Our unbeaten start to the league season was ended in an emphatic manner on Saturday. In just one game, we seem to have gone from promotion contenders to looking fatally flawed. Of course, the reality is likely somewhere in between, but posting a reaction to such a harrowing defeat over the coming games has the potential to define our season.
Mark Robins has to ensure that lessons are learned from Saturday but also that what worked during that unbeaten run isn’t completely thrown away. Having this EFL Trophy tie with Forest Green Rovers – albeit as a glorified reserves fixture – might prove valuable in acting as a buffer between the raw emotion of the fall-out to the Rotherham game and Sunday’s game against Tranmere Rovers, where we can get our league campaign back on track at the first time of asking.
As ever, Mark Robins is unlikely to risk playing anyone who is going to be needed on Sunday unless there are no alternatives. Still, this game might provide an opportunity for one or two fringe players to stick their foot in the first-team door now that it’s been opened a crack by the defeat on Saturday.
In the wake of the season-ending injury to Wesley Jobello, Charlie Wakefield – who had been approaching forgotten man status – might feel he has an opportunity here to get back into the first-team picture. A lanky and quick right winger, the comparisons with Jobello are obvious, he has been performing well with the under-23 squad but a big performance in this game is likely to provide Mark Robins with a better indication that he is worthy enough of involvement with the first-team – although, Wakefield has his own fitness issues that might bar him from a regular starting role.
The two other players who should be targeting this game to make an impression are Zain Westbrooke and Morgan Williams. Westbrooke was making an impact earlier in the season without necessarily playing that well, with the potential that Callum O’Hare might be pushed further forward in the wake of Jobello’s injury, a strong performance here may demonstrate to Robins that Westbrooke has a role to play over the next few games. While Williams is currently fourth-choice at centre-back, the three senior players ahead of him had poor performances of differing degrees on Saturday, another solid showing here could move Williams up a peg or two in the pecking order.
Last Time We Met
We were drawn in the EFL Trophy group stages last season with Forest Green Rovers and played out a 1-1 draw at the Ricoh Arena, winning the extra point on penalties. Most notably, the game saw Jordy Hiwula score his first goal for the club, set-up by Tony Andreu.
Manager – Mark Cooper
Currently linked with the Millwall job (which would be an odd fit), Cooper has had a peripatetic managerial career spanning non-league to the Championship, starting off as long-ball merchant with Kettering, before reinventing himself as a possession-football preacher during his time at Swindon Town. He has steadily built a Forest Green side to play incredibly patient, close to dull, passing football, which has put them top of the League Two table.
Cooper’s achievement with Forest Green this season is all the more surprising given that the spending has been reigned in and two key attacking players were lost over the summer in Reece Brown (not the one who used to play for us) and Christian Doidge. There has been an emphasis placed on developing younger players so that they can be sold for a profit further down the line, which has perhaps taken a level of pressure off and helped this young side ease into the season.
Who To Look Out For?
As with most teams in this competition, Forest Green are likely to use this as an opportunity to hand minutes to some of their fringe players rather than as an opportunity to earn a Wembley day out for their fans.
Mark Cooper is likely to stick with the 3-4-3 system that has proven effective thus far, which will make the performances of their wing-backs important in stretching the play and allowing the front three to play between the penalty area. Junior Mondal, more naturally a winger, is likely to play on the left as the back-up to first-team regular Joseph Mills, Mondal’s pace and directness could well prove a useful outlet for his side. On the other flank, Carl Winchester is likely to be moved from central midfield for this game, adding energy and a physical presence down that side.
Areas To Exploit
Forest Green are set-up to play a very patient brand of possession football, rarely pressing their opponents when they lose the ball, this game being a relatively unimportant cup game is likely to make this an especially low intensity contest. If we can disrupt their passing rhythm and nick a goal here, they are unlikely to come out and chase the game, but they could be a very frustrating team to try and get the ball off if we do fall behind.