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The Dawn of a New Era
By: Ian Townsend
ANTICIPATION was high in the Imp beforehand as Town fans (with more than a smattering of previously "stay aways") contemplated the first foray into league action of the new, revitalised Grimsby Town fresh from their narrow defeat on Tuesday down the M180.
In truth it couldn't have been a stiffer test with the visit of table topping Wycombe Wanderers who we already knew were yet to concede a goal on their league travels. The "experts" opined that Wycombe’s same night 7-0 setback would mean they would be out to make amends.....
The first surprise on a day of surprises was the return to full first team action of the Prodigal son Peter Bore who took his place up front in a new look side which read:
Bennett, Heywood, Newey
Till, Clarke, Hunt, Trotter, Hegarty
On the bench: Montgomery, Stockdale, Taylor, Kamara and Heslop.
Once again no place for Danny North, and Chris Llewellyn was also out of favour.
The game began with Town showing their intent to get in amongst them right from the off as from the kick off Jarman steamed in. Unfortunately he had moved too early and the kick off had to be retaken.
Wycombe were quickly into their stride and Town the first minute defending probes down both wings.
However from Town’s first move of note good work by Jarman and then Hegarty saw the ball make it’s way into the danger area where Peter Bore was on hand to poke it over the line. The ground erupted. One - nil in our cup final! Bore must have gained enormous satisfaction from his poacher's goal. One can only guess at what was going through his mind at that moment!
Back came Wycombe and it became easy to see why they are top of the pile at the moment. Their touch and vision and ability to pass the ball quickly ensured Town were to endure a fairly torrid time for the next twenty or so minutes.
However this Town side are made of sterner stuff than its poor imitation of recent weeks. What they didn't have in skill the players more than made up for in effort and application. They harried Wycombe across and up and down the park. This new zeal was best typified by Till who having lost the ball on the edge of their box chased back 50 yards to get a tackle in and Jarman who was doing a passable impression of a toy with a Duracell battery as he chased everything.
Apart from the odd fright Town’s back three held up well and looked far more solid than at any time this campaign. Wycombe managed several corners which were dealt with comfortably. Indeed when the ball did evade the defenders in the middle Newey was on hand to head away at the near post.
When Town ventured forward their play was more direct than of late but promising moves involving Jarman were cut short as Bore strayed offside.
However only the most biased Town fan would say that Wycombe weren't on top. Fortunately Phil Barnes continued in the vein of his fine performance at Scunthorpe as he looked assured, catching the ball and also making two strong saves down low to ensure Town went into half time with their slender lead intact.
The half time whistle brought sustained applause from three sides of the ground.
HALF TIME: Grimsby Town 1 Wycombe Wanderers 0
The second half began as its predecessor had with Town looking to put real pressure on Wycombe. Firstly Jarman shot just wide and then Hegarty saw a header saved fairly comfortably.
It wasn't long before Wycombe started to show though and the second half was punctuated by long spells of pressure with many attacks being repulsed by a big boot to no-one in particular which served to increase the air of foreboding that was beginning to permeate the stands.
Several excellent tackles and blocks (particularly a goal-saving one from Bennett when it looked as though former Town loanee Harrold was certain to level) ensured Town retained their advantage.
Clarke rubbished the opinion that he cannot defend and particularly Hunt succeeded time and time again in stemming the flow of moves through Wycombe’s talented midfield.
As Town tried to get more into the contest excellent first touches by Trotter and Jarman found Hegarty on the left but his crosses were poor to the consternation of himself and the Pontoon faithful.
Till had run himself into the ground again and both he and Bore (who had faded a bit in the second half, perhaps understandably given his lack of match practice) were substituted on the hour mark to be replaced by Kamara and Heslop as Newell sought to put more steel into the midfield. In truth though it served to show the weakness of Town’s squad as the result was really to surrender any remaining Town initiative when they were crying out for a player to come on and run at Wycombe à la Danny North.
Town had largely lost their way and the game moved into the last quarter with sustained Wycombe pressure. Barnes pulled off a brilliant fingertip save as Wycombe piled forward.
Then, as is so often the case, the home side were handed a lifeline by their opponents. Hunt having made the latest in many good interventions was hacked at from behind by Doherty out of frustration, right in front of the referee who had no hesitation in showing the Wycombe midfielder a straight red card.
Surely now Town would get that elusive first win?
But no. As the game moved into the final minute Bennett brought down Harrold level with the 18 yard line and Town’s inability to defend set pieces proved to be their undoing once again as the ball was flighted in to be met by the head of defender Johnson for an equaliser.
A collective groan went round the ground.
And that really was that, Wycombe were happy to settle for the point they must have thought had evaded them. Town had little left in the tank to force a winner. In truth Wycombe deserved something for their efforts but this was a massive improvement by Town. The future is looking brighter and the players left the field to a standing ovation from the near 5000 crowd.
It is doubtful a better team than Wycombe will visit Blundell Park this season.
Exeter await next time out and with a performance of today’s standard repeated in the South West that first win is a real possibility.
FULL TIME: Grimsby Town 1 Wycombe Wanderers 1
Man of the Match: James Hunt. Was everywhere and belied the belief that he can only play sideways or backwards as he spurred Town on throughout the game.
Bennett had his second excellent game in 5 days. Till, and Jarman ran their legs off. It is difficult to recall that when Jarman came here he was totally unfit. He must have covered every blade of grass at Blundell Park today in an all action display which epitomised the team effort.
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