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Will Paul Hurst stay at Grimsby?
Grimsby 1 Notts Co 1
By: Rob Sedgwick
2007-2008 kicked off this afternoon with a 1-1 draw with Notts County at Blundell Park. Town took the lead from a corner when Ryan Bennett headed the first goal of his career. County levelled soon afterwards, and both sides had chances to win in the second half, notably two late Grimsby efforts.
Alan Buckley's penchant for 4-5-1 has apparently not left him over the summer. Despite having four fit and able forwards available to him, Buckley elected to play Rankin alone up front, with Andy Taylor the one to miss out and not make the bench. Andy Parkinson was among Notts County's line up, barely recognisable with hair, something unheard of in his Grimsby days. Are you Parky in disguise?
Notts County, playing a direct game with three up front, had by far the brightest start dominating the game for the first ten minutes with a succession of free kicks and corners at the Pontoon end.
I recorded the first "sort it Barnes" on 5 minutes, by which time the pre-season optimism had been shattered by the dour reality of several successive corners to County and the Mariners camped in their own penalty area.
Town had to wait 10 minutes for the first shot on goal, a routine strike from distance by Newey. Within a minute though the Mariners drew first blood, totally against the run of play. An early free kick was drilled into the box by Toner and curled onto the head of Bennett who powered an unstoppable header from point blank range.
The goal seemed to invigorate Town, who became a more significant attacking force, spraying the ball nicely around the midfield. Their forays into the County box though were frequently halted by lone striker Isaiah Rankin who often mistimed his runs and was caught offside.
Grimsby had a great chance to go 2-0 up when a ball from Bolland sailed across the box in front of the goal, eluding everyone.
Till almost rounded off a sweet passage of play for the Mariners, but could only direct his shot within Pilkington's reach. However, County broke and the ball ended up with MacKenzie. Town dallied, allowing MacKenzie time and space to size up a shot. His effort clipped the heel of a Town defender, but still had the power to deflect past Barnes and curve inside the post to level the scores. Opinions were divided on whether Barnes should have saved it but the 'keeper's own body language looked to me like he felt he should. Barnes was told in no uncertain terms to "sort it" and worse by several vociferous residents of the Pontoon. Like Town's goal, County's strike also fell against the run of play.
County built their game around Jason Lee's physical presence and the burly striker frequently angered the Town fans. Lee had a habit of jumping at right angles to the direction of the ball, leading with his arm and clattering into his opponent. The referee gave him the first of several warnings in the latter stages of the first half, but without brandishing a card. Lee continued to get away with this until he was finally booked in the dying embers of the game.
The first half ended, a draw a fair result. Rankin was being asked to do a lot as the lone striker and the system Town were playing meant the Mariners were not creating many chances. Town were doing a lot of huffing and puffing but didn't really look like incisive in front of goal. The defence had done well to keep County's forward line at bay and defend well from set pieces.
In the second half Barnes made a diving two handed save to deny a screamer from Butcher and thereafter the Town 'keeper seemed to have increased in confidence and had a good game.
With less than 15 minutes gone, Buckley finally brought North on, but only in place of Rankin, so the 4-4-2 Town were crying out for was still not forthcoming.
North looked more likely to score than Rankin but didn't have the ability to hold the ball up as well. Neither player quite has the attributes to play the lone role. Together however they do, surely the answer to play them both, at least at home, is staring everyone in the face?
Even Buckley must have thought so because on 67 minutes he finally unleashed his secret weapon, a force so powerful that it must be kept under wraps and only used when all other alternatives have been exhausted. The name of this force is 4-4-2 and its existence must be hidden as much as possible from any representatives of the opposition who may be watching. Gary Jones slotted alongside Danny North and the weapon was pointed towards the Pontoon goal.
And what a weapon it was. Danny North without the ball was an irritating terrier snapping around the feet of the opposition. Gary Jones, like Rankin, was a fulcrum up front for attacking play, but with North sniffing around him to pick up the pieces it was much more effective than the blunt tool of the games's first hour.
North twice found himself through on goal but from a difficult angle and Pilkington managed to save both times.
At the other end County suddenly began to look dangerous again and had a spell of corners as the clock wound down. Butcher in particular found himself alone in the Town box and had time and space to pick his spot but could only hit a tame shot at Barnes.
Grimsby though had two excellent chances to win the game via Gary Jones. First Jones was within inches of scoring when he struck the side netting with a close range header. The best chance of all though was in the last few seconds when Jones was clean though with just the keeper to beat. Inexplicably he decided to pass to North in a more central position, but the ball fell behind North who had to turn and his shot was cleared. It was a golden opportunity and our heads were still in our hands as the referee blew the whistle.
Town should have won but could well have lost. The defence played well, Ryan Bennett had a good game at right back although patently this is not his position and he looked like a central defender covering for the regular right back we still lack. The midfield were solid and up front Town were excellent in the last quarter of the game when they switched to 4-4-2. Man of the Match was Nick Fenton, a colossus in the back four for the Mariners today.
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