The state of play at Grimsby Town: what now for Hurst, Fenty and the fans?

Paul Hurst looking pensive

Image courtesy of the Grimsby Telegraph.

It’s been a weird week in the world of Grimsby Town. Two underwhelming draws against teams expected to battle against the drop and fans remain disgruntled with the lack of bite up front, calling for a change in management. On Thursday major shareholder John Fenty said sacking Paul Hurst wouldn’t be an ‘appropriate or sensible action‘. So what now for Hurst, Fenty and the fans?

John Fenty and his comments

I’m not entirely sure what value we can attach to Fenty’s comments. Was it a vote of confidence for Hurst, who’s feeling the pressure more so now than of any other time in sole charge of the club? If it wasn’t a vote of confidence, then what exactly was it?

Whether Fenty says something or nothing, we’re still left guessing as to what he’ll actually do.

This sense of insecurity and unpredictability comes from years of him making poorly timed and ill-judged statements. And we all know our last two managers were sacked just days after he declared that sacking them wouldn’t benefit the club. He was right, but it didn’t stop him from doing it.

Sadly, the formation of his character can’t be undone or quickly forgotten. Fans struggle to trust that what he says is genuine or sincere.

So for me, his comments offer no clarity on the situation whatsoever. Defeats at Wrexham and Torquay, and the threat of dwindling home attendances on the immediate horizon, will almost certainly force Fenty’s hand.

And when I say Fenty, I of course mean him and the board of directors.

Paul Hurst and his strikers

I have long been an advocate of Hurst and was one of those fans happy to see him stay over the summer. His record between the Rob Scott saga and Christmas last season was impressive; sadly that form didn’t continue into 2014, although he did enough to steer the side into the play-offs.

Our lack of fire power cost us in the home leg against Gateshead, and unfortunately that theme – despite the recruitment of some decent players – has continued into this season. I like Hurst because he offered some stability during a fractious time at the club. He’s spoken sensibly and honestly in the media and clearly forges strong relationships with the majority of the players he works with.

But I’m not blind to his faults, either – and here’s my argument as to why we’ll never score a bagful of goals with Hurst at the helm: he just can’t get strikers scoring.

Attacking approach

I admire his loyalty to Lenell John-Lewis and I appreciate the shifts he puts in. I understand that Hurst uses him in a way that means he’ll never score 20 goals a season, and I believe him when he says he’s the type of player all strikers want alongside them. I get all that; I just don’t think this is the only way to use strikers in the Conference.

Alan Connell and Liam Hearn managed to score plenty of goals without a John-Lewis-type striker alongside them (although you could argue that Anthony Elding had some similar qualities). Our team doesn’t have to have John-Lewis in it.

But I really do believe that Hurst has no other ideas when it comes to forming his striking tactics. His hand is slightly forced by the lack of personnel he has at his disposal right now, and while he’s been unlucky with the injury to Jon-Paul Pittman, who has impressed when he’s played, there really isn’t anyone else to blame but himself.

Track records and loss of form

This time two years ago Andy Cook and Ross Hannah were on fire. Fed by Scott Neilson drifting in from the left, the trio were central to our rise to the top of the league. Sadly that Cook/Hannah partnership was rarely played again. It was dismantled by the arrival of Richard Brodie and an apparent lack of application from Cook the following pre-season was the beginning of the end of his time at the club, despite being our top scorer in 2012/13 and earning the Conference’s Young Player of the Year award.

Last season Hurst couldn’t get the best out of Cook. January reinforcements never worked out; Connor Jennings – who had proved himself a goalscorer at Macclesfield in the first half of the season – looked anything but a goalscorer in a black and white shirt, while Oumare Tounkara added very little. Hannah completely lost his way, and I’m in very little doubt that it was the constant tinkering and rotating of the strikers that meant none of them found any form when we needed them most.

Hurst’s track record in working with strikers isn’t great. Although plagued by injuries, Hearn was played out wide in the 4-3-3 formation when he was fit. Perhaps it was no surprise that he was so intent on joining Mansfield in the summer, rather than entertaining any realistic thought about giving it another go at Town.

We have had good strikers at the club. We have a couple now, but they’re either injured or out of form. When fit, they’ll only be rotated. When they start, they know they’ll be subbed after 70-75 minutes. We’re completely one dimensional and rely heavily on a player who works hard for the team but whose instinct to put the ball in the net just doesn’t come naturally.

And what about the fans?

As we are reminded often, football is an entertainment business. Fans want to be entertained, and goalless draws at home to Altrincham don’t cut the mustard. As happened with Neil Woods, Hurst could become a victim of his own success following two huge back-to-back wins, which raised expectations around Blundell Park and promised a season of goals.

There are two reasons why they’ll return to Blundell Park in November: the Mariners either pick up points at the Racecourse Ground and Plainmoor (and score a few goals along the way too) or Hurst is replaced.

Who we’d replace him with is another discussion entirely. But we should be careful what we wish for – the qualities we look for in potential managers might already be covered by what’s already on Hurst’s CV.

Personally I hope he can turn it around and find a way to solve our attacking impotency. I appreciate a lot of what he’s done as manager but he’s now facing his biggest challenge yet – this is the time to prove his worth and show his versatility in thought and approach.

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