Another defeat but a vast improvement - that was the verdict of fans, press and management alike as Alfreton Town returned from deepest Gloucestershire on Saturday with renewed hope.
The inclusion of striker Joe Ironside, on loan from Sheffield United, made a substantial difference, although he did manage to miss the clearest chance of the afternoon for the Reds to register a goal.
An improved defensive performance though counted for nothing with a lethal break by the hosts in the 31st minute following a strong penalty appeal, then conceding from a corner for the fourth time in three games with 20 minutes remaining.
Club skipper Duane Courtney was at last fit to make his first start and his presence certainly made a difference to midfield, although a head injury midway through the first half threatened to curtail his inaugural appearance.
Forest Green, with the ominous front pairing of Lee Hughes and Jon Parkin, made a solid start with former Reds’ loanee Elliott Frear providing Parkin with a clear chance that went begging after just 90 seconds.
Jordan Keane tried to push Alfreton forward, but his long run petered out tamely, then Jake Sheridan forced a save from home keeper Sam Russell after 16 minutes, then Russell had to juggle with a deep cross from Lathaniel Rowe-Turner that almost caught him out.
Further pressure from the home side came to nothing, then just after the half hour mark Sheridan’s shot from the edge of the area appeared to be charged down by a Forest Green arm.
Devon referee Brett Huxtable waved play on, David Pipe was sent on a long raking run down the right and when Reds’ keeper Jon Stewart could only parry his cross at the near post Hughes pounced to score from close range.
Six minutes before the break Rovers looked to have doubled their advantage from Clovis Kamdjo’s downward header from a Frear cross, but Stewart reacted well to save on the line.
For much of the second half Alfreton also had to contend with a strong wing that seemed to have gathered strength during half-time, but far from being pegged back the Reds adapted positively to this additional problem.
With 58 minutes elapsed Ironside, who had impressed with his ability to hold up the ball and his accurate distribution, directed a diving header wide from six yards after Anthony Howell had sent Bradley Wood down the right.
Far from being downhearted from what might normally have been their only opportunity Alfreton pressed again, and within two minutes another cross from Wood rattled the Forest Green defence, Russell fumbling before recovering as Danny Coles miskicked at the near post.
The home side quickly regained their composure though with the Reds troubled by Robert Sinclair’s 62nd minute corner that skimmed off Rowe-Turner to leave Coles with an open goal, but he smashed the ball against the crossbar from close range.
Russell had to carefully monitor the flight of Keane’s ambitious effort from wide left, then Sheridan’s confident foray to the by-line in the 67th minute left Courtney unmarked 12 yards out, but he snatched his shot well wide.
Three minutes later and another Sinclair corner finally put paid to Alfreton’s aspirations, the delivery from the left leaving Kamdjo with a downward header inside the six-yard box to put the hosts 2-0 ahead.
A Nathan Hicks corner seven minutes from time saw Chris Smith’s header cleared off the line, and Lee Stevenson went close from 25 yards as the Reds tried for a consolation at least, but it still needed Stewart to prevent a third strike right at the end with a brilliant save from Frear.
ALFRETON: Stewart; Wood, Smith, Graham, Rowe-Turner, Courtney (Hicks 77), Howell, Keane (Shaw 85), Sheridan, Bradley (Stevenson 82), Ironside.
Subs not used: Clayton, Gray.
Att: 956 (43).