It wasn’t so long ago that Grimsby Town’s fans were lamenting the lack of conviction in their team’s style of play. Having limped over the play-off line with a tense 1-0 win over bottom club Hyde, and with pundits not expecting the Mariners to even reach the final at Wembley on 18 May, the club’s chances have been played down to such an extent that it appears to have galvanised the supporters and generated some genuine positivity (which has been in short supply despite a good season).
This campaign has followed a similar pattern to that of last, which gave us decent, commanding performances pre-Christmas and then questionable loan acquisitions in January, which led to a squad rotation policy that had an adverse effect on many players’ form and confidence.
The squad rotation was an effort to keep the players fresh, but when the time came to cash in on that policy, we were given two lethargic, languid and limp performances against the eventual play-off winners without so much as a sniff of a goal in either leg.
Ticket sales for Thursday night’s play-off first leg against Gateshead at Blundell Park have been going well and look set to beat last season’s equivalent game against Newport. The club has announced that it’s expecting more than 6,000 fans through the turnstiles. If optimism and positivity were measured in ticket sales then something different is occurring this season. So what is it?
The truth is, I don’t know. Our form going into the play-offs has been sketchy and doesn’t quite match that of last season when we finished 10 unbeaten. Perhaps it’s been down to our resilience away from home, where we’ve been able to grind out 1-0 wins and keep five clean sheets from seven.
As manager Paul Hurst has said, you could make a case for avoiding all three other teams in the play-offs. Halifax did the double over us, including a sobering 4-0 defeat at The Shay; Cambridge beat us at home in the league and got the better of us over two legs in the FA Trophy semi-final; and Gateshead are unbeaten in 12 going into tomorrow night’s match.
Perhaps being the underdog suits us in a league where, on the whole, we’ve been favourites in just about every game we’ve played. And we didn’t do too badly when we were underdogs in the FA Cup games against Scunthorpe, Northampton and Huddersfield this season.
One thing is for sure – with a big gate guaranteed for the home leg, and a possible 1,000 travelling fans from the north east (which, even now, no one knows whether to take seriously since their average home gate is less than that), the atmosphere will be a hark back to the old second division days. It’s a pity we can’t be guaranteed the same in the second leg.
That’s because Sunday’s game is being played in what must be one of the worst football venues in the UK. The Gateshead International Stadium might has the word ‘international’ in its title, and that’s because you’re forced to watch the action from another country. Not that that will matter much if Town get the result their fans want and their players deserve.