Green energy running low
Hefty investment can make up for an awful lot. Crawley and Fleetwood set about proving that fanbase and history were minor obstacles to overcame as both charged to the Blue Square Bet Premier title. But in Steve Evans and Micky Mellon, those clubs had canny bosses leading the way, and we don’t believe Forest Green’s Dave Hockaday falls into the same category.
Rovers began the campaign as one of the favourites for promotion after bold statements from chairman Dale Vince and eye-catching transfer activity. And they started the season in the sort of form befitting their price. But while the money and ambition is doubtlessly there, as well as a talented squad, Hockaday’s relative inexperience of these sorts of situations led us to swerve the Gloucestershire club in our ante-post preview.
And it is also a factor in our reasoning as we oppose FGR when they host Luton on Saturday.
Match up the two bosses and there’s no comparison. Hatters manager Paul Buckle may be 13 years younger than his opposite number but he has lashings of know-how when it comes to fighting at the top of the table.
The Town boss has been involved in three play-off campaigns since 2009, winning through once and making the final on another occasion. By contrast, Hockaday has been more used to fire-fighting, and not always to good effect – he was in charge at the New Lawn when Rovers finished in the bottom four in 2010, only to be reprieved after’s Salisbury’s demotion.
This is a new challenge for the 54-year-old, working under pressure from above and from outside. Vince’s money has allowed him to sign players with more experience on that score but it may not be enough. The fine start has just stuttered to a halt of late: the Gloucestershire outfit have lost their last three in the Blue Square Bet Premier and when facing fellow promotion hopefuls, they’ve hit the buffers, losing all three matches against current top-seven sides. A club used to being underdogs, they are now there to be shot at.
In truth, Luton still have some questions to answer on that front themselves after a 4-1 drubbing at Grimsby last month. But we expect Buckle to have learned lessons from that embarrassing slump. The Hatters have often struggled to get the balance right in their non-league years, signing forward after forward but neglecting other areas, but the loan arrival of midfielder Arnaud Mendy from Macclesfield would seem to be a step in the right direction.
Indeed, while their top-heavy approach has its faults, the sheer quality of front men at Buckle’s disposal will often be enough to see them through. And they are hitting form. Andre Gray was scintillating in Saturday’s cup victory at Cambridge: the former Hinckley attacker is frighteningly direct, operating as one of the wider prongs of a front three, with nine-goal Stuart Fleetwood the other side of Jon Shaw or Scott Rendell.
And that power has helped them to four league wins from five, including on the road at Tamworth and Lincoln. The visitors sit just two points and two places above Rovers but we’re backing their experience on the pitch and in the dugout to squeeze through.
Meanwhile, we’re siding with another set of Hatters at the weekend, as Stockport County travel to Lincoln. County boss Jim Gannon was shocked at the state in which he found the club on his return last November and he’s taken time to mould a side but the plan appears to be coming together.
It has been about small steps for the Edgeley Park favourite but he has a clear vision in mind. It is not a team of well-known names but rather one based around County’s own youth products and players recruited from the local area. The big earners who did little to help the club’s cause at the start of last term are gone, and in their place the likes of Danny Whitehead, Danny Hattersley and Sean Newton have found the space to shine.
The Hatters have lost once in six – to Wrexham – and are unbeaten in five on their travels, winning at Hereford three weeks ago.
On the other hand, we’re not convinced City boss David Holdsworth has a blueprint for success in mind. The 20th-placed Imps have toiled in the first quarter of the season and while they were well worth their victory at Wrexham a fortnight ago we don’t fancy that it makes them worth siding with; in fact, quite the opposite.
Consistency has proven elusive for Holdsworth since his arrival in October: their first three league victories of the campaign were all directly followed by a defeat. With that in mind, take a chance on the visitors.
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