Can Forest Green Make Promotion?

Can Forest Green Make Promotion?

Forest Green Rovers secured a significant 2-1 win at Cheltenham last time out, meaning that they could celebrate going top of League Two on their rivals’ patch.

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) discusses their promotion prospects.

Strong foundation at the back

Last season, we saw Farrend Rawson play on the right of the back-three, often supporting attacks from just beyond the halfway line.

This season, Rawson has more often featured in the middle of the back-three, sandwiched last time out by Dominic Bernard and Liam Kitching.

Bernard is stringent and modest in possession, often recycling it in the opposing half and showing the ability to buy free-kicks.

Kitching, meanwhile, can distribute well and link up with Mills and others but, to show his adaptability, he also averages two tackles per game; the third-most out of centre-backs who have made a double-figured number of 2019-20 League Two appearances.

Mark Cooper is still to settle on a goalkeeper – Lewis Thomas and Jojo Wollacott both have plenty of ability – and some suggest aerial specialist Matt Mills’ return from injury will improve the team’s handling of crosses and set plays.

The Green though have already kept nine clean sheets, which is already two more than they kept in the entirety of the 2017-18 season, three fewer than they kept last term – and more than anyone else in the EFL.

Shephard’s drive

When Liam Shephard is missing from this Forest Green side, it rarely goes unnoticed.

The right wing-back provides plenty of drive and thrust in possession, but equally important to chance creation is his work off the ball.

As we saw at Cheltenham last time out, Shephard will at times break ahead of the midfielders and almost lead the press; if he wins the ball and a teammate loses it, he will go straight back in to try to win it back.

Mills’ intelligence

Joseph Mills is arguably the most intelligent wing-back in League Two.

The left-sider makes astute runs off the ball and often looks for overlapping options, which he sometimes gets from Kitching.

Mills has taken 13 shots from set piece situations – no League Two left-sider has taken more – yet he also has the diligence to make key defensive interventions at the back-post.

If the 30-year-old had a touch more pace, he would likely be playing in one of the top two divisions, so his existing qualities make him arguably the complete League Two left wing-back.

The Adams effect

Last season, Forest Green looked tidy in possession but tame out of it, with generally a modest pressing block.

That was partly why they had difficulties in favourable home fixtures; the rate of engagement was low and thus they tended to turn the ball over in deep areas, thus giving them more work to do to break down their opponents.

A difference this year – as well as Carl Winchester stepping up another level – is the signing of Ebou Adams.

The Gambian international brings energy, power and dynamism to the midfield, thus injecting some urgency to Forest Green’s work on and off the ball.

Fluid front trio

The attacking trio of Matt Stevens, Jack Aitchison and Elliott Frear compliment one another very well.

Despite being the central forward on paper, Stevens is often quite happy to compromise his own goalscoring potential by drifting into wide areas, thus allowing his teammates to move into central areas.

We have seen Jack Aitchison use his quick feet and technical proficiency to magnificent effect, as he causes problems between lines.

Frear, meanwhile, thrives at making well-timed runs into dangerous positions, as we saw with his expertly taken finish at the Jonny-Rocks stadium.

The wide forward was popular during his previous stint in Nailsworth and will add plenty to a squad that also includes the likes of Shawn McCoulsky, Dayle Grubb and Aaron Collins, giving Mark Cooper plenty of attacking options from which to choose.

Super Cooper?

Mark Cooper is not universally popular in English football – and even a certain section of Forest Green fans might favour a manager who interacts with fans more frequently.

The former Swindon boss, though, has plenty of experience and is doing a good job at this level, inspiring a top seven finish last season and now possibly a title charge this term.

He has addressed key weaknesses from last season and the 50-year-old can be encouraged by a drastic recent improvement in shot data to go with positive results.

Promotion odds

Forest Green are now 2/1 for promotion with Betfair, having been 5/2 pre kick-off on Saturday. The swing highlights a swing in the implied probability of promotion from 28.6% to 33.3%; a 4.7% increase.

The odds on the Green winning the title, meanwhile, has changed from 12/1 with Betfair before the Cheltenham game to now 8/1; 7.7% to 11.1%, giving us a 3.4% increase in implied probability.

Cooper’s troops have played their way into an all new top three.

The question is: will they stay there?