Unless Forest Green can double their current points tally in their remaining nine games, their first season in the third tier won’t be followed up by another, whereas Sheffield Wednesday’s fate looks a little less clear-cut than it had been.
Tuesday’s 4-2 loss at South Yorkshire neighbours Barnsley had the effect of ending the Owls’ 23-game unbeaten run, introducing a flicker of doubt to their top two chances, whilst adding a fourth horse to the automatic promotion race.
Darren Moore’s side have a great opportunity to bounce back, though, at a Forest Green side preparing for the likelihood of League Two next season. So, let’s dive to the betting angle and my top football tips for the game.
Forest Green around the gills
It’s been a difficult season for the Green Devils, who have enjoyed very little of the continuity Bristol Rovers, Port Vale, and to an extent, Exeter have benefited from, after joining League Two’s title-winners in securing promotion last season.
The Nailsworth club lost head coach Rob Edwards to Watford, in acrimonious circumstances, they then lost key wing-backs, Kane Wilson and Nicky Cadden, pressing number 10 Ebou Adams, not to mention the long-term injury to poacher Matty Stevens, and a spate of other injuries – particularly in the first quarter of the campaign, after which they lost influential Sporting Director Richard Hughes, to Portsmouth.
Edwards’ replacement, Ian Burchnall, was sacked in January in the hope that Everton coach Duncan Ferguson could help the club close the 4-point gap to safety (though FGR had played three more games than most competitors at that stage), but 2 points from 9 matches now leaves them 13 points adrift at the foot.
Ferguson signed a five-year contract, though, and could still be afforded the chance to lead the rebuild in League Two, under a new CEO, Marcus Reynolds, who has worked with some of the top sporting organisations in New Zealand, and a new Head of Recruitment or Sporting Director, which is still to be recruited for after Stevie Grieve resigned five months in.
It’s all change for Forest Green once again, and their modus operandi is to inspire some local optimism ahead of another rebuild, back in League Two.
Wednesday’s third midfield spot
It’s two trips to Gloucestershire for Moore’s side in four days, with the Owls’ jaunt to Cheltenham on Wednesday following Sunday’s trip to the world’s first vegan club.
George Byers was a huge miss at Oakwell in midweek, with the midfielder bringing the selfless energy and solidity required to free up Barry Bannan to perform to the max, but Wednesday are more likely to get away with not having the Scot available against an, on paper, weaker side like Forest Green, as opposed to a promotion rival.
Will Vaulks should provide enough of the defensive aspect as a single-pivot, Bannan can create individualistically, so this game will be a nice opportunity for Tyreeq Bakinson, Dennis Adeniran or Fisayo Dele-Bashiru to prove themselves: even with neither in particularly pulsating form, either should offer enough of attacking threat to take at least some of the attention off Bannan.
The tactics board
Forest Green’s game plan will be to congest the central areas of the pitch as much as possible, with a tight two banks of four in Ferguson’s 4-4-2, perhaps with Jordan Garrick and Amadou Bakayoko deployed up top.
Their performance at Plymouth Argyle last week, though, was their worst in a sorry season: Ferguson’s side made 34-year-old centre-back James Wilson look like prime Franco Baresi.
Their hope will be that if they can force the Owls into wide areas, they find it difficult to get their wide centre-backs overlapping wing-backs Liam Palmer and Marvin Johnson, neither of whom will provide oodles of pace and width in the final third, or the outside midfielders struggle to overload the flank quickly enough.
Moore, though, can turn to Mallik Wilks, who’s expected to be back fit, two of Adeniran, Dele-Bashiru and Bakinson, plus Jack Hunt for some drive on the right, and possibly left-sider Reece James, who is hoping to be available again ahead of schedule.
Wednesday might not be at full strength, with Byers and Josh Windass still absent, but even a weakened Owls still possess the means to change games in their favour.
Forest Green vs Sheffield Wednesday Betting Tips
Lee Gregory has scored five hat-tricks in his senior career, including one in last season’s 3-2 victory at Fleetwood, one for Millwall against Derby in 2014-15, as well as three of them in the Conference for Halifax the season before.
Gregory was such a selfless, workmanlike striker in a functional Millwall side under Neil Harris, that he perhaps lost some of his clinical instincts for a period, struggling at Stoke, but he came to form at the back end of last season with nine goals in the final 10 and intends to finish this campaign in a similar fashion.
The 34-year-old made a transformative difference when he came off the bench in the 5-2 victory over MK Dons, scoring in that one, likewise against Bolton, and bagged a brace in midweek – it’s five in six for the striker, who now faces a rearguard on course to be the leakiest at this level since 2015-16 Colchester.
The Gregory hat-trick looks like an intriguing speculative poke at 35/1, especially with those knockdowns and flick-ons from target man strike-partner Michael Smith, who’s facing a back-line that doesn’t have an obvious aerial presence.
Alternatively, Wednesday to win by a margin of three or more goals is available at 7/2: it’s happened on six occasions already this season in 36 games, the same number Forest Green have lost by two or more in, out of 37 matches.
Sheffield Wednesday -2 handicap @ 7/2 with Betfair
Lee Gregory to score a hat-trick @ 35/1 with Betfair
All odds are correct at the time of writing.