Author: Tommy Bryan

Grimsby Town fan, football fan, Coach and sunday league player. Follow me on twitter @TommyBryan84

The Rise and Rise of Shaun Pearson

In July 2011, Grimsby Town signed a 22 year old central defender from Conference North side Boston United named Shaun Pearson.

Five and a half years later, Pearson captained the side in his 250th appearance for the Mariners.

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Picture by Getty Images

He’s been on quite a journey so far, yet there could still be much more to add to his story in years to come. So far in his career he’s had promotions from two play-off final victories, a play-off final defeat, three more play-off semi-final defeats, two FA Trophy final defeats and two Lincolnshire Senior Cup wins. He’s played at Wembley 4 times and represented his country at England C level.

And at 27, he’s still probably another couple of years away from hitting his prime as a professional.

It is worth making sure that Shaun is congratulated for reaching what is a great milestone of 250 appearances for one club, especially in modern day football when players (particularly in the lower leagues) seem to move clubs more frequently than in years gone by. There was a short piece in the Grimsby Telegraph on Monday about Shaun’s achievement but I’ll go into Shaun’s time at GTFC so far in a bit more depth.

He arrived in the summer of 2011 following Town’s first season in the Conference had ended with a disappointing 11th place finish. Rob Scott and Paul Hurst had been appointed Joint Managers at the Club midway through that season and were now able to rebuild the squad to their liking in pre-season. Pearson had played for Scott and Hurst at Boston and they wasted no time in bringing him to Grimsby at the earliest opportunity.

Debut

His Town career didn’t get off the best of starts. After being an unused substitute in the season opener against eventual champions Fleetwood, Pearson made his debut 3 days later in the infamous 5-0 away defeat at Braintree. Have a look at Town’s starting line-up that day:

town-v-braintree-16082011

Shaun was in and out of the team in his first season in full-time football. He made 33 appearances (including sub appearances) as he competed for a place with Darran Kempson, Scott Garner, Charlie I’Anson, for a little while Will Antwi, and from January onwards Ian Miller. By the end of the season, Shaun had established himself in the team as part of the first choice central defensive partnership with Ian Miller. Town finished 11th after flirting with the play-offs with a great middle third to the season, but having a poor last 2 months.

I think the Town fans took to Pearson quite well. His all-action style as a defender who would throw his body in front of shots to prevent a goal, and who would put his head where some wouldn’t put their feet, helped Town’s faithful warm to him.

For the following two seasons Town would be much more consistent and reach the play-offs in successive years only to be knocked out in the semi-finals. Pearson played a big part in this as part of a well organised defensive unit. At times during these seasons Town actually looked like they might challenge for the Conference title and I remember Shaun being obsessed with clean sheets and coming in after games checking to see how many goals other teams had conceded to see if we still had the best defensive record. This competitive mentality is part of what has made Shaun successful.

I think he was seen by fans, in general, as a great conference defender. Not a great deal of pace but a good reader of the game with great bravery as mentioned above. I also think he was, a little unfairly, seen as being poor on the ball. In my opinion this was down to his tall, gangly appearance that doesn’t look as natural on the ball as some others. However I do actually think he was always better on the ball than given credit for.

Yellow Cards

One of the early deficiencies in Shaun’s game was the amount of yellow cards he picked up. He picked up far too many bookings for dissent and spent too much time arguing with referees. He got a massive 16 yellow cards in the 2013-14 season but I believe that year was the turning point for him. His 16th yellow card was in the 1st leg of the play-off semi-final against Gateshead which caused him to be suspended and miss the 2nd leg (which Town lost). The following season he improved on his number of bookings and was only booked 9 times. In Town’s promotion season he was booked just 3 times and so far in League Two he has picked up just four yellow cards.

Pearson had played at Wembley for the first time in his career when Town lost on penalties to Wrexham in the 2013 FA Trophy Final, and was back at Wembley with the Mariners in 2015. Pearson had formed a good partnership with Toto Nsiala all season and stayed in the team despite the late-season signing of Josh Gowling. Unfortunately Town were again defeated at Wembley in a penalty shoot-out.

Loyalty to GTFC

Pearson was now out-of-contract at Grimsby and rumours were circulating that he was about to leave the Club. I think BBC Radio Humberside had reported that he was in talks with Barnsley. Sure enough, Shaun signed a new 2-year deal with Town and had another crack at getting Town promoted to the Football League.

In the 2015-16 season though, he would spend most of the season just deputising for the first choice pairing of Nsiala and Gowling. He did still make 32 appearances, with many of these coming as a substitute or in games where Nsiala was deployed at right-back. Throughout the season, we would never hear of Shaun complaining about lack of starts or asking to move. He was the ultimate professional during this time and performed well whenever he was playing. The season ended with success at last for the Mariners as we triumphed over Forest Green at Wembley to earn promotion to the Football League via the play-offs. Pearson was to come on as a late substitute for the goalscorer of Town’s third goal, Nathan Arnold. It was probably fitting that when the final whistle went to confirm Town’s promotion, Pearson was on the pitch along with Craig Disley and James McKeown, two guys who also started at Braintree in 2011, and who had all been through the heartache in recent years.

The Football League

So on to the Football League. Another step up for Shaun to make after moving from Stamford to Boston, and then Boston to Grimsby. Grimsby had now become a League Two Club and Pearson was now a Football League player. I have to confess, I personally wondered whether there would be a future at GTFC for Shaun Pearson last summer. He had spent most of last season out of the team and I wondered whether his lack of pace/mobility would be more evident at this higher level.

