Forest Green Rovers 0 Bishops Stortford 1
By Neil Martin
Well they may have changed their manager, some of the team and played a different formation but at full time Rovers faced a very familiar story, a home defeat and an early exit from the FA Cup. A fifth straight defeat and a staggering eight losses in their last nine games is the extent of FGR’s slide in recent weeks. In truth, as has often been the case, they created and missed a hatful of chances and should not have lost this game but lose it they did, to a team from the division below them to boot.
Coming in to the game, coach Scott Bartlett said that training had been deliberately varied this week after the departure of manager Dave Hockaday and that he and caretaker boss Gary Seward had jointly picked the team, although that was largely based on who was actually available. He was however able to confirm that FGR would be playing in a 4-4-2 formation. Forgotten men under the previous regime, Paul Green and Steve Brogan, were restored to the starting line-up and bench respectively. There was also a welcome return to the bench for Reece Styche after his long-term injury. Rovers were still ravaged by injuries and suspensions and could not name all 7 substitutes.
Bishops Stortford, flying high in Skrill South and on a good run, started the brighter and it was clear which team had come into the game with more confidence. Their vocal travelling support also very quickly gave a thumbs down to FGR’s veggie burger policy!
An early header from the towering centre half Francis had to be cleared from inside the 6 yard box by FGR and it took a while for Rovers to gain a foothold in the game. When they did it was the impressive Paul Green from right back who showed the quality to push the visitors back.
Stortford’s captain Prestedge hit a sweet volley goalwards from a corner needlessly conceded by Barry in the 17th minute, only to see Sam Russell brilliantly save at full stretch to prevent the opening goal. He punched away impressively from the resulting corner, leading to a flowing break from Rovers, resulting in Kelly being brought down 25 yards from goal by Francis, who received the first yellow card of the game. Klukowski wasted the free kick by hitting it harmlessly wide. From the resulting Stortford possession, a powerful Prestedge shot from outside the box was parried by Russell and the follow up from Church also well saved by the busy FGR keeper.
As Rovers edged their way back into the game, the referee caused frustration with the home fans for twice not allowing a clear advantage when FGR were attacking and missing a clear foul on Vieira. Finally on 37 minutes, Rovers fashioned a good scoring chance when a patient approach from Stokes and Kelly led to Wright’s shot being saved by his namesake in the Stortford goal. Green was again prominent down the right as two dangerous crosses were aimed into the visitors’ area.
Then twice in a few minutes prior to half time, Stortford keeper Joe Wright came out sharply to block one on one chances, first from Klukowski and then after Danny Wright burst through into the box. The half ended goalless after some lovely interplay between Green and Barry came to nothing but FGR were now dominating possession and looking much more threatening.
Magno Vieira, playing in his preferred position up front, started the second half in lively fashion. He set up Kelly who shot over in the 48th minute and then produced a dangerous cross from the right.
However, Stortford took the lead when Rovers were unable to deal with a corner and Prestedge, the visitors’ captain and most prominent player, spun and shot confidently from a headed knock down into the net in the 52nd minute.
Bishops Stortford then enjoyed some good pressure and they could have had a penalty from a corner, after a clear push by Danny Wright. Vassell then shot inches wide from the right. Rovers hit back with a penalty claim of their own but the referee adjudged that keeper Wright challenged Vieira cleanly.
Vieira was then, somewhat ironically, substituted and replaced by Barnes-Homer, who should have equalised on the 63rd minute when his point blank effort was blocked on the line. This was the umpteenth time that FGR had not scored from almost on the goal line in recent home games. Barnes-Homer had another great chance when McNaughton’s back pass was intercepted but he shot wastefully over the bar.
Vassell then cut inside nicely and Russell saved well again as the visitors continued to threaten on the break. However, Rovers were to finish the game strongly and with Brogan on for Barry in the 67th minute, the substitute immediately forced a corner. Klukowski should have done better with a header from a Green cross after Bangura had a shot blocked.
Brogan then squandered two great chances in two minutes after he was put through by Wright he delayed his shot and then blazed over after a nice build up from FGR.
Reece Styche came on after 78 minutes for Wright just before the Stortford keeper almost doubled their lead with a wind assisted clearance which only just cleared Russell’s bar!
Rovers huffed and puffed to try to find an equaliser but the golden chances had come and gone and Stortford celebrated their victory with their noisy fans at the final whistle.
Gary Seward thanked the crowd for their support after the game and put forward his own case for wanting the manager’s job with a feisty post match interview. With Dale Vince listening in, he even bizarrely argued when a reporter suggested that the team was probably lacking in confidence. A clean break, with a new coaching team, in quick order, would appear to be Rovers’ best hope of restoring confidence and any chance of reaching the Skrill Premier promotion play-offs.
FGR- Russell, Green, Stokes, Asafu-Adjaye, Turley, Barry, Bangura, Klukowski, Wright, Vieira, Kelly
Bishops Stortford – Wright, Miller, Herd, Allen, Francis, McNaughton, Johnson, Church, Vassell, Symons, Prestedge
Att – 789 (away 118)