Boss turns to Roberts to plug gaps in leaky defence

MARK Cooper is hoping new signing Mark Roberts can help plug the gaps in a Forest Green Rovers defence that has so far proved porous to say the least.

Unbounded optimism generated by the Gloucestershire club’s rise to Football League status has, to a degree, been dulled by exposure to the harsh environs of League Two since the start of the new season.

Mistakes have been punished at the higher level and Rovers have made more than their fair share of those in the first month of the campaign. Even Cooper himself admitted in the aftermath of his team’s 4-3 defeat of Yeovil that some of the defending on show was ‘horrendous’.

Quick to recognise the problem and forthright in his attempts to find a solution ahead of last Thursday’s transfer deadline, the manager moved swiftly to secure the services of Roberts from Cambridge United.

A commanding central defender of the experienced variety, Roberts has clocked up more than 300 Football League appearances during a career that began at Crewe Alexandra’s renowned Academy and took in numerous lower-League outposts before peaking at Stevenage and Fleetwood. Unlike the majority of those who currently comprise Forest Green’s back-line, he knows his way around League Two.

Poor decision-making has been at the heart of Rovers’ teething problems since promotion from the National League and last weekend’s deflating 5-1 defeat to Colchester United served to bring the issue into sharper focus.

Recent recruits Alex lacovitti and Jack Fitzwater possess potential in spade loads, but lack first-team experience and require the kind of tutelage that can only come from veteran campaigners who, as the saying goes, have ‘seen it, done it and bought the T-shirt’.

Cooper is hoping that Roberts can instill the good habits and attitude of mind that are essential prerequisites to cohesive defence.

Lee Collins is another whose cv oozes experience and know-how and, one suspects, he and Roberts will be key figures in the challenging weeks and months that lie ahead. Certainly, the latter is no stranger to success, having helped both Stevenage and Fleetwood gain promotion from League Two in 2011 and 2014 respectively.

Cooper’s transfer business during what has been a hectic summer of ins and outs at the New Lawn concluded this week with arrival of Will Randall on a season-long loan from Championship club Wolves.

Handed a new two-year contract at Molineux at the end of last season, the 20-year-old winger has been sent out to continue his development in a first-team environment.

A former youth team player at Swindon Town, Randall was handed his first-team debut by Cooper, who was then manager at the County Ground, since when Forest Green’s boss has followed his progress closely.

Cooper, of course, knows exactly what his latest new recruit offers, describing Randall as ‘very fit and powerful’.

‘He likes to take players on and I think that’s something we need in wide areas,’ added Cooper. ‘If we want to get at teams and be a bit more on the front foot, then he’s right up there.

‘I was there when Swindon sold him to Wolves. I put him in the team at 17 in League One and Wolves think quite highly of him. It’s a position we’ve been looking to fill and I’m sure he’ll do really well here.’

Randall made three starts in his 11 first-team appearances for Swindon and, since joining Wolves, has been a key part of the club’s under-23 and under-21 sides, featuring in the EFL Trophy and Premier League Two. The youngster spent a spell on loan at League One Walsall in January this year, making two substitute appearances for the Saddlers.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.