League Two Form Guide
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Illusions of Heaven
By: Andrew Doherty
THE other day I bought a very nice cup of coffee costing £1.35 from a café called Heavenly Wang.
All roads lead to Grimsby as we know so this got me thinking about our season - in general no wang especially at home, and no heaven but there have been noteworthy moments, both at the end of last season and during this year's FA Cup run, where we have hit notable heights.
It's strange to think now that the season is all but over in March, but it is. The goalless draw at Mansfield in midweek provided further confirmation that there'll be no promotion or relegation. As we climb down from our dazzling cup exploits, new goals have to be set. Finishing in top half, consolidating the squad for next season, determining the tactical possibilities and improving our home form - there are some to be going on with. A number of teams are in the same mid-table boat as us, and one of them is today's opponents Walsall. Home games have been hard enough this year without a flat fixture where neither team has any real incentive. But we can celebrate something - the return of our cup heroes and with it the financial reward and exposure it brings. People in Malaysia now know about Town and will buy our inflatable haddocks. Factories will open in China to manufacture them. Players will be flocking to come to Grimsby. Thousands of tourists will not be able to get here because Trans Pennine Express has cancelled their train. OK, apart from the last one this may all seem far-fetched but there was a warmth at Blundell Park today as our heroes entered the field of play, tempered by an inconvenient downpour.
Breaking news: it was a cold and blustery afternoon in North East Lincolnshire, with occasional bursts of rain and rare bright spells. Earlier in the day the woman in the Gents toilet at Freshney Place ran around to keep herself warm. Victoria Street was closed as usual but without the sign to announce the fact. Hell will freeze over before heaven gets near the place. I walked past a derelict club. “McD, Greggs, KFC, Cooplands - they're trying to murder you”, read the graffiti. Are they advocating that we eat salad? Wrong weather. Every day is a stodgy pie day.
6,176 spectators, among them 417 away fans, turned out today for the Blundell Park Experience. My mate Ian was there, having announced yesterday “bugger it, I'm going”. That's commitment. He, my mate Andy and I are season tickets holders. We're obligated. At least in the Main Stand we get protection from the wind.
Town's team today was: Crocombe - Efete, Maher, Waterfall, Smith, Amos - Green, Morris - McAtee, Lloyd - Taylor. A lot of expectation was being placed on Green and Morris in midfield with the former being more defensive-minded. so on paper the middle of the park looked vulnerable, unless Mr Hurst had a cunning plan, which was always possible. Walsall looked resplendent in their red kit as Town attacked the Osmond end as usual in the first period, and started well. Lloyd earned a free-kick after being fouled, resulting in a Taylor shot being blocked. Maher then flicked on an Amos cross with his head but the header went wide. On 10 minutes Lloyd was dragged down by McEntee. Town showed good energy. McAtee was visibly motivated, winning 50 - 50 balls in midfield. Green had a shot blocked after Efete slipped by the defender. Walsall's first opportunity came on 16 minutes after a misunderstanding between Maher and Waterfall. Knowles teed up Wilkinson whose dragged effort was poor. He should have done better. On 17 minutes Town won a corner. Amos sent in a low ball, which was cleared out to Morris 25 yards out. Morris took aim, and wang, curled a heavenly shot low into the bottom right hand corner. Town 1, Walsall 0, and deservedly so. Town were moving up the field in numbers. Walsall had a spell of possession, probing patiently, but Town's defence was solid. Walsall won two corners. The rain had returned. From the second, the ball bounced around but Waterfall mopped up - the attacking threat that is, not the rain water. On 34 minutes Daniels flattened Lloyd, giving Town a free-kick an enticing 25 yards out. McAtee's attempt was too cute, rebounding off a defender's head. Great work between Morris and Green led to a through ball to Taylor who was hauled down by McEntee, earning the Walsall defender a booking. Amos's free kick was touched back by Green but there was no-one there to anticipate it. Lloyd then shot wide after determined work by Amos. On 41 minutes a lovely ball from Morris up the right found Efete who slipped as he crossed, injuring himself in the process. Walsall counter attacked but the game was disrupted when Green and inevitably Crocombe went down with claimed injuries - just because other teams do this is not justification for us doing it, as the time allowed Efete to recover and stopped Walsall's flow. It remained 1 - 0 at half time. Town were playing with invention and energy. The main danger appeared to be that Walsall were going to use the break to regroup and raise their game for the second half.
