JOHN Ward fully expects former club Cheltenham Town to win automatic promotion this season.
Bristol Rovers boss Ward made his second return to the Abbey Business Stadium since leaving for Carlisle United in 2007 for Tuesday's night's derby clash.
Cheltenham took the lead in first-half stoppage time through Shaun Harrad and Ward looked set to leave empty handed again before Oliver Norburn crashed in a 95th-minute leveller.
Despite denying Mark Yates' team a chance to close in on second-placed Gillingham, who slipped up at home to Wycombe on Monday night, Ward praised Cheltenham's strength and believes they will be playing League One football next term.
"For us to get a point is a great result and we tried to take the game to a team who I am pretty sure are going to get automatic promotion this season," said Ward, who took Cheltenham into League One via the play-offs in 2006.
"They have recruited extremely well in January and I watched them on Saturday against Torquay and in both games they have shown how strong they are and they will overpower a lot of teams."
Ward picked the strongest team he could in terms of physical presence and he played full-back Danny Woodards out of position on the left wing in a specific ploy to combat the threat of Jermaine McGlashan.
He felt the game plan worked well and said a point was the least Rovers deserved as they made it ten points from a possible 12.
"We have a sign up in our dressing room saying winners don't give in," he said. "We haven't been winners in the past, but we are trying to be now and one thing is certain, we don't give in.
"It was a fantastic goal and I know I am biased, but we didn't deserve to lose the game.
"For us to get the equaliser the way we did means I am going to have to keep taking the heart tablets!"
Rovers were backed by nearly 1,500 supporters at the Abbey Business Stadium and Ward said their noise levels led to the normally subdued home fans making plenty of their own.
"It was a big game and a relatively local one and our fans have turned out in their numbers," he said.
"They provoked the home fans to make a lot of noise because generally they don't at Cheltenham, they are usually a quiet group who watch the game and go home.
"They have responded and both teams responded and I thought it was a cracking game of football in terms of effort and attitude."