I spent a wet Bank Holiday Monday in August watching the first ever meeting in a league match between Forest Green Rovers and Bristol Rovers. The game ended 1-1, and given the large number of fans who made the journey from Bristol, it was quite an occasion.
I said to some friends on the way out of the ground that we would know a lot more about the respective seasons for both clubs when they met again. That occasion is next Saturday, October 18th – and although a third of season has gone in terms of games played, I’m actually not sure we’re any wiser.
On that August afternoon, Forest Green – heavily backed financially by green energy entrepreneur Dale Vince – appeared the team under the least pressure, at least if the chairman and his manager Ady Pennock were the yardstick.
Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke cut an edgy figure throughout after an unconvincing start to the season. The game was an arm wrestle, a pattern which has been repeated in subsequent games for both teams since, although Clarke has seen his side steadily accumulate points to take them past Forest Green in the table.
The gap between the teams is two points, but Forest Green should be above their near neighbours had it not been for a
penalty imposed by the Conference for an administrative error at the New Lawn for which there can be no excuse.
Luke Oliver’s name was not on Forest Green’s squad list when it was registered at the start of the season, and so the points gained at Southport on the opening day have been docked from their tally. The Nailsworth club ended an
indifferent September with wins over Dartford and Torquay, but they’ve now lost only one of their last eight games. Bristol Rovers can top that, with a nine match unbeaten run stretching back to Braintree on September 6th.
Ultimately, progress is never as fast as fans want it to be. Gaining promotion from the Conference is hard because to guarantee it you have to finish first in a field of 24. Reaching the play offs – which means a top five place –
is far more realistic, albeit you end up in something of a lottery where form and injuries count for a lot, but at least you have a ticket in a limited market. Both teams look to have a chance of that despite a slow start. They are, however, not alone.
Barnet have set a strong early pace. Halifax and Gateshead, who both reached the play offs last season, are again in the leading group, and free scoring Woking have raised a few eyebrows with their form so far. It promises to be a real scramble long into the spring.
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