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.

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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.

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.

If Fantasy Football points applied to Grimsby Town players: September

Padraig Amond in action for GrimsbyGrimsby Town might not be where we’d like them to be in the league table, so console yourself with a different type of league table – a table where players earn points based on the Fantasy Premier League system. Omar Bogle led the way at the end of August – who was top of the pile at the end of September?

It was an undefeated month for the Mariners. There were three draws and three wins, and at the 12th time of asking we finally kept a clean sheet, which gave the defenders some much needed points. Here’s how the table’s shaping up:

Top 10 best performing players as of the end of September 2015With seven goals to his name perhaps it’s no surprise to see Bogle remaining out in front. There’s been a bit of jostling behind him, with Nathan Arnold creeping into second and Monkhouse slipping down to fourth. East has impressed and jumps to fifth.

Despite losing his place to loan signing Matt Robinson, Clay remains in a good position. Although the clean sheets at Wrexham and Southport were good news for Pearson and Gowling, they weren’t enough to help them into the Top 10.

Here’s what the table looks like based on points per game:

Top 10 players for September 2015 based on points per gameThis version of the table reflects well on Robertson, who pushes his way into fifth, while Amond overtakes Arnold into second. Pittman pokes his head in.

But whichever way you look at it, Bogle’s the man… which makes you wonder why he was dropped for the start of October. The very same could be said of Amond, who only started three matches in September and scored in two of them to underline both his contribution and importance to the team.

If you want to know where Tomlinson is, well, with four points from three games, and an average of 1.33 points per game, he’s all the way down in 18th. Only Josh Venney is beneath him.

There are six games in October (three have already been played). I’ll be back in November to bring you next month’s update – and I plan to do it before Football Manager 2016 is released, because if I start playing it I’ll never find the time to blog.

Also, don’t forget to order your copy of We are Town from the Mariners Trust website. There’s going to be a great launch event for it at McMenemy’s on Friday 13th November, so please make that if you can!

If Fantasy Football points applied to Grimsby Town players: August

Omar Bogle in actionLast season I used the Fantasy Premier League point scoring-system to measure the contribution each Grimsby Town player made over the course of 2014/15 and it finished in a tie, with both Shaun Pearson and Lenell John Lewis recording 193 points. Well, I’ve decided to do it again this season, and here’s how the table looks at the end of August:

1 August 1516
With three goals in his first two games, Monkhouse led the way at the start, but five goals in seven matches lifted Omar Bogle to the top, with Amond just behind. Given our inability to keep clean sheets, perhaps it’s no surprise to see the attacking players dominating the top five places.

If you want to look at the table in a different way, here’s how it looks on a points-per-game basis:

2 August 1516
To give you some sense of perspective, Ollie Palmer scored 52 points in 11 games at the end of last season, giving him an average of 4.73 points per game. John-Lewis averaged 4.10 while Pearson managed 3.95, so that’s an impressive start by Bogle.

When the defence improves we might begin to see the likes of Gowling and last season’s winner Pearson move up from their respective positions of 13th and 14th, but right now they already face an uphill struggle to catch our four best players, who have just started to create a gap between them and the rest.

I’ll be posting monthly updates, and since we’re well into September you won’t be waiting too long before next month’s tables.

The Guessing Game: Altrincham v Grimsby match report

Freeze frame of goal line incidentIf Hurst said ‘play like you played in pre-season for about 10 minutes before half time, then for as long as it takes you to concede a sloppy winner in the second half, and be totally average for all other times’, then the players carried out his instructions to the absolute letter.

I wasn’t going to go, but a combination of being able to help out @psgmariner in Leeds and a little bit of encouragement by my Twitter friend @mrjpbarwick – who assured me that there would be no roadworks and no traffic along a stretch of motorway renowned for its roadworks and traffic, particularly at rush hour – I headed to Altrincham to make sure I didn’t miss us lose our first away game in ruddy ages.

