Broken bonds

The only two players whose names I’d have considered getting printed on the back of my replica shirt have now left the club.

Thanks Diz. Thanks Shaun. Thanks for the memories.

They each gave six years to the Mariners. In that time, they came to understand what it was like to be part of the town. They both lived locally, and did work in the community. They were both honest and committed players, with the skill and graft to get us back in the Football League.

They were (and possibly still are) fans of the club.

I just watched the play-off final video again, with JT’s commentary, and while I still get incredibly emotional when Arnold rolls the ball home, the end scene – when the team lifts the trophy – now feels tainted.

There were so many happy faces on the Wembley balcony that day.

And now, a little over one year later, the only person who remains at the club is James McKeown – a player who nearly left us in January.

We won at Wembley to finally achieve what we’d come close to achieving on three previous occasions. What got us over the line that day wasn’t just skill, but also a special bond and team spirit that had grown in the squad over a number of years.

The likes of Disley and Pearson were at the heart of that bond.

Had we been able to keep that squad together, I’m certain we’d have achieved at least a 14th place finish in League 2 this season.

To be honest, I’d have accepted finishing 15th or 16th this season, if it was that promotion squad, because I’d fallen in love with it. They were playing for us.

There’s a lot to be said for continuity in football. Winning is a habit, as they say. Leicester and Chelsea have won the last two Premier League titles having made the fewest changes to their starting XIs.

As Bristol Rovers proved, from the season before, it was possible to go up again with virtually the same squad. I was desperate for us to keep the majority of our squad together, and it’s a crying shame that it wasn’t.

Fair enough, you’re not going to keep Tait from playing in the Scottish Premier League, or Nolan from plying his trade in League 1, if that’s what they wanted.

But letting Amond go to Hartlepool after scoring 37 goals for us in one season?

Personally speaking, I thought Robertson and Clay were worth another season after they’d worked so hard to get us over the line.

What happened – or what didn’t happen – with Arnold is possibly the most upsetting, yet typifying, moment of last summer. No player is bigger than the club but, come on, the guy was good enough for League 2.

Did we dick around with contracts? Whatever the real story is, from the outside it looked like we weren’t prepared to reward those promotion winners with the contracts they were looking for.

Although it’s only recent history, I feel like it’s history that has already written itself. Of this era, our future Wikipedia page will read:

“After spending years building a team the fans could be proud of, the club then ripped it apart the very summer they returned to the Football League. Further instability followed when new manager Marcus Bignot made a host of unnecessary signings.”

On the pitch, we’ve had an acceptable first season back in the Football League. Off it, we’ve been awful.

Three managers, poor recruitment and lop-sided formations were just a few of the main issues. We’ve slipped back into our old ways. Bridges built through campaigns like Operation Promotion feel like they’ve burnt away because we have a non-chairman who doesn’t know how to communicate in the 21st century.

And now two of our most loyal and esteemed players have been released. With them goes any remaining bond between the players and fans.

Slade built a competitive squad for 2005/6, but while they came close to delivering success I don’t think I felt as close to those players as I did with the class of 2015/16.

By releasing Disley and Pearson, I hope we’re not swapping loyal grafters for disinterested journeymen who won’t be with us in six, five or even two years’ time.

Wilted spinach. Match report: Crewe 5-0 Grimsby

Every time I go to watch Grimsby Town play a match of association football, we’re shit. Totally shit. Absolutely hopeless.

Now, I know this isn’t a very fair reflection of where we are right now. We’re not shit, totally shit or absolutely hopeless, generally. We’re actually just six points outside the League 2 play-offs.

We’re only shit, totally shit and absolutely hopeless, it seems, when I’m in the stands.

The trip to Gresty Road was my eighth match of the season – I’ve seen us win one (at home to Morecambe on the opening day), draw one (at home to Barnet in Marcus Bignot’s first game in charge) and lose the other six.

And all those six have been to nil. And totally shit, of course.

The home defeat to Cheltenham was bleak. The home defeat to Portsmouth was painful. Let’s not forget I paid over ÂŁ80 to go to Stevenage a fortnight ago, where I was treated to a load of shit on a concrete canvas.