I’m delighted to say that in the months that have passed since, I have been proved wrong, and then some. Pearson was on the bench for the opening game against Morecambe. He played at Derby in the cup a few days later and had Darren Bent in his pocket but was then out of the starting line-up for the next couple of league games. Then he got back in the team for the home game with Leyton Orient and despite a slip that couldn’t be helped leading to an Orient goal, Pearson had a solid game. He deservedly stayed in the team for several weeks before being strangely dropped by Paul Hurst after the EFL Trophy game against Leicester City u23’s. Pearson had gone in goal during this game after McKeown had been sent off so it seemed strange to see him out of the team in the next game after he’d previously been in good form.

He spent the next 3 games out of the team before Hurst left for Shrewsbury. Then caretaker boss Dave Moore kept Gowling and Danny Collins as the central defensive pairing for his 2 games in charge. Marcus Bignot came in and also kept faith with Gowling and Collins for his first 5 league games, before Pearson made an unexpected start away at Doncaster in December. Shaun has been in the team ever since.

In his current run of 12 straight starts, Town’s number 5 has been in contention for Man of the Match on several occasions, has barely put a foot wrong and has been dominant against League Two forwards he’s faced. He has looked comfortable in both a back three and a back four, and ensured his name is probably one of the first on the teamsheet at the moment for Manager Marcus Bignot.

Remember that line-up for his first appearance in black and white?

Compare that to the team he led out as captain on his 250th Town appearance:

town-v-mansfield-18022017

Individual Development

Shaun’s development as a player over his five and a half years at GTFC is plain to see. Comparing the two line-ups of his 1st and 250th games, and the company he now finds himself in tells you a bit about how far Shaun has come. For starters he’s playing alongside a former Welsh international with around 150 Premier League appearances to his name.

In terms of his own game, he’s no longer just seen as a brave defender who’ll throw his body in front of shots and head the ball out of dangerous areas where boots are flying in.

His reading of the game has improved year on year. Very rarely do you see him having to make last-ditch tackles, because he doesn’t get into a position where he needs to.

His ability on the ball is an area he has always been improving. As I said earlier, I think he was better on the ball to begin with than he appeared to some, but there’s still no doubt this is an area of Shaun’s game that has made great strides. In a recent game against Notts County, he had his manager comparing him to Franz Beckenbauer after the way he brought the ball out of defence and pinged long range passes out to the wing-backs. Against Luton, he left a defender for dead in the opposition penalty area after a quick stepover. But that wasn’t the first time we’ve seen skilful moves like that from him. At Alfreton away a few years back he set up a goal after a bit of skill and again away at Southport. But his general ability on the ball and composure in travelling with the ball out of defence is helping him look more than at home in the Football League.

He’s also much more disciplined in terms of keeping his name out of the referees book these days. As touched on earlier, he was seeing far too many yellow cards in his early days at GTFC, but rarely now do you see him back-chatting referees and getting needless bookings for dissent.

Finally, has he also developed physically too? It does seem like Shaun is maybe a bit sharper now, slightly quicker and fitter than he may have been, certainly after his step up from part-time football with Boston.

Shaun “GTFC” Pearson

On top of his great service to Town on the pitch, and his great personal development, Shaun has also done more than most for the Club off the pitch. He helps out with the FITC and the GTFC Academy and is always seen doing bits in the community. This only adds weight to the thought that Shaun Pearson is writing himself into GTFC history and on his way to becoming a Club legend.

He’s only 27 and I’m sure there’s more to come from him – both as an individual and for him to achieve more success with the Club. See you in another 250 appearances Shaun!

“THERE’S ONLY ONE SHAUN PEARSON”

#gtfc

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Giving Ownership and Responsibility to a Developing Player

I’ve just done a Futsal session with my under 10’s tonight and it was very much a “player-led” session for most of it. I’m a believer in giving responsibility and ownership to kids but tonight was the most I’ve had the players lead the session and it was definitely the most rewarding in terms of outcomes in the “psychological” and “social” corners.walthammarinersfutsaltourn04022017

I gave them ownership of most aspects of the session and gave them the responsibility of organising and adjusting the practices.

For starters, I told them to set up their own arrival activity. The boys took some cones and the futsal balls and away they went. I watched as some of them discussed it, before they set up some small channels to play 1v1 line-ball and got on with it.

As the last few players arrived, they came in the sports hall and asked me what we were doing. I just told them that the players had set this up so ask them. Soon enough, everyone was taking part in these 1v1 line-ball battles. With each pair choosing a slightly different shape or size channel for their game.

Coincidentally this allowed me to see who had remembered what we did in the 1v1 defending session I did just 2/3 days ago, so we just carried this on for the first part of the session. I coached a few players on their defending and offered a few reminders, before eventually stopping them. Just a brief 20-second stoppage to ask them to think about whether they want to change any rules of their game or the area they were using.

I stood back and watched again to see what they would do, if anything. Some wanted to make their area bigger, some smaller. I didn’t mind what they did as long as they could tell me why they did it. One group made it wider as they wanted to keep the game flowing as their ball previously went out of the area in their narrower channel. Another group made it smaller (a lot smaller) and when I asked why, they said it was to make it more challenging. I liked that making it more challenging was their aim, but I queried who it was more challenging for by asking “is it more challenging for the defender?”. At this point I think I could actually see the cogs turning in his brain again. Making him think was the aim. They carried on for a bit and then changed it again.

After the boys picked up all the cones they had used (only 4 cones for each pair) I gave them a vague brief on what they were to do next.

“There’s 9 of you. Split yourselves into 2 groups. Here’s 4 cones for one group and 4 cones for the other group. Both groups make yourselves an area to play a rondo, one will be 3v1, the other 4v1. Go.”

