Town have won four of their first nine games of the season and currently sit in the top half of the Conference table. On the face of it, many neutrals may wonder why the fans are so upset. After all, it’s not like we’re where Macclesfield are. And things can always be worse – take Stockport County, for example.
But when you dig a little deeper and look at the situation in context, you begin to understand just why there’s such discontent amongst the Mariners’ faithful.
Firstly, losing 4-0 at Halifax last night. That’s unacceptable for a squad of full-time professionals. This is sport, and anything can happen. Part-timers occasionally do triumph over their better paid opponents – but not usually by such a margin. The manner of the defeat suggests there’s a problem that runs deeper than just one of the managers being suspended in mysterious circumstances.
But perhaps what frustrates the fans more than anything else this season is the managers’ insistence on forcing a formation and tactics that clearly don’t suit the players they have at their disposal – talented players at that. We’ve got the best group of strikers we’ve had in years, and yet they’re just wasting away on the bench or at home.
This 4-3-3 system has alienated the best player at the club. Liam Hearn is a goalscorer. He proved that before he joined, and – for once – he’s proved it in the black and white stripes too. He’s the sort of quality player you build your squad around.
But instead he’s played wide left – when he can get in the side. He recently disappeared off Twitter, and the cynic in me can’t help but wonder whether that had anything to do with impending news that he knew the fans wouldn’t like. Such as handing in a transfer request. Maybe.
Andy Cook is another talented striker. For such a young man he holds the ball up well and wins most of his aerial challenges. He’s the perfect foil for someone like Hearn in a 4-4-2. He was our top goalscorer last season too. But he’s been benched because he’s supposedly not shown enough in training. I’d have thought his goals last season would’ve been enough to justify his place in the team this season.
And then there’s Ross Hannah – a striker who scored more than 50 goals in one season for Matlock. He scored almost a goal a game to fire us to the top of the league last year while on loan. We paid money to Bradford to bring him to Blundell Park in January, and then we put him on the bench to accommodate the disastrous loan of Richard Brodie.
I won’t go into detail about the release of Ian Miller. I really haven’t got the energy for that – suffice to say that we now have a much weaker defence without him, which heaps even more importance on playing strikers who can score goals to win games.
I have nothing personal against Lenell John-Lewis. He works hard for the team but he just doesn’t score goals. He’s not the answer to this growing problem.
Hearn, Cook and Hannah may be out of sorts. They might be short of confidence. And I’m not surprised, if they’re being taken out of the team just so the managers can accommodate players that clearly aren’t as good as them.
The only way these quality players will regain their form is to make them feel loved. Make them feel wanted. There’s no better remedy than putting them back in the starting XI.
Broadly speaking, if you asked me when it was that Town last played really well across 90 minutes, I’d probably say December 2012. We pulled apart teams in the run-up to Christmas last year. We dominated games and scored goals. And, largely speaking, we’ve still got those same attacking players at our disposal right now – including Scott Neilson.
This is what’s agitating the fans. They want to see an end to this management stubbornness. They want to see their goalscorers – their favourite players; their heroes – back on the pitch. Not banished to the sidelines because this formation and John-Lewis might come good. It’s clearly doing nothing of the sort – and last night should have proved it once and for all.
I’m generally supportive of managers and very rarely call for them to be sacked. I believe in continuity. But the solution to this mess seems so glaringly obvious. What doesn’t seem so apparent, sadly, is whether Hurst sees it.
I doubt this situation can be retrieved. There’s a sense that there’s irreversible damage between the manager(s) and our key players – and that only usually leads to one thing.