You’re so confused, bro. Match report: Grimsby 0-1 Portsmouth

What had the Mariners been working on during their two weeks off? If it was passing the ball two yards behind their teammates, or drilling it into their feet at literally 60 mph so they’re forced to revive the Lee Ashcroft first touch that we all thought was banished to GTFC history, then the players had clearly been working very hard indeed.

This was the same starting XI that won 3-0 at leaders Plymouth a few weeks back, and if that day was the ying then this performance against Pompey was most definitely the yang.

In Devon our players were praised for their high pressing game – an approach that every ruddy club seemingly has to apply these days – yet here they were the ones being pressed, rigorously.

I mean, on the few occasions when we did find a fellow Mariner with a pass, it was made to look short of pace and a sloppy pass – such was Pompey’s keenness to get in our faces.

Most of the first half action was played in Town’s half, but while the visitors frequently took possession into our final third they didn’t really open us up – although I think it’s fair to say that there were a few heart-in-mouth moments, like when McKeown and Gowling let Pompey pounce on possession in our final third as one of them – we’re not sure who – felt it was a perfect time to experiment with telepathy, while the other preferred a more traditional form of communication.

Summerfield is the new shop you love to hate. From the moment we signed him, he was the boo-boys’ target in-waiting. Cumbersome and clunky, he represents Hurst’s last clumsy York-inspired signing. On this occasion I have to agree with the boo-boys, who are gradually being granted their wish.

Summerfield’s the big lad who used to demand the ball at all times during lunchtime games of football at school because he insisted he was the best player out there – despite not really being good enough – but no one was brave enough to tell him the truth because a) it was his ball, and b) he was shaving by the age of 13, doing handbrake turns in his double-exhaust Ford Escort on the promenade by 15, and rumoured to be nailing red hot Danielle from two years above.

And whether you thought Berrett’s performance was shit or really shit, you have to admire his ability to create midfield roles that I never knew existed before. He seems to have all the attributes for a central midfielder, and appears to occupy the general area of central midfield, yet never actually plays in a bog standard, bona fide midfield position.

So we had McKeown in goal. That’s his position. As is right back for Zak Mills, left back for Danny Andrew and centre back for Josh Gowling and Danny Collins. Omar Bogle is a centre forward and plays as such. That much is clear.

But everything in between was anyone’s guess. It was just a splodge of greyness, shifting, shuffling, stuttering and basically trying their best to remind us what it was like to have Micky Cummins and Mark Hudson in the engine room.

I like the look of Brendon Comley but I really don’t know what his role was meant to be. As for Kayden Jackson, he might say he’s happy to do a job out wide if that’s what the manager wants him to do, but the lines are so wide that you could read between them from two miles away wearing glasses with lenses as thick as milk bottle bases. He doesn’t want to be hugging the left touchline. He wants to be running the channels, scaring the shit out of opposing centre backs with pace they can’t match, distracting them to create a bit of room for Bogle, and hey – maybe even create a chance or two for himself.

And he has zero understanding with Danny Andrew. It was the left back who twice put the ball straight into touch just as Jackson made an inside run, but both have to take responsibility for that sort of shit.

I’m growing ever more certain that Scott Vernon will have his contract paid up in May and leave us without scoring a goal, and we’ll only ever mention his name again when Cod Almighty do one of their Special XI features where the topic is ‘Players who scored more goals against us in one game than he scored for us the entire time he was on our books’. It’s a niche category but he can take his place alongside Simon Ramsden.

I can’t think of many matches where I’ve been looking at the scoreboard in the first half so regularly, hoping that we could make it to half time at 0-0. That we managed to do this sort of felt like the time I accidentally left Tesco with an extra bottle of cordial that I hadn’t scanned at the self-service till. It was a bit naughty, and I didn’t deserve it – but there was a tiny part of me that felt proud.

No changes at half time, which was massively surprising. Bignot says he’s not scared to make changes, but if ever there was a game that needed changes, this was it. To give him credit, he managed to get something different from the same group of players during the second half – plus Tom Bolarinwa. He’s not the headless chicken that Serge Makofo was, but he’s infuriating because of this. He was the only Town player for the entire game who was brave enough to carry the ball and drive into space, and nearly got his reward from a low, 30-yard side pass towards the bottom corner of the goal, which was flicked wide by the keeper at the very last moment.

