Grimsby v Wycombe: set pieces the key

Russell Slade –

One would normally expect solidity to be at the essence of any Russell Slade or Gareth Ainsworth side, but these teams have shipped 14 league goals between them in six games combined.

Grimsby’s defence had a busy opening day at Chesterfield, where Siriki Dembele and Sam Jones combined for an impressive counter-attacking goal. The Mariners opened when Nathan Clarke headed in James Berrett’s corner but then faced 30 shots, 13 on target and had goalkeeper James McKeown to thank for the three points.

In the subsequent two games, they have not been quite so fortunate. McKeown’s miscommunication with Nathan Clarke over a free-kick led to a first goal for Coventry. The Sky Blues went on to win 2-0 and were rarely tested defensively, nor were Stevenage in their 3-1 victory over Grimsby the week after.

The disadvantage of having two centre-backs in their mid-thirties, Clarke and Danny Collins, is that they lack the mobility and sharpness to close down quickly in the penalty area. That was a big problem for them at the Lamex and McKeown didn’t cover himself in glory there, either.

This week, the goalkeeper is likely to be tested at set pieces, from which five of Wycombe Wanderers’ seven goals have come. Left-back Joe Jacobson and midfielder Luke O’Nien have potential to threat from balls, with the former’s deliveries and the latter’s clever movement.

The question is whether the Chairboys offer enough in open play, because Paris Cowan-Hall and Nick Freeman have scored their only non-set play goals. Freeman is a player a lot of fans would like to see start more often while Cowan-Hall has been hindered by injuries.

Ainsworth has put a lot of trust in injury-prone players this season and there may be stages at which their small squad is stretched. Suspensions are the biggest problems for Slade right now, with the bright Sam Jones and experienced right-back Ben Davies both ruled out. Davies is likely to be replaced at right-back Zac Mills, who himself was sent off on the opening day, which suggests discipline could become an issue for the visitors.

These are two teams are yet to settle at the back – for every corner or free-kick situation, both will sense an opportunity.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1