Four managers, two seasons, one final chance

Cod Almighty | Article

by Adam McMillan

9 March 2018

Michael Jolley has inherited a mess created by a two-year churn of players and tactics. Can he pull the Mariners back in the right direction?

15 May 2016. Wembley. National League play-off final: Grimsby Town 3-1 Forest Green Rovers.

The day when Grimsby Town finally made it back into the Football League after a long, difficult six years in non-League. The fans and the players had a bond rarely seen in professional football clubs. The fans having funded £110,000 as part of Operation Promotion, it seemed like the tide had turned; not only were Grimsby a League club again, but there was the belief that something was being built that was special.

Fast forward to 2 March 2018. Michael Jolley has been appointed as Grimsby's fourth permanent manager in the space of two and a half years, and just how big a job the former banker has on his hands, in only the second managerial job of his career. Grimsby Town are in a relegation battle after a run of 15 games without a win.

If we go through the managers in the last two and half years there has been a complete different style between each one. That helps show how and why Grimsby Town are in the position they are in.

Paul Hurst

After his five-year struggle to get Grimsby promoted ended with success, Paul Hurst completely revamped the playing squad, bringing in 17 players, as well as later adding veteran centre back Danny Collins. He let go 15 players of the promotion squad, most notably striker Pádraig Amond and winger Nathan Arnold.

After a very good start to the 2016-17 season he and his assistant Chris Doig left for Shrewsbury Town, at the bottom of the third flight, on 26 October. Many fans, and the board alike, felt like he was making a sideways step as Grimsby were in and around the play-offs.

Hurst predominantly played a highly structured 4-4-2 which was built to be very strong defensively with pacey wingers and two strong strikers.

Marcus Bignot

Brought in as Hurst's replacement on 7 November after a successful spell at Solihull Moors, Town provided Marcus Bignot with his first job in League football. His ability to talk a good game immediately got the fans on side.

Without delay, he made sweeping changes to the way the team played, operating with various formations and continuously stating his need for "more technical players". In the January window he brought in nine players and let go of the top scorer Omar Bogle. By the time that he was sacked on 10 April his confusing tactics and his eccentricity had worn thin, and he left without much support for him to stay.

Russell Slade

On 12 April, two days after the Bignot sacking, Grimsby Town announced the re-appointment of the former manager Russell Slade, with ex-player Paul Wilkinson coming in as his assistant. With Slade, the fans knew what kind of football to expect and yet again it was another change in philosophy. Slade is known for having his teams play long-ball football, that the fans had nicknamed "Slade ball". He saw out the few remaining games of the season playing nearly every player available to him to formulate a plan to make the play-offs in the following season.

In the Summer, Slade had brought in 12 players and let go, among others, club legends captain Crag Disley and centre half Shaun Pearson. The majority of players he brought in were players that carry the label 'journeymen' and he set about his philosophy of a 4-4-2 rigid long-ball team. For the first half of the season things were going well and Town were in and around the play-offs until the new year. The decline started with a dismal 0-3 loss at home to Accrington Stanley which then ended Slade's tenure on a 12 game run of no wins, three draws and eight losses.

Michael Jolley

Now we get to the new man in the hot-seat. Not much is known about Jolley's ability as a football manager. Cambridge educated, he worked as a trader before working for Stirling University as a football coach, which preceded his time with Crewe and Burnley as an academy coach.

He entered into management in the Swedish Premier League at basement club AFC Eskilstuna, having personally being recommended by Burnley boss Sean Dyche.
While at AFC Eskilstuna he managed to gain 15 points from 16 games, a big improvement in their performance that still wasn’t enough to save them from relegation. He left the club on 9 January after being unable to agree a future direction with the board.

When he posted a photo on social media of Blundell Park from a seat in the Main Stand with the caption "Can’t wait for fish and chips later", it immediately caught the eye of Mariners fans: savvy use of social media. On 2 March he was named as Grimsby Town manager.

Ten games to make a big impression

Since Grimsby Town have been a League club again, the past three permanent managers have brought in a total of 46 new players and let go of 26 players. Of the promotion sqaud, only James McKeown and Harry Clifton remain. With three contrasting styles of football played by three completely different managers, it is not hard to see how or why the club is in the situation it finds itself in.

10 games for a new manager to keep the team in the League. It would be a big ask for Messrs Guardiola or Mourinho, so Mr Jolley has a very big task ahead of him starting tomorrow against Port Vale. The fans and the players are divided. The board is not liked by a growing majority of the fan base. Michael Jolley can make all those pent-up feelings go away at least for 90 minutes if he can get the team to play football with confidence and get the team winning again.

Only time will tell, but there's a slight optimism around that is reminiscent of the feeling the supporters had two and a half years ago. If everyone can pull in the same direction, this football club can become a real force.


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