Barely conscious. Match report: Scunthorpe 3-0 Grimsby

This match was billed as one of Grimsby Town’s most important of recent times and we played like it was a kick-about at Sidney Park.

The players looked like they’d spent a day idling around at school and were just looking to mess about for a bit at home time until their parents called them in for their tea.

James McKeown asked whose ball it was, and then we played in the submissive way that people do when they seek parity but know they’re chronically inferior.

And it’s not as if Scunny are any good. At all.

Just under 11 months ago we went down the M180 and beat them with goals from a couple of their former players. They had a man sent off and Kevin van Veen was baited every time he touched the ball.

You actually felt sorry for them. They looked abysmal and offered nothing. Ian Holloway came onto the pitch at full time to applaud the fans, and we all went home happy with the result and felt positive about our future.

Of course, we weren’t to know that a global pandemic would finish the season — just like we weren’t to know that we’d release some of our best players and replace them with non-league punts because our board wasn’t willing to contribute a single penny of its combined wealth during a crisis that threatened our existence.

And yet, they insisted Shutes & Co prove they had the funds to get us through any potential hardship. Brazen. 

Scunny are no better now than they were on 7 March 2020. Our victory on that date proved to be another false dawn — a bit like the one we were given when JJ Hooper scored a hat-trick at the tree huggers and we could dream of not being in the bottom half of the fourth division.

Then, as now, we went backwards. Austerity (which is not his real name) tightened his purse strings, and his grip around the neck of the club, to leave us barely conscious. 

And that’s what we got on Saturday; a set of barely-conscious footballers going through the motions, ambling about as if there’s nothing left in their lives to inspire or motivate them. Not even a beer-fuelled darts tournament at a raucous Ally Pall could wake this lot up.

I’ve not really said anything about the players this season as the issues have clearly been at the top (three relegations, and a very possible fourth, tells you everything you need to know about the Fenty era).

Town’s penchant for giving away soft or needless free kicks, and being offside, remained a strong feature of our play — as did defending like donkeys.

Granted, the free kick that led to the opening goal wasn’t a free kick — and Eisa’s strike was special — but everyone knows there are always moments in football you can’t legislate for and yet we responded to this setback by reverting to type.

Heads dropped. A quick glance at each other. A shrug of the shoulders. No words. No galvanising. No leadership.

At one insane point, Matt Green got the wrong side of his marker to bear down on goal, albeit at an angle, but he delayed his strike and gave the defender enough time to get a block in.

We can’t do anything in the final third but as soon as we invite the opposition into our area it’s absolute chaos.

I’m not even sure how Scunthorpe’s second went in — I thought it was an own goal from our debutant loanee Rollin Menayese. But forget soft, it was positively soggy.

No one took charge and no one belted the ball clear when they had half a sniff.

We hoped we might have got a bit of new manager bounce under Hurst, but that didn’t happen. At the very least we thought we could keep us shape? No such football fortune.

This isn’t a dig at Hurst. His half-time triple substitution sort of made a difference, but then how could it not, given the bar had been set lower than Gavin Gunning.

The Iron’s third was probably — marginally — offside, but it says something about Town’s fans when, in a crucial local derby, none of us are even bothering to debate it given its futility. Scunny could’ve scored just once and they’d have been comfortable winners.

I watched the full 90 minutes on iFollow and the match report could be as succinct as this: Scunthorpe, without being at their best — and, let’s be honest, their best ain’t great — scored three goals.

Grimsby, on the other hand? Foul. Offside. Foul. Offside. Oh ffs. Foul. Offside. Come on, ref.

Given the situation, and given what was on the line, it was probably the poorest showing from a Town team in a long while. Well, since that tripe at Tranmere.

And yet Hurst’s post-match interview was probably one of the best. I found myself standing up and applauding him from my dining table at home when he tore into the players and questioned their desire.

When your whole career exists in such a competitive environment, your desire should be the last thing that gets questioned.

