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Doom and Gloom
Doom and Gloom

The Campaign

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 20/11/2011

WHEN teams have campaigns, they ’re usually referred to in terms of surging up the league or progressing in Europe. At the very least it involves fighting. This process has bypassed Grimsby Town FC. Nowadays we just have a series of setbacks and disappointments.

Today’s game against Newport County was my first since the Ebbsfleet fiasco. Yet somehow Blundell Park has to be visited. Hope always remains like the trickle of blood out of the proverbial stone. I see football as a form of therapy, although I'm not sure what it cures. "Irrational addiction" would be closer to the mark.

It started as a grey, foggy day. Mrs D announced that it was cold. Well it is November and we were in Doncaster at the time. Is there a colder, greyer place than Doncaster other perhaps than Blundell Park at 4.50pm on a Saturday afternoon? Rather than waiting for 30 minutes on a blasting cold platform, we opted to walk round the shopping centre to try and keep warm. This is Doncaster retail therapy. Coffee here is not a designer statement as it is down south but a protection measure against the onset of frostbite. Doncaster’s Frenchgate Centre has a wide array of shops, including one called Clas Ohlson. Who is Clas Ohlson? I can cope with a Clas Ohlson shop in downtown Örebro, or even in Grimsby where it would probably be the name of a timber merchant or a shop on the docks selling rope, but in Doncaster? What do they sell? I looked at the sign and wondered whether there’s a letter missing or whether Clas Ohlson is an anagram.

We passed by "La Vie en Rose" and "La Flotte". You may gather that we were now in Sea View Street, Cleethorpes’s answer to Bohemia. We walked along the seafront. It was cold and sunny. People were frolicking on the beach and swimming. The Smile Factory was shut. Could this be significant?

Town’s players were warming up when we got there. The mood was good. Town’s line-up today was: McKeown - Wood, l’Anson, Kempson, Townsend - Disley, Thanoj, Panther - Mafoko, Duffy, Hearn.

The game kicked off with Newport attacking the Pontoon end. I put it that way because Town defended from the off. Newport got going straightaway, forcing Townsend to clear from the left but came straight back. After 90 seconds, Newport won a throw on the right. Miller threw in a bomb, the tall and imposing Matthews flicked the ball on for Hatswell to nip round the side of Town’s static defence and head it past McKeown. Town 0, Newport 1.

Instead of waking Town up, the goal had the opposite effect. Town played the ball as if it was a hot potato, spraying hoofed clearances and ill-considered passes from the defence and midfield. Newport almost scored again after 4 minutes. Matthews was acting as a lynchpin up front. He wasn't quick but Town’s defence couldn't keep up with his movements, height and control. Symptomatically Panther was then caught dithering in his own penalty box, not knowing what to do with the ball. Wood, who should have been giving support as the right back, was nowhere near him. The ball was cleared this time but Town presented Newport with opportunity after opportunity to mount attacks. On 9 minutes, Town were lucky not to concede a penalty when a Newport attacker was bowled over. The inevitable happened on 17 minutes when Pipe found Matthews, whose first touch was poor but he still managed to ghost away from Kempson. He turned in the empty space and placed a low cross for Jarvis who fired home with a low shot. Town 0, Newport 2.

I commented to the fellow sufferer next to me that this called for a Heywood moment in which former manager Mike Newell hauled off the captain after 20 minutes in similar circumstances when we were 0 - 2 down to Darlington. This duly happened, except that the scapegoats today were newbies l’Anson and Thanoj, who were replaced by Pearson and Eagle. Much as I agreed with the tactic, it was the senior players who needed to show cool heads and provide inspiration, and they weren't doing it. Town continued to splay the ball round aimlessly. Newport backed up their efficient play with robust tackling. Duffy was booked for protesting after the referee turned down a hand-ball decision. Town were just abject. There was no support play and the distribution from defence and midfield continued to be rank. Panther and Eagle started to get into it and there was some good switch play, which resulted in a cross but it was too far ahead of Hearn. Newport were in no danger and on 45 minutes had a great chance to score a third goal but the unmarked Buchanan hit his shot at McKeown. Half-time was a relief. Town 0, Newport County 2.

