Forest Green manager Duncan Ferguson has said that players are ‘cheating’ against his side ahead of Saturday’s match against Michael Duff’s fourth-placed Barnsley, where anything less than a win will compound Rovers to relegation.
The bottom-side in Sky Bet League One are 14 points from safety with just five matches left to play and could have their fate sealed if Oxford United can get a result at home to Bolton.
The Everton legend has remained upbeat since taking over from Ian Burchnall in January and delved deeper into how he sees the game, his refusal to use gamesmanship to win, and how he’ll try and bring Rovers straight back up to the third tier of English football.
“I’m the coach who goes out and plays fairly. It doesn’t matter if I have the best or worst team, go out and play the game. The best team will win. I’m not for time wasting, I’m not for falling over, I’m not for tactical substitutions and the goalkeeper falling over. I’m a purist. I want the ball to be in play for 90 minutes, the ball is getting in play less and less. That’s them, and that’s fine, but it’s not me,” said Ferguson.
“It certainly wouldn’t be me at one of the top teams with a massive budget like Derby did against us, we ended up pushing them. They had cramps, players slowing the game down, some people call it professionalism, but I don’t. I’m a purist, I want to play football, the best team will win, and that’s the end of it.
“I’m a clever coach. It’s not for me. I think about fans watching the game in the second half and think come on, let’s play the game. I’ve noticed particularly last two or three games that teams are pushing for promotion, it’s not how I would do it, but good luck to them.
“You try not to give any free kicks away; teams know that a bit of contact will probably give them an entry into the box. Players are being cute, players are cheating, call it what you will. I will move my tactics around.”
In a surprise to many, Ferguson handed the captain’s armband to 19-year-old Harvey Bunker in last week’s 2-0 defeat to Wycombe after a string of impressive performances, and similar physical attributes are desired of new recruits in the summer.
“He’s influential, in the profile that I like. He’s got the hunger, love for the club, love for the shirt, love for the fans, comes from the academy. He’s becoming a big part of the team and I’m pushing him to be a leader. I enjoy him being the captain, I like players through the academy, it’s what I liked at Everton, and we want that. It shows you how well they’re working behind the scenes,” said Ferguson.
“I like a big player, but he has to be good. I’m aware of set plays, a lot of teams can play direct. We would be looking to recruit good players and then if their profile is like Harvey Bunker’s and then fantastic.
“It’s all about the strengths of players. I see the players and think about what the best setup is for them and that’s the way I go.”
The summer is at the forefront of discussion because of the number of Forest Green players exiting at the end of the season; as many as 15 will leave the club as free agents or go back to their parent clubs when their loans end.
“(Brandon Cooper and Olly Casey) will go back to their parent clubs as all the loans will. I’ve got a lot of players out of contract as well, (Jordan Moore-Taylor) is one of them. He’s coming to the end of his deal; we’re going to try and organise a bounce game behind the scenes to have a good look at him. He’s been training okay but he will get a run out in one of these games, it might not be the weekend but before the end of the season, he will get his chance,” said Ferguson.
“(Corey O’Keefe) has a contract, I like him. I thought he was poor on Monday, but he’s done well for me. He’s certainly part of my plans for next season.”
Before that can all be sorted out, they must fight once again to stay in League One, for another week at least. Barnsley come into this with seven wins from their last eight, little wonder that no one in Nailsworth is holding their breath for the great escape.