Question of the WeekWho will win the National League?
Frozen with Dysfunctionality
By: Andrew Doherty
THE struggle to survive continues. Today's game against Stevenage calls to mind detestable experiences over the past two visits at the hands of their stewards accompanied by lacklustre Town performances against bright opposition.
Today we're in the comfort of Blundell Park, and with luck, character and organisation we will be able to take advantage of our opponent's open style of play and recent poor form. Stevenage have just appointed a new manager, who made the bignotesque claim that he would get the town rocking. I think they'd need a bulldozer for that one. Meanwhile Mr Jolley is looking for the "required standard" from our players after the latest underwhelming performance at Coventry. Hear, hear. I'm always amazed by the generous applause from the fans, occasionally reciprocated by the players, most of whom deserve no praise. I'd rather do without this superficial mutual show of unity and don't think it's too much to ask for the required standard during the game.
The Town ensemble today comprised: McKeown - Mills, Clarke, Collins, Fox - McSheffrey, Rose, Summerfield, Dembele - Wilks, Hooper. Mr Jolley likes to change the team composition - a case of fiddling while Town crash and burn? "We don't want a catastrophe", declared the stadium announcer. He was urging folk to take their seats but he might as well have been talking about the football
The earlier sunshine had turned to misty cold as Town attacked the Osmond end for the first half against the blues of Stevenage. Within two minutes, a mistake by Summerfield almost let in Amos, then McSheffrey supplied Hooper whose response was a wild shot off target. McSheffrey was Town's calming influence as an aimless game of headball took place between the sides. Mills stepped in to cover on 8 minutes as Revell threatened, then Town had a free-kick after Dembele was clattered. Nothing came of it. Neither side showed poise or momentum. Newton had a shot on 14 minutes, which McKeown gathered easily. Town had a break following a defensive error soon after. Hooper broke clear and passed to Wilks who turned and was way off target. Ordinarily Town fans might have expected a better link up but the lack of control and co-ordination was evident. Three minutes later a great crossfield pass from McSheffrey found Dembele who raced forward and split the defence. Dembele's shot was heading for the top corner but King pulled off an excellent save. Town then showed why goals are such a rarity as from the ensuing corner Mills and then Rose scoped the ball skywards from good positions. McKeown had a low shot to save on 20 minutes, then a poor pass from Collins resulted in a free-kick to Stevenage from 30 yards. McKeown gathered Martin's shot. On 24 minutes, Wilks won a free kick in the left corner, inexplicably going down like a sack of potatoes in the process. McSheffrey's floated cross was easily cleared, however. Rose made an error on 26 minutes but the defence backed up well. Although Town's game was racked with uncertainty, they were marginally on top against a lumbering and struggling Stevenage side. After the initial period where the ball was played in the air, the outfield play improved but was still liable to mistakes. The work rate was good but Town posed no threat up front as usual. Stevenage's poor performance was captured when Amos fired a carefully placed curler over the top of the Pontoon stand - "he could play for Grimsby, him" commented the lady next to me. It was scrappy and sufficiently cold for Mr Jolley to put his overcoat on, as he watched this uninspirational fare with the rest of us. Town showed intent on 34 minutes when good work by both Summerfield and Rose in midfield led to Hooper challenging the goalkeeper. A foul was given but at least it was a sign of intent. Then brilliant work by the increasingly impressive Fox led him to run the length of the pitch after winning the ball in Town's half and playing a one-two with Dembele. After carving through the defence, Fox passed across the goal mouth where McSheffrey fired a low shot, which was cleared off the line. A Mills run and cross five minutes before the break gave Dembele a chance with a spectacular volley, but Dembele's good effort was blocked. There were definite signs of improvement from Town, but there was no breakthrough. This was a battle between two poor sides but Town to their credit were trying to fight their way out of it, and once they started passing and running, there were glimmers of hope. At half-time the game remained goalless.
Town bagan the second half by applying pressure on the Stevenage defence. Good work by Summerfield found Hooper who laid on a pass for Rose whose audacious back heel had insufficient strength to be a threat. A deep cross from Fox led to a brace of corners, then McSheffrey sent Mills off on a run on 53 minutes, but in what became a pattern, Mills's cross was poor and went straight to King in the Stevenage goal. Stevenage had a good chance four minutes later when a great through ball found Newton but McKeown was alert and off his line to avert danger. Town dropped off their pressure and quality was lacking, as their contributions at this point were another wayward cross by Mills and a neck-defying attempted header from Hooper. The game didn't lose momentum. It didn't have any. It was a dreary day and a dreary game of football. As Wilks got clattered, the Stevenage players came over to their manager for a team talk: "keep up the boredom", maybe. The 110 from Stevenage chanted in spite of having nothing to chant about. Clifton replaced the injured Wilks on 67 minutes. There was no urgency now. The game had died, and Town's lack of quality meant that they were unable to impose their authority. Stevenage now seemed to sense, as teams do, that Town were no threat, and started a series of attacks themselves. A well work moved resulted in Whelpdale's header beating McKeown and coming off the inside of the post before rolling across the line. A scramble and defensive determination with Stevenage's strikers ready to pounce snuffed out the danger. Momentarily Town were lifted. McSheffrey had a shot which returned to Dembele who fired over. Great work by Fox in Town's defence denied Newton after a great through ball. The hitherto stuttering Stevenage smelt blood as Town's players struggled and fell over. McSheffrey missed the target with an innocuous curling free-kick after Hooper had been fouled outside the box on the right, and was then replaced by Vernon. Good pressure from Mills and Dembele forced a corner on 81 minutes. Fox's corner found a Grimsby head but the effort was blocked. Largely the game had degenerated to one of desperate high balls as it became a patchy, low quality affair. There was some good work from Vernon and Fox but Town struggled to keep control of the ball, quite apart from failing to create meaningful chances. Hall-Johnson replaced Dembele on 85 minutes. Stevenage won a corner on 88 minutes, then a Hooper snap shot had insufficient power to break through and lift the impenetrable gloom. Four minutes were added - "time for them to score" was the comment next to me. I did point out that we scored in the 90th minute against Port Vale. But it wasn't going to happen here. We'd lost all semblance of quality, co-ordination and urgency. Decent work by Summerfield found Hall-Johnson whose cross was a pass to the Stevenage goalkeeper. It was all over. Grimsby Town 0, Stevenage 0. The game had this result written all over it. It was time to check how Chesterfield and Barnet got on, as we continue our hapless struggle for league survival.
As the second of the games in the two-for-one deal today, free garbage was my fear. It wasn't that, and points precede spectacle, of which there was very little today for the crowd of 5,368. When you look at the Town performance, the only positive point was the resolve and commitment of the defence, in particular McKeown, Collins and Fox. Otherwise there was no link between the strikers who looked at odds with each other, the midfield showed degrees of determination and made errors in equal measure, touches and crosses were poor, especially from the right hand side, and Town seemed to stumble their way forward. There was simply no sharpness, consistency or instinct. Stevenage were a poor side and had nothing to play for, yet we managed to let them into the game and create the best chances of a dreary contest. All I saw on this cold and bleak afternoon from Town was dysfunctionality. All we can hope for from Mr Jolley's rotating squad is a willingness to fight.
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