Scott Boden’s first goal in eight games was enough to earn FC Halifax Town a 1-0 win over Forest Green and move them above Rovers in the table.
This will go down as one of Town’s best results of the season no matter what is left to come; Rovers were unbeaten in 11 games before tonight.
But the football was a bit of a side-show on an action-packed evening that saw James Norwood sent-off and miss a penalty.
The drama didn’t stop after 90 minutes though as a free-for-all ensued upon the full-time whistle featuring most of the players and staff of both clubs.
The Shay mustn’t have seen its like before as a frantic mass of bodies fought on the pitch.
It would be a shame if it overshadowed a fine win for Town, which lifted them up to sixth in the table.
Kevin Roberts won his first battle with Elliott Frear, star of England C’s win at the Shay recently, in the opening minute before Scott McManus and James Norwood got acquainted on the other flank during a minor flare-up.
From another McManus-Norwood sandwich, the ball ricocheted to Paul Marshall, playing on the left of a midfield four, who slipped a lovely ball through to Boden, and the striker kept his composure to hand Town a dream start.
That would have been wiped out almost immediately but for a tremendous save at full stretch by Matt Glennon from Kurtis Guthrie’s header.
Marshall then saw a 25-yard screamer saved by Sam Russell with Forest Green looking vulnerable at the back.
Jon Parkin hadn’t endeared himself to the home supporters by getting overly-physical with Marc Roberts, all arms and elbows when competing for high balls.
But Rovers could have done with his presence at the back, with the away defence being hustled and harried by Boden and Ross Dyer.
The fact that ironic cheers against referee Steve Rushton were heard after only 12 minutes said much about his start to the match.
The official veered between pedantry and indecisiveness as both sides launched into a pretty breathless contest which Ruhston seemed to have trouble keeping up with.
There were cries of ‘You Don’t Know What You’re Doing’ 16 minutes in; early even by the Shay’s standards.
The decision to rule out Marc Roberts’ goal for alleged pushing on a Rovers defender only added to the ire directed at the official, who by now had guaranteed he would be booed off and back onto the pitch at half-time.
Parkin was the focal point for Rovers, an obvious target man, but that approach bypassed the talent of Norwood and Frear on the wings, who were largely spectators.
Ironically, there could be no argument about Rushton’s first booking for Lois Maynard’s trip on Guthrie after a delightful turn by the Rovers striker away from Simon Ainge.
Calls for the same punishment to be meted out to Sam Wedgbury after he blocked a surging run by McManus went unheeded.
Kevin Roberts continued to keep Frear quiet down the Rovers left, while Dyer contributed some fine hold-up play and flick-ons against his former club.
Frear and Norwood finally linked-up just before the break when the former found the latter with a clever cut-back, but Norwood side-footed over unmarked.
Frear embarked on a superb run and cross moments after the restart, but Guthrie headed over inside the six-yard box.
Guthrie then struck the post from 20 yards out as time seemed to freeze as much as the weather before Parkin’s effort on the rebound was saved by Glennon.
Frear again got the beating of Roberts with a flying burst down the left before digging out another excellent cross, but Guthrie failed to connect on the stretch with the goal gaping.
An increasing number of crosses were now being fizzed through the Town box as Rovers pushed the hosts onto the back foot.
At the other end, the ball wasn’t quite sticking with Dyer and Boden like it had in the first-half.
Dyer was withdrawn midway through the second-half and received a richly-deserved pat on the head by Neil Aspin.
The fact that James Bolton was his replacement was a back-handed compliment to Frear, who looked Rovers’ best outlet by far down the left flank.
That change seemed to stop Rovers’ flow, with Town gaining ground again and nearly adding a second when Lois Maynard’s volley was saved by Sam Russell after great work by substitute Richard Peniket.
Marshall’s socks edged further down his shins as he pounded across the pitch, with Town working hard to preserve their lead.
All that work looked to have been undone when McManus brought down Norwood inside the box.
But Glennon saved Norwood’s penalty and Town breathed again.
Norwood’s night went from bad to worse only minutes later when he was given a straight red for a late foul on, ironically enough, McManus.
His reaction on his way to the tunnel spoke of his surprise at being dismissed, although the Town fans lapped up his finger-pointing on his way off the pitch.
There was still time for Guthrie to send another header off target before the end.
Just when you thought the final whistle had brought an end to the tension, it suddenly exploded as a mass brawl broke out involving most of the two teams and the coaching staff.
The Shay watched on fairly aghast as punches seemed to be thrown among the throng of bodies before it finally calmed after about a minute of madness.
Halifax: Glennon, K Roberts, M Roberts, Ainge, McManus, Smith (Peniket 54), Marshall, Maynard, Hatfield, Boden (Jackson 89), Dyer (Bolton 66). Subs not used: Senior, Jackson, Schofield.
Scorer: Boden (6)
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 5
Forest Green: Russell, Coles, Bennett, Guthrie, Sinclair (Kamdjo 81), Frear, Norwood, Wedgbury, Oshodi, Kelly, Parkin. Subs not used: Stokes, White, McGrory, Oliver.
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 6
Town man of the match: Paul Marshall