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|A different perspective
A Welcome Distraction
By: Andrew Doherty
AT the moment, everything's a welcome distraction. The purpose of the week and reality in general is to take ourselves away from the cliff edge where Grimsby Town FC finds itself. We can engage ourselves in thinking about identifying Town's most unproductive striker - everyone, they all cry - and whether Hooper's role really is to shore up the leaky left side of defence.
But today it's the FA Cup, in which not only has recent success been absent and mirroring all cup competitions, we haven't won a game in a while. Drawing high-flying MK Dons means a tough proposition, but in theory when evaluating the result the word embarrassing should be unnecessary as the non-league sides seek their day of glory. You could argue that free from the rigours of the league, the black and white crew should be allowed out to play, but this is Grimsby. Playing should be a minimum standard for any professional football team. On a more positive note, today could be an opportunity to break the shackles and generate some positivity. This is however not something we can take for granted.
Town's line-up today was: McKeown - Hendrie, Davis, Collins, Famewo - Embleton, Clifton, Hessenthaler, Pringle - Vernam, Thomas. On the face of it, this was as strong a side as we have, given with the exception of Embleton and McKeown, our lack of star quality. What was not so strong today was the crowd. There were gaps everywhere, as only 1,991 turned out, many no doubt having been deterred by recent poor performances and the lack of incentives for season ticket holders. Milton Keynes brought only 154 supporters. Town started by attacking the Osmond end.
Neat play by Vernam and pressing by Pringle won Town a corner early on, but Hessenthaler leant back and fired over after initially showing good control. A midfield battle developed but encouragingly both sides were adventurous in their play. Vernam almost pounced on an error before Davis did well to cut out a run by MK's Agard. MK had a good chance on 13 minutes when a Healey run led to a shot for Aneke but McKeown covered the shot well with his legs. Cargill then should have done better when firing into the Pontoon. MK were creating the better chances, and Agard wasted another opportunity with a mishit shot. Vernam was put through on 20 minutes but found himself in an offside position. Two minutes later MK were in Town's half. Collins looked to shield the ball to allow it out for a goal kick, but Brittain nipped in behind and pulled the ball back for Agard to slot home from 6 yards out. Town 0, MK Dons 1. This was poor play and indeed a schoolboy error from Town's experienced defender. The clouds became darker. Town responded with good passing play in particular from Pringle and Vernam. Embleton created a chance on 30 minutes but curled his shot straight at the goalkeeper. A neat one-two with Thomas, who demonstrated good hold up play, resulted in a further Embleton shot but it was mishit. Town were applying pressure. Thomas then claimed a free kick as the MK defender handled the ball on the edge of the box as Town's striker wriggled clear, but the referee waved played on. Embleton then lost control while trying to burst through. Town's passing was neat and crisp but there were no clear cut chances. MK's defence was well marshalled and were not allowing opportunities. MK themselves looked sharp in attack and on 38 minutes won a corner, from which Walsh headed over. Town had a lucky escape on 43 minutes when a misunderstanding between Collins and McKeown allowed Agard in but the MK striker could not reach the loose ball. It remained 1 - 0 to MK Dons at half time. This had been a decent game as a spectacle but MK looked dangerous and disciplined, knowing where to position themselves when Town had the ball. Town ran around a lot but had no answer. The crucial moment came from a Town mistake, and I began to wonder whether Collins is a liability.
The rain came. MK tried to catch Town out at the start of the second half as they had done in the league fixture but Town held firm. On 48 minutes Town worked up the field. Vernam and Pringle looked for space, and seeing no opportunity for himself, Pringle found Embleton who cracked an unstoppable right foot shot from the left edge of the box into the top right corner. Town 1, MK Dons 1. What a goal! Embleton followed up with a left footed curler which went just wide, and on 54 minutes forced a save from the MK goalkeeper after a lay off from Clifton, who might have done better to have a shot himself. This was the Embleton show as Town's midfielder tore the MK defence apart. But his efforts galvanised the rest of the Town team. Town were playing with spirit and confidence in all positions. On 56 minutes, Houghton was booked for pulling Thomas back 30 yards out. Pringle chose a soft chip rather than testing the keeper in the increasingly slippery conditions. Aneke went close for MK after a mistake by Famewo but MK were struggling to repel the waves of Town attacks now. Another cynical foul prevented a Town counter attack. On 60 minutes Embleton won a corner. After a goalmouth scramble the ball returned to the left and came back into Thomas who slid the ball under the keeper from close range. Town 2, MK Dons 1. Town's ability to keep possession meant that they could dominate the game. MK pressed when they could and Collins redeemed himself in 62 minutes by heading off the line following a shot from Healey. MK showed themselves to be capable of dangerous interplay at the Town end but looked increasingly nervous at the back, as Pringle, Clifton and Embleton caused problems as a unit and were making things happen. On 70 minutes Vernam cleared lines while defending and found Thomas who once again demonstrated excellent hold up play. These were excellent signs. Town still had to be on their guard at the back as when MK attacked, they did so in numbers but Davis and Collins were solid. Williams was booked for a foul on the advancing Famewo on 72 minutes. Clifton then took advantage of a hesitant defence, and squared the ball back to Vernam who from the edge of the box found a gap in the top left corner of the net. Town 3, MK Dons 1. This was no more than Town deserved. Town were running the show, and continued to press hard. Vernam ran across goal and passed to Pringle whose low shot forced a good save. On 76 minutes Welsh replaced Vernam, who came off to deserved applause. Three minutes later Thomas was fouled on the edge of the box. It was set up for a Pringle left footed curler, but Pringle's dead ball kick was too soft and the goalkeeper gathered it easily. Cisse had a high shot for MK but Town continued to attack. Lewington clattered the impressive Pringle, and Walsh was then booked for pulling Thomas back as Town's striker started to break clear from the half way line. On 86 minutes Cardwell replaced Thomas who like Vernam came off to warm and deserved appreciation for his efforts. MK continued to attempt attacks as a team, but Town were resilient. In added time Woolford replaced Embleton. Hessenthaler had a run up the right and found Cardwell who was unable to connect to the pass and provide Town with a fourth goal. Welsh was booked for a foul on Gilbey but however hard MK tried, Town were too strong today. So it finished: Grimsby Town 3, MK Dons 1. This was the best performance I've seen this year, and noticeably Town's fans had a spring in their step as we left the ground.
Have we found the formula? It's impossible to say whether today's outstanding performance offers any indication for next week, when we return to league action. The norm is a lack of threat, and a bunch of average players frozen with fear and devoid of ideas when we go 0 - 1 down. But that didn't happen today. After initial brilliance by Embleton, the whole team showed what they could do. Town were convincing winners. We do need a series of cohesive performances, but there was plenty of reason to be happy today. So for now, today's game was a very welcome distraction and hopefully the sign of good things to come.
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