Forest Green Rovers 2
A PAINFUL night at Forest Green Rovers ended with a second consecutive defeat and another red card added to a worrying list.
The Gulls were fairly comfortable when Duane Ofori-Acheampong opened the scoring on 22 minutes but Jon Parkin levelled for Rovers just before the end of an even first period.
Nothing much was happening in the second-half until Courtney Richards was dismissed for picking up two yellow cards and the home team swiftly took control by snatching the win through James Norwood.
United boss Chris Hargreaves made three changes from the 4-3 weekend defeat at Telford, two enforced and one strategic. Red cards for Toby Ajala and Aaron Downes ruled them out, while Jordan Chapell was dropped down to the bench.
Krystian Pearce came in as the natural replacement for Downes in the centre of defence and the new wing-duo comprised Courtney Cameron and Louis Briscoe, making his return to fitness after a hamstring problem. Young defender Jake Hutchings was included on the bench.
Forest Green manager Adrian Pennock opted for two changes to the team beaten in the final minute by leaders Barnet on Saturday. Elliot Frear replaced Chris Stokes and experienced striker Parkin was picked ahead the even more experienced Lee Hughes.
Frear started with clever feet on the wing and his cross prompted a skewed header from United left-back Tom Cruise, but his blushes were spared by a wild strike of the loose ball by Christian Jolley that flew well wide of Martin Rice’s goal.
Rovers were then forced into a very early change, with centre-back Luke Oliver hobbling off to be replaced by Eddie Oshodi after just seven minutes.
A quiet opening spell saw neither side offer too much as an attacking force and a pleasant return to duty for Pearce in the Yellow backline, especially with the significant bulk of Parking lining up as his direct opponent.
United were presented with their first real chance after a horrible attempted clearance from the home team allowed Ryan Bowman a run on goal but the angle was always awkward, and the shot was sent into the side-netting.
Rovers responded with a surging break down the left and the delivery picked out the run of Parkin, who possibly should have done better than steer his header wide of the post.
The game had suddenly livened up and the Gulls were ahead from their next attack. A strong challenge from Richards won the ball in midfield and his pass was perfect for the run of Ofori-Acheampong, who finished delightfully past onrushing goalkeeper Sam Russell.
An impressive contingent from the Yellow Army were now in full voice at the New Lawn and credit goes to the determination of Richards and the composure from Ofori-Acheampong, who was now beginning to dominate a struggling Oshodi.
Rovers slowly recovered their rhythm and clever work on the edge of the area by Norwood created room for a shot that whistled narrowly over the bar.
Forest Green did get their equaliser moments later, as a flicked header from a corner was cleared off the line by the Gulls, only for the lurking Parkin to convert from close-range and uncertain defending from a set-piece was the major culprit.
The half ended with both teams fairly satisfied to be level, although United were grateful to a big deflection that saw a drive from Norwood loop narrowly wide of the target.
What should have been a quiet cup of tea at the interval actually turned into a heated debate with referee Robert Whitton that apparently led to Hargreaves being sent to the stands, as the United boss seemingly questioned an infringement in the build up to Forest Green’s equaliser.
Assistant manager Lee Hodges had to take charge from the sidelines and he was soon applauding Rice for a fine save to deny Sam Wedgbury following a swift break from the home side.
United needed to regain their attacking impetus, as Rovers continued to turn the screw at the other end, although the combination of Pearce and Angus MacDonald was already looking resilient.
Captain Luke Young finally lifted the mild pressure with a sizzling strike from distance that had Russell at full stretch to palm wide. A tremendous drive matched by an equally impressive save.
Unfortunately, the subsequent corner led to a soft free-kick for Rovers and when Ofori-Acheampong questioned the decision, he only succeeded in picking up his fifth caution of the season, ruling him out of the weekend clash with Wrexham at the Launa Windows Stadium.
Forest Green were looking the more threatening outfit, although only just in a scrappy game, and again engineered a half-chance from just outside the box, but the eventual shot was well wide of the United goal.
Disaster then struck with another red card to join the pair picked up on the weekend and a strong tackle from Richards earned him a second caution. Hughes was immediately introduced for Jolley, as Rovers looked to capitalise on their numerical advantage.
United had to try and preserve the point, and Ofori-Acheampong was quickly withdrawn for the fresh legs of Josh Wakefield, who scored his first Yellow goal at Telford on Saturday.
Unfortunately, the night went from bad to worse and it was another controversial episode, as a decent cross from Frear found Norwood in the box, but Parkin appeared to shove MacDonald out of the way while the ball was in flight.
Norwood paid no attention and it was a decent finish past the exposed Rice, leaving the Gulls with a real mountain to climb against a confident side with more players on the pitch. Ashley Yeoman replaced Briscoe in a last roll of the Yellow dice.
Sadly, it was a lost cause for United and the visit of Wrexham is now a massive game for the Gulls to get their promotion push back on track.
Forest Green (4-4-2): 1 Sam Russell; 2 David Pipe, 5 Luke Oliver (15 Eddie Oshodi 7), 26 Danny Coles, 10 Marcus Kelly; 19 Rob Sinclair, 8 Sam Wedgbury, 18 Elliott Frear, 28 Christian Jolley (11 Lee Hughes 75); 7 James Norwood, 20 Jon Parkin (17 Kurtis Guthrie 87). Substitutes (not used): 6 Dale Bennett, 25 Luke Rodgers.
Booked: Hughes 90
United (4-4-2): 1 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 21 Angus MacDonald, 5 Krystian Pearce, 3 Tom Cruise; 7 Louis Briscoe (14 Ashley Yeoman 84), 8 Luke Young, 16 Courtney Richards, 11 Courtney Cameron; 9 Ryan Bowman, 24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong (22 Josh Wakefield 77). Substitutes (not used): 12 Jordan Chapell, 20 Jake Hutchings, 23 Jordan Seabright (GK).
Booked: Richards 45, Ofori-Acheampong 60
Sent-off: Richards 75
Referee: Robert Whitton
Attendance: 1,365 (400 away).