Forest Green Rovers will be looking to push on in Sky Bet League Two after staying up last season and Christian Doidge will be central to those hopes.
He has been the undoubted star of the club’s recent success, with his goals not only firing them into the Football League but also helping to keep them there.
There has been speculation regarding his future, as reported by Sky Sports, but he is set to start the season at The New Lawn.
Last season was a period of transition at Forest Green as they re-hauled their playing squad after promotion. The club only stayed up by a single point, but there are several reasons for optimism ahead of the new campaign.
In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Doidge spoke positively about the recruitment and the season ahead.
“I think the recruitment has been really good this season. We have brought in some bodies and a lot of experienced players, which is going to help us. I think that is what we struggled with last year.
“We’ve done quite good in pre-season, results wise and it’s one of those things now. You can’t wait for the season to start and play some competitive games. The mood in the camp is good and all the new lads have fit in really well.”
The club’s defence was an area of concern as they conceded 77 times during their debut season, which ranked behind only bottom-placed Chesterfield.
The signings of Robert Sanchez, James Montgomery and Lewis Thomas increase competition for the number one shirt, while Joseph Mills, Liam Shephard and Lloyd James will improve their defence.
Meanwhile, George Williams and Tahvon Campbell are exciting captures that will add even more quality to their attacking options. Forest Green have been very active in the transfer market once again and they will hope that a much more comfortable season is in store as a result.
Doidge will remain Forest Green’s focal point after proving himself during his first season in the Football League. The Welshman contributed 20 goals and five assists in 3655 minutes of football – a return he is looking to replicate this season.
“I was happy considering I had two months out with injury, which killed me at one point and I had a spell of eight without scoring which was hard.
“To get the tally that I got in the end, I was really happy with and that helped us stay in the division. Hopefully I can do that again next season.”
Despite his excellent form during Forest Green’s promotion season, there will have been doubts whether the Welshman could produce the same goal-scoring feats in League Two.
It was a huge step up for the striker, but he quickly silenced any doubters that he had. He believes that a high work rate and ability to forget about missed chances are key to being successful in the Football League.
“I think work rate is massive. At the level we are at, mistakes happen and as a striker, you have to be active in pushing people to make mistakes.
“Obviously, you have to take your chances, but don’t get disheartened if you don’t score, because at this level, you do get more chances. That’s when you have to put them away.”
The 25-year-old demonstrates his impressive mentality and it is no surprise that he taken to the division as quickly as he has. In addition to these qualities, the 25-year-old reads the game effectively and often finds himself in the right place at the right time.
The Forest Green forward is very much a poacher that comes alive in the box and that profile of player often does well in the lower divisions. Despite his success during the last two years, he wants to continue progressing as a player and doesn’t yet believe that he has made it.
“I won’t think that unless I go a lot higher. I still think that I have a lot to improve on and I’m pushing every day to become a better footballer.
“I’ve done extremely well to get where I am now considering the background that I’ve had, but that’s in the past now and I’m looking forward to the future. Hopefully I can keep doing what I’ve been doing the last two seasons.”
His career has been a slow burner, as he didn’t play in the Football League until last season. At the age of 25, he will be looking to progress up the divisions in future years, whether that be with Forest Green or another club.
There has been speculation linking him with Sunderland and Aberdeen, among other clubs, but the striker remains committed to Forest Green.
“My team-mates just wind me up about it if I’m honest. It’s all a bit of fun really. It’s nice to have speculation as you’ve probably done something quite good, but it doesn’t faze me at all.
“I’m 100% committed to the club. They pay my wages and I will remain professional throughout.”
There will be a desire to be loyal to Forest Green after they provided the platform for Doidge to launch his professional career. They took a chance on him in the National League and neither would have predicted the rapid rise that has followed.
Since arriving at The New Lawn, there have been plenty of bright moments for the striker, but the play-off final win at Wembley to earn a place in League Two remains his highlight.
“I’d say the promotion win at Wembley was probably the best and it will be hard to beat. It was such a hard season in the conference, going to all kinds of places.
