How Grimsby Town Have Improved Their Chances Of Surviving In League Two – Opinion

Grimsby Town improved their survival chances after an impressive 1-0 win over promotion-chasing MK Dons in midweek. Having been under tremendous pressure since replacing Paul Hurst in November, head coach David Artell is beginning to prove his doubters wrong.

After a summer that promised so much, Grimsby have flattered to deceive this season. Expecting to build on a strong eleventh-placed finish upon their return to the EFL last season, Paul Hurst was dismissed after eight losses in their first 16 league outings, leaving Artell to pick up the pieces.

With little to no boost from the former Crewe Alexandra manager’s appointment, the Mariners found themselves looking over their shoulders after a new year that saw them concede five or more at home on three occasions during a three-month winless spell. However, since a 5-1 loss at home to fellow strugglers Doncaster Rovers, Grimsby are now five games unbeaten, having picked up three clean sheets in the process – but what changes have been vital to this improvement?

Change Of Play-Style

Artell is a manager who was regarded for his high possession and attractive style of football during his time at Crewe, where his project saw the club achieve promotion to League One capped off with a top-half finish in the third tier. Many Mariners fans were keen to see how this football would be implemented on the East Coast. However, it quickly became apparent that this style was not suitable for the squad Artell had inherited.

Grimsby Town often found themselves with large proportions of possession, yet on the end of heavy defeats. The system was far too forward-thinking, leaving the central defenders exposed through disorganisation through the midfield and fullbacks as well as players perhaps not being particularly suited towards a possession-based style.

Finding themselves on the end of gut-wrenching losses to the likes of Stockport County, Doncaster Rovers and Walsall, Artell had to change his approach to halt a free-fall into the fifth tier.

Recent games have seen Grimsby adopt a much more direct approach, aiming to win games through solidarity and pressing the opposition which has appeared to be more suitable towards Artell’s inherited squad. Their last five fixtures have all been low-scoring affairs, but the side managed to pick up three clean sheets and nine points in this timespan despite having less possession than their opposition in each game.

Artell deserves plaudits for changing his playstyle when necessary. After admitting that he tried to change too much too soon, he has adopted an approach that may be unfamiliar in his management career in order to suit the situation at hand.

Change Of Formation

Hand-in-hand with a change in approach has been a switch in formation. Since the heavy defeat against Doncaster, Grimsby Town have often lined up in a 5-3-2 which has been vital to their recent improvements in defence. This has allowed for more bodies at the back while also ensuring they aren’t overrun as often in the midfield with the assured presence of Curtis Thompson.

Additionally, star-striker Danny Rose has not found himself as isolated as he was in the previous 4-3-3 formation. Grimsby’s top scorer is an aggressive, relentless, pressing forward who is most suited to a strike partnership. Since changing formation, he has often been paired up front with Donovan Wilson or Coventry City loanee Justin Obikwu, both strikers forming suitable partnerships with Grimsby’s starman.

Overall, this formation change has benefitted every aspect of the team so far.

A Consistent Back Five

In this new back-five formation, most vital to their defensive successes of recent has been an ever-present backline throughout this form. Many questions have surrounded specific players’ best positions throughout the season, namely Harry Clifton and Toby Mullarkey.

Clifton enjoyed his best season in black and white last year on the left of a 4-4-2 under Paul Hurst. However, he is a central midfielder by trade who has also been utilised at fullback at times. Whereas Toby Mullarkey has plied most of his trade as a central defender but has now served as a more forward-thinking right-back since his arrival in North East Lincolnshire.

Recently, Grimsby Town have lined up with the back five of Hume, Rodgers, Tharme, Mullarkey, and Clifton. The role of a wingback has suited Clifton’s relentless work-rate whilst Mullarkey can feel more comfortable in his natural position with the security of a back-five if he is to come out of defence.

On the opposite flank, January arrivals Denver Hume and Douglas Tharme have slotted straight into this back five, with improvement prevalent game upon game.

January Arrivals

The security net of a mid-season window has been vital to the recent form under a new manager. With many Mariners beginning to doubt the club’s winter window following a dismal February, many of the signings have shown their worth as of late.

Curtis Thompson has certainly shown his class. The rough-tackling midfielder has embroiled a nastier edge to the Grimsby Town midfield while also looking assured both on and off the ball. Whereas defensive additions Hume and Tharme have been astute additions to the backline.

Additionally, Justin Obikwu has scored his first two EFL goals in as many matches. The 19-year-old joined on loan from Coventry City and is looking brighter every game.

Despite doubts, Grimsby’s January signings are looking much more settled in the change of approach and formation, they have all been key assets towards this form.

Overall, there is still a long way to go for the Mariners to truly secure safety. However, confidence is growing after a new-found solidarity and a huge win over promotion-chasing MK Dons. With a testing set of fixtures in Gillingham, Wrexham and Barrow coming up next, it will be interesting to see whether this solidarity lasts against a string of tough opposition.


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