Earlier, Ashley Chambers looped an effort towards the top corner, which the keeper palmed to safety. In truth, these two chances were as close as we came to scoring all afternoon – and you’ll note that Bogle hasn’t been mentioned. If he’s not scoring then we’re not scoring.

Portsmouth’s winner may have been cruel in how late it came, but it was what they deserved. I haven’t seen the free kick from any other angle than the one I had from the Pontoon, but as soon as it beat a fairly disinterested wall it looked good for a goal. My initial feeling was that maybe McKeown could’ve done a little more, but we may have still been dwelling in negative emotions after we witnessed him spill a cross just minutes earlier.

It’s difficult to see what Bignot’s style is. We’re certainly playing a more open game of football, which means we concede a bit more possession and put our defence under a bit more strain, but other than Bogle’s pre-game instructions being ‘do what you like, mate’, I’m not really seeing us ‘being braver’ or ‘making the right decisions’ that Bignot is so fond of saying in his post-match interviews. They’re a bit woolly for me.

Still, it’s early days. If you ignore that silly cup game against Sheffield United, he’s had five league games to impart his philosophy on a group of players signed by someone else, under some other ambitions, with other styles and tactics in mind, against teams above us in the table.

One day we’re going to win at home, and I’ll know what the Bignot style is. At the moment, he’s teaching a naturally cautious bunch to be more cavalier, and they’re caught between a rock and Blundell Park. Their indecision is there for all to see. Maybe the penny will drop overnight – just like it did for me when revising for my geography A-level – and we’ll give Donny a right good tonking next Saturday.

Who tampered with the script? Match report: Grimsby 2-2 Barnet

Nightmare’s over – I’m back!

What? You haven’t missed me? Well that’s a bit rude. You’d think, after gaining record hits on my last article, that I’d write more regularly (especially now that we’re back in the Football League).

But no.

I’m complicated, like tax returns. Life isn’t straightforward, and neither is supporting Grimsby.

Grimsby aren’t straightforward. If we were, we’d have won today’s match against Barnet. Bogle would’ve scored that penalty and we’d have all walked home, admiring each breath we saw before us in the cold air as we declared, in unison, that the script had been written.

Sadly, the editor-in-chief decided to tamper with the script and added a ballsack of a twist at the end.

The back five appears to pick itself at the moment. I couldn’t quite work out what was going on in midfield, but somewhere among Comley, Summerfield, Chambers and Berrett we had two occupying wide-ish positions. One was Chambers, but god knows who the other was.

Bogle had Jackson alongside him up front.

I’ve yet to see a Barnet team turn up at Blundell Park and play anything other than a brand of football that’s perfectly capable of sending a teenager high on energy drinks to sleep.

I really don’t remember much about what happened before Blur’s Bogle opened the scoring with a steely run down the left and a competent finish with his right.

Neither side had looked particularly good, but we took it alright.

Ah yes, I do remember something – Bogle had a free kick tipped over the bar. But we’re talking about what happened when we were 1-0 up now. We’ve moved on.

A little dink down the line from Andrew was miscontrolled by one of their huge defenders, and that gave Bogle just enough time to take it on and finish powerfully into the bottom corner to double Town’s advantage.

Ah, welcome the Barnet of old! The one that collapses like an England batting line-up in Bangladesh.

We afforded them too much possession before the break, but they had yet to seriously threaten McKeown in goal. They won a series of free kicks for being a bit floppy 40 yards out, but none caused any genuine danger.

What do you say to a team that’s 2-0 up at half time to keep them focused?

In complete contrast to the first, the second half got interesting within eight seconds when Comley had sight of goal from 14 yards but dragged his effort wide.

Then the penalties happened.

Gowling lost the shoulder-barge contest with Akinde down the left, and in an attempt to recover the situation he put in a very Gowling-like challenge in a very Gowling-like area, just the wrong side of the 18-yard line.

Turf, say hello to Akinde. Akinde, say hello to – oh, you know each other. Hang on, say again?! How many times???

Akinde ambled forward and stroked the ball into the left corner, possibly with his eyes closed.

