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Question of the WeekWho will finish bottom?
Room for Improvement
By: Andrew Doherty
STEVENAGE is a joyless place, and Town's visits there have provided no respite. We have lost on all three occasions. I recently had to be reminded that we scored against them in a 1-3 defeat a couple of seasons ago, the only goal we've managed.
I missed last year's 0-1 defeat, having imposed my own one-match ban after appalling treatment of Town fans by the Stevenage stewards on both previous visits. Stevenage FC earned a fine earlier in the year for sexist chanting, so all in all this is an unpleasant place to come, but I was back today in the hope something better on and off the pitch. Although we've had a good enough start, last week's home defeat to Mansfield was a blow, while Stevenage haven't won a league game all season. Chances were then that today's game wasn't going to feature in the divisional highlights reel. To add to the overall experience, it was dull and cold, and had been raining all day.
Through the battered door on the railway station, the urinals in the gents were of brown stuff, adding Stevenagian colour to the grey and drab world on the outside. As I walked through the drab 1960s urban sprawl to the Broadhall stadium, I braced myself for the reception, recalling my last visit when the stewards had to have an enquiry into whether I was allowed to carry a pen. Wow. What a transformation. Everyone seemed to be on a charm offensive. A man stood with a “Here to Help” board. I was searched without aggression. The ground staff invited me to enjoy the game. Stewards didn't glower. It was eco-friendly too - no printed programme. The culture change didn't however extend to healthy eating as the New Stevenage FC are sponsored by an international burger chain. Still, good progress has been made and credit to Stevenage FC for making it.
But on-field matters were the principal concern. Town's line-up today read: McKeown - Hewitt, Waterfall, Davis, Hendrie - Cook, Hessenthaler, Robson, Whitehouse - Green, Hanson. Experience won out over youth.
Both sides showed the intention of playing a passing game. The defences repelled initial threats with ease. The surface was slippery, and looked like it might play a part. Green had a half-chance on 9 minutes but Town were posing no threat. Stevenage showed more purpose with their attacking wing play. On 14 minutes Denton was judged offside as the home side built an attack. Town's passing at this stage was efficient but slow. Whitehouse, Green and Hendrie linked up soon after but Hendrie's cross was too high for Hanson. But it was always Stevenage's wing play which looked most likely to break the deadlock, and sure enough on 17 minutes a cross from Wildin on the right found Guthrie who played a neat back flick past McKeown with Town's defenders watching. Stevenage 1, Town 0. This served to kickstart the home side, and moments later Carter had a shot deflected wide after another lively move, this time from the left. Town, in contrast, looked listless, and short of ideas or energy. Town had a free-kick on 22 minutes which Robson took, presenting a volley opportunity for Waterfall who missed the ball completely. Green, who thus far was Town's liveliest player, battled to win a corner on 27 minutes but the defence stood solid. The game was now as dull as the weather. The quality of play was poor. Stevenage were under no threat. On 32 minutes a Waterfall howler set Cowley free, but Davis saved the day with an outstanding tackle as Cowley was set to pull the trigger. Town passed the ball as Robson looked to set up moves from the centre, but Hendrie and Cook in particular on the left struggled. Just as Embleton last season came to realise how poor his teammates were and as a result took charge, Robson did the same here but his long and high crosses to Hanson on the back post resulted in nothing as Hanson had no-one available to head on to, when he wasn't clattering the Stevenage goalkeeper. Stevenage continued to threaten with their occasional attacks. Watts crossed to Cuthbert whose header was wide. Then on 44 minutes, Stevenage won a corner. In spite of being held back by two Town defenders, Guthrie supplied Wildin whose pass found the unmarked Carter in the box. From 10 yards out Carter slammed his shot home. Stevenage 2, Town 0. Denton then had a blocked shot and Watts dived ridiculously for a penalty but the referee wasn't fooled. At half time it remained 2 - 0 to the home team.
The verdict so far: rubbish. Town played with no invention or width, and deserved to be losing. “At least the burgers here are alright” commented the Town fan behind me, seeking optimism. I went to the gents. The lights went out.
Ogbu replaced the woeful Cook for the second half, and immediately had an impact, breaking through the defence, but his pass from inside the box ran behind everyone. A Hewitt blaster was then blocked, and the ball rebounded to Ogbu, but Green was then unable to reach Ogbu's curling pass. Stevenage attacked and won a corner. Stokes managed to kick the corner flag instead of the ball, summing up the general quality of play. On 53 minutes a Town attack ended when Ogbu forgot the ball. Stevenage broke out, and a Guthrie header forced a fine save from McKeown. Town conceded another corner as Stevenage reasserted their superiority. Carter then carved through the Town midfield. Town were looking second rate against the division's bottom side, but did have a golden opportunity on 57 minutes when Whitehouse ran on to a Hanson pass, but somehow managed to blast over from 5 yards. Stevenage continued to cause problems, and McKeown had to make another fantastic save from a well-struck Guthrie shot. Town won a corner on 63 minutes. Ogbu's mishit shot fell to Davis but the attempt on goal was headed away. Town had a mini spell, but the poor quality play equated to the absence of any threat. Moves broke down, players were offside, passes went astray. Town, seemingly following an unfathomable game plan, clumsily passed the ball sideways and backwards as if they pretended they had some sort of plan and knew what they were doing. The game was descending into nothingness. Rose, who came on as a replacement for Whitehouse, won a foul on the left but typically a poor cross ended the move. Then on 79 minutes, Rose picked up the ball in the Stevenage half, and after outgunning the defence for pace, blasted a shot home from the left past Farman. Stevenage 2, Town 1. Two minutes later Town's sole weapon Rose was off to the races again, and crossed from the left. The ball was cleared in desperation. Hessenthaler wasted the resultant corner. Town were at last showing some fight. Good work from Ogbu led to a Robson shot being blocked. Three corners later Waterfall received the ball and slotted home but the referee had seen a foul and the goal was disallowed. Town had the bit between their teeth as Stevenage desperately hung on. The battling Davis kept the ball in play to maintain momentum, and Rose tried an overhead kick before almost getting in from a Waterfall pass, but in spite of 5 added minutes, Town were unable to break through. So the game ended: Stevenage 2, Grimsby Town 1. After the late fightback, it was disappointing for the sizeable proportion of Town fans in the crowd of 3,220.
At one point I dropped my pen, and the friendly steward threw it back to me. I didn't drop the pen from excitement. The matchday experience at Stevenage was better than before, but the football wasn't. Up until the 79th minute, what we saw from Town was nondescript garbage. So why didn't they decide to show similar determination earlier? I am at a loss to understand this. I don't care about how many passes we had or the fact that we had 58% of possession. This might mean something to Mr Jolley, but he should be concerned about is the team's lack of penetration in the build-up, and the absence of invention, cohesion and energy. It comes back to some players lacking basic skills, but it also revolves around serious tactical and mental weaknesses. This must improve.
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