We won the National League, remember? You might be forgiven for forgetting that salient piece of information, certainly if you’re a neutral. After all, since our promotion we’ve quietly gone about our business whilst Dale Vince, Cooperman and the rest of the FGR sideshow takes centre stage.
Tonight we visit the New Lawn for the first time since that rather excellent match last November. Back then both sides would have taken the overall outcome, but have both sides grown in stature? Have both sides developed enough to sustain League football for years to come? Have there been signs from our opponents that they’re ready to overcome their ‘small club’ mentality that cost them the title last season?
The answer is no, they haven’t. They’ve lost the last three games on the spin, and in truth have looked incredibly poor. Colchester thrashed the 5-1, Wycombe did them 3-1 and most recently Exeter managed the same result. They’re getting forward and scoring goals, but at the back they look beyond shambolic. Their one win this season was 4-3 against Yeovil, that after going 3-1 down.
Forest Green have always had decent players going forward, Christian Doidge loves a goal against City and he’s off the mark this season too, bagging four in League action. They also hung on to Liam Noble in the summer, and that seems a wise move as his input from midfield has helped steady the rocking ship from time to time. The league table doesn’t lie though, and they’re joint second bottom, a point off 24th spot with a minus nine goal difference.
At home their form has been indifferent, they’ve won one, drawn one and lost one. Away from home, as expected given their troubles last season, they’ve been pitiful losing all three games and conceding ten goals. This is still the FGR from last season, and therein lies the problem they’ll have going forward.
Defeat tonight will increase pressure on our favourite sour-faced scarf-wearer. I called him to be the first manager in our league to get the boot this season: I stand by that.
Their summer business was less than exciting, hanging on to Liam Noble was perhaps the best bit of news their fans got. They brought in Reece Brown, brother of Wes, but his influence in defence hasn’t helped significantly. I would imagine Cooperman is already panicking in the hot-seat and with good reason. Dale Vince isn’t known as a sympathetic chairman, nor one who shies away from pulling the trigger when things don’t go well. Defeat tonight will increase pressure on our favourite sour-faced scarf-wearer. I called him to be the first manager in our league to get the boot this season: I stand by that.
Last season the rumour is Cooperman called a meeting in the home dressing room and said anyone not with him on the journey was to go and sit in the away dressing room. The split, I’m told, was 50/50 and by the end of January half of the squad had been moved on. By March some of the new faces were being turned too, especially after that embarrassing defeat at North Ferriby. The harsh truth is this: Mark Cooper is not a good Football League manager, and despite having the resources he hasn’t produced the goods. His summer spending was small compared to some seasons, why? Is it because the promotion just saved his arse, and Vince is just waiting with the vote of confidence whilst sourcing a new manager, one with the experience to get FGR further up the so-called ‘easy’ league they’ve just been promoted to?
For the record we’ve faced FGR twelve times, sadly. They’ve won six of those, the most convincing a November 2013 4-1 thrashing in which James Norwood scored a brace and former Imp Paul Green grabbed one for them to. Chris Sharp scored for us, giving you an indication of our squad quality back then. We’ve won twice in six attempts on their organically produced muck-heap too, the big one last season and our first trip there in 2011. An Alan Power penalty and a rare Francis Laurent strike gave us the points against ten-man Rovers.
Our November 2014 trip down the Gloucestershire spelled the end for Gary Simpson, City raced into a 3-0 lead thanks to Delano Sam-Yorke, Jordan Burrow and Karl Ledsham. It looked as if City were on course for a famous victory, only for James Norwood to grab two in tow minutes before Dale Bennett scored a 90th minute equaliser. City threw away a three-goal lead, and before the week was out Chris Moyses was in charge. Many point to our victory last season as a turning point, but the arrival of Chris must also be considered a big moment.
Tonight won’t be easy, but FGR simply haven’t evolved enough from the side that bottled big matches last season. They still have the village mentality which I think has manifested itself in performances so far this season. They have the talent and the players to do well in this league, sadly, but they do not have to manager that will get the best out of them. Cooperman is on borrowed time, and even a win against us tonight will only settle Dale Vince for a few matches. Defeat, and I wouldn’t be surprised at changes being made before the weekend.
I’m putting aside my personal feelings on the so-called fairy tale rise of the millionaires from the countryside, they’re here and they’re competing and as much as that makes me want to vomit, they ‘earned’ the right. Thanks to away fans they’re almost pulling 3,000 per match, and they’re 20th in the attendance table which shows (I suppose) some thirst for football down there. If I were a neutral I’d be concerned that they haven’t adapted well to the Football League at the moment, but I’m not and it delights me. My fear is they find their feet this evening, but without the nine-point cushion they have nothing to defend and they’ll have to go for the win. Having conceded three times as many goals as we have this season, any effort to win the game could leave them very susceptible at the back, and even without leading scorer Matt Green we should be able to take advantage of that.
Are FGR ready for the physical battle yet? They weren’t last season, and results indicate they’re not ready this season either.
As for City, we’re down to the bare bones. Expect Sam Habergham to get his first start in the Football League, with Neal Eardley shifting to right back. Young Ellis Chapman will be on the bench, he’s a player of which much is thought, but I wouldn’t expect to see him get a run out unless we’re three goals to the good. Billy Knott will probably remain out wide, with Ollie Palmer playing up top and just off Matt Rhead. It will be interesting to see Palmer in that role from the start, his other starts have come at the expense of Matt Rhead, pandering to the ‘big man’ label he has. Tonight he’ll be expected to provide the movement and get the ball at his feet, and I suspect he may well thrive in that role.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harry Anderson keep his starting place too, Nathan took that knock against Luton and there is no point in rushing him back when we have ample option available. Harry frightens Forest Green, their defence doesn’t like direct pace and he has that in abundance. In Billy Knott we have a skeleton key that can unlock most defences with a clever ball, but in Matt Rhead we have the battering ram option if the lock simply won’t be picked. It’s a triple threat for us going forward, and the paper-thin FGR back line will need to seriously improve on the last three outings if they’re going to stop City.
Another advantage we’ll have this season is the double midfield of Woodyard and Bostwick. Much of FGR’s threat comes through the middle courtesy of Liam Noble, and I expect he’ll be spending more time trying to shake the attention of Mr Bostwick than he will be unlocking our defence. Are FGR ready for the physical battle yet? They weren’t last season, and results indicate they’re not ready this season either. If Bostwick does tie up Noble that gives Woodyard a free rein, unless Drissa Traore is on form. He impressed me the most in our match against them last season, and he is another threat we’ll need to counter. However, now we have a packed midfield it could suffocate their main route to goal.
I suspect Cooperman will believe his own rhetoric about us being a long-ball side, and he’ll double up on Matt Rhead. If City find the neat balls to feet, it doesn’t matter if Rheady doesn’t get a touch, as long as he’s drawing those players towards him. Expect Ollie Palmer and Billy Knott to have strong outings this evening, if we’re going to put our newest rivals in their place, it will be their feet that do it and not Rheady’s head.