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The Grey

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 28/01/2017 (Last updated: 29/01/2017)

STEVENAGE is an uninspiring place, noteworthy for roundabouts and grey buildings. Its football team on the other hand has established itself in the football league since its promotion in 2010, winning a further promotion the following season before dropping back to League 2 in 2014.

I remember sitting on a train surrounded by all their fans, bedecked in red and white, after they'd won at Wembley. From our point of view, the interesting statistic is that Stevenage has scored 40 goals and conceded 46 in its 27 league games this season, including a 5 - 2 victory for Town at Blundell Park back in August. With our away record, a convincing win against an admittedly very poor Notts County team last week and a decent defence, taking three points from this game against our fellow mid-table team was more than a possibility.

Town, wearing grey today in the spirit of the host town, were unchanged from last week's victory against Notts County: Henderson - Boyce, Pearson, Collins, Andrew - Mills, Osborne, Comley, Clements - Bogle, Vernon.

The game was only three minutes old, when the first chance came. A trip on a Stevenage player resulted in a free-kick on the edge of Town's penalty box. Schumacher stepped up, curled his shot over and around the wall, giving Henderson no chance as the ball sailed into the top left corner of the net. Stevenage 1, Grimsby 0. Five minutes later, Bogle was pulled down when turning about 25 yards out. It was time to return the compliment, but Bogle's free-kick went wide and high. Comley tried to set up Vernon but the pass was too long. Town's play was patchy. Stevenage on the other hand looked good on the ball and were enjoying most of the possession. Osborne and then Andrew won free-kicks in quick succession as Town attempted to launch an attack, but while Stevenage conceded a corner, nothing came of it. A quick through ball from Mills on 21 minutes nearly caught Stevenage out, and the recipient Clements was tripped. Bogle's free-kick from 20 yards was lower than the previous effort but was well wide. Town were relying on scraps. Osborne's ferociousness was in evidence, and on 25 minutes Vernon's potentially dangerous cross was comfortably chested down by a Stevenage defender. While Stevenage looked capable of building an attack, Town relied on long balls. The quality of these long balls and the passing in general was poor. Pearson, Mills and Andrew were all guilty. Bogle meanwhile seemed more intent on showing his not-so-evident ball skills by showboating instead of taking the obvious option of passing to a nearby teammate. "He looks like he's been sold", commented a spectator behind me. It's true. Bogle seemed disinterested, waiting for the ball to come to him as if he was somewhere else. On 34 minutes, Comley and Mills linked up and won a corner. Comley's cross was wasted as Boyce and Pearson got in each other's way on the six yard line. Stevenage looked the more likely of the two teams to score, and Pett had a shot blocked on 40 minutes before a penalty appeal was turned down. Four minutes later, poor control from Comley led to him losing the ball and committing a foul as he tried to retrieve it. This led to Schumacher breaking and troubling Town's defence before winning a corner. Town had a couple of brief moments when Osborne put Vernon through, but Vernon was offside, and then Osborne again dragged a shot wide. The half ended after a Stevenage corner.

"They can't put two passes together", announced the gentleman behind me. Town's control and passing were indeed poor. There was no cohesion in the play. Town simply hadn't started playing.

Stevenage applied pressure from the start of the second half, passing well and winning a corner. Collins got a good block in on 50 minutes to thwart Godden. Bogle then laid the ball off neatly to Vernon but nothing came of it as Vernon's touch was poor. Comley was involved in a nice move on 53 minutes but his shot went wide to the right as he lost balance. Town were fortunate soon after when a poor clearance by Pearson resulted in a Stevenage attack but Pett took too long over his shot. Town had a better move a minute or two later after good defensive work but again it fizzled out. On 57 minutes Yussuf replaced Clements. Nice work by Andrews on 59 minutes resulted in a Town corner but a Pearson slip led to a Stevenage break. The attack was stopped by Bogle whose body check on the Stevenage player earned him a yellow card. Stevenage were on the offensive. On 61 minutes Mills took a throw-in deep in Town's half. A complete misunderstanding led to the ball being thrown to an empty space. Stevenage's McAnuff was on hand to pick up the ball, and from outside the area, lob the ball towards the net with Henderson stranded on the edge of the penalty area. In spite of Boyce's valiant effort to stop it, the ball floated into the top of the net. Catastrophe! Stevenage 2, Grimsby 0. Collins's angry response reflected the frustration of the impressive Town following. A ghastly horror was unfolding. Town hadn't even looked like scoring and now were 2 – 0 down. Comley tried to set up Bogle but Bogle's reaction was slow, and then Mills's cross from the right side was nowhere near anyone and ran out for a goal kick. Town's play lacked composure. Bad appeared to get worse when a cross from Schumacher found Lee, who rose above the defence and headed home from close range. The referee disallowed the goal, having decided that Lee had committed a foul. Davies replaced Mills on 68 minutes. But it was Stevenage who provided the main threat. Davies looked sharp after coming on with a run up the right and a turn inside the box to beat two defenders, but he slipped. Asante replaced Boyce on 75 minutes. Town had another let-off a minute later when Kennedy set up Godden, who missed the ball from the 6 yard line. With Osborne alone showing urgency, Town seemed lost as a team. The play was of poor quality and had no invention. Attacks broke down routinely. During one of the, Stevenage broke and Godden attempted a chip from range but Henderson was alert. 87 minutes had now passed. Bogle was fouled on the edge of the Stevenage box. Davies took the free-kick, which curled just over the bar. Town foundered on. Stevenage played the ball into the corner. Four minutes were added, but Town showed no urgency, had not looked like scoring and didn't now. So it ended: Stevenage 2, Grimsby Town 0.

We could do a Manchester United and blame our defeat on the grey shirts. The truth is that we were atrocious. It's a good job we didn't start the season like this, or we'd be in big trouble. From my perspective it was £22 down the drain watching a bunch of sub-standard underperformers. Town never looked like scoring. The passing and general play, especially in in the final third, were woeful, leading me to confirm my suspicion that we have been papering over cracks. Stevenage were brighter, quicker, sharper, more skilful and hungrier. Having an apparently disinterested and disconnected striker was bad enough, but whilst the defence tried and both Osborne and Comley showed endeavour and resilience, there was a complete absence of quality at every level. Character and composure were lacking. Questions need to be asked and answered. Pieces need to be picked up. Changes need to be introduced. In time-honoured tradition, we have fouled up the second we get a sniff of the play-offs. I heard people questioning the manager's ability, I think with some justification. Managers are responsible for quality and discipline. So are players. The final whistle came as a relief.

After writing the above, I read the following comments from Stevenage's manager Darren Sarll after a similar recent 2 - 0 capitulation at Hartlepool: "I am absolutely not happy. When there are 78 (people) who work so hard all week to fund this trip, the least my players could do is really grit their teeth, clench their fists and have a fight. The first half was so abject as I have seen us for months, and that is the real disappointment. The first half performance cost us the game, ultimately. We tried to kick-start it at half time in the dressing room, but we gave ourselves too much to do. I can't for the life of me remember when have lacked such aggression in our play. I only thought the second half was a slight improvement on things. They dug a hole so deep that it was impossible for them to get out of". Such honesty is refreshing, and for this I have great respect for Mr Sarll, whose side responded well today. I have seen no comments from Mr Bignot yet about today's performance but it is to be hoped that he takes a similarly honest view and does not hide behind ambiguous PR talk.

Stevenage is a grey place. This was a grey day in the story of Grimsby Town FC.

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