Back in the league: Grimsby Town Season Preview

grimsby badgeGrimsby Town have finally won promotion to League Two after 6 years of waiting. The question is, do they have the potential to now go further? To discuss this and more, The Football Lab spoke to Mariners fan Paul Maddison, who you can follow on Twitter @LouthBigDog.

First of all, congratulations on Grimsby Town’s return to the Football League – good to have you back…

Thanks, it’s been a long 6 years. It’s not all been bad though, we’ve had plenty of highs as well as lows. I don’t think I will ever feel the same emotion again as I did when Nathan Arnold scored the third in the Play Off final to guarantee us promotion.

I feel as a club we are much better prepared for life in the football league than we were 6 years ago. The last 2 years in particular, there has been a feeling of togetherness from the club, to the players and the fans. It’s been a long time since Town fans have believed that the players are pulling on the shirt with some pride. The Mariners Trust also helped out in a big way, setting up a massive fundraising idea to help boost the managers kitty a bit. They started up Operation Promotion with an aim of raising £20,000. By selling anything from mugs, to inflatable fish, to chances to play a game on the Blundell Park pitch, they managed to smash that target and reach over £110,00. Money likely used to help fund the move of 2 goal Wembley hero Omar Bogle.

After promotion, manager Paul Hurst referenced supporters who had doubted him over the season, rather than the club’s achievement. Is there an element of friction between him and some fans? Could that re-surface if the team goes on a bad run?

When I heard Paul Hurst’s interview, I was a bit shocked that he chose that moment to say what he did. That interview and the emotion he showed on the touchline in that match and the Play Off 2nd leg against Braintree, clearly shows the manager is passionate about the club, something a lot of his doubters, me included, thought he lacked. It is only a small minority which are vocal about there dislike for Hurst and there was only one game, away to Halifax, where the atmosphere was quite hostile. 99% of the time though the fans are great and back the team. On a few occasions last year our away support was higher than the home teams attendance. By getting promoted he has probably changed a few peoples opinion about him. Start the league well and all could be forgotten. Of course, it could go the other way, but as it’s the start of a new season positivity is high.

Hurst has normally been a fan of 4-4-2. Given that top scorer Padriag Amond has been willingly sold, and new boys Ashley Chambers and Rhys Brown are forwards/wingers, could he switch to something more akin to 4-3-3?

Amond, and his goals, will be hard to replace. He was offered a new contract, but Hartlepool came in with a better offer and longer contract. Hopefully we will replace him well, Hurst has a good record of signing strikers who score plenty of goals. We’ve had a player score 20+ goals in 4 of the last 6 seasons. To be honest Omar Bogle looks more than capable of scoring plenty of goals for us this season. He ended last season brilliantly, scoring a winner in extra time of the Play Off semi final, then scoring 2 in 3 minutes at Wembley in the final.

In a recent interview Hurst has said that he will be looking at different systems and formations and the players he has bought in certainly suggest a 4-3-3 could be likely. He has added a lot of pace in attacking areas, something I feel has been lacking for a while. Will be useful to have the option to switch it up and have different options in games. Too many times in recent years teams have come and ‘parked the bus’ and we’ve really struggled to break them down.

If wide men are likely to cut inside, are you pleased to have signed an attacking right-back in Ben Davies? Are you encouraged that the club could lure him away from Pompey?

I was worried about replacing Richard Tait, who has left to join Motherwell. He had an excellent season last year. But, we have a great signing in Ben Davies. Vastly experienced player who will be good on and off the pitch. He has plenty of football league experience and has played under managers such as Steve McClaren, Nigel Clough and Sven Goran Eriksson. I’ve not seen a single tweet from a Portsmouth fan that isn’t gutted to see him go after having an excellent season there. He even made it into the PFA League 2 team of the year. In an interview Davies said he had made his mind up straight away after speaking to the gaffer briefly, which is encouraging. There are rumours that his partner, who is from the area, was keen on moving closer to home. Quite ironic really as we often hear players say they turned us down for ‘geographical reasons’.