His next one had a little more purpose – after Collins had hooked his legs around someone trying to cut back inside – and it was just enough to evade capture from Jimmy Mac.

I bet someone in the Soccer Saturday studio said it was a Desmond. They love a 2-2.

Right, let’s stop being silly now. Let’s not throw this away.

Barnet had a great chance to take the lead, but someone stood in a very dangerous position and looking worryingly unmarked got over-excited at the thought of scoring and scooped his effort over the bar.

That seemed to wake the Mariners up. We now had Bolarinwa on for Chambers, and he soon got booked for having the temerity to get fouled by Barnet’s left back. The referee, whose name I didn’t bother to learn, clearly thought that giving the away team two penalties hadn’t yet put him centre of attention (because both penalties were probably correct) so he started being weird.

We also had Disley on for Berrett, but sadly he wasn’t able to affect the game much.

With time running out, Vernon was introduced for Jackson and a more direct approach seemed to be creating a couple of half chances – but shots were a bit wild and few seemed to work the keeper.

A Barnet player got sent off for what looked to be a lunge. I’ll be honest; I missed that one.

Then, with injury time announced as five minutes, Gowling received a good old fashioned shove from his marker as a Zak Mills punt floated into the Barnet area, and the referee pointed to the spot.

Omar’s totally got this. His confidence is sky high. Hat-trick in his first game under his new, old boss.

There is literally no way this isn’t hitting the back of the net.

Someone in row M caught the ball and threw it back down for a goal kick.

And that was that. We’d scored two goals from open play in a league match since 1974, so that was good, but the absence of calm heads from our two centre halves cost us two points more than Omar’s miss did.

It’s early days of course, but already this team looks like it’s been given a bit more freedom in the final third. Omar seemed to have a licence to do what he liked, and it was mostly good. He was an absolute nuisance for their back line.

Elsewhere, Mills put in another accomplished performance, and Comley looks a well balanced footballer, capable of playing much higher than League 2. He and Summerfield took good care of possession, and while I’m a fan of Berrett I’m not sure he’s being played in the position that suits him most.

It should’ve been three points, it wasn’t… but Marcus’s regime started with an entertaining game, a few goals, a decent crowd, a good atmosphere, plenty of talking points – and he clapped when we sang his name.

Nice.

An outpouring of emotion: what Grimsby Town’s return to the Football League really means

Grimsby players celebrate on the pitchIn April 2003 I watched my beloved Grimsby Town surrender meekly at home to Walsall and drop out of the second division with two games still to play.

The following season, after an 8-1 defeat at Hartlepool, a 6-0 defeat at Oldham and a 5-1 defeat at Port Vale, I stood on the terrace at Tranmere, staring into the abyss, as news of a 90th minute goal elsewhere relegated us from the third division.

Two seasons later, in the fourth division, I was at Blundell Park when Northampton Town and Leyton Orient combined to deny us an automatic promotion spot we’d held all season in the very last minute of the season.

Two weeks later we lost the fourth division play-off final to Cheltenham – a team we’d beaten home and away in the regular season, and finished above in the table.

In March 2008 I was sat in the east end of Wembley as I witnessed us lose the Football League Trophy final 2-0 to the worst kind of club.

Then, the unthinkable happened. In May 2010 I watched the Mariners plummet out of the Football League on the final day of the season in a 3-0 defeat at Burton – at the expense of perennial fourth division strugglers Barnet.

Grimsby Town were a non-league club. Neither my dad, my grandad or his dad before him had seen the like. It was an all-time low.

In January 2011 we lost an FA Trophy tie 2-1 to Chasetown. In August 2011 Grimsby Town lost 5-0 at Braintree Town in our second league fixture of the season, and the football world felt like it was collapsing in on us.

Then in March 2013, when we got our first whiff of relative success, it was snatched away from us on penalties at Wembley when we lost the FA Trophy final to Wrexham.

A few weeks later we lost 1-0 home and away to Newport County in the Conference play-offs. Exactly one year later I saw our second successive play-off venture end in the semi-final stage, this time at Gateshead.

One year on, we endured the heartache of making the Conference play-off final but losing to Bristol Rovers on penalties.

