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Avoiding the Curse of Cleethorpes

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 23/02/2021

WITH no game for over two weeks it would be nice to think that Town's bunch of strangers have managed to spend some time on the training ground getting to know each other and working out a game plan. We need one because with Stevenage picking up points, it's become all but a three-horse race to avoid the two relegation places.

We are reliant on Southend and Barrow slipping up. Saturday's results were favourable but we just have to pick up wins ourselves.

People talk about European nights. This is Crawley night. Today's opponents have been on the fringes of the play-offs, and had an impressive FA Cup run, but of late haven't been setting the world on fire. Crawley have two former Town players: midfielder Jake Hessenthaler and that most dangerous thing: an undistinguished ex-striker James Tilley, who left recently. He may have been useless for us but he will score tonight. It's the law. It seems inevitable that he will lift the Curse of Cleethorpes that was cast on him when he was with us.

Our starting XI tonight was: Eastwood - Hewitt, Mayanese, Waterfall, Bunney - Morais, Rose, Matete, Adams - El Mizhouni - Payne. Personally I'm not keen on Rose but I guess his role was going to be our midfield winner with the others creating opportunities. Hessenthaler and Tilley were both in Crawley's starting line-up.

Town attacked the Osmond end for the first half. Crawley had the advantage of a strong wind and used it after 3 minutes when a long ball caught out Waterfall who was beaten by Nadesan. With only Eastwood to beat, Nadesan went to chip Eastwood who stood up well and caught the attempt. The game was being played at pace. Crawley continued to take advantage of the wind, and played the ball upfield into space, showing good speed and skill and giving Town's defenders the runaround. Town did not allow themselves to be dominated, and Payne won a couple of free-kicks when trying to break clear from the half way line. Morais looked particularly dangerous on the right, while Rose did his job and fought for possession, and El Mizhouni in the centre found space. Tunnicliffe went close with a header for Crawley on 19 minutes after good work by Matthews, then a Morais cross from the right evaded everyone. El Mizhouni started a move which was then wasted by Bunney's awful pass, but shortly afterwards Adams won the ball in midfield and supplied Morais who was open on the right. Instead of cutting down the right and crossing as he had done up to now, Morais cut inside and sent in a low direct shot from 25 yards. Crawley's keeper Morris made a hash of it and palmed Morais's shot into the net. Town 1, Crawley 0. Crawley stepped up their game in response, and continued to pass with quality. Town struggled. Bunney was lucky not to be booked after tripping Nadesan. On 28 minutes Matete committed a foul outside Town's box. The wall lined up. Powell took the free-kick and curled it over the wall into the net to Eastwood's right. Town 1, Crawley 1. Town continued to pass well but Crawley dominated play. Town had a lucky escape when Matthews crossed to Nicholls who volleyed a shot against the bar. Nicholls then supplied Wright who burst forward and fired a strong shot which Waterfall deflected. It remained 1 - 1 at half time. Town were lucky but would now have the wind behind for the second half. What we had to hope is that Town didn't lose their way in the second half as they had at Newport. Over to you, Mr Hurst.

