Forest Green’s automatic-promotion credentials have come off the rails but boss Mark Cooper insists love is the only way to get his side back in the saddle.
Rovers fell to their fourth straight defeat as they handed Walsall their first win in 15 games, leaving Cooper’s side five points shy of the top three and looking anxiously over their shoulders as the race for a place in the playoffs reaches the home straight.
The narrative changed when Jake Young missed a chance to calm Rovers’ brittle nerves from the get-go. Buoyed by this it was Walsall who nosed ahead on six minutes. Emmanuel Osadebe combined with Josh Gordon before picking out an unmarked Rory Holden to smash past Luke McGee.
Walsall’s Gordon fluffed his lines after the break as Rovers struggled to get out of first gear. The Saddlers made it 2-0 on 65 minutes – Clarke thumping beyond the exposed McGee.
However, Jordan Moore-Taylor handed Rovers hope with a header from Aaron Collins’ corner on 72 minutes.
Rovers raised the tempo in 10 minutes of added time, but Walsall remained resolute to seal only a second win in 21 matches.
Cooper said: “We should be 2-0 up in the first two minutes and when they get into our half for the first time, we kick the ball to their man and they score and that impacted the confidence of our young team.”
With the shackles off, Cooper felt his side improved.
“In the last 20 minutes when we were 2-0 down and no pressure, we started to play and really should have equalised.”
With six games of the regular season to go, Cooper insists love is the best medicine to help his fledgling squad cope with the pressure of the final furlong.
“This is a really young group, confidence is affected and we’re trying to give them all the belief and love, but from somewhere we have to grab a result. I can’t fault their effort and commitment – they had a right go but we put ourselves under pressure and the first goal changes the game.”
Walsall: Rose, White (Leak, 81), Clarke, Sadler, Melbourne, Kinsella, Perry, Osadebe, Wright (Norman, 88), Holden (Osei Yaw, 84), Gordon.
Subs not used: Roberts, Vincent, Bates, McDonald.
Forest Green: McGee, Wilson (Richardson, 75), Godwin-Malife, Cargill, Cadden (Davison, 85), Moore-Taylor, Adams, Wagstaff (C), Bailey, Young, Collins.
Subs not used: Thomas, Bernard, Stokes, Allen, Whitehouse.