Craig Disley

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)





Grimsby Town Predictions for the 2014/15 Vanarama Conference Season

Here are some of my thoughts and predictions on the coming season for Grimsby Town and the Vanarama Conference 2014/15 season.

League Winners: Gateshead/Barnet

Gary Mills’ Gateshead went close last season after ending our own promotion challenge. And I expect them to be serious challengers this year. My alternative tip is Barnet. Martin Allen has made some good signings to add to the decent squad they already had. John Akinde and Charlie Macdonald up front looks a potent strike-force and I believe Bees Manager Allen has the mentality needed to be successful in this league.

Where Town will finish: 3rd

I think Town are set-up to remain consistent with previous years and achieve a place in the play-offs. We’ve made good additions in wide areas and we remain solid in central defence, but the lack of a prolific goalscorer will prevent the Mariners from winning the title.

Town’s Top Scorer: Ross Hannah

I would have been tempted to go for John-Paul Pittman but concerns over his fitness leave me unsure as to how many sustained runs in the starting eleven he will get over the season. He looks to be a real threat with his pace and power, and what possibly gives him an edge on Hamnah is that he looks to be able to create a chance for himself. Hannah is more reliant on service in the 18 yard box, but our improved quality/depth in wide areas should see him get plenty of chances to better his goals tally of last season.

Town’s Key Player: Lenell John-Lewis

I’ve gone for “The Shop” because as a regular in Hurst’s starting XI, if he can improve his goals record it could make all the difference this season. Most fans recognise the good work he does for the team. And the sensible amongst us will realise teams don’t often have 2 out-and-out goalscorers in their front two. In the past we’ve had the likes of Steve Livingstone, who never scored more than 10 goals in a season but played important role for the team and was widely adored by fans. Anyway, if John-Lewis can improve on his 6 league goals of last season, and get to 10-12, it could prove valuable in Town’s promotion push.

Key Summer Signing: Scott Brown

The central midfield area has been seen as the area needing improvement for years by GTFC fans. Scott Kerr was a very tactically intelligent player and comfortable on the ball last season. But with his declining fitness we probably signed him a few years too late. Brown looks like a player in a similar mould to Kerr, only much fitter and busier in the middle of the park. In the little I’ve seen of him so far, he looks very mobile, keen to get on the ball and use it well. He’s linked well with other clever players that are clearly on his wavelength, namely Scott Nielson, so I think he’s capable of living up to the fans’ expectations.

Town’s Most Carded Player: Shaun Pearson

Easy choice this one. Shaun Pearson as a regular first choice player should play all the games he is available for. He likes a tackle but unfortunately it is his mouth that gets him the most unnecessary bookings by way of dissent to the referee. Pearson is an excellent defender and we need him available as much possible. So I’m really hoping his suspension that caused him to sit out the decisive 2nd leg of the play-off semi-final has made him realise it is the silly bookings for dissent towards officials that cost him the chance to influence that important game. If Shaun can eradicate this part of his behaviour on the pitch, he could be a future Captain of the club because he already has the leadership qualities required.

Young Player to make an Impact: Paul Walker

The young right back appears physically ready to be thrown in at the deep end already. He didn’t look out of place in his appearances last season and right-back is again an area where we don’t have an outstanding player for the position so he has every chance of breaking through. His determined style rampaging up and down the right will win him plenty of fans no doubt.

Assist King: Jack Mackreth

I expect the pacey new right winger to make fools of many a left back in the Conference this season. His pace and direct running should get him into plenty of dangerous positions and then it will be down to him to pick out the head of John-Lewis, Hannah lurking in front of goal, or Disley arriving late in the box.

Do you agree or disagree with any of these predictions? It’d be good to hear some thoughts – leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

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.