Preview: Lincoln City

How can a team be in a position we they simultaneously have won one in their previous six, but also three in their previous four?

It’s probably the most interesting thing to say about the previous couple of months at Coventry City. Whereas in previous season when we’ve been around the play-off places, it’s been hard to contain the excitement, this season has felt more akin to a dull mid-table season than a promotion season.

Ultimately, the ends will justify the means. If Mark Robins can become the first Coventry City manager since Jimmy Hill to achieve promotion, then it won’t matter how dull the football has been. The concern right now is whether the means are the correct ones in a division where most teams are seeking to avoid defeat against us.

While it would be harsh on Mansfield to describe their performance last Saturday as defensive, they were another organised side that we struggled to break down before quickly running out of ideas. If Jodi Jones isn’t at his best, this team struggles to create chances, even if he is, there are too few players committed to getting on the end of his good work. Very few promotions are won off the back of having one good winger in your side.

Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins has to consider whether he has got the balance right in this side between attack and defence. However, this upcoming game is one of the trickiest away trips of the season, which probably behoves Robins to set the team up in our typical cautious manner. Oddly, the increased difficulty of this fixture arguably gives us a better chance of result.

The only question with the team selection for this trip to Lincoln is whether Mark Robins tweaks things again up front or persists with what worked against Luton and Maidenhead. Jordan Ponticelli and Marc McNulty had their moments against Mansfield, but it felt like we were missing a presence up front of whom we could build our attacking play around, whether the alternative options solve that conundrum is another question.

Last Time We Met

As with a lot of our league games this season, this is the first competitive meeting between us and our opponents in quite a while. The aforementioned last Coventry City manager to win promotion – Jimmy Hill – was in charge as the Sky Blues comfortably navigated past Lincoln City in the FA Cup Third Round in 1963 via a 5-1 scoreline. Hugh Barr, Terry Bly, Ron Farmer, Jimmy Whitehouse and an own goal were on the scoresheet.

How Are They Doing?

Lincoln are a club re-energised over the past 18 months, dating back to the appointment of Danny Cowley – and his brother Nicky – as manager prior to the start of last season. The Imps had settled into being a fairly unremarkable mid-table National League side before the former PE teacher Danny Cowley instantly galvanised the place, storming their way back into the Football League and embarking on a memorable FA Cup run that took them into the Sixth Round.

The club are still riding the crest of that wave, boasting the largest attendances in the division and finding themselves on the fringes of the play-offs. However, a failure to convert chances has held them back at times this season but they are a team that could find themselves challenging for automatic promotion if they can get a run together.

The Cowley have also been trying to make Lincoln a more attractive side to watch this season, which may also have played a part in the somewhat underwhelming opening few months of the campaign. Target man centre-forward Matt Rhead – standing at around six foot three and weighing in around 16 stone – was a key player last year but has been relegated to more of a reserve role, with the more mobile Matt Green preferred, playing ahead of the number 10 Billy Knott.

Possible Line-Up

Lincoln’s pace from wide positions is a key element of their threat, with Josh Ginnelly – who is from Coventry – and Harry Anderson among their better performers this season. In particular, Anderson is one to stop, a skilful wide man with a level of directness to his game, he is currently Lincoln’s top goalscorer this season.

Towards the back of the side, Lincoln are assertive and energetic, with the tireless Alex Woodyard and Michael Bostwick sitting in front of the defence both arguably being of at least League One quality. The dominant Sean Raggett in central defence impressed so much last season that he earned a move to Norwich, before being loaned back to the Imps on a half-season deal (Norwich have form for that).

Prediction

If we are going to continue to struggle at home as we have done over the past month or so, putting together a more imperious run of results away from home is imperative. While it seems that this team is more suited to playing away, we’ve won just three of our eight games on the road this season, which is okay, but not enough to rely upon during what we hope is a promotion campaign.

As mentioned earlier, Lincoln being one of our toughest away trips of the season arguably makes this a more beneficial game for us right now. However, we saw against Mansfield that this defence struggles against teams that have both physicality and pace in attack, which could make for another difficult afternoon – especially if our attack remains blunt.

