Preview: Forest Green Rovers

While it was a winnable game against Cambridge on Tuesday night, it would have been utterly predictable for a Coventry City side to fail to build on our FA Cup run and put in a half-hearted performance to lose the game. It is an indication of the confidence and fortitude of this side at the moment that we made fairly swift work of our opponents to keep ourselves right in the promotion mix.

This coming month is likely to prove pivotal to our promotion hopes – with games against fellow promotion contenders Accrington, Colchester, Mansfield, Wycombe and Lincoln around the corner – which makes it especially important that we take the maximum number of points in this away trip to struggling Forest Green in order to keep the points and momentum ticking over.

Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins has generally having rotated the side through these runs of Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday games, which is why we can probably expect changes to Tuesday night’s winning team. There’s surely the temptation to through Jonson Clarke-Harris straight in, but I’m concerned that his style of play is too different from what we currently have to fit seamlessly into the side – also he’s played very few minutes this season.

Instead, I would expect the changes to be in wide areas – where Robins has been able to rotate over the past month or so without hindering our momentum. With Liam Kelly rested on Tuesday night, it seems to make sense to me that he’s restored to the centre of the park to give us more solidity in an away game with Tom Bayliss pushed on to the right-wing, where he was impactful against MK Dons. Although Jordan Shipley got onto the scoresheet against Cambridge, I can see Josh Barrett given another go on the left-wing after a promising debut last Saturday.

Last Time We Met

After a fairly underwhelming run of form in October – particularly in front of goal – we faced a struggling Forest Green side on a Tuesday evening at the Ricoh Arena with the expectation that they were the perfect opponents to easily kick ourselves out of our funk. Instead, we started the game both nervously and sloppily, with Forest Green winger Keanu Marsh-Brown able to take advantage of our frayed edges with a speculative shot that was dropped into goal by Lee Burge.

The rest of the game became exponentially more frustrating as the minutes passed, as we struggled to convert possession into meaningful chances to test an opposition happy to sit on a one-goal lead. This game then descended into farce when a fan managed to enter the pitch for slightly too long while the ball was in play – a slight over-reaction to a frustrating evening if you ask me, also, he was very close to being set upon by Michael Doyle.

How Are They Doing?

Forest Green have been absolutely terrible this season, and are in danger of being the first ever side promoted from the National League to be relegated in their first Football League season. The scariest thing about their season – from a Forest Green perspective – is that they’ve actually been lucky to even be within a chance of survival, creating the fewest chances, conceding the most, but somehow being the team with the most wins from losing positions.

Remarkably for a side that creates very little, they have one of the division’s top scorers in Christian Doidge. With 14 league goals to his name, Doidge has scored 45% of all the goals Forest Green have scored, while setting up a further four – they would be dead and buried without him. Doidge is a striker who can score all types of goals, strong, mobile, and an excellent finisher both inside and outside the box. If he has even a sniff of goal, he’ll probably score.

Forest Green have attempted to rectify their struggles this season by spending fairly big in the January transfer window, with Exeter’s Reuben Reid – someone who has been one of the best strikers at this level for a number of seasons, but has scored one goal since the middle of November – a notable addition. Strangely though for a side who look to build from the back, they went out and signed a number of physical but limited centre-backs, leaving them in a situation where they regularly end up playing four or five centre-backs in their starting XI.

Possible Line-Up

Of those limited centre-backs, Haydn Hollis and ex-Sky Blue Farrend Rawson are likely to line up as a pairing. As we saw with Rawson while on loan with us last year, he can be dominant in the air but struggles with the ball anywhere near his feet, Hollis is a similar sort of defender. At left-back is likely to be Gavin Gunning, an excellent defender at this level on his day, but with an erratic streak in his discipline. They are set to be protected in midfield by Lee Collins – another centre-back – and Isaiah (brother of Isaac) Osbourne, who is someone that requires a compass to navigate past.

While there are mistakes in Forest Green’s back-line that are there to be punished if we press high enough against them, they have the threat from out wide to punish us on the counter if we’re too gung-ho. Keanu Marsh-Brown’s pace, skill and eye for the spectacular make him someone with the ability to play higher than League Two if he was remotely consistent. On the other flank, Dayle Grubb – signed from non-league Weston-Super-Mare in January – has hit the ground running and is another winger capable of scoring goals.

Prediction

This is a game that we have to be confident in being able to win, and with the minimum of fuss. Forest Green’s ability to occasionally pull a big result out of the bag makes them a side that should never be written-off, but if we put in a professional performance and look to exploit their sloppiness at the back, this should be a comfortable win.

I think we’ll win this 2-1.

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