Walsall 1-3 Grimsby Town Six Things: Hanson at the double

Hanson nets the pen (with thanks to GTFC photographer Lee Blease) -https://www.grimsby-townfc.co.uk/

Grimsby Town won a league game at Walsall for the first time since 1897 on Saturday; they are up to fourth in League Two thanks to a 3-1 victory, with James Hanson bagging a brace after Elliot Whitehouse’s first half goal cancelled out Caolan Lavery’s opener. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Clarke’s new system

Darrell Clarke switched to an attacking 4-2-2-2 with Stuart Sinclair and Gary Liddle holding, offering freedom to a front quartet of Rory Holden, James Hardy, Elijah Adebayo and Caolan Lavery. The change of system meant, early on at least, Walsall did not look like a side that had scored just two league goals in five games; Holden looked bright down thee right, Hardy combined neatly at times with left-back Cameron Pring, Adebayo showed some nice touches and Lavery grabbed the opener. Following a lively start, there was a cross from the left after that channel was overloaded and from penalty box scramble, Lavery tapped home a loose ball.

Grimsby’s crossing joy

The flip side of Clarke’s change of system was that, with an attacking midfielder by trade in Hardy on the left and a striker by trade in Holden on the right, there was little defensive support in wide areas. Walsall were perhaps fortunate that Grimsby did not have too much natural width in their side in terms of direct runners on the outside – although Moses Ogbu looked lively and they found it very easy to get crosses in from deep, as well as pose a threat from set pieces. They often stationed James Hanson and Luke Waterfall at the back-post in those scenarios, so the Mariners won a lot of initial balls in the opposing penalty area; it was therefore no surprise that they scored the opener from a corner. After a delivery from the left, goalkeeper Liam Roberts was caught in no-man’s land and Elliot Whitehouse headed the ball home for a deserved equalizer, after the away side had edged their way back into the contest.

Walsall’s lack of creativity

Walsall pressed up at the start of the second half, urged on by the animated Darrell Clarke on the touchline. Grimsby manager Michael Jolley, though, was perhaps more conservative – both in his behaviour on the touchline and in his respect for a point. Because the visitors denied gaps between lines, Walsall needed creativity from deep but, with a double-pivot of Stuart Sinclair and Gary Liddle, they were left short on that front as Grimsby’s tenacious midfielder Jake Hessenthaler blocked out spaces in central areas.

Hanson’s aerial bombardment

Although Walsall possess a strong defensive record, it felt here that they were short of a genuine defensive presence, at least in comparison with their opponents, whose centre-backs, Waterfall and Ludvig Ohman, showed their uncompromising side. Mat Sadler is a relatively subdued centre-back generally when it comes to aerial duels and while Dan Scarr is tall, he lacked here a certain amount of bravery when it came to 50/50 duels. Hanson showed the intelligence to peel onto Sadler on 68 minutes and when Green crossed from the right, the target man bulleted a header past goalkeeper Liam Roberts. Max Wright was brought on as soon as that goal was scored and, driving down the right flank 13 minutes afterwards, the academy graduate was upended by Sebastien Pring; Hanson converted from the spot to complete his brace in a fine individual display, which both Jolley and Clarke described as the difference between the two teams.

Great start for the Mariners

This is not just an excellent result for Grimsby, but also a respectable away performance – a sign, perhaps, that they are benefiting from having had 17 months to work towards a clear playing identity, with three transfer windows under one manager. Signing Hanson is beginning to look like a huge coup, but the reason Jolley has been able to pull off that deal is because he has been willing to trust his youth academy as 25% of his first-team squad, thus clearing space in the wage bill for quality over quantity. Whether or not the Cleethorpes outfit will challenge for promotion this season, they are certainly on an upward trajectory.

Saddlers in transition

While Grimsby are some way down the line in terms of the development of their playing identity, Walsall are right at the start. After a relegation, it is important to change the culture at the club and Darrell Clarke is clearly trying to build a team that, for this season, will fight for every ball in every single game – and to an extent, so far he has done that, because his side were not found wanting here for effort. However, there remains questions at this early stage over the technical and tactical side of what Walsall do and it is taking Clarke time to settle on a coherent system that will leave them as defensively sturdy as they were before today, but with the attacking threat. Part of the problem is that their midfield, here, comprised of only attacking and defensive specialists – Walsall need to find players who are comfortable in more than one phase of play. Plenty of work ahead.