Key goalkeeper James McKeown has signed a new two-year deal. Now 26, is he approaching the peak of his career?

Really pleased James has signed a new contract. He’s been an excellent player for the club for the 6 years he’s been here and is a huge part of why we went up. He had an offer from a League One club this summer but instead accepted his contract offer with us, as he felt at home here and loved playing for the club. McKeown is 1 of 3 players that went through the whole of the Non League rollercoaster with us. The other 2 being, the Ginger Pirlo, captain, Craig Disley and Shaun Pearson. All 3 players clearly love the club (Disley has had 3 fish tattooed on his arm after he made a deal that he would have it done if Grimsby were promoted last season) and its good to have players like them in the team. Hopefully they can play a big part in helping the influx of new players settle in and gel.

So hopefully with age on his side he’s got many more years of playing at this level (or higher). I would say we have one of the best goalkeepers in the league, if he can improve further then great, but I am always confident with him in goal.

Like Amond, centre-back Tote Nsiala has moved to Victoria Park, with Dan Jones moving in the opposite direction. Would you say Pools have got the better end of that deal?

Toto was a good player for us, he’s quick and good in the air, still young and has a lot to learn. He did seem prone to one or two mistakes, but could turn out to be a very good player. Don’t know too much about Jones but Hurst must have seen something in him I don’t think he will start as we already have 3 very solid centre backs in the squad.

Alongside Jones, your centre-back options are now Josh Gowling, Shaun Pearson and Scunthorpe arrival Andrew Boyce. Which pairing do you predict will start against Morecambe?

First CB on the team sheet for me is Josh Gowling, from the moment we signed him from Kidderminster to now he has been superb. I’d imagine Andrew Boyce will partner Gowling at the heart of the defence. We had him on loan for a while and looked very good. Will be a great addition to have someone more than capable of doing well in this league.

Jon Nolan has left for Chesterfield. How do you react to his departure, and the loan signing of Dominic Vose?

Nolan looked a very classy player in his time with us having not been wanted by several clubs. I’m not sure what those clubs didn’t see in him. Sad to see him leave as I thought he would do well at this level. The lure of Chesterfield offering League 1 football may have proved too much.

Vose we have signed on a years loan from Scunthorpe. We had tried to sign him in January but he chose Scunthorpe instead. Lack of game time was the reason for them sending him out on loan. Scored a few cracking goals for Wrexham in recent years. Will be interesting to see where the Gaffer uses him.

You released ten players, midfielder Craig Clay controversially among them. Are new signings Sean McAllister, James Berrett and Luke Summerfield capable of replicating his defensive qualities?

as surprised to see Clay be released. He was great at breaking up play and did a lot of defensive work that mainly went unnoticed. All 3 of the midfielders we have signed all have bags of football league experience. Along with Davies and the 3 long standing players mentioned earlier we should have a good mixture of youth and experience. I’m sure some of the older lads will be invaluable to the younger lads on and off the pitch.

Another player released was Andy Monkhouse, who started 38 games last season. Surprised the club let him go?

Monkhouse leaving wasn’t a surprise. I am surprised that he actually started that many games. He started the season well and looked good when we had Conor Townsend (on loan from Hull) playing left back/winger as he did all the running. Too often in matches if we were struggling for a goal, we would just resort to long balls up to Monkhouse. It wasn’t a very successful plan.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? How do you think fellow promoted side Cheltenham will get on?

I am really looking forward to the new season. There are plenty of big teams in this league though so it will be tough. I fancy the likes of Doncaster, Notts County, Portsmouth and Luton to do well. Cheltenham could do well, teams Promoted from non-league often go on to do well the following season, Bristol Rovers last year being a prime example.

Where will you finish?

Head says 10th.
Heart says 7th.

The Football Lab’s verdict

The arrival of defenders Boyce and Davies means Grimsby will be comfortable in League Two. However, the loss of four star performers could halt their momentum. 17th