Altrincham is a nice place, with big houses and tree lined avenues. The fact that a non-league ground is plonked in amongst it is rather quaint. We were made to feel very welcome – apart from the Altrincham substitutes, who took it in turns to systematically hit as many Town fans in the face with their wayward warm-up shops. Three more were skied out of the ground, and as skilful as James Lawrie was for the Robins, he alone was responsible for losing three more balls in the second half.

Hurst must have pondered tinkering, but tinker he didn’t. The same kids that bullied the new boys from Barrow and Bromley were given a chance to turn out the pockets of these Alty players for their dinner money, but outrageously they didn’t let that happen.

Altrincham can pass alright. They kept possession well at times, but they were about as cutting and incisive as I would be trying to hack through a plank of wood with a tea strainer. They were much more effective when they lumped it to their lumpy nuisance up front. Michael Rankine, who made three appearances for the Mariners let’s not forget (actually, let’s do forget – I’m sure most of you have anyway) was their John-Lewis. He tussled and tangled with Toto non-stop for 90 minutes.

Let’s be honest about this: I was stood in precisely the worst part of the ground to make a call on Altrincham’s opener. If the linesman was honest, he’d have kept his stupid flag down. He didn’t, and so he copped it for the rest of the match from the Town fans, who assured him that they would stick his fluorescent yellow flag up his arse at a 90 degree angle to the way he might have imagined it going up.

Meanwhile Bogle appeared more irritated by himself than any of the officials, but he got his reward late in the first half by tucking the ball past Alty’s keeper Stuart Coburn – who had earlier explained to a Town fan (presumably giving him an earful about his baldness) that he wasn’t the one who awarded the Robins a controversial opener. The Mariners pressed a bit more, buoyed by an away following of over 800 that were firmly back onside (unlike Bogle and Amond), and then the referee blew for half time.

We had about three good chances to take the lead when the second half began, but none of them were converted. At this stage there was no doubt who was in charge. Town. We’re in control of our own destiny. Bogle was going to hit the post with a great free kick, and then we were going to take a little breather. We were going to let Alty clip a ball to the far post which McKeown, under no pressure whatsoever, was going to palm back into play for George Bowerman to score. (He was credited with their first goal, by the way, but if the linesman was as eagle-eyed as he reckons he was, he’d have noticed that the ball actually came back off Nsiala, and if it did go over the line, which it didn’t, McKeown was the one who dragged it over – so credit one of those two with an own goal and not Bowerman.)

Hurst shouted ‘Plan B!’ but none of the players had actually been briefed on what Plan B was. Taking a leaf out of the lino’s book, they guessed. They assumed, incorrectly, that Bogle must really be John-Lewis, and began launching high balls towards him. Alty’s centre backs Scott Leather and Tom Marshall drank them up all night long – until Marshall’s nasty injury. Monkhouse had lost his aerial mojo and was substituted for Mackreth, who made his customary beeline for the corner flag every time he received the ball, figuring that left foots are a total waste of his and everyone’s time.

The rest of the match left you feeling as frustrated as using a Windows 8 laptop. Altrincham weren’t sure how to score, let alone win a match, so it was nice of us to show them how with our new found generosity at the back. And with that, naturally, we introduced our most consistent and accomplished defender of the past four years to play up front as an emergency striker for whatever time was remaining. With little effect.

In his efforts to be unerringly consistent, the referee only achieved the kind of inconsistency and general shitness that tends to plague these footballing depths. At least he was trying to make decisions on what he saw – unlike the linesman, who just resorted to pure guesswork.

To complete a fairly miserable night I got stuck in a massive traffic jam on the M62 somewhere near the twinkling lights of Brighouse (no one’s ever made that town sound so dreamy before) and got home way too late for my liking – but at least @mrjpbarwick was man enough to apologise for his ‘M62 and light traffic promises’. You never know what you’re going to see at a football match, Jim – that’s why we go. It’s in the lap of the footballing gods – who, evidently, are still pissed off with us for some reason.

At least we saw another good sunset.

Sunset at Altrincham's Moss Road ground