After they split themselves into 2 groups I watched who was leading the discussions or communicating their ideas or suggestions. The group of five set up their square to play a 4v1 within. As they were about to start it, one of them suggested that instead of the 4 all standing in the corners of the square, they should each stand on one side of the square each, so that they wouldn’t have a cone getting in their way. They also decided that they would play quick-fire rondo with only first time passes allowed.

The other group setting up for a 3v1 had a similarly sized small area and didn’t limit themselves in terms of number of touches. After a while I asked this group if they wanted to change anything about their game. They decided to make their area bigger. The gist of their reasoning ( I can’t remember the words they used) was that because they only had 3 on the possession team, they usually had to have one player making a move to one side to ensure 2 options for the player with the ball – so could do with the extra split second on the ball a bigger area would give them.

I asked if this group wanted to add any challenges into it. After one of them suggested 1-touch each, I gave them the option of playing 1-touch each or having the challenge to play 1-touch when possible. They recognised their smaller number and decided to play with the challenge to play 1-touch rather than the condition to. Very good. This also gave me a few moments to coach. A couple of them tried to play a first time pass when it wasn’t really possible to and the ball went astray. I asked one of them what he could’ve done differently. “I should have taken a second touch” he said. Good, I thought, as long as he understands why. So when prompted to elaborate, he re-enacted the movement he had to do to try and pass it as the ball came to him quickly at an awkward height and between his knees, and said he couldn’t pass it like that so should’ve controlled it first. Always ask why so you can check their understanding, and make sure they’re not just giving an answer because they think that’s the answer you want to hear.

The 5-player group changed the rules of their 4v1 rondo to now include a player in the middle with the defending player. So 3 players on the edge of their square playing into their team-mate in the middle who was closely marked by the defending player. Interestingly they hadn’t made the area any bigger to allow for this, but they coped with the small area brilliantly with some good, sharp passing and movements.

After a quick drinks break I said we’d play a favourite of theirs – “Keep it on the Court”.

I’d already put the cones down for the area we’d be using for this at the start of the session so just gave 4 of them bibs to put on. I asked the team of 5 to discuss how they would make their one-man advantage count. And I told them that if they don’t win I would ask them afterwards what they haven’t done. They had a little chat amongst themselves as I went to prompt a discussion on the other side. I heard one of them say they would make the pitch big, so I knew they were thinking along the right lines.

Similarly, I challenged the team of 4 to think how they could try and beat the non-bibs bearing in mind they were a man short. After they picked a formation for this small game I heard something I liked. One of them said “we’ll just let their deepest player have the ball and not mark him.” Brilliant thinking and understanding. High-five for the lad.

After the game of “Keep it on the Court”, which the team of 5 just shaded, I had some more ways to engage their brains. We were just going to play a game of Futsal now but I’d written on the whiteboard in the sports hall a challenge for each team. The orange’s would earn 5 points for a goal if they won possession in the opposition half and then went on to score. The green’s (team of 4) would earn 10 points if they won possession in their own half and then attacked and scored in that move. I placed a greater reward for the 4-man team because a) it’d help them as they were a man down, and b) at u10 its instinctive to go and win the ball immediately so I thought theirs it would be a greater challenge.

I told them to go off in their teams and discuss how they would set up and what tactics they might play to try and achieve their challenge. And then we started. The 4-man greens dropped deep to allow their opposition to come forward into their half before trying to win the ball and break. The oranges sent bodies forward to win the ball high up, but couldn’t manage it. They scored 5 goals but all after either attacking from their own half, or after playing it in from a kick-in inside the opposition half. So only single point scoring goals. The green’s had scored two single-point scoring goals. Then in the last minute before we were moving on, the green’s retreated into their own half, allowed an orange player to travel over the half-way line and then pressed. They won the ball and broke forward 2v1 to score a 10-pointer to win 12-2 with the last kick. Their own tactics and thinking had won it for them. Very pleased with the outcome of that.

Lastly, I had a game scenario written on the board for them:

“2 minutes left in the FA Cup Final. Green’s are 2-0 up but have one player less. What are your priorities 1) when you have possession, and 2) out of possession.”

I sent them away in their teams to quickly discuss how they were going to approach it. The green’s decided to have 2 defenders and 1 player ahead of them, and would try and just keep the ball. The orange’s straight away said they were going with 1 defender and 3 attackers and would play quickly, trying to get the ball off them as quickly as possible. We played 2 minutes and despite the orange team having chances, the green’s played to their plan well and eventually scored to make it 3-0 in the last 5 seconds.

I was really pleased with some of the stuff that came out of the session. I’d placed a bigger focus on the psychological and social corners of development and was delighted with the thinking behind everything they did and the logic used when explaining to me why they’d done something.

I thought that, as well as the players enjoying being given responsibility and ownership of their own development, they also got plenty out of it too. And mixing that in with my prompts and questions in future will be a good combination.

It was by no means a perfect session. It didn’t have a single topic/theme running through the session like I run my Saturday “football” sessions. And thinking about it later I could’ve given more ownership to them by getting them to pick the teams for the game (one for next time maybe). But overall I think there’s huge benefit to be gained from taking a step back and letting players lead elements of the session like that. Even if you need to give a bit of guidance and just ask the right questions to get the answers you’re looking for. But always make sure they can explain why, and that they’re not just answering with what they think is the right answer.

Give it a try. Let your players lead. Give them ownership and responsibility.

And let them play.

An England Friendly with a Difference

Tuesday evening’s international friendly between England and Spain wasn’t the average England friendly. It was interesting, at times entertaining, and we could actually learn something from the game.