The league table doesn’t quite look as disastrous as it could have done, had Southend not lost in the week and then again on Saturday.

Stevenage lost also. And by virtue of not playing, Barrow improved their situation too. Scunthorpe have put distance between themselves and us on a day when we could have gone above them. I don’t believe Bradford are in any genuine danger of going down.

The next two games — away at Barrow and home to Stevenage — have quickly become must-win when a must-not-lose scenario had previously been the minimum requirement.

In terms of quality, this is one of the worst fourth divisions I’ve seen since we began playing in it in 2004. And we’re one of the worst teams in it.

Getting us back into the Football League was hard work. If Hurst keeps us in it from this position, it’ll rank as an even better achievement.

A trudge. Match report: Grimsby 0-0 Southend

A lot was made of the state of the Blundell Park pitch going into this match, but it’s the state of our squad that continues to give us the most concern.

With no new additions in the week, Hurst had the same crop of crap to choose from, minus Morais, Clifton and Rose, who were all nursing injuries.

Spokes and Hewitt in the centre of midfield is about as inspiring as the Pyewipe estate on an overcast day — industrious, but nothing much to look at.

If naming Preston on the left of midfield was the best curveball Hurst could throw at Southend, it tells you all you need to know about our current predicament.

It’s unfair to say that Green can’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo when he’s not ever in the vicinity of a cow to even attempt it, but the bloke was desperate for something more than George ‘international’ Williams to work with.

However, there was some hope in seeing Big Jim Hanson on the bench. Sat next to him were five more attacking options, and Sam Russell.

This was a must-not-lose game — and we didn’t lose it, virtue of some stoic defending when needed and an excellent star-jump save from McKeown right at the death.

It may have actually done us good to weather some pressure in the first half. Southend had the better of it and found the side netting early on. The pressure brought a succession of corners, but Town always seemed to do just enough to clear their lines.

Given our propensity to concede early on in just about every game we play, there must have been a sense among the players that we’d emerged unscathed from a period when we usually go behind.

The match stats show that we had just one shot on target all match, and that came early on from a 20-yard Matt Green shot that drifted politely into the midriff of the Southend keeper.

Spokes blazed over a little later from a similar distance and I can’t really remember us doing anything else of note in the final third for the rest of the match.

At least we had a go in the second half against Cambridge. That said, Cambridge were 2-0 up and not interested in taking any risks whatsoever, so the comparison is as futile as the signing of Alhagi Touray Sisay.

You didn’t get a lot of excitement for your £10.

But if it’s unnecessary fouls you tune in for, then Town absolutely delivered. Elliott Hewitt was the pick of the bunch, scoring about seven our eight fouls alone, and somehow escaping a yellow card.

At one point in the second half, Southend won a free kick and got two of their own players booked. Can’t say I’ve seen that too often.

It was just a very bitty, very scrappy, very poor game of football. Southend created more and came closest to scoring, but it was as messy and untidy as a students’ communal kitchen at 2am following a big night out.

Hanson replaced Williams midway through the second half, which should’ve helped, but it didn’t. I like Big Jim but he jogged around like his spine was Royal Doulton china; too afraid to go near anyone for fear he’d break.

Sean “1 in 10” Scannell (seven times out of ten he’s injured; two times he plays and is anonymous; but he’ll play brilliantly once — as described by my Huddersfield-supporting work colleague) made a late appearance from the bench, but he looks like a man who has been told he’s made of wax and has just had his wick lit.

Jackson also got a bit of game time. While he brought with him energy that other subs lacked, his touch was heavy and his running off the ball was as wayward as John Fenty’s character judgments.

But let’s not rip into the team unnecessarily. We certainly kept us shape better than the two previous games; we earned a clean sheet against one of the division’s form teams and we remain in touch with the three to four teams immediately above us in the table.

It could’ve been worse. It’s not a motto to live by but we’re Grimsby Town, and we know what worse looks like.

