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Pre Season Jollity
By: Andrew Doherty
DEPRIVED of my annual pre-season trip to Stamford, Gainsborough provided an alternative day out in another Lincolnshire town. I'd never been here for football before but my brother has always reckoned it's a friendly place to come. This was the chance to see the new players and have a good day out without the tension.
Not so for our manager Mr Jolley and the players for whom this is about gaining fitness and working out the shape for the new season.
Reports suggested that the first team would be turning out for this one. Town's starting line-up was: McKeown - Davis, Whitmore, Collins - Clifton, Rose, Welsh, Woolford - Hooper, Vernam. Gainsborough for their part had two ex-Town players in Cameron Hough and Ross Hannah, a decent striker and one of my favourites from the Conference era.
"We've got sausages and even Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire", the announcer enigmatically declared as he showcased what he called this Lincolnshire derby friendly. 711 spectators were present at the traditional Martin and Co Arena. Gainsborough, "the Blues", wore green, while Town were in red. Town started brightly against the wind. Plenty of endeavour and skill were on display. A clever Clifton pass supplied Hooper who found Vernam. Although Vernam's flick was just wide, it was good to see Town's strikers working with each other. Hooper then pounced upon a mistake. Town showed a physical side when Gainsborough's Young was clattered. A Rose mistake led to a Gainsborough attack, which ended with an offside decision, and McKeown was alert when the unmarked Byrne had a shot from the right but Town had the possession and invention. Gainsborough huffed and puffed, but it was Town who showed more skill and kept Gainsborough's keeper busy. After good work from Woolford, Hooper's cool flick back presented an opportunity but his curled shot went over. On 30 minutes Vernam's surging run was stopped when he was tripped. Woolford's curling free-kick beat the goalkeeper and came off the crossbar. Hooper was on hand to tap in to make in 1 - 0 to Town. Another good move immediately after this led to Hooper laying off a header to Woolford whose effort prompted a good save. Town passed the ball around well and purposefully, and another super move on 37 minutes finished with a Hooper lay-off to Clifton who chipped the goalkeeper to make it 2 - 0. Hough had a shot for Gainsborough but overall Town were superior in the fitness and skill department.
Town continued to have most of the possession in the second half. Clifton went close with a shot and Woolford had one saved. Gainsborough had a couple of chances when Young volleyed wide and a corner resulted in a misdirected header from Maguire, who couldn't match the standard of his more illustrious brother. Town struggled with the wind, and for the first time in the game lost their shape and quality. A quadruple substitution on 60 minutes saw Hall-Johnson, Dixon, Hessenthaler and Famewo replace Fox, Clifton, Collins and the combative Welsh. Soon after the tricky Woolford was tripped, only for the same player to fire over with is free-kick. The same player then couldn't latch on to cross from Hall-Johnson after excellent work and a switch pass from Hooper. The substitutions led to a restoration of Town's good interplay, and after a series of probing passes, Davis's header was cleared off the line after a Dixon cross. Town continued to press and the pressure paid off when Hessenthaler squeezed the ball home on 68 minutes to make the score 3 - 0. McKeown had a save to make from Worsfold after defensive hesitation, but Town continued to dominate. Dixon won a corner after a good pass from Rose, then the industrious Woolford set up another attack. Vernam's shot was on target but was palmed away by Gainsborough's Stewart. On 77 minutes Robles replaced Vernam, who came off to polite applause. He deserved better after a skilful performance but such was the occasion. The test for Town now was to prove that they could close the game out, although frankly Gainsborough had posed little threat. This game had been characterised by wave after wave of Grimsby attack with a limited riposte from Gainsborough, who had improved after their own substitutions. A brief bright spell from Gainsborough was thwarted, and Town were on the attack again. With a multitude of players in the box, on 88 minutes Robles found space and slammed a low shot home after 88 minutes. In the short time he was on the pitch, Robles looked sharp and went close with a further chance. So the game ended: Gainsborough Trinity 0, Grimsby Town 4.
Such games are hard to evaluate because Town were as expected superior in the skill and fitness department. There were many pleasing aspects of this performance. Town showed intensity for practically the whole of the game, and the substitutions led to an improvement on what was already a good team effort. The players seemed relaxed, and it was nice to see Famewo and others interacting with appreciative fans after the final whistle. On the playing side, my only concern was Town presented Gainsborough with too many opportunities, so work is needed on the defensive shape as the players bond with each other, but at least McKeown dealt with everything comfortably, albeit Gainsborough's attempts on goal were of a poor quality. I have no criticisms of the midfield or strikeforce, indeed there were some outstanding performances which demonstrated the individual and collective skill. Hooper, Woolford, Rose, Vernam, Clifton and later Robles all made excellent contributions, while Welsh looks to be a real worker in the centre of the park. This team showed it has plenty to offer. From next week it must start to deliver. The signs are encouraging.
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