Gareth Southgate set his side up with a tactical plan that was working to perfection for 80 minutes. We got back into defensive shape when Spain had the spells of possession that you’d expect from them despite it not being their strongest XI. And on set triggers, the team pressed. When one player went to press an opponent, he was backed up with everyone behind him squeezing up and the front 4 looking to win it high up the pitch. We broke forward very well with the pace of Sterling, Vardy and Lingard complimenting the skill of Lallana.

Lallana

Liverpool’s Adam Lallana is fast becoming England’s best player. He added to a string of recent good performances for his country with an influential first half until injury forced his withdrawal. England missed his skill, vision and creativity in the second half as his influence on this England team grows. 

Playing out from the back

Southgate clearly wants his England team to play out from the back. At times Scotland forced errors when we tried to play out so Spain and their high press was a good test for a way of playing that is alien to England defenders of years gone by. I actually commend the new England for this and love to see John Stones calm under pressure. The problem is, there aren’t many others in the defensive third of the pitch on Stones’ level in possession. Cahill always looks panicked on the ball, Henderson is quite one dimensional and as much as I rate Dier, he’s no Busquets. When  Jagielka came on he made no effort to make angles to receive the ball and was hoping for someone to launch it long. Jagielka is not an international class defender anyway though so that’s not likely to be an issue going forward. 

The midfield need to work harder and have to want to get on the ball more than they do. A lot of the time Stones has the ball and looks for a pass into midfield. Dier would come short but he’s followed by a Spanish forward. He should then be looking to rotate out of that space for someone like Henderson to move into and receive the ball on the half-turn. And only Stones really sprints into a position to receive after the ball’s gone back to the goalkeeper. Several times in the game saw Cahill and Stones make a long pass back to the goalkeeper because they’re incapable of opening up and playing a simple pass with their left foot. I think we can learn to play out from the back, but we need some better technical players in the right areas.

Competing with the best

This game, along with the friendly away to Germany earlier in the year, gives at least a hint that this England side could be capable of doing OK against good opposition in major tournaments. The worry now is whether we can reach the stage in tournaments where we’ll get to play the traditionally bigger nations. Because recently it’s the smaller countries (Iceland) or the teams who just “park the bus” (Slovakia, Slovenia, Russia) who we struggle against. This is because even poor teams can now be well-organised and we have just ran out of ideas against these types of teams.

The Rooney Conundrum 

What this England performance showed is the effectiveness of pace and energy in the final third. Could England have pressed quickly with Rooney in the side? Possibly not. Could England have counter attacked so quickly and effectively with Rooney in the side. Definitely not. I maintain the view that there isn’t a place for Rooney in the current England side. He is not a midfielder. If he is to play it must be as a #9 or a #10. I’d say as the #9 really, because he doesn’t have the dynamism or spark to play as a #10 anymore. But with him as the focal point of the attack we wouldn’t break forward at pace like we did at times against Spain.

All in all, England actually looked and played like they had a tactical plan. Credit to Southgate for that. If we want to play out from the back we need better technical players in defence and midfield. Maybe the promising England youth sides will provide these players. And while Rooney is looking more like a bit-part player, Adam Lallana is emerging as the key talent.

Town not Learning Lessons in Limp Towards Play-Offs

A little under 3 weeks ago, I wrote about how Paul Hurst had got it tactically spot on for a 1-0 home win over Wrexham. What’s happened since strongly suggests to me that Hurst either didn’t plan those Wrexham tactics in as much detail as I described it, or he didn’t understand what made it work. In addition to that, the Town boss has also shown up several Managerial deficiencies that has lead to a lot of fans losing confidence in his ability to lead us to promotion.

Since that win on March 26th, Town have taken just 4 points from the 15 available.

Paul Hurst 2

Tactics Wrong at Moss Rose

The game immediately following the Wrexham game was away at Macclesfield. Hurst stuck with the same lop-sided midfield system with Nolan coming inside to make a central 3. This was never going to be as effective and Hurst was tactically naïve to think it would. Robertson came in for the injured Horwood at left back and Robertson, for as solid a defender as he is, doesn’t have the legs to get up the pitch quickly to provide the width on that side if the midfielder in front of him is asked to drift into the centre. Not forgetting the main reason Hurst had used this system against Wrexham – the 3 man midfield we were up against – was no longer a problem with Macclesfield’s 4-4-2.

No Reaction with Game Slipping Away

Next up for the Mariners was an away trip to the leaders – Cheltenham. Refereeing decisions went against both sides during the game but Town were not at the races for the first 40 minutes, during which time they went a goal down. Having got an equaliser early in the second half, Cheltenham soon went back in front which immediately knocked the stuffing out of Town. We couldn’t get any sort of play going but Hurst made no changes until after Cheltenham got a third goal, sending Bogle on for Arnold in the 78th minute. This was hugely frustrating to watch Town struggle to even get a foothold in the game yet Hurst allowed the clock to run down without injecting new life/energy into the side or changing our shape. Only when it was too late did he try and do something about a game that was slipping away from us ever since Cheltenham got their second goal in the 58th minute.

Lack of Invention

The following three games had highs and lows but that only adds to the frustration Town fans feel. We came back from 0-2 down to win 4-3 away at Aldershot and this appeared partly down to the introduction of Omar Bogle and Jordan Stewart at half time. It was unusual of Hurst to make substitutions at half-time and it later transpired that Monkhouse and Hoban had been struggling with knocks.

Saturday saw Eastleigh come to Blundell Park and Hurst stuck with the same eleven that started the second half at Aldershot 4 days earlier. Most would have agreed with the line-up and it was only poor finishing and/or an excellent goalkeeping display by Ross Flitney that denied Town 3 points as they settled for a point against the 10-man Spitfires.

