Question of the WeekWho will win the National League?
Smelling the Coffee
By: Andrew Doherty
I'VE been having a recurrent dream where Town line up against a neat and tidy opposing team, while they themselves just balloon the ball in the air, miss passes, lack ball control and play on their own without any support from the rest of the team. The game is interminable.
Town will never score. But it's not a dream. This is what I've been watching. It doesn't really matter who we're playing but for the record today we play eco warriors Forest Green Rovers. Third in the table, Forest Green's results lately have been variable but if Town are going to beat themselves again, it's irrelevant. Much has been made of Forest Green's shirts, which are made of coffee waste, but my thoughts of this club revolve around two contrasting events. First is our 2016 win in the National League play-off final. This seems like aeons ago. Then at the other end of the scale was “Seatsgate” in 2018 where Danny Collins mistook a seat for James McKeown for a seat and passed back into his own net in our season-opening 0 - 4 loss to today's opponents, Of the two, “Seatsgate” is where we are right now.
Town made five changes after Tuesday's loss. Today's starting line-up was: Eastwood - Hendrie, Hewitt, Mayanese, Habergham - Morais, Matete, Coke, El Mizhouni - Hanson, John-Lewis. For the third game running Town's opponents had two former Mariners in their line-up in Matt and Whitehouse.
Town in customary black and white attacked the Osmond end for the first half. Forest Green wore “green with weird stripes” (Tondeur, 2021). On a patchy looking pitch both sides struggled to get a grip. A Weird Stripy Team attack led to Matt flattening Eastwood, while at the other end good aggressive work by John-Lewis led to Forest Green's keeper having to race out to clear. Both John-Lewis and Hanson showed good physicality and support up front for Town but the game was scrappy. Forest Green had the first shot on 14 minutes when Adams was on target but Eastwood gathered easily. Town had a decent spell with crosses from Morais and Hendrie and enjoyed a brief flurry of team play. On 16 minutes Matete committed a foul on Whitehouse in the Town half, resulting in Meyanese taking charge and heading out for a corner. The corner from the left was good. Matt took possession in the mass of players, leant back and was tripped from behind by John-Lewis. The referee awarded a penalty. Matt took it and slid it into the left corner, adding some gloss to the scoreline for the visitors. Town 0, Dodgy Stripes 1. Town won a corner but the moved stopped when Coke fouled Whitehouse. Town went through a spell where they committed too many fouls, so the game lacked fluidity. On 25 minutes Hendrie put in a great cross from the right but John-Lewis was guilty of a foul on the keeper. It was then Hanson's turn to commit a free kick, then Coke did well to win possession to start off a move. Matete took the ball across the field inside Town's half but lost control and got booked for fouling Matt. Town had odd attacks, and an opportunity was created when John-Lewis was fouled 30 yards out on the half-hour mark. Habergham's cross was decent but the linesman flagged immediately for offside against Town. Town did better 5 minutes later after tight work by Hendrie and Morais, whose cross was headed down by Hanson. El Mizhouni gathered the ball but took too long. Town's best attacks came from the right. On 37 minutes as Hendrie advanced and saw space in the box threading his pass towards John-Lewis. Whether it was a dummy as it appeared or John-Lewis missed the ball, the defender was caught out, allowing Hanson to slip in and slot the ball home from the left side. Town 1, Luminous Green Vegetables 1. Forest Green looked more of a threat for the rest of the half. Right on half time El Mizhouni suffered a leg injury and surprisingly was replaced by Bunney. 1 - 1 at half time was the score. Forest Green were proving an awkward team, and it wasn't a dazzling first half but Town showed endeavour and some threat. Committing 11 fouls in the half was having an adverse effect, and the score reflected the state of play. The Hanson / John-Lewis combination with supplies from Morais and Hendrie was a ray of hope for Town.