Oh, and I saw the home defeat to Crewe, too.

Last season – a season in which we were quite good and won promotion – I only made four away games, and we lost three of those. And I thought that defeat at Halifax was shit.

All this makes following the Mariners more difficult than it needs to be.

The thing about Gresty Road is that it’s one of the least intimidating grounds to play at. It has one huge and sparsely populated stand with no one making any noise, and Town’s contingent tucked away in a concrete replica of Blundell Park’s wooden Main Stand, making all the noise.

More than half our squad live just a few miles down the M6. I mean, for Christ’s sake, an away game at Crewe couldn’t have felt any more like a home game for our lot.

Added to this, Crewe couldn’t win for shit. And their manager, David Artell – who’s one Sainsbury’s carrier bag short of being Angelos Epithemou – even did our team talk for us, saying that Alex have got better players than us.

That comment clearly didn’t ignite the fire in any of our players’ bellies because we went there and flopped over pathetically like a slop of wilted spinach on a dieter’s dinner plate .

I’m not one for being unnecessarily critical to the point where you ruin someone’s self-confidence or career, but I should also point out that I’m very fond of the cruel-to-be-kind scenario. Which works out well for match reports like these.

The first half, other than telling me that Crewe were better at scoring than we were – to the tune of four – it also taught me that:

Yussuf couldn’t hold up a post office queue of old grannies with a sawed off shotgun, let alone our mixture of panicked clearances and aimless punts.

I’m not sure I can even call it ‘long ball’ tactics because long ball, by its very nature, implies some sort of method – usually hoofing the ball in the general direction of a player, ideally big enough and strong enough to hold it up.

Dyson looks like he might be a bit taller and stronger than Yussuf. Unfortunately he also looks a clumsier and less mobile version of Andy Cook. I didn’t see us win one aerial dual all half.

We were carved open down the wings. Davies and Andrew weren’t full backs, or wingers, or wing backs. They can’t have been – because if they were, Crewe wouldn’t have put 214 crosses into our box in 45 minutes.

Pearson seemed to play more like a right back, Collins a left back, and Gunning completely exposed in the middle.

And if someone could’ve told me which one of Clements, Comley and Osborne was meant to be in this very modern ‘holding position’, then they’d have been lying because no one occupied that space at all.

We just let Crewe’s roaming forward line run at us, and run at us, and drive into huge, sweeping spaces between the centre circle and the edge of our box.

As for conceding from direct free kicks, it’s getting silly now. Portsmouth, Donny, Stevenage and now Crewe. It’s happening too frequently for it to just be ‘bad luck’. Clearly we’re doing something fundamentally wrong.

The fourth goal was probably offside, but we’d just wasted a load of money and a load of breath supporting a team that couldn’t defend against the fourth worst side in the entire Football League, so we weren’t about to waste more valuable oxygen on the officials too.

If it wasn’t for McKeown, it could’ve been six or seven by half time. I’m sure he made an incredible save low down at some point, but what with all those goals flying in it’s difficult to remember at what stage he made it.

He also made an outstanding save in the second half, but almost got caught out from a spectacular lob from way out (which he managed to push over the bar), before having a rush goalie moment and getting away with it.

Ah yes, the second half. After making all three subs at the break, Bignot shuffled his pack into a more familiar 4-4-2 formation and we immediately looked more comfortable.

Or Crewe took their foot off the gas quite considerably. It was one or the other – but most probably a classic mix of both.

Davies and Collins were full backs, with Pearson and Gunning as centre backs. Bolarinwa was on the right wing, Osborne was definitely central, while Comley and Clements appeared to take it in shifts on the left. Sam Jones and Asante were our new strike pair.

It’s difficult to know how to feel about that second half because the game had gone and the whole thing felt like a training match. We weren’t as much as a shambles – in fact we controlled large periods – but we still managed to lose the half 1-0 and blaze the only genuine clear-cut chance we created all game high and wide from six yards.