Again though, only 2 like-for-like substitutions in the 72nd minute against a side playing with 10 men since the 49th minute showed a lack of invention from the bench.

That lack of invention was also evident on Tuesday when Braintree were the victors at Blundell Park.

Insanity

Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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I could apply this apparent “insanity” to the management of GTFC in two ways.

  1. We have consistently struggled to break down sides that come to Blundell Park and are fairly well organised and set up to frustrate us. We know teams will come and do this. Yet we haven’t attempted at any point to come up with a different idea of how to approach these games and continue to predictably struggle against a deep defensive block set up by a well-drilled side.
  2. During an individual match, Hurst and the players either do not recognise when something isn’t working or the management only want us to play in a certain way and not differentiate from that. Sometimes we play dozens of long high balls up to the front two with very little success. Yet we continued to launch it forward. Were we expecting Amond and Hoban would grow 6 inches during the game and suddenly become a match for Braintree’s dominant centre halves in the air? And if a flat 4-4-2 isn’t working to break a team down, we never try something else to change shape or give the opposition different problems to think about.

Where Did We Fail Against Braintree?

Braintree are known for being in tight games with few goals and their defensive record is second only to Cheltenham in the National League this season. It was clear to everyone how they would come and play. Keep it tight, keep a deep defensive block with 5 in midfield, clear their lines early playing percentage football and looking for set-pieces.

Yet Town played predictable football with no invention from the bench or on the field. In all honesty Town could’ve played for 3 hours and wouldn’t have scored. Braintree were always going to get one chance, and they took it to deservedly take the points.

Shape

It’s a trait of Hurst’s sides to keep their shape very well. This is no bad thing. The problem is, we also keep to our shape when in possession. The rigid lines of the 4-4-2 leave few passing options and it is easy to defend against a team so inflexible when in position. Keeping our shape when we don’t have the ball is imperative, but when we have the ball we need to have players coming out of their disciplined zones. On Tuesday there was no-one creating space, either for themselves or for the team. We didn’t stretch a team that were always going to be happy for us to play in front of them. There was no movement to drag Braintree’s well-drilled players out of their positions, not enough third man runs (only Tait offering this from full-back). Arnold could have drifted infield between the defensive and midfield lines to pick up the ball. Monkhouse moved to receive the ball but when he gets it he needs an early pass to be on as he can’t carry the ball forward himself. One of the forwards could pull wide or drop deep. Look our shape when we’ve got the ball and compare to when we haven’t. There isn’t a lot of difference. And there’s no intelligence of movement or patterns of movement to break away from the 3 straight lines of the formation. Because of this, the gap between our midfield and strikers is always too big, with no midfielder or forward getting in the space between the opposition midfield and defence.

Front Two

Even the strikers stuck rigidly to the shape on Tuesday, both playing level together in a line, right up against the defenders. With Amond and Hoban both having a defender right up their backside whenever the ball was played up to them they would struggle to hold it, let alone be able to receive and turn, where they might be dangerous. I could’ve counted on one hand the number of times that either of them came short to show for a ball into their feet in a no.10 sort of position. If one of them drops short like this, his marker could also go with him and create more space for the striker in the no.9 position against the other central defender left in the back line.

Defenders taking the flak

There were a lot of occasions on Tuesday were it seemed Nsiala and Gowling were being criticised for playing too many long balls forward. I certainly think a lot of the time our centre-backs were left with no option. Nolan always wanted the ball but sometimes couldn’t make an angle for a pass, was tightly marked, or was rotating in midfield for Disley to come short. When Braintree had the midfield closely marked, there wasn’t enough movement as individuals in midfield or desire to want to get on the ball. And there wasn’t much coming short from the strikers as mentioned earlier, so there was sometimes no passing option available.

Width

One thing we should’ve been attempting to do is stretch the game as wide as possible to stretch the defensive unit of Braintree and open up bigger gaps. The problem is Monkhouse isn’t the type of winger he was when he was giving Iain Ward the run-around in the late 90’s/early 00’s in his early Rotherham days. He likes to come infield, he’s an intelligent player but needs pace or movement in the team around him to flourish. On the other side, Nathan Arnold has been badly out of form for several months and in truth might as well not have been on the pitch on Tuesday. He didn’t look like he wanted the ball and didn’t do anything when he had it either. So we had neither winger getting wide to the touchline.

Changes?

It was obvious to many that we weren’t going to score from very early in the second half. Again though, there was no changes in the offing. Bogle and Jennings stayed on the bench until the 72nd minute and Pittman had somehow jumped ahead of Bogle in the pecking order to come on ahead of them in the 62nd minute. All three of Hurst’s subs came before Braintree’s winner, but none of them altered the way we were playing or the predictably rigid shape of our team that Braintree were dealing with comfortably. And “comfortably” is an understatement. Remember the “insanity” quote? What we were doing was getting us no-where and we were only ever going to draw the game at best. But we changed nothing except for the personnel asked to carry out the specific roles in the team as we continued with the same shape and methods. Could we have gone 4-3-3, 3-5-2, or 4-3-1-2 with a player linking midfield and attack? Could we have substituted Arnold and left our 30-goal striker on?

Chances

We had one real chance and that was in the 93rd minute. Very worrying. If we make the play-offs, surely whoever we face in the semi-final only has to look at the blueprint that many have used in the last couple of years to take a point or three away from Blundell Park?

Lessons Learned?

Would we suddenly find a way to play against such tactics and break down a well-drilled low defensive block? Nothing I’ve seen gives me any confidence that we would. When asked by Mike White on BBC Radio Humberside what he learns from a game like that, Hurst’s response was: “I’m not going to get too hung up about the game, I think we move on.”

