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Running Out of Steam
By: Andrew Doherty
RECALLING last season's home game against Cambridge United, both teams could have continued playing for a week without scoring. Going back a few weeks, it looked like today's away fixture at the Abbey Stadium would be heading the same way.
Town's lack of opportunities systematically have meant a paucity of goals, while according to a season-ticket holding friend of mine, Cambridge have no strikers but pepper the goal with shots, none of them on target. In response Town have to their credit slowly looked more organised and threatening, while Cambridge have adopted a 4-6-0 formation, which yielded a victory at Swindon. At the risk of sounding trainspotterish, 4-6-0 makes me think of a steam engine configuration. One reason why Town have improved so much is that the defence has shored up. In particular I have been hugely impressed with Whitmore, who has been given the task of snubbing out the opposition strike threat and successfully stuck to it. 4-6-0 leaves him with no-one to mark. The prospect is intriguing. The football may not be however as two struggling teams come head to head in this potentially grim battle for nineteenth place. Moreover Town's last performance, the 0 - 2 defeat at Crewe, was a reminder of both our attacking and defensive vulnerabilities, while Cambridge struggled to overcome Macclesfield.
Town wore all red today. The line-up was: McKeown - Hall-Johnson, Whitmore, Collins, Hendrie - Embleton, M Rose, Clifton, Pringle - Thomas, Hooper.
Cambridge should have taken the lead after 30 seconds when Lambe laughably fired over from 6 yards. The home side dominated early play, and wasted another opportunity when Lambe was tripped 25 yards out. Town won a corner on 9 minutes and Thomas flattened Cambridge's keeper Forde after a through ball from Pringle, but passing at high speed meant that neither side exercised any control. Cambridge had a theoretical opportunity when O'Neil ballooned a shot over, then Rose got into trouble on the edge of Town's box, resulting in McKeown being forced to make a save. Shortly afterwards Lambe seemed to buy a free kick, falling over after turning Hall-Johnson outside the box, but the attack was repelled with ease. Thomas did well for Town on 30 minutes, holding the ball up while support came but the attack fizzled out. Then Embleton had an accurate long range shot and curled an effort wide after Clifton seized the initiative in midfield and drove forward. There was a dangerous moment in the 35th minute when Brown bucked the trend of wild attempts from the home team and curled a cultured left footed shot just wide. Five minutes later Hendrie wisely conceded a corner as Cambridge advanced. Taylor mistimed his jump from Brown's corner. Town hadn't had any attempts of note, where Cambridge had but the home side were wasting their opportunities. In between times the game was scrappy, as both sides struggled to maintain control and the whistle-happy referee awarded seemingly endless free-kicks. Capturing the general ineptitude, Taylor gifted Town a corner with a misplaced header, but the most animation from the 609 strong Town support in the crowd of 4069 was directed at the linesman who wasn't having the finest of afternoons. Rapturous applause broke out when he got a decision right. As half time approached, the impressive Brown swung over a cross to O'Neil who forced McKeown to tip the ball over the bar. Unsurprisingly it was 0 - 0 at half time, with neither side displaying any clear or obvious game management.
The second half started as the first. Cambridge zipped around but without control. Famewo replaced the injured Whitmore on 53 minutes. Town had a number of misunderstandings and took time to get into their stride, but a Collins clearance did find Embleton who ran the length of the pitch. With no real support, Embleton went for goal but was unable to finish. Brown reminded us of his quality with a shot which went narrowly over the bar. Good work by Hall-Johnson on 60 minutes led to a corner but Town were unable to capitalise. Hessenthaler then replaced Pringle for Town. As the game became one of school yard headball with no real purpose, Hooper seized the moment but fired over from long range. A good lay-off from Hooper found Hall-Johnson who arguably dived and recovered in the box but the angle was too narrow. Hooper then found himself in the same position but his cross was too weak. At last Town started to apply some pressure. On 72 minutes a well-worked move involving a number of players resulted in Hall-Johnson being booked for diving. Town's play was now fluid, an adjective which had no use for either side until now. On 80 minutes, Embleton found space after turning. Forde turned the resultant shot away with Thomas advancing. Thomas then pounded on a mistake by a Cambridge defender and supplied Embleton, whose low shot was too weak to cause any problem. Cambridge then had a rare attack. Amoo cut in from the right, brushing aside Famewo and firing in a cross for Lewis to head home from close range. Cambridge 1, Town 0. Embleton was then booked for a cynical foul as Cambridge attacked on the left. In familiar fashion, Town crumbled and ran out of steam as high balls, misplaced passes and miscommunications defined the last few frustrating minutes of the game. So it ended: Cambridge United 1, Grimsby Town 0.
Once again Town lacked firepower, and with the exception of a short spell in the second half, failed to dominate proceedings. For a long time, there has been an air of inevitability about Town's inability to score when behind. And it's a struggle to score in the first place. Hooper was noticeably frustrated as Town's players stood and waited for his crosses to come in. His crosses were lousy anyway. Hall-Johnson's moves up the right led to the same statuesque response, leaving Town's wing back to go it alone. This is a general problem. There's nothing automatic. Occasionally players burst into life when they feel like doing something, but such is poor quality of movement most of the time that there are no options, and certainly none which threaten defences. As Thomas and others laboured, it was notable that Embleton took it upon himself to create chances on his own. There was no-one in a better position. Cambridge had plenty of chances and with our failure to convert ours, we cannot complain about the result. It's clearly too optimistic on my part to hope that by this stage of the season we'd have some organisation and momentum. Never mind full steam ahead. This isn't even Puffing Billy.
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