Lop-sided. Match report: Grimsby 1-2 Wycombe

On both occasions yesterday when Town kicked off following Wycombe’s goals, literally none of our players were stood on the left side of the pitch.

The kick-off taker (possibly Calum Dyson) was stood centrally, naturally, while Danny Andrew was also central, just in front of the D, with James McKeown just behind. Every other bugger in a black and white shirt was stood on the right side of the pitch, as if the Main Stand was breathing some terrible disease on them.

Was this tactical? If so, what the hell were we hoping to achieve from it?

Our deficiency on the left is now so well known that future opposition won’t have to bother sending a scout to watch us.

It’s on Google Earth. You could probably see it from the moon.

I guess you could say we have nothing left to give. But that’s not funny. And none of us left yesterday’s match laughing.

At a time when we’re not helping ourselves, the last thing we need is a referee who’s not willing to help us either. All he needed to do was apply the rules of association football fairly and correctly, and he couldn’t even do that.

We should’ve seen it coming. It’s somewhat ironic how the OS used this picture of referee Nick Kinseley to warn us of impending doom. His expression became mine by full time.

In midweek the whole world seemed to stop immediately when Fernando Torres was knocked unconscious.

Yesterday, Gavin Gunning got knocked unconscious and the ref let play continue long enough for Wycombe’s Plaster of Paris Cowan-Hall to ping the ball into the top corner for what turned out to be the winning goal.

The ref wasn’t even sure about giving a stonewall penalty on Tom Bolarinwa, and had to look to his assistant for help.

I’ve seen us lose a lot this season (seven in nine), but the manner in which we went down to the Chairboys was particularly galling.

True, our showing for the first 30 minutes was very encouraging, and we should’ve been at least two or three up by half time – but there were still plenty of holes in our performance.

Having said that, irrespective of our left-sided issues, our confusing formation, our indiscernible style of play and chronic lack of pace, Wycombe were pretty awful and we should’ve beaten them.

They looked every bit like a side that’d been struggling and sliding down the league in recent weeks. McKeown was able to keep his luminous orange outfit in pristine condition.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that if it weren’t for an uncharacteristically panicked swipe by Danny Collins and an abysmal piece of refereeing, we could’ve played until midnight and Wycombe wouldn’t have scored a ‘conventional’ goal.

But going in the other direction, second half especially, we were pretty toothless too. And we didn’t score any conventional goals ourselves simply by being rubbish at shooting.

It was bad enough falling behind at the hands of incompetent officials, but what made it worse was that we’d not shown much after the half-hour mark to suggest we were likely to find an equaliser from somewhere.

I’ve only seen us score five goals in nine games, so you’ll understand why I wasn’t holding out much hope.

But I’ll give us some credit. We had a go. It wasn’t brilliant, but it was more than I was expecting. Bignot made attacking substitutions and threw on Dominic Vose in an attempt to make something happen. And it nearly did.

Their keeper was surely their man of the match – helped, no doubt, by Sam Jones’ staggering ability to shoot straight at him from six yards.

Despite leaving Blundell Park feeling gutted and frustrated in equal measure, there was a tinge of hope in there too.

We showed some cohesive attacking play in the first half, which forced their keeper into making good saves. The players seemed to have a better grasp of where they were meant to be, and what they were meant to do – although that ebbed away towards half time and we reverted to typical Town nothingness in the second half. But then we showed a bit of fight and spirit at the end.

Some of the best sides have been built from the back. We seem to have a solid base – now Bignot needs to work on developing our attacking play.

He says he wants to play exciting, attacking football, but he’ll need width and pace. So I guess we won’t be seeing that this season. Also, I still feel the players don’t truly know how he wants us to attack.

I remember Bignot using all-encompassing words and phrases like ‘being positive on the ball’ and ‘always playing forward’ in an interview with Radio Humberside.

Sounds good, but I hope he’s more specific than that with the players on the training pitch, because at the moment they’re carrying out his vague plan with appropriate vagueness.

Occasionally it comes off, but most of the time it just looks like every player has been told they’ll get an absolute bollocking if they ever pass sideways or backwards.

So what happens is that we get a succession of fairly aimless clips and clearances that just go forward. If we could add a little direction too, then that’d be ace.

And, of course, it’d be really good if we had an option to use the left side of the pitch. Without it, through sympathy alone, Danny Andrew will continue to be everyone’s man of the match as soon as he steps out onto the pitch.

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.

Grimsby Town are more likely to hammer teams before Christmas than after

Before I get into the meat of this article, I thought I’d begin with an anecdote – and I’ll keep it short. A couple of weeks ago I was running with my neighbours’ dog in a nearby field at midnight and got wiped out by a branch that hit me square in the left eye.

This story obviously needs some context, as I’m sure there are a number of questions that you want to ask, but I actually believe it’s more entertaining if I leave you to fill in the blanks.