That comment, coupled with the same way we go about approaching these types of games (and often fail), is why it seems like Hurst doesn’t actually learn from the mistakes he makes both with preparation and game-management. It leads me to believe that the next time we come against a Braintree or a Guiseley at home, we’ll just play the same way and probably get the same disappointing result. I know we’ve had a lot of positive results at home too, but the teams that are well organised and efficient enough to execute a defensive plan like Braintree can easily make it difficult for us.

Outlook

After the apparent tactical successes against Wrexham less than 3 weeks ago, it unfortunately appears as if it wasn’t quite so thought-out as I interpreted it in previous analysis. Because what’s followed has been a few strange selections (Bogle in, out and shaking it all about), omissions (Stewart waiting 6 years for a game then “rested” from the 16 to play a reserve game 24 hours later) and lack of tactical ideas and imagination.

Could we still get promoted? Yes.

Am I confident we will? No.

UTM.

 

 

Hurst’s Tactical Adjustment Takes 3 Points for Town

Grimsby Town took on Wrexham on Saturday afternoon as two of the Vanarama National League’s form sides came head-to-head at Blundell Park. The Mariners welcomed a Wrexham side who had kept 6 clean sheets in a row and featured a few familiar faces in their line-up. Former Town trio Connor Jennings, Simon Helsop and Jamal Fyfield were joined by ex-GTFC loanee Javan Vidal who came on as a second half substitute.

Paul Hurst

The game also saw bosses Paul Hurst and Gary Mills renew acquaintances in opposite dugouts. Hurst has had mixed success against Mills’ teams in recent years. Despite the odd success for Hurst (6-1 away win at Gateshead), Mills has generally had the upper hand. His York side had the better of Scott & Hurst’s Town side 3 times in 2011/12, he got the better of Hurst when Gateshead progressed to the Play-off Final at our expense in 2014, and a 2-2 draw for Gateshead at Blundell Park end any hopes of our title challenge in 2015.

Gary Mills

Mills always has his sides playing 4-3-3 and they usually play good football, building from the back, passing and moving with players comfortable in possession.

Today, Hurst strayed from the usual straight-forward 4-4-2 in a tactical move that helped Town deal with the problems that a side playing 4-3-3 poses for a 4-4-2. The result was Wrexham looking anything like a “Gary Mills team” in terms of style and Town taking all three points after a 1-0 win.

Town v Wrexham 1

Hurst made two changes to his starting line-up, bringing Toto Nsiala in for Shaun Pearson at centre-back and Craig Clay in place of Danny East in midfield. Nsiala was seemingly brought in as the more athletic defender to combat deal with the pace of Wrexham forward Kayden Jackson. Clay’s inclusion allowed Nathan Arnold to switch back to the right of midfield and saw Jon Nolan take up an unusual position on the left side of midfield.

The graphic above shows the starting positions of the Town line-up – with Nolan narrow on that left side. However, if Opta or whoever provides all the stats for Premier League football were to produce heat maps for Conference football, then the average positions of the team would look a lot different to the above.

Mills’ 4-3-3 often leaves Hurst’s 4-4-2 outnumbered in midfield, so Hurst’s plan was for Nolan to drift infield and to create a 3v3 in the middle of the midfield. As he did this, Evan Horwood got forward well to offer the attacking width on that side. This was most evident from James McKeown’s goal kicks, when Horwood would up a very high position ahead of the midfielders. To compensate, Richard Tait’s forays forward from right-back were limited as he needed to sit alongside the centre-backs whilst Horwood pushed forward on the other side.

Nolan not only drifted infield to even the midfield numbers, but he was usually the one midfielder that broke lines and got forward to support the Irish strike pairing of Hoban and Amond.

When Town did lose the ball in the middle third, we were often able to win the ball back quickly in defensive transitions because we already had that three in the middle.

Town v Wrexham 3

This second graphic shows the more realistic positions that the town players took up during the game, and how it lined up against Wrexham’s first half set-up. As well as Tait’s more conservative game today, Disley also generally sat deeper to allow Clay and especially Nolan to support attacking moves.

This approach completely nullified Wrexham’s ability to play out from the back and they invariably hit long balls over the top for the quick forwards to chase. At half time, Gary Mills made a substitution and changed to a back three, and whilst his side put up more of a performance in the second half, they were still unable to really test McKeown in the Town goal as the home side remained more threatening.

The goalmouth scrambles after Wrexham set-pieces in injury time was the first time the Town goal was under threat since Hoban headed off the line late in the first half. Wrexham remained direct in the second half and were now going long to substitute Wes York more often than not but Tait stood his ground well at right back.

The match-winning goal came in just the 7th minute when a Grimsby corner made it to the far post where Nathan Arnold calmly cushion-volleyed down for Craig Disley to smash home from 6 yards. The goal just cemented what was a good start to the game from the Mariners, and they went on to play some good stuff throughout the half. Hoban had a shot blocked after a cut-back from Horwood and Nolan mis-hit a shot after a nice lay-off from Hoban as Town pressed for a second.

After half-time it was still looking more likely that Town would double their lead, with Hoban guiding a header goalwards that cannoned back off the crossbar, Clay hitting a volley over and Nolan shooting just wide when 1v1 with the goalkeeper after a great first touch from Amond’s reverse ball.

But after Town saw out those final few minutes of injury time (where the referee found 4 minutes to add on I’ll never know) it was Paul Hurst celebrating in the home dugout. After facing criticism at times during his reign of being out-thought by rival managers (even as recently as Cheltenham at home this season), Hurst should be praised for his tactics today.

