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Question of the WeekHow important is data in League 2 football?
|Happy New Year|
Digging for Victory
By: Andrew Doherty
THE new year has arrived. The last match was a disaster but we can't complain overall about what happened on the pitch in 2022. I wrote following a tight victory over Wealdstone in January last year that I expected us to finish in mid table at best.
Well, don't come to me looking for predictions. We got into the play-offs reasonably comfortably, but what happened after that was phenomenal, as if a touch paper was lit. So although this season we have had some disappointing league results in the last two months especially, and scoring hasn't always been easy due to striker strategy and availability, a hot and cold midfield and most recently a wobbly defence, we've established ourselves in EFL League 2 and can be more than satisfied with progress made. I write this with more than a hint of nervousness however after Thursday's performance against Salford where confidence seemed to be drained, fear and uncertainty swamped the defence, and the mistakes were abundant and costly. A rethink is needed, and given Mr Hurst's record of finding decent players, I remain hopeful that he can pull a player or two out of the bag this month and maybe a hypnotist to give us the necessary reinforcements and improved approach that we need. Today's job was to repel the hordes of Stockport.
One thing which can never be guaranteed and is part of the accepted package is the quality of the football. It's laughable how diabolically awful the football has been at times over the years, including during segments of the Salford game, but there have been some wonderful times too. Today's opponents Stockport might have expected better after being the standout team last season in the National League, but there have been clear signs of them improving. For Town, this was always going to be a really tough game. Mr Hurst's first job was to get the heads of the Town players in the right place. The players in question who started the game today were: Crocombe - Efete, Smith, Waterfall, Maher, Amos - Green - Clifton, Holohan, Khan - McAtee. Against Salford and Harrogate, it was more that poor individual play rather than the formation cost us, but Mr Hurst's decision to bolster the defence with five at the back was no surprise.
A suitable tribute to Fallen Mariners having been paid, the teams came out to a crowd of 6,490. For the first half Town attacked the Osmond end. Town quickly won a free kick in the centre circle. An Amos shot was blocked before Holohan was fouled but Khan's delivery was poor. Stockport, in blue, responded with a dangerous cross from Hippolyte. Town showed endeavour as they looked to pass quickly and attack. Control was lacking however by both sides at this early stage. On 10 minutes Khan and Clifton put together a good attack. Green had a shot blocked. Five minutes later Green was fouled. Amos crossed. The ball was cleared. Holohan retrieved it. A cross came in for Smith whose header was weak. Stockport responded with a good cross by Lewis, which Waterfall did well to clear with his head. There'd been no clear-cut chances but Town were at least getting the ball forward. On 20 minutes McAtee fought hard to win a throw deep in Stockport territory. This led to a lovely cross from Holohan - “delicious” would be the word of Match of the Day commentators - to the advancing Amos whose header was strong but straight at the keeper. This was Town's best chance so far. Clifton found himself in the thick of the action, first winning and then conceding a free-kick, from which Waterfall did well to mop up. Stockport were then forced to hoof away a Maher long throw after a defensive mistake. Smith then found himself under pressure but Waterfall and Maher squeezed out Madden. Khan won the ball in midfield following this attack. Clifton lofted a pass for McAtee who scooped the ball over. The sides traded attacks. Stockport won a corner after Efete struggled to hold off Rydel. The move ended with a foul on Crocombe. More good work by Khan led to a Town throw which Maher took. Waterfall got a head on it, flicking back but there was no-one to take advantage. On 37 minutes Efete did well to shake off Madden. Rydel's shot went miles wide. Town then had a succession of throws, which came to nothing when Waterfall headed to the keeper. A Madden shot went inches wide shortly after Maher stopped Collar and was forced to clear under pressure. As half time approached, Clifton sent McAtee away but there was no support. Stockport finished the half strongly but Town's defence, led ably by Waterfall, stood firm. The defence was doing its job. Town's overall performance had been determined. At half-time it was 0 - 0, but this was encouraging.
