By Gerry PrewettAll that Bristol Rovers need to do to make the Vanarama Conference Play Off Final is to not lose to opponents and near neighbours Forest Green Rovers.
It is a very similar scenario to the end of last season, where having won away at Wycombe, Rovers were in the driving seat; their destiny was in their won hands. Unfortunately they failed.
Darrell Clarke was devastated after that defeat and he will have driven home to his team that he will not tolerate such a slip up this time.
Forest Green are one of only two teams to have picked up maximum points at the Mem this season, so the Gas will be aware that even though they hold a single goal lead from the first leg, Forest Green are more than capable of producing a surprise on the big stage.
There are a lot of playing connections between the two clubs. Forest Green defenders David Pipe and Danny Coles were teammates at the Memorial Ground for two campaigns in League One, while first leg striker Matty Taylor swapped Nailsworth for the Gas during the summer.
The goal-keeping coach at Forest Green is none other than Glyn Jones probably best remembered for being the custodian when Rovers were overrun by Spurs in a Second Division game at White Hart Lane, where they succumbed to a 9-0 drubbing.
Amongst the other players who have played for both teams are, defender Billy Clark who made over 200 league appearances for the Gas and also served Forest Green well in his time in Nailsworth.
Oxford United and former Gas keeper Ryan Clarke had a season-long loan with Forest Green whilst Byron Anthony also spent time on loan at the New Lawn when a Cardiff player before joining the Gas.
Kaid Mohamed who was on loan at the Memorial Stadium last season had a permanent spell at Forest Green. Josh Low, Guy Ipoua and Dennis Bailey are other players to have represented both clubs.
Sean Rigg progressed through the youth system with FGR before making his name with the Gas. Julian Alsop is another striker to have worn both outfits’ colours and David Mehew played for both too.
FGR was founded in 1889 as Forest Green by the local Nonconformist church minister. The club became founder members of the Mid Gloucestershire League in 1894. Then moved to the newly formed Stroud & District League in 1902 where they remained for 32 years, also playing in the Dursley & District League.
They were founder members of the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League in 1922 alongside Cheltenham Town and won the league three times in 1938, 1950 and 1951.
In 1968 they were founder members of the Gloucestershire County League where they remained for seven seasons when they earned promotion to the Hellenic League in 1975.
The 1981–82 season saw the club win the Hellenic League championship and the FA Vase under manager Bob Mersell at Wembley, beating Rainworth Miners Welfare 3–0 in the final. The same season the club moved upwards into the Southern League where they finished third in their maiden season in the Midland Division.
However in subsequent seasons the club failed to make much of an impact and in 1989 the club changed its name to Stroud F.C. in an attempt to revitalise the football club. The name was changed back to Forest Green Rovers for the 1992–93 season thanks to the introduction of new chairman and investor Trevor Horsley, who worked alongside Andy Coburn and new secretary Colin Peake to re-introduce the club's former title.
The arrival of Horsley changed the fortunes of the club and performances on the pitch improved significantly as did the development of The Lawn. In 2006 the club moved 400 yards away to their new ground appropriately named The New Lawn.
The Green’s most successful spell came under Jim Harvey who led them to their highest ever league finish of 8th in the 2007–08 season when they also reached the FA Cup 2nd round losing 3–2 against League One outfit Swindon Town. In 2008–09 they reached the FA Cup 3rd round for the first time but lost 3–4 to Derby County on 3 January 2009 after leading 2–0.
This game also saw Forest Green record their highest ever attendance with 4,836 watching the match.
This season has seen their best ever performance over 46 games and they, like Rovers are just 3 games away from achieving the Holy Grail of full League status.
Talking ahead of the second leg game David Pipe said: “On a personal level, it’s emotional every time I go back to Bristol Rovers and it does pull on the heart strings a bit. At the end of the day I’ll be there to do a job for Forest Green Rovers. That’s the new challenge in my career at the moment and that’s what I’ll be solely focused on.”
“But I got a good reception from their fans when we played down there in October, even though I was on the bench that day, and I did appreciate that.
“The feeling is mutual. My issue with the club was off the pitch, never on it, and even then the fans supported me until the day I left. I’ve got nothing but admiration for them and I think 90 percent of them feel the same.”
Pipe went on to express his view that nerves got the better of his team in the first half of the First Leg game, “If you’re not nervous you shouldn’t really be involved in games like this. It’s about how you handle those nerves, and I like to take a lot of onus on myself in terms of helping lads who maybe haven’t been in situations like this.
As a leader I think I thrive on that. I like to lead by example and hopefully I can do that again.”
Forest Green Boss Ady Pennock expressed his feelings about the game, "Before the game we said we wanted to still be in the tie, and we definitely are. But we can't play like we did in the first half. I think we gave them too much respect and Stevie Arnold kept us in the tie to be fair.”
"It was an awful goal to concede as we were playing far too deep, and Taylor should never have been allowed to chest the ball down inside the box. I said a lot of things at half time that I haven't said for a long time, and in the second half we were in their faces more and worked harder.”
"It will be an interesting game on Sunday and I can't wait. No one will give us a chance again so maybe there is no point turning up! The pressure will be on Bristol Rovers with 11,000 people there but we've got to make sure we put pressure on the game. We've got to keep them quiet and start how we finished the first game."
Pennock was full of praise for keeper Arnold, and also explained his decision to bring unpredictable winger James Norwood back in from the cold as a substitute.
"We're very fortunate to have two very good goalkeepers here and Stevie is definitely growing in confidence," said the Forest Green Gaffer, "I brought James on because it went a little bit quiet and I wanted to get the fans going.
They love him and we saw the best and the worst of him. In the last 35 or 40 minutes we were much better and James played a part in that."
News from the New Lawn is that Pipe is likely to continue at left-back on Sunday in the absence of injured duo Marcus Kelly and Tom Bender.