Two cup final defeats. Three relegations. Four play-off defeats. Last-minute relegations. Last-minute promotion denials. Penalty defeats and all-time lows.

Fourteen years of pain. Any glimmer of success was snatched from us in the cruellest of fashions.

So what does winning promotion to the Football League mean to us Mariners?

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

We might have already been 2-1 up when Nathan Arnold scored our third in injury time, but all those years of pain had given every single one of us such an anxiety complex that it made the final half an hour feel like an eternity – and Arnold’s goal feel like a decisive winner.

In that moment there was an outpouring of emotion; six years of promise and pain – and the end of 18 years without a thing to celebrate. I couldn’t hear words; just screams. There were hugs. There were tears. There was disbelief. A whole generation of Town fans had grown up not knowing what it was like to see their club win promotion.

But despite the torment, the lows and the near misses, we finally had our day in the sun.

And what a day it was.

Play-offs: why it’s Grimsby’s time

Town have limped into the play-offs. Typical of the way we go about things, we did it by losing at home to a lower mid-table team. I was going to do my blood-pumping, finger-pointing Kevin Keegan-style ‘love it’ speech about denying Tranmere a place alongside us in the top five next weekend, but who am I kidding? We won’t win on the Wirral. With our immediate future secure, and nothing to lose – except a football match and more faith from the fans – Hurst will undoubtedly tinker his team and give game time to the kind of peripherals that won’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of playing any minutes for us in the play-off matches.

Then I remember the time Newport turned up at Blundell Park on the last day of the season in 2013, looked shite, lost 3-0, then turned us over in the play-offs twice the very next week. So maybe we shouldn’t read anything into how we do at Tranmere. I wouldn’t be disappointed in finishing 4th anyway because having the home leg first could be a blessing. Let’s get that sod out of the way – we’ve been much better on the road of late (that goes for the fans too).

And I wouldn’t be too worried about finishing 5th either as Forest Green have fallen asleep and dropped their cigarette down the side of the sofa. Braintree are the team to beat. Over two games against them this season we’ve shown that, well… we’ve shown nothing. We’ve scored a century of goals in all competitions, and none have come against these ultra-organised part-timers. The one reason I wouldn’t like to finish 5th, though, is that no team in the 13-year history of the Conference play-offs has won promotion when finishing in this position. That’s a fact, and you can have it for free.

I was at Prenton Park in May 2004 when Rovers came from behind to beat us 2-1 – and then news filtered through that Chesterfield had scored a 90th-minute winner to dump us into the fourth division. The Tranmere fans basked in our demise. Now they’ve fallen upon equally fallow times, it’d be quite nice to guarantee their place in non-league for another season while we have a fourth stab of working out how to win these bloody play-offs.

Is anyone else livid about the hand that fate has dealt us? First Cheltenham deny us promotion to League 1 in 2006 (justly so on the day, I hasten to add), then they have the audacity to absolutely steamroller the Conference when they’ve spent a fraction of the time we have in this division. Barnet have shafted us over too. They were fourth division fodder for so long, but stayed up at our expense in 2010. Once they finally (and deservedly) joined us down here, they got their shit together far quicker than us to return to their natural habitat of 20th in League 2.

And, last year, just when everyone pointed out that no team has gone straight back up in 10 years, a team goes straight back up – at our expense, obviously.

A fourth consecutive play-off defeat doesn’t bear thinking about. It’ll be too much to stomach. Instead of entering the play-offs with excitement and anticipation, we’re now entering them with trepidation; older and wiser, knowing exactly what they can do to us.

But we went into the play-offs in 1997/98 with no form to speak of. After losing to Newport and Gateshead we learnt lessons that we applied perfectly against Eastleigh. And now we know that if we get to the final at Wembley, we should be out of sight before the referee has any chance whatsoever to affect things by making terrible decisions (and certainly before penalties become anywhere near a possibility).

Hang on to your hats!

Grimsby Town are more likely to hammer teams before Christmas than after

Before I get into the meat of this article, I thought I’d begin with an anecdote – and I’ll keep it short. A couple of weeks ago I was running with my neighbours’ dog in a nearby field at midnight and got wiped out by a branch that hit me square in the left eye.