Why on earth was he walking his neighbours’ dog at midnight? And what was he doing running? It left me with an eye that looked as though it had a small plum trying to grow out from behind it, like a weird scene from Alien that never made the final cut.

Anyway, with impaired vision and strict instructions from optometrists not to drive, read books or use screens to avoid straining my good eye, it left me with a frankly disgusting amount of time to think about things.

And after Town’s depressing defeat to part-timers Braintree on Tuesday night it got me thinking about how we never seem able to dispatch teams the way we do before January.

It’s always felt to me like we post big scores in the months before Christmas, and then we sort of nudge past teams from January until the end of the season, with a nervousness that seemingly comes from nowhere (but probably comes from Paul Hurst tinkering with the squad in January, bringing in players, not using them, benching his 30+ goal striker and shutting up shop for a point when we should be going for all three).

So I decided to look into our margins of victory before and after Christmas over the past four seasons (from all competitions) to see if there was a pattern:

  • 2012/13: 2.27 before Christmas, 1.77 after
  • 2013/14: 1.83 before Christmas, 1.36 after
  • 2014/15: 2.19 before Christmas, 1.57 after
  • 2015/16: 2.5 before Christmas, 1.92 after

Yes, I’m aware this season isn’t over yet, but I’ve included the figures as there are only three (possibly six and the FA Trophy final) to go. Also, we tend to play more games before Christmas than after, but I’ve used averages so that should be a fairer way of representing the numbers.

Even I can see – with my one good eye – that our margin of victory drops every season after Christmas. And here are those drops as percentages:

  • 2012/13: 22.1%
  • 2013/14: 25.7%
  • 2014/15: 28.4%
  • 2015:16: 23.2%

That’s a staggeringly consistent average drop of 25%. And here’s another statistic for you: across the four seasons that I’ve analysed, we’ve won by a margin of three goals or more on 35 occasions before Christmas, and just 8 after. As percentages, that’s 35.4% before Christmas, and just 15.7% after.

I’d have thought it would be the other way round; winning cautiously early in the season as the squad takes time to gel and suss out the opposition, and then accelerate in the new year when partnerships have had time to develop.

It’s not a case of us winning fewer matches in the new year – it’s just that we’re not winning them as convincingly, or by the margins that we were from August to December.

So why the dramatic drop? Is this phenomenon unique to Grimsby, or does it happen more widely as teams adjust their style of play according to the situation? Does Paul Hurst suddenly become a different person when January arrives? Does he tell his players to ‘go easy’on the opposition once we edge in front?

For this to happen so consistently over four years makes me believe something is occurring. This suggests, with some clarity, that we play more cautiously when taking the lead in matches after Christmas. Hurst is changing his approach – consciously or unconsciously, whether he likes to admit it or not.

What is he changing? How is he changing it? Why is he changing it? Like my running in the field with the neighbours’ dog at midnight, this story is missing a few vital pieces.

But there’s one common denominator in all of this, and that’s the transfer window. We emerge the other side a slightly different team, season after season.

The jinx continues: Macclesfield v Grimsby Town match report

I know, I know. I should’ve stayed at home. Maybe next time I will.

Every now and again, Town have this tendency to throw in a tardy performance – normally when I’m in attendance – and the one at Macclesfield on Monday was another example.

Whatever tactical points Hurst won against Wrexham on Saturday were discarded in a shambolic first half in which the Mariners treated the ball like some kind of ticking time bomb that none of them wanted to hold onto for more than a millisecond.

Clay couldn’t even get the ball under control to get rid of it.

I was surprised Hurst dropped Hoban for Bogle for this one. The pitch looked bobbly and the wind was swirling. It was a game for players who were brave enough and strong enough to hold the ball up and look after it. Forget the fact that he hasn’t scored for us yet.

The first half was utterly, utterly forgettable. It was clippy, clippy, clippy, hoof, hoof, hoof. Slice. Throw-in. Repeat.

Bogle had a shot from distance, and Podge fired wide. A Clay header looped and needed touching over the bar, but generally there wasn’t much going on.

Fittingly, the opening goal didn’t come from any ingenuity. A solid tackle from Town in the centre turned into a great through-ball for Macclesfield, and as McKeown rushed out it was squared for Sampson to tap home.

There’s a naughty analogy about first touches, but I won’t stoop so low. Suffice to say, not one of the 22 full-time professional footballers looked capable of trapping a bag of clay. Talking of which, he went off, Jennings came on and Nolan went into the centre – not that it made a difference.

Hurst, presumably, had words at half time – words like ‘pass’, ‘shoot’ and ‘stop being dicks’ up his sleeve. They must have come out, because they had the desired effect.

We were a little bit sharper, we were braver in possession and we deservedly levelled in the second half when a McKeown punt was held up by Bogle, helped on by Amond and finished nicely by Nolan.

