Question of the WeekWho will finish bottom?
|The Object of the Game|
The Goal Scoring Process
By: Andrew Doherty
"DON'T expect full flowing football" was my mate Andy's grim warning when I told him I was coming up for the Cambridge game. This didn't surprise me after what I'd read, and my own experiences so far this season hadn't yielded a millisecond of pulsating excitement.
"DON'T expect full flowing football" was my mate Andy's grim warning when I told him I was coming up for the Cambridge game. This didn't surprise me after what I'd read, and my own experiences so far this season hadn't yielded a millisecond of pulsating excitement. But half full, half empty and all that. Town are unbeaten in the league for six matches including three goalless encounters or clean sheets as you prefer. So on balance, well done Mr Slade and the team.
I saw both games last season against today's opponents Cambridge United. What I remember about them was a cynical bunch, specialising in gamesmanship, falling over and disrupting the game at every opportunity. Now although I live in Cambridge I don't follow their progress but I do know they have the same manager and they sold their most creative player to Luton. So I expected more of the same from a team who sit one place above us in the table. Today was about asserting the claims of both teams for mid-table supremacy.
The positive side of spending hours on trains and buses to cover my 123-mile journey today thanks to railway engineering work was that I could soak in the Lincolnshire countryside, and on the way back I would have time to reflect on events. But first, the event itself. Town's line-up today was: McKeown - Davies, Clarke, Collins, Dixon – Dembele, Summerfield, Berrett, Woolford – Vernon, Jones.
All eyes were on the toss after last week's experience where apparently 75 percent of the game at Morecambe was spent playing into the wind, resulting in a lumped ball up field ballooning back to McKeown in goal. Some purists might suggest playing the ball along the ground to avoid this, but that's not the Slade way. Hoofball is in any case as British as the post-beer kebab and rail replacement buses. Luckily the EU hasn't banned hoofball and we're leaving anyway, otherwise we'd be in trouble. Of course we've been distracted this week by those ghastly people from Stevenage and the EFL, tossers in a different sense I suppose, who decided that manhandling Town supporters and treating them like criminals is not in any way irregular. Contrast this with the courtesy and humour of the Town stewards who still do the job and every time I come get to inspect my Bygones magazine, today's tea of a haslet salad bun, sausage rolls and various other sundries.
Tossing formalities completed, and Town had the wind behind them to start with as they attacked the Osmond end. Cambridge were in all luminous luminosity – "Screwfix United", observed Andy. Town had the first chance on 4 minutes when Jones, who looked no immediate threat, turned in the Cambridge box to the defenders' surprise and curled a shot against the inside of the post with Forde well beaten. A corner followed but the attack ended when Woolford lashed out and the shot went over. Predictably, the game continued with high balls and physical endeavour. In the thick of it was Cambridge's answer to a bulldozer, Ikpeazu, who lumbered up the pitch menacingly and at one point threatened to break free before losing control of the ball. Town meanwhile experimented with intricate passing but merely succeeded in fouling Mingoia. Cambridge looked to capitalise on Town's hesitancy. The crowd had a morale boosting moment when on 16 minutes a Davies cross won a corner, which then led to another. Woolford's inswinging corner kick almost went in but was well saved by Forde, who made a further good save moments later from an accurate Vernon header. There was a moment of danger two minutes later when The Bulldozer was hacked down just outside Town's box, but Elito's free-kick was weak. Cambridge were getting chances in spite of playing into the wind, with The Bulldozer always involved. No marking on Town's left side then saw Brown cross to Mingoia, who unbelievably missed from two yards out with an open invitation to score. For Town, Dembele had been stifled by a well-drilled Cambridge defence but on 24 minutes, finally was able to race clear before being hacked down by O'Neil who was booked. Four minutes later, Dixon put in an excellent cross for Jones, who twisted and shot but Forde once again cleared, this time using his feet. As they waited their turn to have a following wind, Cambridge were taking their time to the annoyance of the home support, but still showed they capable of being dangerous. On 32 minutes The Bulldozer danced his way through three Town's defenders. Town themselves were visibly and consistently without presence up front when attacks were launched, but on 41 minutes did have a chance when Jones neatly laid off to Dembele whose shot ran just wide. Davies won another corner for Town and in stoppage time Cambridge won one, the move only ending when The Bulldozer attempted an outrageous overhead bicycle kick from the six yard line. "There are signs", commented Andy as the half came to an end. Signs of what, I'm not sure and he didn't say. Nothing was going on up front. There was the occasional link up between Jones and Dembele but there wasn't a lot else. In fact what there was involved high balls, long crosses and a lack of general movement and quality. Cambridge understandably took their time and had opportunities themselves but in spite of getting the better of Town's defence on occasions, were unable to capitalise.
