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A Tale of Two Halves
By: Luke Fraser
IT was another case of "what might have been" yesterday at Gigg Lane as the Mariners continued their unbeaten start to the season. It was also the third time they had led - only to be pegged back by the opposition yet again.
Grimsby, as expected, lined up in a 4-5-1 formation with the only change being North taking over from Rankin as the lone striker, perhaps to provide some extra pace and energy up for front or maybe Alan Buckley was just rotating his strikers after Tuesday night’s arduous effort. Bury had former Grimsby defender Ben Futcher in their line-up as well as former Tranmere defender Dave Challinor. The dangerous Andy Bishop, a striker with a good goalscoring track record in the lower leagues, was only on the bench.
Town, as ever, were backed by a good following, and the 400+ plus Grimsby fans who had made the trip had plenty to be confident about early on as The Mariners started with energy and purpose. The passing was fairly crisp and the movement positive. The Mariners' midfield appeared to be taking the early initiative with Paul Bolland starting impressively, Toner and Till looking dangerous on the wings and Tom Newey getting into good wide positions, only for the final ball to be lacking. The final ball certainly wasn’t lacking after 10 minutes though, as Newey swung in a free kick from the right, Bury keeper Jim Provett came for the ball, only to fumble it and see it drop to Paul Bolland who smashed the ball home. 1-0.
The match continued very much in the same manner, with Town creating half chances for Toner and Till. Bury’s best opportunities mainly coming from set pieces. Whittle, Fenton and Bennett dealing comfortably with the threat. Glynn Hurst almost broke from midfield after 24 minutes only for Hunt to get back with a well time tackle and another Bury effort was deflected for a corner.
As the first half drew to a close Town were looking more and more impressive and really should have grabbed a second. Whittle had the ball in the back of the net, only for the referee to disallow it for an earlier infringement from Fenton and Toner’s rebound effort was well saved by Provett after good work by Danny North.
It was not to be and as the ref signaled half time with Town one up the Mariners travelling support had to be content with not only the lead but the manner of performance.
Bury introduced Bishop after half time, Town remained unchanged.
Bury began looking the more lively and showed their intentions early in the half when Baker headed over from Bishop’s cross. The Mariners defence were having to deal with a number of high balls in and around the box but coped well and Phil Barnes, looking assured in goal, was taking some of the pressure off his defence by coming out and claiming some of the crosses. Town were struggling to get in the game and the only real chance of any sort came on the counter attack, Paul Bolland just failing to get on the end of Danny North’s through ball.
Bury’s best chance of the game came after on 52 minutes, Bishop got clear of the Town defence only to see Phil Barnes block his shot in impressive fashion. Boss Alan Buckley attempted to seize the initiative back from Bury on the hour mark. Off went Danny Boshell, who had rarely made an impression on the game, and on came Isaiah Rankin. Town reverted to a 4-4-2 formation and hopefully could regain a foothold in a match that they led 1-0 but were looking under the cosh.
Bury were gaining in confidence and Town were indebted to Phil Barnes shortly after. Firstly, he got down to his near post to block Hurst’s shot on the turn and then raced out of his goal to deny Bishop after the striker had got clear. It was only a matter of time and after 72 minutes Bury finally got a deserved equalizer. Paul Bolland was harshly adjudged to have fouled Challinor on the left hand side of the Town box, the free kick was swung in low and Andy Parrish swept the ball past a helpless Barnes. The only question now was could Town hold on for a point?
Gary Jones had come on to replace North up front, however he was more useful his own penalty area as town dropped all their players back to deal with the set pieces Bury were lofting into Town’s penalty area. Ben Futcher was booked for bringing down Rankin in a rare town attack and was perhaps lucky to stay on the pitch after 75 minutes when he upended Jones in a dangerous position on the edge of the Bury box. The ref simply warned Futcher and Newey’s lacklustre free kick went wide, perhaps with the aid of a deflection. A goal kick was awarded.
The final 10 minutes saw more desperate Grimsby defending. Barnes again saved Town when he blocked Bishops shot and Justin Whittle was at his battling best as he marshalled the Town defence. A further chance for Bury came in injury time but Hurst could only shoot wide and that was about it as the referee brought the match to a close at 1-1.
A draw was probably the fair result. Town having the upper hand in the first half but Bury controlling the second, and was it not for a splendid performance by Phil Barnes they may well have won the game. As for Town they will be happy with the unbeaten start to the season. They were at their best today when playing the 4-5-1 formation and I am sure we will see a lot of this during the season, especially away from home.
So, onto Macclesfield next week. A win and 5 points out of 9 would be considered a solid start to the season. A defeat or even a draw would make the league table look more worrying! Grimsby are certainly performing well, the squad looks like it contains enough quality, if not quantity, and with the right additions to the squad it promises to be a campaign to look forward to.
Man of the Match:
Paul Bolland and Justin Whittle showed the heart and desire Town are going to need to compete in this division, with impressive battling performances. Phil Barnes takes the man of the match for me though with an excellent second half performance. Hopefully the extra competition for his place will bring out the best in him after an inauspicious start to his Grimsby career.
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