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It worked!
It worked!

Observing the Ritual

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 15/03/2014

THE struggle has begun. After sitting comfortably behind the play-off group with games in hand, Town have frittered away points and the pressure’s now on to get into the top five of the Skrill Premier.

Whether the lapse is attributable to squad rotation, the FA Trophy, an inability to play against part-time teams or basic ineptitude, there is a lack of confidence. My personal view is that we haven't got the muscle in midfield. Yet we're not losing a lot. My wife prefers to go to watch rugby league because there isn't the tension that goes with football. As we approach the end of season run-in, the tension is now becoming electric. For reasons that maybe a psychologist can explain, I am drawn to Blundell Park like a magnet. I've even reached the stage of analysis where I've realised that we've won this year when I've had a Mars bar in my bag, so I dutifully observed this ritual today without knowing what energy this might bring to our performance. Yes, that psychologist would be useful.

Today’s opponents Wrexham have even more reason to be disappointed than we are. As one of the big teams in the division and after last season’s play-off final defeat, they must have had high expectations this year. Instead they've languished in mid-table. I didn't come to Blundell Park today expecting a feast of football.

Town’s line-up on this cold and windy afternoon was: McKeown - Hatton, Boyce, Pearson, Thomas - Rodman, Disley, Thanoj, Neilson - Jennings, John-Lewis.

The sun was coming through as the game kick-off. Town attacked the Pontoon end and after a wind-assisted long ball from Boyce, Jennings almost took advantage after 2 minutes. His chip was pushed away by the goalkeeper. Jennings ran wide and crossed but Disley’s header was wide. Jennings ran clear again three minutes later and placed an inch-perfect pass for the unmarked John-Lewis who inexplicably fired over from 10 yards. On 8 minutes, Town won a free-kick 25 yards out. Hatton spotted a gap and fired low but his goalbound effort was gathered by Coughlin in Wrexham’s goal. Town had a scare on 14 minutes when Wrexham broke through. McKeown fumbled but the danger was averted. The game was scrappy and devoid of quality as both sides struggled to control possession on a bobbly pitch. Town’ co-ordination was lacking. Then on 20 minutes John-Lewis took time in the middle and weighing up his options, picked out the advancing Neilson the left. Neilson’s calmly marched through the defence on from his position on the left, slotted his shot over the keeper and into the right hand corner. Town 1, Wrexham 0.

Instead of galvanising Town into better team play, the performance regressed to its previous standard after Neilson’s strike. A lot of battling was a poor substitute for poor possession and passing. Disley lost possession in the Town half on 31 minutes and as Wrexham set up a good chance, Boyce stepped in and intercepted well to stop the move. Jennings almost squeezed a shot into the left corner four minutes later as Wrexham struggled to clear following a Thanoj corner. John-Lewis was one of Town’s consistent performers and on 37 minutes muscled his way in to set up Rodman, who couldn't find a gap in the defence. No progress was being made on either side when Wrexham lumbered up field on 43 minutes. Hunt ran clear on the left and attempted a shot which rebounded off Pearson’s leg and wrong-footed McKeown. The ball dropped into the right hand corner. Town 1, Wrexham 1. Town fought back and Thomas sent in two dangerous crosses but there was no-one to finish them off. Town won a free-kick on the stroke of half time. Hatton floated a shot round the wall and as the ball bounced awkwardly, forced Coughlin into a save. The half ended. Grimsby Town 1, Wrexham 1.

The game was poor. The tempo was low and there was no fluidity in the play. The crowd was subdued. For Town John-Lewis, who was guilty of an early miss, was winning balls and controlling his distribution, but with the exception of Neilson’s determined and skilful effort which brought us the lead, the team play was sub standard.

"You can tell the sort of game it is. Everyone’s talking to each other," commented Andy Humbo. We were two minutes into the second half. The football was secondary to the private conversations going on in the stand. Thomas was unlucky not to win a corner for Town on 49 minutes, then a great tackle by Thanoj set up Jennings who won a corner. Pearson’s downward header went wide. "Put some energy into it" advised the gentleman next to me. He was right. Town’s performance was lacklustre and careless. Our opponents Wrexham seemed to have very little confidence or conviction. This wasn't a good spectacle. An incisive through ball from Hatton put Jennings through and lifted the crowd, but although it was a difficult shot to save, the keeper palmed it away. Wrexham then won a corner after bundling the ball up field. With Town not looking like scoring, it was easy to imagine that Wrexham were going to think they had a good chance. Rodman cut inside from wide, and crossed for Thanoj to head over. Then on 60 minutes Boyce was fouled in Town’s half and ran forward in anticipation of the free-kick which McKeown delivered. Two corners followed, but Town continued to struggle. Moves were ending on the edge of the penalty area or passes and crosses were being misplaced. On 66 minutes Rodman and John-Lewis got in each other’s way inside the Wrexham box. This summed it up. The move ended when Neilson headed over. The crowd was grumbling. Town had lost their way. Neither side showed any threat and didn't look like scoring.

To liven things up and change things around, Cook replaced John-Lewis on 71 minutes. This triggered an intricate passing sequence which ended with an inevitable mistake as once more Town couldn't control possession. Three minutes later there was momentary excitement as Hatton played a great through ball toCook. Pearson headed wide from the resultant corner. Town were applying pressure but the players were getting in each other’s way and there was no space available to open up the defence. Cook had a header on 78 minutes but was crowded out and missed the target. The game was rumbling onto inevitable nothingness, as the story continued of lost possession, poor passing and a host of misunderstandings. In another attempt to freshen things up, Hannah replaced Jennings on 85 minutes. Town passed the ball around. This looked better. Thanoj was instrumental in probing the defence, attempting a lob but as the ball was moved around, Thanoj found Thomas on the left. The game was in the 89th minute. Thomas took on the defender and crossed from the left. The cross evaded the goalkeeper and Disley ran on to meet it at the far post, firing a perfect header into the top left corner. Town 2, Wrexham 1. At last there was some quality from Town. McLaughlin replaced Rodman. It might have been expected that Wrexham would strike back for the last few minutes but Town now found new energy, maintaining possession and staying in Wrexham’s half of the field. Hatton was booked for an ugly tackle as Wrexham looked to break out. Then Thanoj and Neilson linked, before Thanoj won a corner. As Town sought to play the game out in the corner, the ball ran back to Thomas who saw a gap. Running up the field, he picked out Cook who skilfully and doggedly danced through the defenders and slotted the ball home from six yards out. The final whistle blew immediately. The game finished with the almost improbable score of: Grimsby Town 3, Wrexham 1.

For most of this game, Town didn't deserve anything because they played with no cohesion. Wrexham were no better and both sides visibly lacked confidence. Town won the game with three very good goals, but with important games coming up, this squad needs to put in a lot of work on the training ground to develop a better understanding on and off the ball. But this was a valuable victory, and there were some good individual performances. Hatton and Thomas both looked dangerous, and I was impressed with the composure of Boyce and Cook’s positive contribution. What impressed me most was the way that Thanoj stepped up and although the performance was lacklustre, probed patiently and fought. It was Thanoj who was pulling the strings in the build-up to the second goal and for that and his overall performance, he was my Man of the Match.

After all this tension, my Mars Bar tasted very nice and sweeter for the fact that we had won. Clearly I need to stock up for future matches. If eating chocolate bars creates good energy and feng shui, and most importantly three points, this is a ritual I must follow.

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