High standards need to be reached under Cooper if Rovers are to survive first season

Liam Noble’s sudden exit at Forest Green Rovers ought to send a clear message to the erstwhile teammates he leaves behind.

As the Football League’s newest club fights to move clear of the relegation places in the basement division, it is a case of shape up or ship out at the New Lawn.

A mutually agreed statement issued by the Gloucestershire club suggested that the 26-year-old midfielder was returning to his native North-East for family reasons.

Noble bade a fond farewell to the fans, and those responsible for the running of the football club duly thanked him for his services and wished him the best of luck for the future.

As is usually the case in these situations, the underlying reasons behind Forest Green’s decision to part company with their captain and cancel a three-year contract that was only signed in the summer will be quietly put to bed.

Of course, those able to read between the lines will already have an inkling as to what really went on.

Summarily dropped from the squad for a recent game at Cambridge United, Noble was also omitted for the visit of Accrington, amid rumours of a falling out with manager Mark Cooper.

Adopting a diplomatic stance, Cooper declined to discuss the matter with journalists, but could do nothing to quell speculation among the fan-base and media that lifestyle issues were involved.

Clearly, Noble’s fitness had become a talking point among on-lookers who were concerned that the influential midfielder had been unable to reproduce the form that rendered him a driving force behind Forest Green’s successful National League promotion campaign last season.

Now that Rovers find themselves at the other end of the table, faced with the unenviable prospect of a prolonged fight for survival, any perceived lack of professionalism will not be tolerated.

Quite rightly, Cooper is demanding improved standards, both on and off the pitch, and those who cannot meet the new requirements had better be prepared to seek employment elsewhere.

Certainly, there has been an upturn in performance since Noble’s omission and Rovers caused something of a shock when returning from top-of-the-table Notts County with a point last week. But that outcome will have come as no surprise to those who witnessed the manner in which they bossed promotion- chasing Accrington in their previous outing.

Having made a rare start against Accrington, Omar Bugiel struggled to make an impact and, subsequently, was substituted early in the second-half. But he remains eager to disprove the theory that he is most effective when used as a substitute.

Rather than demote him back to the bench, Cooper urged his Lebanese international striker to gamble more and offered him another opportunity to establish his credentials at Meadow Lane.

Deployed alongside Christian Doidge, Bugiel rose to the challenge, accepting a cross from his strike partner to put Rovers in front against Notts County and threaten an wholly unexpected result in the East Midlands.

He could, and perhaps should, have scored a second goal, when heading off target, a blemish that be- came meaningful when Rovers con- ceded a late equaliser and had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Yet he still did enough to suggest he can be relied upon to start games, further evidence that the work carried out by Cooper and his staff on the club’s Stanley Park training ground is bearing fruit.

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.