Wednesdayites can be excused for being fairly unfamiliar with their next foes, as it will be the first ever time that The Owls meet Forest green Rovers. The League One new-comers have began their first ever third tier campaign with a win, a draw and two defeats whilst many of the S6 faithful will be looking for Darren Moore’s men to lay down the gauntlet this weekend and really put their visitors to the sword. But, are Forest Green being underestimated and do they pose a threat to The Owls strong home record?
Green by name, green by nature, the ‘vegan’ club was recognised by the United Nations as the world’s first carbon-neutral football club, also described by FIFA as “the greenest team in the world”. The appropriately named Green Army finished the 2021/22 season as League Two champions accumulating 84 points after a few years of flirting with promotion.
Unfortunately for Forest Green that impressive team was torn apart this summer with manager Rob Edwards joining Championship promotion-hopefuls Watford whilst numerous star players were poached by clubs higher up the football pyramid. Ebou Adams, one of the most dominant midfielders in League Two over recent years, joined Cardiff City on a free transfer and his presence in the middle is sure to be felt. Additionally, Nicky Cadden and Kane Wilson were both hugely influential in Rob Edwards’ side as the two wing-backs in a 3-5-2, both contributing a significant amount of goal contributions. Cadden has since joined Barnsley whilst Wilson signed for Bristol City, both also on frees.
There is still goal-threat remaining at The New Lawn, with last season’s deadly duo of Matt Stevens and Jamille Matt who scored 23 and 19 respectively, in League Two. But, to add insult to injury (or should I say injury to insult) last season’s top scorer, Matt Stevens, suffered the dreaded ACL injury last April and will be out for a large chunk of time yet.
So what was a strong, optimistic, fired-up group may well feel a little depleted after having their heart ripped out over the summer, and I even predicted Rovers to struggle this term in my start of season 2022/23 League One predictions.
However, it would be foolish to completely write them off (even though that’s exactly what I may have done before the season began).
The Green backed a look towards a ‘longer term project’ rather than ‘survival at all costs’ by appointing Ian Burchnall as Edwards’ replacement. The 39-year-old has an unusual managerial resume for an Englishman having began his coaching career with Norwegian side Viking before taking on the daunting task of being Graham Potter’s successor at Ostersund in Sweden. Coming off the back of a decent two-year stint in the Swedish top division Burchnall returned to his native land to take on the pressures of the Notts County hot-seat at the business end of their bid for EFL football in March 2021. Burchnall led his new side to a fifth place finish, with County making it to the National League Playoff Semi-Final where Torquay knocked them out after Extra Time.
In his first and only full season at Meadow Lane Burchnall’s team finished fifth for a second year running, falling at the first Playoff hurdle as Grimsby Town ended The Magpies' promotion hopes in the Quarter-Finals. During his time with Notts County, the new Rovers manager split opinion amongst supporters, with fans accusing Burchnall’s team of being ‘too soft’. The Green’s boss is certainly a progressive appointment and one who could go on to have a long and successful career in the game, but is yet to really convince on home soil.
The new coach was joined by a number of fresh acquisitions in the transfer market including the experienced heads of David Davis and former Owl Connor Wickham. Davis brings some real steel into the middle of the park as well as plenty of experience with 182 Birmingham City appearances to his name, whilst Wickham a popular figure round Hillsborough will add some fire-power as well as physicality up-top and is already off the mark for his latest club having scored the equaliser in Rovers’ 1-1 draw with Lincoln.
Former Forest Green midfielder Reece Brown rejoined the club from Huddersfield after a successful closing season at The Lawn last time, notching 11 goals and 15 assists in Rovers’ 2018/19 League Two campaign. The 26-year-old will have no problem settling back into his old surroundings having made 78 league appearances in his initial spell with The Green and he’ll be hoping to rekindle his previous form with the club. Armani Little also bulks Burchnall’s midfield options after joining from National League Torquay where he lashed 15 goals last term and has wasted no time showing his goal-scoring exploits, bagging a brace in Forest Green’s 2-0 Carabao Cup first round victory over Leyton Orient.
Young full-backs Jacob Jones and Sean Robertson signed from Swansea and Crystal Palace whilst Corey O’keefe comes from Rochdale with Harry Boyes on loan from Sheffield United; all of whom are given the difficult task of replacing last year’s high-flying wide men Wilson and Cadden. Former St Mirren winger Kyle McAllister has also appeared on the left this season and already has two assists to show in his maiden year at The Lawn, looking a decent creative option.
Another attacking outlet for Forest Green this season could be this week’s addition of teenager Myles Peart-Harris, who is an exciting forward-thinking midfielder on loan from Brentford. He’ll be hoping to supply the likes of Wickham and Matt this season, both of whom could pose The Owls defence some problems at the weekend, especially from those infamous crosses into the Wednesday box.
At the other end, like The Owls, Rovers’ tend to set-up a three-at-the-back with Bailey Cargill, Jordan Moore-Taylor and Oliver Casey making up the backline last time out, but following a 3-0 defeat to Plymouth there could well be a change or two in store on Saturday.
Darren Moore will be looking for his team to back-up their last league win over Bolton with a convincing three points at an expectant Hillsborough, but must be wary of Forest Green’s threat. Still very much a side in transition, a point would be seen as a decent result for Burchnall’s men and after such a positive week in the Steel City, Wednesday should be looking to put a team such as this to bed.