Match report: Tactics from the Steven Age

Stevenage 2-0 Grimsby
League 2, Broadhall Way
Saturday 28 January 2017

Skies over Broadhall Way, Stevenage v Grimsby

I’m embarrassed to think I spent more than one minute of last week looking forward to that utter shambles of a performance at Stevenage.

It was a performance completely fitting of our dreary and uninspiring third kit, which is as grey and as bland as what I saw of Stevenage between its train station and the football ground.

If concrete and cycle lanes are your thing, then get yourself to Stevenage. I’ve never seen so many cycle lanes in my life – and so few cyclists using them.

Sadly I have more positive things to say about cycle lanes than I do about the match. It was that bad.

Yes, there’s always an overreaction to defeats. You always get some fans saying it was the worst game they’ve seen, and they’ve been supporting the Mariners since 1878.

I’ve seen some heavy defeats on the road, and they’ve all been pathetic in their own way. This was just a different sort of pathetic.

Paul Hurst was accused of having no Plan B. After Saturday’s display, I’m not sure Marcus Bignot has a Plan A. If he has, then I certainly can’t see the bugger.

After adding a 13th player capable of playing in central midfield to ‘the group’ on Friday – and that’s no exaggeration, by the way – we then appeared to deploy a tactic that completely bypassed that exact area of the pitch.

‘The group’ lacks left footers and natural wingers, so we’ve used January to recruit central midfielders and strikers. The only two players in our frankly huge squad capable of providing any genuine width in midfield – Tom Bolarinwa and Ashley Chambers – didn’t even make the bench.

Omar Bogle is supposed to be Mayfair with a hotel on it. Against Stevenage he played like Old Kent Road.

When you compare the buzz and energy he showed in that home game against Barnet – when he completely owned the Bees’ back line – to the sulky little brat that sauntered around the pitch on Saturday, you can knock a zero off his price tag (whatever Town have decided that is).

He played like a billy big bollocks who, in the week, was possibly told he’d be playing League 2 football for another six months.

We’re a club in transition, and it seems Bignot has made up his mind about ‘the group’ he inherited. He’s decided it’s shit, and certainly not good enough to maintain the position it was in when he took the reins.

He’s had more than a dozen games to impart his style on the squad, and right now I’m still none the wiser as to what that style is. Listen, we’re not technically good enough to go to ‘the next level’, but we’re technically good enough to beat Plymouth and Carlisle on their own patches.

If his style is for our centre backs to clip balls into the channels a good 20 yards ahead of Scott Vernon – who, for all his best efforts, runs so slow that he leaves a slimy trail behind him and has a turning circle of a train – then he’s got the players purring.

But I’m guessing that’s not the plan.

The first half was an absolute write-off. Don’t bother reading any other reports. Like the bloke who picks a fight with a wind-up merchant outside Wetherspoons after a night of Jagerbombs, it’s not worth it.

Clip, bounce, shin, Stevenage throw-in. Repeat. I didn’t see us string two passes together. At the first opportunity the ball was launched 60 yards to absolutely no one.

Vernon seemed to spend a lot of the match slipping and sliding on what was admittedly a crumbly pitch, and Bogle… well, we’ve already covered him.

I’m still of the opinion that most of our players actually forgot that we conceded a goal after four minutes, such was the lack of urgency in their play.

The fans, to their credit, kept the atmosphere going – but once the catastrophe of that second goal went in, the stand fell silent. And who could blame us.

I think what worries us most is that we don’t look comfortable in possession. The ball is played around (and I use that term lightly) like it’s a ticking time bomb. No one wants it.

Stevenage, while looking the archetypal lower mid-table League 2 team that they are, could easily hold possession in our half and worked openings down the wings.

They had a busy midfield that did simple things, and that’s all they needed to do to be better than us. Comley saw a bit of the ball but didn’t always use it well; Osbourne showed glimpses of why we signed him but was, for the most part, anonymous; and Clements must have been having a snooze on the team bus. Did he even touch the ball?

Bignot was praised for using subs earlier than Hurst ever would. But even with four strikers on the pitch we continued to somehow clip balls forward into spaces where there weren’t any.

You’re not guaranteed anything in sport – that’s what makes it so exciting – but my train ticket and match ticket combined came to £87. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have bothered.

I can deal with defeats – after all, we’ve seen plenty – and I can just about accept a clueless performance when the manager has only had a few days or weeks to put across his philosophy to the players.

I think we were all hoping that we’d be able to identify the Bignot way by now, though. The absence of any game plan for a match against one of the league’s out-of-form teams was most worrying.

Bignot will get it right, but the squad is really messed up at the moment. For once we’re in a position where we can accept a disappointing result if we just saw a commanding performance from a bunch of undoubtedly talented players that look like they know what they’re meant to do.