Hurst has another week to work some magic in the transfer market, and players like Hanson and Scannell have more time to improve their fitness.

Morais looks like our best option to link midfield with attack, and he could be back in time for the trip to Scunny next weekend. Gibson and Jackson remain options off the bench while we wait for a saviour to be signed.

The Holloway Year: a tale of chaos, calamities and dishonesty

Ah, do you remember the time we were managed by that great footballing philosopher, Ian Holloway? When the path was the path and mud went on the mud?

Well, the mud got chucked at the wall, in the hope that some of it stuck. Very little of it did. And then we found out it wasn’t mud, but shit.

It all still seems like a very bad dream, except it actually happened. The almost total absence of pre-season; the covid-clause; a complete absence of an assistant manager; signing 74 attacking players who, between them, couldn’t score at a Bags’ Ball.

I mean, we’re just scratching the surface here. Playing Harry Clifton at left back; releasing two centre backs when we were playing three in the first team; signing seven players on season-long loans when we could only name a maximum of five in a match day squad. The Bilel Mohsni scooter thing.

I watched the film Compliance recently. It’s based on a true story — a caller posed as a police officer and got some restaurant staff to do some unimaginable things to each other because all the workers accepted the caller’s authority without question.

When you think about it, Holloway did a whole load of stuff to us that was weird at best, and damaging at worst. And we just sleepwalked through it.

I suppose we went along with it because, you know, it was Ian Holloway; the football manager for the Mighty Boosh generation.

We knew he was quirky; it was part of the deal. Not everything he said made sense, but that was fine because he’s kooky and eccentric. And he got Blackpool into the Premier League that time (just as Town were being relegated from the Football League).

Mad as a box of frogs. Daft, but in a harmless way. At least that was the theory.

Plymouth fans warned us that he might ditch us the moment he gets a better offer. Millwall fans warned us that he might be shit.

But he’d become more than a manager here, investing £100,000 into the club and joining the board of directors. It later turned out that he never made that investment.

That, even if it felt generous, was a little unusual. But, you know, it’s Ian Holloway. It was a sign of his commitment, and certainly not for a more-than-dubious investment opportunity that we were only going to find out about 11 months down the line.

But there was one bigger alarm bell ringing from day one — and while many of us probably heard it, none of us really worried about it, such was the state of our paralysis. It was his rather over-friendly and uncomfortable allegiance to John Fenty.

In retrospect, it had all the hallmarks of a relationship that spoke more about business than it did football.

We never really stopped to question Holloway’s football intelligence based on the level he’d previously managed at. We were just grateful that he could see us from his media-hyped tower, never mind join us.

But if Holloway had any emotional intelligence, or any sense of judgment, he’d have known not to side with Fenty — or at least not be so openly friendly with him.

While many (including me) praised Fenty’s ability to bring a manager of Holloway’s supposed calibre to Cleethorpes, the fact remained that our major shareholder was still deeply unpopular with many of our fans. The relationship had long passed the point of no return.

Media-savvy Ollie thought he could be best mates with Fenty and the fans. And for a while, that was the case, as we saw out what remained of the 2019/20 season in both good form and good spirits.

But then things unravelled quite spectacularly over the summer.

When he initially joined the Mariners, jolly Ollie spoke at length (typically unprompted) about standards and regrets — particularly about the way he left Plymouth — only to flee Grimsby like a rat from a sinking ship at the first moment of trouble.

But that’s putting it kindly. There were many signs of trouble on the pitch, long before the 2020/21 season started, but his cute media persona allowed him to escape any sort of backlash from the fans.

The summer was an absolute shambles. While most League 2 clubs were assembling squads and playing friendlies, Town couldn’t find it within themselves to retain our better players, then bizarrely chose not to arrange any friendlies bar one against neighbouring Cleethorpes Town.

Signings came late and were so wild that it was difficult to understand what the recruitment strategy was.

