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De Rigeur
De Rigeur

A Footballing Revolution

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 28/01/2012

SUNSHINE, ice-cream, sand and children frolicking on Cleethorpes beach - happiness is everywhere. Alright, it’s January but Town are on a roll and putting on exhibitions of Barcelonian flair, to boot.

To concede a 90th minute equaliser against 10 man Barrow was disappointing but let’s look at this in context. One loss in 19 games, and 7 wins and a draw in the last 8 is an outstanding record.

In fact the only team to have scored more goals in their last 15 matches in any European major football league, at the risk of exposing the Blue Square Premier to too much hype here, is the aforementioned team from Spain. The question still remains as to whether we can scrap it out against the top teams but this, on the face of it, would seem to be a strength of our pitbull terrier like management duo. We have reason to be satisfied. We’re back in town today to support the increasingly Mighty Mariners and monitor progress.

Our opponents are AFC Telford who arose from the ashes of the once proud Telford United. They’ve done well. I used to watch United in the 80s when they were a powerhouse of non-league football. On my trips to the Buck’s Head I saw them play amongst others Barnet, Maidstone United and local rivals Kidderminster Harriers. Where the ambiance of Kidderminster evoked steam trains, country pubs and willow on leather - no wonder then that they weren’t so good at football - Telford represented industrial grit, grey modernity and iron bridges. It’s through the gritty determination of their supporters that they returned.

Celine and I adjusted the tourist agenda today. Hopping off at Grimsby Town station, the first port of call had to be the St James’s. Not the church but the chip shop on Brighowgate. Costing only £2-30, the large piece of fresh haddock and chips is like religious experience in itself. If you sit down, it costs just £4-20 with peas and bread and butter, and have the gentleman at the next table telling the world about the problems getting his warts removed and the associated inadequacies of the National Health Service.

Duly fortified by the food but less inspired by the information we had indirectly acquired, we set off towards Victoria Street South as it is now known. We passed the evocatively named Grime Street. Somebody had nicked the sign board. A right turn took us over the railway bridge to Freeman Street. At the Hainton Avenue end, it was good to see that Boyes Stores, which must date back to Jurassic times, and Rayners are still there but otherwise it’s all pretty ramshackle. A greetings card shop advertised cards from 10p. Here’s the place to go to achieve gentility at the lowest possible cost. The Polish Store, marked proudly and ironically "Success Store" was comprehensively boarded up. I guess the residents of nearby Tivoli Gardens - it’s all in the name, you know - didn’t take to it. I was intrigued to take in the sights and ambiance of Freeman Street Market as the last time I went inside the place was in the mid 1970s. It had been tarted up considerably, retaining a heritage air. It now has seats, boulevards, sanitised cobbles and paving slabs, café areas and space where once there had been tightly-packed row upon row of local butchers and producers of fine Lincolnshire vegetables. These commodities were still to be had and once I had got over the modernisation and gentrification of it, I realised that I should be impressed that Freeman Street market was still very much on the map. It even has a web site.

On we went towards Riby Square and Like the Hainton Avenue end, we witnessed a depressing array of boarded premises. Freeman Street still breathes, but like an old man with asthma, and is a symmetrical representation of decrepitude. We took away this gloomy image and the 2 lbs of sprouts (70p) we’d bought as we caught our bus to Blundell Park. Arriving early, we crossed the railway bridge and took in the sea view. There was momentary warmth from the sun. The tide was out so we looked across the mudflats towards the river. Like Freeman Street, there was melancholy in the air but of a different kind. It was calm. But was this the calm before the storm? Time for some football.

Town lined up the same as the last time I watched them: McKeown - Silk, Garner, Miller, Townsend - Coulson, Disley, Thanoj, Artus - Hearn, Elding.

First Half. Telford, in yellow, started positively, causing Silk to clear for a corner from which Artus on the near post headed out the inswinging cross. Coulson had a trademark surging run at the other end and was tripped but the free-kick came to nothing. Artus and Hearn interlinked on the left and won a corner on 10 minutes but it was Telford who was dictating terms, closing down Town’s players quickly to stop the passing game. The pitch was slightly bobbly and Town struggled to control the ball. The first shot on goal came on 13 minutes when McKeown comfortably saved a shot from Sharp. A Thanoj error then led to a Telford corner.

The game was patchy but Telford threatened more of the two teams to score. Hesitation between Garner and McKeown on 15 minutes almost let in Sharp, who looked like he was going to go round McKeown, but his touch was poor and McKeown responded rapidly to push the ball away. Elding was doing good work for Town, chasing down defenders and chesting the ball down to enable Hearn to be sent clear, but off side was given. Telford continued to home in on Town to put them off their stride and were succeeding. Town were releasing the ball too quickly. Townsend was guilty a couple of times. On 17 minutes, Telford’s Jackson was injured and replaced by former Lincoln man Perry. His first contribution, before any ball could be kicked, was to push Garner in the chest. The Pontoon faithful, spotting his portly figure, enquired as to whether he might prefer burgers to salads. Dietary issues aside, Town still could not get a grip of the game.

