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Life After Barnsley

By: John Wilkinson
Date: 04/03/2001

It was as clear as a bell that Barnsley were going to win this as the teams lined up - and if the display was terrible, the weather was worse - cold and windy and that part of the pitch in the shade of the Findus Stand was frost covered.

Basically this team looks like it is already relegated - there are no goals in it. No-one looks like creating chances and no-one looks like scoring them.

Once we go a goal down, that to all intents and purposes is that. For all his bluster and miserable excuses, Lawrence is finishing the season in the worst possible way. None of the basic weaknesses have been addressed - problems that did not need solving have been addressed and we are now overstocked with central defenders - and, in a manner reminiscent of Mike Lyons, he thrashes about in the hope that he might accidentally come across a solution.

The game itself followed a depressingly familiar pattern. Some promising midfield play - in which Willems showed what a good buy he is (in fact, the only buy he is). Strong and enthusiastic, a good long passer of the ball, a stronger and more talented version of Wayne Burnett. Lots of possession but all the time looking vulnerable to the threat posed by Dyer (particularly) and Shipperley. The forwards (Rowan and Jeffrey) are honest hard working players but are too alike in their lightweight build and styles to present any threat.

I don't recall any major threat on the Barnsley goal. Jeffrey might have got a header on target in the first half and there were some goalmouth scrambles when we put three up front in the last 10 minutes or so but it was so predictable that we would lose without threatening them that I left 2 or 3 minutes before the end for the first time in years.

The weakness in striking power has been known about since we were promoted in 1998. There was never a serious intention to sign Neilson - he was lured here for a few months on a "promise" in order to fill a short term gap. Not a bad strategy in itself if the longer term plan to get someone stronger up front had materialised. It hasn't and we are back to square one.

What is the point in going to China to sign a centre half when we are starting match after match with the best central defender outside of the premier league sitting on the bench?? - ie Peter Handyside.

The great strength of Grimsby throughout the last decade has been the consistent playing style. Some say it was "rumbled" in the first division - somehow Alan Buckley couldn't hack it and the style had become predictable. Perhaps, but that criticism misses the point. Grimsby are never going to sign million pound players. We won't storm the first division with an "open cheque book" policy.

The answer is to get the club playing in the same way at every level so that every player is comfortable with the demands on them and what is expected of them and you can grind out results with ordinary journeyman players (ie the sort who have always played for Town and always will). Under Lawrence it is constant chopping and changing both before and during games. Will Donovan play in the hole or wide on the right? Will we have wingbacks? Is it 4:3:3 or 4:4:2. The players could be forgiven for not knowing what day it is.

I was thoroughly depressed by his team selection - and whole approach to the Barnsley game which presented a number of problems.

Firstly, we needed three points and, therefore, a configuration that would produce goals.

The answer was to play a young lightweight novice (Rowan) alongside another similar player up against a very strong and experienced Barnsley defence. We needed more strength and pace up front and this could have been done by playing Allen (pace) and Groves (power and experience) up front in roles they are very familiar with. Allen is short of match practice but he could have been substituted with Jeffrey in the second half if he had flagged.

Secondly, how are we going to build constructively from the back with handyside on the bench. He MUST be brought back and this gane would have been an opportunity to use him and release Groves to play up front.

Thirdly, Barnsley are a strong side who can back effective passing with a physical presence. Very strong going forward and just the sort of game we need Caldicot in for - yet, he's on the bench and Burnett is playing. I've nothing against Burnett but he just isn't the player for this sort of desperate situation.

I am very much afraid that relegation beckons us. I predicted as much last year and the only real hope of holding it off was with Alan Buckley who was sacked in the miserable and sordid way we all know about.

Huddersfield on Tuesday could not be a bigger game - if we lose we could be at the foot of the table by the end of the week and once we are there we could very quickly become stranded. Not a happy thought but I have lost any hope or confidence that I had that Lawrence was up to the job of staving it off.


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