The Year One Review – Forest Green Rovers 1.07

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Forest Green Rovers are the 17/18 League Two playoff winners. Not quite sure how this happened to be honest, the second half of the season was pretty atrocious so League One could be dangerous. But before we get to that let’s go over those playoffs. Rovers started their semi final tie against Crewe Alexandra at home, where a sold out crowd at The New Lawn greeted Sylvan with a heroes welcome before kick off. The teams remained deadlocked at 0-0 following a nervy first half but 2 minutes after the break midfielder Callum Evans slotted home a tidy finish from just inside the box to give Rovers a 1-0 lead. Following the goal the nerves seemed to hit and they played the rest of the game on the back foot, before Crewe equalised in the 87th minute via a cracking strike from outside the box by George Cooper. The game ended 1-1 meaning Rovers would have to do the work away from home to get to Wembley for their second successive play off final. That’s exactly what they did when an early ball over the top from centre back Lee Collins put Christian Doidge through on goal to open the scoring for Forest Green after just 47 seconds. Rovers managed to defend pretty comfortably a lock up a 2-1 aggregate win and it was off to Wembley for the final versus Chesterfield.

Chesterfield had run out pretty convincing 5-2 winners on aggregate versus Accrington Stanley in their semi final and held the psychological advantage of a 2-0 victory over Rovers the previous month. However much like the previous game against Crewe, Rovers came out of the gates quickly with Reece Brown playing in on loan Wolves man Will Randall after 3 minutes to give Rovers the lead. Forest Green weren’t done yet and 5 minutes later Keanu Marsh-Brown laid off Reece Brown who drilled it home from distance to up Rovers two up within 10 minutes. To make matters worse for Chesterfield, Forest stopper Brad Collins would save a Gozie Ugwu penalty in the 38th minute leaving Chesterfield looking beaten. The second half would prove uneventful and the 2-0 victory at Wembley would be enough to secure League One football for Forest Green next season.

What a first season! It’s pretty safe to say that first season promotion wasn’t in the 10 year plan for European football, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. Before we get down to anything exciting however we need to see how we stack up to the goals laid out in our Blueprint post. Somewhat surprisingly the club had the 10th highest salary bill in League Two but we ended up in 6th so we can call that a success. Also our net transfer spend was £0 so we’re two for two. Next up, it took a bit of a row with the board who are kind of in debt, through no fault of Sylvan’s it is worth adding, but we managed to upgrade the clubs youth recruitment system from really really bad to just really bad so there’s some limited infrastructure progress.  Only one of our 4 goals for the save have proved a bit tricky and that’s the academy graduate one. The current set up isn’t very strong at all, although there is one promising youngster (Jordan Stevens, centre mid) and we had a decent left winger in our batch of youth candidates, so these are the two we’ll be focusing on giving playing time next season. There is a rule in League One that you have to include one club home grown player in your match day squad which should force our hand a little as none of the first team meet that requirement. However the only downside is that as far as FM is concerned Jordan Stevens isn’t club homegrown until the end of the third season, despite my in depth research (Wikipedia) suggesting he’s been in the Rovers academy system for a while now.

In contract news, during the run in Will Randall extended his loan stay until the end of next season, and Wolves also didn’t require any of his wages paying which saved us the £750 a week (50% of his contract) that we had been paying to begin with. Other huge contract news is Sylvan went back into the boardroom after achieving promotion and demanded a multi-year deal and will now remain at the club until 2021. A few players we’ve decided will be leaving at the end of the year when their contracts run out, most of whom didn’t really play much of a part this season but were too old/rubbish for anyone to take them away sooner. One notable big name exception is Keanu Marsh-Brown, the teams highest earner, never really looked the part all season despite making 49 appearances in all competitions. In fairness to him he was asked to play out of position for much of the year but he just never seemed to fit the system so we’re going to look elsewhere as we prepare for League One.

