Forest Green Rovers 1, Fleetwood Town 0 TOWN couldn't take their chances on their first ever visit to the New Lawn Ground despite giving a debut to record signing George Donnelly from League One Plymouth Argyle.
The visitors had more of the play and their new striker, who replaced Wayne Curtis in the starting line-up, struck the bar, but Town still fell to a third 1-0 defeat on the road this season, all of them against sides struggling at the wrong end of the table.
This defeat, only Town's second in the Blue Square Bet Premier since August, ended a seven-match unbeaten league run for Micky Mellon's side. That run stretched back to their defeat by the only goal at Altrincham, who were propping up the rest at the time, in mid-October.
Saturday's Gloucestershire hosts, who started the day just one point clear of the drop zone, claimed the points courtesy of Steve Guinan's strike 12 minutes from time, which could be priceless in their bid to extend their record as the longest-standing members of non-league's top division – though they had the demise of Salisbury City to thank for their survival last season, after finishing in the bottom four.
Both managers were ex-Blackpool players, Rovers' Dave Hockaday having started his career as a Seasiders full-back in the mid-70s.
Town boss Mellon was forced into three changes, besides introducing Donnelly up front.
With Jamie Milligan and Paul Linwood both ruled out with knee injuries, and Jon Worthington ending his loan spell from Oldham early because of a hamstring problem, Jamie McGuire was partnered in midfield by Ian Craney, following his loan spell at Accrington Stanley, while skipper Steve McNulty returned at centre-half after a two-match absence, alongside the permanently-signed Sean Gregan.
The match started in bright sunshine on a pitch that had taken a lot of rain over the previous 48 hours.
Town came forward from the kick-off, with Craney having the first opportunity when he fired over after five minutes. The first clear cut chance fell to the home side, however, when Guigan headed off-target from Craig Armstrong's dangerous cross on 10 minutes.
Town hit back as Gareth Seddon fired wide from distance, but they survived another close call when Rovers midfielder Kieron Forbes, newly signed from Wealdstone, broke from deep and saw his powerful shot turned away for a corner by Scott Davies.
Junior Brown became increasingly threatening down the flanks for Fleetwood, crossing well with both feet, while Craney had another shot saved after good approach play by Seddon and Anthony Barry, who also went close as Town gained the ascendancy.
The half ended with Gregan receiving his first booking of the season for kicking the ball away at a free-kick.
It was one of several decisions by referee Ian Cooper which bemused the visitors, Gregan arguing that he kicked the ball off the pitch because there was another one on the field of play.
The pattern remained similar after the interval, Town enjoying plenty of possession, but unable to make the breakthrough. Both sides made a substitution nine minutes after the restart, Alan Wright replacing Seddon for Town and enabling Brown to take up a more advanced role down the left.
Rovers made a change up front, where six-goal Yan Klukowski came on for top scorer Reece Styche.
It was down the Fleetwood right that the visitors next threatened, however, as Shaun Beeley made a trademark run into the box and was disappointed that Mr Cooper did not play advantage after he had been fouled outside the area.
From the resulting free-kick, Craney struck keeper James Bittner's left post.
Town rattled the woodwork again on 66 minutes as Donnelly was denied a debut goal by the bar, then Brown looped a header wide.
Having ridden their luck, Rovers netted the winner when Davies saved a fierce shot from Klukowski only to see the ball rebound for Guigan to open his account for his new club – he had played for Northampton against Town in last season's FA Cup.
Mellon brought John Miles on for the last 10 minutes in place of Craney but the midfielder squandered a good opportunity, firing wide when set up by Donnelly.
Mellon's last throw of the dice was to introduce Lee Thorpe for Brown, who had taken a knock to the back of the leg.
Town drove forward, but the Rovers defence remained stubborn to the end, which came after four minutes of added time.
This defeat cost Mellon's men their place in the play-off zone, replaced by Wrexham on goals scored.
It was a disappointing start to 2011 on the road, following two home wins since Christmas, but Town have a chance to put that right tomorrow away to a Mansfield side who now trail them by only three points following victory at Eastbourne.
Forest Green: Bittner, Hodgkiss, Jones, Armstrong, Hall, Caines, Turk, Forbes (Allen 90+3), Styche (Klukowski 90+3), Gray (Dyer 60), Guinan; subs not used: Bartlett, Stokes
Fleetwood: Davies, Beeley, McNulty, Brown (Thorpe 84), Barry, Craney (Miles 80), McGuire, Gregan, Vieira, Seddon (Wright), Donnelly subs not used: Hurst, Connors
Ref: Ian Cooper; Attendance: 762