Gary Mills is a good, experienced Manager and Wrexham will cause other teams problems in the run-in. And Hurst rightly saw this as an important win judging by his reaction after the full time whistle. Yet we can also take confidence from Hurst seemingly winning a battle of tactical minds with a rival Manager. Potentially a good sign with a Play-Off campaign probably coming up in May that’ll hopefully involve 3 games? Time will tell.

Grimsby Town 1-0 Wrexham

Disley ‘7

Att: 4581 (315 away supporters)

 

 

 

How Can We Develop Creative Players?

Every professional football team wants to have creative players.

In today’s world of football, there’s a trend currently for creative little no.10’s. Even the Premier League has followed this evolving trend and style, with Club’s taking note of the success of Barcelona and the Spanish national team between 2008-2012. English clubs have imported no.10’s including David Silva, Juan Mata, Mezut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Coutinho and Christian Eriksen, even if they aren’t always played in that specific role. Those six have all come to England in recent years as the Premier League evolves.

DavidSilva

In England we don’t typically produce that type of player. But why not? Scoring a goal is the hardest thing to do in football, so why aren’t we producing more of the type of player who can unlock a defence?

We have to start at grassroots football. Kids up and down the country are being shouted at when they’ve got the ball at their feet. Coaches and parents telling them to pass, who to pass to, to run with the ball, to cross, etc etc. And we wonder why we create robots who can’t cope at World Cups against teams that close us down quickly.

We have to allow children playing the game to think for themselves, become adaptable to different situations and able to find solutions on the pitch.

How do we do that? Can we coach creativity?

I don’t think creativity is something you can coach, as such. I’d describe it as something we can help children develop by setting up the right environment. Maybe it depends on your coaching philosophy though because that’s actually partly how I’d describe the role of a coach.

Set up games where children are forced to figure out ways to solve a problem. Games that reflect the real game and situations they may be faced with in a match. Games where they’ll have to make decisions.

Create an environment where kids aren’t scared to try something new, to try a trick/skill or to try that ball through a tight gap that might send a team-mate through on goal. If they’re afraid of taking risks and trying things when they’re young, it’s unlikely they’ll grow out of that. Ask why they have this fear? Do parents moan at them if they try something and it doesn’t come off? Does the Coach criticise them or tell them not to try it again? I often hear Coaches telling kids to “keep it simple”. They could potentially be stifling great creative talents by making them keep it simple and not do extraordinary things they could be capable of.

As a Coach, you’ll need to get the parents of your players to buy into what you’re doing. Even if they’re not an influence during the games, they can be an influence on the player for the rest of the week. So explain and set out to your group of parents what you’ll be doing, how you’re going to achieve it and how they can help you.

Kids are the most creative and imaginative people in the world. They just have it battered out of them by the time they reach adulthood from people telling them they can’t do this and they can’t do that. Football offers a chance to retain some of that imagination that children possess. Or at least it should be able to in the right environment.

Just let kids play the game and you’ll be surprised by how creative they can be. Probably straight away, but then especially over time as a result of practising being able to think, problem-solve and make decisions for themselves.

Praise players for having courage to try things even when they don’t come off. Be positive as a Coach to try and ensure your players are positive.

Allow kids of a young age to dribble and try risky or creative things anywhere on the pitch. Don’t tell them they can’t do it the first time they lose the ball and you concede a goal from it. Who cares if you concede a goal in an u7 match? You’re developing players for when they get to 16/18, not for the sake of winning an u7 match that nobody will remember in 10 years.

It’s an “old-school” view that players shouldn’t do any tricks or anything risky in their own half. Why not? Has this stance helped us develop players capable of winning a World Cup in the last 50-odd years? With u7-u8 mini-soccer now being a 5v5 format, there are constantly 1v1 and 1v2 opportunities for kids all over the pitch. Let them try to solve those problems without anyone trying to tell them what to do. They’ll learn as they get older to only risk the ball if there’s cover behind them.

“The person that never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

This quote is as relevant in football as it is in life. Kids will make mistakes. Adults make mistakes too. But don’t expect the same sort of decision-making from kids as you would from adults. We learn from mistakes so be positive about it. You can always speak with the player later. Ask them what they could have done differently, what else they might have chosen to do instead or how they could tweak what they did to ensure it’d work next time.

But just let them play. As said above, they’ll probably surprise you with what they’re capable of and what they come up with if they’re left to it. Don’t stifle their natural instinctive imagination. And in training, have games so they can  develop and channel that imagination into football creativity but again, don’t instruct them on what they have to do.

As always, the message is simple – #letthemplay

Reacting to Play-Off Final Defeats: Will 2015 be different to 2006 for Grimsby Town?

At the end of the 2014/15 season, Grimsby Town suffered Conference Premier Play-Off Final heartache in the cruellest fashion with a penalty shoot-out defeat to Bristol Rovers.

Nine years earlier, Town lost to Cheltenham at the Millennium Stadium in the League Two Play-Off Final to end the 2005/06 season in disappointment.

I’ll look at the how there are massive differences in how it came about, the reaction following the two matches and more importantly, the likelihood of the following seasons after both Finals going the same way.

The Season of Play-Off Failure

In the season before Russell Slade’s Mariners reached the League Two Play-Offs, the side finished a lowly 18th. So it was quite a transformation in fortunes. The season was a one-off in terms of it being sandwiched between years of fighting at the bottom end of the table. Town spent most of the season in the automatic promotion places but ended up finishing 4th after just 2 wins in the last 9 games allowed Leyton Orient to steal third place.

Whilst Slade’s side faltered towards the end of the season, Paul Hurst’s Grimsby Town side grew stronger as the season went on. After losing 7 games and drawing 8 up to New Years Day, Town lost 3 and drew 3 after January 1st. Positivity and belief amongst supporters grew in the second half of the season and this passion helped the side put themselves in contention to actually win the league at one point.

