Mark Cooper: There’s no panic at Forest Green – we’ve been excellent

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A hard-fought FA Trophy victory at Truro City in midweek has given Forest Green Rovers a lift ahead of their crucial game against fellow National League promotion contenders Dover Athletic this weekend.

Both sides are battling to reach the Football League for the first time ever, but with the Greens 15/8 favourites for the title, expectation is on the hosts to keep winning.

Ahead of this promotion six-pointer, Ladbrokes News caught up with FGR gaffer Mark Cooper, to discuss new signings, fan passion and discover the opposition player who’s impressed him most…

Ladbrokes News: You’ve had a fantastic away record in the National League this season – with eight wins and five clean sheets in your last 10 on the road. What do you think has made FGR so effective on your travels?

Mark Cooper: I think when our opponents are at home, they tend to attack and that gives us a little bit more room to play in.

But when sides come to the New Lawn, they tend to get everybody behind the ball, and it can be tough to break down a team playing with that set-up. So I’d say we’ve found it easier to get results on the road.

I think the pace we have in our side also suits us when we’re playing in those more open games away from home. We’re not really a counter-attacking side, but we keep possession and try to use the pace we have in attack to good effect.

LN: The club parted company with a few important players in the summer – the likes of Kurtis Guthrie and Jon Parkin. But some excellent attacking players have also come in, such as Christian Doidge and Liam Noble. Have you been pleased with how the new guys have slotted in?

MC: The guys you mentioned have done very well, and we’re still bringing good talent into the club. We brought in Shamir Mullings from Chelmsford City a couple of weeks ago, and he’s a young guy with a lot of potential to progress in the game. He’ll add to the attacking threats that we already have.

LN: FGR are just three points off top spot, but you’ve had a slight wobble in the league in recent weeks. What do you see as the key to putting things straight and returning to winning ways?

MC: We just had a week when nothing went right. We were 2-0 up against Lincoln City and would have gone well clear at the top, but threw the game away – all of our own doing.

Then we performed brilliantly against Tranmere and only got a point when we deserved all three, and then lost at Wrexham when we totally dominated the game. We deserved nine points and came away with just one, but that happens in football sometimes.

Outside of that one week, we’ve been excellent throughout the campaign and I see no reason we can’t bounce back immediately. I’m glad we’ve got that blip out of the way, and we’ve brought in some powerful and quick new players to give us some extra impetus.

There’s certainly no panic at our end. We have 23 games left in the National League to catch up a three-point lead at the top.

LN: You’ve continued to pull in good crowds this season, with over 2,000 fans at the recent home games with Tranmere Rovers and Lincoln City. How much of an impact do the supporters at the New Lawn have? And are they especially important at a small-town club like this?

MC: They’re good numbers, as you say. We’re never going to get massive crowds because we play in a tiny little village on the top of a hill. That may change when we move to the new stadium in a couple of years time.

With the catchment area that will give us, we could easily get 4,000 or 5,000 if we’re performing well and the club are playing at a good level.

Our fans really get behind the team when we’re playing well, and we need the Forest Green faithful to give us that backing against Dover Athletic this weekend.

LN: On the note of The New Lawn – how have you found the set-up and facilities at the club since joining? And the famed vegan cuisine, of course!

MC: The facilities are excellent. There’s a good little set-up, very professional. I really like the ground, and I think there’s a very friendly feel about the club – everybody is well looked after, from staff to fans.

Veganism is something that [club Chairman] Dale Vince is very focused on, and it’s part of the ethos of the club. If you come to the stadium, you eat vegan. I’ve had no complaints from the players, and we’re not doing too badly on the pitch, so it’s all good!

LN: Two fixtures in this calendar week for the club. We’ll start with the one which took place on Tuesday night, a 1-0 FA Trophy replay win at Truro City. What was your verdict on that clash?

MC: It was a tough game, in every sense. It’s a long trip down to Cornwall, and we didn’t get back until 3am on Wednesday. We were playing on a very tough pitch for 120 minutes against a spirited Truro side, and we controlled the game for large periods and managed to get the result.

LN: This weekend, the focus returns to league action with a crucial top-six clash against Dover Athletic. How are you feeling ahead of that one?

MC: It will be a difficult game between two sides with a lot of quality. They have one of the best goalscorers in the league in the shape of Ricky Miller, and Moses Emmanuel, who has plenty of talent, but we have players who can frighten them too. I think it’ll be an excellent fixture.

LN: The top six in the National League right now are very congested. There’s just seven points between Tranmere Rovers in top spot and Dover in sixth. But is there any side – or player – who has particularly impressed you so far this season?

MC: In terms of teams, it’s so close at the top that it’s hard to pick out one side who have caught the eye more than the others.

As regards players, I’d have to go back to Miller at Dover. He scored a hat-trick against us when we lost 4-3 there in September, and he’s a player I like a lot. I’m sure he’ll move onto bigger and better things.

Forest Green Rovers are 4/5 to get revenge on Dover with victory at the New Lawn on Saturday. And victory over the Whites could see FGR’s odds of 15/8 to win the National League title snipped by the bookies.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.