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Question of the WeekShould England "Take the Knee"?
|A New View|
By: Andrew Doherty
"We go in the Main Stand now". Like a person who’s given up alcohol, it was like a life-defining statement. Andy asked if my wife Celine and I wanted to join him and Ruth. It wasn’t a case of "When in Cleethorpes, do as the Humberstones".
We normally go in the Pontoon or the Findus, but it’s always good to see Andy and Ruth, and besides which this would be a new perspective. Not entirely new, I should add, but I reckon I last went in the Main Stand 40 years ago. I can remember my brother taking me in there in 1969 when we lost 1 - 2 to Exeter City. We’d just signed a left winger and potential superstar in Keith Cockburn for £3000. This was a big sum in those days, especially for penniless Town. Cockburn, who was paraded in the Evening Telegraph signing his contract, was going to be the answer. Unfortunately we never got to know the question, as he ghosted up and down the left wing in front of me adding nothing memorable and contributing to a team which finished 23rd in Division 4, one place above bottom place Bradford Park Avenue, his former employers. I wonder if he tells his grandchildren about his big move. During his time with Town, Cockburn managed to get done for speeding. Unfortunately this was a motoring offence. Such an offence was never going to happen on the pitch.
This was Celine’s first time in the Main Stand, meaning she has watched Town from all four stands. This perhaps doesn’t rank alongside climbing Mount Everest as an achievement but how many have done this, I nerdishly wonder? Her one experience of the Osmond came against today’s opponents Macclesfield at the end of the 2008/9 season, when we "consolidated" our position with a 0 - 0 draw. Actually, nothing happened. The most exciting part was the warm-up when Macclesfield’s strikers bombarded us with errant practice shots. I have seen Macclesfield several times over the years. Like the town itself, I have never witnessed anything remotely exciting in a game against Macclesfield. Some may see today today’s game as one between "big guns". In spite of their football league heritage, Macclesfield defy notions of grandeur and instead conjure up pictures of grey days and adjectives like "workmanlike" and "efficient". Razamatazz was conspicuous by its absence on this dull and cold day. Grimsby Town vs Macclesfield is a game for the discerning fan. There’s no romance here. We have lost our last two home games and they haven’t won for weeks. This is pure inter-urban struggle between the Silkmen and our inconsistently Mighty Mariners.
It’s a sad fact that this is the first time I’ve seen Town this season. I’ve read all about it of course so I have a view and have experienced the momentary highs and the customary let-downs and disappointments but only from a distance. Supporting them is being there and shouting at players who I’ve never seen in my life before. Today was my chance to get back on the wagon and do it again. Last week’s "highlight" seemingly was Mr Southwell’s response to the manager - 360 degree feedback, they call this in some circles (get it?) - after being substituted 20 minutes into the game. Probably best to fill in a feedback form next time, Dayle. Ok, so you put it on Twitter as well. Being in the Main Stand, we now have the added bonus being able to witness at first hand some personal interface between the players and management. The management was right. The team, or "das Ganze" as Goethe would have called it, is greater than some stroppy individual or group of individuals. And lo! Mr Southwell was not in the starting eleven today, but he was amongst the substitutes. Das Ganze, or Town as they are better known, comprised the following operatives: McKeown - Wood, Shaun Pearson, Pond, Thomas - Colbeck, Niven, Disley, Neilson - Elding, Hannah.
As we approached the ground, we enjoyed icy cold gale-force winds, reinforced by blustery rain. This suggested we weren’t going to see a classic, and "with half a gale blowing the name of the game", as dear old Charles Eckberg once said, "was to keep the ball on the ground". It didn’t happen then and looking at the size of the Macclesfield defenders, there was even more reason to do it now. On entry to the main there was a sign by the players’ entrance stating "no ball games". Ominously, the boundaries were not defined. Celine had one question before the game started, relating to her previous experiences: "Will there be swearing in the Main Stand". "Only the manager" retorted Andy. The rain stopped. It was bright and sunny.
Das Ganze, who henceforth will be referred to as "Town", faced the Osmond end. The first incident happened after 2 minutes, when the surging Macc full back was clearly tripped inside the penalty box. To everyone’s amazement the referee ignored it and waved play on. The Macc player was dumbfounded. Town took up the attack and Pearson got a good low shot in from the edge of the area on 5 minutes, drawing a good save. Soon after Elding was pushed but in a vain bid to be a super hero, Colbeck, Town’s modern day Keith Cockburn, took the free-kick quickly and curled the ball over the bar. The game started to settle into a pattern of passing play and each side sought to make inroads. Town’s moves were based on Niven passing to Disley who then distributed to Colbeck or Neilson. Thomas on the left was performing usefully, accurately sending in a couple of crosses in and beating defenders. But Macc themselves had chances with an earlier floated cross over the top to the tall Diagne causing alarm, then the dangerous Jackson got round the Town defence. No-one could get on the end of it. Colbeck fired in a dipping shot on 25 and another excellent drifting cross from Thomas found Elding’s head. The header was knocked down to Hannah who rounded the goalkeeper but the angle was too tight and he was adjudged off-side. Town’s passing was efficient but not leading to much, however.
In a tactical switch Nielson and Colbeck swapped flanks. Colbeck battled impressively and won a corner on 33 minutes. But the atmosphere was quiet, so much so that Macc’s manager could be heard calling for "Tony". Tony did not respond. The residents of the Main Stand joined in and to be helpful called for Tony, Andy, Fred and anyone else that came to mind. A needless foul on Disley on 41 minutes led to a free-kick but Colbeck’s cross to Pearson was headed over. Three minutes later the impressive Thomas beat several defenders and fired in a low cross for Hannah whose shot was deflected. Thomas continued to cause problems but the half ended soon after at: Grimsby Town 0, Macclesfield 0.