With the wind in Cambridge's favour, Town showed momentary promise with pass-based build up as the second half began. For the first time Forde flapped but his defence helped to avert the immediate danger. Cambridge responded by working their way upfield and won a corner. In spite of Clarke's solid header they were soon back for another one. If this was going to be the pattern, it would be a long half. "I'm impressed with the new dugouts", commented Andy. I read into this the sub text "but I have nothing positive to say about the football". The game became feisty when Halliday was booked for a cynical foul on Dixon before Berrett was booked for a similar foul on a Cambridge player who went down as if he'd been shot. Town won a free-kick in Cambridge's half on 57 minutes. Clarke rose well above the defence but was unable to supply power. The same player was caught out by the wind and the bounce two minutes later but luckily for Town, offside had already been given against Cambridge. Inevitably it was Dembele who was going to provide a spark, and sure enough on 60 minutes, Town's winger latched on to a pass, rounded the advancing Forde and crossed, but no-one had the speed or vision to be on hand to glide the inviting ball home. Shortly after this Summerfield and Jones had snap shots before The Bulldozer brought the ball clear. Cambridge continued to be a threat, and once again Dembele provided some respite on 64 minutes with his trickery resulting in a free-kick. Dembele was then the receiver after Summerfield started a good passing move, but his left-footed shot just cleared the bar. Cambridge had a great opportunity on 67 minutes when Brown wriggled clear and sent in a strong and accurate shot, which McKeown did well to palm away. Cambridge had more corners and twice Town were forced to clear two goal bound attempts off the line with Collins's blocking header striking the post. Hooper replaced Jones after 70 minutes to the surprise of the Town fans and Jones himself who had put in a good shift today. The Bulldozer continued to work hard to provide a breakthrough for Cambridge and set up Brown who wasted a chance. Town were finding chances hard to come by. "We seem to get a chance every 20 minutes" philosophised Andy. Town lacked movement and a strike force in general so increasingly the game had become about hanging on. The game deteriorated with both sides lacking ideas. The crowd of 4,091 was reduced to murmuring silence. The atmosphere was akin to that of a public library. Cambridge's 214 followers struck up a song about Grimsby being boring – shhh, quiet please. Last week's performance came to mind as a Town upfield clearance caught the wind and swirled into the Main Stand. Entertainment came in the gargantuan form of The Bulldozer attempting another overhead kick. Town were holding on. If Jones's substitution had been mystifying, this was nothing compared to that of Dembele who was replaced by Jayesimi on 84 minutes. If ever Town needed a player who could keep the ball in Cambridge half and even create something, this was it. Town's only remaining creative player was Summerfield, who had grown into the game and was playing intelligently and with determination. Cambridge won a corner on 85 minutes. As is the norm, everyone went back for Town, so inevitably the ball was coming back. In fact the corner was threaded to the unmarked Halliday on the edge of the box but the Cambridge defender's attempt went over the bar. Woolford then started a move, and Jaiyesimi won a corner after tangling with a defender, but this all ended with Vernon on the floor and in no position to present any threat. Collins then put Town in trouble with a delicate header on the edge of his own area, but Cambridge were once again unable to capitalise and this merely resulted in a free-kick for Town after The Bulldozer crushed Davies. With three extra minutes added, the resolute Bulldozer almost won the game for Cambridge after blasting through and sending in a low and accurate shot, which brought a great save from McKeown. A Clarke back header gave Cambridge another corner before Town finally went on the offensive. Summerfield's good cross however led to nothing, and after all the huffing and puffing, the result was predictably: Grimsby Town 0, Cambridge United 0.
"This is the best game we've seen", commented Andy unconvincingly. But then he is a season ticket holder. What was plain to see to even a non season ticket holder were the usual faults – no coherent pattern to the play, bits of individual skill, endeavour, mistakes and above all no capability up front. Compared to the last game I saw, we seem to have shored up in defence and there is a better if not perfect understanding, but up front there is no understanding. When dangerous balls go in, there is no-one to receive them time and time again, which suggests that we lack movement and have no natural strikers on the pitch. It all hinges on individual skill, and even then the most skilful players were substituted today. In fairness, this wasn't just about Jones and Dembele, and I could see Berrett and Summerfield giving their all in midfield to close Cambridge down. Summerfield in particular was alert and creative. From a spectator point of view there was action, but in particular Town as a team were absent when it came to making anything happen up front.
I read in today's Grimsby Telegraph Mr Slade's statement that it had been a building process. Well can I suggest that positive efforts are needed to create a goal scoring process. Now that would be nice.
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