Playing with purpose. Match report: Grimsby 4-2 Yeovil

“They seem to know what they’re doing more than usual,” said my dad, barely three minutes into the game.

My dad’s last game was the 2-1 home defeat to Wycombe – as was mine – and the contrast was clear from kick-off. Who knew that 4-4-2 could work? We looked organised, the players played with confidence, and we were as creative and incisive as I’ve seen us all season.

Then we won a penalty, which Sam Jones tucked away with the only kind of aplomb you know, and Chris Clements soon doubled our lead with an effort that deserved to find the net based solely on the neat bit of teeing up he did for himself immediately before the strike.

Town, being Town, let the Glovers back in it way too early in the second half. Under Bignot we’d have turned to the person sat next to us and pulled a sort of constipated face in anticipation of a nervy last 40 minutes, in which we’d have scored a last-minute own goal, gave away a silly penalty or allowed the referee to take all our playing abilities out of the equation and intervened with an uncontrollably bad decision to make the very angry bloke at the back of the main stand completely lose his shit and put his fist through the corrugated steel behind him.

But this was a team that had already showed enough to suggest that we wouldn’t crumble.

Despite Scott Vernon either being unavailable or overlooked in the game against Cambridge, I always felt there would be a place for him in Slade’s team. The goal today helped, of course – even if it came off his back, a yard out, without him even knowing.

Vernon’s the experienced front man, with the strength and intelligence to make our manager weak at the knees. He’s our new Lump, and every Slade team needs a Lump. He combined really well with Sam Jones, and they worked tirelessly as a front pair.

“Jamey’s goal was Reddy-esque,” mumbled Dale from the back of the room in the post-match press conference. It was. Osborne ran onto a clearance from a Yeovil free kick and suddenly found himself in the clear before he’d even broken out of his own half. At the crucial moment, just outside the area, he stepped across and in front of the only Glover chasing him back before taking the ball on and caressing it into the far corner as if he’d been doing it all his career.

No more sweating for us.

Well, you say that, but I wasn’t completely convinced we’d see things out comfortably after Yeovil smashed in a second because my mate Pete said before the game that with the pressure off for both sides it’d would either be a tepid affair or end 4-4. For a moment that second prediction of his was about to be played out.

But despite scoring two goals, the visitors never really looked like they’d get anything from the game. In fact the two goals flattered them, while five or six wouldn’t have flattered us.

There was just enough time left for me to praise the referee – seconds before he ignored what I felt was a pretty nailed-on penalty when Vose was brought down in the area. I’d have liked to have seen us hit five to wipe out the memory of us conceding that many at Crewe in February.

So even when we play with two central midfielders as wingers in a 4-4-2 we’re good enough to see off average teams in League 2. Osborne showed craft and skill and was understandably named man of the match for his goal, assist and general marauding down the left, while forgotten man James Berrett has played himself back into contention for next season.

I haven’t mentioned Disley because that’s exactly what he does. He glided through the game, bringing calmness in the centre and setting the stage for others to perform. It was vintage Dis.

There was some good football played in the final third, too. And while we weren’t afraid to lump it from the back, the punts forward just had a lower trajectory and more of a purpose. They seemed to find Vernon and Jones more easily, and it would often stick. I dunno, it was almost like we had a plan or something.

It was a thoroughly dominant performance – although I’m not sure how much Yeovil, wearing a strip inspired by what you’d typically find in a doorway down a deserted back alley in Manchester at 3am on Sunday morning, contributed to our success because they were pretty awful considering they technically had something to play for – as did we, of course.

Even now, the play-offs aren’t mathematically out of the question with two games to play.

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.

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.