A minute of the second half had passed when Maher fouled Croasdale 30 yards out. MacDonald's free-kick went straight to Crocombe. Efete surged up the left as Town broke, passing forward to Khan whose cross found Holohan, but Holohan's shot flew into the Pontoon stand. On 49 minutes Town attacked on the right, winning a throw. Maher took it. A number of players converged on the ball at the near post. Waterfall got there first and headed it back to Khan who had plenty of space and from about 12 yards directed his shot into the right-hand corner of the net. Town 1, Stockport 0. The visitors stepped up the pace as they looked to respond to Town's goal. On 55 minutes Crocombe made a brilliant save from Hippolyte after a header cleared the defence. Collar was unable to follow up, and the scare was over. Town launched an attack on 61 minutes. Clifton saw McAtee and sent him clear. As McAtee ran on, Clifton advanced, received the pass, and shot. The shot was blocked - corner to Town. Amos's corner was then missed by the keeper. Waterfall played a poor pass back. Stockport launched a counter, but Holohan did brilliantly, not only to tackle the opposition player but to start another Town attack, which only ended when Clifton skied his shot. Town's fighting spirit was evident. Stockport had a couple of corners, and Lewis should have done better with a header on 66 minutes. McAtee worked hard to increase Town's lead but lacked support. On 68 minutes however McAtee and Clifton worked the ball up the right and won a throw, which once again Maher took. Green flicked it on and Town won a corner as Smith pounced. From the corner Waterfall's header went inches over. To freshen things up on a pitch which was heavy and churning up, Stockport made a trio of substitutions on 72 minutes, and won a corner after a dangerous move up the left. Kiernan replaced the tiring McAtee on 75 minutes. Again Stockport attacked up the left. Green was booked for pulling Lemonheigh-Evans back as the Stockport player threatened to break through. An Amos error then led to an attack on the right. As the players slipped and vied for the ball, Holohan did well to get to the ball first. Clifton was then booked for a hand to the face. This had been a combative game but not a dirty one. Play became more desperate. Stockport attacked. Town dug in but saw the opportunity to break as Stockport threw everything into getting an equalizer. Another Maher throw on 81 minutes was headed back but Efete was beaten to it by the keeper, getting flattened in the process. The players were increasingly struggling to keep their footing. Khan made a good run on 83 minutes and put in a good shot, which MacDonald headed away with keeper Hinchcliffe beaten. Green then slipped in midfield, conceding a free-kick after a foul on Wootton. Collar crossed. Crocombe struggled to punch it. Efete missed the ball completely, but MacDonald missed with his shot. The game was then stopped after a firework seemed to go off among the Town fans in the Osmond corner. The tension mounted as Town needed to maintain concentration following this unwanted stoppage. Crocombe made a mess of a clearance on 87 minutes but Town were lucky as Wootton found himself offside when the ball was returned. Six minutes were added. Everyone was struggling now. Green looked like he was on his knees. The crowd held their breath. Stockport continued their assault, winning a corner on 91 minutes. Crankshaw crossed. Wright headed over. Waterfall then skied a header, eventually conceding another corner. Town struggled to get the ball out, but did, and after more determined efforts managed to hang on. The final score was: Grimsby Town 1, Stockport County 0.
It's probably a mystery to Mr Hurst as much as it is to supporters why individual players perform with such variable quality on different days. I'm sure this afflicts all teams and in particular players at this level. What we are looking for is a good work rate and signs of improvement. Well, today the work rate and energy levels were first class. Holohan and Clifton were nothing short of heroic, with another good performance from Khan. After seeing a side that seemed to be paralysed with fear only three days ago, Town today played purposefully, supporting each other and starting with the defence, scrapped out a victory. The midfield showed creativity and team play as well as a fighting spirit, and although having McAtee isolated up front isn't ideal, it didn't stop a Town win today. The pitch was heavy and both sides had to overcome this. What was most pleasing was that Town dug out a victory in the trenches of Blundell Park. This is what we like. I'd also say on balance we deserved it.
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