The Play-Off Final

In 2006, Town didn’t really turn up. We had beaten Cheltenham twice during the season and maybe complacency was an issue. There was also uncertainty over Russell Slade’s future at the Club after a contract renewal went wrong earlier in the year. Whatever possible distractions there may have been, the game that day was a damp squib from our point of view and we kind of went out without a fight. Key striker Michael Reddy had to be substituted after less than half an hour and the usually strong back 4 looked shaky in the early stages. Steve Guinan scored when his cross ended up in the back of the net and a Steve Mildenhall penalty-save prevented Town from falling 2-0 behind. We never really got going, despite having a penalty shout turned down, and resorted to pumping high balls into the area in the latter stages to try and get back into the game.

In contrast, Hurst’s Mariners put in a respectable performance at Wembley in 2015. Generally seen to have been slightly the better team on the day, Town competed well and looked threatening in the early stages. Bristol Rovers were lucky not to go down to 10 men when Town still led 1-0 and there were no suggestions of Town not turning up for this one. The support from the 13,000 Mariners fans inside Wembley was incredible and despite being outnumbered 2-to-1, made sure the positivity continued by making the most noise at the highest attended Conference Play-Off Final in history. Ultimately, it ended with defeat in the narrowest of margins after a single penalty miss in the shoot-out allowed Bristol Rovers to earn promotion at our expense.

Supporters Reaction to the Final

In 2006, the feeling of deflation was huge. After being amongst the automatic promotion places for much of the season, there was a sense of feeling that we had thrown it after away having our destiny in our own hands for so long. There was a sense of anger amongst many that the team had not turned up despite the thousands of Town fans spending their hard-earned cash (in some cases not so hard-earned) to travel to Cardiff in support of the team. The team’s performance on the day was not even a shadow of the displays seen earlier in the season and the only feelings of supporters afterwards were negative.

Again, in stark contrast to nine years ago there was a different reaction from supporters in the aftermath of the Final. There was still the devastating disappointment and a really downbeat mood after a feeling that it was “our time” developed in the latter months of the season. However, this time there’s been a huge sense of pride amongst the Town support. To outsiders this may seem strange after such a disheartening end to the season, but as has been commented on social media since, the fans feel that after this season, “We’ve got our Club back.” The supporters and the team are closer than in recent memory and this was evident with the fantastic noise created by the Black and White army at Wembley. Since the end of the season, fans have rallied in an attempt to make sure the positive atmosphere from the last few months doesn’t fizzle out and there’s been a surge of new members for the Mariners Trust.

Squad Retention

In 2006, Manager Russell Slade left the Club to take over at Yeovil. Following that, EIGHT of the matchday sixteen from the match at the Millennium Stadium were no longer with us by the time the following season started under Graham Rodger’s leadership. You could class that as NINE when you consider Ben Futcher was also gone by October. Another massive blow to the Club’s preparation for the new season was dealt by Michael Reddy. The Irish striker, who had scored 14 goals for the Mariners in the 05/06 season, handed in a transfer request just a couple of weeks before the start of the new season. This put a dampener on any hopes for the new season and Reddy only played 10 more league games for Town without scoring a goal, before retiring after failing to recover from a hip injury. So in reality, we played the following season with just SIX of the sixteen that were in the matchday squad at Cardiff just a few months previously.

All of Paul Hurst’s business has not yet been completed for the season following the latest Play-Off disappointment. However, so far it is going down a much different route to that of 2006. To start with, we’ll still have the same Manager to lead the charge this time. There may have been quite a few people disappointed with that if we look back 6-8 months, but the general consensus now seems to be that Hurst deserves another crack at it. As far as the players are concerned, eight of the matchday sixteen from the Conference Play-Off Final have already signed new deals with the Club. A ninth (James McKeown) is still under contract for another season and a tenth (Josh Gowling) has signed a new deal having missed Wembley through injury. And most of the players who have left the Club so far (Parslow, Hannah, Bignot, Jolley) have done so having been released. Only Nsiala and Magnay are yet to make decisions on their future and only Lenell John-Lewis has so far rejected a longer stay at GTFC in favour of another Club. This compares to 2006 when Rob Jones (Hibs), Andy Parkinson (Notts County), Steve Mildenhall and JP Kalala (both Yeovil) turned down GTFC to move to new Clubs, as well as Reddy who tried to engineer a move away and Futcher who left 2 months into the season.

The Season Following the Play-Off Defeat

Teams often find there is a big hangover after such massive disappointment at the end of a season and many Clubs struggle the following year in this scenario – as we did in 2006/07. Town finished 15th in 06/07 and finished lower and lower each year until eventually being relegated to the Conference in 2010. We never recovered from the lingering disappointment hanging over the Club from May 2005 and the dissection of the bulk of the squad that were regularly involved.

The Verdict for 2015/16

Whilst the 2005/06 and 2014/15 seasons both ended with Play-Off Final failure. That is just about where the similarities end. The supporters reaction and feeling around the Club this summer has kept the positivity flowing. A record surge of new Mariners Trust members ensued and there are now healthy expectations of season ticket sales for next season. Player retention has been positive so far and there will be no upheaval required. There will be no last minute transfer request from a star striker as everyone except our goalkeeper has signed their deals this summer. The wave of positivity around the Club and the pride amongst the fans cannot be underestimated. There is also a belief and steely determination that the Club can and will mount a serious challenge for the Conference title for the first time next season. This is coming from both fans and players alike as the bond between the two that established over the latter few months over the season looks like it will continue. If Town can start well in 2015/16, it could be our year.

#operationpromotion

#thistownknows

#UTM