EFL Sky Bet League Two: team analysis and betting pointers
Tactics, strengths. weaknesses and prospects of Stevenage assessed
Sky Bet League Two
Stevenage 0 Forest Green 2
The story of the match
Forest Green were one of the best-backed sides of the weekend, going off at odds-on, and they comfortably landed the gamble in a deserved 2-0 success at Stevenage.
Christian Doidge had already had a couple of attempts, with one flicked header just wide, when the visitors took the lead after 13 minutes as Liam Shephard was the beneficiary of a quick free kick.
Doidge had another header off target and the impressive Reece Brown's shot was saved as Rovers controlled the first half to the annoyance of some Stevenage supporters, which brought an angry response from imposing Boro manager Dino Maamria.
Stevenage's best chance came early in the second half when substitute Alex Reid was put through, however his first touch was not ideal and James Montgomery was able to save.
It proved a pivotal moment as soon after Brown slipped in Williams and although his shot was parried, Doidge headed home the rebound.
Alex Revell had two late efforts to try to get Stevenage back into the game, but the hosts were second best despite shading possession 51 per cent to 49 and matching Forest Green's four shots on target.
Stevenage fielded a 4-4-2 formation and only matched up to Forest Green's 3-4-1-2 in the dying embers of the game. They were outnumbered in midfield with Forest Green's number ten Brown playing between the lines, and they also lacked penetration up front with Rovers possessing a spare man defensively.
Boro were less direct than normal and appeared to fall into Forest Green's trap with visiting boss Mark Cooper telling their official website: "We chose to drop off a little and let Stevenage have the ball. We felt that would be our best chance to attack, pinching the ball off them high up the pitch or in the middle of the pitch and that is where the goals came from."
Few Stevenage players stood out but ever-willing left-back John Hunt attempts to make things happen and West Ham loanee Moses Makasi had a couple of runs that showed promise on the wing. Centre-backs Ben Nugent and Scott Cuthbert did their jobs robustly.
Stevenage are rated one of the worst teams in the division on key performance indicators such as expected goals and shot ratio (both overall and on target), with one supporter telling me at half-time that the team have been dire for most of the season.
Maamria wrote in his programme notes: "I like how people keep underestimating us. Yes, we are little Stevenage, low budget, low gates and an old stadium with a missing stand, but people can never take away the hard work, passion for winning that Stevenage's players and supporters stand for."
That unity is commendable but former player Maamria and the fans showed little of it, with some fans within earshot of the boss continually berating the team. Maamria, perhaps unwisely, responded twice and at one stage turned around and said "we are playing football" during a period of sideways passing.
"No, Dino that's football," shouted one supporter shortly after when Forest Green moved the ball easily around Stevenage's static midfield.
It could become difficult for Stevenage to make use of home advantage if that bad blood continues, although the simple truth is Boro are not as good as their top-half position in Sky Bet League Two suggests.
Maamria mentioned after the match that Danny Newton, Revell, Ben Kennedy, Joel Byrom, Michael Timlin and Cuthbert have all been featuring despite not being 100 per cent fit and midfielder James Ball was used as a makeshift forward. They lacked cohesion all over the field.
Nugent is without a goal since September 2015 but he goes up for all of Stevenage's set-pieces and attacks the ball well when he is defending. He is usually 66-1 plus for the first goal and may end the long drought before the season is over.
View from the camp
Maamria told Stevenage's website "In the second half we created three or four very good chances and the keeper made some terrific saves. I think they had three shots throughout the game and they scored two of them, we did not. Unfortunately sometimes against good teams like them, that is the difference.”
I have seen Stevenage twice in person this season and my eyes back up their poor data, so it's not easy to explain their lofty league position. The most likely outcome is a dip before the season ends.
Forest Green, who are fourth following Tuesday's 1-1 draw at home to Mansfield, are a clever side with a dangerous front three of Doidge, Williams and Brown, while Carl Winchester and Lloyd James control midfield nicely for a team who like to play out from the back.
Joseph Mills is a threat as the left wing-back and Cooper is constantly thinking. His decision to push centre-back Farrend Rawson up for the longer goal kicks is certainly an interesting idea.
Playoffs is the most likely outcome and looking further ahead, Rovers should be high up on the list of promotion candidates for next season if they fall short this year.
Stevenage 4-4-2: Farman; James-Wildin, Cuthbert, Nugent, Hunt; Makasi (Sonupe 73), Byrom, Timlin, Kennedy; Revell, Ball (Reid h-t).
Forest Green 3-4-1-2: Montgomery; Rawson, Gunning, McGinley; Shephard, James, Winchester (Digby 72), Mills; Brown; Doidge, Williams (Scoble 77).
Next three fixtures
Stevenage: Yeovil (h), Tranmere (a), Lincoln (a)
Forest Green: Swindon (a), Notts Co (h), Yeovil (h)
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