I hope all the Forest Green Rovers supporters that made the trip to Hillsborough on Saturday enjoyed themselves. I know it’s difficult when your team is on the wrong end of a 5-0 scoreline but these are new and exciting challenges that the fans should be embracing.
Certainly, their conduct was appreciated on social media with Twitter full of acknowledgements from Sheffield Wednesday followers praising the loyalty of the Rovers supporters who continued to back their team even when they were 5-0 down.
The fans should enjoy the experience but the staff and the players will hopefully have hated their day and be determined that it doesn’t become a common occurrence. The higher you rise up the football pyramid the greater the gap in class becomes apparent. I’ve worked at just about every level in semi-pro and pro football from the Wessex League up to the Premier League in one guise or another and can assure you the higher you get the wider the gap in ability between divisions.
These are the circles that Forest Green Rovers now move in. It’s no secret that the club’s ambition is to play Championship football. It will take time, but meanwhile, the club has got to keep ticking over and picking up points to, first of all, ensure their safety and thereafter a mid-table finish. That would be a successful season, anything better than that would be dreamland. They cannot afford to be as naive as they were on Saturday when they tried to go toe to toe with an opponent that simply had better footballers.
I’d done no research on Sheffield Wednesday, I just watched the game on the TV but as soon as the teams were revealed one name just stood out head and shoulders above everyone else. Barry Bannan. He had to be stopped, there is no way in my opinion that Rovers could afford to give him the time and space to run the show. He had to be given ‘special attention’ to the extent that the gameplan I would have opted for would have been 10v10, with a Rovers enforcer given the role of making sure that Bannan wasn’t given the time and space to work his magic.
This isn’t with the benefit of hindsight, it’s a tactic I often adopted in the past and learned it from managers and coaches far better than me. In our first season in the Conference, we played Doncaster Rovers away who were being bankrolled magnificently and were managed by a recently retired Premier League player. Their entire team was class from one to eleven but three names, in particular, stood out. Neville Southall, John Sheridan and Mike Newell. Newell had been Alan Shearer’s strike partner at Blackburn and had a glittering career in the Premier League. He was a threat but only if he got the service. The main danger was John Sheridan who pulled the strings at every club he played for including over two hundred appearances at Leeds.
Two years previously, Sheridan had been playing Premier League football, his opposite number, Rob Cook, a local Nailsworth lad had been playing Hellenic League for Shortwood. A mismatch doesn’t do it justice but it was the duel we had to win and Rob did it for us. I told Rob to take no interest in the game with the exception of Sheridan and never to be more than a metre from him. Afford him no space and clout him (fairly) every time he received the ball. After less than two minutes Sheridan asked Rob, “man to man” to which Rob nodded his head. Apparently, Sheridan just sighed deeply, he knew he was in for a tough afternoon.
Donny probably had over 80 percent possession but without Sheridan’s input we were able to keep the play in front of us and stop the ball getting sprayed into dangerous areas, consequently, Mike Newell never got a chance. The more frustrated they got, the more they pushed and Oggie (Paul Hunt) hit them on the break to win the game for us 1-0 with a cool finish in a 1v1 against Southall. Man of the Match – Rob Cook, 100 per cent despite him having nothing but tackles on his match profile. It would have been nice to have seen Bannan taken care of that way on Saturday. Given that he had a hand in all five goals the result could have been very different. It was a bad result but if lessons are learned it will only make Rovers stronger and wiser.
In a regular column, iconic former Forest Green manager Frank Gregan has teamed up with Stroud Times to look back on his time at the New Lawn.
Now living in Spain and a published author, the former sergeant major joined Rovers in 1994 – leading his side to back-to-back promotions and Wembley final. Frank transformed the club from non-league minnows, charting the way for what they have gone onto achieve under the late Trevor Horsley’s successor Dale Vince.
Follow Frank on Twitter: @Greegers