The second half started more brightly for Town, who had most of the play with the occasional counter-attack from Newport, who were content to slow down play, clear their lines and put in crunching tackles when needed. In particular Mafoko on the right was a victim of the strong tackling. Most of the ball was up Town’s left side with Eagle, Hearn and Townsend interlinking. The problem was that there was no-one in the middle so Newport’s goalkeeper had little to do. Duffy was ineffective, Hearn was out of position much of the time and even when the ball did come across, it was to a crowded defence with none of Town’s midfielders anywhere near it and so ready to pounce.

Panther tried to open out the game with his cross passes. Some worked and some didn't. The balls coming out of defence weren't as dire as the first half but any fluidity in the passing was absent. There was one better moment when Pearson rose and headed the ball down into the corner. Potter in Newport’s goal got down quickly and pulled off a brilliant save. We were mid-way through the second half and this was Town’s first chance. Wood showed some endeavour on 77 minutes when he saw a loose ball 25 yards out but he fired it over the bar.

The game seemed to be petering out when at last Town had an effective passing move. Disley received the ball in the centre on 79 minutes. Disley slotted the ball through to Mafoko on the right. Mafoko rounded the defence and looked to have run out of space but judged it perfectly, firing the ball in from a tight angle. Town 1, Newport County 2.

Town were charged up and sensed the possibility of an equaliser but in their haste passes continued to go astray. Then with Newport’s defence packed, Hughes couldn't get his hand out of the way and Town won a penalty on 87 minutes. Elding, who had replaced Duffy 20 minutes earlier and showed intent, coolly slotted the penalty home. Town 2, Newport County 2. Town continued to flounder and never looked like scoring a third. To their credit Newport bounced back, and in the final seconds exposed Town’s uncertain defence. Foley ran clear but placed the ball wide of the goal. Town were lucky. The game ended. Grimsby Town 2, Newport County 2.

Verdict. Town’s distribution and passing were atrocious. The communication between players was appalling and there were no discernible tactics. This all has to lay at the door of the managers. The substitutions were good but a number of questions have to be asked. The "no confidence" vote in l’Anson and Thanoj was unfortunate in that it was the senior players, notably Kempson and Disley who is captain and should have been showing the necessary leadership, who were letting the side down. If the managers realised that l’Anson and Thanoj weren't physically tough enough for a bruising side like Newport, then why were they picked in the first place? Even after the substitution, Kempson continued to struggle. He can tackle, but he can't pass, he’s a poor header for his size and his positional play his awful. He looks mean and points a lot but we want more than this. For both of Newport’s goals, there was no anticipation and the defence was statuesque. In both cases, with no leadership from Kempson, Newport were allowed to find open space. Balls out of defence were lacking, consisting of big heaves upfield or alternatively misplaced passes. The midfield distribution was poor, and only Mafoko and Eagle showed signs of creating danger. Hearn was either stifled by the defence or out of position while Duffy showed no aggression except when protesting about a referee’s decision. Elding replaced Duffy and this was better. This said, I know teams operate on a rotation system but these two players are so alike that it seems a waste of a substitution. I wonder if either of them is capable of staying fit and active for 90 minutes. It doesn't seem like it. Newport were a workmanlike side, and weren't quick but they were well-organised. They probably couldn't believe their luck that Town were so inept. They gave us an object lesson in physical strength, a quality that we lack and which would be very useful in this league. On the positive side, McKeown played well in goal, Townsend showed signs of being a good player and all three substitutes made an impression. Mafoko kept going in spite of provocation. His goal was excellent. My man-of-the-match was Shaun Pearson who brought stability and confidence to a shaky defence. Overall though this was dreadful and Town were lucky to gain a point.

There are too many weak areas with this team. Moreover, the management duo seem to be incapable of getting the best out of the mediocre talents we have. There’s no point in adding new players if you don't organise them, as Newport County managed to do today. You just have to look at the statistics on corners and shots. We hardly had any. We had no grip on this game. With no leadership on or off the pitch, the culture of disappointment will remain. We need to move forward.

Thanks to Network Rail engineering work, our train home was diverted and took us via Metheringham and Spalding. We'll be playing them soon at this rate. It was pitch dark outside. The gloom symbolises our season. The only thing which can be said is that our campaign isn't off the rails just yet. So perhaps we do have a campaign. It just happens that ours is one of frustration and disappointment.

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