Just when I was starting to believe that Grimsby Town were heading for their third successive goalless draw to begin the season, John-Paul Pittman’s arse deflected Paddy McLaughlin’s 20-yard shot to get the Mariners’ campaign up and running. But then some naive defending allowed Dover to draw level, and they should have won it in injury time but for James McKeown’s heroic penalty save.
Town’s makeshift 3-5-2 formation featured Carl Magnay on the right wing, with McLaughlin on the left. After playing pre-season in the centre, the Northern Irishman has found himself out on the left again, where he clearly doesn’t want to be. There was no genuine width going up the pitch – and with Pittman, Nathan Arnold and James Mackreth on the bench, Town were completely devoid of pace too.
Dover were very average, and although they created one or two decent chances in a largely forgettable first half there was a point in the second when they became happy to sit back and settle for the point. But then Pittman’s posterior broke the deadlock – and from that point the Mariners should never have allowed Athletic to equalise.
But they did. One of three Town players had a chance to deposit Christian Nanetti into the lower Findus stand with just minutes remaining, but the Italian wriggled free and broke away to square for Matt Lock, who slipped the ball low past McKeown to level the scores.
Although the Mariners were far from fluent, they’d probably worked hard enough to earn the win, but that goal was difficult to take for all in Blundell Park – especially Paul Hurst, who let his feelings be known in the post-match press conference.
And it could have got worse when Andrew Boyce was adjudged by the referee, who was inconsistent all afternoon, to have hauled down someone in a pink shirt on the edge of the six-yard box in injury time. Having watched the highlights, the Dover player does throw himself to the ground rather theatrically, but Hurst appeared to have no problem with the decision. For some reason, the referee only booked Boyce, even though he was the last man, which sort of summed up his performance.
McKeown showed why he’s the best keeper in the Conference by diving low to his right to push Nanetti’s spot kick around the post.
At the start of the game we were discussing our embarrasssment of riches in central defence, and at half time Boyce, Toto Nsiala and Shaun Pearson were making defending look like a piece of cake. It was difficult to see how Dover were going to get a sniff of a chance. But at the other end Alan Connell continued to look rusty while Lenell John-Lewis’s endeavour went unrewarded, hitting the post and firing wide when well placed.
Scott Brown was industrious in the centre of the park, while Craig Clay was largely anonymous. Craig Disley was somewhere in between.
Hurst hasn’t had the luxury of playing his strongest side this season, what with his pacy players all out injured and Scott Neilson suspended. Now that Aswad Thomas is out for at least six weeks it presents another conundrum for a manager who hasn’t had much luck with injuries this month. It makes one wonder whether pre-season training was overly rigorous, or whether we just have injury prone players.
All in all the game wasn’t short of action once it woke from its slumber, but the 3-5-2 didn’t work and was crying out for some pace and genuine width. Balls into the channels weren’t chased and Connell and John-Lewis don’t look close to establishing an effective strike partnership. Pittman looked lively when he came on, which at least provides some comfort.
All That and a Bag of Chips’ Man of the Match: Toto Nsiala