The Hurst debate: should we stick or twist?

Paul Hurst watches the action from the touchline.

Image taken from the Grimsby Telegraph.

Emotions are still raw following Grimsby’s play-off semi-final defeat to Gateshead on Sunday. Mariners fans have already begun to voice their opinions on manager Paul Hurst’s position and speculate what might happen in the coming days, weeks and months. Here’s my two-penneth worth.

It’s an instinctive reaction of the football fan to talk about sacking the manager when your team doesn’t achieve what it hoped to achieve at the start of the season. Hurst led the team to a play-off position, which was the very least everyone expected. The manner in which he got his team to play – in particular his squad rotation and cautious approach to both home and away fixtures – left many feeling a bit frustrated that we weren’t playing with the confidence and attacking intent of a club that really believed it was going for promotion.

We had a group of proven goalscorers at Conference level and failed to get the best out of them. The loss of Liam Hearn to injury was a blow, but the likes of Andy Cook, Connor Jennings and to a degree Ross Hannah – who still finished the season with 15 goals – were never given a consistent run in the side.

Rather than offer another analysis of what happened and what might have been (no matter how tempting it is to air my opinions on the Gateshead player who cheated to con the referee in getting a fellow professional sent off) I’m going to add to the debate of whether Hurst should stay or go.

Stick or twist?

We have to be very careful for what we wish for. There is an argument to say we played better attacking football in previous seasons (when we put five past Alfreton twice and seven past Stockport) but we finished 11th that season.

Hurst has a very good win percentage as manager – somewhere around the 50% mark – and has led us to a play-off position while in sole charge and as joint manager with Rob Scott. Experience like that is exactly what we’d be looking for in any other alternative manager.

We also hear often enough about the demand for stability. When John Still joined Luton last season he explained that success might yet take another two or three years. As it turns out, he managed to deliver much sooner – but the point still stands. Even an experienced old head like Still knows the importance that stability can play.

Hurst has over three years’ experience of managing in the Conference. He knows the league and its players well, so there’s an argument to say that he understands what it takes to build a squad of players at this level and get them performing to achieve a top four finish. Could another manager guarantee that? It’s possible, but it would be a bit of a gamble.

I, for one, am fed up of us gambling. We have a decent manager already at the club. Of course we have moans and groans about his team selections and the way he gets them to play, but he’s an intelligent man and he’ll have no doubt learnt a lot from where we fell short this season. I’m willing to see what kind of team he’ll pull together for next season and see how he’ll get them to play.

He’s a young manager, perhaps still adapting to being in sole charge of the club. I can’t see how he’ll allow us to go backwards. The one thing I will say is that he’s already got his card marked by many fans who simply want a change. If we do change, and a new manager comes in and leads us to another play-off defeat, do we then sack him? When will the sacking, and the constant chopping and changing, end?

I’m sure it’s controversial, but I believe we should stick with Hurst. If we were managerless, we’d be looking for a manager who knows the league and who has a proven track record of winning games at this level. Hurst ticks both boxes – and while not all of us like the way we’ve played, I’m sure that will be adapted next season according to the players he brings in.

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