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A game of three thirds
2 March 2012
Whether Town ultimately succeed or fail in their promotion ambition, this has been an exhilarating season both on and off the pitch. Big wins, big defeats, share issues, winning runs, managerial rants, player suspensions – there have been plenty of talking points since the start of the campaign.
With a fortnight's hiatus from league action about to end, you can split the season into three definite sections:
Section 1: 13 August–22 October
Section 2: 5 November–18 February
Section 3: 3 March–28 April
The league records from the first two sections could not be more different. Grimsby were second from bottom after four defeats in the first six games, including that abomination at Braintree. The contrast is striking.
So why the big change? What are the reasons for the change in form that, had the season started in November, would now see Town placed second in the league, two points behind Fleetwood? Well, some are obvious. But there are other, less apparent turning points which seem to have contributed to the confidence oozing through the stripes.
One of the obvious reasons. It has been a long time since we had a player who you feel is not going to miss in front of goal. The hat-tricks have taken the headlines, but there have been some important winners at Lincoln and Southport. The fact that Hearn didn't even score in his first ten games means he has actually got his 24 league goals in just 21 games and scored 15 goals in these 14 unbeaten games. His all-round play, strength and pace have made goals for others.
The first half at Lincoln
Nearly 2,000 Town fans were less than impressed at half time at Sincil Bank. Town had been outplayed and outmanoeuvred by their county rivals, who perhaps should have been more than 1-0 ahead. But an injury to Charlie I'Anson meant Scott Garner came out of the cold, and he has made a real impact with solid displays and key goals. Shaun Pearson was booked, meaning Ian Miller had a way in on New Year's Day. Luke McCarthy had a shocker, which brought Frankie Artus on to bolster that left side. Town have been almost unchanged since then: the Lincoln first 45 minutes has led to a settled, winning side.
Our favourite insolvent football team have certainly contributed to this winning run. First, their win at Blundell Park in August despite Town playing well, which dismayed home supporters, leading in turn to Scott's Fackin' Rant. This, I believe, has spurred the management on, desperate to right the wrongs. Also, administration has forced the Quakers to offload players, which saw Town snapping up a fine defender in Ian Miller. Grimsby have conceded just six goals in the seven games he has played.
"Conor Townsend has been a sensation at left-back, his tackling improving to match his forward play"
After a succession of managers brought in a slurry of desperate short-term players, most Mariners fans had lost faith in the loan system. The loan players during the section 2 of Town's current season, however, have made a huge impact. Conor Townsend has been a sensation at left-back, his tackling improving to match his forward play. Never once on a losing side in the league, Townsend is a confident youngster who has made a few goals too. The cameos of Will Antwi and Manny Panther also did their bit to settle the side and get them playing football. The fact that we don't miss this pair is testament to the impact of Miller and Andi Thanoj.
The Salisbury defeat
Until Town's FA Trophy exit against York last week, this was the one blip since November, an extra-time defeat to lower-league opposition in the FA Cup. Although some Town fans were frothing at the mouth at missing out on a third-round game at Sheffield United, on the day we could have been at Sheffield United we were thrashing Alfreton, the unbeaten run keeping up its momentum. We owe Salisbury one for refocusing us.
Another obvious one, but the number of goals Grimsby have scored during section 2 of the season is frightening. Forty goals in fourteen games is almost three per match, and you could argue that it probably should be more. Scorers have been spread out and a few goals are now being scored from the many corners that our attacking play creates. All sorts of goals have been scored, including some after passing moves that would have graced another era.
The FA Trophy
Like the Football League Trophy in 1998, the managers used this season's Trophy to keep up the impetus by playing strong teams in every round. These wins strengthened the belief in the squad and enhanced the league performances and results. It may be unnecessarily distracting by pointlessly taking precedence over Saturday fixtures, but the smell of Wembley was a big factor in the league run.
No bad apples
Although we were told that no players would be paid off, the removal of certain staff from the building has strengthened the team. A pertinent part of this run has been the togetherness on the pitch and the real team ethic that was lacking during those horror shows pre-November. The belief is evident and the removal of disruptive, unmotivated influences has helped.
It has been a great run. The 14 games have brought a feelgood factor back to watching Town and it is fair to say that some of the football has been a real joy to watch. The team have made being a Mariner satisfying again, interest fuelled and league tables scoured. The 12 points we gained on the play-offs in these 14 games is sensational but ultimately it's the next 14 games that count.
In a 46-game season, 78 points have been the minimum needed to make the play-offs. In most cases 81 are required. That means at least 24 more points from these 14 games, with ideally 30 being a safer target. There are some big tests in there, with four home games against play-off rivals, and away matches against the top three that will ultimately decide whether it is section 1 or section 2 that defines our season.
What are your thoughts on Town's great run at this pivotal moment in the season? Has Paul missed anything? Use the Cod Almighty feedback form to tell us.