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Seeking Supremacy in Old Sarum
By: Andrew Doherty
AFTER reaching the momentary heights of second place and being brought back down to earth with the home loss to division leaders Cambridge, the doubts have returned that Town may be strong enough to beat most teams but we haven’t quite got what is needed to stand above the rest.
So we came to Salisbury today with the same number of points as the home team and equal ambition. Today’s game promised to be a tough one.
Salisbury City’s ground is compact and practical. It is also a remote one, tucked away at the top of a hill at the end of a bus route in Old Sarum. The city is a lovely place to visit. Tourism duties performed, I made my way to the Raymond McEnhill stadium. It doesn’t look or feel like the theatre of dreams and isn’t. It’s a friendly place though. More than a couple of hundred Town supporters mingled, helping to boost the crowd of 1,313, not a bad turnout considering the remoteness in relation to Grimsby, Salisbury, everywhere.
Town played today in Cardiff City red, with Salisbury in their customary all-white kit. Town’s line-up included a number of changes from last weekend and read: McKeown - Hatton, McDonald, Doig, Thomas - Colbeck, Jones, Kerr, McLaughlin - Cook, Hearn.
It was a sunny afternoon. The ground was quiet as if we were spending an afternoon in the park. The players kicked the ball around randomly. Ah, the game had started. "That’s interesting" commented the person to my right as a misplaced pass ran out for a goal kick. "Interesting" isn’t the adjective I would have used. Good play was a rare commodity but McDonald did well to extend his lengthy frame to stop an attack, then Kerr and Thomas linked up well to win a corner. The game was 15 minutes old and nothing had happened. Both sides were equally inept. Town tried to get a passing game going, on the left with McLaughlin and Thomas and on the right with Hatton and Colbeck. A ball was delivered into the Salisbury box from Colbeck on the right but escaped everyone. Salisbury were effective at working the off-side trap, and Town were caught three times in quick succession. Apart from Thomas who was working effectively up the left, no-one seemed to show much interest. On 31 minutes, Jones saw an opportunity and created space but his shot was at a comfortable height for Puddy in Salisbury’s goal to catch easily. A Hatton long pass then caused Puddy to push the ball out needlessly for a corner, but the resultant cross escaped everyone in the box. Thomas tried a shot from 35 yards but it was so bad that it was not only wide but barely reached the goal line. This summed up the game. Salisbury lacked co-ordination too, and failed to capitalise when Hatton and Doig left a clearance to each other. McKeown then smacked a big clearance up field. The defender slipped but the ball was too far beyond Hearn for him to take advantage. Salisbury then wasted a free-kick, and as if to demonstrate that this half was about waste, Hatton’s free-kick went straight to a defender after Thomas had been fouled near the corner following determined work. Colbeck then wasted a cross after beating the defender on the right. The best chance of the half fell to Salisbury’s Fitchett on 45 minutes, when a cross ball sent him clear on the right. McKeown managed to save Fitchett’s shot with his foot, conceding a corner. McKeown then had a tricky moment when the ball bounced awkwardly as he tried to clear. Cook then had a chance for Town but his low shot was gathered. Town then won a free-kick but were caught offside once again. Half-time: Salisbury City 0, Grimsby Town 0.
The half livened up in the last few minutes, but it was of a very poor quality but neither side showing great endeavour. Of the two teams, Town had more possession but Salisbury looked the more incisive. Other than one good for Salisbury towards the end, there were no clear-cut chances. Town’s team play lacked any sort of end result. The most impressive player for Town was Thomas whose work rate, defending and runs, but not shooting, were all exemplary.
