Match report – Alfreton Town 3 Grimsby Town 3

photoIf the Mariners are going to get out of the Conference this season, they’re going to have to do it the hard way. Three times they went ahead against Alfreton, yet three defensive lapses pulled the home side back into the game. Had the referee given Alfreton a last minute penalty when Aswad Thomas blocked a goalbound shot with his hand, it could have been a lot worse. As it was, Grimsby escaped with a draw in a game they could, and perhaps should, have put to bed by half-time.

The Mariners needed a response after a disappointing midweek performance against Halifax and they got it. Despite arriving two hours late and the match kicking off at 4.20pm, Town started the brighter and took the lead early on. I wrote earlier this week that Ross Hannah is a confidence striker who scores in batches and so it proved. Finding himself clear on goal, although at an acute angle, his attempted lob trickled past the wrong-footed goalkeeper and into the empty net. The goal galvinsed Alfreton who drew level when Town failed to clear effectively (not for the first time this season) and Law hammered home from eight yards. The Mariners, however, started to regain control of the game and went 2-1 up when John-Lewis and Ross Hannah combined for the latter to knock home from what looked like an offside position. It was perhaps a little fortuitous – a mixture of luck and appalling defending – but it’s certainly something Town have lacked in recent weeks.

2-1 up at half-time and the message would surely be to keep it tight. Yet within two minutes the awkward Akinde wiggled his way past Pearson and went down in the box after Town’s centre-half stuck out a leg. The striker dusted himself down to fire the spot kick past James McKeown. Once again Town grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and dictated play. Kempson should have been sent off for a professional foul on Ross Hannah yet was just booked, while Neilson saw an effort deflected over the bar. Bradley Wood, himself booked, blocked a shot with his hands in the box (a definite pen and a sending off??) but Town eventually re-took the lead when Shaun Pearson tricked his way past Kempson before being hauled down. It was a penalty and a booking – the spot kick was given but the defender missed out on a double punishment that would surely have killed the game off. Hannah smashed the ball into the net for his hat-tick and that should have been that.

Alfreton, to their credit, looked down and out but in the final five minutes not only drew level but should have won the game. A long aimless ball played into Town’s box should have been allowed to drift out of play, but for some reason Aswad Thomas switched off and headed the ball into his own six yard box. Clayton, anonymous up to that point, knocked home when there was previously no danger at all. Seconds later, Akinde got a shot off which looked as if it was going to sneak into the corner, Thomas handled to stop the ball going in and the referee waved play in. It perhaps evened out Wood’s earlier indiscretion, but Town had got out of jail. In truth they deserved to win handsomely, yet almost lost at the death.

This was a much improved performance. Town played the ball on the floor, Thanoj looked comfortable in possession and the forward movement, particularly after Hannah grabbed his goals, was the best in recent matches. A win against Hyde means that, worst case scenario, Town would need a draw on the final day of the season at rivals Braintree to grab a Play Off spot. If results go for us, a win against Hyde could be enough. Town cannot take Monday’s game for granted – they should do so at their peril. But it immediately becomes the team’s most important game since Burton on the final day of the our last Football League season.

Shock horror – Grimsby Town win more games with a consistent striking partnership

Here’s a cracking stat to end the working week and the start of the crunch Easter break. When Grimsby Town play the same front two for consecutive matches, they have won 12 of the 19 games where this has happened, losing just twice. When the squad is rotated, as it has been so often recently, the Mariners have won just nine of the 23 games. They’ve lost a whopping 10 of them.

Judging by the response to yesterday’s blog, many people share the view that Paul Hurst doesn’t quite know his best starting XI. This, I believe, is exacerbated up front where he has too many options and no-one really firing on all cylinders. Has anyone really made a claim for the shirt and forced Paul Hurst’s hand? Lennell John-Lewis is, in my opinion, his number one striker and on consistent all round performances, that’s about right. But when he’s fit, who partners him? Connor Jennings hasn’t found the form he showed at Macclesfield, Ross Hannah has lost his confidence, Andy Cook has been in and out and Oumare Tounkara has only been given a run in the side in the last couple of games (and scored twice).

