GTFC Question Time: Q1 - can the Mariners stay up?

Cod Almighty | Article

by Rich Mills

29 March 2018

What if the BBC's flagship forum focused on the Mariners rather than Brexit? What if the panel was made up of Town fans, journalists and players rather than Nigel Farage, a handful of MPs and someone from the Guardian? What if Dimbleby didn't interrupt interesting answers? 

We've put together that panel and we're asking them the questions that really keep you awake at night.

We've just seen Chesterfield score goals and win one of their games in hand and so it looks like Town can't simply rely on them being terrible for us to stay in the League, and so our question to the panel is this:

Can Town stay up and if so, how will Michael Jolley achieve it?


Paul Savage, former writer of the Too Good To Go Down blog; former chair of the Mariners Trust and the mastermind behind Operation Promotion. A Town fan for 31 years and counting:

Can Town stay up? In a word, no. Not a hope. In previous promotion or relegation campaigns it was always the hope that killed you. But with this lot, there's no hope. There's not even a suggestion that the players are up for the fight; no green shoots of recovery, not even the likelihood we might snag a goal from open play. You can't blame Michael Jolley – I doubt Pep Guardiola could keep this mob up! – but I cannot see a single ounce of hope that makes me think we can amass one win, let alone the three or four we probably need.

Nigel Lowther, A fan since the age of seven, thanks to his old man (we can all relate to that! Ed); the Grimsby Evening Telegraph’s soccer writer for four glorious Buckley seasons (1990 – 1994) and closely affiliated to the club ever since, with regular appearances on BBC Radio Humberside; and he created Harry Haddock:

Can Town stay up? Yes we can but only if things change dramatically on the pitch.

It is unfair to expect the inexperienced Jolley to achieve it, though I hope he does. The alarm bells started ringing when our soon-to-be-boss announced he was going to Steel’s after watching a match; the fish and chips must have clouded his judgment. Either that or he was desperate.

He was handed an almost impossible task. Slade should have been sacked while the transfer window remained open. The Board further dillied and dallied while Wilkinson – responsible for coaching the same side – had three poor games in charge. Now we have but seven remaining. Win three of the home games and the Mariners should be safe.

But how much easier that is to write than do. On the eve of every game, I believe we can win. I even thought so against Coventry. My thought process defies logic.

I see before me – and I said this before we fluked our way to within three points of the play-offs in December – a side that can’t score; a side that concedes far too easily and a midfield with no creativity or energy. Worse than that, I see players who don't appear to care where they play their football next season. They are mercenaries and the Board allowed Slade to sign too many of his cronies, some on two-year deals. 

And yet I still hope.

The time for post mortems starts after the final whistle at Forest Green. In the meantime though we have to get behind the team. Relegation is unthinkable and the fact it stares us in the face so soon after Operation Promotion and our Wembley triumph is unforgivable. We don't need motivational speakers, just let a few fans have their say in the dressing room before the game. Come on Town!

Chris Parker, Grimsby Town youth player; former coach for Town's School of Excellence and Premier League scout; former chair of the Mariners Trust and a Town fan since 1965:

Can Town stay up? Unlikely at present I have to say, but if we are to go down then let us do so with a fight, not a whimper! We have seen rallying calls for fans to attend in their numbers and I believed this would help, but the situation demands action above everything else, from the players and the management. We need to win at least three games to give us a chance – a very tall order given the winless run we are on – and the most likely place to pick up wins is at Blundell Park, starting on Good Friday.

I believe the only way we have a chance is to go on the attack from the first minute. We don't seem capable of keeping a clean sheet so we need to out-score the opposition. We can't afford to have the attitude of 'staying in the game' for as long as we can. The best option is to go out all guns blazing. If we get beaten then at least we will have had a go! Get bodies into the box; deliver cross after cross; be first to every loose ball and have shots – make their keeper work! Desperate times demand desperate measures and finesse and style are of little importance. Winning is the only thing that matters.

Martin Grittonex pro of 300 odd games, up and down the leagues and country; spent a thoroughly enjoyable three years living in Grimsby, split between Town and Lincoln City:

Can Town stay up? What a question. These situations are often about momentum. It is one thing to stop the rot, but a more challenging task to turn it round. It’s not as if Town fans didn’t see the signs; the muttering of impending doom has been coming for a while.

From someone who has not watched a lot of games this season I can give my observations from being in the same position as the players. They are playing for their livelihoods which adds pressure of course but should also be a huge incentive. The stigma of relegation is not an enviable one to carry around. Looking at the positives, the new manager should have given a bump but it hasn’t happened. Perhaps the task at hand is a longer-term project but unfortunately he doesn't have the luxury of time.

