Getting clean: The detox begins.

Well, that’s that, then. Grimsby Town are non-league. Again.

There’s a lot to process after last night’s 3-2 defeat at Exeter, which made the Greatest of Great Escapes mathematically impossible.

There was the manner of defeat to deal with — and then there was the manner of Radio Humberside’s coverage, which had to conduct emotionally-charged (and even tearful) interviews over a phone because they refused to send a reporter to the game.

But possibly the most galling thing about last night is this:

The team that got relegated at Exeter is not the team that deserved to get relegated.

Sadly, many of those who are responsible, including former ‘manager’ and professional prat Ian Holloway, are no longer at the club.

Obviously there’s one key player who remains. But hopefully not for long.

Of course, there can be no arguments that we deserve to go down. It’s been a lousy season. A truly horrible, forgettable one.

In terms of points-per-game, there may be little to separate Hurst from Holloway — but that is to overlook the work he has done to build a team that has restored some pride in what has been a largely hopeless campaign.

He is not immune from criticism and has, for sure, made a few mistakes along the way. But that’s gonna happen when you’re forced to basically re-build a squad, mid-season.

“Player A, meet Player B. Now play like you’ve always played together. And hurry up, we haven’t got much time. Players C, D and E, I hope you were listening.”

The likes of Giles Coke and Lenell John-Lewis have brought a committed and workmanlike attitude that was so desperately missing.

Elliott Hewitt and Harry Clifton found another gear. Rollin Menayese and Jay Matete have been excellent loans.

No more darts tournaments. No more misshapen balls. No more weird post-match comments about mud being on the mud.

The temptation is to think of today as a low point. But the low point was months ago.

We’re already on the up. Okay, we’ve got to drop down to a shambolic league whose governance has been seriously called into question first, but hey — you can’t make an omelette without breaking the morale of the fans, as they say.

But the takeover edges closer. We know who our manager will be next season. We know we’ll get a hard-working team of pros.

We’ll be allowed to actually go to games.

No one wants relegation. But if it’s a consequence of the detox we’ve so desperately needed to rid ourselves of an addiction forced upon us by a power-rich tyrant, then so be it.

Barely conscious. Match report: Scunthorpe 3-0 Grimsby

This match was billed as one of Grimsby Town’s most important of recent times and we played like it was a kick-about at Sidney Park.

The players looked like they’d spent a day idling around at school and were just looking to mess about for a bit at home time until their parents called them in for their tea.

James McKeown asked whose ball it was, and then we played in the submissive way that people do when they seek parity but know they’re chronically inferior.

And it’s not as if Scunny are any good. At all.

Just under 11 months ago we went down the M180 and beat them with goals from a couple of their former players. They had a man sent off and Kevin van Veen was baited every time he touched the ball.

You actually felt sorry for them. They looked abysmal and offered nothing. Ian Holloway came onto the pitch at full time to applaud the fans, and we all went home happy with the result and felt positive about our future.

Of course, we weren’t to know that a global pandemic would finish the season — just like we weren’t to know that we’d release some of our best players and replace them with non-league punts because our board wasn’t willing to contribute a single penny of its combined wealth during a crisis that threatened our existence.

And yet, they insisted Shutes & Co prove they had the funds to get us through any potential hardship. Brazen. 

Scunny are no better now than they were on 7 March 2020. Our victory on that date proved to be another false dawn — a bit like the one we were given when JJ Hooper scored a hat-trick at the tree huggers and we could dream of not being in the bottom half of the fourth division.

Then, as now, we went backwards. Austerity (which is not his real name) tightened his purse strings, and his grip around the neck of the club, to leave us barely conscious. 

And that’s what we got on Saturday; a set of barely-conscious footballers going through the motions, ambling about as if there’s nothing left in their lives to inspire or motivate them. Not even a beer-fuelled darts tournament at a raucous Ally Pall could wake this lot up.

