Forest Green Rovers v Cheltenham Town Preview: return of the El-Glosico

Christian Doidge –

Back in mid-September, Forest Green Rovers and Cheltenham Town occupied two of the bottom three places of the division and this El-Glosico looked like being a relegation six-pointer.

Although neither side are now entirely safe, it is difficult to see either getting sucked into a dogfight. Forest Green are now one of the form teams in the league, despite their 3-2 loss at Chesterfield on Tuesday while Cheltenham sit four points above the Nailsworth club in 16th.

The Robins have the capacity to mix their game up – they can go direct to Danny Wright when it suits them but they can also play better football than we have seen in their last two seasons at this level. In fact, some of their better spells in Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Cambridge came when they passed it along the deck, but they lacked a little experience and knowhow in the final third.

Forest Green certainly have that in Christian Doidge, who has 10 league goals for the season – one behind the top scorers. Doidge didn’t set the world alight at Dagenham & Redbridge but he has come on leaps and bounds in Nailsworth – and he can score different types of goals. He bagged a tap-in and a close-range header last time out, but we saw in the play-offs in May that he also has the odd screamer in his locker.

Reece Brown and Keanu Marsh-Brown have provided the ammunition for Doidge in recent weeks and it is important they are given the freedom to express themselves. Normally, the tenacity of Drissa Traore and the physicality of Isaiah Osbourne provides the necessary platform for that to happen, but both are doubts for Saturday’s game. Centre-back Lee Collins might move into midfield to provide some extra power, with Mark Roberts slotting into the back three, but circumstances aren’t ideal.

The question for Gary Johnson is whether he tries to exploit that potential weakness by starting Kyle Storer and Nigel Atangana in central midfield to out-battle them. Alternatively, he could return Joe Morrell to his favoured position in the middle of the park and try to play The Green at their own game.

He might be tempted to put Brian Graham straight back in the starting line-up after injury, having scored five in his last nine appearances in all forms.  Whoever starts up front though will need Carl Winchester to provide natural width, because with Jordan Cranston out and Kevin Dawson recovering from injury, there might not be many players in the match-day squad that like to motor down the touchline in quite the same way.

Winchester should be capable of penning Scott Laird into Forest Green’s defensive third and will be protected by Taylor Moore, who has moved to right-back recently. With the Bristol City loanee and Daniel O’Shaughnessy in the full-back positions, either side of Jamie Grimes and Will Boyle, the Robins could again have four centre-backs by trade in the side. That worked defensively on Tuesday against Cambridge, who managed just two shots on target, even if they missed a couple of chances.

There is a sense though that with neither squad at full-strength, both teams might play a little within themselves. Throw in the consequences of defeat due to the contempt the two clubs have for one another and there is potential for a stalemate at the New Lawn.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 1-1