Play-Offs

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.

 

 

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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