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A Game of Two Innings
By: Rob Sedgwick
GRIMSBY fell foul of their second half jinx against Cheltenham this afternoon at Whaddon Road, conceding two goals after the break to turn around a superb first half performance by the Mariners.
In the first 45 minutes Town were by the far the better side. Mike Newell's new-look side's passing and movement was excellent and they had several chances to score the first goal before Barry Conlon gave Grimsby the lead with a well crafted goal 10 minutes before the interval.
But Cheltenham came out after the break a completely different side and pinned Town back in their own half following the introduction by new boss Martin Allen of veteran striker Barry Hayles just after the interval.
The large away following of 700+ Grimbarians had started the day in carnival atmosphere. Many familiar faces had survived the barren football-less months and congregated together filled with genuine optimism that this season would see a genuine challenge by the Mariners at the right end of the table.
The home fans had a small vocal group of just thirty fans, in front of which was a large perimeter advert for The Samaritans. Good times had not been seen at Whaddon Road for a while, it would seem.
Cheltenham won the toss and unusually elected to kick off the "wrong" way, so Town were attacking their own fans in the first half.
The Mariners lined up as follows: Colgan; Stockdale, Atkinson, Bennett, Widdowson; Jones, Sweeney, Boshell, Hegarty; Conlon, Proudlock.
Grimsby got off to a cracking start with Conlon and Hegarty linking up well early on. After just three minutes the Irishman found Hegarty in the box, and Town's wide man volleyed over. Two minutes later the roles were reversed and a terrific cross by Hegarty picked out Conlon, who stooped to direct a bullet header straight at the 'keeper who parried it to the edge of the box. It was a gilt edged chance and Conlon sunk to his knees in frustration at having missed an early opportunity.
It took 16 minutes for the first signs that the pre-season optimism was beginning to fade when a remonstration that Grimsby should "get a grip" was heard from the seats around me.
That though was a loan, rare cry of concern in a otherwise appreciate and happy away end. Grimsby were playing some excellent football with Hegarty in particular looking a real dangerman on the left hand side, and Proudlock every willing to fight for every ball.
All the chances were going Grimsby's way and Chris Jones had a low shot turned round the post by Brown, who was by far the busier 'keeper.
Town had a penalty shout turned down when Proudlock appeared to be hauled to the floor off the ball on 23 minutes, but the referee waved away his claims for a spot kick,
Town finally got the goal their play warranted with a great team goal. Proudlock was put though by a ball from midfield, and managed to get a cross to Conlon who had made a run for him in the box. The ball fell perfectly for the big Irishman, who scored from 2 yards out and ran into the crowd, for which he received a booking.
There were no substitutions at half time but Barry Hayles came on with a couple of minutes of the second half underway. Cheltenham looked a different side in the second half. Their defence seemed much more organised and Town's attackers, who had had so much time and space before the interval, were well shackled, and kept being caught offside.
Consequently all the play soon switched to Town's half and the defence started to come under serious pressure.
Town received a warning sign of what was to come when Bozanic grazed the crossbar with a volley early in the second period.
With the first murmurings of discontent beginning to be heard in the away end Cheltenham suddenly scored. Substitute Barry Hayles picked out Ridley on the edge of the box, who found some space for himself to tee up a shot which he planted past Colgan with some ease. It was a well taken goal, but nobody had attempted to close down the full back.
With the equaliser in their favour suddenly Cheltenham had got the taste of blood, and Town retreated like a wounded animal. Their confidence and swagger evaporated as rapidly as the midfield withdrew and the home side continued to carve out chances.
In response Town brought on Akpro for Chris Jones, but the Frenchman did not look very effective on the right wing.
The comeback was complete on 66 minutes when Ridley this time set up Hayles, who scored from more or less the same spot that Conlon had given Grimsby the lead.
Grimsby just could not get back into the game, and it was relatively easy for the Robins to see the game to a disappointing conclusion, aided by what looked some questionable offside decisions by the linesman.
The Mariners first half performance probably deserved a point, but what the team really need to work on is how to respond to losing a lead. Too often last season they seemed to start well and then falter once they conceded. Good sides, which is what Grimsby have the potential to be this season, should be able to cope with conceding a goal, and fight their way back into a game, rather than just lay down and capitulate.
Man of the Match was Nick Hegarty who was terrific for the first 45 minutes, but very quiet for the rest of the game.
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