Town started the second half on the attack, but Walsall were showing more purpose. Maher was lucky to only get a yellow card for a sliding tackle on Kinsella in the 48th minute. On 50 minutes, Riley crossed. Town failed to clear the ball properly. The ball fell to Daniels whose shot crashed off the crossbar and into the net. 1 - 1. The sides then took turns to launch attacks. Green supplied Morris who shot from range was accurate but comfortably gathered by Walsall's keeper Evans. Green was then forced to concede a corner, heading out from a Knowles throw. As suspected, Walsall had worked out how to manage Town. But Town played the ball around, at one point culminating in a ferocious McAtee volley which just missed the target. A Waterfall header was then tipped by over by Evans, who strongly objected to Smith's presence, leading to a brawl between the players. Walsall's Evans and White were both booked as a result of their reaction and the subsequent fracas. On 61 minutes McAtee picked up the ball in the Walsall half, firing from range but oblivious to the fact that Efete was completely clear on the right. Town were lucky in the 62nd minute after Walsall won a corner. Williams's shot in a packed box was blocked. The ball was deflected to Daniels who struck the side netting. This should have been a wake-up call for Town. A great interception by Morris started a move off in the 65th minute. Green found Amos who crossed but McAtee's header went over the bar. McAtee then had another chance from a Taylor lay-off but couldn't get his foot round the shot. Both teams were going for it. Smith was booked for a foul in the 72nd minute. The game was competitive but not nasty. Time ticked on with neither side dominating play. The impressive Morris started a move but Efete misplaced his pass. Town regained possession but the game stopped after Morris's pass struck the referee. This didn't help, but Town were already starting to losing their rhythm. At one point Amos was guilty of failing to respond to a McAtee pass. Morris was booked for tripping Wilkinson. Good work by Maher from defence started a move. Amos crossed. Efete met the cross with his head and got the power but not the accuracy. With 84 minutes gone, Green was guilty of a tired tackle which earned him a booking. Khan replaced Lloyd on 85 minutes but no other substitutions were made as fatigue set in amongst Town's players. The impressive Hutchinson broke for Walsall and had a shot before Town countered but the move broke down. On 88 minutes it was Amos's turn to get booked for a poorly timed tackle. Maher was penalized for kicking the stooping Williams in the head. On 90 minutes Efete made an excellent block from a shot by Hutchinson as Walsall looked to score the decisive goal. Town had now run out of steam. Walsall were finishing the stronger team. Town did have an opportunity during the five added minutes, earning a free-kick from which Amos played the ball out to the right where Green met the cross with his head. But the header went wide. Frustration. The last opportunity fell to Walsall when Monthe almost proved to be the man with a solid shot from the left side. There was an air of inevitability and relief when the final whistle went, and so the final score was: Grimsby Town 1, Walsall 1.
This game had 1 - 1 written all over it after Walsall equalised in the 50th minute. Town can't be faulted for effort, and had 22 shots over the course of the game, but Walsall stepped up their game in the second half and as feared hurried us into mistakes. There are questions to be asked about how Town build on a lead, as it's not the first time a second half performance hasn't matched the first. Mr Hurst stubbornly defends his substitution policy but he could have given better protection to his players, who were visibly tiring on a slippery pitch with the rain falling for most of the game. Still, it's not a disaster. But with our home form continuing to be irregular at best, we are a long way from heaven.
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