Their fifth. Yeah. Converted by a totally unmarked and unseen Crewe player running in on the edge of our box.

There was just enough time for Gunning to absolutely poleaxe one of Crewe’s tricky midfielders, who was weaving and sliding his way through the spine of our team like an Olympic bobsleigher until Gunning decided to give up on any thought of playing football and shoulder-barge the flash bastard to the ground.

He was kind of lucky not to be sent off for that, given that we know this ref sends players off for less.

At the full time whistle, only Pearson truly applauded the fans (before Bignot instructed the rest of the team to do the same after their huddled de-brief on the pitch).

It was a strange post-match situation, and not one I’ve experienced before. The majority of the fans wanted to let the players know that the performance was not acceptable, so they booed – but they weren’t really into the booing because, after all, this is a relatively new squad, with young players, and most of us are still on speaking terms with Bignot.

So it was ‘boo Town, you’re rubbish, boooo’ but then also clap, clap, clap, fair enough, you’ve not gone running down the tunnel. But still. ‘Boo, rubbish, sort it Bignots’. Then more clapping.

Then Bignot came over and spoke with the fans. There was some sort of apology. There was also something said that he took personally, but I didn’t find out what that was.

Bignot has built his side now. The January transfer window closed, and the squad is locked in. We’ve made our bed, and now we’ve got to lie in it.

But yesterday we defecated all over the sheets.

Being economical with the truth

For the first time ever, I think, Grimsby Town’s transfer activity on deadline day stopped me from going to bed at a sensible hour. I actually went to sleep believing that Omar Bogle was still our player, but woke up this morning to find he is not.

No one knows how much Wigan paid for him, or what kind of deal we negotiated, or how well Solihull did out of the whole thing. I’m sure this will all become clear once the Fishy has speculated to such a degree that it either drives one of the shareholders to put the issue to bed with a badly written club statement, or Wigan relax and let us know from their end.

Anyway, good luck Omar – you did us proud. That winner you got at Braintree in the play-off semi final second leg was a moment I’ll never forget, and those two goals in the play-off final at Wembley still give me goosebumps, as well as a glimpse into what football heaven is really like.

I can live with his departure. We always knew he would go for a fee, and him going now means we probably got more money than we’d have got if we held onto him until the summer.

The cash will surely be used to cover the transfer fees and wages of our eight new additions – Adi Yussuf, Gavin Gunning, Jamey Osborne, Chris Clements, Akwasi Asante, Luke Maxwell, Sam Jones and Calum Dyson.

So, eight in, one out – although I expect more than just Bogle will be heading out of ‘the BP’ in the next week or two as the shunned squad players contemplate the prospect of not even warming the bench but sitting on a standard plastic seat in the stands like the rest of us. Or staying at home.

I fully supported the appointment of Marcus Bignot and I still believe things will come good. He hasn’t made that bad a start as Mariners boss, on a points-per-game basis, although it is worrying to see the standard of our performances dropping when really they should’ve started badly and gradually improved as the players got to grips with his new style and system.

He’s made radical changes after initially saying everyone at the club would get a chance to prove themselves with a run in the team. I don’t think he’s delivered on that promise.

He also said Bogle wasn’t for sale, and sold him, and said he wants to keep Disley when he clearly doesn’t intend on using him. Bignot says Disley can leave on his terms, like he’s doing him a favour, and being respectful. Maybe Disley just doesn’t want to go?

And then there’s been that disagreement between him and our loyal first choice keeper. McKeown said the boss made it very clear he wouldn’t play again this season, and Bignot says otherwise. I don’t know who to believe – the person who has been at the club for six years and been as honest as the day is long, or someone who’s been at the club two minutes and already lied about a number of things.

I say ‘lied’. I’m not sure it’s quite that bad. Let’s just say Bignot is economical with the truth, and knows what the fans want to hear. It’s strange, because our last manager had no idea what the fans wanted to hear, and he was often hammered for it.

The manager claims we don’t have any width in midfield. He didn’t include the only two players capable of offering width, Bolarinwa or Chambers, in his latest squad of 18, then tells Chambers he’s free to leave.