The second half almost started disastrously when Town conceded a free kick, and Matete, already on a yellow card, kicked the ball away. Matete was lucky to get away with a lecture on minding his onions from the referee. A big cross from Habergham on 50 minutes met Hanson's head and Forest Green were forced to scramble the ball clear before Morais nipped in. Another Habergham cross then led to Adams backheeling the ball off the line. Forest Green broke. Collins placed a perfectly weighted pass to Davison whose low shot off the right beat Eastwood and came back off the post. A block from the impressive Meyanese stopped the follow-up. On 55 minutes great work by Coke put in Habergham who cross again found the head of Hanson, but off side was given. The game had become more open and brighter without threatening to be as brilliant as Forest Green's shirts. A long cross from Hewitt on 58 minutes put Wilson under pressure, and the defender's back pass to McGee in the Forest Green goal put the keeper in trouble with Bunney in pursuit. But Bunney added to Town's growing fouls collection and put paid to a promising situation at the same time. At the Town end a shot from Davison was gathered safely. Mayanese put in another good block, and then Whitehouse fired over. Both teams were pressing but Town were lax and showing less ball discipline than their opponents. On 64 minutes Coke won another midfield battle but Town failed to capitalise. Two minutes later Forest Green put together a good passing move. Matt and Collins combined to supply Wagstaff on the left. Meyanese headed Wagstaff's cross clear of the box for Adams to control and volley a shot into the right corner. Town 1, Weird Green People 2. Forest Green attacked again and Hendrie looked to have fouled Collins outside Town's penalty box. No foul was given, much to the disgust of the Chief of the Weird Stripes Mark Cooper who was booked for his protestations. A move on 70 minutes between Morais, Hanson, Bunney and Habergham led to Habergham being fouled in the corner. Habergham's cross was clear but Morais miskicked. Town continued to press but eventually Habergham lost possession. Forest Green attacked but Hewitt saved the day again. Town then came back, but Matete's shot from outside the box was well wide. Forest Green won a corner, then Town had an attack which resulted in Hanson and Bunney falling over and unsuccessfully claiming a penalty. 80 minutes had passed. Green came on for John-Lewis after Matete was fouled. Good work from Matete, and then Morais and Hendrie between them led to Hendrie crossing, but only into a defender's body. Forest Green knew how to defend their lead, closing down Town's players and making it tight around the ball, and slowing the game down. McGee, who hadn't had much to do in the Forest Green goal, went down with a mysterious cramp, and then Adams was fouled, which took 3 minutes of attention before the same player came bounding back on like a spring lamb. But this is the cynical Forest Green Rovers that are known and hated as brussels sprouts. Payne replaced Morais but quite apart from the disruption that the collective of Rotten Vegetables were causing, Town's long balls were ineffective and there didn't seem any prospect of a worthwhile assault on goal. 5 minutes were added, and Town did have a chance on 91 minutes when a howitzer of a cross fed Bunney who chested the ball down and managed to snatch his shot ingloriously from outside the box. Head in hands time. Another big cross from Hendrie found the ever-reliable head of Hanson but Payne was offside. As the game slithered inexorably to another Town defeat, Town had a final opportunity on 94 minutes when successive headers from Hanson and Green found Bunney who was tripped on the left edge of the box. Hendrie's free-kick was good and penetrated the defence to find Hanson who couldn't get his leg round it. Another cross from Habergham was cleared out of the packed penalty box and now it was game over: Grimsby Town 1, Forest Green Rovers 2.
There are no obvious solutions here. Town weren't dreadful and couldn't be faulted for effort but where previous opponents have outdone us for skill, today's were simply better when it came to the basics. Today's opponents are third in the table. They're not exceptionally gifted or quick, but they're organised, ugly and professional. We have to look at ourselves. Ok, Coke won balls in midfield, Hanson won headers, Habergham's crosses were decent, John-Lewis used his physicality, Meyanese made good blocks, Matete found space, and Hendrie and Hewitt did some good things, but there's no connection. Where I see opponents attacking in numbers, I don't see this with Town. It was better today with two strikers but it all seems to be a lot of individual endeavour with no obvious plan or options and a poor to average quality of execution. We have to keep going with the best team we have, and certainly need to work on the tactics, the options and the execution but as today's opponents would no doubt advocate, we need to wake up and smell the coffee here. It's increasingly hard to see us surviving in this league.
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