What’s missing from Town’s 3-man midfield?

In recent weeks, Grimsby Town joint-managers Rob Scott and Paul Hurst have tinkered with the formation in preparation for next season. The 4-4-2 used for the majority of the season has been ditched in favour of the 4-3-3 that they used at times earlier in the season. Whether this is a sign of things to come for next season or not, only time will tell. But if 4-3-3 is a system that Scott and Hurst will look to favour when the 2012-2013 kick off in August, it will need a lot of work on the training ground as well as a new player or two.

Looking at the final fixture of the season, in which The Mariners suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Southport, the lone frontman Anthony Elding was generally isolated and the midfield three were too often in a straight line across the pitch.

There isn’t too much criticism you can throw at the players that played in midfield for Town. Captain Craig Disley, Frankie Artus and Andi Thanoj are all good players. They all work hard enough and want to play football in the right way. The problem with playing them as a three is that they all like to play in a similar way – stay quite deep, pick the ball up from defenders and pass it.

The team needed an extra dimension yesterday in midfield as it became a flat 3 in the middle. In the first 10 minutes Artus made a few runs forward off the ball and I thought he would be the one that would continue to do that and get closer to Elding when Town attacked. But that didn’t really happen and the only time the midfield broke from being a flat 3, was when Disley or Thanoj came deep to get the ball from McKeown or the centre-backs.

Ideally – and he has the ability to do it – I would have liked to have seen Thanoj pass the ball into the striker’s feet and follow his pass straight away, running forward wanting it back (as shown below).

Thanoj plays the ball into Elding’s feet and follows his pass forwards

After Elding lays the ball back into Thanoj’s path, he now has creative options

As the second diagram shows, Thanoj can follow his pass forward and Elding returns it into his path. At the time Elding lays the ball back, Hearn and Soares make a diagonal run in towards the penalty box. Elding’s part isn’t finished either as further movement from him can drag a defender with him and create more space for either Hearn or Soares to be played in. So Thanoj now has options. He can play in either Hearn or Soares, find Elding himself if the centre-back chooses to close down Thanoj and leave Elding in space, or he can take the ball on himself and shoot. The other option not shown on the diagram above is that as Hearn/Soares run infield, the Town full-backs suddenly have yards of space to attack down the flanks. A square ball from Thanoj plays one of the full backs in and gives them a chance to put a cross into the box. If they do hit an early ball into the box, there should be enough bodies in there to hit. Elding would have been joined by Hearn and Soares coming in off the flanks. And Thanoj can either join them in the middle or hold his position on the edge of the box. If he hangs back on the edge of the box he can gather any slack clearances that come his way, or even be available for the full back in possession to cut the ball back along the floor for Thanoj to shoot.

New Players?

What Town really need is a Groves/Bolland type midfielder who will break from the midfield line and get close to the striker. Someone to arrive late in the box to get on the end of crosses. Someone to get onto knock-downs from the front man after a long-ball up. Someone for the full-backs to find with neat passes as they make forward runs towards the opposition box.

Town could also do with a Manny Panther-type holding midfielder. A disciplined and intelligent player to do the simple things when in possession, and be the man that plugs the gaps when others go forward to attack. Someone with the tactical nouse of Panther would have held the position to prevent York scoring their last minute winner at Blundell Park in March – where the York full-back intercepted a pass and ran half the length of the pitch before hitting a winning goal from just over 20 yards. Games against the top five sides in the league have shown that it is necessary to have such a player. And a strong, mobile presence in midfield would enable Town’s other midfielders to play a few yards higher up the pitch when in possession.

Scott and Hurst don’t need to make major changes to the squad, but there are some vital areas where we do need to bring players in. And I feel this approach to rebuilding the midfield would go a long way to giving the team a midfield that could compete with anyone in the league.

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