Hearn did well on 26 minutes to get round the back of the Telford defence, but soon after Jones ran virtually the length of the pitch without being challenged following a misplaced pass by Disley. McKeown saved his shot easily. Town continued to pass poorly while Telford put the pressure on with a sequence of corners after Garner blocked a shot with his head. Rooney had a good chance for Telford after Town’s defence widened and left a gaping hole but the shot was curled over the bar. The struggle went on as Sharp got round the back of the defence but determined work by Townsend who initially fell over saw the ball clear of danger. Town, trying to get going, passed the ball round aimlessly, and finished the half punting high balls towards the mountainous Futcher in the heart of Telford’s defence. The half ended: Grimsby Town 0, Telford United 0.

Half-time verdict. Let’s start with a fact. Town didn’t have a single shot on goal. The passing was too quick and inaccurate. Town’s game was supposed to be based on that. Telford looked more purposeful. There were no flawless displays from Town’s players but at least Elding was showing touch and determination and Silk looked impressive in defence. Overall though, to stand any chance of getting into this game, Town needed to be patient and with the ball bouncing irregularly and a harrying Telford team, it was important to maintain their concentration.

Second half. Town attacked from the off and Artus crossed back to the advancing Garner whose header forced the Telford goalkeeper to make a save for the first time in the match. Two minutes later Hearn got round the defence but his low pass eluded everyone and crossed the goal mouth. Telford’s Futcher was booked on 55 minutes for tripping Disley who was breaking forward from midfield. A minute later Thanoj was kicked in the head on the edge of the penalty box, but Townsend’s free kick was terrible, following this up a few moments later with a poor cross from the left straight to the Telford goalkeeper. A low cross from Thanoj then required cool defending. Town were now dominating the game and putting Telford under pressure, but were still guilty of making mistakes. Disley in particular seemed to having trouble imposing himself on the game. Town needed to tighten up.

On 61 minutes, the advancing Hearn got a low shot in from outside the box which was tipped wide for a corner but with more self-belief, he could have broken through the gap and given himself a better chance to score. Hearn however had gone back to chasing the ball down and was symptomatic of the Town team which was harassing Telford instead of the other way round as it had been in the first half. The passing game had started, there were mistakes but this was a different team from the first half. Townsend was felled on the edge of the box as he surged forward from the left but a poor free-kick, combined with a packed defence, made sure there was only one outcome. Coulson won a corner on 70 minutes but another mistake by the unusually indolent Disley led to a sweeping Telford attack and two brilliant saves by McKeown. Although Telford’s striker Sharp had to track back and concede a corner to stop Coulson advancing on 73 minutes, Telford pressed on, winning a corner on 76 minutes and continuing to threaten the Grimsby goal.

Duffy came on for Elding but the ball seemed to stay in Town’s half. Seeing Hughes-Mason warm up lifted the Town supporters, some of whom shouted "Change things round Scott" as they could see the game slipping into oblivion. On 81 minutes Town broke out from the left. Hearn on the wing took on the role of Townsend and Artus and got round the defence. Finally a perfect looping cross came over the top of the goalkeeper and defence. Duffy ran on to it and rammed the ball in with his head at the back post. Grimsby 1, Telford 0.

Two minutes later, Hearn slid a shot past the right hand post. Hearn had already showed increased determination in the second half but he was now like a guided missile as he homed in on the defence. Coulson sent Hearn away on 86 minutes but Hearn couldn’t quite gain control before breaking free. Town were looking fearsome now. On 89 minutes Thanoj positioned himself well, receiving the ball inside the penalty box on the right. The defence was onto him, but Thanoj, sensing an opportunity, deftly backheeled the ball into space beyond the defender, ran onto it and placed a deliberate pass into the path of Artus who with equal skill picked his spot carefully and guided the ball low into the right hand corner of the net. Grimsby 2, Telford 0. Hearn was replaced by Hughes-Mason on 90 minutes. The three minutes added time went quickly and Town continued to attack. Artus took a corner. It was desperately headed clear. This was the final piece of action as the referee blew his whistle for full-time. The game ended: Grimsby Town 2, AFC Telford 0.

This was almost a tactical victory for AFC Telford. With 80 minutes gone, this victory was far from clear. Although Town were playing well in the second half, the complete wastage of the first half thanks to Telford’s tactics and Town’s lack of composure made the job very difficult. So it is to the credit of Messrs Scott and Hurst for getting Town back on track and ensuring that we played as we know we can play, thereby giving ourselves options and the chance of winning the game. Although it wasn’t a five star performance until the latter part of the second half, it is also to the great credit of the players that they stuck to the task. It was through fitness, skill and determination that the game was secured comfortably in the end. I was impressed with Thanoj, Hearn, Elding and Silk but my man of the match was McKeown. His confidence-inspiring display was capped by two magnificent saves in the 70th minute. Had Telford scored at this moment, then for sure they would have shut up shop, packed their defence and we would have seen a different game if not outcome. We will need to be smarter when we play the top teams in the division, as we cannot afford to be making mistakes at the level we did in the first half. But we won today, and most encouraging of all is that as a team, the players held their heads high and where once they might have faded, they maintained their belief in the ability that they have and ended the game playing like champions.

Telford is associated with the Industrial Revolution. Today in Grimsby, there’s a footballing revolution going on.

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