This story obviously needs some context, as I’m sure there are a number of questions that you want to ask, but I actually believe it’s more entertaining if I leave you to fill in the blanks.

Why on earth was he walking his neighbours’ dog at midnight? And what was he doing running? It left me with an eye that looked as though it had a small plum trying to grow out from behind it, like a weird scene from Alien that never made the final cut.

Anyway, with impaired vision and strict instructions from optometrists not to drive, read books or use screens to avoid straining my good eye, it left me with a frankly disgusting amount of time to think about things.

And after Town’s depressing defeat to part-timers Braintree on Tuesday night it got me thinking about how we never seem able to dispatch teams the way we do before January.

It’s always felt to me like we post big scores in the months before Christmas, and then we sort of nudge past teams from January until the end of the season, with a nervousness that seemingly comes from nowhere (but probably comes from Paul Hurst tinkering with the squad in January, bringing in players, not using them, benching his 30+ goal striker and shutting up shop for a point when we should be going for all three).

So I decided to look into our margins of victory before and after Christmas over the past four seasons (from all competitions) to see if there was a pattern:

  • 2012/13: 2.27 before Christmas, 1.77 after
  • 2013/14: 1.83 before Christmas, 1.36 after
  • 2014/15: 2.19 before Christmas, 1.57 after
  • 2015/16: 2.5 before Christmas, 1.92 after

Yes, I’m aware this season isn’t over yet, but I’ve included the figures as there are only three (possibly six and the FA Trophy final) to go. Also, we tend to play more games before Christmas than after, but I’ve used averages so that should be a fairer way of representing the numbers.

Even I can see – with my one good eye – that our margin of victory drops every season after Christmas. And here are those drops as percentages:

  • 2012/13: 22.1%
  • 2013/14: 25.7%
  • 2014/15: 28.4%
  • 2015:16: 23.2%

That’s a staggeringly consistent average drop of 25%. And here’s another statistic for you: across the four seasons that I’ve analysed, we’ve won by a margin of three goals or more on 35 occasions before Christmas, and just 8 after. As percentages, that’s 35.4% before Christmas, and just 15.7% after.

I’d have thought it would be the other way round; winning cautiously early in the season as the squad takes time to gel and suss out the opposition, and then accelerate in the new year when partnerships have had time to develop.

It’s not a case of us winning fewer matches in the new year – it’s just that we’re not winning them as convincingly, or by the margins that we were from August to December.

So why the dramatic drop? Is this phenomenon unique to Grimsby, or does it happen more widely as teams adjust their style of play according to the situation? Does Paul Hurst suddenly become a different person when January arrives? Does he tell his players to ‘go easy’on the opposition once we edge in front?

For this to happen so consistently over four years makes me believe something is occurring. This suggests, with some clarity, that we play more cautiously when taking the lead in matches after Christmas. Hurst is changing his approach – consciously or unconsciously, whether he likes to admit it or not.

What is he changing? How is he changing it? Why is he changing it? Like my running in the field with the neighbours’ dog at midnight, this story is missing a few vital pieces.

But there’s one common denominator in all of this, and that’s the transfer window. We emerge the other side a slightly different team, season after season.

The jinx continues: Macclesfield v Grimsby Town match report

I know, I know. I should’ve stayed at home. Maybe next time I will.

Every now and again, Town have this tendency to throw in a tardy performance – normally when I’m in attendance – and the one at Macclesfield on Monday was another example.

Whatever tactical points Hurst won against Wrexham on Saturday were discarded in a shambolic first half in which the Mariners treated the ball like some kind of ticking time bomb that none of them wanted to hold onto for more than a millisecond.

Clay couldn’t even get the ball under control to get rid of it.

I was surprised Hurst dropped Hoban for Bogle for this one. The pitch looked bobbly and the wind was swirling. It was a game for players who were brave enough and strong enough to hold the ball up and look after it. Forget the fact that he hasn’t scored for us yet.

The first half was utterly, utterly forgettable. It was clippy, clippy, clippy, hoof, hoof, hoof. Slice. Throw-in. Repeat.

Bogle had a shot from distance, and Podge fired wide. A Clay header looped and needed touching over the bar, but generally there wasn’t much going on.

