Forest Green Rovers boss Rob Edwards said clinching the League Two title felt “surreal” after drawing with a Mansfield Town side that hung on to claim a play-off spot on a chaotic final day at the One Call Stadium.
Rovers twice came from behind to claim the point they needed to ensure they overtook Exeter at the summit, with the Grecians finishing second after being beaten by Port Vale.
On-loan Newcastle United midfielder Matty Longstaff had put the hosts ahead before the break, with Ebou Adams restoring parity just after the hour mark.
Two goals in two season-defining late minutes saw Jordan Bowery restore Mansfield’s lead before Josh March hit back to snatch the point the Gloucestershire side required to be crowned fourth division champions for the first time ever.
“We’ve had a lot of titanic battles this year and tough games right the way through,” Edwards told BBC Radio Gloucestershire.
“It still is a little bit surreal. I know we’ve been there for a long, long time but maybe I still didn’t quite believe it was going to happen.
“But we’ve finished on top and it’s incredible.”
The hard-fought, dramatically sealed draw in Nottinghamshire capped a stunning season for Edwards’ side, who will play in England’s third tier for the first time in their history next season.
The result means Mansfield finish seventh in the table and will face Northampton in the play-off semi-finals, starting with the home leg next Saturday.
While results elsewhere meant Nigel Clough’s Mansfield missed out on automatic promotion, clinching a play-off place is a remarkable achievement for a side that was in the relegation places in October following a disastrous 12-game winless league run.
A club record 11 successive league wins between October and April saw the Stags surge up the table to become unlikely automatic promotion candidates.
Clough said the Stags go into the play-offs “in good heart” and “with some momentum” as they try to return to England’s third tier for the first time in 19 years.
“We are still in with a chance and before kick-off we’d have taken that,” he said.
“They needed a point to win the league so it couldn’t have worked out better for both teams.”
The hosts, who at the start of the day could have finished as high as third and as low as eighth, went ahead through Longstaff who met a deflected ball from Jamie Murphy in the box before beating goalkeeper Luke McGee with his second attempt.
Rovers, among the league’s most prolific sides, were a constant threat and eventually restored parity, thanks to Adams’ cool finish after latching on to a through ball from Jamille Matt.
Matt sent a close-range header over the crossbar soon after and Nicky Cadden had a shot saved by Nathan Bishop as the visitors chased a winner, but it was Bowery who was next to throw a twist into the title and play-off race with a second for the Stags.
But just a minute after coming off the bench, March beat the offside trap to lift a fine finish over the home goalkeeper to seal the title-winning draw.
- 14perchSubstituted forHewittdid 84′minutes
- 3McLaughlinBooked at 37mins
- 10HusbandsSubstituted forWallacedid 74′minutes
- 44M Longstaff
- 7MurphySubstituted forAkinsdid 88′minutes
- 8Oh Clarke
- 21HendrySubstituted forMarchdid 79′minutesBooked at 81mins
- Robert Madley
Match ends, Mansfield Town 2, Forest Green Rovers 2.
Second Half-ends, Mansfield Town 2, Forest Green Rovers 2.
Substitution, Mansfield Town. Lucas Akins replaces Jamie Murphy.
Attempt saved. Rhys Oates (Mansfield Town) header from the center of the box is saved in the center of the goal. Assisted by Matthew Longstaff.
Foul by Jamille Matt (Forest Green Rovers).
Kieran Wallace (Mansfield Town) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Mansfield Town. Elliott Hewitt replaces James Perch.
Attempt missed. Ebrima Adams (Forest Green Rovers) header from the center of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Nicky Cadden with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Forest Green Rovers. Conceded by James Perch.
Josh March (Forest Green Rovers) is shown the yellow card for excessive celebration.
Goal! Mansfield Town 2, Forest Green Rovers 2. Josh March (Forest Green Rovers) right footed shot from the right side of the box to the center of the goal. Assisted by Udoka Godwin-Malife with a through ball.
Substitution, Forest Green Rovers. Josh March replaces Regan Hendry.
Goal! Mansfield Town 2, Forest Green Rovers 1. Jordan Bowery (Mansfield Town) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Stephen McLaughlin with a cross.
Attempt missed. Rhys Oates (Mansfield Town) header from the center of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Stephen McLaughlin with a cross.
Foul by Ebrima Adams (Forest Green Rovers).
Stephen Quinn (Mansfield Town) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Jamie Murphy (Mansfield Town) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Stephen Quinn with a headed pass.
Substitution, Mansfield Town. Kieran Wallace replaces George Maris.
Attempt saved. Jack Aitchison (Forest Green Rovers) right footed shot from the center of the box is saved in the center of the goal. Assisted by Kane Wilson.
Corner, Forest Green Rovers. Conceded by Oliver Hawkins.