We had a few players make appearances in the end of season awards. On loan Chelsea keeper Brad Collins and midfielder Reece Brown made League Two team of the year. Christian Doidge was 2nd top goalscorer in the division and was named fans player of the season & Reece Brown made another appearance grabbing young player of the season.

So going into the summer break we look like this:

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We’re going to trust the lads who got us up and I feel the nine starters we have there will be good enough to make up the base of our side going into our first spell in League One. Also Cooper & Evans on the same level as the other midfield three so we’re pretty deep there. Arestidou (wonder if he ever considered a career as a policeman?) wouldn’t be an awful option in goal but we’re probably going to look to upgrade, possibly bringing back Brad Collins who it looks like will be leaving Chelsea on a free. There’s an obvious need on the left wing, we probably will see multiple natural left footers coming in to avoid some of the issues we had at the position this season. The final thing underlined on our shopping list is a ‘change of pace’ striker, most of the struggles this year came when Doidge wasn’t having much luck in front of goal, so hopefully bringing in someone quality who can offer something different will help keep us consistent. Other than that we’ll be looking for depth/competition at a few other positions and should hopefully be in a good spot to try and stay up next year.

The next update will be the transfer review + a look at how the 2018/19 season has started as this post has dragged on a bit longer than I’d planned. Big thanks to anyone who’s been following the save so far, going to look into ways to get a little more creative with the series going forward, starting with a tactical guide of how our Forest Green system works so keep on the look out for that coming soon™!

 

 

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The Downward Spiral – Forest Green Rovers 1.06

“Are this team really promotion contenders or will the bubble burst before the season is up?”

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Answers on a postcard please ladies and gents.

As you can see January continued on in the same way as November and December, then after a tight loss to Charlton, then top of League One, in the Checkatrade Trophy it all started to go wrong. The 9 league games in a row without a win were ugly. Fans, players and likely the manager were all left to assume their earlier form was just a purple patch.

However, tinker man Sylvan made some alterations to the teams style, firstly altering some of the defensive pressing duties (the full backs were tasked with closing down more but the intention was for them to do it after we lost the ball in attack, not run at strikers on the edge of our box and leave their wide players open). Also the wide player on the left was given the inside forward role and asked to sit narrower. Left wing has been something of an issue all season as there is no natural left winger at the club so Rovers have had to improvise. There was a concern that taking away the wide player could negatively impact Doidge’s goal scoring ability but the situation was desperate enough to overlook them. The changes appear to have been vindicated after three significantly improved performances against Yeovil, Colchester and Barnet, with the only loss coming to fellow promotion candidates Colchester, despite Rovers dominating the game before eventually running out of steam after playing Yeovil just 2 days prior. That left the situation looking like this with 4 games remaining:

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First up, incumbent champions and local rivals Cheltenham (FM didn’t include them in the run-in graphic as they were already up at this point). Forest Green took the lead after 26 minutes through Christian Doidge’s 22nd league goal but Cheltenham equalised 68 minutes in to make any Rovers dream of automatic promotion very unlikely. Then followed a home tie against Chesterfield which Rovers dominated with 62% possession and 18 shots but somehow came away with a 2-0 loss and then after going 2-0 down in the first 16 minutes to Luton town even the playoffs were beginning to look unrealistic. Rovers battled back with another Christian Doidge goal just before half time followed by an insane strike by Keanu Marsh-Brown to add a little shine onto what has been a pretty terrible season on his behalf. The game ended 2-2 meaning on the final day FGR needed to beat 22nd place Grimsby Town and hope that one of Colchester, Stevenage or Accrington Stanley slipped up to book a place in the playoffs.

Forest Green once again dominated, going ahead via a Scott Laird spot kick after 12 minutes with Reece Brown making it 2-0 midway through the second half. Grimsby grabbed one back to provide a little tension but Forest Green hung on for the victory and with both Accrington Stanley & Stevenage being unsuccessful end the season in 6th and book a playoff tie with Crewe Alexandra. Very upsetting that despite our dreadful form in the second half of the season Rovers only finished 3 points from the automatic promotion places but playoffs here we come.

