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.



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.




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.