It’s time for us to face up once more to our so-called rivals, Forest Green.
Much has been made of this clash, stemming perhaps from our duel at the top of the National League a couple of seasons ago. Apparently, we’re rivals. I imagine that is in the eye of the hosts tomorrow, who feel that passionately disliking a side gives them some relevance.
I know my dismissive words will maybe come back to haunt me, I’ve been worried about it ever since November 19th 2016 but as yet, they haven’t. We’ve played them five times since Danny took over, winning five. They’re due a win against us and if they get it I imagine it’ll finally be proof that slick passing wins over knowledge and organisation at fifth time of asking.
Tomorrow’s game doesn’t excite me, it disappoints me. I’d rather we were going to Prenton Park, to Brisbane Road or even to whatever Chesterfield call their new stadium this week. I wish it was a game filled with anger, passion and a baying home crowd. Its not though, it’s the middle class team of choice playing in front of non-league crowds. If they win it won’t be so much as a deafening roar as a smug smattering of applause for the expensively assembled team on the hill.
Anyway, putting my utter disdain aside for the mock sustainability and the gimmicky approach masking a rich man’s folly, there’s a game of football to be played. They’re a really good side, something which hurts more than anything and even the pundits are tipping us to lose. You know, the side that haven’t lost since December 26th, the side who have lost four league games all season.
I’m not saying we’re unlikely to lose. They’ve got the likes of Christian Doidge up front, Reece Brown in midfield and Carl Winchester pulling the strings. they’re good players at this level, really good players and it’s as stern test as we’ll get until we face Mansfield, MK Dons and Carlisle.
I think we can get a result though. For a start, it’s right up Danny’s street because we can play the underdogs. Sure, we’re top but they’re one of a handful of sides that have cost far more than our squad in terms of wages, whatever the payments have been masked as on the balance sheet. They’re bankrolled every year and we’re the truly sustainable club in terms of existence, but we can be the little man. It’s a rare occurrence but it is exactly as Danny likes it.
They’ve got to play football and beat us, something they’re capable of doing. As you’ll see below they usually adopt a 3-5-2 formation, which gives us a chance to expose them on the wings. They’ll hope to have lots of the ball in the middle of the park, meaning we’ve got to step up and get those second balls. If the gap between the defence and forwards is left as open as it was Tuesday night, it’s curtains.
Only it won’t be, will it? Danny doesn’t throw teams together, he studies the opposition and plots a way to beat them. He knows how Forest Green play and how they don’t like to be attacked. That back three wont be happy if we do find Akinde with the longer balls, because doubling up on him means that the wing backs have to drop deeper to compensate. We can find space too and that might make it an open game.
The home fixture was a classic Imps’ display, tight at the back restricting the opponent to few chances, but clinical when we needed to be. There’s no Kellan Gordon to pop up with a late goal, but we’ve got more depth on the bench than back then. We’ve also got John Akinde and as mentioned, he’s key tomorrow. He has to occupy that back three, if that is how they go, taking two of them out of the game. It might make his performance look average and laboured, but it’ll create the space for someone else to get the headlines.
If we can control the tempo, Danny Rowe might be the main man. His running will either find an isolated member of the back four, or he’ll keep Winchester a little busier than usual. Once you pull Winchester out of that midfield, or even a bit out of position, they’ll lose their shape. They have lovely patterns of play and moves they like to pull off, but they’ll only do that if you let them.
I was asked in the week if I felt we had a certain nervousness at home. The answer is no, I don’t. At home it is up to us to dictate play and as I wrote yesterday, we’re not the very best in the league at doing that. What we do is the work without the ball, keeping our shape and remaining meticulous and patient. It might not bring the samba soccer that some fans seem to think a fourth division team should play, but it’s served us alright so far. It’s why at home things have looked to be going awry, because teams have set up to defend and frustrated us.
If we work as we usually do, pressing when needed and frustrating them tomorrow, we can win this game. In fact, we’re more likely to win it in my mind than we were likely to win the match with Exeter. Our style of play, our approach to games favours being the away side. We soak up pressure well and defend stoically, look at Swindon for instance. With John Akinde and pace in Rowe, Andrade and hopefully Harry Anderson, we can break quickly and if we’ve got space to run into, there’s few better on the attack.
That is why I believe we can get a victory tomorrow. I’m not saying we will, but I’m more confident of it than I was in the home fixture.