I’m not optimistic for this game, I can see us losing 2-0.

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Preview: Mansfield Town

That’s three wins in a row now after victories in the FA Cup and Checkatrade Trophy over the past week, although it doesn’t quite feel that way. The Maidenhead game was about simply avoiding an upset, while Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy clash with West Brom’s under-21s was essentially a glorified reserve match.

Nonetheless, we’ve gone from being on the verge of a month without either a win or a goal to three wins in a row and seven goals in three games. This season though won’t be judged on how we do in the FA Cup or whether we got knocked out of the Checkatrade Trophy in the group phase, it’s about promotion but hopefully this gives us a sense of momentum heading into a tricky fixture against Mansfield Town – one of the pre-season promotion favourites.

Possible Line-Up

Probably the biggest thing to come out of the past week was Jordan Ponticelli’s goals against Maidenhead. His inclusion against Luton seemed almost a last throw of the dice by Mark Robins to find a goalscorer, and yet his two finishes against Maidenhead justified that gamble, demonstrating both excellent technique and movement. It’s way too early to be expecting him now to shoulder the burden of being our main goalscorer, but Ponticelli has shown that he can at least be another weapon in our arsenal.

Liam Kelly’s fitness permitting, it’s hard to see the line-up for this Mansfield game being all too different from the Luton game. While Jordan Shipley and Tom Davies impressed in the FA Cup, they unfortunately occupy the positions of some of our most reliable performers this season in Liam Kelly and Jordan Willis. With Ryan Haynes and Jack Grimmer looking threatening from full-back in recent games, our attacking threat has diversified from just giving the ball to Jodi Jones.

Last Time We Met

You have to go back a long way to find our last competitive meeting with Mansfield Town, with the most recent clash between us and them coming in the League Cup in 1975. Gordon Milne’s Sky Blues were the victims of a cup upset against then-Division Three (League One in today’s money) Mansfield Town at Field Mill.

The last league meeting between the two sides came in the 1963-64 season, this season is only the fourth season that we’ve been in the same division as Mansfield Town.

How Are They Doing?

Mansfield were, justifiably, one of the heavy favourites for promotion heading into this season. Having ended last year fairly strongly, manager and serial promotion-winner Steve Evans made some big early moves in the summer transfer window to further strengthen his squad. Only Luton looked to be on a par with Mansfield heading into this campaign.

However, Mansfield have struggled to get going this season, despite occasionally showing signs that they can be a force to be reckoned with at this level. Evans’ overhaul of the squad over the summer arguably brought in quantity over quality, in particular, failing to add the proven goalscorer to the ranks that Evans clearly sought after.

While Mansfield have a lot of physical and powerful players at the back in the form of Zander Diamond, David Mirfin, Rhys Bennett and Krystian Pearce, keeping goals out has been a particular problem for the Stags this season. Evans has tended to chop and change his back-line on a fairly consistent basis, which hasn’t helped matters – for example playing winger Paul Anderson at right-back.

There also has seemingly not been adequate protection from midfield, with Mansfield looking the same level of physical presence in the centre of the pitch as they do at the back. With the more creative Jacob Mellis suspended for this game, Mansfield are likely to operate with two box-to-box midfielders in the centre of the park, Calum Butcher – who scored for Burton in a win over us a few seasons ago – and Joel Byrom – who has been a key creator of chances for Mansfield since signing in January.

Possible Line-Up

The pace and industry of winger Alex MacDonald will have to be contained, while there are further pacey wide options in the form of CJ Hamilton and ex-Solihull Moors star Omari Sterling-James. While summer signings Kane Hemmings and Lee Angol haven’t clicked yet up front for Mansfield, the former was absolutely lethal during spells in Scotland and the latter was Peterborough’s top-scorer in League One only two seasons ago, so shouldn’t be written-off.

Mansfield’s most reliable forward this season though has undoubtedly been Danny Rose. A hard-working striker and surprisingly good in the air for his size, Rose has eight league goals in 14 games this season. Interestingly, he was linked this week with a move to either us or Notts County, which seems unlikely to happen given the investment Mansfield have made in attaining promotion this season.