I appreciate that some of the changes Paul Hurst has had to make have been enforced, such as Cook’s late inclusion against Chester, but I do wonder whether the confidence has been sucked out of some of our forward players because they just don’t know when they will be next pulled from the starting line-up. Many of our strikers are confidence players and once they go on scoring runs, tend to grab goals in batches. Lately none of our strikers seem to be able to hit the back of the net. Is it because they’re not having good enough runs in the side?

The stats show that consistency in attacking positions has proven to be positive this season. here’s hoping we can find that winning formula and stick with it until the end of the season, whenever that will be.

How to fix a problem like Grimsby Town

I’d sometimes love to see how a football game is viewed from the dugout. What the managers, coaching staff and players see from a pitchside vantage point. Watching Grimsby Town over the last few weeks and months, to me at least, there are various issues which seem obvious from my cramped Main Stand seat. Teams are able to nullify all our attacking prowess and dominate us because we set up to match others, not because we try and beat them. Our forwards are flat footed and barely make a run – and when they do it’s to nod down an aimless upfield punt which is picked up by an opposition player because our two central midfielders are too deep. We’re slow, predictable and we struggle to do the basics. It’s been the same (at home) since Boxing Day. So why has little changed?

Full credit to Halifax last night, for me they were the better side and deserved the three points. Neil Aspin has clearly got his side playing to their strengths, unlike the Mariners. They push a high line up the pitch, they’re quick to close down space and they play percentage balls into the channels to either pick up scraps or win throw ins 30-odd yards out which can be slung in to the penalty box. They know their limitations but are incredibly effective – Matty Pearson’s lung busting runs showed how Town lack anyone with the legs in the centre of the park to do the same. For all of Disley and Kerr’s leadership and experience, last night proved they don’t have the legs to be effective together anymore.

I tweeted after the game that I’m not convinced Paul Hurst is the man for the job anymore. This isn’t a knee-jerk quip after one defeat, it’s the build-up of a series of frustrations over a number of home games. Can anyone say we’ve truly played a team off the pitch at Blundell Park in 2014? How can a striker in Connor Jennings go from the most lethal striker in the country to totally toothless? How can Ross Hannah be so completely devoid of confidence, you can barely remember the last time he got a shot off from open play, let alone score a goal. Town are too flat footed up top and play with their backs to goal far too often. The only time the ball was played in front of a striker last night, Tounkara sneaked in for a one on one he should have buried. Otherwise it’s all too predictable, not enough forward runners and no-one’s ever playing off the shoulder of the centre halves. With defenders and goalkeepers in the coaching setup, do we have the attacking know-how behind the scenes to iron out the kinks in our forward play? I also thought last night showed just how much Town miss Lennell John-Lewis when he’s unavailable. Cook worked bloody hard but the ball bounced off him all night. If Town play in a direct fashion, LJL has to be in the team.

I’m not advocating a sacking now – with three games left that would be pointless. But listing to Radio Humberside after the game and hearing dissenting voices around me at the match, it’s clear Paul Hurst is losing the fans. Arms crossed in passive fashion stood down on the touchline, when Town are 1-0 down and need a spark he just doesn’t inspire me at all. Blundell Park has been like a morgue for weeks now – if he can’t spark the fans, how can he lift the players? The problem for me is that we’ve been far too negative at home for far too long. Rather than taking the game by the scruff of the neck and attacking sides, as we did earlier in the season and famously beat Scunthorpe and Northampton, we’re trying to neutralise (part-time) opposition. We worry about them more than ourselves. Consequently sides, such as Halifax, can come and bully us and we don’t know how to combat it without resorting to hoofing it down the pitch.