Next update we will report back on Forest Green’s playoff adventures as well as a more general review of Sylvan’s first year in charge and what his cunning plan looks like going forward.

Winter Wonderland? – Forest Green Rovers 1.05

I guess we’re just gonna have to start off with it. Nobody is quite sure how it happened, but this is the table at the start of 2018:

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So in review, October was a weird month, with probably Rovers two best performances of the season coming sandwiched between their only defeats in the league since our last update. After that November was pretty steady, they crashed out of the FA cup (crash being a trigger word as we had originally beaten Luton before the game killed itself) but were unbeaten in the league. The unbeaten run continued into December only dropping two points, with Luton staking an early claim as FGR’s League 2 bogey team.

Game of the Month – October

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It had to be this game, as apparent 10-1 underdogs Rovers gave Coventry a belting and the Christian Doidge hat-trick seems to have finally gotten him into goalscoring rhythm.

Honorary mention however to a 3-3 draw at home to Morecambe (probably the worst team in the league). It wasn’t a performance to be proud of after throwing away a 2-0 half time lead, but with Morecambe taking an 87th minute lead before Doidge levelled two minutes later, just for Laird to miss a stoppage time penalty was drama of the highest degree.

Game of the Month – November

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Cheltenham being Rovers biggest rivals already made this quite a big game. The stakes were further raised when Cheltenham boss Gary Johnson aimed to ‘humiliate’ young Paulsson after a previous war of words following their earlier meeting in the Checkatrade trophy. Paulsson would claim his referring to Johnson as a ‘useless bottomfeeder’ was justified after seeing top of the table Cheltenham resort to an overly physical style in an attempt to unsettle Rovers. Unfortunately this quickly backfired after Cheltenham midfielder Atangana picked up two bookings within the first 4 minutes leaving Forest Green able to dominate the game with a man advantage and canter home as easy winners.

Game of the Month – December

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While not an emphatic victory like the other two ‘games of the month’ this one made it for a different reason. The game saw in-form Rovers debut one of two new systems, this being the more defensive of the two, with the intention of having an option to go to a lower intensity (less pressing/lower tempo) style as the games started to stack up around the Christmas period. I think I’ll throw in a tactics special post going through the two systems and their similarities and differences next time.

Off the pitch

The biggest announcement was Sylvan being offered a new deal at the end of November which will extend his stay at The New Lawn to the end of the 2018/19 season. Sources close to the team have claimed the manager was ‘visibly frustrated’ at the boards apparent ‘lack of faith’ in only offering him a one year deal. However it is rumoured that during negotiations he was offered free reign to assemble his own backroom staff at the end of the season as something of a compromise.

Rovers have also strengthened the squad with a couple of free agent signings since our last update. Lewin Nyatanga joined the team in mid October to add some depth to the options in central defence. Nyatanga has spent most of his career at championship level and has picked up 34 caps for Wales. The defender is still only 29 years old making him something of a coup for League Two Forest Green. The second player to join was goalkeeper Andreas Arestidou in late December after on loan stopper Brad Collins suffered a broken leg in training, quickly followed by back up keeper Sam Russell being ruled out for two months with tendinitis. Despite having only 37 professional appearances to his name, the 28 year old replacement has looked solid in his 3 games so far but will soon face competition from 20 year old youngster Harry Pickering, who’s loan at Shortwood ends in January. With the transfer window approaching Rovers aren’t expected to be too busy, although fans would like to see them strengthen on the left wing whilst also moving some players who have struggled to make an impact in the squad. Is this team really promotion contenders or will the bubble burst before the season is up? We’ll return for an update at the end of February to find out how Sylvan gets on.

The Rocky Start – Forest Green Rovers 1.04

Remember our last update?

