If the distance between the two sides wasn’t just thirty miles tomorrow would be an unremarkable game for us. It would be a play-off chasing side against a down-at-heel, struggling team hoping for a return to form.
It would be another Crewe at home, ominously the game we lost 4-1. It would be another step towards back to back promotions, another passage in the chapter of our League Two season. It isn’t though, not one bit. Not for us. For us, it is the biggest home game of the season. Some Grimsby fans would have you believe they don’t care, citing Scunthorpe as their rivals. For us, it is the big one.
If it were a normal game I’d still be advising caution. They might be 21st, seven points off the bottom two and in terrible form, but there’s still a banana skin here. We played Mansfield and Barnet after new managers took over and struggled against both, with Michael Jolley just taking the helm at Grimsby there is the potential for a reaction from them. Their long-suffering, self-deprecating fans would smile wryly at me for saying that, they’ve become use to failure and disappointment. They have less belief in their ailing team than I do.
Grimsby last won a football match on December 9th, a day we beat Yeovil 2-0 with Sean Raggett in our side. They’ve gone through Christmas, New Year and the transfer window without threatening a win. Their last away win was November 25th, the day Matt Green scored his fourth of the season. He’s on 13 now. Runs like that, they end up getting broken and sadly the local derby is often the place to do it.
The overwhelming favourite according the Footstats prediction model is us, with 1-0, 2-1, and 2-0 wins all more likely for us than a 1-0 Grimsby win. Unsurprisingly we average more corners in home matches than they do away, more shots and more shots on goal, more of everything positive. One count they do beat us on is red cards, having had four players dismissed. The stats say it’s our afternoon.
Forward Jamille Matt has committed the most fouls for them, 62 in 19 starts. His goals return isn’t as impressive with just three from him so far in the league. Their leading scorer is midfielder Mitchell Rose with five. What has struck me when reading through their team is how unfamiliar it all is. Once upon a time Grimsby were to be feared, whether Amond and Arnold, Mendonca and Groves, or Jones and Reddy. All they have now is an unfamiliar collection of names that I doubt their fans feel any real connection to.
The referee tomorrow is David Coote. He’s primarily a Championship referee, having taken charge of 23 second-tier matches this season. He’s careful with his cards too, just four dismissals in all 30 of his games this season. He’s even been in charge of a Leeds and Millwall clash at Elland Road, proving he has the experience to manage a fiery game such as tomorrow’s. He’s only reffed us once, in a JPT match against Rotherham back in 2010. He was in charge of the play-off final between Orient and Rotherham too, he’s a big match ref, that is for sure.
It is easy to focus on our opponents, but we’re not in an ideal place. Both Rhead and Bozzie need to avoid a yellow card or they’ll face a ban, we’ve still got Luke suspended and James Wilson injured, meaning our options are limited. Danny might switch back to 4-4-2, taking advantage of the rather haphazard defending Grimsby have been serving up recently. Behind that though, they have one of the better keepers at this level in James McKeown.
Despite hitting three last week I think we’ve looked a little shot shy recently, but tomorrow could be a chance to put that right. One or two of our players look as though they didn’t want to take a dig at goal, perhaps that is part of our possession game, but if we’re 4-3-3 I’d urge the midfielders to let a shot go, because there should be three forwards waiting to pick up the pieces. The secret tomorrow is to get one, if we do that early and whip the crowd up then the game is ours for the taking. Lots of these Grimsby players will not have experienced Sincil Bank full to the rafters, come to think of it Grimsby haven’t seen it this way for a good few years either. The key to victory might not be on the pitch, but in the stands.
If I had to predict and I let the pessimist in me run riot, I’d go for 0-0. I think they will be happy picking up solitary points, they won’t need to force a win like Chesterfield did last week, so they should come to us as a tough to break down bank of nine, with one player stuck up front if they do manage a break. However, if they come and leave space to exploit then I feel we have a real chance to turn tomorrow into a derby day we will crow about for years.