Plymouth Argyle are set to face League Two leaders Forest Green Rovers this weekend. Ahead of the encounter, we spoke to FGR fan Ollie Smith to get his thoughts. Ollie can be found on Twitter, and is also part of the new Forest Green podcast, The Pod on Top of the Hill.
First of all, how did you get into supporting Forest Green?
Forest Green Rovers are my local team, with my dad growing up not far from the old lawn and taking me to games from an early age. I remember a few of the players visiting my primary school handing out free tickets and since then I’ve been hooked.
There’s nothing better than watching your local side through the highs and the lows, travelling half way across the country for the game to be called off upon arrival and then scoring last minute winners to send the team top of the league.
Are there any Forest Green players in particular we should be looking out for this weekend?
Celtic loanee Jack Aitchison has been in a rich vein of form recently with his tricky quick feet in front of goal helping him to 4 goals in his last 4 this season, including an excellent finish against Cheltenham in the 2-1 El Glosico victory.
Dynamic box to box midfielder Ebou Adams has been superb for us, with his sheer energy allowing him to mop up in front of the backline and transition from defence to attack by winning the ball back and driving forwards. The Gambian international has been the most fouled player in the league and will definitely frustrate the Argyle midfield with his protection and shielding of the ball.
Matty Stevens is the vocal point of our attack and despite not necessarily having a prolific goal scoring record so far, he is doing everything else right. His tenacious work rate allows him to press the oppositions defence and with his runs in behind, more goals will naturally come.
With Rovers sat top of the league, would you say there is an expectation that the good times will last for the rest of the season?
Cooper has built a very strong, youthful talented squad at Forest Green for this season with a few experienced heads such as the Mills’ brothers & Winchester combined with hungry young players like Liam Kitching, Aitchison and Stevens, forming the perfect balance as we find ourselves top of the league. The table is still very close however with yourselves only 8 points off the top, despite being in 13th place. If we can get through the festive period and still be in around the top, then I feel as if we will be in a very good spot for automatic promotion.
You mention manager Mark Cooper – he’s been at The New Lawn for a few years now. What are your thoughts on him?
Mark Cooper has done an excellent job at Forest Green, achieving promotion to the Football League in his first season at the club and after securing survival in our first year in League Two, he almost led us to promotion last season before narrowly losing to Tranmere in the playoff semi-finals.
His relationship with the fans has had its ups and downs however with some supporters feeling his treatment of senior players and preference of playing his son Charlie over others being extremely arrogant and disrespectful, however as fans we don’t see behind the scenes, so there could be good reason for players being frozen out. Former assistant manager Scott Lindsey always embraced the fans after games and after his departure, Cooper has certainly stepped up and improved in his appreciation as seen with the celebrations after El Glosico.
What sort of tactical style do you expect to set up with on Saturday?
We are a team that looks to dominate possession and tire out our opponent allowing space to open up in the final third. This season we have been playing with a 3421 formation with Matty Stevens pressuring the back line and two inside forwards playing behind him, often Collins and Aitchison.
The wing backs are vital with constant work rate supporting both the attacks and defenders and Captain Joseph Mills being a potent source of goals and assists from down the left flank so far this season.
Fan favourite and recent resigning Elliot Frear has been ruled out with an injury from the Billericay tie, so it is likely Aaron Collins will come in to the side in his place.
And are there any real weak links in the side you’re worried about?
We have improved hugely on our defensive frailties from the past, with only 10 goals conceded so far this season and have been able to see out victories in a convincing manner, however occasionally the lung bursting forward runs of Wing backs Joseph Mills and Liam Shepherd can leave gaps for the opposition to take advantage of.
Towards the start of the season we struggled to create chances, with many 0-0 draws and 1-0 wins, and the number of shots taken per match being extremely low. Since the 1-0 loss at Exeter though, the team has really stepped up with some good attacking options at our disposal.
Do you think the 6-0 midweek defeat against Walsall in the EFL Trophy will have any impact on the weekend’s game?
Not really no, Cooper rung the changes for the game, with Aaron Collins the only survivor from the 4-0 FA Cup win over Billericay. The squad included a plethora of youth players including two 16-year-olds along with a selection of fringe first team players such as Adam Smith and Kyle Taylor who failed to impress and therefore provide Cooper with any selection headaches ahead of Saturdays game. Bowing out of the Leasing.com trophy is most likely a blessing in disguise as the games come thick and fast as we look to push for promotion.
What first comes to mind when you think of Plymouth Argyle?
The excellent loyal and vocal fan-base at the club, with over 1000 of the ‘Green Army’ travelling to The New Lawn I expect a good atmosphere in which will be a tough game for FGR , with Plymouth a big club with good players, who many predict will be up near the top of the table come May.
Which Argyle player, if any, would you like to sign?
Ryan Lowe has a similar style to Mark Cooper in terms of playing football the right way and Danny Mayor is a player who I feel would slot in well at the Rovers. The creative midfielder is likely to prove a tough challenge for our midfield and defence to handle. Despite not hitting his top form so far this year, his time at Bury proved he is one of the better players in this league.
Do you have any predictions for League Two in general this year?
After losing Doidge and Brown in the summer, we have recruited smartly and I expect us to be successful this year. I predict Plymouth will go on a spell of consecutive wins and will find themselves climbing the table with Ryan Lowe’s attacking philosophy. As for the rest of the league I predict Bradford, who finished rock bottom of League One last season will be top challengers for the title and automatics alongside Exeter, who despite losing a few games recently have a strong squad and had a good start to the season.
And finally, what is your prediction for the game itself?
I think Plymouth will be a very hard test for league leaders FGR but I predict we will narrowly come out on top 2-1.