Forest Green Rovers got off the mark in the Leasing.com Trophy as they beat Southampton U21s 3-2 at The New Lawn.
Harlem Hale opened the scoring in the first half before Matty Stevens equalised on the half hour mark.
Goals from Dayle Grubb and Dan N’Lundulu sent the game towards penalties, but Stevens bagged his second of the evening with minutes to play.
Mark Cooper shuffled the pack ahead of his side’s first outing in this season’s EFL Trophy, giving Matty Stevens and Shawn McCoulsky the nod up top, while Carl Winchester and Junior Mondal started as wing backs.
Lewis Thomas started between the sticks while Academy scholars Dan and Isaiah Jones earned places on the bench.
The visitors, full of energy, started brightly. Dan N'Lundulu had an early chance after just five minutes as his deflected shot flashed just wide of Thomas’ left-hand post.
After some excellent performances in recent weeks, Udoka Godwin-Malife almost put his stamp on the game with nine minutes on the clock as his powerful effort from a crossing position almost caught the keeper off guard.
From the resulting corner, a clever routine saw Kitching dart to the front post before seeing his header flicked just over the bar.
The away side took the lead with 17 minutes on the clock as they took advantage of an error at the back, Hale popping up on the edge of the box to finish past Thomas with McGinley sliding in.
Forest Green began to apply the pressure, searching for a goal that would get them back into the games, Liam Kitching forcing a save from another corner.
Half an hour into the encounter, Rovers got their reward.
Following the breakdown of a corner, James Morton whipped a sumptuous ball to the back post and Stevens showed great footwork to skip past his marker and nod the ball home from inside the six-yard box.
The final chance of the half dropped to the feet of Mondal who was leaning back, and couldn’t convert from Kevin Dawson’s excellent looping cross.
With the addition of Grubb from the bench, Forest Green looked the better of the two sides, Mondal almost forcing an opening from a cross just moments after the restart.
A little over an hour into the bout, Stevens had a chance to double his tally for the evening.
Morton found him on the left of the area with a clever ball, before the forward struck his effort straight at the keeper.
With less than 20 minutes of the game to go, Grubb picked the ball up on the edge of the area, and after shifting his weight onto his weaker left side and darting into the area, the winger calmly buried the ball into the bottom corner.
Rovers had the reactions of Thomas to thank with 76 minutes on the clock, the keeper pulling a fantastic save to push Jake Vokins effort onto the underside of the bar.
Just 10 minutes from time, the visitors levelled things up as powerful forward N’Lundulu cut inside Nathan McGinley with a step over before firing a wicked strike off the inside of the post.
Thomas was called into action again minutes later, before Stevens was on hand to find a winner late on as he jabbed home Mondal’s low cross after good work from Dan Jones.
Forest Green XI: Thomas, Winchester (c) (D.Jones 68’), Stevens, Morton, Dawson (I.Jones 68’), McGinley, Kitching, McCoulsky, Godwin-Malife, Mondal, Taylor (Grubb 46’)
Unused subs: Smith, Bernard, Allen, J.Mills
Referee: Brett Huxtable
Attendance: 653 (73 away)
Man of the Match: Matty Stevens
Next up: Cambridge United, The Abbey Stadium, Saturday, September 7