After returning to training later than every other club in the division, the whole squad then had to self-isolate just a few games into the new season following one player’s positive covid test.

That gave Holloway enough ammunition to complain about fixture pile-up; personal safety, injuries, and being forced to sign players who couldn’t play 90 minutes.

Although it created a positive story, he chucked on 15-year-old Louis Boyd in our Mickey Mouse cup draw with Harrogate, who promptly scored, breaking two club records in the process. A tremendous feat, for sure, but Holloway made it seem like he had no other choice, despite having 30 full-time pros on his books.

He insisted on asking fourth division footballers to play out from the back when clearly none of them were capable.

He dropped our first choice keeper in favour of the goalkeeping coach, who subsequently dropped a clanger at Southend — to Greg Halford, a player who had been training with us for weeks but chose to sign for Southend the day before the game.

I mean, if you were an ambitious writer who liked to push boundaries, you wouldn’t dare write the script that Holloway was leading. It was a dark comedy to most, but pretty bleak for us living it.

Then the whole Alex May affair came to light. It’s not worth me repeating it here, but it raised serious questions of our major shareholder and his duties as a local councillor, plus the integrity of our entire board — which, of course, included a certain Mr Holloway.

Actively pursuing a £1m investment from a convicted property fraudster was not the sort of future Grimsby fans wanted.

Holloway was on the board of directors. It’s fair to assume he knew the details of the investment. In fact, it’s fair to assume he knew the details up front, back in December 2019, when John Fenty persuaded him to join the Mariners.

But when the news broke, Holloway thought he’d found a way to side with the fans. He made no comment of the investment, neither confirming or denying his knowledge of it, as Fenty bore the brunt of the backlash.

Instead, he made his own statement, via Twitter, to say the fans were different class; he was here for the football and he was going nowhere unless told to.

Six days later, he walked.

In his resignation tweets, Holloway said he felt unsettled after he was contacted by far more credible and entirely more ethical people regarding a separate takeover. He believed a fresh start for everyone was best.

In the club’s official statement on the same matter, it suggested Holloway was only interested in working with the current board — you know, the one that likes to invite criminals to invest.

It’s doubtful that Holloway enjoyed much of the football management side here at Grimsby. His recruitment was abysmal; his tactics were haphazard or incomprehensible; and then there was that time he claimed Tranmere played a different system to what we were expecting when they trounced us 5-0, even though ex-Mariner Paul Bolland on radio commentary duty that day said Tranmere had, in fact, played the exact same system in the previous two matches.

Holloway brought absolute chaos to our once proud club. He was snippy with the local media, defensive about poor results on the pitch and absolutely silent about his conduct off it.

In the end, Holloway was exposed for being nothing more than a soundbite with a deceptive and duplicitous core; someone who was in cahoots with Fenty — a man with morals so low you’d need a special ROV to scrape them off the base of the Mariana Trench.

The final kick in the balls, though, was when Holloway went and hit top bins on Soccer AM to take the plaudits of the armchair football fans across the country. Meanwhile, none of the players he signed for Grimsby can hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.

Holloway has already intimated that he may not manage a football club again, thus making it his decision when, for any reasonably informed football club owners out there, he should never be a credible option anyway.

Meanwhile, his assertion that the Grimsby owners were ‘hounded out’ (by the fans, or the prospective new owners, or both) highlights his tunnel vision further. It’s a conscious effort to ignore the tale of the past two decades, in which Town fans have stories aplenty of how Fenty brought austerity to GTFC while board members pocketed any profits.

I’ll wrap up with a quote from the Hollow Man himself:

I was given some decent values from my mum and dad in our council house, and one of them was honesty and trust and loyalty. And I forgot to do all that at Plymouth. I left them, and I made the biggest mistake of my life.

It appears he also forgot to do all that at Grimsby, although I somehow doubt he regards leaving us as a mistake.