There were odd moments when Town looked a threat but it was all fleeting. Colbeck’s crosses, Thomas’s runs and Elding’s lay-offs were useful but there was nothing coherent or surprising about any of this. More width, greater variety and less crosses into a tall and packed defence were going to be needed. Macc were also playing a passing game and showed that their counter attacks could be dangerous, but like Town there was no cutting edge about their play. No-one was going to die of excitement here.
The second half began as the first half had progressed with an immediate attack on the Macc goal with an equally immediate counter, which Jackson wasted. On 49, Nielson broke clear and found space, firing in a fierce shot which Macc’s keeper Cronin palmed away. Macc were noticeably starting to win balls in midfield, and although lumbering, worked their way upfield with a succession of passes. Murtagh shot wide before Wood, after initially making a mess of a pass, made amends for Town with an incisive ball up the left. Thomas’s cross troubled the goalkeeper but there was no-one there to add pressure. This was on 52 minutes. The ball came back down the Town end. "It’s like a friendly match", commented Andy on the pedestrian fare. He was right. Macc slowly progressed up field and Murtagh drew a good save from McKeown on 57 minutes. Mills had another chance but was blocked by the volume of Town defenders. Town’s passing in contrast was ragged and a move broke down when Elding headed on to Nielson whose pass was woeful. Thanoj came on for Hannah after 59 minutes, presumably to help win the midfield war which Town were losing. Nielson joined Elding up front. Elding received the ball on the by line but didn’t seem to know what to do. Town were scrappy. Macc were battling. Colbeck broke the trend by stealing the ball deep in Town’s half on 64, supplyion Disley whose long ball found Nielson who won a corner. Elding’s header from the corner was disappointingly aimed at the keeper. Pearson, who had a good game in Town’s defence, showed much-needed determination by surging down the wing to the crowd’s delight.
Town looked as if they had stepped up a gear as Nielson tried to probe a packed defence, Wood showed customary aggression and Pearson headed out strongly to set up another attack. But Town were too locked into an ineffective passing pattern and any initiatives were individual ones. Macc looked as if they had 5 men in defence and 6 in midfield, predicting the weak threat which Town were offering. To try and On 73 minutes, Wood showed skill, and Neilson matched it, setting up Thanoj whose left footed shot hit a defender’s head and won a corner. Wood burst forward soon afterwards and gave Southwell a chance which the keeper saved spectacularly. But Macc kept coming back and giving Town uncomfortable moments. Town won a free-kick on 76 minutes after Elding was tripped but Thomas sliced it wide from 25 yards out. A rare misplaced pass from a Macc player raised a cheer from the Town fans. I’d take that as a compliment, or maybe envy. Town’s ability to keep the ball was inferior and with the constant loss of ball, a home win looked less and less likely. Macc continued to press and on 82 minutes, Barnes-Homer pushed the ball into the penalty area with Thomas in pursuit. With Thomas appearing to act as a shield between Barnes-Homer and the goal, both players attacked the ball and went down. The referee gave a penalty to Macc. Barnes-Homer stepped up and blasted it into the top left corner of the net. Grimsby Town 0, Macclesfield 1.
Cook came on for Niven after 85 minutes, but instead of the Town pressure we might have expected, Macc continued to play positively and stuck to their plan of relentless ball play and pressure. 10 or 11 passes were strung together. Macc were winning loose balls, passing well and tidying up when needed. The proverbial icing on the cake was achieved in a negative sense on 88 minutes when Nielson was sent off for kicking a Macc player. The crowd in the Main Stand expressed their opinion of Nielson’s action in no uncertain terms. Scott and Hurst who were both standing in the technical area, looked in the other direction as Nielson trooped off. Four minutes of stoppage time was announced. Since Macc had scored, Town had hardly been outside their own half, but now a chance arose. Town packed the Macc penalty box. McKeown went up. Cook’s shot was saved by Cronin who got down well to save the follow-up from Southwell. Now it was Macc’s turn to take advantage with Town’s goalkeeper at the other end, but McKeown dashed back to make the perfect tackle. The resultant scramble was futile as the referee blew for full-time. The final score was: Grimsby Town 0, Macclesfield 1. Scott and Hurst looked on stony-faced.
I heard the comment that Town passed well. It’s a view. I thought that Town based their game on passing today, which had merit, but they didn’t do it very well. The writing was on the wall in the first half as we failed to unlock Macclesfield’s resolute defence. Town followed a tactic which didn’t work and wasn’t executed very well. Town got bogged down and there was no "Plan B". There was no element of surprise or variation. Sure, there were good individual performances and in this regard I would single out Thomas, Colbeck and my man of the match Shaun Pearson, but this ghastly atrocity arose because we weren’t very good at what we did, and moreover were beaten by a better team. As I’ve seen so many times with the likes of Tamworth, Southport and now Macclesfield playing at Grimsby, the opposition hasn’t been quick but they operate as a unit in all areas of the field, pass efficiently and follow their tactics astutely. The fact that we couldn’t get out of our own half after Macclesfield scored says it all. I understand Scott and Hurst’s numb reaction but it is to them we look to generate some flair and creativity in our play. Otherwise we are condemned once again to mid-table mediocrity, and deservedly so. Some people in the Main Stand applauded Town’s players as they came off the pitch. I support the overall condemnation of Neilson’s irresponsibility when he was sent off, and would readily applaud the people who prepared my succulent haddock, chips and peas at lunch time. On the other hand a losing team who have failed as a unit and contributed to an abject tactical failure is not worthy of applause, I’d say. But people do see these things in different ways and I suppose at the end of the day it’s all about perspectives.
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