I’ve not really said anything about the players this season as the issues have clearly been at the top (three relegations, and a very possible fourth, tells you everything you need to know about the Fenty era).

Town’s penchant for giving away soft or needless free kicks, and being offside, remained a strong feature of our play — as did defending like donkeys.

Granted, the free kick that led to the opening goal wasn’t a free kick — and Eisa’s strike was special — but everyone knows there are always moments in football you can’t legislate for and yet we responded to this setback by reverting to type.

Heads dropped. A quick glance at each other. A shrug of the shoulders. No words. No galvanising. No leadership.

At one insane point, Matt Green got the wrong side of his marker to bear down on goal, albeit at an angle, but he delayed his strike and gave the defender enough time to get a block in.

We can’t do anything in the final third but as soon as we invite the opposition into our area it’s absolute chaos.

I’m not even sure how Scunthorpe’s second went in — I thought it was an own goal from our debutant loanee Rollin Menayese. But forget soft, it was positively soggy.

No one took charge and no one belted the ball clear when they had half a sniff.

We hoped we might have got a bit of new manager bounce under Hurst, but that didn’t happen. At the very least we thought we could keep us shape? No such football fortune.

This isn’t a dig at Hurst. His half-time triple substitution sort of made a difference, but then how could it not, given the bar had been set lower than Gavin Gunning.

The Iron’s third was probably — marginally — offside, but it says something about Town’s fans when, in a crucial local derby, none of us are even bothering to debate it given its futility. Scunny could’ve scored just once and they’d have been comfortable winners.

I watched the full 90 minutes on iFollow and the match report could be as succinct as this: Scunthorpe, without being at their best — and, let’s be honest, their best ain’t great — scored three goals.

Grimsby, on the other hand? Foul. Offside. Foul. Offside. Oh ffs. Foul. Offside. Come on, ref.

Given the situation, and given what was on the line, it was probably the poorest showing from a Town team in a long while. Well, since that tripe at Tranmere.

And yet Hurst’s post-match interview was probably one of the best. I found myself standing up and applauding him from my dining table at home when he tore into the players and questioned their desire.

When your whole career exists in such a competitive environment, your desire should be the last thing that gets questioned.

The league table doesn’t quite look as disastrous as it could have done, had Southend not lost in the week and then again on Saturday.

Stevenage lost also. And by virtue of not playing, Barrow improved their situation too. Scunthorpe have put distance between themselves and us on a day when we could have gone above them. I don’t believe Bradford are in any genuine danger of going down.

The next two games — away at Barrow and home to Stevenage — have quickly become must-win when a must-not-lose scenario had previously been the minimum requirement.

In terms of quality, this is one of the worst fourth divisions I’ve seen since we began playing in it in 2004. And we’re one of the worst teams in it.

Getting us back into the Football League was hard work. If Hurst keeps us in it from this position, it’ll rank as an even better achievement.

This is 2009/10 happening all over again – and here’s the proof

In 2009/10 the Mariners set a new club record of 25 league games without a win.

The first five matches of that run came under the guidance – if you want to call it that – of Mike ‘it’s tokenism’ Newell, who was a big hit with our female fans (and local bars). Continue reading

A torrid trudge: Halifax v Grimsby match report

Of course the team Town tonked 7-0 in October would come back to haunt us on their home patch. Of course we’d put in a car crash of a performance on the one occasion I’m actually able to attend an away match at Halifax. Of course we’d dick it up in front of a huge following, just at a time when the relationship between manager and fans had become a bit volatile. I’ve been following the Mariners for a good while now, and I can only describe Saturday’s showing as utterly weird.

Halifax will never have to work as little as they did to score four goals in one game ever again. The match began at a pace that would universally be described as average, and worryingly eight or nine players were off it. Robertson was nowhere to be seen in the build-up to Halifax’s opener, and in attempting to cover at left back Monkhouse proved that he can’t cover at left back. Someone prodded in, and Town players looked at each other. None of them knew who to blame – possibly because all of them were accountable in some form or other.