Prediction

Despite an underwhelming start to the season, Mansfield cannot be treated lightly and are a side that should finish in at least the top seven this season once they get going. They are a physically powerful side and with Steve Evans in charge, they will undoubtedly be incredibly tough and frustrating to break down should they take the lead in this game. Additionally, they are one of the few teams at this level who have the firepower to really put us to the sword if they can hit their stride.

While I think the character of our squad means we’ll be up for the battle of this game, my main concern is whether a front two of Marc McNulty and Jordan Ponticelli will be able to get into the game against the physicality of Mansfield’s back-line. If we don’t get the first goal, this could be an immensely frustrating afternoon for us.

I predict that this will be a 0-0 draw.

Preview: Maidenhead United

After an unexpectedly brilliant win away at the then league leaders Luton, a looming crisis of confidence has been averted. However, this FA Cup tie in what could be an especially soulless Ricoh Arena against non-league opposition could quickly render McNulty’s header, Shipley’s free-kick and Nazon’s late coup de grace at Kenilworth Road into distant memories.

After humbling exits in each of the past three years – Cambridge last year, Northampton the year before, and notably, Worcester the year before that – it should be abundantly clear that a tie against a supposedly lesser club in the FA Cup is far from straightforward. Mark Robins hasn’t treated the cup competitions seriously thus far this season but given the tradition of the FA Cup, as well as the revenue a good run would generate, it would be negligent for him to disregard this competition.

Moreover, the squad has had a week’s rest heading into this game and there’s only a Checkatrade Trophy tie to play the following midweek. There are no excuses for not naming our strongest line-up here and treating it as we would a normal league game, albeit one that takes us a step closer to a potential trip to a big Premier League side.

Possible Line-Up

Just what our full-strength team at the moment is something of a debate, despite the performance against Luton. While the back six or seven players looks to be fairly settled, the make-up of our strongest attacking line-up is yet to be resolved. While there is the temptation for Robins to stick with a winning team, Maidenhead United are going to be vastly different opponents to Luton Town, and he may consider adjusting the personnel accordingly.

In an ideal world, this is probably a game to bring Ben Stevenson into the midfield in place of either Michael Doyle or Liam Kelly so that we have someone who can get their foot on the ball and orchestrate extended periods of possession more comfortably – that’s not going to happen though. I would expect Maxime Biamou to come in for Jordan Ponticelli in order to give the side a focal point to aim crosses into the box. A more dynamic wide option than Peter Vincenti is another must, but that could mean shunting Duckens Nazon or Marc McNulty onto the wing.

Last Time We Met

We’ve never played Maidenhead United in a competitive fixture, not once.

How Are They Doing?

A town most famous for its Isambard Kingdom Brunel-built bridge and for being the constituency of the legendary UK Prime Minister Theresa May, its local football club are on the up. Promoted into the National League last season as National League South champions, Maidenhead stormed the opening month of the National League campaign thanks to the goals of Dave Tarpey.

Tarpey, reportedly offered the chance to sign for us over the summer, scored a suspiciously impressive 44 goals in 41 appearances for Maidenhead in the National League South last season. After seven goals in six appearances at the start of the season, Tarpey took the decision to sign for Barnet, before picking up a serious injury in his second appearance for the club.

Maidenhead manager and former West Ham legend Alan Devonshire is a wily operator in non-league, having turned part-time Braintree into a competitive outfit in the National League in his previous managerial posting. Devonshire has struggled at times to adjust his side to the loss of their goal machine, although midfielder Adrian Clifton has helped ease the burden with six goals from the centre of the park this season.

Possible Line-Up

Clifton looks the biggest danger-man among Maidenhead’s ranks, an attack-minded central player with skill and pace with the ball. In a counter-attacking unit, Clifton is important in not only carrying the ball forward but in supplying an end product in and around the penalty area. Winger Harry Pritchard is another key element of Maidenhead’s counter-attacking play, while the pacey Moses Emmanuel out wide has been a reliable National League goalscorer in recent years.