It shouldn’t all be doom and gloom. Town should still make the Play Offs from here. They’re four points clear, with three games to go and a win against Alfreton and a draw against Hyde, or the other way around, would be enough. But if Town lose on Friday, the pressure is really on. Would we really fancy a last day of the season shoot out against Braintree, winner takes all? Even if Town do make the Play Offs, would we fancy ourselves against either Halifax or Cambridge? On recent showings, absolutely not. The players are more than good enough to do the business on the pitch but for whatever reason, it’s not happening. Failure to make the Play Offs would be unforgivable. But even if we do make them, I’m not convinced we’re good enough to win them…

Guest blog – what is the role of a Grimsby Town fan?

Today’s article is a guest blog by Darren Newman following Tuesday’s draw with Woking…

On Tuesday night Grimsby played Woking in the Skrill Football Conference Premier. The match, up until the 84th minute, can be used to sum up the whole season for Grimsby.
There was lots of effort but no clinical edge and no urgency from Town, but they were ultimately heading for an acceptable result. In an astonishing last 12 minutes both teams scored 2 goals with a penalty from Grimsby being scored with the last kick of the game.

That, surely would give most teams plenty to talk about.

But, once again with Grimsby it’s off field events which have been the main talking points. The managers’ press conference started things off. He accused fans of not backing his team and in particular not backing the penalty scorer. Lennell “the shop” John-Lewis. To paraphrase he believed that there were sections of the crowd who were unhappy when LJL decided to take the crucial penalty. He said he was “disgusted” by some comments and in a statement reminiscent of his former co-managers famous “if you don’t fackin like it don’t fackin come” rant, he suggested that he would “rather not” have those fans attend. Radio Humberside have described LJL as being “barracked” today despite there being no mention of it on their match coverage last night.

I was at the game. I wasn’t near the dugout but was on the opposite side of the ground. Around me I heard cheers when we were given the penalty. Some jeers towards Woking players when they surrounded the ref and yes, a couple of words to the effect of “oh no, Lennie’s taking it”, but these were not shouted comments. They were muttered under the breath almost subconsciously. I honestly muttered similar.

I’ll explain myself before the pitch forks come for me. LJL is not a goal scorer. He’s a hard worker. He’s a good hold up player. He wins lots of flick ons and we’re likely to score more as a team with him in it than not. They just won’t come from him. He also failed to score his last penalty. So, some reticence from fans when he put the ball down is somewhat understandable. But, everyone was backing him at that point, every one who followed Grimsby was willing that ball into the net. Why wouldn’t we?

But. It seems that wasn’t enough for our manager. That much was evident from his comments. This was picked up by both Radio Humberside and social media. The talking point hasn’t been about us finding ourselves 3rd in the league or about what was a decent performance or even about saving the game at the death. Instead it’s about the fans and their relationship with the club. The manager and the players. I’ve read both sides and can see both points. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly this has driven a bit of a wedge between the manager and fans.

This was made worse by a statement from Mr Fenty. The former chairman who isn’t the chairman, but is the major shareholder and the spokesperson for the board like a chairman would be even though he isn’t the chairman but is the major shareholder (keep up at the back) where he also criticised the fans. Asking for what he called “blind faith”.

To me this begs the question of just what is the role of a fan? Is it to blindly follow those connected to your club? to place your hopes in their hands? or is it to question these people and to express your opinions? There has been a suggestion that any negative fans opinions aren’t valid. The major shareholder who isn’t the chairman (I’m not getting into this again) hinted that those who go away are more positive. That their opinion is more important, that positive opinions are all that are wanted. I’m not sure who decides who’s opinion is more valid. Is it the major shareholder? Is it a fan who goes home and away? Is it a season ticket holder? Is it someone who occasionally goes to games (me) or someone on excile who can only follow from afar?

All these people have the club in their hearts. All care. Surely all opinions are equally as valid and that includes those positive and those negative?

