Month: March 2018

Playing with a Plan

Michael Jolley made 5 changes to the starting line-up for his first game in charge of Grimsby Town and significantly changed the system too. I was eagerly anticipating the tactical approach that the new man in charge would put in place. He’s known as an intelligent Coach and as a tactically forward-thinking man, and I think he’s shown signs of this after just one game in charge.


Jolley had spoken in pre-match interviews about wanting to understand and effect the mindset of the players. He’d spoken about giving the players more clarity in terms of a way of playing and a structure with clear responsibilities.

To me, this was evident from the start. Nobody realistically expected the new Manager to transform a team that hadn’t won in 15 games into a reincarnation of Barcelona. But what we did see, was a team that looked like they knew their jobs in different stages of the game.

It should be a given really, yet it hasn’t always been evident previously this season. But there was a clear structure to the team in and out of possession, with an animated Manager on the touchline assisting the players to ensure it was followed. There were several patterns of play, including debutant Easah Suliman receiving the ball from McKeown and building into midfield, switches of play when wing-backs were left 1v1 as a result of other movements I’ll mention soon, and being more patient in building up possession as M.J. was happy to speak about in his post-match interview.

Starting Line-up

Town lined up as follows in what I’d call a 3-4-3 formation, similar to what some Premier League sides have used in the last couple of years:


GTFC Starting XI vs Port Vale

It’s a system that the new Manager would have only had a few days to work on and there are clearly things to work on to make it more effective. But some principles of what would make it work were evident before the shape was changed to chase the game.

In Possession


In possession, the wing-backs were pushed up high and wide whilst Clifton and Dembele drifted infield to both play as no.10’s trying to receive the ball between the lines of Port Vale’s compact shape.

StartingLineup In Possession

In Possession

The movement of Dembele/Clifton infield allowed us to switch play a fair few times as it left the wing-back on the opposite side of the pitch 1v1 . Unfortunately neither Fox or Davies are known as dribblers so on these occasions possession was either recycled or the delivery into the box came a bit too early and from deep.

The narrower roles of Dembele and Clifton in possession almost, and should have, led to a Town goal just before half time. Because they were infield in possession, if we could win the ball back high and quickly in moments of transition having lost the ball, they were already in prime positions to hurt the opposition. Clifton won the ball with typically energetic pressing midway into Port Vale’s half and it released Dembele down the inside-right channel. The former Nike Academy man cut the ball back but despite Town having bodies arriving in the box, no-one was able to get a clear shot off.

Out of Possession

vs Port Vale Out of Possession

Out of Possession

Out of possession, the wing-backs naturally retreated whilst Dembele and Clifton dropped back into midfield positions, giving us more of a 5-4-1 shape (above).

Plan B

With the game progressing and the visitors having had the better of the chances. Jolley showed a pro-active approach to game management by making an early change just 8 minutes into the second half. A centre-back (Suliman) was sacrificed, on came Reece Hall-Johnson, and Town switched to a basic 4-4-2 with Dembele now operating as a standard no.10 (see below).


53rd minute: First Substitution/Formation Change

Further Substitutions

Following James McKeown’s penalty save in the 63rd minute, the former Burnley u23 Coach attempted to capitalise on a momentum shift in the game by sending on striker Harry Cardwell for Mitch Rose a couple of minutes later. The shape of the team didn’t change this time, but it was a more attacking move with two recognised strikers now on the pitch. Dembele and Davies now took up new positions (below).


65th minute: 2nd substitution

Then with 13 minutes left the final substitution was more of a like-for-like with winger Sam Kelly replacing Siriki Dembele. This was Dembele’s first start for a while and he was understandably fatigued and probably a little low on confidence, but he could play an important part in the run-in. Kelly made a few positive contributions on the left and Clifton switched over to the right and did another job in the GTFC Academy graduate’s 3rd position of the 90 minutes.


77th minute: 3rd substitution


Town rescued a point in the 91st minute having shown plenty of heart and a desire to keep going until the last whistle, something Jolley commented on post-match as a major positive regarding the psychology of the players.

They undoubtedly owe a massive amount of credit to Man of the Match James McKeown for keeping the Mariners in the game with a few genuinely top class saves. But the early signs of the new Manager are that he’s setting up a clear way of playing, can adapt and change within a game, and isn’t afraid to make early changes. All 3 substitutes made positive contributions and we arguably got stronger in the game with each change.

With more time now to go to work on the training ground, this will give hope to the Black & White army that we have a Manager who, first and foremost, can work with the players he’s got to ensure League Two survival. If he can do that, I’m confident he could build a decent side longer term.