PREVIEW: Forest Green Rovers v Luton Town
Forest Green are finding their first season ever as a Football League club just as hard as had been anticipated.
Hailing from Nailsworth, which having a population of under 6,000 makes it the smallest town to host a Football League club, Rovers go into the game occupying one of the two relegation place.
However, Mark Cooper’s side are level on points with Crewe, Chesterfield and Yeovil, so all is far from being a lost cause at the moment.
Rovers have improved considerably too after a wretched start to the campaign which although looked okay for the opening month, soon went south.
They began by drawing with Barnet 2-2, before a 2-0 loss at Mansfield and 4-3 win over Yeovil made it a satisfactory four points from nine.
It all started to go slightly pear-shaped from there, as they then went down 5-1 at Colchester and lost four in a row, that soon developing into a run of eight defeats from 10, the other two outcomes both draws, at Port Vale and Notts County.
They were thumped 4-0 at home by Newport, before upsetting the form book to return from Coventry City with a 1-0 win, embarking on a sequence of three straight victories, beating Stevenage and Morecambe, before a draw at Crawley and victory over Crewe as well.
That saw Rovers start to climb the table, but just as they looked to be on the upturn, Rovers have slipped back into trouble, without a win in three league games and also going out of the FA Cup at Exeter City on Tuesday night, losing their replay 2-1 in extra time.
It was a result that annoyed boss Cooper too, as he told the club’s official website: “We’re kicking ourselves. We played some brilliant football.
“I’m sure there will be people going away saying they’ve got some good footballers in that team but it doesn’t get you the result and that’s what it is about.”
The Rovers chief is looking to the future too, have signed midfielder Dayle Grubb from non-league side Weston-super-Mare for an undisclosed fee where he will join up in January.
The 26-year-old has netted 29 times so far in the 2017 calendar year and excluding penalties, his goalscoring record is matched in England’s top six divisions only by England’s Harry Kane and soon to be team-mate, forward Christian Doidge.
Doidge has been the standout player for the club this term, with his 11 strikes in the league ensuring they are in with a fighting chance of survival, the goals taking on extra significance with Rovers’ next in the scoring charts Omar Bugiel on three and the rest of the squad scoring just 12 between them.
Milestones: Full back James Justin is in line for his 50th appearance for the Hatters if he features at the New Lawn.
Team news: Hatters should have Harry Cornick available, while James Collins returned last week too, meaning only Alan McCormack (calf) and Scott Cuthbert (groin) are missing.
Forest Green are without Emmanuel Monthe who is suspended after his red card against Exeter on Tuesday night.
Top scorer - Hatters: Danny Hylton (13). Rovers: Christian Doidge (16).
Man in the middle: Lee Swabey - Only refereed four games this season, showing 11 yellows in that time, while had just 14 matches last term, brandishing 59 cautions and three reds.
Will be his first Luton match since the 2-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers in January 2016, while he also took Town at home that season, a 4-3 defeat to Carlisle.
Before that, officiated Hatters twice in the Conference in the title-winning 2013-14 campaign, in charge of a 4-0 win at Woking and 3-2 home defeat to Braintree, sending off Iron keeper Nick Hamann after half an hour.
Prior to that also had the Braintree game the season before, with the same outcome for the visitors, Luton having Stuart Fleetwood dismissed on 28 minutes.
Assistant referees are Marvyn Amphlett and Ravel Cheosiaua, with Andrew Laver the fourth official.
In charge: Mark Cooper - 48-year-old, who had a playing career that started with Bristol City as he went on to make over 450 appearances for Exeter, Southend, Birmingham, Hartlepool, Macclesfield, Leyton Orient, Rushden & Diamonds, Hednesford, Forest Green and also Tamworth.
Was appointed player/assistant manager at the Lambs in 2003-04, becoming manager the following campaign, leaving by mutual consent in January 2007 with the club bottom of the Conference.
Named Kettering boss in May 2007, winning the Conference North title, before appointed Peterborough boss in November 2009, with the club in the Championship.
Was sacked just 13 games in though after one win in that time, and took over at Darlington in June 2010, winning the FA Trophy in 2011, although was dismissed in October 2011.
Had a one game stint back at Kettering in caretaker charge, as he went to manage AFC Telford in January 2013, lasting just five games, as he became Swindon Town assistant boss.
Took over the Robins in August 2013 when Kevin MacDonald resigned, leading the club to the League One play-off final, beaten by Preston North End and parted company with the side in October 2015.
Back in work at Notts County on March 2016, only to depart in May to join Forest Green, as they lost the play-off final, before winning promotion last season.
View from the opposition: Midfielder Charlie Cooper: “We go to the New Lawn on Saturday and we’ll play to the best of our ability and hopefully we can get a result against high-flying Luton.”
One to watch: Christian Doidge – 25-year-old striker who has been in simply sensational form recently, winning the League Two player of the month for November after a prolific period.
Although he netted two in the opening day 2-2 draw against Barnet, it didn’t looked like such a season would materialise, as Doidge bagged two more in his next 16 games.
However a goal in the 2-1 win at Stevenage on October 21 changed all that as he has scored 12 times in 11 matches including braces against Crewe, Chesterfield and Exeter to make it 16 from 28 in total this term.
Started out as youth player for Southampton, before joining Bristol Rovers only to give up football on his release, taking up basketball, where he played for Gwent ABC and Wales in the European Championships.
However, went back to football as he joined Cwmbran Celtic in 2009-10 before spells with a number of Welsh sides, joining Dagenham & Redbridge in 2014 and heading to Forest Green in the summer of 2016, notching 27 goals last term
Played for both: Matthew Barnes-Homer, Striker scored 23 in 81 games for Town during 2009-2012 after signing from Kidderminster Harriers.
Had a loan spell with Rochdale while at Kenilworth and on his release, played for Nuneaton and Osterunds FK in Sweden, before joining Macclesfield permanently.
Headed to Forest Green in August 2013 where he scored five goals in 18 matches and then has played pretty much everywhere since, including Cambridge United, Tamworth, Whitehawk, Aldershot and Farnborough to name a few.
Also turned out for American side Wimington Hammerheads and National League North outfit Brackley, before joining AFC Telford United in June 2017, as the 31-year-old is also dual registered with Haleseown Town as well.
We’ve got form: Luton have a decent overall record at the New Lawn, winning three of their five clashes since their first visit in the Conference back in 2009.
A Tom Craddock goal settled the contest that day, while Lloyd Owusu netted the winner the following season, also in a 1-0 win.
Then came a thoroughly embarrassing 3-0 defeat in the 2011-12 campaign that all but ended the reign of boss Gary Brabin.
Stuart Fleetwood and Scott Rendell’s last minute penalty ensured Town won 2-1 in 2012, before both teams played out a stalemate on their most recent encounter.
Last time out: Luton were held to a goalless draw on their last trip to Forest Green Rovers, that a Conference clash back in August 2013.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Ronnie Henry, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty, Alex Lacey, Jonathan Smith, Shaun Whalley, Luke Guttridge, Jon Shaw (Jake Howells 56), Mark Cullen (Andy Parry 79), Andre Gray.
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Dave Martin, Matt Robinson.
Referee: Brett Huxtable.