The second half began with Morais having a spat with Lee Bradbury, Assistant Manager of his former club. The spirit didn't show in Town's play initially but things improved as good work from Morais and a bit of trickery from El Mizhouni almost put Payne in for a rare chance. Following a weak attempt by Crawley, Waterfall made an error on the right after 54 minutes. The ball came to the centre deep in Town's half where Bunney clumsily handled. Fortunately for Town Powell's free-kick this time went well over the bar into the Osmond stand. Unlike Crawley in the first half, Town were struggling with the wind. Crawley won a corner on 59 minutes as Bunney tried to shake off Matthews. Waterfall missed his header as the ball came across but there was no-one on hand to take advantage for Crawley. El Mizhouni eased the pressure on 62 minutes with a great run and pass to Matete whose long-range shot was blocked. Town won a free-kick near the halfway line, and after Morris made a mess of a long looping cross, Waterfall had a chance but his shot was blocked. Hanson replaced Rose on 64 minutes, giving Payne some much-needed support up front. But the play was very messy, and Town were guilty of routinely overhitting passes. El Mizhouni, who was having a good game overall, finding space and spraying the ball around, was the culprit when trying to put Adams through. Crawley were showing better composure, skill and control of the conditions. Former Mariner Tilley was replaced on 67 minutes, having done nothing. Crawley also replaced Matthews, one of their best players. Bunney was booked on 69 minutes after being turned and hauling down Nicholls. Town needed to attack to ease the pressure that Crawley were applying, and Morais duly obliged with good work in midfield before passing to Adams who fell over outside the Crawley penalty box and was booked for diving. Crawley continued to play the wind better. Nadesan broke clear after a mistake by Mayanese, and kept going after it looked like Waterfall tripped him on the edge of the box, only to be foiled by a superb Hewitt block. John-Lewis replaced Payne on 76 minutes. Town weren't applying pressure and struggled to control play. Crawley attacked and Town had to thank Mayanese for a double clearance. A minute later on 77 minutes Town got away with another chance when Crawley's Nicholls sent a free header straight at Eastwood. Town came back upfield, and Morais sent in a trademark dangerous cross which was cleared for a throw near the corner. Hewitt's long throw was backheaded by Hanson towards the 6-yard area, where Adams saw his opportunity in a packed defence and placed a deft overhead kick into the left-hand corner of the net with Morris stranded. Town 2, Crawley 1. 79 minutes played. Town hadn't looked like scoring and the goal came against the run of play. Hendrie and Coke came on for Morais and Adams on 84 minutes. Crawley pressed for an equaliser. Hewitt committed a foul and gave away a free kick, earning him a booking, but then a crunching tackle by Coke ended the threat. Crawley were soon back and tried to claim a penalty to the annoyance of Town's defenders. El Mizhouni eased the pressure by breaking out on 88 minutes and was only stopped after being fouled by Hessenthaler, who was booked for his trouble. 4 extra minutes were added. Crawley continued to attack as they seemed to have done for most of the game. On 92 minutes Davies was pulled down by Bunney on the right edge of the box. This proved to be one foul too many for Bunney who received his second yellow card and was sent off. Crawley boldly attempted a training ground move, but Hesketh leant back and blasted his shot from the edge of the box over the bar. Eastwood's wayward goal kick put Town on the backfoot, not for the first time in the half, and Crawley came back again, winning a corner. Francomb's header from the corner sailed over the bar and the final whistle went with the final score at Grimsby Town 2, Crawley Town 1 and a most welcome 3 points.

We managed to avoid the Curse of Cleethorpes and rode our luck against a very competent Crawley side. Bringing on Hanson was necessary in the second half when we were struggling, and it proved instrumental in the winning goal. So well done Mr Hurst on the substitution. There was good and bad here in the performance. It's great to have striker options, but what was most encouraging was the creativity in midfield. Morais looked dangerous every time he had the ball, while El Mizhouni has pace and seems to have the ability to find space and make the right pass. We did far better with him being in the middle than marooned on the left wing, which was a little bit the case with Adams today. We've seen how good Adams and Matete can be on other occasions, and Adams's reaction and inventiveness were in evidence with his winning goal. Confounding my reservations, Rose did a good job today, I thought. Hewitt looked solid on the right, defends well and can contribute to attacks. Yet Town as a group were ineffective in the second half, as they had been at Newport. This could be put down to the windy conditions, but Crawley managed them perfectly. I've watched Grimsby for 53 years and it's never ceased to amaze me how away teams seem to cope with the conditions at Blundell Park better than we do. The surface was ok, with the odd bobble, but apart from Morais, the weighting of passes by Town's players was very poor. I also have concerns about our defence. Waterfall was caught out at the beginning and seems to be slow and mistake-prone, and as the game went on, I felt I was witnessing a car crash from Bunney. Time and again he was beaten by defenders, his control and distribution are erratic, and finally he committed one foul too many. To his credit, he's there where it hurts but the same can be said of Habergham or Hendrie. So there's work to be done on ironing out the weaknesses but I can see the makings of a good side here, which should get better as pitches get drier and the players understand their role better in the team. Unfortunately Barrow won so we're still in the red zone but hopefully today's result will instil confidence in this team, and for once things are looking up.

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