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Forest Green climb off bottom of EFL as Horseman’s style starts to pay off

Woo-hoo, indeed. Blur’s Song 2 blared as Forest Green Rovers added an unthinkable fifth goal in the third of eight added second-half minutes. The top of Spring Hill on the edge of Nailsworth, a Cotswolds market town, may seem an unlikely setting for an early-season six-pointer at the bottom of the Football League pyramid but on a bright afternoon Forest Green halted a run of six straight League Two defeats to rout 10-man Colchester 5-0 and flip the narrative around a club that have long been comfortable in their own skin.

“You vegan bastards, you know what you are,” was the early chant from the visiting supporters. Forest Green are also the source of great intrigue, hence the delegation from Borussia Dortmund, here to understand the club’s sustainable ethos. Feyenoord are coming next month. “They are here to learn about the things we have done and how they can apply those things back at their club,” says Forest Green’s chairman, Dale Vince. “It is the kind of thing we have done before and it is for us to do that because we are not just here to play football, we are here to try to change the world. Sport is a platform for change.”

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Serene surroundings they may be but at this level livelihoods are very much on the line. Which explains why the Colchester captain, Connor Hall, and full-back Mandela Egbo were involved in heated discussions with some of the 278 travelling supporters after the final whistle. It is the reason why, afterwards, Ben Garner, the Colchester United head coach, spoke of the jeopardy that this damning defeat brings him and his players. “We have to stay together,” Garner says. “We got booed off at half-time, at 1-0 down and our players are getting slaughtered by our own fans and I’m getting verbally abused walking off the pitch. We’re having players being cheered when they’re being substituted off the pitch … it doesn’t help anyone. No one wins by going down that way.”

Forest Green is also, on the face of it, one of the last places where you would think geopolitical conflict would bite. But Vince decided against flying the Palestine flag on Saturday, despite doing so here since Russia invaded Ukraine. The Palestine flag can usually be seen flying alongside a green union jack and another in name of Sea Shepherd. “We wanted to take the heat out of the situation – it’s an emotional time – and also reflect that bad things have happened on two sides of this conflict,” says Vince. “It is not a day for flag-waving.”

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Forest Green kicked off bottom of the pile but a first home win this season hoisted them up a place and level on points with their opponents. If anything typified the desperation it was the sight of the lesser-spotted indirect free-kick, on the edge of Forest Green’s six-yard box just after the half-hour, punishment for scooping up a back pass. Every Forest Green player, except Kyle McAllister and Jacob Maddox, retreated to the goal-line and tensed, ready to throw their bodies at the incoming strike. Forest Green repelled the ball, huge cheers followed and theytook the lead a few minutes later. Callum Morton tucked home but Jacob Maddox did brilliantly to pinch the ball from Jay Mingi, who was sent off for a second yellow card three minutes into the second half.

The Forest Green manager, David Horseman, looks on during the League 2 match against Colchester.The Forest Green manager, David Horseman (centre), worked alongside Ralph Hasenhüttl at Southampton. Photograph: Clive Howes/ProSports/Shutterstock

Forest Green’s first goal was a snapshot of the high-pressing 4-2-2-2 system that the head coach, David Horseman, who worked with Ralph Hasenhüttl at Southampton, wants to implement. “It is the Red Bull-style,” Horseman says. “We know the system works. Ralph is a Champions League-level coach … once you get the behaviours right, the speed, the aggression, it is really hard to play against. The dressing room have bought into it from day one.”

There has been a heavy turnover of staff and players since Forest Green’s former head coach, Rob Edwards, now going toe to toe with the world’s best in the Premier League with Luton, led the club into League One 18 months ago.

Dom Bernard was the only player from that team to start here, while Matty Stevens, who suffered an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury towards the end of that season, scored twice and had a stoppage-time penalty appeal waved away.

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Quick Guide

Burton run continues as Stockport climb to top of League Two

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Burton earned their third straight victory in League One after they secured a 1-0 win over 10-man Lincoln.

Three minutes after Danny Mandroiu was shown a red card for a rash tackle on Josh Gordon, Burton found the winner when Joe Powell’s whipped corner was flicked into his own goal by Jack Burroughs.

Stevenage slipped to their third defeat in four games following a 3-0 loss at Blackpool, who took the lead in the 38th minute in rather fortunate fashion when Ollie Norburn’s long-range strike deflected off Jordan Rhodes and into the net before second-half goals from Owen Dale and CJ Hamilton lifted the Seasiders into seventh.

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Ruel Sotiriou’s 21st-minute strike earned Leyton Orient a 1-0 victory over Carlisle. Taylor Perry scored two minutes from time to give Shrewsbury a 1-1 draw with Cambridge, after Michael Morrison handed the hosts a 69th-minute lead with his first goal for the club in over 16 years.

Mansfield came from a goal down to maintain their unbeaten start to the League Two season with a 4-1 thrashing of previous leaders Notts County.

Stockport climbed to the top of the table after they secured their seventh successive win with a 3-1 victory over Harrogate.

Steven Fletcher and Jordan Davies netted twice in a minute as Wrexham came from two goals down to beat Salford 3-2. Mickey Demetriou and Chris Long scored in each half as Crewe returned to winning ways with a 2-0 triumph over Tranmere, who had goalkeeper Luke McGee sent off early in the second period before Tom Davies saw red to reduce the visitors to nine men late on.

Goals from Dan Kemp and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy helped Swindon bounce back from two consecutive defeats with a 2-0 victory over Newport. Managerless Gillingham fell to their fourth straight away league defeat following a 4-1 loss to Walsall.

Emmanuel Osadebe’s close-range strike just after the hour mark earned Bradford a second straight win with a 1-0 victory over AFC Wimbledon to lift them into the top half the table.

Sean Whalley and Josh Andrews were on the scoresheet to give Accrington a 2-0 victory over Grimsby after Luke Waterfall had seen red two minutes before the opener for a second bookable offence. Barrow scored twice in stoppage time to rescue an unlikely point with a 2-2 draw with MK Dons.

Doncaster earned their third straight home win with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Sutton, who remain bottom.  Forest Green ended a run of six league defeats in a row with an impressive 5-0 triumph over Colchester with Matty Stevens netting twice.

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Fankaty Dabo, who missed the crucial spot-kick when Luton triumphed against Coventry in May, captained Rovers and Troy Deeney, who signed as a player-coach to return to this level for the first time since 2007, led the line impeccably. Horseman got to know Deeney while the pair were at Watford. “It was a big moment for everybody to keep the belief in what we’re trying to do,” Horseman says. “I think people would start calling for my head if we didn’t win that one.”