The Thundercliffe Files: The Hollo-way

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

21 February 2020

Both our first and our most recent games in 2019-20 were wins over Morecambe. But they show how much has changed at Blundell Park

Thundercliffe Files

Last week’s win against Morecambe was eerily reminiscent of the opening-day victory against the same opponents. Goalless at half time, the opening goal came as the clock approached 70 minutes, the win confirmed with a late strike, the first for the club from a prodigious young talent.

The only discrepancy was the scruffy consolation that denied Holloway that first clean sheet but it was a league double over our first opponents of the season - the first time that’s happened since Boston in 2006-07.

So what’s happened in the preceding six months of the season? How have Town developed since that victory at The Globe Arena? Are we better? What’s changed.

First thing’s first, only five players started both games: James McKeown, Luke Hendrie, Elliott Whitehouse, Harry Clifton and James Hanson. That’s quite a shift. Of the six other players who started the second game, Mattie Pollock was a used sub in the opener, Charles Vernam was on the bench, but the other five were still to sign for the club. Luke Waterfall soon became a Mariner, But Billy Clarke, Elliot Grandin, Anthony Glennon and Josh Benson are Ian Holloway’s men.

The optimism after the 3 August victory was high. An 11-point haul from six games followed, culminating in that tasty 3-1 win at Walsall ('print that ya bastard').

A stodgy September - bookended with getting thrashed by Crewe and annihilating Exeter - still saw Town in the play-off positions. The trouble was, teams were beginning to suss out the Lincoln tribute act, doubling down on Hanson and targeting our full-back areas.

October was a key month, the injury to Max Wright - deliberately scythed down against Mansfield - symbolising our fragility and impotence. History will point to Jolley’s radio rant and the subsequent appointment of Holloway but not having a league game for nearly five weeks - a month and a day - killed the season.

Any momentum was lost with postponement after postponement. It was interminable; fans got out of the habit of going, with less that 2,500 home fans at Blundell Park for the goalless encounter against Cheltenham. The following match - a hammering by Swindon - was our first Saturday home league game for seven weeks. There was lethargy in the stands and on the pitch that day as a translucent Town struggled to cope with the mini pre-season that had been forced upon them.

Anthony Limbrick limped through the rest of December, two goals and three points to his name, before the arrival of Holloway changed everything. Without wishing to be churlish, I can't help thinking that had we nicked a win against Scunny, Limbrick would have got the job and we’d be staring at creosote football, winding down to the end of a quite lamentable season.

As it is, we’re being treated to some of the best football in a generation. Quite simply, the was Holloway and the coaching staff have got a rigid team of one-dimensional plodders to pass and move the football is nothing short of a miracle. I know that a new manager has a bounce and all that, but allowing the team to play and pass and move is just surreal and superb. The games are genuinely exciting: chances created and goals scored; the shift in mood is palpable.

The key to this was the signing of Billy Clarke. Billy is a very clever player, keen to pass and move, with an eye for goal and an awareness of what’s around him. Sometimes playing four or five passes ahead of everyone else, Clarke has given us balance and grace, and is the fulcrum that enables the team to play. He’s Holloway’s Tony Rees, and whatever plans he’s got for pre-season and the start of next should involve Billy at all costs.

I'm looking forward to the last third of the season. I think we’ll fall short of the play-offs as we probably need to win 11 of the last 14 games, so it’s all about the momentum. That, and a footballing philosophy that sings true of every self-respecting Town fan, brought up on successful teams that dazzled and delighted.

Buckle up, as this ride has only just begun.