“We are slightly worried about how we’re going to stack up against League Two opposition”

“He will be hoping for a strong start to the season to silence any of the critics immediately”

Well…

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August was something of a reality check for young Sylvan. He came into League Two full of hope, with dreams of a dynamic brand of football tearing everyone apart. He quickly came to find out that Forest Green are predicted to be in a relegation dog fight for a reason. While not playing especially poorly in any of these games the team were repeatedly being beaten over the top by pacy forwards and not creating enough at the other end to cover up for the defences leakiness. The system was repeatedly tinkered with without much success until the Checkatrade trophy when our initial diamond system was scrapped in favour of a 4-3-3 with wingers. The change was enough to provide Sylvan with his first competitive victory (Shut up, the Checkatrade trophy counts!) and something for him to build on in September…

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That was unexpected. The new formation led Sylvan to runner up in the September manager of the month and is still currently unbeaten (a 4-1-4-1 was rolled out against Cambridge, mistakes were made). Things are definitely looking up after a pretty rocky first month for Paulsson, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. There has been a little hardship though, on loan winger Will Randall went down with broken ribs and is expected to be out for 2-3 months, leaving the squad very thin on the ground when it comes to suitable wingers. Also you may have noticed just how many penalties we’ve scored so far this season (don’t bother going back and counting, it’s five), that’s probably not going to keep up so the lads are going to need to find other ways to get the ball into the net at some point. And this leads us to Christian Doidge, oh Christian. Our wonderful sponsors over at Gloucester Live (I expect a cease and desist any day now) convinced us all that we had a goal machine on our hands, when instead we’ve had 4 goals in 12 appearances, two of which came from massive goalkeeper botch jobs letting him walk it in. Sylvan is going to have to use all his tactical nous to find a way to get him scoring as the team head into October currently sitting 10th in the table.

The good folks at Gloucesterlive.co.uk are back and are kind enough to give us their two early front runners for Rovers Player of the Season.

Charlie Cooper

Some may have questioned Cooper’s motivation to remain at Forest Green prior to the season after Paulsson usurped Cooper’s dad Mark as manager of the club. However, those doubts are a thing of the past after the 20 year old’s electric start to the season. Initially grabbing his new boss’ attention with a stunning strike from outside the box during preseason, Cooper has gone onto become a mainstay in the side so far this year and has contributed with 2 goals, 2 assists and currently leads the side in chances created with 7.

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Scott Laird

Perhaps unlucky not to have made the ‘Preseason Player Spotlight’ list at the beginning of the season, the left back is arguably Rovers’ most talented player and having a great start to his 17/18 campaign. Clearly benefiting from being the club’s penalty taker, Laird has slotted home a perfect 5 of 5 from the spot so far this season. On top of this he can probably consider himself unlucky to have only notched one assist despite ranking second on the team team in chances created with 5 (behind Charlie Cooper’s 7).

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Preseason Review – Forest Green Rovers 1.03

So with his suitcase packed with flamin’ hot wotsits (it turns out monster munch aren’t vegan) Sylvan makes his way to Nailsworth to lay the foundations for his vegan dynasty.

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The preseason performances we’re all pretty solid. The defence looked sturdy throughout while the rest of the system was tinkered with, but things seemed to click after a few games. We are slightly worried about how we’re going to stack up against League Two opposition as all but one of our friendlies were against ‘questionable’ competition. Other than that preseason went by without much fuss, we decided to hold onto the previous assistant Scott Lindsey and managing director Helen Taylor filled out the backroom staff on our behalf. There has been some rumblings from the squad questioning whether Sylvan has the necessary experience to manage the club, so he will be hoping for a strong start to the season to silence any of the critics immediately. On the upside though, the squad did find two free agent acquisitions in Harry Clibbens (left back) and James Carvell (centre midfielder), both 18 and will mainly feature in the Under 23 side this season but are capable enough to act as cover for the first team if needs be.