Now, I’d already declared within 60 seconds of the game starting that I didn’t like the look of this ref. Twice he failed to play advantage – once for each team – and he somehow concluded that, because a Halifax defender got hurt when blocking a goal-bound shot, play should stop a micro-second before Town put the ball in the net so the player could receive treatment, and then resume with a bounce-up in favour of the home side.

We tried to work that one out, but decided it was easier to just abuse him. Luckily for the ref, Town immediately got worse and the fans abused them instead. And later, the manager.

Some more shit defending meant Town found themselves 2-0 down a minute later, and before we were allowed to contemplate when it was the last time Town had found themselves 2-0 down in any game, it was 3-0 because Toto slid for a ball he was never going to get, and the ball was squared for someone – I don’t know who it was – to poke it home.

Through all the chaos and calamity, Town, bizarrely, had the best player on the park by a country mile – Nolan. He brought some determined running and purpose to centre midfield, and wasn’t afriad to carry the ball. He also lost it a couple of times, but he’s a little bit different to what we’ve had in there before.

The second half, in short, was boring. Town seemed to enjoy most of the possession, but shots were rare – and when they happened, they ballooned into the stand behind the goal. One shot may have gone out for a throw-in. All the while we looked incredibly likely to concede a fourth whenever Halifax ventured into our half. We were fragile against the counter, and it’s as bad as I’ve seen our defence play. Robertson didn’t look fit, Tait was nowhere for Halifax’s third, and Monkhouse looked like he was playing in a strip made entirely out of do-not-bend envelopes. Podge and Bogle looked anything but the divison’s most lethal strike partnership.

Podge did make it 26 for the season, though – and five against the Shaymen – with a simple finish from close in, and then Halifax made it 4-1 straight away with a perfect free kick. Just when you thought the game couldn’t get any sillier, Nolan stroked home a fine effort into the far corner to complete the scoring.

I’ve since read some silly things on Twitter – Hurst should be sacked and replaced with Wayne Burnett, because he was doing a great job of getting Dagenham relegated into the Conference; John McDermott would get us out of this tin pot league because he’s assistant manager at Harrogate and has never managed a football club before; and Chris Hargreaves because, you know, he played for us way back when, and has a relegation on his CV. Brilliant.

They’re all absolute punts; shots in the dark (which, ironically, mirrored our approach play in West Yorkshire). We’re 19 points behind the leaders, whether we have Hurst at the helm or not, so I don’t see how a change of manager now is suddenly going to turn us into title contenders. To the fans who claim they’re not stepping into Blundell Park again until Hurst is gone – grow a pair. We’re called supporters, not runawayers. If we were 11th and going nowhere, I could almost understand.

It was a really bad day at the office – and that’s before we get into what was allegedly said in the dressing room at half time, and what was allegedly said between one player and one fan at full time. It was a thoroughly toxic atmosphere and one I didn’t feel comfortable in. Any unity that the fans had with the players – and with each other – has long gone. We’ve become a deeply divided club, and Hurst – if he didn’t already know it – now faces the biggest challenge of his managerial career to date.

Good luck with that.

We’re a better team than we were the last time we played Shrewsbury in every single way – except one

Remember, remember, the five wins of November. We played the perfect month, beating St Albans in the FA Cup and taking 12 points from a possible 12 to move up to third in the league. I won’t win any prizes for saying that it hasn’t always been like that (unless it’s the Most Obvious Thing To Say On A GTFC Blog award, in which case, yoink, thank you very much), but it does make me wonder whether I’m happier with us being in a lower division, where we win much more regularly.

Controversial, I know. That’d get ’em going on the Fishy, if I opened up a thread with that sort of comment. But it’s not the first time I’ve thought it.

It was this article in the Grimsby Telegraph that reminded me of just how appalling we’ve been. Imagine going six months without a win in the league. Well, we don’t have to imagine. We don’t even struggle to remember, since it only happened recently.

