By Jacob Greenwood
Woking welcome the league leaders Forest Green Rovers to Kingfield on Tuesday in what looks to be a tricky tie for The Cards.
Garry Hill’s Injury-hit side failed to overcome Guiseley on Saturday despite leading three times in the game. In contrast, Tuesday’s visitors have started the season in brilliant form and have recorded nine victories in nine games.
Despite only being mid-September, the side from Gloucestershire already have an eight point lead and are the bookies’ favourite to take Barnet’s Conference crown.
We talked to Forest Green media man Richard Joyce to find out more about what is going on at the eco-friendly club.
Forest Green’s season ended in defeat to Bristol Rovers, who went on to win the play-offs, last season. How hard was that to take after a late surge towards the play-offs?
We had an incredible run to get into the play-offs last season, and the way we lost the play-offs was a very abrupt end to the campaign. It was tough against a very good Bristol Rovers side with massive support. As much as it was frustrating to not get through to Wembley, the experience has served us well and will benefit us hugely for this season.
What happened at The New Lawn over the summer in-terms of comings and goings?
We lost a number of faces who felt like they’d been part of the club for a long time. Long serving goalkeeper Sam Russell joined Gateshead and James Norwood moved on to sign for Tranmere. The majority of the squad has stayed on though and has been strengthened really well by manager Ady Pennock. Keanu Marsh-Brown’s addition from Barnet is a notable recruit, while Aaron O’Connor from Newport County has already shown why he’s one of the best strikers at this level. Young goalkeeper Jonny Maxted, who is only 21 and was yet to make a senior appearance as a professional before signing for us, has also been excellent. He’s kept five clean sheets in nine matches.
FGR have used the ‘moneyball’ model for recruiting players. Can you tell us more about what this is and how it works?
The chairman, Dale Vince, has used his green energy business, Ecotricity, and the expertise they have in their energy trading department to use statistical data and a few other things to rank the quality of a potential signing. Using stats from their recent seasons, and careers, age, value and so on it can generate a rating for individuals players – which then helps the manager when he’s interested in recruiting new players. It’s something Brentford have used a fair bit as well. Our recruitment doesn’t all rely on the method but it’s a useful addition to consider when wanting to sign players.
It has been a brilliant start for FGR. What has gone so right?
Ignoring the play-off defeats against Bristol Rovers, our form has been incredible since January to be honest. We’ve not lost many games and we’ve got a very settled squad. We’ve cut our budget again this season having made mistakes in recent years. By adding quality players like Keanu Marsh-Brown and Aaron O’Connor into a team that already was good enough to reach the play-offs it has just added to the talent we’ve already got.
Who will Woking have to look out for on Tuesday?
Keanu Marsh-Brown will prove lively yet again no doubt – he’s the kind of players who can produce something from nothing. I’d also have to say young attacker Kurtis Guthrie has made a very good start to the season, while Dale Bennett has been a rock at the back having moved into a central defensive position from his usual right back role.
What is your score prediction?
This by far will be our toughest game to date. With respect to the teams we’ve faced, many of whom are very good sides, looking at the fixture list I always felt this one on a Tuesday evening away from home would be a big test of our credentials. I’m going to go for our first draw of the season – 2-2!
Finally, It has been reported that FGR could be moving away from Nailsworth. What is the thinking behind this and what is the club hoping to achieve?
The thinking relates to a desire to progress the club by increasing its fan base, difficulties surrounding reaching The New Lawn on a matchday (those who have been will know it’s a unique location for a football stadium), and it’s also part of the chairman’s plans to build an ‘Eco Park’ site that will employ 4,000 people in green energy technology developments. It is also a sign of the chairman’s dedication to the club – he’s going to have a football stadium right in the middle of his brand new site!
Picture by David Holmes. A full set can be found at wokingfc.co.uk