Even in the National League, Maidenhead look to defend deep and try and nick something either on the break or from set-pieces – with centre-backs Jake Goodman and Alan Massey someone we’ll need to make sure to mark. It was already apparent from the respective statures of the sides that this game would be about us looking to break-down a dogged and determined part-time side, but we are up against one with plenty of practice doing so this season.

Prediction

Not to be patronising towards Maidenhead, but this game, and certainly the stadium, will be their biggest in a long time. While they are a part-time side, they are only in the division below us so the gulf in quality between the two sides isn’t going to be as large as the respective histories of the clubs would suggest. This is a dangerous game for us if we show up expecting to stroll to victory.

Even if we do show the right attitude, this game presents the challenge of breaking down an organised defence at the Ricoh, which we’ve struggled on multiple occasions already this season. If we can get an early goal to settle the nerves, this game should be more straightforward than I fear it will be.

This is a game we should win, and I’m going to back us to get the job done with a 1-0 scoreline.

Preview: Luton Town

After another blank last weekend against Colchester, we head into possibly our toughest game of the season on the verge of going a whole month without scoring a goal in the league. It’s been a month that started with us being a win away from going top of the division, it could end with us comfortably outside the play-offs.

The performance against Colchester was arguably worse than the one in defeat to Forest Green. At least against Forest Green we’d had chances to miss, the closest thing we had to chances against Colchester were scuffed headers and hopeful long-rangers. While we could reconcile previous failures to score via the number of chances we were having, last Saturday was an indication Mark Robins is struggling to find a solution to our issues in front of goal.

It feels as if Mark Robins is still trying to figure out that missing element between us being an effective, solid team and an obdurate one. We don’t really look to punish teams on the counter-attack, nor do we look to exploit set-pieces in a serious way. At the moment, it’s a case of giving the ball to Jones or the Duck and seeing what they can do with it. There needs to be more of a coherent plan to score goals.

Possible Line-Up

Fortunately for Robins, Jones’ injury against Colchester isn’t as serious as first feared. Even a month without Jones could be terminal for our season – especially given the chance that he could leave in January – so his quick return to fitness buys Robins time to figure things out.

Given the likelihood that we’ll be defending for extended periods in this game, it could be an idea to play Ryan Haynes as a winger rather than a full-back and bring the sturdier Stokes in at left-back. While there is a difference between the qualities required to make a good attacking full-back and a good winger, Haynes ability to beat players for skill and travel in multiple directions make him more of a natural fit for a more attacking berth than the typical full-back.

Last Time We Met

When we last played Luton Town, we were both in the Championship and 18,781 showed up back in January 2007 to see Leon McKenzie fire a Sky Blues side to victory over Luton during the interregnum between Micky Adams and Iain Dowie. Luton’s side was notable on that day for containing two future Sky Blues heroes – Kevin Foley and David Bell.

How Are They Doing?

Since relegation from the Championship in 06/07, Luton have been relegated to the National League and have returned as a resurgent force, looking more than ready to make the step up to League One. In Nathan Jones, they have one of the more impressive young managers in the Football League and they recently spent the summer snapping up most of the star players in League Two to make an already strong squad even stronger.

Their two most notable summer signings were Luke Berry – scorer of 17 goals for Cambridge last season from midfield – and James Collins – scorer of 20 goals for Crawley last season and possessor of a passion for scoring against Coventry City. While it’s been a bit of struggle for Nathan Jones to integrate two further attacking weapons into an already impressive squad, they have really hit their straps over the past month or so. Luke Berry scored a hat-trick in a recent 7-1 thrashing of Stevenage, while James Collins has been directly involved in more goals this season than any other League Two player.

They were two players Luton arguably didn’t even need, having already had one of the best strikers in this division in Danny Hylton, the enigmatic Pelly Ruddock in midfield, signing winger Harry Cornick and midfield engines Andrew Shinnie and Alan McCormack over the summer as well. Hylton in particular is a player we’ll have to play close attention to, not only is he one of the hardest-working strikers at this level, but he has a penchant for winding opposing players and fans up with his antics, and he’s also an excellent goalscorer as well.