It came in a 20-minute spell where we just looked the part. Macclesfield were reduced to speculative punts – which was no different from their first half tactic, except now they were seeing less of the ball.

I remember a time when I spent ages making myself a lovely meal, only to catch the cuff of my dressing gown on the handle of the kitchen door as I carried the plate through to the living room. The food went everywhere. It was an utterly weird event that ruined all my hard work.

The football equivalent happened to Town.

The nature of the winner was ridiculous, and having not seen a replay of it, I’m still trying to decide whether it was dozy from the linesman or dozy from Toto. As someone suggested on Twitter, it was possibly both.

Styche nearly fell over laughing when he was allowed to chase a ball from what appeared to be a position 20 yards offside. Toto, who runs lazily and yet would beat me and you in a race hands down, looked like he’d just about recovered the situation, only for the ball to drift over McKeown and roll into the empty net.

Styche celebrated like he’d been getting abuse from the Town fans all game. I don’t get it when goalscorers run to the opposing fans cupping their ears. We weren’t giving you any shit because we don’t know who the fuck you are.

Using Glenn Hoddle’s theory of reincarnation, Town must have upset linesmen in a previous life because they’re sure as hell messing with us this season. The ‘goal’ at Altrincham; the ‘no goal’ at Guiseley; and now this. I don’t know what the green is, but we’re not getting the rub of it.

Town had chances, yadder, yadder, Shaun where’s-he-been-all-game Pearson came on too late, Macclesfield could’ve grabbed a couple more when Town went pushing for the equaliser… it was all a bit messy, a bit disjointed and, if I’m honest, not quite good enough.

As for Macclesfield, well, it’s hard to describe them. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve settled on a bag of shit.

A big bag of shit, with the shiny head of Danny Whitaker at the centre of it.

They’re absolute cloggers – and there’s nothing wrong with that, if it gets you three points (it often does in this division). It was good enough to get the better of us, which is kind of worrying – but we did give them a big helping hand by being a bag of shit ourselves.

Nolan was good, though.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

How to solve a problem like Grimsby Town’s striker issue

Andy Cook runs away with his right arm aloft to celebrate scoring a goal for Grimsby at Tamworth.

Andy Cook scoring a winning goal at Tamworth last season. Image courtesy of the Grimsby Telegraph.

 

Strikers, strikers, strikers – they’re all Grimsby Town fans are talking about these days. It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was thinking we had too many strikers. I also remember, this time last year, signing Lenell John-Lewis on an 18-month deal – just after we had added Richard Brodie to the squad – and wondering exactly why the management felt the need to have eight strikers on our books. Fat load of good that approach did us back then.

Sadly the Mariners haven’t often had strikers who were capable of scoring over 20 goals in a season. Alan Connell was the first since Kevin Donovan in 1998 to achieve that feat, scoring 29 goals in the 2010/11 season. We finished 11th.

That summer we bought Liam Hearn from Alfreton. He went on to score 29 goals too – even though it took him about 10 games to score his first. He really ought to have scored over 30, but he, like the team, ran out of steam towards the end of April. And again, the Mariners fell short of the play-offs.

So, um, yeah – you can see where this is going.

When we did finally make the play-offs, last season, we did it without one player scoring over 20 goals. Andy Cook managed around 16, while Ross Hannah chipped in with 10 (nine during his loan spell and one after signing permanently in January).

Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a striker that scores 20-30 goals – after all, when you have a Ronaldo or a Messi in your team, you’re going to win things. Personally I feel uneasy when we start to depend on one particular player to score all the goals. Some of the best Buckley teams had goals distributed throughout the team – which was a clear reflection of the way the Great One got his teams to play.

Maybe that’s not the only way, and so perhaps not always the right way. But just recently there seems to be this opinion that if we don’t get another striker we’re going to lose our play-off spot. Perhaps.

Time for Cook to step up to the plate?

But I do think it’s time to give Cook an extended run in the first team – his performance against Huddersfield reminded us all of his talent. I seem to remember it took him time to score his first goal last season, but once he got going he was a regular scorer. It may be that we already have the answer to our striking conundrum without having to participate in Sky Sports’ overly-hyped time-limited period of transfer activity.

I’m a big fan of Cook and I’d like to see him given a chance alongside Hannah up front, with Neilson and one of Colbeck and Rodman dishing up some tasty service from the wings. With Craig Disley and Scott Kerr in the centre, that to me seems a fairly strong side capable of scoring goals.

But I understand that Hurst is looking for a Hearn-type player to push Hannah for a starting place. Whether it’s Gillingham’s Adam Birchall or someone else, I don’t think they necessarily need to replace Hannah upon signing. He’s got 10 goals so far this season and roughly a 1-in-2 strike ratio, so it wouldn’t seem fair to drop a player currently on course to make that magical 20-mark.