“It was such an up and down season, really high at some points and then really low.
“To get promoted at Wembley after all the hard work we’d done all season was tremendous. Obviously to score a goal I’m not known for scoring outside the box, which was an extra bonus with having family and friends in the stands. That’s probably the best moment of my career.”
The goal-scoring exploits of Doidge were one of the driving forces behind the club’s promotion as he regularly netted late winners to maintain the team’s positive momentum. Last season, he passed the 50-goal mark and there have been plenty of memorable strikes.
“I’ve scored a lot of last minute winners, which were nice. I scored one when we were going for the title in the conference here, just down that end. It was a header, last ten seconds, last throw of the dice. That was one that I loved and the Wembley one.
“The goal I scored against Cheltenham with the fans behind the goal. It was just perfect timing as I ran onto the ball and straight into the fans which was nice. It would be out of a couple of those ones, but any goal really. I love scoring goals, even if it comes off my knee, I’m happy with it.”
Those that have followed Doidge since his move to Forest Green will attest that he doesn’t score a lot of eye-catching goals.
That said, he is a deadly goal-scorer and the consistency with which he puts the ball into the back of the net is remarkable and his comments underline his thirst to score goals. That is why he is attracting interest from bigger clubs.
Remarkably, Doidge is the only player included for the match day squad for the play-off final that remains in the first-team squad. There have been wholesale changes as they attempt to adjust to League Two level. It speaks volumes that the striker has remained impressive, despite the changing environment.
“Off the pitch, it has got a lot more professional I’d say. It’s a completely new team. I’m the last Wembley player on the books I think. I’ve had to meet a lot of new team-mates. All the coaching staff have stayed the same.
“It’s been tremendous for me to work with the coaching staff here. They have improved my game a lot. I know what I’m doing when I’m out there now.”
The addition of more talented and experienced players has helped bring out the best in Doidge. There are now players that can impart knowledge on the 25-year-old striker and Reuben Reid has been one of those.
“Reubs has been brilliant. He had a tough year with other stuff, but he has come out the other side now. He’s done tremendous.
“He is a really good lad, really professional and he is good for advice, any person that has been in the league for that long and higher must be a good player. He has helped me a lot and he’s helped me with the goals as well.”
The journeyman forward has been on the books of 14 different clubs as a professional footballer, but he remains a very good League Two player. His experience at higher levels is invaluable for a developing team like Forest Green and Doidge has clearly learnt a lot from him.
After joining the club, Reid helped to share the goal-scoring burden with six goals and four assists. As he and Doidge have now developed a relationship on the pitch, Forest Green will hope that it will lead to a much better campaign.
Another key attacking player during the run-in was Dayle Grubb. The 27-year-old played nearly 300 times for Weston-super-Mare and dominated at the level that they were playing at. It took him some time to earn a chance, but he grabbed it with both hands at Forest Green.
During the second-half of the season, he contributed five goals and three assists. Doidge believes that his team-mate is set for an even better campaign.
“Grubby has come in and it is like he has been a professional footballer his whole life. He’s a good lad as well. He’s come from Weston where he didn’t quite get the break, but he has come here and he’s fitted in perfectly.
“He’s come up with some important goals and I can see him getting a lot this year the way he has been in pre-season. He has really committed, and I’m impressed with him.”
Although there have been some exciting additions, it is likely that the trio of Doidge, Reid and Grubb will be the key men for Forest Green this season. There is a real chance that they could challenge higher up the league table if their defence concedes fewer at the back.
It is shaping up to be another exciting season for Forest Green and at the time of writing, they have done a superb job to keep hold of Doidge. There will always be interest in him as long as he is scoring goals and he will move on eventually, but they will want to keep him for at least one more year.
“I want to do well. I want to score goals. I’d love to play for Wales. That is my all-time ambition and I won’t stop until I eventually get it. Hopefully if I score goals to impress the manager, I will see what happens.”
That aim would have been deemed impossible just two years ago, but Doidge has taken to the Football League impressively. He is some way from an international call-up, but he will move closer to one if he continues to score goals and progresses up the leagues.