Question of the Week
Will Paul Hurst stay at Grimsby?
By: Richard Lord
On a bitterly cold evening Grimsby Town held Premiership chasers Birmingham City to a 1-1 draw at Blundell Park. A slightly disappointing crowd of 4,843 saw an eventful game, which could have swung either way as both teams failed to convert the chances they created.
Zhang Enhua was able to play after declaring himself fit after struggling with a foot injury since the vital win at QPR last Saturday. Coyne continued in goal and the same back four took to the field for the third game running. Lennie Lawrence chose to stick with the Burnett/Coldicott partnership, which was so industrious at Loftus Road. Jeffrey partnered Cornwall up front with places for Croudson, Handyside, Willems, Pouton and Clare on the bench.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation and kicked off towards the 600 away fans situated in the Osmond stand. The wind played a part during the night, with the long balls swirling in the air as both teams struggled to adapt.
Birmingham immediately stamped their authority on the game, pressuring the Town midfield from the off. The Blues controlled the opening 10 minutes fashioning many breaks but the long balls directed from the defence drifted into the arms of Coyne on several occasions until the breakthrough arrived.
On 16 minutes Curtis Woodhouse played a ball through Town's defence after winning the ball from Burnett. Andy Johnson, who missed the vital penalty in the Worthington Cup final, raced onto the ball and kept his feet under the clumsy challenges of Zhang Enhua. The striker got the ball caught up underneath his feet, until Coyne was drawn out and Johnson cheekily clipped the ball along the ground into the open goal when the danger seemed to have been contained. Gallimore made a valiant attempt to clear off the line but the ball rolled too far ahead.
Still the Mariners failed to get out of first gear. Burnett was clattered into when on a run into the heart of the Blues' defence but no free kick was given, with the midfielder in serious need of attention. Two minutes later Jeffrey did well to cut inside from a wide right position, but was also brought down with a hefty challenge from Grainger. The free kick was initially waved away by the referee but the linesman flagged to give the decision. Blundell Park gave a great reception to the arrival of Alan Pouton when Burnett was forced to withdraw from the game through the earlier injury.
Immediately the former York midfielder had an impact on the game and made his presence felt towards the end of a poor first half display from Town. Grimsby threatened briefly from corners and free kicks, but eventually won what their spell of pressure deserved. After much of the home support felt decisions hadn't been going their way, the tide turned as the referee pointed to the spot when Peter Atherton had handled inside the box. Ironically, the last penalty Town had won was at QPR over a season ago, which David Smith failed to convert.
The tenacious Pouton stepped up to take the spot kick, which he planted neatly into the bottom left corner of the goal, sending Bennett the wrong and duly brought the crowd back to life. Much of the boos at half time as the teams walked off were directed at the referee.
During half time, The Mighty Mariner appeared with an interesting sign which read: "Electronic Fishcake, for you!!!!!" and the mascot proceeded to turn around, bend over and squeeze his buttocks. Hmm.
A roar from the home crowd got the Mariners on their way in the second half. The best chance was created from a Donovan corner, which was swung deep into the area. Groves managed to flick his header to the far post but turned away in vain to see Eaden head off the line. Enhua followed up by hitting the face of the bar as the clearance came to him at an awkward height. Birmingham were clearly rocked and under the cosh. Town desperately wanted their pressure to pay, but they just couldn't find the killer blow. A good move down the left saw a Gallimore cross flicked towards goal by Cornwall, but Bennett saved comfortably. And the Birmingham keeper was called into action once more minutes later when a Gallimore free kick was whipped in and a slight deflection diverted it to the far post where Bennett was able to take. Clare and Willems soon replaced Cornwall and Coldicott respectively.
Whilst Grimsby were carving out several half chances, Birmingham remained a threat on the break. Johnson's pace was giving Enhua all sorts of problems, but the Chinese international coped well in the air. Dele Adebola was kept quiet in the second half as Groves' form continued to impress. On the break Birmingham looked purposeful and direct, but a charismatic and determined Town team matched their commitment. Donovan continued to give Grainger a difficult time down the right wing, and also saw plenty of space to attack. On a number of occasions the tricky winger cut inside, then moved back outside of the defender before delivering crosses into the box - one of which caused some bother at the back post where Campbell was judged to have fouled two defenders twice his size.
Clare looked sharp since his introduction, but had to fight for possession to create any chances. As the time ticked away, the pressure began to mount with Trevor Francis making his intentions clear by substituting a defender for a striker. The Mariners were made to camp inside their own half for much of the last 5 minutes as Birmingham went searching for the winner. As has been the case so often just recently, the defence stood firm and the Midlanders saw but a brief glance at goal, with Coyne performing well between the sticks all night.
Willems was ridiculously booked for handball when closing down a player in the centre of the pitch in the last few minutes by a dubious referee. Moments later the final whistle was blown and Town can be pleased with the point. They held an impressive Birmingham side to a draw and so very nearly won the game, if only Enhua had finished the chance that fell to him early in the second half. It is now only one defeat in five matches for Lennie Lawrence's men, and Town are now turning in truly determined performances at a time when it is most needed. The Town boss will now be looking for just 8 more points from their remaining 8 fixtures of the season to guarantee Division One football next season.
COYNE 7 - unlucky with the goal, and displayed that his kicking is not quite back to his best. Nevertheless, the performed well in goal and showed good alertness.
McDERMOTT 7 - solid defensively and coped well with the pace and power of the Blues' attacks. Was forced to hit long balls and was put under unnecessary pressure in the first half.
GALLIMORE 7 - read the game well and looked more focussed on the job at hand. Crossed into the box were of good quality but still lacked the defensive agression.
GROVES 8 - kept Adebola very quiet all game as the powerful striker failed to get a sniff at goal. At just 5 foot 11, the skipper frequently won the aerial battle.
ENHUA 6 - poorest display for the first time in a while and was unsettled by the pace and directness of Johnson. Performed well in the air but was constantly threatened by his marker.
DONOVAN 7 - drifted out of the game in stages, but generally maintained his recent good form. Looked dangerous when running with the ball and fashioned a couple of openings throughout the game.
CAMPBELL 6 - an unusually quiet game for the Scotsman. Didn't see much of the ball and was back in defence helping out much of the time. Had to battle to gain possession and didn't offer much width down the left.
BURNETT 6 - injured in the first half but showed some good touches. Doesn't command the midfield as of old, but didn't have the necessary time to make an impact.
COLDICOTT 6 - the tigerish midfielder battled well as usual but lost out in the air all too often. Didn't make as many tackles and failed to press the midfield. Remained quiet throughout the game.
JEFFREY 7 - Not the goalscorer we currently require, but once again he gave 100% effort and is improving in the air. Good passes and movement although failed to close defenders down.
CORNWALL 6 - has been gradually improving with every game he plays but still hasn't been given his chance to display his qualities. Did look more of a team player and wasn't so isolated. Subs
POUTON 8 - cool finishing from the spot which provided the equaliser and was a key figure in midfield. Passing ability not yet perfection, but his vision and awareness were apparent.
CLARE 7 - encouraging performance coming on as a sub and his close control and turns unnerved the Blues' defence. Hustled and harried without reward.
WILLEMS 6 - came on, got booked, won a few tackles, made a few passes - had little time to make his presence felt.
MOTM: Paul Groves - At 35 years old he showed he possesses all the attributes of a central defender, despite playing nearly all his career as a midfielder. He kept Adebola in his pocket all evening, despite the fact that he is nearly half a foot shorter and a few stones lighter.
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