I said in my match preview this morning that the season wouldn’t be defined by today’s result and I stand by that. Kidderminster didn’t win until the 11th game of the last campaign, remember. Despite that fact, let’s not beat around the bush. Today’s performance was dreadful. Seasons aren’t defined on one performance, but there seemed to be deeper rooted problems than a one-off bad day at the office.
Town lined up in the new 4-3-3 formation with Neilson and Colbeck out wide and Liam Hearn down the middle. Aldershot matched up with the vast bulk of players having signed up in the last few days. Yet despite this, it looked like the Mariners were the side who had met up in the car park a few hours before the game. The midfield three were totally overrun by a tenacious and determined Aldershot side that, somewhat lacking in skill and guile, made up for it with passion in abundance. They harried and chased and gave Town no time at all, forcing the Mariners into mistake after mistake after mistake. Aswad Thomas had his worst game in a Mariners shirt, seemingly unable to trap a bag of cement or even pick out one of his own men with a forward hoof. Clayton McDonald, while decent in the air, has the turning speed of the sinking Titanic. Scott Kerr looked off the pace and the front three were entirely ineffective as the ball was lumped to them time after time. We were promised passing football and a different approach – yet all we got was more of the same.
The concerning thing for me is that the management spent 6 weeks of pre-season determined to introduce 4-3-3 and bought players in to suit the system. Yet within 45 minutes the system had been jettisoned and we went straight back to 4-4-2. To be fair, it was the right thing to do. Aldershot, for all their industry, were there for the taking. But Town had frankly been inept. No chances, no shots, no hope.
John-Lewis came on for Neilson and Town tried to pass the ball better. But Aldershot, sensing they could actually get something from the game, looked more threatening and deservedly took the lead when McKeown flapped at a cross and Oastler lashed in from 10 yards. It was a cracking finish from the right back. If anything, Aldershot grew in confidence and although they didn’t create too many chances, their solid foundation meant Town never got a foothold in the game. And whenever Grimsby did have the ball, they often gifted it away. Rodman and Hannah came on for Kerr and Hearn and it was the former Bradford man who pulled Grimsby level. The penalty was harsh on Aldershot – it didn’t look a foul from the Main Stand – but Hannah lashed home to level. Town, for three minutes, upped the tempo but failed to create another clear cut chance. Morris, in the Aldershot goal, didn’t have a save to make in the entire game.
Aldershot more than deserved their point and, in all fairness, probably should have had three. Town just didn’t get started. They didn’t know their gameplan and looked devoid of ideas. Most concerning, for me anyway, was the fact they just didn’t create any kind of chances and never looked like scoring. 4-4-2 may have been predictable last season, but 4-3-3 today just didn’t work at all. After the game Rob Scott said he wanted to ‘stick to his principles’, which I assume means 4-3-3 stays. That’s all well and good – but do Town have the tools to play 4-4-3? Do five strikers go into one position? Do we have the wide players to be effective? Is McDonald better than Ian Miller? Are Kerr and Disley too similar? None of the questions can be answered after game 1. It’s a marathon not a sprint. But I’d be concerned that, after a passing game was promised, Town lumped it forward aimlessly far too often to three five-foot-somethings. It looked uncoordinated and messy. Tuesday needs a vast improvement.