Decent but not quite dominant: Chester report

Scott Neilson in action for Grimsby Town.

Image taken from the Grimsby Telegraph.

Three more points and one game closer to the end of the season: Grimsby Town’s 2-1 win over Chester at Blundell Park on Saturday edges them nearer to confirming their place in the Conference play-offs, but there are a couple of tricky ties on the horizon that could yet provide more twists and turns before the 2013/14 campaign is complete.

Five points ahead of sixth placed Braintree – who recorded an impressive 3-2 win at leaders Luton – should be a big enough gap to get over the line barring a disastrous run of results, but when in-form Halifax visit Cleethorpes on Tuesday night they have the chance to leapfrog the Mariners with a victory.

Town’s performance against a fairly limited Chester side was difficult to assess. Scott Neilson and Alex Rodman were effective on the wings in the first half as the Mariners passed through midfield and approached the Blues’ goal as a team. The opening goal was deserved and created by good work from Rodman, who picked out Oumare Tounkara to finish from eight yards out.

The visitors looked like they had equalised within a couple of minutes, but the offside flag denied Hobson from what was their first meaningful attack on goal.

Tounkara was then tripped near the edge of the box when chasing a ball away from goal to win a penalty, but Neilson saw his tame spot kick saved. The half time discussion centred around whether that miss would be costly as Town could and should have been at least two goals to the good.

Town were less of an attacking threat in the second half as Chester enjoyed more possession. James McKeown flapped at a cross that was lifted over the bar at the far post, and later parried a shot into the path of a player following up, but he also lifted his effort into the Osmand stand.

Andy Cook replaced Tounkara with 20 minutes to go and was immediately effective; winning his first header to set up Jennings, who poked wide, and then later taking a long McKeown punt brilliantly on his chest before turning, weaving and beating his man, only to drag his 20-yard effort wide. He finally got his goal – and Town’s second – after Neilson crafted something from nothing, beating his man to the bye-line and then squeezing the ball across a congested six-yard box where Cook was ready to snaffle the chance.

The consolation goal from the Blues right at the death was nothing more than an absolute fluke.

There were periods of dominance, and periods of containment; there were moments of menacing persistence and then moments of mild peril. Town looked a team, but also individuals. It was a contradictory sort of performance – one that leaves the glass-half-full fan claiming it was effective and encouraging, but the glass-half-empty fan wondering whether we’re good enough to make any sort of mark if and when the play-offs come around.

A few years ago I went to watch a Harrogate Town match where they picked apart Hinckley in a Conference North match (bear with me – this is relevant!). They played a 3-5-2 formation and won easily and impressively. It was so impressive that I went back again and saw the same thing – another dominant performance and another convincing result. Their manager at the time was Neil Aspin.

It’s no surprise to me that he’s enjoying lots of success at Halifax. They’re the second highest scorers in the Conference after Luton and have begun to win on their travels to complement their outstanding home form (which Grimsby know all about). They have goals in their side and our defence will be given a stern test on Tuesday.

I was so impressed with Aspin’s Harrogate side that I once (actually, twice) tried to start an ‘Aspin to Town’ rumour on The Fishy when the Mariners first sacked Buckley and then Mike Newell. It’s unlikely that Aspin ever had a conversation with anyone at Grimsby about the vacant managerial positions at those times, but it was worth a stab as I believed he was one of non-league’s brightest bosses – and he’s proving to be just that at The Shay, having dropped two divisions to join them in 2009 and leading them to three successive promotions.

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