Grimsby Town Season Preview: the season to be Jolley?

With the 2018-19 League Two season not far away, The Football Lab spoke to Grimsby Town fan Paul Maddison (@LouthBigDog)…

Over the last six months, there seems to have been two strong feelings at Grimsby: discontent with John Fenty’s ownership and excitement over Michael Jolley’s managerial potential. Would you say that the latter emotion has become the most prominent?

Yeah, that’s fair to say. But the credit for that must go to Jolley. We looked down and out when he took over, I wouldn’t have been surprised if we hadn’t won another game all season, the turn around was unbelievable. That’s not to say the feelings about Fenty have gone away, I’m sure they never will, some of his decisions and the way he speaks of the fans mean he’ll never be a popular with our supporters.

Jake Hessenthaler has played regular League One football with Gillingham while John Welsh won promotion from that level with Preston in 2014-15. You must be delighted with the calibre of player that Jolley has been able to add to the midfield?

The centre of midfield has been our weakest area for a couple of years now for me, although I’m sure some would say we’ve been weak all over, so I’m more than delighted with these signings. I’ve seen a lot of posts from Gillingham and Preston fans saying they are surprised they have dropped to this level, they should strengthen our team massively. On a wider note though, previous managers have always complained they have struggled to sign better quality players because of the area we are in, so it shows Jolley is selling his vision well to these players.

Elliott Whitehouse looks like he wants to break beyond a main striker into goalscoring positions. Do you expect him to be given that licence?

It’s looking like Jolley plans to go with 3 in midfield, but it looks like Whitehouse has picked up quite a serious injury, rumours are he could be out for the season. We’ve still got options in that position though, Mitch Rose finished the season as our top scorer and Harry Clifton who has come through the ranks could flourish playing along side Welsh and Hessenthaler, so we have got options.

One of the most notable names on the released list is 34-year-old Nathan Clarke, who started 45 games last season. Could younger replacement centre-backs, Alex Whitmore, Harry Davis and Luton loanee Akin Famewo, give you the option to play a higher line than you might have been able to with Clarke and Danny Collins?

I don’t think anyone will be sad to see Clarke leave. We seriously lacked pace at the back last season and probably had the oldest centre back pairing in the football league so I’d like to think the new boys will provide a bit more pace there. I think Collins will play a massive part for us this season though and will benefit from having quicker players by his side.

The fact you’ve added three new centre-backs to a squad with no out-and-out wingers might suggest Jolley is looking at a wing-back system this year. How would you feel about that?

It’s looking like that’s the way he will go, but we have got options to mix it up a bit if needed. To be honest I’m not too bothered about what formation we play as long as the players suit that formation. For too long now it’s been round holes and square pegs.

Right (wing)-back Reece Hall-Johnson had a break-through season last year. Does the fact Ben Davies and Zak Mills have been released, without a replacement signed at the time of writing, suggest he’ll start every week?

I was surpised Zak Mills was let go, he was a very solid player for us but Hall-Johnson ended the season very strongly and improved with every game he played, I can see him holding down that spot for a long time.

Andrew Fox seemed to make a difference after coming into the side in March. With Paul Dixon having injury issues, do you expect Fox to nail down the left (wing)-back spot?

Fox was a massive improvement over Dixon at left back, so if it is between them two for the sot I’d expect Fox to play every game. We did have a young lad from Burnley, Ali Koiki, who has worked under Jolley before play 45 minutes in our first friendly of the season though, so maybe Fox will have some competition.

James McKeown seems like a very honest character. Having been at the club for seven years, has he become an important influence on the squad?

He’s very important to the fans, the squad and the community. He’s been through a lot of ups and downs with this club and understands how the fans feel. He’s always doing work promoting the club in the area and I’d imagine he would be a prominent figure in the dressing room, and rightly so. I’m glad he’s been given a 3 year contract and will get the testimonial he deserves.

JJ Hooper finished 2017-18 with a hat-trick in the 3-0 win at Forest Green (including a delightful third). In a squad that doesn’t necessarily have what you’d class as an obvious goalscorer at this level, will Hooper get a chance to become that man?

Crazy things can happen on the last day of the season. Joking aside, Hooper was another of many who massively improved under Jolley, but I don’t see him netting 20 goals a season. It’s the one area that I feel is our weakest at the moment, but if we don’t sign an out and out goalscorer there is a young lad called Ahkeem Rose who’s been with us a while, but had work permit issues last season, who I really fancy to break through, if no this season then next.

Grimsby aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

Obviously Notts County have made some great signings and look like they will be up there in May, but overall the league looks wide open, I’d imagine there are 20 teams thinking they have a chance of play offs at least. Tranmere look a decent bet to me though, they were the best team in the National League last season and shouldn’t fear anyone in this league.

Where will you finish?

I think with the signings we’ve made so far and a few new additions hopefully to come we could be pushing top half, I’m saying 10th. (My pre season optimism is telling me we’re actually going to win the league by November though).

Thanks to Paul for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on the Mariners can be found on We Love Betting from late July.