League Two Form Guide
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The Missing Magic
By: Andrew Doherty
ONE of the stranger aspects of the i-Follow regime is the local commentary. Living in East Anglia, I haven't listened to Radio Humberside for years, in fact not since the days of Charles Ekberg.
At first I thought it was like listening to two blokes bumbling on but I've grown to enjoy the eccentricity brought about by the random observations, not least because I too belong to the Institute of Inane Ramblings. There's even real insight from Gary Croft although expecting him to comment on Town's formation when he was 5 minutes behind and on his monitor the players were warming up was asking too much. It's annoying to have to listen to people ranting at length about the inadequacies of Dull City, and to Scunthorpe supporters complaining about home commentator bias, but this is the price we pay along with our ten pounds. This is the New Age. There have been priceless moments. John Tondeur's suggestions that Ron Rafferty was a scrounger (in the football striker sense, I presume) and that Bunney's newborn might be called Bugs - brother to Jive, presumably - were just moments of comic absurdity. By far the best moment for me however was when one of our guides longingly harked back to days of yore when Stevenage brought on a substitute by the name of Jack Smith, prompting that this is how it should be instead of inconveniently complicating commentators' lives with names like Menayese and El Mizhouni. To our commentary team, El Mizhouni has become plain Mizhouni, but I suggest we make it easier still and just call him Mizzo. Sadly our syllable-shy duo who yearn for simple black and white days of Jack Smiths, flat caps and people smoking Woodbines are prevented from travelling to Harrogate - going to Yorkshire is always a dodgy business at the best of times but Covid has sorted that one out - so today we were going to be subject to a Radio York commentary team's eccentric observations.
If i-Follow is New Age, so is Harrogate Town. I don't know what to make of this team. The club with the nickname The Sulphurites - sounds like a Desmond Dekker song - was actually founded in 1914 but this is their first season in the EFL. What we do know is that they have held their own, and beat Town 2 - 1 at Blundell Park in October. After a wobble, they have picked up again. But Town now have more quality in the squad than then, and are coming off an encouraging midweek victory. Hopefully it would be the Sulphurites rather than Grimsby who were going to stink out the EnviroVent stadium today.
Our starting XI tonight was: Eastwood - Hewitt, Pollock, Waterfall, Menayese, Hendrie - Matete, Coke, El Mizhouni - Payne, Hanson. Surprisingly Morais and Adams were not in the starting line-up but were both on the bench, suggesting we were witnessing the squad rotation that Mr Hurst had announced with two games a week or more coming up.
The pitch looked patchy but this is what we've come to expect and at least it was playable. The weather was bright and sunny. The Sulphurites in yellow kicked off 4 minutes after much faffing about by the referee, matching up against Town in all blue. Town (the Grimsby version) were woeful in the first half. The game started scrappily as the ball bounced around and neither side exercised control. Both teams played high balls. Town continued like this, but Harrogate got into a rhythm, having 63% of the possession and relying on a combination of attacks down the right and long throws from full back Jones. Town's contribution mainly amounted to fouling the opposition. Matete was booked on 15 minutes for leaving his foot in when tackling Kerry. The game was already tasty, leading the commentator to note that the referee Trevor Kettle needed to maintain control and make sure the game didn't boil over. Menayese was lucky not to be booked for flattening Harrogate's goalkeeper Belshaw. Town's sole chances came first on 28 minutes when Payne found himself grappling with Belshaw, and then on 38 minute when Mizzo robbed Thomson in Harrogate's half and supplied Payne whose attempted shot off the left side past Belshaw was weak. Otherwise it was Harrogate, Harrogate and Harrogate. Eastwood in Town's goal had to make an excellent save from March on 12 minutes and was forced into action time and time again. Town's defence looked shaky and Eastwood spilled a couple of shots, as 5 of Harrogate's 10 shots were on target. Luckily Town's defenders were quicker than Harrogate's attackers at clearing but it was desperate fare and even chaotic as Town were overrun by wave upon wave of attacks. At half time it was 0 - 0. Composure was needed. A lack of quality was still in evidence at the start of the second half, summarised by the commentator as “8 minutes of not very much” but it was noticeable that Town were trying to play the ball along the ground and pass. Harrogate won a corner on 55 minutes after Hewitt tussled with McPake. Eastwood dropped Thomson's corner and Grimsby survived again. Town finally found their way into the Harrogate