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FRANK TALK: The first goal isn’t crucial


Sunday will be a special occasion at the New Lawn. Big games like this are to be enjoyed not feared. It’s the culmination of the whole season’s work not to mention an opportunity to keep the forward momentum in the whole Forest Green project and their quest to climb the leagues.

The vibes seem to be good. “We’re doomed, doomed I tell you” isn’t the mantra being banded around the club, it’s far more upbeat with everyone talking positively about Sunday’s game. Is that a good thing? Yes of course, as long as the optimism is mixed with a healthy dose of reality.

Rovers were comprehensively beaten on Tuesday night and are fortunate still to be in the tie. Newport had much better chances and have missed an opportunity to settle the issue at the first attempt. That’s the reality but the players have a chance to turn this tie around but they have to be confident in their ability to do so. Henry Ford hit the spot when he said, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

Belief is vital in this situation but the reality mustn’t be swept under the carpet, the reality has to be faced and accepted. Rovers have a huge task ahead. They have to be much better, they need to turn this into a Jekyll and Hyde two-legged affair. Three things will get them through, organisation, luck and belief. Simple eh?

Organisation – The coaching staff knows what needs to be done and will be working hard to put things right for the second leg. I’d wager that amongst other things they’ll be looking to move the Newport defensive unit around more and working on ways to get in behind them.

Luck – they certainly had their share of it on Tuesday night mainly due to Newport’s failings in front of goal. They arguably had a slice of bad luck too when Odin Bailey’s free-kick hit the bar. The deception was superb which meant that a ‘postage stamp’ top corner finish wasn’t needed, there was a one-metre square target that he could have hit and scored. It was a great effort but Lady Luck chose not to smile.

Belief – 2-0 down is really not the end of the world. The cliche that I would be banning at the club right now is ‘ the first goal is crucial.’ 

What happens if you concede the first goal? It isn’t game over but if you’ve been putting that idea into the players’ heads all of a sudden it is. It will be like watching a balloon deflate. The belief will drain from them. The task is still not insurmountable if they go one-nil down albeit it’s not the preferred option. Rovers don’t have to score early either, two goals in the last thirty minutes and an extra-time winner will do nicely thank you.

I’ve been in a similar situation myself at the club many moons ago in a two-legged semi-final with a place at Wembley at stake. We drew the first leg away 1-1 and returned to Nailsworth to finish the job. Thirty minutes into the second leg we were 2-0 down and looking at an embarrassing defeat. We managed to turn it around with the LOB – Luck, Organisation and belief.

Luck – we forced a goalmouth scramble in the box just before half-time and caught a break when the ball broke to Alex Sykes who managed to toe-poke it home from about three yards. 

Organisation – we ditched the nerves in the second half and our movement aided by the quickness of thought and sharper passing put us on the front foot. We stayed solid at the back and when we were undone our ‘keeper, Steve ‘Porks” Perrin produced heroics.

Belief – I said nothing to the team for the first five minutes at half-time, I just let them rehydrate and receive whatever attention they needed. When I spoke I was scanning all their faces and remember saying something rhetorically along the lines of  “who in this dressing room wouldn’t have taken this at the start of the season? 2-1 down at half-time at home and forty-five minutes from a place in the FA Trophy final for the first time in the club’s history? Anybody think this isn’t a great chance for us, a golden opportunity?”

That’s the kind of positivity that Jimmy Ball is spreading right now. It’s what is needed. Whether you think you can or you think you can’t…..

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

Home | Frank Gregan Books (wixsite.com)

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