Forest Green Rovers Season Preview: the Doidge and Reid combo

With the 2018-19 League Two season not far away, The Football Lab spoke to Forest Green Rovers fan Laurie Martin (@lauriemartin263)…

Forest Green achieved the initial objective of securing survival in their debut EFL season, without necessarily pulling up trees. Was it a case of the club, on and off the field, taking a year to acclimatize to this level?

Last season was far from perfect and I think lessons have been learnt both on and off the pitch. In the end we just about got over the line but the two things that really let us down last season was the summer recruitment and our away form. On paper, the signings look a lot better this time around and I’m sure much of that is down to the appointment of a head of recruitment.

The likes of Dayle Grubb and Reuben Reid appeared to make a significant impact after joining in January. Was Mark Cooper lucky in some ways that he was given mid-season backing?

I think at almost any other club, Cooper would have been given the boot a long time before the January window. In his defence, the winter business was very shrewd and almost every player signed played an integral part in our survival. If things start going badly this time around, I’m not sure if he will be given the chance to try and resurrect things in January but hopefully lessons have been learnt regarding recruitment and a lot of the new signings will hit the ground running. The good thing about signing so many players in January meant that the core of our squad was already under contract for this season.

Christian Doidge has scored 52 goals over the last two seasons. What do you think has made him such a threat?

He’s the complete forward. He’s unstoppable in the air and there is no striker in the league who is as calm and composed as he is in front of goal. When he first signed he wasn’t particularly prolific and it took him a while to get into his stride, but since about January 2017 he has become our talisman. He carried us at times last year, especially in the first half of the season but the arrival of Reuben Reid took a bit of pressure off his shoulders. Personally, I think they could prove to be the most prolific strike partnership in the league this coming season.

It’s all change in the goalkeeping department with James Montgomery signing from Gateshead, Lewis Thomas, from Swansea and Robert Sanchez, from Brighton. Who do you expect to start at Grimsby?

I’d expect Sanchez to start at Grimsby as he appears to be the most comfortable with the ball at his feet out of the three, and he’s also been given the number one jersey. Goalkeeping coach Pat Mountain seems to rate him highly, labelling him as “the best U23 goalkeeper out there” and seemed to have a big say in bringing him to the club. James Montgomery will provide strong competition for Sanchez and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of rotation between the two at the start of the season, like we saw between Bradley Collins and Sam Russell last term. However, I think Sanchez just has the edge given what I’ve heard about his quality on the ball and range of distribution.

You shipped 77 goals last season but haven’t yet signed a new centre-back. Has Cooper shown faith in Farrend Rawson and Haydn Hollis?

Rawson, Hollis and Gavin Gunning all helped shore up the defence when they arrived in January. All three are no-nonsense, old-fashioned centre-backs. We shipped most of those 77 goals in the first half of the season when numerous centre-back partnerships were tried and failed and individual defensive errors cost us in many games. All three of those players mentioned put in some colossal performances towards the business end of the season, the most notable being in the away win at Cheltenham. However, I would still expect to see a centre-back signed for some back-up as we do seem pretty light in that position.

Carl Winchester should bring plenty of energy after signing from rivals Cheltenham but you’ve also signed a natural right-back Liam Shephard from Peterborough. Do you think you’ll play with wing-backs again this season?

Personally, I think we’ll start with a flat back four but Lloyd James will drop in when we have the ball to allow Shephard and Joseph Mills to push forward on either side. Both Shephard and Mills look like they’ll provide great energy on the flanks and I expect a decent number of assists from them both this season. Liam Shepherd especially looks like a real coup for us and should provide us with better quality going forward and better delivery from wide areas.

The indications are that new left-back Joseph Mills likes to push forward. Are you hoping he’ll give you a bit more pace and width than Scott Laird?

Despite an impressive end to the season and chipping in with a few goals along the way, I think Scott Laird was one of our most disappointing players last term. Big things were expected but he was a liability at times and his lack of pace was frustrating even though his delivery from wide areas was often on the money. In contrast when Dan Wishart played at left-back he was electric going forward but defensively wasn’t at Football League standard. Hopefully Mills will give us that perfect balance on the left flank. Left-back has been a bit of a problem area for us in recent seasons but we seem to have good quality and depth in that position now.

Midfielder Isaiah Osbourne and utility man Lee Collins don’t look like the most technically exciting players in the world, but they started 75 games between them last season. Do you think Lloyd James’ arrival might help you perfect the possession play?

Yes, I think he will. Having watched Lloyd James in our first pre-season game it’s clear to see that he’s going to sit just in front of the back four and look to dictate the play. James looks he’ll add guile as well as a bit of bite in the midfield but it’s crucial that we sign a real midfield brute to replace Osbourne before the season begins. James, Winchester and Reece Brown will all give us real quality on the ball but we are lacking a midfield hardman. Osbourne had an immense impact when he joined last September and was arguably our most influential player in our survival – it would be criminal if we didn’t properly replace him.

Tahvon Campbell appeared to show flashes of potential after joining on loan from West Brom – most notably that goal against Notts County. Are you glad he’s signed permanently?

I’m a big fan of Tahvon and he proved on many occasions last season that he can be a real handful, especially in the latter stages of games. He’s been given a one-year contract and Cooper has said that this could be his last chance at league level, given his numerous unsuccessful loan spells elsewhere. His game time will once again be limited as he is behind two of the most potent strikers in the league in the pecking order, but he is still a great option to have from the bench with his raw pace when the opposition defence are leggy. That goal against Notts County showed what he’s all about – direct, strong and tricky. He really flourished when he played alongside Reuben Reid last season who I think helps bring the best out of him. He’s an exciting prospect and I really hope he takes his chances when he gets them.

Forest Green aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think the league is a lot more open this year having lost two big clubs in Luton and Coventry. Notts County are my favourites to win it. Both Enzio Boldewijn and Krystian Dennis represent shrewd business and the signing of David Vaughan from Nottingham Forest is a massive coup and his experience will be invaluable at this level. I also think Swindon will be much stronger this time around. Phil Brown only won two games in his short stint in charge last season but he knows how to lead a club to promotion. Lincoln and Mansfield should both also be up there given the marquee signings they’ve added to what were already promotion-challenging squads.

As for a dark horse, I think that Grimsby could surprise a few. They ended the season strongly and tore us apart on the last day of the season. There seems to be a real feel-good factor at the club now that Michael Jolley is in charge. Port Vale have also recruited astutely. Even though it didn’t work out for him at Peterborough or Mansfield, Ricky Miller is a natural goalscorer and could form a lethal partnership with Tom Pope.

Where will you finish?

14th – I’m confident that our recruitment has been a lot better this summer and there (hopefully) shouldn’t be any need for a mid-season squad overhaul. If we can sort out our away form, and learn how to win ugly and grind out results on the road then it should be a more comfortable viewing than last season. I’m also slightly concerned about our squad depth at this moment.

Thanks to Laurie for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on Forest Green can be found on We Love Betting from late July.