Forest Green Rovers 1-2 Doncaster Rovers
Sky Bet League Two
Saturday 16th September 2023
At the game I was at last weekend, it was a crap referee who stole the limelight and caused a massive talking point (plus a viral video) afterwards.
Fast-forward seven days and this time around it was Ben Close’s turn because near enough to the same second that James Bancroft blew his whistle at Glanford Park last Saturday and caused complete chaos, in this game good old Benjamin found the back of the net with a floated back-post cross (definitely not a shot but who cares less?) which sparked delirium for Doncaster Rovers as it gave them their first three points of the season, whilst simultaneously leaving Forest Green feeling very distraught.
Ahead of the game, Donny hadn’t picked up a point away on their travels all season and Forest Green hadn’t picked up a point at the New Lawn either - so short of Mr Bancroft making an appearance, booking a load of players and then abandoning the game (and nobody wants to see his face and that farce again) then something clearly had to give!
And when you’re bottom of the Football League, like Doncaster were at kick-off, then you need any luck you can get - and they didn’t half ride their luck at times as Forest Green created multiple opportunities, hit the post three or four times, but were guilty of that age-old crime of not putting the ball in the net when they were on top!
And when that happens, everyone knows the potential consequences…
This game actually had the second-highest amount of corners (22) that I’ve ever seen in about 700 matches in the Football League - make of that fact whatever you want, call me a sad bastard for keeping stats if you wish (sure a few of you will anyway) but it’s quite a good way of pointing out that a lot of the openings came from balls into the box and nothing whatsoever through the middle really bar one Louie Marsh shot.
Donny actually started okay enough; Joe Ironside slicing the ball into the side-netting with what was the second-best acrobatic effort of the afternoon in a steady first 15 minutes where they weren’t bad value and probably shaded things, but then FGR took charge and DOMINATED during a 10-minute spell prior to the half-hour mark in which up to five openings went begging and Donny found themselves clinging on.
They should have put the game to bed in this spell.
Most of the danger came down Forest Green’s right (Donny’s left), Tom Anderson was left hugely exposed a few times to a bombardment and in the chances themselves, Troy Deeney hit the bar, Matty Stevens got space and hit the post with an effort that then rolled along the line and somehow stayed out, Kyle McAllister (who caused all sorts of chaos and was instrumental in this period) hit the post as well. Another ball put through the six-yard box by McAllister missed a stretching Jamie Robson by inches, Louis Jones also made a save with his feet and it was an absolute PEPPERING of all proportions. But still it was 0-0.
It seemed inevitable that a goal was coming and just past the half-hour mark it duly arrived… Tom Nixon swinging a cross into the box from the right towards Harrison Biggins who connected with an overhead kick and the ball was sent flying into the back of the net.
Donny were 1-0 up! Forest Green were behind! It’s a hard knock life…
The quality on show wasn’t great in the first half (some nice bits and touches - George Broadbent deserves a mention because he dropped back deep and made some good contributions including a couple of blocks plus a pass into space on the half-hour mark to get a move going - class). All tidy stuff and he was largely decent; a few others too looked good - Tom Nixon (vocal and a bit about him), Joe Olowu (actually had a decent game defensively) and Kyle McAllister was good for Forest Green for long spells, but otherwise most of the play would best be described using that screwed up face emoji - and in the second half for a long while the game was drifting without much happening.
Louie Marsh’s introduction gave Donny something else and after quite a few nifty touches and some decent movement tight under pressure with the ball at his feet to take it, touch it and beat his man - class technique which I’ve seen so many times before, he soon unleashed a snap-shot from outside the box which was saved. Not bad whatsoever, Louie. Not bad whatsoever...
But with FGR still behind, the onus was really on them to raise the intensity, seize the initiative and apply some pressure and it was only in the last 10-15 minutes that properly began to happen again! Up to then, it was quite mundane, boring and flat with not a lot going on for the natives to get inspired about.
Where Donny looked most vulnerable was dealing with set-plays and I always felt if something dropped from the first contact after the initial delivery, that would be FGR’s best hope for getting an equaliser - but in the end I was only ‘half-right’ on that theory as Marcel Lavinier’s delivery found Jordan Moore-Taylor with about five minutes to go and he got high and powered home a header to make it 1-1.
At this point, buoyed by that equaliser, the buzz, the goal music, that bit of time left and everything else, the initiative was with Forest Green - you felt they might turn it around completely and had Harvey Bunker somehow not managed to blaze the ball over the upright from about three yards on the brink of injury-time when it seemed IMPOSSIBLE to miss from that position, then the hosts might well have got all three points themselves.
But again, it was another missed chance…
That said, the best thing was that by the six minutes of injury-time both teams were going for it and nobody on either team was piddling around, wasting time or happy to settle for just a point. Both teams felt the game was there for the taking!
Forest Green defended three or four corners in quick succession early in added time; Tom Anderson was then yellow carded for a shirt-pull to a prevent a quick counter-attack down the right (not quite Chielini on Saka in the Euro Final but you get the idea) and suddenly there was a frenetic pace and intensity about everything.
