Cooper hopes arrival of experienced Osbourne will add bite in midfield

Isaiah Osbourne’s arrival at Forest Green Rovers represents a tacit acknowledgment on the part of manager Mark Cooper that his struggling team requires additional bite in midfield.

Forest Green manager Mark Cooper is hoping Isaiah Osbourne will provide some strength and stability to his side’s midfield PICTURE: NIZAAM JONES / JMP

Unable to keep a single clean sheet in Sky Bet Two this season, porous Rovers find themselves lodged in the relegation zone and in danger of being cut adrift.

Their best attempts to compete with battle-hardened opponents at the higher level have, so far, been undermined by a litany of unforced errors and the kind of individual mistakes that coaches and managers simply cannot legislate for.

It is not sufficient to attach blame merely to the goalkeeper and de- fenders for the concession of 25 goals in ten games when serious is- sues surround the team’s ability to defend as a unit.

Having tried just about every combination available to him from the players already at his disposal, Cooper looked elsewhere for a solution to a depressing sequence of six wins without a victory.

And he came up with Osbourne, the 29-year-old Birmingham-born midfielder who made a name for himself in the top flight, in both England and Scotland, with Aston Villa and Hibernian respectively.

It is not so much Osbourne’s experience that is needed – although this trait will no doubt assist a team packed full of youthful exuberance – but his physical presence and brute strength, too.

Standing at six-foot-two and weighing in at around 13 stone, here is a footballer who can compete in the air and put in shuddering tackles on the ground. That ability to break up play and pick a simple pass to initiate a counter-attack is something Forest Green have been crying out for all season.

Drissa Traore and Lee Collins have, at various times, been charged with the task of babysitting the back four, without appearing particularly convincing in the role. And as well as Traore has performed on occasions this term, his tendency to run out of steam and fade in the second-half of games means he cannot be relied upon to last 90 minutes.

Hence Cooper’s decision to offer free agent Osbourne a contract until the end of the season. If his deployment as a midfield anchor allows Traore additional freedom to support those in front of him, then that will only help a team that has found goals rather harder to come by in re- cent weeks.

Although Osbourne has not played regular first-team football since turning out for Walsall in League One last season, Cooper insists that the former England youth international is ready to play a full part with immediate effect.

“He has been training with us for a couple of weeks and played in an under-23 game for us against Newport. He also had a couple of games for Port Vale before coming to us,” revealed the manager, who handed Osbourne his debut as a second-half substitute in the recent 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Swindon Town.

As for the qualities that Cooper is hoping his latest signing will bring to the team, he added: “He’s a big midfield player and has long legs. He breaks things up. He’s played in the Premier League, so he will give us a bit more depth in midfield.

“I don’t think the young lads are a problem at the minute – it’s the more experienced ones who need to give us a little bit more help. They need to be mentally stronger.

“Isaiah has a lot of experience, has played at the top level and will give us that extra bit of bite in the middle of the park.”

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.