Fittingly, the opening goal didn’t come from any ingenuity. A solid tackle from Town in the centre turned into a great through-ball for Macclesfield, and as McKeown rushed out it was squared for Sampson to tap home.

There’s a naughty analogy about first touches, but I won’t stoop so low. Suffice to say, not one of the 22 full-time professional footballers looked capable of trapping a bag of clay. Talking of which, he went off, Jennings came on and Nolan went into the centre – not that it made a difference.

Hurst, presumably, had words at half time – words like ‘pass’, ‘shoot’ and ‘stop being dicks’ up his sleeve. They must have come out, because they had the desired effect.

We were a little bit sharper, we were braver in possession and we deservedly levelled in the second half when a McKeown punt was held up by Bogle, helped on by Amond and finished nicely by Nolan.

It came in a 20-minute spell where we just looked the part. Macclesfield were reduced to speculative punts – which was no different from their first half tactic, except now they were seeing less of the ball.

I remember a time when I spent ages making myself a lovely meal, only to catch the cuff of my dressing gown on the handle of the kitchen door as I carried the plate through to the living room. The food went everywhere. It was an utterly weird event that ruined all my hard work.

The football equivalent happened to Town.

The nature of the winner was ridiculous, and having not seen a replay of it, I’m still trying to decide whether it was dozy from the linesman or dozy from Toto. As someone suggested on Twitter, it was possibly both.

Styche nearly fell over laughing when he was allowed to chase a ball from what appeared to be a position 20 yards offside. Toto, who runs lazily and yet would beat me and you in a race hands down, looked like he’d just about recovered the situation, only for the ball to drift over McKeown and roll into the empty net.

Styche celebrated like he’d been getting abuse from the Town fans all game. I don’t get it when goalscorers run to the opposing fans cupping their ears. We weren’t giving you any shit because we don’t know who the fuck you are.

Using Glenn Hoddle’s theory of reincarnation, Town must have upset linesmen in a previous life because they’re sure as hell messing with us this season. The ‘goal’ at Altrincham; the ‘no goal’ at Guiseley; and now this. I don’t know what the green is, but we’re not getting the rub of it.

Town had chances, yadder, yadder, Shaun where’s-he-been-all-game Pearson came on too late, Macclesfield could’ve grabbed a couple more when Town went pushing for the equaliser… it was all a bit messy, a bit disjointed and, if I’m honest, not quite good enough.

As for Macclesfield, well, it’s hard to describe them. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve settled on a bag of shit.

A big bag of shit, with the shiny head of Danny Whitaker at the centre of it.

They’re absolute cloggers – and there’s nothing wrong with that, if it gets you three points (it often does in this division). It was good enough to get the better of us, which is kind of worrying – but we did give them a big helping hand by being a bag of shit ourselves.

Nolan was good, though.

 

 

 

 

 

The pitfalls of selective viewing

Grimsby Town are on an excellent run of form. We’ve basically been on an excellent run of form since we lost at home to Cheltenham at the end of October, and yet, despite all the victories (20 from 28 in all competitions, if you’re wondering) we’re further off the top than when that run began.

But let me get to the point, because this is a short post. Town’s recent form looks like this (most recent result first):

W  W  D  W  W  W  W  W  L

I have managed to attend two games in that time, and I’ll let you take a wild stab in the dark at which two those have been.

The draw at Guiseley wasn’t a bad match, truth be told. Town dominated for large parts, and probably deserved to win. The 4-2 defeat at Halifax, however, was bloody horrendous. None of us had seen us play that badly in two or three years, and I left wondering whether it was the beginning of the end for Hurst (and not the temporary blip that it so obviously was).

As most exiled Grimsby fans will understand, it’s simply not possible to attend all Town games, so you have to be selective on which you can go to. Living in Leeds as I do (it’s not as dirty as they say), there could’ve been no excuse for not attending matches at Guiseley and Halifax.

The bad news for Town fans out there is that I’m making my way to Macclesfield on Monday. And if things don’t go to plan, please don’t start on me – pick on the steward who looks like Sam Dingle instead. He’s paid to take that sort of stuff.

Having said that, I only started watching the England match last night when we were 2-0 down. So, you know, maybe my luck is turning.