Then he signs four central midfielders when we already have six on our books, three strikers and a centre back – and no wingers.

It’s just odd. I don’t know what to make of it all.

This was meant to be a season of celebration and stability. We’d have all been happy to see the team that got us promoted stay together and continue battling for each other to finish 12th in League 2. I know I would’ve.

But Hurst broke it up more severely than I could’ve expected, and the team he left us with has been broken up severely again just a couple of months on. Those few players who survived the Hurst cull, and the ones we connected with the most – McKeown, Disley, Gowling – are no longer in the side. It seems a shame.

In fact, I just looked at the XI who beat Forest Green on that marvellous day in May and not one of them will start our next match at home to Luton:

McKeown – out of the side and looking to leave
Tait – left for Motherwell
Robertson – released and retired
Gowling – out of the side and told he can leave
Nsiala – left for Hartlepool
Arnold – released and joined Lincoln
Nolan – left for Chesterfield
Clay – released and joined Motherwell
Disley – out of the side and told he can leave
Bogle – sold to Wigan
Amond – left for Hartlepool

Today’s sole survivor is Shaun Pearson, who was only on the bench for the play-off final and came on as an injury time sub:

Pearson – in the side
East – released and joined Guiseley
Marshall – released and joined Boston United
Pittman – released and joined Harrogate Town
Hoban – released and joined Mansfield

I’m not one for living in the past, as the last 15 years haven’t been particularly kind to us. Football moves on, and so should we, but the success of last season was the result of a manager who was given time to build a squad and create a style of play that gave us the best chance possible of winning promotion.

The same has to apply here. Things are messy now, but I’m sure that once everything settles down – and that still might not happen just yet, what with about eight players looking for new clubs – we’ll perhaps begin to see what Bignot is trying to build.

I’m sure he’s a good manager, but it’s difficult to believe anything we’re told right now. If he builds an exciting and attacking squad that gets us scoring plenty of goals and pushing for the play-offs, then there won’t be many complaints.

Grimsby Town are having to shoot 13 times before they score a goal

Black and white seatsYou can make statistics sing any tune you like, if you look hard enough. I’ve looked on the BBC Football website, so I’ll let you decide whether that’s staunch enough research. But what I discovered from the past four games – as if we needed someone like me to prove it – is that we’re not scoring enough from the chances we’re creating, and we’re conceding too often from the chances we’re giving away.

The numbers will back me up here. If you’re a Grimsby Town fan, this news won’t come as a shock to you. But since we all like numbers and the things they say, here are some you might find particularly interesting.

I decided to look at the last four games only – the draws against Lincoln and Torquay, and the defeats to Altrincham and Macclesfield.

In these games we’ve had a combined total of 53 shots and scored 4 times. At a rather disappointing conversion rate of 7.5% (that’s putting it mildly) it essentially means we’re having to shoot more than 13 times before we score a goal.

Compare that to the opposition’s conversion rate of 21%. They’ve scored 7 from 33 shots, which means they’re only having to shoot 5 times before they find the back of the net.

What’s slightly more revealing is the conversion rate from the shots on target. Our 4 goals from 18 shots gives us a success rate of 22% (so 4 times out of 5 our goal-bound shouts are being blocked, saved and cleared).

Our opposition’s 7 goals from 12 shots on target gives them a rather worrying success rate of 58% (meaning nearly 3 of every 5 shots they have at James McKeown are going in).

Now, this says one of three things – firstly, that McKeown isn’t having his best season. I think he’d probably admit that himself. Secondly, that the opposition are being unnaturally ruthless for this level of football, and they surely can’t continue at this rate. Possibly.

And thirdly, that we’re just going through an outrageously unlucky spell. I’ll let you decide on that.

How about the season as a whole?

Grimsby: 94 shots (38 on target) = 14 goals (14.9% of all shots, and 36.8% of shots on target are scored).

Opposition: 55 shots (24 on target) = 11 goals (20% of all shots, and 45.9% of shots on target are scored).