Possible Line-Up

Luton manager Nathan Jones likes to get his teams playing open and attacking football, in his preferred midfield diamond formation. Their allows them to incorporate a lot of attacking players into their line-up, although they are yet to shake off a bad habit for occasionally going missing for the odd game. If we can keep a compact shape and force a few errors in their attempts to play out from the back, we could make this a difficult game for them.

However, if we do have the perfect game, we’ll also have to get past Marek Stech in Luton’s goal. Stech was the goalkeeper for Yeovil Town when they made it to the Championship a few years ago and is simply far too good for League Two. The mountainous centre-back Scott Cuthbert will also be a tricky customer for us to get past.

Prediction

This is probably the first (and hopefully only) game of the season where most will view us as the underdogs. Luton are a truly fearsome prospect at the moment and are, by some distance, the best attacking unit that we’ll face at this level. They do have weaknesses to exploit, but this could be the game where our impression of us being a solid defensive side starts to erode.

We’re in desperate need of a positive result, and this game comes at more or less the worst time possible in order to achieve it. The very least I hope for is a goal, but I can see this been a 2-0 defeat.

Preview: Colchester United

There seems fine margins at times between a good performance and a terrible one. On the opening day, we could barely string three passes together for long periods of the game but were apparently set to walk the league. While it’s a stretch to say we played well on Tuesday, there was a pretty determined reaction to falling behind which, on another day, might have precipitated a stirring comeback.

There is no defending the opening 20 minutes of the performance against Tuesday night, easy passes were going astray, poor decisions were made in attack, and then Lee Burge crystallised it all by dropping the ball into his own net. Against a team struggling for confidence and leaking goals, we should never had found ourselves in the situation we did, but we really should have scored at least one of the several opportunities we laboured to create.

We’re getting to that stage of the season though (and especially after the two scoreless games beforehand) where creating good chances and not taking them is less encouraging. A month or so ago, you could perhaps relax in the hope that there will be games to come when the ball hits the back of the net rather than the post or keeper’s hands, there isn’t that patience now that games are starting to matter that little bit more.

Possible Line-Up

For this upcoming game against Colchester, Mark Robins faces the decision of sticking with what threatened to be a dangerous front four of Maxime Biamou, Jodi Jones, Duckens Nazon and Marc McNulty or twist on a Peter Vincenti or Jordan Ponticelli and hope that something clicks. Personally, I saw enough on Tuesday to give the same front four another go in the hope that more match experience together will lead to more fluency, but there is a desperation for an immediate solution to our goal-scoring woes that could lead to Robins changing things up yet again.

There isn’t really much cause for making other changes without risking further disruption to the dynamic of the side. Lee Burge’s error – at a time when he was starting to gain some trust – could lead to calls for his dropping, but it would be in favour of another goalkeeper who we we’ve seen is prone to sloppy errors too. As I’ve argued before, dropping a goalkeeper after just one error will do more harm than good.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting against Colchester was another frustrating midweek game at the Ricoh Arena. Colchester, who at the time were all but condemned to relegation to League Two, were up against an out-of-form Tony Mowbray Coventry City but one that still had a shot at making the play-offs. An early goal for Colchester winger Gavin Massey set the tone for a laboured performance for the Sky Blues, with Jacob Murphy missing a penalty and Jodi Jones the only real bright spot from the performance.

How Are They Doing?

I had high hopes for Colchester heading into this season. They had narrowly missed out on the play-offs last year, mainly due to a nightmare run of injuries over the course of the campaign, and had a young and improving squad. However, following the loss of experienced centre-forward Chris Porter to Crewe over the summer, Colchester lost that momentum from last season and have been incredibly inconsistent thus far.

Manager John McGreal has probably displayed some of his inexperience as a manager – with last year his first managerial campaign – with formations and line-ups fairly inconsistent thus far, as well as splurging out on a series of loan signings on the final day of the transfer window that appear to have disrupted the side more than they’ve added quality.

Nonetheless, Colchester have some exciting young players in their squad and could be well-set to cause us some serious problems in this game. In particular, they have pace and quality on the break in the form of wingers Drey Wright and Sammie Szmodics. Wright is a direct and skilful winger who has been a reliable attacking threat this season and could well earn a move to a higher level over the next 12 months. Szmodics also has that potential, although he operates more centrally and has more goals in his game. Both though are doubts for this game through injury.

