Forest Green Rovers started the new year with a 1-0 defeat at home to Exeter City after Nigel Atangana’s fifth-minute strike.
Despite the visitors playing the majority of the second half with 10 men after Atangana saw a straight red in the 46th minute, FGR were unable to find an equaliser, with Liam Shephard missing a penalty.
Head coach Mark Cooper made two changes to his starting XI, with Kevin Dawson starting his first game since Scunthorpe at the start of December, while Liam Kitching also started after doing well off the bench against Macclesfield at half time three days ago.
Forest Green came out of the blocks early, showing no signs of a new year’s hangover, with Matty Stevens flicking onto Liam Shephard in the channel, his ball in cleared well by the visitors with Dawson looking to pounce and make an immediate impact.
However, Rovers were dealt a blow in just the fifth minute when Nicky Law got on the ball on the right corner of the box.
He was able to lay it off to Atangana on the edge of the area in a more central position and it looked to take a deflection off the diving body of Ebou Adams and wrong foot Adam Smith to find the corner and give the Grecians the lead.
It left FGR stumbling and the headache could have got worse just two minutes later when Law struck the woodwork after skipping past a couple of green bodies in the box and Farrend Rawson's diving challenge doing enough to deflect the ball up onto the bar.
The heads of those in the zebra stripes started to become more clear as they found their foot hold in the game and had the ball in the net after 15 minutes through Dawson, only to be denied by an offside flag much earlier in the move.
Junior Mondal won a corner for FGR just shy of the half hour mark, as he looked to work something from nothing on the edge of the box.
The corner was taken short and Winchester delivered from a deeper position to the back post, Jonny Maxted doing well to punch it away.
With two minutes left on the first period, FGR came closest to lighting the fireworks through Mondal.
Shephard delivered a floated ball in towards Dawson. The ball dropped to Mondal, who fired goal-bound, under the legs of Dawson, who was actually offside, and Maxted saved superbly, unsighted, unaware of the imminent offside flag.
Cooper made two changes at the break to influence things in the second half and try and find that spark to set his side alight, bringing on Elliott Frear, fresh from his new deal, and Jack Aitchison in place of Matty Stevens and Matt Mills.
Less than a minute into the second period and Exeter’s goal scorer went from hero to villain in pantomime season as he saw a straight red for a foul on Kevin Dawson in the middle of the pitch.
FGR looked to make the man advantage tell in the 58th minute when Aitchison skipped past two challenges in the box before being clipped from behind.
Shephard stepped up and aimed for the right corner but Maxted did well to get down and save before Exeter cleared for a throw.
From that, the throw was taken short and Shephard's cross deflected to Adams in the area, who couldn't get enough on his flick, with his back to goal, to steer it inside the far corner.
Only a superb save that was more impressive than many of the back garden firework displays from the night before prevented FGR their equaliser as the pressure began to tell.
Rovers worked the ball down the right well and the cross fell to Mondal, who had the composure to take a touch and looked certain to score, but an acrobatic, one-handed save denied him.
In the 75th minute, another chance went begging for Forest Green.
Winchester let fly with a low shot from distance, and Maxted could only parry away into the danger area, but Adams couldn’t work his feet out in time and steered his effort wide of the target on the rebound.
Exeter remained resolute in their defensive efforts and it turned out to be no bang at the end of the game as it ended in somewhat a whimper with the FGR players out on their feet as they slipped to defeat.
Forest Green XI: Smith, Shephard, M Mills (Frear 45’), Rawson, Winchester (c), Stevens (Aitchison 45’), Adams, Dawson (Covil 82’), McGinley, Kitching, Mondal
Unused subs: Thomas, Bernard, Morton, Godwin-Malife
Exeter XI: Maxted, Sweeney, Atangana, A Martin, L Martin (Taylor 57’), Law (Tillson 86’), Williams, Bowman, Parkes, Richardson, Collins (c)
Unused subs: Ward, Ajose, Warren, Jay, Seymour
Referee: Lee Swabey
Attendance: 3,012 (703)
Man of the match: Liam Kitching