Clearly there are trends. While we’re attacking more, and shooting more, we’re just not scoring enough. We’re scoring 1 in 7 while the opposition are scoring 1 in 5. They’re simply being more accurate than we are.

If we were as ruthless as them – scoring 20% of all our shots, and 45.9% of those on target – we’d have between 17 and 19 goals for the season, rather than the 14 we currently have.

While it would be easy to blame the strikers, it’s actually quite difficult. Both Bogle and Amond have started well, scoring four goals each, and at 14 we’ve only scored one fewer than the division’s top scorers Wrexham. If we continue scoring at this rate we’ll finish the season with 100 goals.

Perhaps what needs addressing is the opposition’s much higher conversion rate. They’re not shooting as often as we are, but they’re getting them on target and making them count with much more efficiency. What’s that down to? Are they getting closer to goal before they shoot? Is that down to a lack of pressure in the box? Are we cutting out enough crosses? Is McKeown’s positioning up for debate?

It’s certainly food for thought for manager Paul Hurst.

If Fantasy Football points applied to Grimsby Town players: February

James McKeown

Image taken from the Grimsby Telegraph.

He has been leading the way since October, but at the end of February Lenell John-Lewis was replaced at the top of the table by James McKeown. However, with just two points separating the top four players, it’s shaping up to be an interesting race to see who will be crowned the first ever Fantasy GTFC Player of the Season (FPOTS).

Town played five games in February, winning three and losing two. A couple of clean sheets against AFC Telford and Braintree has seen McKeown and the defensive line in front of him scoop a fair few points – particularly Carl Magnay, who claimed an assist for Craig Disley’s superb header against Braintree. That’s actually put him second, which means The Shop has slipped into third place.

Here’s what the table currently looks like:

Top 10 performing players as of the end of February 2015

The gap between fourth and fifth has opened up even more – from this table it’s clear to see which four players have made the biggest contribution this season. The only reason Disley isn’t up there is that his season didn’t really get going until October.

I started this Fantasy Football thing in the summer because I thought it would be fun. And also because I’m a nerd. However, I’ve been in two minds over how to measure it. Do I simply reward the player who scored the most points, or is it fairer to judge them on their points-per-game ratio?

I ask because the table looks different when you order the players based on their match averages:

Top 10 best performing players based on points per game.

This second route is kinder to the likes of Jon-Paul Pittman and Nathan Arnold, because as their averages show they usually make a contribution when they play.

But if we take the second route, we are faced with the distinct possibility that Aswad Thomas could end up winning the bloody thing – and we can’t have that. But maybe I should just dismiss anyone who isn’t at the club and give it to whoever is next in line – which means Arnold is still in contention.

If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@RichMariner). I’ll be back at the start of April to bring you March’s report.

If Fantasy Football points applied to Grimsby Town players: September table

A couple of weeks ago I wondered who would be top of the table if fantasy football points were applied to Grimsby Town players. So I did some research. Rather ambitiously, I suggested I would publish an updated player table after every game – but that was never going to happen, so I’m doing it at the end of every month.

For those of you who read my first article on this topic (which also explained the scoring system), you’ll remember that, not surprisingly, Scott Neilson was leading the way – with James McKeown not far behind. Well, we’ve played Chester and Southport since then, so how have those two contrasting results affected the top five?

Screenshot of Top 5 players for September

In short, not a lot has changed – except that McKeown has now drawn level on points with Neilson (who retains top spot by virtue of his excellent average). Magnay remains third, and despite a drop in average Lenell John-Lewis remains fourth.

Craig Clay is a new entrant at five, replacing the injured John-Paul Pittman (who slips to 8th but with the best average score in the entire squad of 5.29). Not that we needed these statistics to claim it, but we’re really missing him at the moment.

With four league games and an FA Cup fourth qualifying round match to come in October, I’ll be back at the end of the month with an updated league table. In the meantime, feel free to discuss this article below (or on The Fishy, if you must).

Late penalty save denies Dover unlikely win

Match action as seen from the Pontoon stand behind the goal.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