Tragic. Match report: Grimsby 0-4 Leyton Orient

Supporting the Mariners is a bit like owning a cat. I’m not really sure why any of us do it. They don’t seem to give a lot back.

Take my cat, for instance. I tell her I love her, but I seem to spend about 90% of my time being annoyed by her.

They scratch your furniture, pick holes in your carpets, do horrible stinks in the litter tray, walk across your laptop while you’re working, and they’re prepared to spend hours and hours just staring at you, and intimidating you, until they’ve ground down what resistance you thought you had to get what they want.

They know your greatest weakness; that you’ll give in, eventually. Again and again.

Once in a while, they’ll provide you with some memories to treasure but, on the whole, they’re arseholes.

Well, they are.

Grimsby Town know my weakness. They know I’ll return, no matter what.

They know my love for them is unconditional because I was born at Croft Baker and grew up being able to see the floodlights from our garden.

And so, on a dull October afternoon at Blundell Park, the Mariners put in one of their dullest performances for many seasons as they conceded four goals without reply to a side whose manager had literally days to get to know his players.

And yet it was Town who played like complete strangers.

Such was Town’s ineptitude, even now I’m wondering whether Leyton Orient were actually any good.

They got near the Mariners’ goal twice in the opening 20 minutes and stuck the ball in the net both times. The defending for each was tragic.

We can’t keep conceding first. It’s one thing conceding first to a worldie; it’s something else when the opener was easily preventable at three separate stages.

You could measure the level of shitness at Town’s defending for the second goal because Orient centre back Josh Coulson looked genuinely embarrassed to score it.

Town had chances to score at 2-0. Their keeper lived up to his name and made two ‘brill’ saves – both at his near post, either side of half time.

Hanson somehow scooped the ball over the bar from six yards and sub Whitehouse nodded wide from a similar distance when he should’ve at least hit the target.

Other than that, Town were rubbish. There was at least some intensity from the half time subs, Green and Ogbu, but it begged the question: were the hell was it in the first half?

Why do we have to go 2-0 down for us to start playing like we should’ve done from the start?

I’m less concerned about the third and fourth goals, which were a result of our pressing to get back into the game.

Jolley at least put all our available attacking players on the pitch. Don’t ask me to tell you what formation he had them playing in, though.

The first half, in a nutshell, was a Town centre back – usually Waterfall – launching the ball 50 yards towards Rose on the left. At least Monkhouse was tall, and could win a few headers.

Rose, a player notorious for his pace, barely got to use it. You could’ve brought your part-time mate to the game yesterday and as they headed for the exit after the third goal they wouldn’t have had a clue that he was meant to be quick.

I’m a big fan of us playing our young players, but Clifton never got on the ball and Vernam was isolated on the right.

We never looked like we wanted to pass it through the middle, but I’m not going to criticise Clifton and Hess if that’s what the team was instructed to do.

Öhman met his match in Harrold and struggled to win his headers, while Hanson was as ineffective in the air as I’ve seen.

We spent the whole of pre-season practising this 4-3-3 formation and, while it’s worked for us on a few occasions, yesterday’s match would have you think we’d never played it before.

Hewitt in midfield? Get out of here.

We’ve got a selection of strikers who are more than capable of scoring goals at this level, and the only player in our squad who offers genuine width and is capable of putting crosses into the box is out injured.

There are too many unanswered questions for mid-October.

On his return to Blundell Park, 10 years on from the shit-show that was Mike Newell’s alcohol-infused reign, Joe Widdowson must have thought nothing has changed.

And in many ways, he’d be right.

You only sing when you’re rowing. Match report: Grimsby 0-0 Cambridge

In isolation, that wasn’t a bad 0-0 to watch. In the context of three consecutive goalless draws at Blundell Park, during which time we’ve suddenly made scoring look about as difficult as the EFL co-ordinating a live broadcast of a simple cup draw, it’s naturally irked the supporters who pay hard-earned money in return for the promise of some goals. Continue reading

Match report: Tactics from the Steven Age

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.