Forest Green Rovers come into Saturday’s home tie with Plymouth Argyle on the back of just one defeat in 10 League Two matches. However, Plymouth Argyle come into the tie playing their first league match in three weeks following a postponed fixture against Grimsby and a 1-0 FA Cup win over Bolton Wanderers.
Defender Matt Mills will be available following injury. The 33-year-old played over an hour of Rovers’ 6-0 defeat to Walsall in the EFL Trophy during midweek.
On-loan Celtic midfielder Jack Aitchison looks set to continue in the side. The 19-year-old has scored in each of his last three League Two appearances.
Midfielder Dayle Grubb and forward George Williams remain the only long-term absentees for Rovers.
Predicted Line Up (3-4-1-2)
Bernard, Rawson, Kitching,
Shepard, Winchester, Adams, J.Mills
Style of Play: Possession
Predominantly playing in a 3-4-1-2 formation, Mark Cooper’s side is very possession-oriented, averaging 55.2% per game, a figure which only Crewe (56.3) can better. Very similar to the way Plymouth Argyle began the season. Rovers look to dominate their opposition in order to win games.
They’re similar to Ryan Lowe’s side in more ways than one, often looking to keep the ball on the deck and playing short passes to cut their opposition open as opposed to playing long balls forward to a target man.
Left wing-back Joseph Mills has been Rovers’ biggest attacking outlet this season, registering a combined nine goals and assists (5G, 4A) in just 16 appearances in League Two this season. With the “Green Devils” having only scored 20 goals so far this season, Mills’ contribution stands at 45%. The 30-year-old possesses a great deal of pace, as does fellow wing-back Ben Shephard from the opposite flank.
Both Mills and Shephard use their pace to bomb up and down the flanks in order to run at opponents from out wide or to sprint back in order to support the back three. Mills is the more direct of the two, often laying on a through ball for the attackers whilst Shepard is more likely to hold onto the ball and dribble at opponents before crossing from out wide.
19-year-old attacking midfielder Jack Aitchison was brought in on loan from Celtic following the departure of Reece Brown to Championship side Huddersfield. Brown registered an extremely impressive 26 goals and assists last season (11G, 15A). Whilst unlikely to replicate such figures, Aitchison has already provided four goals and assists this season from his 10 League Two appearances.
In tune with Forest Green’s possession-based style, neither of their forwards are particularly tall or effective in the air. Attacking pair Aaron Collins and Matt Stevens stand at 5ft 8in and 5ft 9in respectively. Instead, the pair are at their most effective with the ball at their feet or on the shoulders of defenders, looking for the through ball to run onto goal and score.
The pair have managed a combined five goals and four assists so far this campaign with three of those goals coming in the 4-0 hammering of Salford. With 46% of Forest Green’s shots coming from outside the penalty area and just 28% of their possession being in the final third, it would be fair to say that the attacking duo are often perhaps not utilised as well as they could be in this system.
Star Player: Jack Aitchison
Despite the hefty contribution of Joseph Mills this season, Jack Aitchison is probably Forest Green’s most important player. The youngster had big boots to fill after the departure of Brown in the summer, but the Celtic man started well and is in-form. He has scored in each of his last four appearances, including their opener in their 2-1 win over high flying Cheltenham.
With a burst of pace and a bit of trickery up his sleeve, Aitchison is exactly what’s needed in a Forest Green side that is amongst the lowest scorers in League Two this season – only seven sides have scored fewer.
His recent form has proved vital to his side retaining top spot in the division ahead of the likes of Crewe. Also, in a very possession-based side, his squad topping 82.2% pass success is vital for a player who plays in an attacking midfield position as he does.
Having a back three means that Mark Cooper’s side is often exposed down the flanks and as a result are vulnerable from crosses. This puts a lot of pressure on Farrend Rawson to win his headers, but with a 73% aerial duel success, he is the tenth best defender at clearing headers in the league, winning an average of 6.22 every 90 minutes (13th highest in the league, minimum five apps).
The side have only conceded ten goals this season, a divisional low, but that could rise if they fall prey to the more physical sides in the division such as Newport and Northampton. This, along with their weakness at defending down the wings is exactly the sort of thing that could prove to be the achilles heel in their promotion hopes. As we head into the second half of the season, opponents will become wiser to their weaknesses and look to exploit them.
Prediction: Forest Green 1-1 Plymouth Argyle
Argyle will come into the encounter buoyed by an impressive 1-0 away win at struggling League One side Bolton and with an almost full-strength side will be looking ahead to an impressive encounter that is set to be shown on tv.
With both sides weak at defending down the flanks there will be plenty of opportunities for both sides. But, as both teams are in form and with a lot to play for, a score draw looks very much on the cards.