 

 

After more than a little tinkering through preseason this is how the team looks to set up on opening day of the League Two campaign.

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Part diamond/part 4-3-3, this is the system which looked the most balanced in preseason. Our midfield options are all pretty comfortable on the ball for this level so we’ll be looking to dictate the pace of the game from there and look to overload defences as the two central midfielders look to push up in attack. We will be relying on the full backs to add a bit of width and supply some balls into the box for the strikers. The defensive midfield role will likely be the most flexible part of the system, being tasked with more of a creative influence against weaker sides or being more defensively minded against better sides/away from home.

That just about covers preseason, with the media predicting Rovers finish 21st we’ve got a fair few people to prove wrong. Time to head over to our sponsors to introduce a few of the first team lads who we’ll hopefully come to know and love as the save progresses.

The Gloucesterlive.co.uk ‘Preseason Player Spotlight’

Lee Collins

First up is captain Lee Collins. New to the club this season, Collins, originally a graduate of Wolves youth academy the 28 year old has a wealth of League Two experience at Port Vale, Northampton and Mansfield and will be pivotal the team’s success this year. As well as ticking all the boxes associated with prototypical English centre halves Collins also boasts decent ball playing abilities which new manager Paulsson may look to utilise.

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Christian Doidge

Fans of Forest Green Rovers will already be very familiar with the 24 year old after he fired 25 goals in the National League last season as well as another 2 in the National League playoffs, including one in the 3-1 victory at Wembley which saw Forest Green promoted to the football league for the first time in their 128 year history. If Collins fits the mould of  ‘the English centre half’ then Doidge is very much ‘the English centre forward’, hard working, good in the air and a natural eye for goal. Rovers fans will be hoping Doidge’s finishing ability will guide them to safety this season.

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Reece Brown

Finally one to watch out for this season. Brown, 21, arrived on a free from Birmingham City this summer and has the potential to make a mark on the first team immediately. Despite a lack of first team experience in the professional game preseason reports have suggested Brown already looks to be one of the most technically gifted players in the Rovers squad and could really make a name for himself this season.

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The Blueprint – Forest Green Rovers 1.02 – Sylvan’s Plan

Welcome back! Last time we ended with Sylvan being announced as the new manager of Forest Green Rovers, after selling the chairman on his ‘vision for the club’. So what was so great about this vision that it landed the rookie manager a job in the football league?  Reliable sources are suggesting that he claimed Forest Green Rovers would host European football within 10 seasons. Rumour has it he then proceeded to whip out an iPad (from where, who knows?) and dazzle Mr. Vince with a beautifully made powerpoint presentation outlining how it would be done. Here are the footnotes:

Forest Green Rovers’ approach to the game will be built on the following basic tenants:

Endurance

The team’s style on the pitch will look to emphasise and showcase the physical ability of our squad of #VeganSuperAthletes in order to highlight to the rest of the world the health benefits of a plant based diet.

Teamwork

The ability of the team to perform as a collective unit will take precedent over the skill of any one individual. Superstars may sell shirts but teams win football games.

The Spirit of the Game

The team will look to play football ‘the right way’ and not lose sight of style in the pursuit of substance. We’ve got hipsters to please remember!

Progressively Minded

Speaking of those hipsters… FGR will look to be on the cutting edge of how the game is played and not be tied down by traditionalism if more effective approaches become clear.

Sustainability

Finally and most importantly, everything the club does will have one eye on sustainability. This refers to both the financial sustainability of the clubs operating costs as well as ensuring sustainable growth of Forest Green Rovers into the future.

 

So now the plan is in place we just need know how we’re measuring ‘success’. As far as the overall goal of reaching Europe in 10 seasons, the parameters of success are simple and can be judged pretty effectively by the results on the pitch. Judging the clubs sustainability could prove a bit trickier but this is how we’re going to do it:

  • Each season the club will aim to outperform the ‘salary per annum league table’.
  • Each season the club will look to breakeven or show a profit in net transfer fees.
  • The club will note how many minutes per season were given to recent academy graduates (Under 21 & having made less than 10 appearances for the club in previous seasons) and look to build on that number season after season.
  • Finally, the growth of the clubs infrastructure over the 10 year period (stadium size, training/youth facilities/youth recruitment) will be noted.