Excitement levels were rising and then at 95:20 (or close to that as I was bang opposite the scoreboard), Ben Close provided a moment of quality with a curling right-foot cross from the left. Clearly, he was trying to get the ball into the back-post area but his connection had enough ‘whippage’ on it to send it up and over the ‘keeper and it was one of those you knew was going into the net a second or two before it dropped in! BOOM!
Cue celebrations! Scenes, euphoria, limbs (as it’s called nowadays) in the away end opposite, Ironside becoming Ironslide in rushing to join in and become part of the party and now Donny were tantalisingly close to victory.
Even still, there were some worrying moments and it was probably a case of nerves at being so close to winning (and having not won all season) plus FGR’s desperate last-ditch determination to rescue something in the adversity they found themselves in once again, that led to more drama as the hosts did win a corner, and the ball did drop after the first contact, but Louis Jones pulled off a strong-wristed save (what a stop) to prevent an equaliser and with the home ‘keeper up in his bright pink kit, that added an extra element to the drama.
But ultimately, Donny held out; that resilience which was there all game from Joe Olowu (again he had a good game - massive for his confidence) and Tom Anderson (who was very good in the second half after being exposed in the first) shone as they threw themselves infront of things, and the relief, the joy, the feeling and buzz at the final whistle spoke volumes!
This win meant a massive amount.
Yes, they rode their luck. On a different day, they’d have been potted 3-0 and it’d have been a very different set of emotions afterwards (no doubt about that) and there’s loads of vulnerabilities to improve from this game. The issues down the left being one; not helped if James Maxwell is going to be out injured for a few months either. Dealing effectively with the crosses into the box being another issue - both require attention!
But when you’re rock bottom you need that bit of luck. This was it and winning breeds confidence. Getting points is the only thing that matters in this scenario (playing well and losing; all well and good, but it still means you’re in a dogfight and rock bottom afterwards). Confident players are always more likely to produce consistent results and the hope Grant McCann will have now is that this win - these emotions, that feeling of achieving something, can galvanise his players, give them belief and be a turning point in the season as a whole.
It wasn’t a great game by any means. The quality left plenty to be desired and at a few points I was surprised by the lack of quality in parts of the game but the spirit, the graft and commitment couldn’t be faulted. There was an element of ‘sleeves rolling up’ needed and that was apparent - even despite the riding the luck aspect of the game.
From a Forest (no rub of the Green) perspective, just imagine how they must be feeling! Better team? Debatable. Better chances? 100%... but zero points to show for any of it.
Five home defeats in succession and although they’ve got some of the most polite fans in the EFL (sighs of sadness rather than squawking in furious anger being more their way of dealing with disappointment), their manager will be feeling the pressure left by another home defeat and yet another ‘Nearly’ and ‘Not Quite’ hard luck story - and I’m sure he’d swap ‘Playing okay, creating chances and losing’ for ‘Riding your luck and winning’ right now!
Particular mentions again for Tom Nixon (can appreciate his qualities from seeing this game - good assist; name in the limelight, plus his qualities in organising things - i.e. telling Marshy where to be late on just before defending a throw). Good bits of leadership material in him and he's decent. Joe Ironside too who is just like an old style throwback of a centre-forward; constantly grappling with Forest Green’s No.5’s but effective. Joe Olowu - a good game and ought to do his confidence good. Tom Anderson who had a good second half after that first half where he was being pulled all over the place because of problems elsewhere. Louis Jones as well on his saves - top class goalkeeping for the save at the end, the couple in the first half and coming off his line to claim the cross from the corner (just before the whistle went for a foul in the second half). Showed lots of confidence. Louie Marsh too when he came on - probably had a few nerves as he’s still finding his feet and in a new team/environment but sharp, nicked the ball off his man a few times (good), tracked back, used his fantastic touch and technique to beat his man various times (love it Marshy; absolutely love it mate) and I’ve got no doubt whatsoever he’ll fly soon at this level. I’ve seen enough of his games in the past to know what he can do - style-wise especially, plus enough League Two games to know what this level is about, and I back and believe in him 100,000% and know I’m right. Fantastic player and I've genuinely not enjoyed watching a player as much as him since a certain someone (no prizes for guessing who that is) who bagged a goal for his club yesterday. BOOM! Ben Close as well who’ll buzz off bagging the winning goal - and probably buzz even more that I had the perfect angle and caught the whole thing on video (don’t worry Ben, I only charge a £5,000 fee so I’ll come and collect it at some point).
And then one player in particular who deserves a lot of praise is George Broadbent - not necessarily noticeable as quite a few of his contributions were bits of deep dirty work and link-up stuff, but if anyone watches the game back, look at the amount of times he was tidy in possession, how he threw himself infront of the ball to block a shot just before half-time (and I think another earlier in the half), how he intercepted one into the box in the second half. Positionally intelligent. Good. And a very, very clever player and I just hope fans are intelligent enough to pick up on that. I felt like I learned a lot about the defensive side to his game from watching this (know all about his attacking qualities from last year when it was the Brunty & Broadbent show at Boreham Wood) and I’ve got an appreciation for what he showed. Didn’t mind it whatsoever.