League Two Form Guide
Question of the Week
What should happen to the EFL Trophy next season?
By: Andrew Doherty
I CONFESS that my experiences of watching Town so far this year have been limited to watching them on television. After grumbling my way through our encounters with Hyde and Luton, my wife's observation was that I may have enjoyed the same level of frustration but at least I' d saved on money and time.
But it doesn't work like that of course. There's nothing like being there, home or away, being part of it and supporting the team. Network Rail has kindly restored the line between Doncaster and Scunthorpe so the way is paved. Unfortunately the streets haven't been lined with gold as Town's start has less than inspiring. At least it's not been disastrous. Speaking in my new-found capacity as a Skrill couch potato, the Hyde game was horrible and only won because the part-time home side tired off in the second half. I did however see signs of fight and encouragement in our last game at Luton. The full backs Bignot and Goodall looked promising. Pearson and Doig need to work on their co-ordination, however our biggest weaknesses lie elsewhere.
John-Lewis worked really hard up front and laid the ball off well, but to who? Support was lacking, and our midfield looked lightweight. We needed an injury-free version of Niven this year but we don't seem to have that player. Colbeck and Rodwell were in and out, McLaughlin's distribution looked suspect and Kerr had one shot but I can't remember him doing anything else. Captain Disley was inspirational but couldn't do it all on his own and is now injured as is Hearn. Neilson looked sharp when he came on, and Cook surprisingly hasn't been given a chance. The signs haven't been promising, and the manager will know we need to start developing a shape and more importantly, gaining points. At least Mr Scottless-Hurst, when interviewed, came across as speaking sense, which is some cause for encouragement.
I came to this equivalent fixture last year. At that stage Braintree had just played Tranmere in the FA Cup in midweek, and like Hyde this year looked tired. We came unstuck in the return fixture when we were on the receiving end of our customary Essecian drubbing. Our records this year so far are similar – 11 points gained from 7 matches. Braintree are a well-organised side, and would be looking to join the higher ranks of the division. For today's finely-balanced contest, my mate Andy Humberstone succumbed to the temptation of a visit to Blundell Park and joined me in the Main stand. His reaction to his previous visit, to the Nuneaton home game, was adjectival: “awful” ... “clueless”.
But first, the journey. It was a cold, windy and grey day to start with. “Superior living in Peterborough” screamed the sign alongside the railway line. Superior to what? Cell Block H? Next stop Doncaster. Ah, that must be it. “Peterborough is an improvement on Doncaster” doesn't sound quite the same. Grey became greyer on the other side of the looking glass. But by the time I reached Grimsby, the sun was out. It was windy. Not cold enough yet for the birds to die of frostbite. The sky was blue. Haddock and chips, a nostalgic stroll round Grimsby and it was time to catch the bus to Meggies. Grey clouds had appeared. It remained blustery. A woman tried to do me a deal on her Dayrider ticket. Not worth it as I was only going to Cleethorpes but full marks to her for acumen.
The dock tower emerged like an imposing and dark beacon. Could Freeman Street be the most boarded-up street in the country? Freeman Street, doyen of desperation? Onto the Grimsby Road. “Dignity – caring funeral services”. Are uncaring ones cheaper? But I read there's a new night club called “Incredible Grimsby”. Grimsby is incredible – incredibly run down. Entering Cleethorpes, the Darley's is still a pile of rubble. The bus arrived at the top of St Peter's Avenue. Everyone thanked the driver. That's nice. Grey clouds still hovered over Grimsby in the distance. Here the sun was out. It was warm now. The wind blew – traditional weather in a traditional seaside resort. The tide was in, precluding the possibility of a donkey ride. I sat on a bench. A man stopped by and told me about his ailments. He wasn't a Town player. But it was time to head towards the grey and the football.
The Blundell Park pitch looked good and was made more resplendent by the all orange kits of Braintree, which made them look as if they had come to carry out some track work. Town's line-up today was: McKeown – Bignot, Pearson, McDonald, Goodall – Neilson, Thanoj, Kerr, McLaughlin, Rodman – John-Lewis. Kerr played the “Bobby Mitchell” role deep in midfield just in front of the defence while Neilson and Rodman had a more attacking part to play.
It was Rodman who showed intent after a minute with a diagonal run towards the box as Town attacked the Osmond end. McDonald too showed determination, having been brought back in the side, and as the ball came out from Braintree's defence, Kerr saw the opportunity of a snap shot from 30 yards. .John-Lewis shot high and wide from the right side after battling to win possession. Early signs were that Town were prepared to shoot and knew they had to fight and be patient in their interplay. Braintree won a corner which came to nothing but Rodman's trickery after 8 minutes led to McLaughlin being tripped outside the box. Rodman's free-kick shot into a wall of players, and won a corner. McLaughlin's left-footed swinging corner fooled everyone and bounced off a Braintree defender for another one. McLaughlin's right foot then let him down as he tried to return the ball back into the box. The game had started in lively fashion and Town were looking dangerous in their attacks. On 13 minutes, good build up on the right resulted in Neilson, who had dropped back to midfield, supplying Rodman whose low cross was perfectly placed for John-Lewis who drilled the ball into the right corner from about 10 yards. Grimsby Town 1, Braintree 0.
