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The None Show
By: Andrew Doherty
OPTIMISM has started to drift away since the start of the season. With two awful home performances and results, and a crushing defeat at Bury, it was hard to know what was going to happen from here. Today's opponents Oldham Athletic are mid table, but our role so far seems to have amounted to giving confidence to these teams.
It's become hard to judge whether the Town line-up has any quality or not, such has been the underwhelming offering. The starting line-up with the task of restoring some pride and reputation today read: McKeown - Hendrie, Davis, Collins, Fawemo - Embleton, Rose, Woolford, Hessenthaler - Thomas, Cook. Oldham have moved on from the era of Fred Ogden, featuring the more exotically named Zeus de la Paz and Johan Branger-Engone in their squad. By way of a change, I took my place in the Upper Findus as my vantage point to find out if Mr Jolley had managed to communicate anything to the Town players.
Town showed skill, endeavour and physicality in the initial stages. Collins had a back header on target, and Thomas looked to be fouled when battling to get in the box, while Embleton curled a shot wide on 12 minutes after a nicely worked move. The hard working Cook then pounced on a poor corner from Hessenthaler but fired his shot into the Pontoon stand. Famewo and Rose flicked and kicked but it was all half chances for Town. Oldham offered nothing and were reduced to snap shots, belying the enthusiasm of their noisy 832 supporters in the crowd of 4,746. Town had a great chance on 18 minutes when Cook won a tussle on the byline, and supplied Hessenthaler whose sublime flick saw Embleton clear inside the box. Somehow the Oldham goalkeeper saved this golden opportunity. Vernam replaced the injured Cook on 24 minutes. Town battled on but inevitably Oldham came into the game on 33 minutes with two good chances. First Lang headed just wide after O'Grady turned Hendrie. Then McKeown saved a low shot from Surridge. The ball from the resulting corner came out to Lang. Like the wooden owl in the Cleethorpes Adapted Wildlife Park, Town's defence was static but in spite of having the time to set himself up Lang fired over. There were worrying shades of the Yeovil goal about this. Oldham were now in the game. On 38 minutes Lang had another shot, and from the resultant clearance Town broke away. Famewo supplied Vernam who used his pace but although his shot was accurate, it was blocked. Oldham then tried a long ball, which almost worked. "Come on Town - gamble!" urged the spectator behind me. "And do it responsibly", added his mate. 0-0 was probably right at half time. Apart from one good chance, there was no potency in Town's play. The understanding between the players wasn't there after Cook went off, but the effort couldn't be faulted.
The first incident of the second half happened after two seconds after Thomas was penalised for a foul in the centre circle. Three minutes later Vernam made a good interception but his pass was just too short for Thomas to run on to and provide a threat. The fans behind me were singing "The fans don't care no more" to the tune of the Specials' "Ghost Town". Although Town weren't looking like scoring, they were at least still in the game. Woolford teed up a shot from outside the box on 50 minutes but was too slow in the execution. On 53 minutes Oldham's Surridge, who had been lurking and niggling in the first half, almost ghosted round Town's defence, prompting a noisy response from Town's fans. Spurred on by the vocal support, Town put together a good move but Embleton was unable to get power behind his shot from outside the box. Town then had an escape when McKeown had to fingertip a shot from the increasingly dangerous Surridge round the post for a corner. Davis was then guilty of being beaten by Surridge, flattening him just outside the box and conceding a free-kick in a dangerous position. Fortunately Gardner's free-kick was wild. Good work from Vernam then won a corner for Town, who showed promise, but it was noticeable that Vernam and Thomas seemed to be on different wavelengths. A mistake by Collins on 60 minutes led to another chance, which McKeown foiled. Town were guilty of dropping off, and there was an air of inevitability when on 63 minutes the fired-up Surridge surged past the ever static defence and fired a fizzed low shot to McKeown's left and into the bottom corner. Town 0, Oldham 1. Then a minute later Surridge seized on Hendrie's hesitation and lack of control, crashing another shot in from the same side. Town 0, Oldham 2. It now remained to be seen if Town would revert to panic mode and start hoofing the ball upfield. This didn't happen but the passing became ragged and the lack of co-ordination between the front two became increasingly noticeable as Vernam's crossfield runs had no connection with Thomas's directness. The midfield weren't supplying much as Oldham had started to take control of possession. Hooper replaced Embleton, who had a decent game, on 67 minutes to provide additional attacking firepower. But Town looked bereft of ideas. Vernam responded too slow from a Woolford throw, and then Rose, who had been creative in the earlier part of the game, was robbed. Thomas raised morale with a good low shot, and Hooper won a corner after a trademark Vernam crossfield run. It was good to see Hooper in the centre again after being marginalised recently on the wing. But it was all so unconvincing. Famewo resorted to clearing the ball with his knee, while Vernam hit a shocking forward pass, which no racehorse would have reached, let alone the target Hooper. Pringle came on for Famewo on 76 minutes, leaving Town exposed on the left as well as the weaker right side, which Oldham had exploited for their goals. Town had half a chance on 80 minutes when Thomas couldn't get on the end of a knocked down header from Hessenthaler. It was Oldham who had the clearer chances. On 83 minutes, McKeown saved a ferocious effort from Branger-Engone. Woolford did hit a decent shot shortly afterwards which Oldham's goalkeeper tipped over, and three corners followed but Town floundered. Hooper was unable to respond the bounce of the ball, and where Oldham's play was now crisp, Town had lost cohesion and scoring seemed highly unlikely. Town's players didn't seem to pick each other up. Good things only happened by luck. Five minutes were added on, and this gave Oldham the opportunity to attack up the right. Gardner crossed for Baxter the unmarked Baxter to head home from six yards. Not for the first time this season, it was a relief when it ended: Grimsby Town 0, Oldham Athletic 3.
Once again we capitulated, and have succeeded in kick starting another team's season. Oldham weren't great, but they were professional and identified a weakness on Town's right defensive side and exploited it. But the overall performance was weak. There were flashes of skill now and again, but as the game progressed it was like watching a bunch of strangers. Thomas and Cook showed physical strength, and along with McKeown, were the only glimmering rays of hope in a team that can't score and creates few meaningful chances. Once Cook went off, Town were lost. Vernam has the appearance but seems to play on his own. The midfield were in out, and although there were moments from Rose and Embleton, there was no dominance. Famewo apart, the defence looked poor and at times desperate, with inadequate pace and a tendency to switch off. There's no adventure in the play, as most of Town's players go round like individual robots. Perhaps the guy behind me was right - we should gamble responsibly. I don't see quality and I don't see teamwork. I don't see communication or understanding. And why do we just give up in the second half? Are they not fit? I don't know where we go from here but we need to quicken the play, show the commitment we showed in the first 20 minutes but for the whole game, and supply our travelling strikers Thomas and Cook with some decent passes so at least they have something to work with. This simply wasn't good enough.
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