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Question of the WeekShould Artell be sacked
|Not on the pitch
The Missing Magic
By: Andrew Doherty
HOW good are Town? It seems like we haven't played very much with two free Saturdays in January, so it's hard to say or even to interpret the data, which seems to be a very important thing nowadays.
Well, two weeks ago we scored five and showed great energy going forward but then we conceded five, arguably a 17 per cent improvement on our previous act of generosity but frustrating when looked at in the cold light of day. Last week's frustration came in the form of a postponement when most of our supporters would have already set off for Harrogate. The concern is for the safety of players, and rightly so, but isn't giving good notice to supporters who are going to the game important too? There are a lot of costs incurred and logistics associated with away travel. The frost didn't appear at the last minute so it's hardly an unforeseen circumstance. But at all levels of professional football, the needs of supporters don't warrant consideration. I understand that the clubs will make a loss with catering and so forth, and so they won't want the cancellation either but ultimately everyone in authority will blame everyone else and supporters finish up making fruitless and costly journeys. That's the way it works. Circus or pantomime? You decide. The other thing about going to cancelled games is the emptiness it brings. You're set up for the magic of the afternoon, and it doesn't happen, with nothing to fill it. Traipsing aimlessly around Harrogate and a lonely journey back on a LNER Azuma train are no form of substitute. This said, I doubt there would have been any magic but you never know and we never found out.
Coming back to football I hear Manager Artell talking about repetitions. I guess in my mind this is what in my day would have been called training. Does this mean that prior to the Artell era, the players just spent their time watching Die Hard videos? Yet for 20 minutes against Mansfield and for good sections of the games against Crewe, Salford and most certainly Notts County, we've looked like a committed football team. Now perhaps with repetitions and an extra week of them we can look forward to the players performing like circus seals. I doubt it. Donkeys and headless chickens come to mind when we're describing the defence, the "Achilles Heel" (Artell D, 2024). No communication, poor positioning and no shape does not win games, I'm told. I'm sure some high-powered psychologist could put their finger on the reason for the general inconsistency, but I can't and I'm sure Mr Artell must be struggling to work it out. By way of comparison, some years ago the former England cricket captain Mike Brearley, when describing catastrophic batting collapses, referred to the "flight from selfishness" where ineptitude afflicted one batsman after another. Of course, this could all be a signal for the players not being very good at batting, or in Town's case, football. Town make the beautiful game into a paradox. But optimism remains, even if it's currently faint and sometimes false, as the circus today returned to Cleethorpes for the visit of Tranmere. Our opponents have dropped off a bit in form, losing their last two games after recovering well from a poor start to the season.
"Have you got your gloves?", asked the helpful steward on searching my bag and its motley contents as I entered Blundell Park. The sun struggled to seep through the insipid sky. The air was cold. Bleakness threatened, but hopefully not on the pitch as the latest Artellball adventure approached. Town's line up in front of today's crowd of 6,421 with: Cartwright – Mullarkey, Rodgers, Tharme, Glennon – Green, Andrews - Clifton, Wood, Eisa – Rose. Wood, Tharme and Obikwu may have the collective air of a legal firm, but these new signings are welcome, and should add a much-needed different dimension. It was good therefore to see Tharme and Wood out there in the starting line-up, hopefully shaking things up a bit and giving our talismanic striker Rose in particular some support.
No dreaded pitch inspection was necessary today so all was set for the entertainment to begin. Town attacked the Osmond end for the first half against the visitors in their 1970s bathroom green kit. Cartwright was in action within seconds, averting a near mix-up and then saving a weak shot from Apter. Rose was booked for a robust challenge on Tranmere's Wood. Apter had a good run as Tranmere showed more endeavour but neither side were getting a grip of this game so far. Town had a shot on 9 minutes but Wood fired over from range after being teed up by Eisa. Eisa was then provider again, dinking a cross to Rose who was well covered. Town won a throw near the corner after Turnbull headed clear. Tharme came up for the long throw. After being spoilt by Jordan Cropper's monster bombs a couple of years ago, Tharme's throw was decent but tame by comparison. I could sense disappointment around me. The first sign of quality came on 14 minutes when a slick forward move by Tranmere led to a pass from Apter to Jennings who with just Cartwright to beat blazed over. The game stumbled on. Much-needed excitement was injected in 18 minutes when a long pass from Rodgers found Eisa who cleverly found space in the box and passed into the danger zone. But hard as Green and Rose tried, they were unable to carve out a clear shot. We were half way through the first period. The crowd was quiet. It was like watching two teams going through the motions to earn their match fee. Even a purist would struggle to find beauty. Mullarkey and Wood attempted to link up but the failure was foreseeable. On 29 minutes Tranmere won a corner - the first one of the game. It was cleared with ease. Clifton did well to charge down a Turnbull clearance but apart from the aesthetics of the act, nothing came of it. On 33 minutes Glennon lost possession in midfield. Jennings surged forward and was only stopped by an Andrews foul. The free kick came to nothing but as Town ambled, Tranmere saw opportunity. The impressive Apter picked up a pass from Davies following a challenge in midfield and flew past Glennon as if he wasn't there, directing his shot deftly past Cartwright. Town 0, Tranmere 1. The crowd was subdued. Frustration could be sensed from the murmurs. On 38 minutes Town attacked. Glennon crossed. Rodgers shot. The ball was returned to Andrews who turned and was tripped. Glennon's free kick was delivered into the box and cleared weakly out to the right. Tharme was on hand, controlled, showed good composure, took aim and fired his shot low to McGee's right. Town 1, Tranmere 1. On 43 minutes Town broke. Eisa ran up the left. Rose and Clifton advanced into the box but all in vain as Eisa blood-rushed effort was ballooned way over the bar and wide. Four minutes were added to the half. The discontinuity continued. Stoppages increased. Town won a corner after Green looked to be manhandled in the box. A dreamily lofted cross saw an end to what had never been a threat. So ended a poor half of football.
