BRAINTREE TOWN 3 FOREST GREEN ROVERS 1
FOREST Green blew their chance to grab second place in the Blue Square Bet Premier, serving up a horribly insipid performance in Essex.
Sean Marks' 28th minute goal gave the part-timers a lead they fully deserved at the interval, and when Luke Daley doubled their advantage in the second period it looked like the killer blow.
A home red card and Chris Stokes' third goal in as many matches raised hope of an unlikely recovery, but Kenny Davis' late penalty and the dismissal of Omar Koroma completed a miserable night for Dave Hockaday and company.
Hockaday handed on-loan Cardiff City striker Nathaniel Jarvis his first start, meaning bench duty for both Matty Taylor and Reece Styche.
Paul Green and Yan Klukowski were also recalled in midfield at the expense of Al Bangura and Steve Brogan, but measured play was in short supply from both sides as the game began in harum-scarum fashion.
Davis and Matt Paine both chanced their arm from long range for the hosts but failed to trouble Sam Russell, who had earlier been fortunate to see an attempted clearance charged down by Davis and ricochet to safety.
Rovers had not created a single opportunity of note when they fell behind, Eddie Oshodi buckling under pressure from Dan Holman inside the area and Marks pouncing on the loose ball to break the deadlock.
The visitors were briefly sparked into life, Green producing a fine defence-splitting pass and James Norwood seeing his shot saved at the near post by Danny Naisbitt.
But Braintree continued to look the hungrier outfit, and Holman saw a piledriver blocked by Aarran Racine before sending a 25-yard shot narrowly over.
Hockaday switched to a 3-4-3 formation at the start of the second half, with Oshodi occupying an unfamiliar right midfield role.
Yet still the home side appeared more at ease, and on 52 minutes Marks outwitted Racine and worked space for an angled drive that was saved by Russell.
Five minutes later Holman drove well wide when handily placed at the edge of the penalty area, prompting Hockaday to introduce three substitutes in the shape of Jared Hodgkiss, Brogan and Taylor.
The latter quickly found himself on the end of a deep cross, only to be caught in two minds and fluff his attempted pass into the six-yard box.
Taylor's indecision was punished in the 71st minute when a deep cross at the other end was nodded down by Marks and Daley's shot was deemed to have crossed the line despite Stokes' attempted clearance.
Braintree looked home and dry, but they were reduced to ten men two minutes later when Ryan Peters scythed down Omar Koroma and was shown his second booking of the night.
The resulting free-kick was swung in by Brogan to the far post, where Stokes found himself free to nod home and set up another grandstand finale.
Norwood sent a dipping effort over from distance as Forest Green pressed, but the tale took another twist with nine minutes remaining when referee Charles Breakspear punished Racine for holding Marks inside the area.
Davis made no mistake from the spot, ensuring Alan Devonshire's side would end the night outside the relegation zone.
Koroma had been among the more industrious performers in a green shirt, and he saw a scuffed shot strike the post before being shown his second yellow card for an aerial challenge on Dean Wells.
Braintree Town: D. Naisbitt; R. Peters, D. Wells, A. Massey, S. Hebergham; L. Daley (R. Watts 87), M. Paine, K. Davis, J. Mulley; S. Marks (K. Sheppard 90), D. Holman (P. O'Connor 76); Subs not used: D. Hunt, D. Sparkes.
Forest Green: S. Russell; J. Turley, A. Racine, E. Oshodi (J. Hodgkiss 58), C. Stokes; Y. Klukowski (S. Brogan 58), P. Green, J. Collins; O. Koroma, N. Jarvis (M. Taylor 58), J. Norwood; Subs not used: J. Rowe, R. Styche.
Referee: C. Breakspear (Surrey)
Star man: Chris Stokes