A strange thing, form. It can evaporate in the blink of an eye. Generally it’s a much slower process to return to where you were, but extreme circumstances can do strange things, and few circumstances are quite as extreme as a non-league side playing at Wembley. Don’t be fooled by their four consecutive defeats: The Mariners are more than capable of hitting the ground running tomorrow.
Not that you’d believe it from the sounds coming out of Blundell Park. Managers love talking their side’s chances down ahead of a big match, and Town have two men to do that job. Rob Scott’s press conference was either spectacularly honest or an attempt to play mind games, as everyone seemed to be half fit at best: Derek Niven isn’t “up to game-pace….not by a long chalk”, Shaun Pearson missed Friday’s training, Aswad Thomas is ill and Liam Hearn is “a little way off….whether he’s in the match-day 16 is a bit of a guessing game.”
And if you buy all that, they’ll be lucky to have eleven players out there tomorrow.
Don’t believe the hype: the prospect of playing at Wembley is a wonderful restorative. If all those players miss out I’ll eat my hat (okay, I don’t actually possess a hat, but I’ll buy one, and some HP Sauce to go with it too!)
It’s hard to second guess what starting line-up Scott and his fellow joint manager Paul Hurst will select – they’ve been criticised for rotating their side of late and made five changes for the defeat to Nuneaton last Tuesday. Described as their worst performance of the season, they will surely make wholesale changes again!
I’ve a funny feeling Hearn will play a significant role. If Andy Morrell is planning to spring a surprise, then Hearn is the perfect player for Grimsby to deploy in the same way. I like Hearn – he always looks threatening, is robust and direct and leads the line well. Morrell’s first match as Wrexham manager ended in a 3-1 win at Blundell Park last September, but it could have turned out very differently if Chris Maxwell hadn’t been at his best to deny Hearn, who hit an equaliser after Mathias Pogba opened the scoring and then led a one-man camaign to try to haul his side into the lead.
Before their losing run, Grimsby were a side based on a solid defence. In fact, it dominated both matches between the two sides this season: I’d say they were probably the best opposition we’ve faced in this campaign, but by the same token both matches were as dull as anything we’ve seen! They both had 0-0 written all over them so when Ross Hannah nicked a goal out of nothing in the second half at Blundell Park it was always going to be the winner.
The media seem to be predicting an open match, but I don’t see any particular logic behind that: unless an early breakthrough is made, or one side capitulates under the pressure of the occasion, I’d have thought a tight match is a liklihood. Betting on extra time or even penalties seems a shrewd move to me: going low on the spread of total goals scored is a given!
Grimsby’s back four is sound, their central defensive pair of Pearson and Ian Miller as strong as anything in the division, with a useful keeper behind them. Whether Morrell picks himself to grind them down will be an interesting tactical decision he’ll have to make: you can’t help thinking they’ll be able to handle that sort of approach.
They play a 4-4-2, and both full backs are encouraged to go forwards. If Thomas and Sam Hatton are the selectionsin those positions we’ll know the management team have been confident enough to back the adventurous approach. Niven and Craig Disley are a strong central midfield duo, and they have interesting wide options, not least in Joe Colbeck on the left, who is capable of taking men on and delivering from wide.
Should they get good service into the box Hannah looks ominously like a Wembley story waiting to happen, having left Bradford between legs of their Capital One Cup semi-final but still ended up playing in the grand old stadium. He’s also got a drought to address, and he’s a good striker, so probably due a goal. He makes me feel nervous.
Andy Cook is a good option up front too: if The Mariners can deliver to him in the air he’ll look to isolate Chris Westwood, who’ll need the help of the man outside him, Stephen Wright, in the air.
This will be a tight one, make no mistake, and don’t swallow the idea that Grimsby are staggering their way into the final. Until recently Wrexham and Grimsby looked to be the two strongest sides in the Conference, and although the title’s now gone for The Mariners, they’re still good bets for a Trophy and promtion double. If they’ve lost form because they’ve had half an eye on Wembley, well here’s the moment they’ve been waiting for.
I've been commentating on football since the late 1980s, having previously been an entertainingly inept goalkeeper for Wrexham Schoolboys and, clearly in an era of national shortage, Wales Schoolboys.
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