The cliché denotes that it’s the hope that kills you. A side fighting to remain at a level they have never reached before, their fans desperate to be watching League One football next season have found hope hard to come by this term.
With little expectation, the support is relaxed, almost resigned, as the second half begins. They have seen this show enough times this season and in the latest episode Forest Green Rovers are 1-0 down at home to Charlton Athletic.
Against the script, however, the Gloucestershire side is growing into the game. Holding their own, winning more second balls, more flick-ons, slowly crowbarring the momentum of the game in their favour. Hope begins to escalate as the midfield trio combine expertly to provide chances for the wide men to drive at Charlton’s defence. Half chances come and go.
But this spell of pressure goes unrewarded and the frustrated groans from the home section begin as passes start to go astray once more.
Sixty-five minutes in and suddenly The Bolt New Lawn breathes its strongest roar of the evening. Stepping out of the dugout first comes the famed moppy blonde hair, a modern take on his father’s infamous style, then the rest of his body follows, draped in green and black. Charlie Savage has been summoned for his first appearance after joining from Manchester United on loan in January.
The rapturous reception given to the 19-year-old continues as he receives some final instructions from new manager Duncan Ferguson, the Scot towering above his new recruit, accentuates the pair’s physical differences and the physical battle that awaits the youngster.
The worry quickly dissipates. Savage looks instantly at home in the centre of midfield. He drops deep and links up well on the left-hand side in order to get a foothold in the match.
When Charlton win it back, they look to break, hoping to shift momentum and put the game beyond doubt. This only leans into Savage’s skillset and he drops to the halfway line, ready to receive a turnover. When he does, he immediately looks forward, scanning his options for a direct pass down the left channel and two exquisite balls behind the Charlton defence stretch the game wide open within minutes.
Rovers grow in confidence as they control more of the possession, receiving further up the pitch and Charlton, sensing Savage’s danger, drop deeper towards their own goal in order to avoid facing it.
This only allows the midfielder to receive with more time and space to weigh up his options, regularly switching perfectly out to the right wing to stretch the defence across the pitch. The fresh burst of hope that Savage’s performance creates lasts all the way to the full-time whistle and Rovers’ midfield has carved out more than enough chances for the attackers to steal something from the game. As is so often the case, the performance doesn’t warrant the result and yet again, Rovers fall to defeat.
They are nine points from safety with just two wins from 11, but this is still the best performance in Ferguson’s short reign. They may just be leaving it too late to stay up and results are yet to swing in their favour, but the new manager and the debut performance of his new loanee has at least provided a new hope for Rovers fans, that addictive belief that keeps football fans coming back through the gates.