Team spirit can help Rovers retain new-found status

Drissa Traore is of the opinion that he and his Forest Green Rovers team-mates possess the collective strength of character required to retain the club’s new-found status.

Since alighting to League Two via the National League play-offs in May, the so-called ‘little club on the hill’ has found the task of adapting to its more lofty environs challenging to say the least.

A disappointing return of two wins in 14 outings has deposited Rovers in the relegation zone and, as things stand, there is a possibility they could yet be cut adrift at the wrong end of the table.

A series of encouraging performances, not least against leaders and promotion favourites Notts County, suggested manager Mark Cooper had, at last, identified his best team and that a concerted move up the table might be at hand.

Yet confidence gained from improved performance was undermined in the aftermath of the humiliating 4-0 home defeat suffered at the hands of Newport.

Just as supporters were beginning to give way to rumblings of discontent, Rovers hit back with a notable 1-0 victory at Coventry, a result that suggests the players still believe in their ability to extricate themselves from a potentially tricky situation.

Cooper retains the full backing of chairman Dale Vince and the players remain convinced they have what it takes to effect a concerted upturn in fortunes.

While acknowledging Forest Green are engaged in a relegation battle, influential midfielder Traore highlights a strong team spirit as reason for continued optimism.

“The team spirit is still there and now is a time when we have to stick together and be strong,” claimed the Ivorian, who has been Forest Green’s stand-out performer so far this season.

“Things can change and we have to believe that we will play well and get out of this (relegation battle).

“We were not good enough (against Newport), but we trained hard and did better next time. There is no other way of looking at it. Losing is never good, but we have a lot of good characters in the changing room and they have to stand up now.”

Although still only 25, Traore’s 43 appearances qualify him for veteran status in an essentially youthful Rovers team, and he admits it is incumbent upon the more experienced elements to guide the younger players through challenging times.

“We need the older players to help the younger players and to support them and that is happening,” added Traore.

“Some of the players here are very young and they have little experience of first-team football – they need more help than the others.

“They are experiencing something new right now and we have to help them learn quickly. If they do that and we all stick together, I think we will be fine.”

In the circumstances, the Emirates FA Cup may well prove a welcome distraction from the arduous task of accumulating sufficient league points to escape the drop zone.

Handed a home tie against Vanarama National League leaders Macclesfield, Rovers’ players will no doubt welcome an opportunity to renew acquaintance with a familiar foe.

The two sides met on three occasions last season – the Silkmen winning an FA Trophy tie at Moss Rose and Rovers completing a league double en-route to play-off qualification.

Although the former National League rivals are experiencing vastly differing fortunes this term, Macclesfield will hold no fears for Rovers when they visit the New Lawn to contest a first round tie on Saturday, November 4.

Manager Cooper had good reason to smile when he learned of the draw. The last time the two teams met in the FA Cup in 2001 Cooper scored twice in a tie that spanned two games and was eventually decided by a marathon penalty shoot-out. Macclesfield eventually progressed, courtesy of a thrilling 11-10 shoot-out victory at the end of the replay.

While Cooper will urge his players to take care of business at the first attempt if at all possible, he might do well to encourage them to practice penalties in the meantime, less history repeat itself.

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.