We have the players but do we have the shape?

Cod Almighty | Article

by Barry Whittleton

21 January 2018

Although we need a goalscorer, Town can turn the season around with the players already at Russell Slade's disposal.

With the transfer window now halfway to closing, Grimsby Town have signed one outfield player. Russell Slade has gone from promising quality signings to bleating about market inflation. Fans seem increasingly resigned to a season of struggle and little entertainment. The fact that only 3,300 turned up to witness our last home game doesn't appear to concern our majority shareholder.

So what is to be done? It's clear that Slade is going nowhere. His record in the transfer market hardly breeds confidence; of his current signings the majority do not figure in the first team, and those who do are mostly not fans' favourites. It may be wise, therefore, not to let him loose with the cheque book.

The current squad have shown in patches that they are capable of decent entertainment. Chesterfield, Accrington and Cheltenham away and Swindon at home are the stand-out performances. A tweaking of the current squad, with the addition of a goal poacher, may be controversial among the faithful, but in the long term it could well prove prudent.

The goalkeeper is a given. James McKeown has had his critics, and he may not be Nigel Batch, but keeping coach apart, he is the best we have at the club. To waste further salary on another stopper would not be a priority.

The core defenders of Zak Mills, Ben Davies, Danny Collins and Nathan Clarke have largely been competent. They do have a tendency, though, to leak quick goals. Last Saturday's draw at Colchester was only the second time we have conceded fewer than two since our last clean sheet, eight matches ago. We will have to rely on these and pray that there are no more injuries as, with the exception of Karleigh Osborne, who I prefer to Clarke, the alternatives – very young or out on loan – are worrying.

The midfield, on the face of it, seems as inadequate as the strike force. Luke Summerfield has been outstanding, Siriki Dembele and Diallang Jayseimi frustrating, and the rest much of a muchness. The lack of pace makes us very easy to play against. Chris Clements has returned from a loan spell but despite a man-of-the-match performance for the stiffs, he clearly doesn't figure in Slade's plans. Harry Clifton continues to be denied a chance in what, with Jamey Osborne departed, has been at best a very average midfield. It lacks pace, guile and bite – all essentials.

There can be little doubt that Town's greatest need is for a goal poacher. Although Charles Vernam had a promising debut and scored at Colchester, our options are limited. Sam Jones prefers a deeper role. While Cardwell's chances have been few and far between he hasn't exactly stood out when given a chance.

So if we indulge ourselves and dream of a post-Christmas run to the play-offs, we need a further 37 points from 17 games. Even before Saturday's draw down in Essex, I too was thinking of a 3-5-2 as part of a masterplan, but with very different personnel to those Slade deployed at Colchester. Davies and Mills have looked easily our most dangerous wide players in recent games, so I'd rely on them to give us width. In midfield, I'd give Summerfield an anchor role with Jones and Vernam to provide pace, creativity and the goal threat which we have lacked coming from deep.

This leaves the strikers. With Davies and Mills providing the width and the crosses, and Jones and Vernam the midfield creativity, it frees up Dembele to jink his tricks in the box. With defenders terrified to mistime a lunge, he may get a little bit of precious space.

Thin pickings for goalscorers

We do need to sign someone to partner Dembele up front, but with every other club seeking any likely goal poacher who comes on the market and Town's budget probably £100,000 or below, our options are limited. Scouring those with League experience who are available or out of contract in July hardly sets the pulse racing. Nicky Ajose is apparently unwanted by Charlton, but has possible attitude issues and his strike rate is not outstanding. Down the road, Scunthorpe's Jonny Margetts has a good record at a lower level but has made only two appearances for the Iron. His valuation of £75,000 maybe gives credence to Slade's claims of overpricing.

Down in the Conference Danny Rowe leads the charts but his goals come once every two games. Ryan Bird is well known to Town fans but the strike rate for his 12 goals is worse than Rowe's. Town might have shown an interest in Sutton's Tommy Wright; he may only have nine goals but they've come with considerably less time on the pitch: a goal every 140 minutes. With Sutton keen on re-signing our own Tom Bolarinwa, a cash-plus deal could have secured his services. Wright hit more than 50 goals for Salisbury last season. He is rated by Steve Claridge, who knows a thing or two about scoring, and could be worth a punt. At only 21 he could, like Omar Bogle, offer a good resale value.

Further still down the food chain, Jon Parkin has 20 goals in the Conference North. While he'd hardly be one for the future, or indeed a popular recruit, he could be our Akinfenwa. However, his League record of late is uninspiring.

A more leftfield call would be Simon Aignee at Harrogate. Originally a defender with a brief League career, on his arrival from Bradford Park Avenue, Simon Weaver switched him to a frontline role. The results were spectacular. He netted 22 in 39 last season and his 10 goals in 12 games this time round, in an injury-hit campaign, have come at a strike rate of one every 60 minutes. While he is unproven at a higher level, Weaver does appear to have spotted something others missed. He is the one I would take a punt on; James Vardy is living proof that a goalscorer scorned previously can come back and rise rapidly. Most importantly, the likelihood is he'll want to play for us and at 29 will be keen to grasp one last chance.

None of this will happen, of course. We will continue to play Sladeball, maybe scrape three wins to keep us up, and come the summer our major shareholder will blame sending renewals out early and England's poor World Cup for selling only 1,000 season tickets. But I'll still be there.


This is an updated version of a text that Barry prepared before the Colchester match.

What would you change about Town's current team?