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A Proper Game
By: Andrew Doherty
A NEW dawn beckons. Leaving aside Wednesday's EFL trophy futility, today is our new manager's first competitive match. Even the Town web site spoke of today as a proper game, suggesting that something improper happened on Wednesday.
I watched the clip where John Fenty introduced Marcus Bignot and his assistant Micky Moore. I was impressed by Mr Bignot's clarity and communication. I liked Paul Hurst too, but sometimes wondered what messages were getting through to the players. Yet I think he's left us with a good squad. Our league position is ok but the goals have dried up, we need more consistency in midfield and for sure we more goalscoring options.
Today's opponents Barnet are in a similar situation with one recognised goalscorer in John Akinde. In recent years, they have fought to regain their place in the league, and in Martin Allen have a good manager. Being based in an area where supporting Arsenal and Tottenham is more the norm, the Bees have done well to not only survive a ground move, but have a nice set-up as a result. Unlike our last opponents Cheltenham, who seem to have become an unpleasant bunch, Barnet have battled on the right way with minimal resources. But they are struggling. On the face of it, Town started today's game as favourites but our recent record puts this optimism in doubt. Mr Bignot's immediate task was always going to be to inject confidence and inspiration into Town's home form.
It was a wet, cold and grey day in Cleethorpes, "welcoming visitors since 1863" according to the sign on the station. I'm guessing that's when the railway was built but it could be that we just didn't welcome visitors up to 1862. It's fair to say the weather wasn't so welcoming today, and the pitch conditions were likely to be greasy and difficult.
Town's line-up was: McKeown - Mills, Gowling, Collins, Andrew - Summerfield - Jackson, Berrett, Comley, Chambers - Bogle.
The game started openly but both sides cancelled each other out. Mills had a shot on 5 minutes after a Summerfield lay-off, then Barnet's goalkeeper Stephens made an excellent save on 13 minutes, tipping Bogle's free-kick over after he was tripped outside the box. The game continued languidly with the odd patch of purposeful passing. Barnet's first opportunity came on 19 minutes but Collins positioned himself well and restricted the threat to a corner. A minute later, Town moved the ball upfield to Bogle on the left. Bogle used his pace to slice through the two defenders and fired in a fierce shot, which deflected off Barnet defender Johnson and flew into the net. Town 1, Barnet 0. Town's movement was now good. A fluid move led to a Mills cross and corner on 24 minutes, then Chambers wasted an opportunity after failing to control the ball after his sublime dummy sent him away. Berrett then wasted a chance with Chambers clear on the left. Barnet were offering little but did put up a counter attack when Vilhete struck a low shot after working his way through Town's defence. 34 minutes had passed. The ball was cleared upfield and from an innocuous situation Barnet's Nelson made a terrible mistake by failing to control the ball. Bogle pounced, raced clear and struck a low past shot under the keeper. Town 2, Barnet 0. A minute later Berrett's cross found the keeper with Bogle clear. As the game approached the 40th minute, Barnet had two attacks which led to corners but Town were on top. On 42 minutes, the goalkeeper had to react quickly to quell the advancing Jackson. A minute later Chambers tripped Akinde 35 yards out, resulting in a dangerous curling free-kick from Watson. Barnet weren't frightened to shoot, but the half ended with a Town opportunity after Bogle was tripped on the corner of the penalty area. The free kick struck the wall and the half finished.
Town's play was rapid and energetic, stepping up in intensity after a mixed start. The pitch conditions were causing no problems. Barnet were limited to occasional counter attacks and shots, but Town were the side looking most dangerous thanks to their running, passing, support play and the options which came from them.
Less than a minute of the second half had passed, when Barnet lost possession and the unmarked Comley had a chance from 20 yards. Comley reacted as if he wasn't expecting it and struck his shot wide. With Town 2 - 0 up, playing with freedom and creating chances, it seemed as if the victory was a formality. This was however not the time for complacency. On 48 minutes, Akinde raced off into Town's box, as Bogle had done in the first half. Gowling was in pursuit but was beaten for pace and tripped Akinde. The referee awarded a penalty, which Akinde coolly slotted into the left corner, sending McKeown the wrong way. Town 2, Barnet 1. Bolarinwa came on for Chambers on 51 minutes and immediately made an impression. On 54 minutes, Collins got tangled up with a Barnet attacker after a cross. The referee awarded another penalty to Barnet. McKeown this time predicted Akinde's penalty correctly but it was so accurately placed that McKeown couldn't reach it. Town 2, Barnet 2. Town were stunned after being the better side, but at least there was plenty of time. Town showed signs of panic, and the experienced Disley was brought on to replace Berrett. Good work by Bolarinwa led to a corner. Collins had a shot but it went wide. Barnet were rejuvenated by the penalties, and Town had now lost the fluency they had earlier showed. First Weston forced McKeown into a save, then Watson had a better chance on the follow-up after a short pass from Akinde but fired his shot over the bar from close range. Barnet's midfield were closing their Grimsby counterparts down. After all the energy of the first half, Town were scrappy and looked short of momentum as Barnet increasingly stifled Town's efforts to create attacking moves. Town had a chance on 74 minutes when a great ball from the left found Bolarinwa who teed up Comley. Comley's shot curled wide of the post. But Barnet were not finished, and former Town favourite Akpa-Akpro hit a spectacular volley just wide a minute later. Town then had a great chance after a poor back pass, but Bogle hit the side netting after going round the keeper. The determined and lively Bolarinwa fought to keep an attack going on 79 minutes and then got booked for dissent after disputing a foul. Barnet had started to play directly and more physically and were dominating the game. Vernon came on for the almost invisible Jackson after 79 minutes to try and liven things up. But Barnet had another chance on 82 minutes when Akinde fired a header from point bank range which McKeown stood up to and saved. When Town did attack, it seemed they had lost their poise. First Summerfield blasted over, then Andrew failed to hit the target and a good forward surge from Mills. On 87 minutes, Town had a good chance when Vernon was clattered 25 yards out. Bogle's free-kick was well over the bar. The midfield seemed to be packed with the white shirts of Barnet as Town were losing their way. Then on 89 minutes, to everyone's surprise. Barnet's Sesay was sent off for what the referee saw as a two-footed challenge on Vernon. Five minutes were added on so Town had a golden opportunity to make amends. All-out attack was required. Mills sent in a long cross. The referee adjudicated that Gowling had been pushed and awarded Town a penalty. This was a lifeline. After a long wait Bogle stepped up and woefully missed, firing his shot well wide and over the bar. Barnet had had a reprieve. Town pressed. Collins got booked for running through the advancing Akinde, and unable to build on earlier success, the game ended in frustration for the 5000 Town supporters, and no doubt relief and delight to the 70 supporters from Barnet. So the game ended: Grimsby Town 2, Barnet 2.
To a neutral, this would no doubt have been an exciting game with good individual play from both side's main strikers, penalties, a sending off and a fightback from Barnet. Barnet not only held their own but won the tactical battle in the second half. In spite of the penalty miss, Bogle was my man of the match for his flair and effort, but overall this was disappointing. There is work to be done, as Town lost the shape that they showed in the first half. The conditions were not a factor, and my mate Andy and I agreed that this was just like it used to be when we turned up in the late 60s and early 70s to football at Blundell Park on cold, rainy Saturday afternoons. These were proper conditions and this was a proper game. It's just that we need to assert ourselves and not be psychologically and physically dominated by other teams. Over to you, Mr Bignot.
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