Gloucestershire, home to an agricultural college, dry-stone walls, plenty of organic food producers and now, in the shape of Forest Green Rovers, a team that will play in the third round of the FA Cup for the first time. Who they will face on the first Saturday of January will be decided in the draw this afternoon, but their manager Jim Harvey would like to play Manchester United.
A Northern Irishman, he said after this win: "I grew up supporting United. Their number in the draw is 23 and that has been the buzz number all week at the club. And we would really like to play them at Old Trafford." United's capacity is 75,000. Here at the New Lawn stadium – capacity 5,000 but with a disappointing 1,700 in attendance – the side from the Blue Square Premier division outplayed Rochdale, who sit some 40 places above them and are fifth in League Two. To boot, Forest Green have only won once in 14 Blue Square games, going back to early September, so this result should never have happened. But, of course, the Cup has the pleasing habit of doing that.
But the notion of form was forgotten in the near-freezing temperatures at the home of the side known as the "club from the top of the hill". The Rovers website warns against fans walking up from Nailsworth town centre to the stadium, unless they are used to hard exercise. There is a pub as part of the stadium complex and a few deserved pints of Gloucestershire's finest bitter at least made the downhill walk a cinch for those who did turn up.
Which was how most of this second-round tie was for the hosts. Afterwards Harvey, the former Morecambe manager, described it as the best moment of his career, given that Rovers would be making their third-round debut.
The players who wrote their name in club folklore were Jonathan Smith, with his goal after 27 minutes and Joshua Low after 56 minutes.
Thereafter, Harvey's side were able to handle the threat of the men from Greater Manchester. The turning point came just before Low's goal as Dale's Lee Thorpe saw his header cleared off the line by Paul Stonehouse. A minute later, on the counter-attack, Rovers had doubled their lead and effectively finished the game.
Both Harvey and his opposite number Keith Hill play football that is pleasing on the eye and Rovers' first goal was proof. Stonehouse crossed from the left, Low stepped over the ball and Smith's shot had enough power on it, despite Sam Russell getting a hand on it. Russell was still being worked after the second goal, diving full length to deny Andy Mangan, further proof Rovers deserved their place in today's draw.Reuse content