Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 21st; W 13 / D 8 / L 25 / F 54 / A 77 / Pts 47
After a decade or so in the Conference, the Nailsworth club finally reached the EFL for the first time after a play-off final triumph over Tranmere Rovers in May 2017, having failed for two consecutive seasons prior to achieve their objective. Survival in their maiden season in the fourth tier was always going to be the realistic aim, and their first 13 matches yielded just a single win. A lot of their summer recruits were taking time to make the adjustment to life in League Two, but Forest Green didn’t panic. A fruitful October couldn’t mask the reality that some further changes would be needed to stave off a rapid return downwards. The likes of Reuben Reid and Dayle Grubb were brought in, and the overall pattern of results improved just enough after the turn of the year to retain their status. They, like Port Vale, were a single point from the relegation zone, and their poorer goal difference would’ve been sufficient, had they been level with Barnet.
Top Goalscorer: Christian Doidge (20 goals in 41 starts/3,655 minutes)
Top Creator: Christian Doidge (5 assists in 41 starts/3,655 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Mark Cooper; another in these previews who has a past history as a player with the club he now manages, he is the son of former England international Terry. His most productive spell was with Tamworth, and it was during that period that he also took on the managerial reins. He subsequently managed several EFL sides, including a brief interlude at then-Championship Peterborough United. He opted not to stay at Notts County in 2016, just prior to Forest Green’s second play-off final, which he didn’t take charge of. Fulfilling the dream the very next season, his aim will be to make a better fist of competing in League Two this term and push them further into safety at the very least.
Ins: Lewis Thomas (Swansea City U23s), George Williams (Fulham), James Montgomery (Gateshead), Carl Winchester (Cheltenham Town), Isaac Pearce (Fulham U23s), Joseph Mills (Perth Glory), Tahvon Campbell (West Bromwich Albion U23s), Theo Archibald (Brentford B on loan), Liam Shephard (Peterborough United), Lloyd James (Exeter City) & Robert Sánchez (Brighton & Hove Albion U23s on loan).
Outs: Jordan Morris (free agent), Manny Monthe (Tranmere Rovers), Omar Bugiel (free agent), Mark Roberts (free agent), Cameron Belford (Chorley), Charlie Cooper (Newport County on loan), Keanu Marsh-Brown (Newport County), Luke James (Hartlepool United), Alex Whittle (free agent), Harry Pickering (free agent), Olly Mehew (free agent), Callum Evans (free agent), Sam Russell (free agent), Sam Russell (Grimsby Town), Jon Moran (Chester), Dan Wishart (Sutton United) & Isaiah Osbourne Howe (free agent).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: Reducing the extremely high number of goals conceded in the previous season should be the starting point. The goalkeeping department has been completely overhauled, with three new arrivals in the current transfer window. The likeliest two candidates to start between the sticks are Robert Sánchez and James Montgomery. Neither can be assured of their place, and they might face being rotated frequently. The former is a bit more comfortable distributing the ball with his feet in open play, so that could be a decisive factor, depending on the opposition. The latter has more senior experience.
In front of them will be a largely familiar back four to the Gloucestershire outfit faithful. Scott Laird is one of the better left-backs in the league when challenging for the ball in the air, and he combines that with a higher than average work rate and a penchant for taking long throws. On the other flank, Liam Shephard should bring a little more stability.
Gavin Gunning flitted between central defence and a holding midfield role in 2017/2018, but can also fill in on the left if there’s a dire need. This gives the defence good symmetry. Both he and Farrend Rawson are able to get a lot of power on their headers in the penalty areas, so they could be a sizeable threat from set pieces.
The midfield three could sit reasonably narrow without the ball, choking off attacks from the opposition and forcing them into wide areas. Lloyd James should provide the defence greater protection than they were hitherto afforded. He’s also an alternative option to Dayle Grubb to take corners, as well as someone who specialises in picking out the strikers with quick, long passes. Grubb can play across midfield but will spend the majority of the game nominally in the left half-space. Carl Winchester is a competent all-round option on the right, and gives as good as he gets in the air.
George Williams represents a potential coup of a signing by Cooper. He has had some experience playing at a higher level at Milton Keynes Dons and with St. Johnstone north of the border. He has a good amount of pace and technique, which should assist him in unlocking defences and playing in Christian Doidge and Reuben Reid.
Reid feels to me as though he’s been around forever, but has actually only just turned 30. His stocky build makes it extremely hard for the opposition to get close enough to take the ball from him cleanly, even when he backs into a defender, as is his propensity. He will push up right alongside Doidge when Forest Green have possession, both to offer support and to try to beat any offside trap sprung. It would do a disservice to Doidge to label him as a target man, as there is much more to his game than just being the target of lofted balls and the occasional deep cross. Given a yard of space anywhere in or just outside the box, and he will attempt to get a shot off, which is more often than not on target, as his goal tally over the past two years is testament to.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Safe but sorry; there is compelling evidence to suggest that Cooper has learned some lessons from 2017/2018, but the very high turnover of players is still a concern. He’s probably only another central midfielder short of completing his squad, and, with the duo he has up front, he can be assured that it will take a very resolute defence to shut them both out. Tahvon Campbell is also an intriguing, pacey option from the bench to utilise, when their opponents look spent. The defence hasn’t changed an awful lot, so I’ll be interested to see by how much they can reduce picking the ball out of the net by. A higher finish is likely, but another slow start could well be how things pan out.