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Lost at Sea
Lost at Sea

Ball of Confusion

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 17/02/2024

FOR the second time in just over three weeks, I arrived at a destination without reward. Actually, that applies to Blundell Park most weeks these days, but what I'm referring to is my trips to the late postponements at Harrogate and most recently, the Colchester stadium in a car park.

My record so far this year is: games attended 3, played 1 and postponed 2. Even the "played" was debatable as it was an awful spectacle. I just hope any Town fans who had to travel a greater distance than me on Tuesday didn't get to spend 2 stationary hours in a traffic jam on the A14 like I did. That was the icing on the cake. "We must do our duty", pronounced Histon Mariner in advance of the Colchester non-event. Well I think next time I'll avoid the rubbish traffic conditions in both directions and take it in on the tv or radio. My wife is torn between telling me that I like wasting my money on non-events and frustration, and realising that I have an irrational need for this sort of thing. At least today the game in the comfort of our own home, albeit for me it's a 130-mile trip to Cleethorpes, with the added bonus today of railway engineering and a replacement bus between Doncaster and Scunthorpe. It was raining in Scunthorpe, an experience you just can't buy. This murky joy extends to the football, where at home Town seem to be prone to paralysis and panic.

It's the second week of Chinese New Year but a better analogy for home games recently and over most of the last couple of seasons would be a recurrent Halloween nightmare. I've been pondering Manager Artell's explanation for last week's defeat against Stockport, which was that the players allowed themselves to be distracted by feedback from the crowd. Really? Should the players not be concentrating on the game and passing the ball, something that evidence suggests they're not very good at? 6,732 spectators were at last week's game. Many of them were supporting Stockport and were unlikely to be providing feedback to the Grimsby team. Personally I in common with the vast majority don't issue advice during a game, and even if we did, I find it hard to believe that players in a crowd of this size would able to hear instructions, even if they were clear and concise. "Oh I say Harvey, I don't suppose you could heave the ball as far up the field as possible?" I know Blundell Park can be sombre, commensurate with the inept fare unfolding in front of us, but this whole thing is ridiculous. It's not a public library. Perhaps we should have polite signs telling us not to distract players during the course of their work, and install suggestion boxes around the ground for those wishing to provide feedback.

A quiet atmosphere was always unlikely today as we host Doncaster. We might hope that the players might respond to the motivation of a derby fixture and a relegation six-pointer but if the dismal corresponding away fixture is anything to go by, this would seem unlikely. I struggled to approach today's game with even a modicum of positivity. The Town team responsible today for producing the goods and lifting morale read: Cartwright - Smith, Tharme, Maher, Hume - Green - Vernam, Clifton, Andrews, Eisa - Rose. The crowd today was 7,424.

The sky had started to cloud over. The conditions were mild. It remained to be seen if the pitch was going to stand up after all the rain but it looked ok. The mood around me was jovial. The game now started. Town attacked the Osmond end which was full of Doncaster supporters cheering on their blue and white hoopy heroes. A mistake by Craig led to Town's first meaningful attack. Rose was fouled on the left. Vernam's delivery was good but offside was given. Doncaster broke out, quickly passing and moving. Craig ran up the middle, finding Adelakun whose pass to Molyneux was met with a crisp left-footed shot past Cartwright. Town 0, Doncaster 1 with 5 minutes gone. Town had been well beaten for pace and were left stranded. Two minutes later Adelakun broke up the left. Town's players were like statues. The ball fell to Ironside who coolly slotted the ball past Cartwright. Town 0, Doncaster 2. On 8 minutes Smith lost possession. Adelakun crossed. The ball was cleared. The crowd booed. Town looked leaden. Green battled, Vernam laboured, goal kick to Doncaster. On 14 minutes Eisa found himself crowded out but Doncaster couldn't take advantage. A minute later Andrews was fouled. Vernam found Eisa whose shot was blocked. Clifton was there to follow up and won a corner. Vernam then won a second corner. Town had possession. A deft lob from Hume found Vernam who ran into the box and accelerated, resulting in a trip by Molyneux and a penalty to Town. 17 minutes had gone. Rose blasted his penalty into the middle. Town 1, Doncaster 2. Town took heart and attacked frantically. Vernam won a corner which Hume delivered to the back of the box behind Rose whose attempted bicycle kick went wide. On 24 minutes Adelakun missed a long clearance, allowing Clifton to run but after progressing into a central area, Clifton left the ball behind. Green then conceded a corner after blocking a cross from Bailey. Vernam then took advantage of a mistake by Craig and ran on but without support. Molyneux conceded possession on 27 minutes. Andrews took control but was tripped. The ball from the free kick entered the box. Rose headed onto Green but the shot from 6 yards was straight at keeper Lo-Tutala. On 28 minutes Andrews fought hard to intercept the ball in midfield and did well to find Clifton who stabbed his shot wide. This was a game of mistakes and opportunity. Rose was flattened on the left wing on 30 minutes. Vernam, who had played well so far, sent the free kick straight to the keeper. Tharme then intercepted a Craig pass, setting up an attack. Vernam won a corner. Hume sent the ball across. Green stooped. His low header went just wide. Biggins then hit a shot wide after a multi-player battle involving Green. Town were now putting a shift in. Eisa closed down Anderson deep in the Doncaster half while Andrews worked hard in midfield, at one point finding Vernam. But Town were unable to break through and create a clear chance. A neat header from Clifton led to another Town attack but Eisa committed a foul. Lo-Tutala fumbled a cross after a good run by Vernam but there was no-one on hand to pick the ball up. Town had a scare on 44 minutes when he lost possession outside the Town box. Bailey sent on a curled which rebounded off the post. Five minutes were added. The only noteworthy incident was Smith being booked for a foul on Craig. It remained 1 - 2 in favour of the visitors at half-time. The game had been played at a fast pace. It was a mistake-ridden, action-packed half. Town were at least back in the game after a shocking start.

