Tyrone Barnett’s first goal for Cheltenham Town earned them a battling point against Gloucestershire rivals Forest Green Rovers in Sky Bet League Two at the New Lawn.
Barnett won a first half penalty for the Robins, and after Luke Varney’s effort was saved by Robert Sanchez, the Port Vale loanee tucked away the rebound to send the travelling fans wild after 26 minutes.
The visitors defended superbly throughout but were undone in the 75th minute from a set-piece as Joseph Mills was left unmarked to head in a corner in front of the South Stand.
Varney had two goals ruled out in the second half as the Robins had to settle for a point in Nailsworth.
Michael Duff made four changes to the team that started at MK Dons a fortnight ago; as Chris Hussey, Craig Alcock, Kevin Dawson and Barnett came in for Tom Field, Aden Baldwin, Chris Clements and Ben Tozer.
The Robins started high up the pitch in pressing Rovers, but they suffered an early scare as former Cheltenham man Carl Winchester charged down a Scott Flinders clearance in the fourth minute, with the ball deflecting harmlessly wide.
Penalty shouts were then waved away two minutes later after Varney went down deep inside the home penalty area following a flick from Nigel Atangana.
Mark Cooper’s side won the first corner of the game after 15 minutes, but it was cleared as the first quarter of an hour produced little in the way of chances, but plenty in terms of feisty tackles and challenges.
Duff was then forced into a 20th minute substitution as Dawson limped off and Liam McAlinden came on in his place – shortly after Jacob Maddox struck a fierce half volley towards goal, but Robert Sanchez parried away.
But then the home stopper was caught out as he brought down Barnett in the 23rd minute and the Robins were awarded a penalty and the chance to take the lead at Forest Green for the first time in a Football League fixture.
After a long delay, Sanchez saved Varney’s spot-kick, but Barnett was on hand to slide the rebound under his legs and into the middle of the net for his first goal since joining on loan from Port Vale.
That goal was clearly a confidence booster for Cheltenham, as Forest Green took until the 36th minute to have an attempt on goal – with Theo Archibald curling high and wide.
A foul from Atangana then led to a free-kick for the Green Devils, but Archibald’s slightly better effort still wasn’t good enough to beat Scott Flinders.
The last action of the first half saw Maddox give the ball away and George Williams took aim, only to see his whistling effort dip over the crossbar and into the North Stand.
It was a shaky start to the second half for the hosts, as following a corner, McAlinden swung an instinctive boot at a lose ball but his powerful strike was beaten away by Sanchez.
Liam Shephard then drove a low effort into the side netting before Forest Green used up all of their substitutions by the 55th minute – goal-scorer Barnett was replaced to a standing ovation, as Kelsey Mooney came on.
Dayle Grubb then struck a shot from the edge of the box that moved in all directions before veering wide of the top left-hand corner.
Another corner caused havoc in the Green Devils’ penalty area, but skipper Johnny Mullins blasted off target as Atangana failed to sort his feet out.
Varney was then penalised and had a goal ruled out for a push in the back as he raced through clear after Gavin Gunning tumbled just outside of the area.
Mark Cooper’s me then equalised 15 minutes from time as full-back Mills headed home from an in-swinging corner – which was their first attempt on target in the second half.
Cheltenham hoped to respond immediately but Maddox was denied by Sanchez – Grubb then dragged a shot wide at the other end as the match began to open up.
Cheltenham then had another goal ruled out as Hussey’s cross was met by a bullet header from Varney, who could have had a hat-trick on another day – as Duff’s men pushed to restore their advantage.
Winchester then had a looping header bravely nodded off the line by Mullins as the best action of the match was saved until late on in the Gloucestershire derby.
But the game ended in a stalemate as it did at the same venue last season, as the spoils were shared in Nailsworth.
FOREST GREEN ROVERS (4-3-3): Sanchez (Gk), Shephard, Rawson, Winchester ©, Grubb, Williams (Campbell 45), Archibald, McGinley (Gunning 45), Digby, Worthington (Brown 55), Mills. Subs not used: Montgomery (Gk), James, Collins, Pearce.
CHELTENAHM TOWN (4-4-2): Flinders (Gk), Hussey, Mullins (c), Atangana, Dawson (McAlinden 20), Broom, Boyle, Maddox (Tozer 82), Barnett (Mooney 55), Alcock, Varney. Subs not used: Lovett (Gk), Addai, Forster, Jones.
REFEREE: P Bankes
ATTENDANCE: 3,582 (682 from Cheltenham)