However, we are not an isolated case. Holloway’s history is catching up with him, which may explain why it seems likely he’ll pursue his media interests over football management in the future.

Here in Grimsby, he’ll be remembered as Mr Runaway; the man who talked the talk but chose to walk when he put our Football League existence on the precipice.

Beware the man who speaks about trust; he’s often the one you can trust the least.

Tragic. Match report: Grimsby 0-4 Leyton Orient

Supporting the Mariners is a bit like owning a cat. I’m not really sure why any of us do it. They don’t seem to give a lot back.

Take my cat, for instance. I tell her I love her, but I seem to spend about 90% of my time being annoyed by her.

They scratch your furniture, pick holes in your carpets, do horrible stinks in the litter tray, walk across your laptop while you’re working, and they’re prepared to spend hours and hours just staring at you, and intimidating you, until they’ve ground down what resistance you thought you had to get what they want.

They know your greatest weakness; that you’ll give in, eventually. Again and again.

Once in a while, they’ll provide you with some memories to treasure but, on the whole, they’re arseholes.

Well, they are.

Grimsby Town know my weakness. They know I’ll return, no matter what.

They know my love for them is unconditional because I was born at Croft Baker and grew up being able to see the floodlights from our garden.

And so, on a dull October afternoon at Blundell Park, the Mariners put in one of their dullest performances for many seasons as they conceded four goals without reply to a side whose manager had literally days to get to know his players.

And yet it was Town who played like complete strangers.

Such was Town’s ineptitude, even now I’m wondering whether Leyton Orient were actually any good.

They got near the Mariners’ goal twice in the opening 20 minutes and stuck the ball in the net both times. The defending for each was tragic.

We can’t keep conceding first. It’s one thing conceding first to a worldie; it’s something else when the opener was easily preventable at three separate stages.

You could measure the level of shitness at Town’s defending for the second goal because Orient centre back Josh Coulson looked genuinely embarrassed to score it.

Town had chances to score at 2-0. Their keeper lived up to his name and made two ‘brill’ saves – both at his near post, either side of half time.

Hanson somehow scooped the ball over the bar from six yards and sub Whitehouse nodded wide from a similar distance when he should’ve at least hit the target.

Other than that, Town were rubbish. There was at least some intensity from the half time subs, Green and Ogbu, but it begged the question: were the hell was it in the first half?

Why do we have to go 2-0 down for us to start playing like we should’ve done from the start?

I’m less concerned about the third and fourth goals, which were a result of our pressing to get back into the game.

Jolley at least put all our available attacking players on the pitch. Don’t ask me to tell you what formation he had them playing in, though.

The first half, in a nutshell, was a Town centre back – usually Waterfall – launching the ball 50 yards towards Rose on the left. At least Monkhouse was tall, and could win a few headers.

Rose, a player notorious for his pace, barely got to use it. You could’ve brought your part-time mate to the game yesterday and as they headed for the exit after the third goal they wouldn’t have had a clue that he was meant to be quick.

I’m a big fan of us playing our young players, but Clifton never got on the ball and Vernam was isolated on the right.

We never looked like we wanted to pass it through the middle, but I’m not going to criticise Clifton and Hess if that’s what the team was instructed to do.

Öhman met his match in Harrold and struggled to win his headers, while Hanson was as ineffective in the air as I’ve seen.

We spent the whole of pre-season practising this 4-3-3 formation and, while it’s worked for us on a few occasions, yesterday’s match would have you think we’d never played it before.

Hewitt in midfield? Get out of here.

We’ve got a selection of strikers who are more than capable of scoring goals at this level, and the only player in our squad who offers genuine width and is capable of putting crosses into the box is out injured.

There are too many unanswered questions for mid-October.

On his return to Blundell Park, 10 years on from the shit-show that was Mike Newell’s alcohol-infused reign, Joe Widdowson must have thought nothing has changed.

And in many ways, he’d be right.