The other 4 ‘tenants’ are slightly more subjective but that’s why we have this blog. If Sylvan ends up playing the same dull 4-4-2 for 10 seasons, or keeps signing average old boys instead of giving academy grads a chance then call me a prick in the comments/on twitter until I sort it out.

This just about rounds up the plan heading into FM18. I’ll update after preseason when I’ve got a better idea of the task at hand, hopefully introduce some of our main protagonists for season one and present to you the system that’s going to take over the world.

Brief disclaimer: I’ve not seen the team in game, their media predictions, or finances so I’m not entirely sure what we’re getting ourselves in for. Unfortunately we’re two posts into this now so there’s no going back.

The Introduction – Forest Green Rovers 1.01 – A Man and His MowBot

Instead of our previous journeyman saves, Sylvan is kicking off FM18 with dreams of a long term position at Forest Green Rovers. So a little background…

Forest Green Rovers were the longest tenured team in the English National League (5th tier), having been there since 1998, before achieving promotion to the English Football League via the playoffs at the end of the 16/17 season.

The club themselves are somewhat controversial, after being bought by a millionaire in 2010, they haven’t shied away from pumping money into the club, with FA figures showing Forest Green paid more in agent fees during 2016 than the rest of the National League combined. The chairman Dale Vince, self-proclaimed ‘former hippie’, made his millions in green energy and has instilled some of his ideals on the club since taking over. These include turning the club fully vegan in 2015 (animal products aren’t served to players or available to fans at the ground), much of the The New Lawn’s energy is provided by solar panels installed on the roof of the south stand, an organic pitch, solar powered robot mowers (affectionately dubbed MowBot), you’re starting to get the picture. These changes have obviously made them a bit of a hit with the hipster crowd but made them easy targets of ridicule and disdain for opposing team’s fans. On top of these changes, and the most notable one for the direction of this save, the chairman has been vocal about his belief in a statistics based ‘moneyball’ approach to creating success on the field.

This is where we come in, despite no significant playing and/or coaching experience under his belt, Sylvan Paulsson manages to wrangle a sit down chat with Vince over coffee (fair trade coffee beans & soy milk, of course) where we talks him into his moneyball inspired vision for the club, on and off the field. The next day current manager Mark Cooper is let go and Sylvan is installed as new manager of Forest Green Rovers. Vince does however provide a few caveats, given that Sylvan has no experience managing a professional club the chairman isn’t quite prepared to fully hand over the reins and will continue to be in charge of hiring/firing non-playing staff for the time being (barring the assistant manager whom Sylvan is permitted to replace if he sees fit). Also, player signings can only be made from the options suggested by the team’s current scouting team & the youth teams will continue to in the full control of their current managers.  (Shout out to @TheFMscribe for some of the inspiration for these ‘rules’, which should add to the difficulty level of the challenge as we get started).

So about Sylvan’s vision? In the next update we’ll discuss his grand 10 year plan in full, the ultimate goal of the save, the key philosophies we will be putting in place along the way and how we plan to measure our success season to season. The plan for this series of blogs is for regular short and sweet updates rather than weekly 1000+ word epics, with a focus mainly on entertainment. There may be separate posts on tactics/youth dev/etc if I happen to land on a successful system worth talking through.

Hopefully if nothing else this opening piece has got you contemplating a save of your own at Forest Green in FM18 (If not for me, do it for MowBot). If you have any suggestions for Sylvan’s big vision before they’re laid down in writing then feel free to fire them over at @SPaulssonFM on the tweeter, especially if you can come up with any fun ways for me to replicate the eco-friendly/vegan ethos in game.