The signs were that the uninspiring first half was going to continue into the second, but on 47 minutes, Salisbury seized the opportunity to break away by bursting up the left. Too quick for Town’s defence, he got round them and crossed low. Fitchett received the ball, looked up, and unchallenged created space to enable him to drill the ball low into the right corner of the net past McKeown. Salisbury City 1, Grimsby Town 0. Town countered when Thomas burst into the box. Choosing to ignore the well-marked Cook, he fired his shot too high. At the other end Fitchett headed over and ran into McKeown, resulting in an altercation. With McKeown shouting orders manically through the first half, it looked as if Mr Hurst had told him to assert himself more in games. Salisbury won two corners, which led to nothing, then on 55 minutes Cook laid off to Hearn who was clear but marginally offside. On 60 minutes, Rodman replaced Jones who had struggled to control possession in midfield. Rodman went wide and immediately made an impact, running the ball into Salisbury’s penalty box and winning a throw-in. Thomas then beat the defender on the left and swung a cross in for Colbeck, but the header went over. Town were stepping up the pressure but Salisbury were scrapping hard and becoming more physical. Rodman and Hearn put in good individual work, and Cook was winning the aerial battle with his knock-ons, but Salisbury were packing their defence and Town couldn’t find their way through. On 68 minutes, Rodman danced through the defence. The ball came back to Hearn whose fierce shot was blocked, and the return floated cross found Cook offside. Cook then provided Rodman with an opportunity, heading over the defence. Rodman aimed his shot on target from wide of the post but the defender cleared the ball off the line. Cook then headed over.
Nielson replaced Colbeck on 74 minutes. Hearn, who for the most part had been inexplicably playing out wide, won a corner. Cook had a fierce header on target following McLaughlin’s corner kick on 77 minutes, but Puddy paddled the ball over. Thomas won another corner for Town on 80 minutes. McLaughlin, who according to today’s match programme "was acquired after what seemed like weeks of speculation and rhetoric" and so could be considered our Gareth Bale, found Rodman who shot. There was a scramble, and in Town’s closest effort to score so far, Doig hit the crossbar with the goalkeeper helpless. Salisbury’s Frear then broke away again and forced McKeown into a good low save to his right. Following another good run by Rodman, who was opening up gaps on the left, Thomas seemed to win the ball off a Salisbury attacker to start another attack, but fouled the Salisbury player in the process and got booked. On 86 minutes, Southwell replaced Hearn. Fitchett then broke clear again for Salisbury. McKeown tipped his shot wide for a corner. Town advanced but Salisbury packed the midfield and defence, clearing desperately and denying Town opportunities to break through. Thomas had a good run on 89 minutes but his lingering cross prevented Neilson from getting any power behind his header. Four minutes were added for stoppages. A Rodman volley won a corner. By this stage McKeown had gone up to assist the cause of getting the equaliser. The corner came to McKeown who headed wide. Town were showing an urgency which wasn’t there in the earlier parts of the game. Cook won a free-kick, which landed on McKeown’s head. This was a better effort than before. As McKeown pressed forward, he fell on the defender, leading to a multi-player mêlée. And so the game ended. Final score: Salisbury City 1, Grimsby Town 0.
Salisbury won this game by virtue of better team spirit, motivation and resilience. I also think although they had less possession than Town, they were more incisive. Town’s performance seemed to rely on individuals creating openings but crosses from Colbeck, Hatton and Thomas seemed to go into empty spaces, just as Cook’s knock-downs were greeted by a packed defence. Town had the excuse of being a much-changed side, but so too did Salisbury have a number of injuries in their smaller squad. Cook’s headers were a highlight for Town, and when Hearn was in the middle instead of being out on the wing as he was for a lot of the time, Town looked like they could breach the defence. The introduction of Neilson and Rodman in particular for the second half gave Town greater width and pace. Both sides showed glimpses of danger and speed in their attacking force, but Salisbury performed better as a team. The first half was generally awful, but Town only seemed to realise they were in a game three-quarters of the way into it. Salisbury showed great character and stood firm, and demonstrated a resilience and solidarity which Town could emulate themselves. Defensively, Town stood firm for the most part but McKeown once again was forced into making three good saves after the defence was split open. Above all, the difference was that Town’s ventures forward seemed born of hope, with crosses going to nowhere, whereas Salisbury’s goal was born of skill and mutual understanding. There are lessons to be learned here on the training ground. This isn’t the first and won’t be the last that we encounter a skilful and unified team in this division.
So once again this season Town lost to a determined part-time team. We came, we saw but we certainly didn’t conquer here in the battle at Old Sarum.
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