At this point of the season you have to be hard to beat and not shipping goals – the first thing to address. We would work tirelessly on set pieces – defense and attack – as these are legitimate opportunities when you're not playing creative attacking football. You can play in these small margins, as ugly as it is and I don't think anyone will care so long as Town stay up. They should not need reminding of how hard it is to get back up.

Matt Dannatt, former Grimsby Telegraph journalist and a Lower Findus Town fan for over 20 years:

Can Town stay up? We can, but unfortunately I doubt we will. Town are locked in a tailspin that they seem incapable of escaping and after sleepwalking into a scrap for survival, they are now wide awake and living a nightmare that’s all too real.

It’s scarcely believable that this group of players - albeit then accompanied by the likes of Sam Jones and the mercurial Jamey Osborne - flirted with the notion of a play-off tilt before the turn of the year.

Now devoid of any confidence and frighteningly fragile, hopes are slim, and fading fast, that this squad can stem and then turn a tide that’s swept them along on the worse run since the last time the club fell through the League’s trapdoor.

Jolley - in my eyes at least - remains blameless for the situation he finds himself in. Many hoped for a new manager bounce that never came, but that’s not for the lack of trying on his part. He’s given Harry Clifton a long-awaited run of games, addressed the need for a new left-back, and brought in someone who can finally (hopefully) beat the first man from a corner. Even the repeatedly over-looked Sean McAllister has been brought in from the cold to re-join a squad that recently benefited from the wisdom of sports psychologist in Jolley’s latest bid to halt the slide.

The fans, as ever have 'backed the boys', 'packed the park' and have 'been the twelfth man', but, so far, most of the other 11 haven’t held up their end of the deal. The majority of them will be gone at the end of the season, regardless of whether they depart with Town's hard-fought League status still intact or having cut and run after adding what for many of them will be yet another relegation to their CVs.

Ultimately, it's down to them to decide how much it means to them.

Now this may all come across as very negative for someone who was often criticised for being overly positive during my time covering the club. Don't get me wrong, I'd be absolutely ecstatic if my prediction at the top of this long-winded answer to a relatively straightforward question was proved wrong - more than you'd believe. And so I'll still be there on Friday, sat alongside my increasingly pessimistic old man, hoping against hope.

Tom Farmery, Daily Mail sports writer and a Grimsby Town supporter since 1996 when he attended his first game in the Main Stand, aged seven:

Can Town stay up? We all hope they can. After scrapping for six years to get out of the National League it would be catastrophic if we ended up back there after just two seasons.

Sadly I see similarities in the side that went down in 2010 to the one that is currently 22nd in the League. After 39 games of that disastrous season we had accumulated 31 points - six less than what we have now after the same number of matches. We were also 23rd at that point eight years ago and we would go on to finish the season on 44 points - four behind Cheltenham.

What worries me is that this season we haven’t scored as many goals as we did then with just seven games to play. 32 to 35. Our goal difference is now -29; then it was -26. Even more concerning is that our top goal scorer that year reflects another chilling similarity - Peter Sweeney finished on six goals. Not counting Sam Jones who left in January having scored six goals, Mitch Rose is our top scorer with five. Rose and Sweeney occupied the same position on the pitch in central midfield.

After relegation we addressed the issue of a lack of goals. For all six seasons we had in the National League we had at least one player who scored more than 10 goals. Last season Omar Bogle masked the problem, managing 19 before he left. Jones was our top scorer at the club at the end of last season on seven goals.

It is an issue for another time – regardless of whether we stay up or go down – but last summer's biggest failing was not identifying and finding the money for a striker capable of scoring more than 10 goals. Our relegation rivals have goal scorers. Kristian Dennis got his 17th of the season for Chesterfield in the 3-1 win over Notts County; Port Vale's Tom Pope has 16 and he's expected to return from injury to play in their Good Friday fixture against Chesterfield. Christian Doidge has 20 for Forest Green. Barnet need something extra special but at least they can hope Shaquile Coulthirst, on nine goals, will spark again at some point.

I've always thought you need two or three pivotal players throughout the season, no matter if you're aiming for promotion or trying to avoid the drop. The objective at the start of the season was a mid-table to play-off finish.

My old man, a season ticket holder in the Main Stand, first mentioned the word relegation about November time. He's cynical at the best of times but he's been proven right as the season has gone on and honestly, I'm not sure we have the players to stay up and prove him wrong. Our form suggests we won't. In their last two games, Chesterfield have recorded more points (four) than we've managed in our last 16. Worst of all the team has gone 18 games without a win. DLDLLLLDLLDLLLLDLL (as if you needed reminding), just seven games shy of the 25 we went without a win in the 2009/10 season.

