AFTER having Anthony Howell sent off in the last minute of the first half, gutsy Mansfield Town left the sun-drenched New Lawn with a hard-earned point on Saturday afternoon after a 1-1 draw.
Chasing a fifth away win on the trot, the Stags couldn’t have a better start in the unseasonal searing heat as Ross Dyer marked his return to his old club with a goal after only 17 seconds.
It seemed like a stroll in the sunshine for the Stags for much of that first half as they looked in complete control.
But it all fell apart in the last four minutes of the half as Kieron Forbes levelled against the run of play and then Howell was dismissed for showing studs in his tackle on Forbes – Mansfield’s third red card in as many games.
With temperatures at pitch level over 30 degrees, being a man down was the last thing Stags wanted and a gruelling second half lay ahead.
However, Stags refused to settle for a point, despite Rovers’ numerical advantage, and the visitors pushed Ross Dyer up from his midfield slot in the 4-5-1 formation to partner Matt Green in a 4-3-2.
And it almost paid off as Dyer rattled the woodwork and Stags created the better chances in an heroic second half for Paul Cox’s men.
Ex-Forest Green striker Dyer made the perfect return to his former club with an exquisite goal after just 17 seconds.
O’Neill took the ball over the halfway line on the right and threaded a firm pas to Murray 20 yards from goal whose deft flick over the defence allowed Dyer to race onto it on the right of the box and drill a low finish beyond a helpless Bittner.
Green had to let a Dyer through ball run past him as he was offside, but O’Neill kept running which almost caught the Rovers defence napping, Bittner having to come quickly off his line to smother.
The visitors came close again on nine minutes as O’Neill whipped the game’s first corner in from the left and the keeper came and missed it, the ball hanging dangerously in the six yard box before the home side hooked clear.
Rovers’ first threat came from a quickly-taken free kick that sent Thomson away down the left only to see his low effort well wide from a narrow angle.
Riley was wide at the other end with a diving header from Kendrick’s right wing free kick on 15 minutes.
Then Griffin was high and wide after Todd had been dispossessed 30 yards from goal.
A short pass by Green saw Rovers begin to break quickly. But Worthington refused to give up and, failing to make the first tackle, chased Klukowski and finally superbly robbed him 35 yard from goal.
On a scorching afternoon Mansfield were letting the ball do the work with some accurate, crisp passing.
But Forest Green forced their first corner on 34 minutes which Marriott initially dropped but quickly recovered to grab at the second attempt.
Two minutes later Forbes was booked for catching Murray late which saw both sides head to the dug-outs for liquid refreshment.
However, the home side somehow found themselves level out of the blue on 41 minutes. Forbes played a one-two on the right of the box and hooked a finish past Marriott.
Clearly lifted, Forbes went on another run a minute later which ended with a low 20 yard finish flashing just wide of the far post.
Stags were rocking as Thomson skipped past opponents to the by-line before pulling back an inviting low ball to Norwood who tried to place a sidefooted finish but sent it wide of the far post.
Mansfield’s afternoon got worse in the last minute of the half and Howell went in late and with studs showing on Forbes and the red card was out almost instantly.
Within 15 seconds of the restart, Worthington was yellow-carded for his late challenge on Forbes.
Stokes was well over from 30 yards in Rovers’ first real effort of the half.
Bolland replaced Todd in the Stags midfield on 52 minutes, Dyer pushing up front to help Green in the gruelling weather.
The energy of O’Neill got him forward again, taking a return pass from Green to fire in a low shot at the keeper.
But Rowe twice came close inside a minute, Worthington blocking his first effort and then, when Stags failed to clear, Marriott down to block his next shot.
Kendrick almost set Green free down the centre but Bittner had left his box to get there first.
The new formation was working much better for Stags and on 63 minutes, from a right wing corner, but Dyer and Murray were denied by a Forbes goal line clearance and then a Bittner save.
At the other end Norwood zipped a shot just over the bar from 25 yards.
The home side made a double change on 67 minutes for fresh legs in pursuit of a winner, Taylor and McDonald replacing Thompson and Griffin.
Another good Stags move on 71 minutes saw Green’s finish deflect up and over from Murray’s pass for the first of two corners, the second of which saw Dyer’s header hit the far angle.
Marriott gatheredRowe’s dangerous low cross from the right anf then the referee refused Gren;s calls for a penalty as he went down in the home box as we entered the final 12 minutes
On 82 minutes Forbes was just wide of the far post after cutting in from the left.
Looking for a winner, Stags changed their front two for the last seven minutes, Connor and Meikle forming the new pairing.
Rovers forced a corner in the last of three added minutes which O’Neill saw off with a diving header.
Once Hodgkiss brought down Meikle as Mansfield counter-attacked, shown a yellow card, the pressure was finally off Stags as they took a hard-earned point.
The Stags defence had showed two enforced changes with Tom Naylor and Ben Futcher joining Louis Briscoe on the suspended list after the midweek win at Wrexham, Joe Kendrick returned at left back and Martin Riley in the centre.
Otherwise the side was unchanged, though Rhys Day came into the 16 on the bench for the first time this season.
FOREST GREEN: Bittner, Hodgkiss, Stokes, Turley, Norwood (Allen 81), Klukowski, Griffin (Taylor 67), Forbes , Graham, Rowe, Thomson (McDonald 67). Subs not used: Turk, Imudia.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Sutton, Riley, Kendrick; Worthington, Murray, Howell; Todd (Bolland 52), Green (Connor 83), Dyer (Meikle 83). Subs not used: Day, Redmond.
REFEREE: Andy Davies of Hampshire.
ATTENDANCE: 893 (241 away).