Town almost scored again within a minute as Neilson's shot cannoned off the goalkeeper's legs but Rodman could not capitalise on the loose ball. On 18 minutes Neilson was booked for mis-timing his tackle when filling in for Bignot at right back. Pearson was then flattened by Marks, who also received a yellow card. Bignot was then booked for a foul. This wasn't a dirty game but three more Braintree players were booked in quick succession for trips as first McLaughlin and then Rodman turned the defenders and caught them out with their pace and skill. In spite of all the fouls, there was a good tempo to the game and Town in particular looked lively and creative. Players passed and supported each other, which was pleasing to see. The awareness of other players' movements was good. McLaughlin had a wasted free-kick and then found himself offside after good work. A Goodman clearance led to the Braintree defender losing his bearings, but Rodman could not break clear. Braintree themselves were starting to come into the game but their build-up was slow and at one point Donaldson had to intervene. Then on 41 minutes Pearson put in an excellent block inside the penalty area. The half finished with Town on the attack, as Neilson rounded the defence but his low shot was easily gathered by the goalkeeper. So at half-time the score was: Grimsby Town 1, Braintree 0.
The first half was entertaining with Town showing good awareness and passing, dropping off later in the half as Braintree started to make some impression. Braintree probed but were not dangerous. McKeown had nothing to save. Rodman and McLoughlin looked particularly lively for Town. “Encouraging” was Andy's adjective of the half.
Braintree were first to attack in the second half. Bignot calmly cleared his lines. Marks then had a shot which McKeown saved easily. At the other end, Rodman supplied a dangerous cross and Neilson battled to win a corner. Braintree showed their skill and as the game progressed, this became more evident. Braintree's Mulley trapped a high ball with great dexterity and continued to contribute good skill. On 51 minutes John-Lewis showed his customary control and supplied a well-timed through ball to Rodman who wasted the chance. Town's build up was patient and both full backs were doing good work. Braintree were entering the game more and more and after a corner, McKeown was forced into a save at his near post. An hour of the game had passed. It had gone flat. Both sides were probing without return. Braintree were marginally on top by now but were posing no great threat. Goodall was floored after a clash and left the field for some time. The immediate issue was a corner and Paine came within a whisker of flicking it on and past McKeown. With Goodall missing, Braintree pressed McKeown and Town had a worrying moment as a unintentional back header under pressure from Kerr just cleared the bar.
Town were looking uncomfortable. Goodall's blood was cleared and his shirt was changed, enabling him to return. “Something needs to happen” pronounced Andy. Kerr proceeded to kick the ball vertically. I don't think that's what Andy had in mind. “Keep it simple”. Town were struggling to control the game. On 65 minutes, Colbeck came on for Neilson who hadn't been totally effective today but had worked hard, a fact which the home crowd appreciated. Thanoj supplied Rodman soon after but the attempt to chip the goalkeeper was weak. On 67 minutes, the battle-worn Goodall came off to be replaced by Walker. Bignot moved to left back with Walker taking up the right back position. Rodman, who was now partnering John-Lewis up front, managed to break clear and forced an excellent save from the Braintree goalkeeper at his near post. Town were starting to pick up again, with Thanoj looking creative in midfield. Although there were glimmers of hope, this game was turning out to be a real struggle. At times there was no pattern and in the battle for supremacy, the defences were winning hands-down. There was also a lack of continuity from Town's midfield, especially compared to the first half. Town had a scare on 75 minutes when Davis for Braintree would only have had to roll the ball in from 6 yards but for the fact that he cross pass landed behind him. Town weren't pressing enough.
Braintree continued to press and Cox only missed a good opportunity because of Pearson's proximity and intervention. On 80 minutes, Cook came on for John-Lewis. Braintree had two corners. Town's defence stood firm. After 82 minutes Cook chased down Braintree's Massey who didn't know where he was. Cook took advantage, and with only the goalkeeper to beat, rushed his shot/chip, placing it well wide. The Town supporters groaned. Braintree continued to impress with their pace and skill. McDonald showed he was having no nonsense by sending a clearance over the top of the Findus Stand, the first time any of us could remember this happening. He then followed up with a magnificent tackle outside Town's box but the under-confident Cook lost possession too easily. This summed up Town at this stage. Town's defence was ensuring this tight game remained at stalemate. On 89 minutes, a Braintree attack was snuffed out by Walker and McDonald who combined well. Town won a corner and to the crowd's displeasure, played for time. Four minutes of added time was announced. The situation was tense. Thanoj had a chance to break through but looked tired. Braintree continued to play good football. Finally Town stubbed out another attack and the referee blew his whistle for full-time: Grimsby Town 1, Braintree 0.
From what had been a lively, open game in the first half, it became very tense. The first half was very promising and it was evident that the players had worked together in training and were implementing the plan. There was good work from all parts of the pitch and the goal was no fluke. Town had applied pressure and with the pace of Rodman, McLaughlin and Neilson, and John-Lewis's control, Braintree's defence was being turned and looked vulnerable. The full-backs both did a good job too. In the second half, Town lost their shape but showed great strength in defence. The nearest Braintree came to scoring was a Town back header although their own supply could have been better on more than one occasion when they threatened to score. This was a business-like performance from Town and it was great to see evidence of what's happening on the training ground. That surely can only get better. Individually, I was impressed with Rodman and McLaughlin and with the full backs Bignot and Goodall. Walker's introduction was a revelation. He showed maturity and composure. I was particularly encouraged to see the communication he had with McDonald at one point to avert pressure from a Braintree attacker. Pearson was determined not to be beaten as always, and put in some important blocks. My man of the match was Clayton McDonald who dropped in really well, provided some valuable individual moments and above all contributed to Braintree's lack of clear-cut chances and Town's clean sheet.
It was now chilly but clear as I walked along the seafront after the game. I reflected on Town's performance. It wasn't five star but there were many positive aspects too. This was not a case of Incredible Grimsby, but one of character and Northern Grit.
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