half, when Hendrie crossed from Power to clear the ball into a neighbour's garden. On 59 minutes Town attacked, but two Hewitt long throws led to nothing. The game was dying a death. Understandably amid the inaction, the commentator became distracted and started discussing the irregular and untimetabled appearance of an electric bus outside the ground. Momentarily returning to the game, “there's not much sign of magic” he observed, as he and his fellow commentator chuckled over their confusion of players' identities. We learnt that a lot of Harrogate players are called Josh and have surnames beginning with M. Oh, the football. Well Matete, who earlier had been called Modetti by the co-commentator, skied the ball backwards into Town's box and another desperate defensive effort was on. Town finally came up with a decent move on 67 minutes when intricate work by Matete led to a Hewitt cross. Hanson's header towards goal was pursued by the lurking Payne, but Belshaw gathered the ball first. Shortly afterwards Payne was substituted and replaced by John-Lewis. Town's striker showed more animation than all the time he had on the pitch by throwing his boots angrily to the ground. Harrogate meanwhile made two substitutions. Town were lucky not to concede a penalty when Hendrie appeared to shove Power on 70 minutes, then good work by Mizzo found Matete whose control let him down outside Harrogate's box. On 77 minutes Harrogate's Fallowfield was given space on the right and substitute Beck shook off the close attention of Waterfall, looping a header to Eastwood's right from 15 yards out. Harrogate 1, Town 0. The deadlock had been broken. Town were going to have to break out of this tired performance. Harrogate had another chance almost immediately when Power ran clear but Town's defence shored up and Menayese cleared. On came Adams and Morais for Matete and Pollock, thus changing Town's formation from a 5 - 3 - 2 with the two wing backs to 4 - 4 - 2. 12 minutes remained. Coke had a good run but was deemed to have fouled a Harrogate player on the way, and then Hanson missed a good chance, ballooning a shot over after a punched clearance by Belshaw. A misunderstanding between Eastwood and Hewitt almost led to Muldoon slipping in for Harrogate. Town's best move so far came on 86 minutes when Adams, Hendrie, John-Lewis and Morais combined, only for Morais's left-footed shot to go sailing over the bar from close range. Harrogate broke immediately and Muldoon ran clear but was penalised for a foul on Waterfall. McPake should have provided Power with the chance to score for Harrogate but was selfish. So Town were still in it. Morais fed John-Lewis in the Harrogate box but John-Lewis's control deserted him and the result was a foul. Town's changes had led to a glimmer of hope. Harrogate, and in particular man-mountain Beck continued to threaten, winning a free-kick in added time, but Town came back up the pitch. Adams received the ball on the left inside the box, but his shot was weak. For once this was an Ordinary Joe that we were witnessing. It summed up the day, and it was the last piece of action, leaving Harrogate with the victory: Harrogate 1, Grimsby 0
Town's performance was very poor and only improved late in the game when Adams and Morais came on. But it was Harrogate's substitutions which won this game. Beck in particular and Muldoon looked extremely dangerous and capable of breaching Town's defence, which is what happened. I wasn't sure initially about the line of five across Town's defence but it proved to be a successful ploy against Harrogate's long throws. It was desperate to watch at times but Town's three central defenders backed each other up and supported Eastwood who struggled with his handling. The dynamic changed when Harrogate brought on the resolute Beck and speedy Muldoon. Town only changed their formation after Harrogate had scored. But this wasn't just about tactics. Harrogate had most of the possession, which doesn't guarantee victory, but the worrying part was the lack of composure on Town's part when we did have the ball. The second half was marginally better as Town tried to pass the ball with intent, but other than glimpses from Mizzo, the performance lacked cohesion and quality. As well as Town's defence, Hanson deserves credit for putting in a shift and fighting for the team. The introduction of Morais and Adams was too late to be influential, and Town spent the whole match in vain trying to find their way. The ground conditions weren't easy, but we can't blame bad bounces or bobbles. So what did we learn from this? Well, Grimsby continue to be in serious trouble and Mr Hurst needs to re-evaluate the line-up so that we have our best players on the pitch, especially in midfield where we really struggled today. I also learnt that they have electric buses in Harrogate, their squad has four Joshes and five players whose surname begins with M. From Town's point of view, the M we need is Magic, and from today's performance, there wasn't any of that in evidence.
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