All runs end. All good things finish, and in 90 minutes in deepest, darkest Devon, our unbeaten streak came to an abrupt end.
I’ve thought long and hard about what to write today because it is easy to be negative after a defeat, positive after a win and to try to draw conclusions from such matches. The truth is, we learned nothing yesterday. There was no grand statement about where we are going, what shape we’re in, and who is good and who is not. It was one game in 46, a forgettable encounter but for perhaps one moment, which literally tells us nothing we didn’t already know.
How does one go about justifying 2000 words on such a game? I’m just going to repeat what I said when we beat Oxford or drew with Cheltenham. We’re in decent shape. We have some positive elements to our game. We have some elements to our approach that need sharpening up. This game wasn’t a defining game of the month, season or Mark Kennedy’s reign. It was just a game of football in which we weren’t awful, we weren’t great and we could have been on either side of the result.
As you might know, I don’t check social media after a game now. I watched in Wragby (via Australia) with Chris, and upon the final whistle I went for a run (in case I haven’t mentioned the fact I run now), and my first interaction with Twitter was to see how many Grimsby fans I triggered with my observations from shopping in Louth yesterday morning. Why do I not check Twitter? Because I’m so arrogant I think only my opinion counts? Some would have you believe that, but the truth is I won’t see anything groundbreaking on Twitter, I won’t learn anything I didn’t see with my own eyes during the game. If you watched, you might feel the same about this article.
I sound so laid back about a defeat, don’t I? It’s quite easy to feel this way because for the first time in my many years as a fan of a lower to midtable side, I don’t really feel the threat of relegation, and we’re only in March. Unless something spectacularly bad happens, we’re not going down. We’re absolutely not going up either, so we’re in this limbo, a limbo which will result in our second-highest finish since 1983, with any luck. It leaves me feeling a bit ambiguous about the results and even performances. I often use the house-building analogy, and it feels like we’ve got to a stage where the site is going to be shut for a couple of months bar deliveries. There will be some movement, but we won’t be putting the roof on for three or four months. Some might not like that, those that want high-octane football and for us to fight for everything regardless, but you know what? I’d take this over being near the bottom four, waking up on a matchday thinking ‘today could be the day the death knell sounds’. To put it bluntly, fcuk that.
We made four changes to the starting XI, with Sean Roughan returning, Matty Virtue getting a start, and Adam Jackson returning to the side. Danny Mandroiu was the final fresh face, coming back into the starting lineup after missing out on the long trip to Cheltenham.
I’m going to talk purely about the game, not about what it means in the grand scheme of things (nothing), or what statement it makes about us as a club (none). I just want to look at the 90 minutes and talk about the incidents. I think that’s fair, given how I have already very firmly outlined how I feel about its importance when compared to the other 45 matches we’ll play this season.
We started brightly, but we so often do. I thought we looked compact, well organised and fully capable of winning the game. Nothing of note happened at all for the first quarter of an hour, but then we started knocking. Danny Mandroiu, a player who looks so good in terms of technique, received a perfect ball from Jack Diamond, only to shank his effort horribly wide. Yesterday was not a good day for Mandroiu, I thought he looked a bit aimless at times, and there were occasions where his tracking back left a lot to be desired. The one thing you can usually rely on is his ability to strike a ball nicely, and it let him down just after the quarter-hour mark.
That didn’t matter so much, as we got the opener on 18 minutes. Ethan Erhahon’s deep corner was fumbled by Exeter’s keeper, Gary Woods, and he made a hash of the next moment as Montsma kept the ball alive for Paudie O’Connor to head in at the far post. I’m leaning towards Paudie being our Player of the Season, and to see a defender getting on the end of something in the area not once (O’Connor), but twice (Montsma for the assist) was pleasing. We’ve got some good lads in the air, and the goal proved it.
I genuinely felt that was it, the game in a nutshell. We looked comfortable in possession, and despite seeing Matty Virtue slip a couple of times, and us make a few loose passes, I felt like we’d go on to win the game, probably 1-0. Nombe was being kept quiet and on 35 minutes a sweetly-struck Jack Diamond ball was pushed away by Woods for another shot on target. People say how we’re not great at attacking, but on 35 minutes we registered as many shots on goal as Exeter managed all game. Sadly for us, I guess, we only scored from one of them and we only had one more in the next hour or so.
Everything changed on 36 minutes. From our own corner, we managed to go back to Sean Roughan, and there was a horrible miscommunication between him and Rushworth. I can see what both are trying to do – Rushworth has gone to left back to get an angle for Roughan and give himself scope for a raking crossfield ball, rather than a straight pass. Roughan, assuming his keeper is somewhere near his area and not closer to the tea hut, doesn’t look and plays it back into empty space. You’ve got to blame both – Roughan should have looked, 100%, but was there a shout? It’s not like Exeter was a noisy place to be at that moment, if Rushworth had shouted loud enough I’m pretty sure I’d have heard it in Wragby. To be fair, they were fairly loud a few seconds later as the pacy Nombe got to the ball first and scored.
If only Danny Baker did own goals and gaffes videos still, Sean and Carl might be able to split the royalties. In defence of both, they’ve been excellent virtually all season, and they’re both young lads. I hoped they’d bounce back, but I think it affected Sean for the rest of the game, which was why he was eventually taken off. In the immediate aftermath, it affected us as well – Nombe could have added a second within seconds, but we regrouped and should have been 2-1 at half time. A long throw from Poole (how come we suddenly have a few long throw specialists?) was flicked on by the excellent O’Connor, and Mandroiu found space and a fraction of time to volley towards goal but dragged his effort wide. It’s another good opportunity, and whilst a long way out, the keeper’s position means had he hit the target, we might well have regained the lead. He didn’t, we didn’t, and half time arrived shortly afterwards.