Striker Mikael Mandron has been key for Colchester this season as Chris Porter’s replacement. Mandron’s greater level of mobility as a target-man in theory makes him a more talented player than Porter, but as a much less-experienced player and being less of a goalscorer, Colchester have still felt the impact of Mandron’s loss.

Possible Line-Up

In midfield, Colchester have a level of quality and control that few other League Two sides have. The diminutive Tom Lapslie can really dictate games from deep in midfield, with ex-Watford prospect Sean Murray playing more of a box-to-box role. Murray in particular has been in good form this season, while Colchester also have Craig Slater – who had a superb last season – and the experienced Doug Loft to call upon.

In defence, Colchester are relatively inexperienced with academy products Frankie Kent and Kane Vincent-Young fairly key players. Ryan Jackson at right-back has more experience and was recently a key player for Gillingham when they were challenging for promotion from League One. Jackson is not only incredibly quick (like, really quick) but also possesses a powerful long throw which we’ll have to contain.

Prediction

A fast start to this game could well be imperative in easing some of the tension that has descended at the Ricoh Arena at this moment in time. Rightly or wrongly, the crowd were very quick to turn on the players on Tuesday night, and anything less than a win here (no matter what level of performance) will only serve to make the pressure more suffocating for future games.

Colchester’s pace on the counter scares me, particularly as we’ve shown at times this season that we labour when allowed time on the ball against a team sitting back against us. I’m desperate for us to win this game just to allow the atmosphere around the club to calm down, however, I think this may be a frustrating 1-1 draw.

Book Review: 29 Minutes From Wembley

Picture this, an exciting but inconsistent Coventry City side, puts a cup run together, the whole city gets excited, crushing disappointment, the team gets dismantled soon after.

It’s a narrative that we’ve grown accustomed to in recent times supporting this club, which makes Steve Phelps latest book on the 1980/81 season at Coventry City a reminder that, long before the days of SISU, the Ricoh Arena, and the Premier League, it’s been a common part of the club’s history.

For that Coventry City vintage, the League Cup semi-final defeat to West Ham – in crushing circumstances after clawing back a 2-0 deficit during the first leg – was the zenith of their time at their club. 29 Minutes From Wembley is about is how that team came together, found their feet at first-team level, came so close to delivering the club’s first-ever visit to Wembley, and then moved on before they could achieve more tangible success at Coventry City.

Perhaps overshadowed by the 1987 FA Cup winning side, 29 Minutes From Wembley brings to light the story of arguably a more gifted and exciting set of players. As someone unfamiliar with the 1980/81 vintage, Mark Hateley was the most recognisable name to me. What Steve Phelps’ narrative illustrates though was that this  was a side brimming with talent (many of whom having been handed top-flight debuts as teenagers by the club) such as Garry Thompson and Tommy English alongside Hateley in attack, the enigmatic Peter Bodak out wide, the destroyer/ball-player pairing of Paul Dyson and Gary Gillespie, the exciting Danny Thomas at full-back and the colourful Les Sealey in goal. It was a real conveyor belt of talent with the then-manager Gordon Milne fearless in his faith in young talent.

Through a series of interviews with members of the 1980/81 squad, Steve Phelps provides a pitch-level experience of that season. There’s a clear sense that this was a group of players who enjoyed playing together and made life-long friends while playing for Coventry City, which is refreshing to discover.

It would be easy for the story of 29 Minutes From Wembley to slip into pure nostalgia, but Steve Phelps doesn’t shy away from the difficulties off-the-pitch – both in the boardroom and the rising unemployment in the West Midlands in the early 80’s – that provided the economic imperative behind the eventual disintegration of the 1980/81 side. From the need to generate money via shirt sponsorship and a doomed venture in the North American Soccer League, to the issues of hooliganism and the fickleness of the Highfield Road crowd, this is also the story of English football going through the early stages of modernisation.

