to the bar from a Stevenson cross as Forest Green turned up the heat.
Rovers flickered into life with Connor Taylor’s stab bringing a reaction block from keeper Luke McGee.
The visitors started the second half with intent and were given hope when Forest Green were reduced to 10 men after Godwin-Malife picked up a second yellow for a push on Harry Anderson.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, it was Belshaw who denied Jack Aitchison, getting across to block, following a sweeping move involving Baily Cargill from a teasing cross from Cadden.
Matt bagged his second and 10th of the season from the spot with 13 minutes to go, drilling beyond Belshaw after Antony Evans was adjudged to have handled Ebou Adams’ strike.
Barton admitted Forest Green are the benchmark.
He said: “It was a scrappy encounter against the side at the top of the table.
“At 1-0 I thought we were going to come on and get something. We’ve got to be miles better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t our day.
“We’ve now got to dust ourselves down and use the FA Cup as a distraction and then refocus on the league.
“The handball for the penalty looked outside the box. It’s another refereeing error.
“We weren’t anywhere near the levels of performance but credit to Forest Green, they showed us the work we’ve got to do.”
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