James Norwood scores hat-trick as Forest Green Rovers beat Braintree Town 4-1
Forest Green Rovers 4
Braintree Town 1
It was a case of new contract, same tricks from James Norwood as Forest Green emphatically consolidated third place in the Blue Square Bet Premier, writes Peter Orchard.
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Norwood bagged two emphatic first-half goals before Luke Daley halved the advantage with a memorable effort of his own before the break.
Yan Klukowski restored swagger to the green ranks before Norwood completed his second hat-trick of the campaign, putting him out on his own as the club's top scorer with 14 in all competitions.
Central defender Dale Bennett's impressive debut as a substitute at Luton earned him his first start in Rovers colours, meaning Eddie Oshodi dropped to the bench.
Kieron Forbes was also back in midfield against a Braintree side looking to complete a league double over the hosts, and a fast start was imperative.
Jamie Turley almost made it a dream one in the second minute when his cross-shot had to be palmed away from under the crossbar by visiting keeper Nathan McDonald.
Rovers were having plenty of joy down the right side in the early stages, and a fine cross by Norwood should have been headed on target by Yan Klukowski at the far post.
Three minutes later Matty Taylor produced a clever turn inside the area but failed to keep his shot down.
Taylor was then guilty of a more glaring miss, slashing wide with his weaker left foot after latching onto Klukowski's slide-rule pass.
Rovers needed to capitalise on their domination, and they duly obliged in the 19th minute when Klukowski's driven corner was met first time by Norwood and the ball flashed past McDonald before he could move.
Braintree already looked intent on damage limitation, but it was 2-0 on 27 minutes when Chris Stokes found Norwood in space and the forward arrowed a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
The Iron finally mustered a shot in anger through James Mulley, whose lobbed effort from the edge of the area drifted over.
But Forest Green should have been three to the good in the 34th minute when Taylor got on the end of a sumptuous move, only to blaze over.
A clash of heads between Chris Stokes and Alan Massey led to a stoppage in play, and perhaps home concentration was lacking when Daley latched onto a hopeful punt forward and produced a scorching finish into the top corner of Sam Russell's net.
The Essex outfit looked bright at the start of the second period, but they fell two goals adrift again after a bout of penalty-box pinball in the 53rd minute.
Taylor and Paul Green both saw efforts blocked from a partially cleared Norwood free-kick, but Klukowski comes alive when the ball runs free and he scrambled home his 12th goal of the season.
Braintree were far from a spent force, and Sean Marks saw a free header beaten away by Russell before Klukowski sent a dipping effort narrowly wide.
But the result was put beyond doubt in bizarre fashion, Norwood catching out keeper McDonald with a diagonal free-kick that dropped almost apologetically into the corner of the net.
Forest Green: S. Russell; J. Hodgkiss, J. Turley, D. Bennett, C. Stokes; P. Green (E. Oshodi 78), K. Forbes (J. Rowe 88), Y. Klukowski; M. Vieira (Y. Odubade 81), M. Taylor, J. Norwood; Subs not used: E. Asafu-Adjaye, S. Williams.
Braintree Town: N. McDonald; R. Peters, D. Wells, A. Massey, S. Habergham; M. Paine (N. Simons 63), A. Wickham (D. Walker 63), L. Daley, J. Mulley; S. Marks, D. Holman (D. Sparkes 80); Subs not used: R. Watts, D. Naisbitt.
Referee: A. Bromley (Devon)
Star man: James Norwood