So the wheels have officially fallen off, then. The spherical spoke-holders of Grimsby Town’s rickety horse-drawn cart departed in underwhelming fashion during Tuesday night’s 2-1 defeat at Southport, which now leaves the Mariners 9th in the Conference table – four points outside the play-offs, but with four games in hand.
Four points off the play-offs with four games in hand, you say? Seems a bit premature to be reaching for the razor blades, or sticking your head in an oven. True, Town have only won one of their last seven league games, which can now be classed as a ‘blip’, but it’s hardly a 5-0 defeat at Braintree, or a 2-1 defeat at Chasetown. Or a 4-0 trashing at Halifax.
Maybe the wheels are still there, because we’re still on the play-off track. The season is very much alive.
Of course the fans are feeling the frustration of a disappointing midweek defeat against a club battling the drop. We were programmed to expect more than that when we beat Scunthorpe at Glanford Park in the FA Cup and gave Huddersfield Town a ruddy good scare in the third round. We expected more because we played great football at Cambridge last month to become the first team to take any points off them at the Abbey Stadium this season.
So what’s gone so horribly wrong?
In three words: Nobody really knows. Personally I’m not sure why a bunch of professional footballers who had enjoyed two great cup runs and an excellent league campaign suddenly became a bunch of professional footballers scared witless at the thought of having the ball at their feet. We’ve lost confidence, creativity and conviction – and no one can put their finger on why.
Although Lenell John-Lewis has begun to find the net with a bit more regularity (he’s now on eight for the season), he’s struggling in his hold-up play, which was the only reason he kept his place in the team earlier this season when he wasn’t scoring. Ross Hannah – also on eight goals for the season – is having to do his best seagull impression since he’s being asked to feed off scraps.
We’ve now started to make silly defensive mistakes, too. Between them, Clayton McDonald, Paul Bignot and Shaun Pearson were responsible for the goals we conceded at Southport. Rodman’s tracking back wasn’t too clever in the FA Trophy semi-final first leg at Cambridge, and our defensive line had more holes than a colander in the home leg to allow the U’s to extend their aggregate lead to one that ultimately became too much for us to overturn.
And then we’ve had injuries, which are beginning to mount up. First we lost Liam Hearn for the rest of the season before McDonald and Kerr were sidelined over the New Year Period. Today we’re again missing McDonald along with Aswad Thomas, Joe Colbeck, Paddy McLaughlin and Onoure Tounkara – as well as Hearn.
Some fans have questioned the quality of the two January signings, but it’s easy to forget that both Tounkara and Jamal Fyfield played their parts in that impressive win at Cambridge.
But let’s not get silly over all this. The Mariners, on the whole, are doing ok. With the form that Luton are currently showing, no one is being naive enough to suggest we could go up automatically. The play-offs remain our realistic ambition and, as mentioned at the top of this article, they remain very much in view.
We’re all desperate to see us do well, of course we are. Criticisms – warranted or not – only come from our desire to see us succeed. But it gets to the point where it can be counter-productive. Calls for manager Paul Hurst to be sacked are way off the mark, especially when you consider that the teams who achieve success at this level are the ones that have managers that know the non-league scene.
Our task for the season has become more difficult through a loss of form and a lengthening injury list. But Hurst has proven that he can handle the team in the face of adversity. Let’s not forget how poor we looked at The Shay back in September when the Rob Scott debacle was trundling on in the background. Hurst turned it around from there, and it’s now a great chance for him to show that he’s got the managerial nous to do it again under a different set of challenging circumstances.