Question of the WeekHow important is data in League 2 football?
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A Change of Perspective
By: Andrew Doherty
TODAY my wife and I had a change of scenery. Instead of going in the Main, we took our seats in the Upper Findus. This wasn't a move aimed at bringing about a mysterious uptick in our home form, and in any case, we are still feasting on Tuesday evening's success. I just found two seats together, which can be difficult these days.
Our previous fixture against today's opponents Mansfield was just 11 days ago. On that occasion, we were second best. The jury is still out on this year's Town team, but that performance against Salford on Tuesday had everything: energy, teamwork, passing, a clean sheet and two nice goals. Having watched Town since 1967, I can't remember too many runs where it was exciting to watch Town over a sequence of games. I do remember us kickstarting a good run in 2007 when we beat Boston 6 – 0. Let's hope that Tuesday was the start of something. Tempered with this is the puzzlement I always have when coaches and players demand "more of the same". Never having excelled at any sport, no-one has ever demanded this of me. It's been more a case of "pull your socks up". But I still wonder how more of the same is implemented. What does a player have to do exactly to visualize what they did on Tuesday and repeat it on Saturday? No wonder it doesn't always happen and many teams, not just Grimsby, are like Jekyll and Hyde. One thing that is very evident is that Mr Hurst is thorough in his preparation and I have reasonable confidence that "more of the same" can be built into his plan for today in conjunction with an evaluation of Mansfield's strengths and weaknesses.
As usual, Mansfield brought a good and enthusiastic following to Blundell Park today. It was a distinct improvement on Salford's 90 out of Tuesday's crowd of 5,968. Today's attendance was 7100 including over 1000 away fans. The atmosphere was good. Both sides' fans were expectant. Town's unchanged team today was: Eastwood – Mullarkey, Waterfall, Rodgers, Amos – Conteh – Gnahoua, Holohan, Clifton, Eisa – Rose. I'm still not entirely convinced that having Rose as a solo front man is the best use of him, but with injuries maybe there is no viable alternative. This is the team that beat Salford convincingly so we do know this formation works, with the added proviso that we must show hunger, compete for possession, and think and act quickly and collectively.
The teams started purposefully. Town looked the tighter of the two. On 6 minutes Conteh battled to win possession and laid the ball into the path of Eisa who stride forward and BOOM smashed it from 20 yards. 1 - 0. Two minutes later a mistake by a nervy Mansfield defender led to a lightning turn by Clifton but the shot landed just wide. Things weren't coming off for Mansfield. Town were looking confident. Mansfield could have got back in the game on 13 minutes when Keillor-Dunn was guilty of a wild hack following a Bowery cross. Mullarkey then did well but Clifton's return pass was poor. Town continued to press however and won a corner. A decent Mansfield attack led to a shot from Akins which Eastwood saved easily. Mansfield then had a glimmer of a chance but Maris duffed his shot. Amos then found space for Town and hit the ball to Clifton who blazed over from inside the box. A lot of battling was going on with little quality at this stage and no end product. Conteh was notably mopping things up in midfield, and Town's defence looked solid. Town won a corner on 29 minutes. Gnahoua delivered. Holohan's back header went just over without threatening. Five minutes later Keillor-Dunn cut inside and struck the bar with Eastwood well beaten. It was a scare and Mansfield were now showing signs of starting to play. On 36 minutes Keillor-Dunn once again was the threat, taking advantage of a Conteh mistake and firing low. Eastwood did well to get down and tip it away. From the corner Flint headed over. Mansfield we're in the ascendancy. After a good defensive block, Maris fired over. Against expectation and the run of play, on 42 minutes Town put together a multi-player move, culminating in Eisa teeing up Holohan whose accurate shot was fingertipped over by Pym. Eisa then came close to bustling the ball in. Although Town were winning 1 - 0 at half time, Mansfield were getting into their stride, while Town were allowing it to happen. It was looking to be a difficult second half.
The early initiatives in the second period belonged to Mansfield. Two great stops by Waterfall defined the man. Like football's answer to poetry, another Waterfall tackle and interception started a move on 50 minutes. On 53 minutes a pass from deep on the right split the Town defence. Maris was clean through. With Eastwood to beat, Maris stumbled and the ball ran on beyond the post. We laughed and cried with uncontrollable joy. Although Town won a corner on 56 minutes, Mansfield were looking to move forward at every opportunity. And then it happened … Bowery played the ball forward up the middle. Oates was in space, and this time Eastwood could not prevent the ball being slid past him. 1 - 1. Mansfield had clearly identified a weakness in the centre of Town's defence and exploited it. Another effort was seen off by Mullarkey. Town were under pressure. On 62 minutes Pyke replaced Gnahoua. Shortly afterwards, Rose made a good interception near the dugouts, and controversially no foul was given as he raced on and looked to be shoved outside the box. Both sides had stepped up the tempo but Mansfield were playing better. Pyke battled to get on the end of a ball in the box, then Mansfield won a corner after a Waterfall headed clearance at the other end. Maris headed over from a Keillor-Dunn cross as Mansfield pressed on. Great vision from the ever-impressive Conteh found Mullarkey who wasted the cross-field ball. Mansfield worked straight down the pitch, winning a throw near the corner. A corner followed. From it the ball came to the far post where Flint headed the ball down onto the post with Eastwood well-beaten. Town made changes on the 82-minute mark. Green and Hunt came on for Conteh and Eisa. At the same time, Warrior Waterfall had his head examined following a clash, and came back with a fresh shirt and a bandaged head. Oates went on a run as Town mobilised themselves. Rodgers cut out the threat with a superbly timed tackle. Now some weeks ago I saw a match report written by Artificial Intelligence of the 1966 World Cup Final. At this point, with 7 minutes time left before add-ons, the players, the crowd and even AI would have gone to sleep, except that there was a duty to finish the game. Five minutes were added. Another brilliant interception by Rodgers shrugged off Swan and started a Town attack which Green wasted with a poor pass. Keillor-Dunn was caught offside as Mansfield threatened to breach Town's defence but the game ended without further action. Final score: Grimsby Town 1, Mansfield Town 1.
As expected, Mansfield proved to be strong opposition after a slow start. From Town's point of view, this wasn't a bad performance at all but for me this showed our level. We will be equal to decent opponents with the right degree of commitment, and sometimes we may win but it looks like we will mainly struggle to contain decent opposition, let alone dominate them.
Terrible Performance Trains were up to their usual tricks in cancelling the 1824 train from Cleethorpes, so today's episode had me less sweating over the result but catching the 1724. With weekly detention for increasing added time - not too bad today in fairness - combined with the pathetic efforts of people who pretend to operate trains, then it meant a dash for the station. Luckily I'd factored some of this in by going into the Findus, so not only did I have a change of seating and football perspective but the move facilitated the escape plan. Such is the modern lot of the exiled Town fan.
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