It will come as no surprise to regular Forest Green Rovers watchers that their team’s recent upturn in fortunes has coincided with the re- turn of Christian Doidge’s goal-scoring form.
Forest Green’s chief provider of goals in the Vanarama National League last season found the back of the net 27 times in 43 outings as the Gloucestershire club won promotion via the play-offs.
Familiar with League Two, hav- ing previously spent a spell on Da- genham’s books, the Welshman began the current campaign well enough, contributing four goals in seven appearances in August and early September.
But as Mark Cooper’s team struggled to adapt to playing at a higher level, the steady supply of goals that had become the top-scorer’s trademark last term dried up – Doidge enduring a frustrating ten-match famine.
So intent was manager Cooper upon unearthing means to shore up a porous defence that was leaking goals at an alarming rate, that Rovers necessarily surrendered a degree of their erstwhile potency at the other end of the pitch.
Increasingly rendered an isolated figure, Doidge still failed to make much of an impact even when partnered with another striker in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation.
With the Football League’s newest side lodged in the relegation zone, having won only once in 13 outings, Cooper ordered his team to play higher up the pitch in a conscious decision aimed at stemming the flow of goals conceded while at the same time restoring the supply lines to Doidge that had been so effectively disrupted by opposition teams during September and October.
Changes in fortunes
Thereafter, fortunes changed dramatically for Rovers, starting with a memorable 1-0 win over Coventry on their first-ever visit to the Ricoh Arena, a result which sparked a five-match unbeaten sequence that has seen Cooper’s men exit the drop zone and climb the table.
Aided and abetted by the likes of Keanu Marsh-Brown, Reece Brown and Isaiah Osbourne, who have been able to provide meaningful support in a side playing higher up the pitch, Doidge has benefited from improved service in recent weeks. As a result, he has netted seven times in six games to take his tally for the season to 11 which has helped Rovers escape the bottom two.
The 27-year-old grabbed the winner at Stevenage; shot Rovers to victory over Macclesfield in the Emirates FA Cup; helped himself to another in a 1-1 draw at Crawley, and then grabbed a brace in last week’s thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind triumph over Crewe. He followed that up with another double in the 3-2 midweek defeat at Chesterfield.
It is a well-known football axiom that promoted teams usually possess within their ranks a 20-goal-a-season striker. Similarly, for sides struggling at the other end of the table, firepower can serve to lift them out of trouble.
Just as Notts County, Luton, Wycombe and Accrington are thankful to Jorge Grant, Danny Hylton, Adebayo Akinfenwa and Billy Kee respectively for providing the weight of goals needed to establish them as promotion contenders, Chesterfield, Post Vale, Barnet and Yeovil are dependent upon Kristian Dennis, Tom Pope, Shaquile Coulthirst and Olufela Olomola to muster sufficient end product to deliver them to safety.
Doidge is currently doing just that for Forest Green, helping a side that registered a meagre four goals in eight games in September and October to view the future with renewed optimism.
Prior to the trip to Chesterfield, a healthier return of ten goals in six games and a record of just four conceded suggested Cooper had got the balance right.
Of course, there is more to Doidge’s game than putting the ball in the back of the net, deployed as he is as an attacking fulcrum. Other attack-minded players depend upon his ability to shield and hold the ball up with his back to goal and provide the team with an outlet, an aspect of his game that Cooper believes leaves further room for improvement.
“You know what you are going to get from Doidge,” said the Forest Green boss. “He is always a menace in the box with his head and his feet and he provides that potency that worries the opposition.
“Sometimes, his all-round play is not as good as it can be and he turns a few over with his back to goal. That is something we need to try and work on with him to make him even better.”
Now there’s a frightening prospect for League Two defenders!