I've spoken to Michael Jolley a number of times and he’s a likeable bloke. He has seen enough now to make a decision on who he believes he can trust to get the club out of the mess it finds itself in. He will know who he can rely on. It would be a wonderful situation if he could rely on everyone but that clearly isn't the case. James McKeown, one of the few the fans have faith in, summed it up perfectly recently when he said the players need to imagine what a relegation would look like on their CV. Indeed, the sentiment is correct. However, there are players in the side who have already suffered relegation and their fight seems to have gone. This cannot be about just a select few reacting and working their hardest. Every single player contracted to the club needs to realise what relegation would mean. We've gone past the point of relying on flashes of brilliance.

Jolley can assemble a side how he likes and I back him to select the right one but he can't do it all. I lost hope some time ago with a number of the players. They can't feel sorry for themselves. Do you think Chesterfield's players were feeling sorry for themselves after losing 3-1 at home to Lincoln earlier this month? No. Even after the 1-1 draw at Cheltenham surely they must have doubted themselves against Notts County? After all, it was a game many would have expected them not to win. No, of course they didn't, and that win has now given them the belief that survival is possible. There isn't much that Jolley can be expected to do but if he can somehow start a similar train of thought in the minds of those who don't believe then we have a chance.

Kris Greene, a Town supporter for 25 years and someone who has put a huge amount of volunteer hours into the club; now proud to represent fans as part of the Football Supporters' Federation National Council:

Can Town stay up? It’s not mathematically impossible so of course they can, but then when you look at performances, results and stats it becomes a far taller order. How Jolley does it over a short period of time I really don't know; draws aren't enough and we can't score, never mind win! At Coventry we looked to pass it around a bit better with a little more forward thought but without testing the keeper, until they scored. We have to start on the front foot and be off like a steam train from the start and then pretty much hope for the best.

We also asked the panel this bonus question:

If you could choose one player in his prime to bring back for our final seven games, who would it be?

Paul Savage:

Oh, for some leadership and some midfield gumption! An Alan Pouton or a John Cockerill; a Paul Groves or a Shaun Cunnington. Someone who would run through a brick wall for the club. Someone who could grab the game by the scruff of the neck and lead the troops forward. We have to pray Chesterfield collapse. Alas they have a manager with all the characteristics I wish our players had. (we are allowing Paul to pick four players as we love all of them equally. Ed)

Nigel Lowther:

Clive Mendonca. The team needs goals most of all.

Martin Gritton:

From my era, Rob Jones. No question. Talismanic and the sort of character you want in a scrap.

Chris Parker

This is an interesting questions and I am sure many would pick a goalscorer like Mendonca, Amond or even Tees. Groves would also have a lot of support as would Joe Waters but my choice may surprise a few. It wouldn't even be someone with outstanding ability who would promise goals. What I feel we miss more than anything is a leader, a cajoler, someone who would bully and organise others and lead by example. Someone whose effort and commitment is infectious. Give Wrexham a ring and ask to borrow Shaun Pearson!

Matt Dannatt:

Given that we can’t score and seemingly can’t stop conceding, we need a man for all seasons. Livvo would tighten things up at the back and would chip in at the other end. Job done. Survival confirmed. It would have been too easy to pick Super Clive anyway.

Tom Farmery:

Omar Bogle. Goals must always come first. Defensive errors can hurt you but you can recover if you can score. I look at the teamsheet each week and struggle to see where the goals are going to come from. I've been watching Town since 1996. I've seen plenty of strikers play for us, some bloody good ones too, but we’ve never relied on anyone in our recent history more than we did Omar Bogle in the second leg at Braintree and the play-off final against Forest Green. He knew how and when to take his chances and he made a massive difference when it mattered to us most.

Kris Greene:

We need somebody in midfield that can connect the defence and attack, someone who can stop the ball going into the net while popping up with vital goals at the other end. Sounds familiar doesn't it, and two players spring to mind for me: Paul Groves and more recently Craig Disley. Both will forever be called 'skip' and if I had to chose one without emotion it would be Grovesy. He played during some of the best seasons football-wise that the club has seen for a generation and had a healthy goal ratio too.

Thanks to Matt, Paul, Chris, Kris, Tom, Nigel and Martin for giving their time and sharing their thoughts, we can't thank you enough!

What do you think? Are our panel right? Maybe you've got an idea for a question or someone you'd like to see contribute to the discussion. Whatever, drop us a line and let us know. It's good to talk!