Mansfield Town will face a very different Forest Green Rovers to last season’s Football League newcomers when they head for the New Lawn on Saturday.
With the signings that Rovers made over the summer, intentions were clear that the goal for the club was to make the play-offs.
The mentality of both the club and the fans seems to have changed drastically with the ambitions looking much higher than they ever have before, despite losing top scorer Christian Doidge on loan deadline day.
An impressive start had Rovers on course, though a slight blip in form last month began to raise doubts before they bounced back with an impressive 2-1 win at Yeovil last weekend.
Rovers survived by one point last season, so fans have no complaints about their current league position although the atmosphere at home games isn’t great and crowd numbers have fallen in recent weeks which is strange considering they are challenging for the play-offs.
They were the final team left unbeaten in the EFL this season after a 12 match unbeaten start and are one point off the play-offs and five off the automatics.
They also have the best away record in League Two as it stands after their win at Yeovil, but home form has been disappointing with just two wins and nine goals scored which will encourage Mansfield.
Rovers’ fans were impressed with Cooper, having gone on that impressive unbeaten run at the start of the year.
But a slight dip in form started to see things taking a slight turn and a few beginning to question their manager’s abilities.
However, he has since brought them back onside now Rovers look like they’ll fight on for a play-off spot, if not an automatic promotion spot.
In terms of reality and expectation, Cooper has done very well with Forest Green, considering where they have come from, the progress they’ve made and the squad they now find themselves with.
There have been a few injuries over the last couple of weeks, but Liam Shephard, Joseph Mills, Dayle Grubb and top scorer Reuben Reid are all starting to return to the starting line-up following various spells out.
However, ex-Stags midfielder Paul Digby will miss the game after being sent off at Yeovil. He has played every game in a variety of positions so will be a big miss.
Rovers’ current star turn is 22-year-old midfielder Reece Brown.
Having initially started out as an attacking midfielder, boss Cooper has made him drop back slightly in some games to a central midfielder where his ability to dictate play has really helped both Brown and Forest Green to control games in midfield.
It is clear that when the former Birmingham player is not in the side, the whole team seems to not be able to play as well at times as they look to their playmaker to influence them going forward.
Shephard’s return from injury is important as the right back or right wing back has been outstanding.
Dangerous going forward, he offers a different dimension. He is a good crosser of the ball and has scored three goals.
Shephard had been out injured for a month before returning at Yeovil and Forest Green’s dip in form coincided with his absence.
Another player Stags need to keep a tight rein on is Welsh winger George Williams, who helped his side by scoring the first goal in the win at Yeovil last weekend.