Town won a corner within seconds of the second half starting. Glennon and Andrews linked up to win another. The corner was cleared. Eisa sent in a clever chip, far too clever for anyone present on the pitch. Tranmere then won a corner but Walker's delivery was poor. On 52 minutes Tranmere's attack was met by a robust clearance by Thame who so far had linked well with Rodgers who had played with a renewed confidence. A minute later Tranmere launched a quick attack. Apter once again rounded Glennon as if Town's left back was invisible, crossing low for the advancing Morris to fire the ball home via the leg of Mullarkey. Town had been exposed on the wing again. The travelling Tranmere fans celebrated. Town's fans muttered. Glennon stood off again on 59 minutes, allowing Apter to curl a shot from outside the box. The shot went inches wide. An hour had gone. Maher replaced the injured Tharme, in my eyes Town's best player. Town won a corner. Andrews's delivery was shocking. On 65 minutes Vernam replaced Wood who had made little impact today. Tranmere's keeper was guilty of a poor clearance before Eisa stumbled during a Town attack but if there was a Town game plan, it wasn't evident. To defend their lead Tranmere weren't sitting back, and were looking to play the ball upfield. Town's attempts to respond relied on individual efforts. Mullarkey was dispossessed, won the ball back, ran forward and crossed over the heads of everyone. Tranmere launched an attack. He crossed into the centre of the box. No-one was there. Town attempted to play the ball from the back - too slow and not working. We're not very good at it. The crowd became restless. 76 minutes had gone and Town showed rare intensity, resulting in a nice move and Green's shot being blocked. Town pressed but Green kicked a defender in the head and that was that. On 79 minutes Town cleared the ball out quickly after a Tranmere attack but the Tranmere defence and marking were showing their worth. Eisa and Andrews then tried to find space in Tranmere's defence but it took a poor pass which Vernam retrieved well before managing to cross for Rose to shoot and extract a fingertip save from McGee. Vernam followed up with a shot from a tight angle which McGee saved, and then did less well with a long-range sliced shot which was so far wide that it almost went out for a throw-in. 85 minutes had passed. Holohan and Obikwu replaced Green and Eisa. Vernam put in a cross to the far post on 87 minutes which Rose headed into the side netting. Town were trying but it wasn't convincing anyone. Seven minutes were added. Tranmere didn't sit back and defend, and Dennis went close with a dig from outside the box. Clifton, who I'd forgotten about, did a clifton (definition: a pass or header to an intended or fictitious player which either goes behind the said player or rolls directly into touch. Also known as a misplaced pass or header). Otherwise Town floundered, ran around in isolation, and floundered some more. It was painful to watch. "Thanks, ref", I heard behind me. It's not often you hear this, but the referee was putting us out of our misery by blowing the full-time whistle with the final score at: Grimsby Town 1, Tranmere Rovers 2.
If discontinuity was an art form, then Town would win a gold medal. For Artellball, read dire rubbish. Town lacked energy except for a 5-minute spell in the second half, and there was the customary lack of control, movement, effective link-up and quality in the play. The only Town player who impressed me was Tharme, and he unfortunately went off injured. At the game, I had the pleasure of two bright young 9-year-olds by the name of Leyton and Jackson next to me in the stand. I pity them. It's all exciting as a 9-year-old, as I remember from being that age in 1968, the season we came 23rd in the same division as we are in now. Later on, as a parent I used to take my children when they were a similar age, and after week upon week of "sitting in the cold and watching rubbish", to quote my daughter at the time, I was half expecting someone to come knocking on my door and charge me with child cruelty for exposing them to this endurance and suffering every week. It's true that an immunity sets in after a while, or as two of my children did, they give up on football altogether, but I hope that Leyton and Jackson will enjoy better days ahead when they pitch up to watch Town with their dads.
I guess that I was being unrealistic today. Expecting a sprinkling of magic against Tranmere on a cold January Saturday was an unlikely event, and so it proved. "We go again" as they say...the circus continues with a trip to Accrington next week.
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