Forest Green Rovers have been promoted to League One for the first time in their history, following a goalless draw at Bristol Rovers.
The Gloucestershire team have been at the top of the table since September and are now eight points clear of fourth-placed Port Vale, who have only two matches remaining to Forest Green’s three.
Jamille Matt, Jack Aitchison and Nicky Cadden were all denied by Bristol Rovers goalkeeper James Belshaw in the second half, while Luke McGee produced a fine save to thwart Luke Thomas at the other end.
Bristol Rovers remain in fifth place, two points away from the automatic promotion places with two games left.
Having looked to be racing towards League One only a few months ago, Forest Green have seen their push towards the automatic promotion finish line stumble of late.
They fell to a shock 4-0 loss to Barrow on Good Friday, but then beat Oldham Athletic on Easter Monday and knew they needed one point against west country rivals Bristol Rovers to officially secure a top-three finish.
Regan Hendry was close to getting an opening goal but his effort was cleared off the line, while Ebou Adams’ strike forced Belshaw into making a one-handed save.
Bristol Rovers have been on a fine run during the second half of this season and are still in the hunt for a top-three finish themselves, meaning there was little between the sides as Antony Evans and Elliot Anderson also saw chances go begging.
But it was Forest Green who looked more like scoring with Matt denied from close range, as Belshaw was called on repeatedly to keep out the visitors.
Still, a 0-0 draw has never seemed so welcome to a team as Forest Green staff and fans raced on to the pitch to start the celebrations at full-time.
Finally over the line
Forest Green’s promotion to League One has looked so certain at points this season, it is easy to forget it has only been five years since the club was promoted to the English Football League for the first time.
The majority of their 133-year history has seen them more as a local village team than a professional outfit.
After falling short in the play-offs in each of the past two seasons, automatic promotion has been the main target for the squad.
The appointment of former Wales, Aston Villa and Wolves defender Rob Edwards as manager last summer – the first senior job of his coaching career – has proved a masterstroke.
Edwards, 39, has been praised for his forward-thinking approach. He signed few players and focussed on developing the young squad he already had – only seven of their 29 players are over 25 – fitting for someone who earned his coaching stripes working with the England youth teams.
Consistency has also been key. Forest Green have sat at the top of the table since September, before going on a run of 19 matches unbeaten into February that pushed them 10 points clear.
Remarkably, only 19 players have been fielded in the league and that has shown in their performances. This is a team that knows each other well and how they want to play.
Striker Matty Stevens is among those to flourish under Edwards’ management. Having spent most of last season out of favor and on loan, this term he has been a regular starter and the team’s top scorer.
His partnership with Matt up front – the ‘Matt Attack’ – has been so formidable they have scored 43 goals between them.
Things have stuttered since February when Forest Green’s unbeaten run came to an end and they went seven matches without a win. The pressure seemed to show and their advantage dramatically receded.
But another four victories followed, and while a recent 4-0 defeat by bottom-of-the-table Barrow was a shock, Forest Green have got over the line – the ‘little team on top of the hill’ have secured a historic promotion to League One.
‘From obscurity to non-league elite and League One’
Analysis – Paul Furley, BBC Radio Gloucestershire
What a journey it’s been for Forest Green Rovers – from the Stroud League in its early days at the start of the 20th century to League One.
The club that was founded on a hill high above Nailsworth in 1889 never played an opponent outside of Gloucestershire until the 1970s, yet 40 years on from winning a double of the Hellenic League Premier Division and the FA Vase at Wembley, Rovers find themselves promoted to the third tier of English football.
This is their fourth promotion in the last 25 years, the first two achieved under the stewardship of late chairman Trevor Horsley and manager Frank Gregan who took the club from obscurity to a place among the non-league elite and achieved a return to Wembley in the 1999 FA Trophy final.
The recurring theme for the club down the years, according to Tim Barnard who wrote its official history and designed its current ground, is that every time it has needed someone to come in and take it to the next level, it has found that person.
That is what it has done under Dale Vince as chairman and with Rob Edwards now in charge of the team. He has worked with a squad largely inherited from Mark Cooper’s time at the New Lawn and taken them to automatic promotion in League Two.
- 17TaylorBooked at 90mins
- 16AndertonSubstituted forThomasat 67 ‘minutes
- 21EvansBooked at 64minsSubstituted forSaundersat 89 ‘minutes
- 6FinleyBooked at 51minsSubstituted forLoftat 67 ‘minutes
- 12AndersonBooked at 74mins
- 10CollinsBooked at 90mins
- 1McGeeBooked at 77mins
- 7StevensonBooked at 22mins
- 21HendryBooked at 57mins
- 11CaddenSubstituted forBernardat 83 ‘minutes
- 8AdamsBooked at 19mins
- 14MattSubstituted forMarchat 83 ‘minutes
- 10AitchisonSubstituted forMcAteerat 87 ‘minutes
- Gavin Ward
Match ends, Bristol Rovers 0, Forest Green Rovers 0.
Second Half ends, Bristol Rovers 0, Forest Green Rovers 0.
Foul by Aaron Collins (Bristol Rovers).
Regan Hendry (Forest Green Rovers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Luke Thomas (Bristol Rovers) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the center of the goal. Assisted by Elliot Anderson.
Connor Taylor (Bristol Rovers) is shown the yellow card.
James Connolly (Bristol Rovers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Josh March (Forest Green Rovers).
Foul by Connor Taylor (Bristol Rovers).
Josh March (Forest Green Rovers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Aaron Collins (Bristol Rovers) is shown the yellow card.
Aaron Collins (Bristol Rovers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Ebrima Adams (Forest Green Rovers).
Substitution, Bristol Rovers. Harvey Saunders replaces Antony Evans.
Attempt saved. Kane Wilson (Forest Green Rovers) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the center of the goal. Assisted by Regan Hendry.
Substitution, Forest Green Rovers. Kasey McAteer replaces Jack Aitchison.
Foul by Ryan Loft (Bristol Rovers).
Kane Wilson (Forest Green Rovers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Bristol Rovers. Conceded by Regan Hendry.
Substitution, Forest Green Rovers. Dominic Bernard replaces Nicky Cadden.