Are we allowed an opinion or are we expected to pay up. Sit down. Shut up. The modern fan is different. We know that the players. Managers. Board members are all fleeting but the club should belong to the fans. That, really, the fans shouldn’t be treated as an inconvenience by the club or by it’s employees. We should be respected it’s a two way street, there should be respect from both sides. It seems that this is being eroded and all this at potentially the worst possible time.

This has come in a week where we play Saturday. Tuesday. Thursday. Saturday a week where we sit in the middle of a decent run unbeaten and in 3rd in the table. A week at the closing end of the season. A week where really we should be gathering momentum on and off the pitch. We are instead divided, arguing and ultimately left feeling negative when we should be anything but.

Being third in a league, any league in a good thing. It should breed confidence. It should provide positivity. It doesn’t feel like that at the minute. Now we go into another vital game. It’s never easy being a Mariner is it?

Keep the faith and up the Mariners.

Did any Grimsby Town fan really will John-Lewis to miss his penalty against Woking?

photoI was intending to write a match report of last night’s 2-2 draw with Woking, but the events and comments from the 96th minute onwards changed my mind. Somehow, a few anxious murmurs from supporters (and radio commentators!) about Lennell John-Lewis taking the last second penalty have been misreported as fans of the club willing ‘The Shop’ to miss the spot kick. Is it me or is there absolutely no evidence to back this claim up at all?

For the record, I thought Lennell John-Lewis was excellent last night and, for me, has been our third best player of the season (behind McKeown and Pearson). Although I would have given Andy Cook a run of games around the Huddersfield cup match, I fully agree that LJL is one of the first names on the teamsheet. Town are a far better side with him in it. He leads the line brilliantly, wins headers and is an absolute nuisance. Yes, he’s missed some glorious chances, but let’s be honest – if John-Lewis had scored 25 goals this season, he’d be in the Championship, not the Conference.

Having missed a penalty against Cambridge at the same end and missed two or three chances earlier in the game, you can see why Town fans would be anxious when the striker stepped up to take the penalty. Sam Hatton may have thought the same. But fair play to the big man – it takes bottle to take responsibility and it takes skill to put the penalty away. Did anyone boo and will him to miss? I haven’t seen or read anyone say they did that. Anxious murmurs, maybe even surprise that ‘The Shop’ had grabbed the ball. But willing him to miss and therefore lose us the game? REALLY? I just don’t buy it at all. The previous five minutes of madness and Town over-committing players certainly frustrated me as a supporter, but I’d never boo a player who gives his all every single match. I just cannot fathom anyone else who would do the same.

Paul Hurst’s comments after the match seemed to be borne out of frustration, but came across more like the child throwing his rattle out of the pram. Town should have had all three points last night, they’d played well enough. But after Tounkara pulled the game back, the Mariners once again switched off and conceded another soft goal. I can’t help but feel that Town may well be their own worst enemy in their bid for promotion – Cambridge won’t be as forgiving if we gift them easy opportunities in the Play Offs.

The issue should have been put to bed last night as a frustrated manager’s emotions boiled over. But then the issue is reignited by John Fenty with an unnecessary statement that, while the sentiment is arguably correct, in my opinion comes across as patronising. Must we follow the club with “blind faith”? Where has that got us under Mr Fenty’s leadership? I, and many other Town fans, should be able to (and will) offer praise when it’s due and will criticise (hopefully in a constructive manner) when required. We’re all behind the team and we all want promotion. That’s probably why the fans get anxious when things don’t go right. It’s alright for Paul Hurst – he hasn’t watched the last 11 years like the rest of us – and he hasn’t put thousands of pounds into the club travelling across the country to watch them. Town’s fans deserve better. They travel in large numbers and support their club like pretty much no other in non league. I don’t think there’s a need to tell any Town fan to get behind the boys.

Ultimately Town are third, there’s a bit of daylight between us and Alfreton in sixth and wins over them and Halifax (and hopefully Hyde!) should be enough, regardless of other results. Has any fan willed the team to lose? I highly, highly doubt it. And that should be the end of the matter.