The second half started with Doncaster on the offensive. On 50 minutes Tharme lost possession on Town's right side. The ball was switched to the other side. Molyneux took the ball outside and crossed low. Maher expertly guided the ball into his own net. Town 1, Doncaster 3. Hume then saved the day to prevent Town falling further behind, robbing Molyneux at last knockings to concede a corner. From the corner Craig missed his shot completely and then received a yellow card for a shirt pull, stopping Town's breakout. Clifton lost possession on 54 minutes but Town quickly regained it before a foul on Rose. On 56 minutes Obikwu replaced Andrews. Time was ticking on. Neither side was controlling possession. Town had a nervous moment when Cartwright struggled to clear the ball. Obikwu had the opportunity for a run but limply lost possession, doing better moments later when squeezing through two defenders and supplying Eisa who was obstructed. Obikwu worked the ball into the box but his inexperience showed as he didn't seem aware of his options. Maher was then involved in a neat one-two but it needed a Rose to be on the end of the receiving pass and Maher couldn't maintain his balance as he approached the goal. 67 minutes had gone. Doncaster won successive corners. Town broke out after the second one with a fluid move. Eisa started the move from the Town half. Rose and Obikwu combined and the move ended with Vernam shooting at the keeper. On 69 minutes Town made a double change with Pyke and Wilson replacing Eisa and Vernam. Almost immediately Doncaster attacked. Waters crossed. Town struggled to clear the ball. It seemed just a matter of time before a Doncaster player would get on the end of it and sure enough Craig had plenty of time and space to turn and ran the ball home from 15 yards. Town 1, Doncaster 4. Swathes of Town fans left in disgust. Town were lucky two minutes later when Adelakun was given space to cross to Hurst who probably couldn't believe the space he had, and fortunately for Town took his eye off the ball and muffed his shot. A nice run from Clifton resulted in a shot and corner but there wasn't much happening for Town. On 76 minutes, after Maher committed a needless foul on the left, Town made another substitution with Holohan replacing Green. As often happens on these occasions when one of the teams is demoralised as Town now were, the team in the ascendancy start playing like Brazil. On 82 minutes Adelukan strode on like Jairzinho, looked up and passed to Hurst who with Town static fired a lovely shot into the corner to Cartwright's left. Town 1, Doncaster 5. And there were 9 minutes left plus stoppages. Town were being torn apart. On 86 minutes Town had a token attack. Hume's cross was met by Rose but the keeper made a save and the rebound was ballooned into the Pontoon stand. The announcement that 6 minutes were added was met with derision, prompting my fellow spectator in the rows of now empty seats to pronounce "he wants us to suffer". A nice run from Wilson showed some spirit but there weren't even any crumbs of comfort by now. A poor clearance by Cartwright allowed Doncaster to work the ball upfield, mercifully without consequence. The game ended after Town won a free kick. Hume played the ball behind the assembly of Town players. Even the referee had had enough and so the game came to an end. Grimsby Town 1, Doncaster Rovers 5. The away fans celebrated. We trooped dejectedly down the stairs and out.

It's the Year of the a Dragon. We saw no fire here from Town. This was Puff the Magic Dragon without the magic. "We're due a performance", noted my mate Andy earlier in the day. Well we got one - a poor, D Minus version. It wasn't wholly abject as we did fight back in the first half after shooting ourselves in the foot, but this was against a team who gave possession away at will. I thought Rose, Vernam and Hume did well to keep us afloat, but overall we were undone by our own lack of tactical and footballing ability. Although there was evidence that we were not suicidally playing the ball out from the back, we still made too many errors, we were beaten for pace, we didn't seem to anticipate Doncaster's style of play and there was above all too little understanding and movement. We weren't unlucky to concede five goals. Doncaster took them all well and we made it easy for them.

So let's look at the situation. We have an owner with a strategy and a business plan who a couple of weeks ago acknowledged that football with all its variables and emotions doesn't fit into a standard model. We have a manager with a footballing philosophy. So far, so good. We have players who didn't seem to know what they're doing either through capability or attitude or both, and contrary to what we thought, the recent reinforcements haven't eliminated all the weaknesses although it could be argued there has been some improvement in the play. Meanwhile, the supporters look on in anticipation in a state of bewilderment, frustration, and disillusionment. "And the band played on", as the lyrics go to the Temptations' song "Ball of Confusion". The problem with this band is that the sound coming from it is incoherent and discordant.

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