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All Change at Shrewsbury
By: Rob Sedgwick
GRIMSBY lost their first game of the season at Shrewsbury's new ground on Saturday. Two second half goals by the Shrews were enough to see off the challenge of the Mariners, whose only reply was a Ciaran Toner penalty. Ryan Bennett's late sending off summed up a frustrating afternoon.
Shrewsbury's new ground is the antithesis of their old one. In place of Gay Meadow's character and charm is the nondescript functionality of a modern flatpack stadium. You could be anywhere. But this is progress in the same way that our urban landscapes have become increasingly identical. These days we shop in the same shops, eat in the same fast food outlets and drink in the same pubs wherever we happen to be. Now too we can watch football in very similar constructions. Grimsby too will one day join the rush to the outskirts of town in the name of "increasing revenue streams" and on Saturday we were given a taste of what it might be like for us Mariners when we finally leave Blundell Park. The biggest problem with the New Meadow is accessibility. Only the truly wealthy (platinum members) can afford to park at the ground; the bulk of supporters must travel by bus, either with park and ride or from the town centre. For those travelling by train it adds an hour to the journey, hardly an incentive to go back. But around 250 Town fans had made their way there by one means or another and eagerly awaited the kick off if not the journey home.
One look at the teamsheet showed that Alan Buckley's recent obsession with 4-5-1 had continued. Like an addict chasing the elusive sensation of his first ever fix, Buckley seems intent on repeating last season's 6-0 drubbing of Boston which began the trend. Rankin started which meant that North had to settle for a place on the bench, and Jones got the nod ahead of last week's hero Taylor to sit alongside him. New loan signing Dave Mulligan from Scunthorpe was also on the bench, and James Hunt moved off it to become Town's fifth midfielder.
My prediction to myself at the start of the game was the Town would go 1-0 down, switch to 4-4-2 and end up hopefully drawing by the familiar 1-1 scoreline.
Shrewsbury began the game as they continued, by winning a string of corners, none of which particularly troubled Town. Rankin up front had his work cut out, having to hold the ball up, with Town's midfielders sniffing around him for scraps.
Till looked lively early on on the right wing and in one run beat a couple of players but his cross was too close to the 'keeper.
The game sprang to life when Rankin played a clever 1-2 with Newey. Town's left back raced into the box but could not lift the ball over the keeper, who deflected Newey's low shot into to path of Till. Till then blasted the ball against the cross bar. The Mariners had had two good chances and spurned them both.
Play switched down the other end and the ball fell to David Hunt. Barnes failed to get a hand to his shot, which zipped past Town's 'keeper, struck the base of the post and was eventually cleared. It was a near replica of the goal conceded to Notts County in the opening game of the season except on that occasion the ball crept inside the post.
Whereas seconds ago we were cursing our luck now we were thanking the gods, and we settled deeper into our plastic thrones expecting a classic end to end encounter.
Shrewsbury continued to pressure without really threatening, but Grimsby came closer to scoring. Good build-up play culminated in Rankin backheeling a Bolland cross just wide of the post. Hunt, who seemed to cover ever blade of grass on the pitch, then shot over.
Paul Bolland was taken off after half an hour. A sickening midair collision left the Town midfielder with concussion and he was replaced by Mulligan. The Mariners steadfastedly continued to play 4-5-1.
Half Time: Shrewsbury Grimsby 0
Shrewsbury started strongly after the break and took the lead early in the second half when an umarked Hibbert volleyed a cross into the roof of net.
Danny North warmed up, but to many people's disappointment it was Rankin who made way for the 19-year-old. If Rankin is not fit enough to last 90 minutes then why does he start?
Shrewsbury immediately went 2-0 up. Newey was beaten and the ball was crossed to the unmarked Symes who had the easiest of chances to fire the ball low into the corner.
Town's substitution had not paid off and Buckley now finally reverted to 4-4-2, by substituting the substitute Dave Mulligan and bringing on Gary Jones.
Town looked dead and buried but they were soon given a lifeline when referee Singh awarded a soft looking penalty after Newey was brought down in the box. Toner dispatched the spot kick and raised everyone's hopes.
Town huffed and puffed in the closing stages but could not blow the house down. Nick Fenton came closest when he tried to scoop the ball into the net whilst lying on the ground.
With seconds remaining Bennett received a second yellow card for an off the ball incident which I didn't see with a Shrewsbury player who was also booked. Whatever it was was pointless as Town were defending at the time and there was not enough time left to even get to the other end. Bennett will presumably miss Tuesday's cup game and Mulligan will deputise.
Town can claim a degree of misfortune as once again they hit the woodwork when the score was 0-0. Shrewsbury however played well, looked a well organised if unspectacular side who could well challenge for a promotion place.
Man of the Match was James Hunt who was everywhere for Town. Helping out defending, fighting for the ball in midfield, winning it in the air, and making short telling passes along the ground, Hunty was here, there and everywhere, especially in the first half.
Town have yet to win and have sunk into the bottom three of the embryonic table. Grimsby have less points now than at the same stage last year when then manager Graham Rodger already was under pressure. With little prospect of any new fire power, Buckley will have to make do with the strikers he has at his disposal. Unfortunately his predilection for only having one of them on the pitch at any time severely restricts Town's ability to create chances and score the goals which win games.
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