I wouldn’t have minded so much if that record-breaking barren spell occurred at a decent level. The fact that it happened in the fourth division in 2010; that my grandad, who supported the Mariners for many more decades than I, never witnessed such a shambolic period in the club’s history, just adds to the shame.

It seems all the more astonishing, to go 25 league games without a win, at a time when we’ve all become so used to winning. Such a tragic run is in direct contrast to the month we’ve just enjoyed.

Paul Hurst’s win ratio is close to 50%, which is impressive for any manager at any level. The fact that we remain in the Conference, though, is probably the thing that denies him the great manager tag. For now he remains a very good manager.

So, instead of going into this match against Shrewsbury Town on a 25-game winless streak, we go into it on a five-match winning streak, and just one defeat in our last 18.

We would’ve killed for that sort of form in 2009/10, as a League club. Of course, it’s entirely possible to go 25 games without a win at any level of football, if you’re mismanaged to the degree we were just six years ago, but it doesn’t hurt if, every now and again, you’re reminded of what we had to endure during our darkest times to appreciate the good times.

And hey, maybe in a few years’ time, when we’re back in the Football League and looking over our shoulders at relegation from League 2 again (much like York are this season) we may consider this time – the days of Hurst recruiting good players, building competitive squads, taking us on long unbeaten runs and fighting for promotion every season – as the good times.

And no, I don’t lack ambition, and I don’t want us to remain a non-league club. I’m as passionate as the next Town fan, but we all measure success differently.

Today we have a better manager, better players, a better Trust, a stronger voice in the boardroom, and a stronger connection with the fans and the local community. Today our club is a much better club than it was six years ago in every single way.

Other than the division it’s in.

Time for Hurst to show he’s learnt from past mistakes

Christian Jolley celebrating

Christian Jolley celebrates his play-off final goal against Wrexham at Wembley in 2013.

The news that Grimsby Town have signed Christian Jolley and Gregor Robertson is definitely welcome, and the additions should strengthen what’s already a very decent squad for a push at the Conference title.

But forgive me if I don’t get too excited just yet. While this is more good work by Paul Hurst in the transfer market, only time will tell if they have the desired effect. We’ve been here before – twice, in fact – and on both those occasions we’ve come up short.

While Robertson will no doubt slot into the left back position in the continued absence of Aswad Thomas, Jolley’s role seems less clear. Is he a winger or a striker? Well both, according to his Mariners Player interview. You can see why his credentials appealed to Hurst, who favours a tricky, pacy wide player with an ability to play up top.

If used as a winger, or inside forward, what does this mean for Mackreth, Pittman, Arnold and Neilson? If used as a striker, where does Palmer fit in? Will Hannah drop one more down the pecking order? And will Watson get another game?

I’m delighted with the quality of these signings. Hurst doesn’t sign many duds – and even the ones we knew nothing of (Magnay) or doubted (Clay) have turned out to be better than we imagined.

But my true judgment will be reserved until May, when we’ll know if we’re back in the Football League or remain a Conference club.

The two previous January transfer windows have promised much and delivered very little. Hurst arms himself with so many attacking options that no one player feels like they can command a starting spot every week, and I think they find that unsettling. A lack of consistency usually delivers a lack of form.

His tendency to rotate his attacking players has not worked. We failed to get the best out of Jennings last season, we saw very little from a promising signing in Tounkara, and as a creature of habit, Cook never suited Hurst’s rotation policy. Neither did Hannah.

Hurst has a squad that many other managers at this level would envy – and that’s credit to him – so the important thing now is being able to get the very best out of it.

As one of Hurst’s big advocates, if there’s one area of his management that I doubt it’s this. Get the best out of the strikers he’s got, between now and the end of the season, and he’ll write himself into the Grimsby Town history books.

Let’s hope that’s the case. In the meantime, here’s hoping he gets (and keeps) all our players fresh, focused and firing.

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.