While this isn’t the tale of glory, 29 Minutes From Wembley brings to life, warts and all, of the story of an almost-forgotten Coventry City side that was so close to not just one moment of greatness, but an era of success.

’29 Minutes From Wembley: The Inside Story of Coventry City’s 1980/81 Season’ can be bought from Amazon, or wherever else you get your books from.

Preview: Forest Green Rovers

If confirmation was still needed that we are in League Two this season, then Saturday’s defeat to Accrington – if only for the reputation of the opposition – was provided it. It was also a rare occasion this season where we deserved to lose – we not only struggled to score, but it was a game where our defence looked shaky too.

The chief concern at the moment though is those struggles in front of goal. Whether it’s a lack of creativity or a lack of a killer instinct in front of goal that’s the specific reason why we’re struggling in front of goal, improving either will resolve our problems. As we appear to lack a cold-hearted goal poacher, we either need someone to step up and become that kind of player or we simply need to improve the quantity and quality of chances we’re creating.

This upcoming game against the league’s worst defence would appear the perfect opportunity to build some confidence in front of goal. For Mark Robins, it’s a case of either hoping the front four that seemed to work during our recent run of three straight wins will click back into gear or twisting and trying to integrate someone like Marc McNulty or Peter Vincenti into the starting line-up.

Possible Line-Up

With Devon Kelly-Evans having a quiet game against Accrington, he seems the likeliest candidate to be taken out of the side. Marc McNulty has shown he can operate out wide to a reasonable level of effectiveness, which would have the benefit of adding an extra striker to the dynamic and also keeping Duckens Nazon in a central position where he’s more effective. However, playing Peter Vincenti out wide could Robins to pair McNulty and Nazon together without losing a physical presence in attack.

Liam Kelly’s absence from the side was a blow on Saturday and his potential return for this game would be welcome. While Ben Stevenson clearly has something to offer this team, the defensive protection Kelly offers via his physical strength and ability to win first and second balls makes us a more composed team-unit, and there isn’t really a debate to be had over whether he should return.

Last Time We Met

For the third game in a row (or two in three depending on your opinion on the reformation of Accrington Stanley) we’re up against a club that we’ll be facing in the league for the first time ever.

How Are They Doing?

When Forest Green won promotion from the National League last season, their chairman declared that ‘reaching League One will be easy’, however, it’s been a disaster of a campaign thus far on a multitude of levels (second-bottom, league’s worst defence, and having recently released their captain) putting paid to such ambitions, at least in the short-term.

Despite a blitzing play-off final victory last season, the cracks that have been exposed at a higher-level this season were apparent during that promotion-winning campaign. Manager Mark Cooper seemed to develop a habit of turfing out some of his more expensive signings at any sign of poor form but was able to turn to the emergency loan window to bail himself out. Without that luxury – and the club having to abide by financial fair play regulations – it seems to be a very unhappy camp at the club.

Possible Line-Up

As mentioned earlier, club captain Liam Noble was recently released by the club. Not only did Forest Green turn down £100,000 for him from Notts County (who he’s recently signed for on a free) but he was one of their most pivotal players in their promotion-winning campaign as a driving force from midfield. Of the dynamic front four of Christian Doidge, Kaiyne Woolery, Keanu Marsh-Brown and Liam Noble that blew Tranmere away back in May, only the excellent all-round centre-forward Doidge is likely to line-up in this game.

The rest of Forest Green’s side is even harder to predict after Mark Cooper reportedly vowed to play some of the club’s younger players, following a 4-0 defeat to Newport County at the weekend. It’s the indication of a manager clearly feeling the pressure and is rapidly running out of things he can say and do to the side in order to get a reaction. However, the one thing Cooper is sticking with is a passing style of football – which has been another major contributing factor to the club’s terrible season thus far.

Prediction

This is as close to an open goal kind of game as it’s possible to get. If we can get an early goal, the floodgates could really open and allow us to build some confidence in front of goal. Although, Forest Green did recently take a point that was nearly all three away to Notts County recently, indicating that they do have a decent performance up their sleeve under the right conditions.

Overall though, this is a game that we have to be confident of winning. I’m going for a 2-0 scoreline.