Here We Go Again.
For the third time in 15 months Grimsby Town are looking for a new manager after Russell Slade’s somewhat inevitable departure was finally announced on Sunday afternoon. The only surprise was that it took so long to come and it needed the situation to get to such a dismal level before Mr Fenty acted. The decision was well received by the vast majority of fans, despite the tardiness of it, but an equal proportion (including me) have about as much faith in John Fenty and the board finding and hiring a suitable replacement as I do in the government negotiating an acceptable Brexit deal. Having said that, it is difficult to imagine it being any worse given the recent run of form and performances that have been shown recently.
In terms of the road to oblivion the seeds were sewn in May 2006 when Slade walked out on us having already agreed to become the Yeovil manager before the play off final against Cheltenham (which we subsequently lost). There was a such a bitter taste left in everybody’s mouth that even 11 years later, after arguably the worst period in the club’s proud history, not everybody had forgiven him for that, or the style of football that was played then.
I personally didn’t welcome it, it seemed like a backwards step in mentality from the board. Marcus Bignot was a mistake, he had no method and was full of complete rubbish, but still managed to sign some good players. I still believed that a young, up and coming hungry manager was the way to go. Fenty had his hands burned by the Bignot era and when his personally friend in Slade became available it was too good an opportunity to miss. He was never going to get a normal honeymoon period and some fans wanted him out the moment he walked through the door.
Then, having allowed club legend Craig Disley to leave, which was probably the right decision given his lack of appearances that season, he let Shaun Pearson leave without any goodbye. This was a catastrophic decision in my eyes. He had been our stalwart defender and even when he had been out of the side in the Conference promotion season we never heard of him moan and when he got back in the side he had improved his positional and ball playing skills immeasurably.
— Grimsby Town FC (@officialgtfc) 1 September 2017
We could understand Disley, we couldn’t live with Pearson going. He was my selection for the next club captain. In my opinion, from that moment on Slade was on a hiding to nothing after making Pearson cling on to see if he was needed after Slade identified that he wanted Nathan Clarke instead and once he became available he released Pearson, hardly making him feel like the club legend that he was.
The next mistake occurred with his recruitment. We allegedly spent large parts of the summer trying to sign a whole raft of players including Alex Revell, Adam Chicksen, Andrew Crofts, Nicky Maynard, Sam Hart and Tyler Walker who all signed or stayed at clubs in a higher division to us. That meant that after they had moved on, all the other decent players who were within our reach had gone to clubs with comparable budgets to us and left us signing a lot of the left overs who nobody else wanted such as Paul Dixon, Martyn Woolford an JJ Hooper.
It is clear to all of us that they simply aren’t good enough and weren’t first choice but we ended up with them. We signed 12 players in the summer window and only Dembele has visibly improved us. Despite Fenty citing the 31 players we had on the books as a reason to dismiss Bignot we now had almost as many players and it looked like they were lower on quality than before. I looked at the team that finished the game against Plymouth last season and we needed some genuine wide players and an experienced tall and powerful target man to build a side capable of challenging but we didn’t do that which leads me onto my next point.
Danny Andrew was always going to leave, he was simply too good for us but Chris Clements, Sean McAllister, Shaun Pearson, Jamey Osborne and Sam Jones were ours to keep. Clements and McAllister haven’t played a single minute between them this season, Osborne got injured and was shown the door immediately after returning from injury as Slade obviously didn’t rate him and Jones’ form had dropped right off dramatically and culminated in a deadline day move to Shrewsbury. Slade systematically removed all of the Bignot era and therefore most of the better players with it and it left us much weaker than before. When you add all those factors together it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are where we are.
On the 16th December we had just drawn at Meadow Lane, were two points off the play offs and were unbeaten in 4 and things looked good. Since then we have collected 4 points in 12 games and scored 4 goals in the process. We have started losing 3-0 too frequently and this is why he should have been dismissed after the Morecambe defeat on 6th January to give a new manager time to get his own players in it now might be too late to avoid the trap door again. We have been unfortunate in that period. We were 1-0 up at home to Mansfield on Boxing Day when 350 appearance making goalkeeper James McKeown limped off and we have never looked the same since, I hope that that is just a coincidence. We have also played runaway leaders Luton twice in that time but despite this the form is inexcusable. What was previously a very solid defence has become leaky and lacking in confidence and our misfiring front line has just degenerated into full on goal shyness. The strikers we have left have scored 7 goals between them all season, it really is a sorry tale. 3 of our best back 4 are all the wrong side of 34 and it shows with how deep we have to defend. We have let all our creativity leave and our indisputable player of the season Luke Summerfield gives his all and wins tackles and plays passes but isn’t the creative outlet we desperately need.
Dembele beats men and looks exciting but isn’t especially creative and historically our most prolific striker (Simeon Jackson) has a career strike rate of about one goal in four games. Poor discipline has crept back in and we have had players squaring up to each other. We used to have a team with a mixture of hungry youth, players in their prime and experienced pros but now we have a side full of journeymen and 7 loan players when only 5 can be in a matchday squad. It was clear to me that the board didn’t fully support him in the transfer window as we only brought in 5 loan players and heard tales of “over-inflated prices” and it was evident that there was no clear plan other than sign anyone who became available and hoped it worked out.
Added to all of that, Slade’s interviews have become cringeworthy at best of late. He has trotted out the same empty phrases such as “we are working hard on the training ground” and that “our attitude is right” and “we dominated the ball and game for large periods, the result wasn’t a fair reflection” and that the referee was always to blame for reasons that escaped the rest of us. His demeanour became more and more depressed and he sounded beaten on Saturday evening. You didn’t have to be Mother Shipton work out what was going to happen. He never came over and thanked the fans after dismal away performances and he made the cataclysmic error of saying “I’m not a quitter” on Saturday night which, for reasons I have already explained, was injudicious to put it kindly. Basically, he had to go.
So what is next?
We still have the same below average set of players and the same run of form whoever the manager is. The new manager still has to work with John Fenty who becomes impossible if you have a different opinion to him. As I said earlier I would prefer a successful manager to be plucked from non-league such as John Askey at Macclesfield, Luke Garrard at Boreham Wood or Craig Elliot at Boston United. I believe that someone who is hungry and eager to succeed will ultimately be more desirable. They may make mistakes but they will have fresh ideas on how to take the club forward and will also know who are brightest talents in the non-league and therefore be able to pluck those as well.
Look, Boston fans, you know how it works. We develop players for you, you develop managers for us. Simple. #gtfc
— Cod Almighty (@codalmighty) 12 February 2018
I wouldn’t be against going for someone like Robbie Stockdale at Sunderland U23s either, he would be young and hungry and would know who the better players are who were released by clubs in the higher divisions, giving us an advantage in that department as well. I have seen perhaps a dozen names mentioned but Stuart McCall and Phil Brown are both managers in the same mould as Slade, i.e. on their way down and with less enthusiasm. I’d rather have Craig Disley back with Ben Davies and Dave Moore as assistants and that plan is an accident waiting happen given Dis’ legacy is excellent and doesn’t need tarnishing with the same brush as Paul Groves and Neil Woods. I hope Fenty learns from his errors and listens to the next incumbent and considers that maybe the Fenty way isn’t always the right way and that he might be better doing it differently.
Slade’s departure was inevitable, if overdue. The shambolic recruitment, the dire interviews and unbearable run of form became too much to cope with and the right decision was made. The new manager firstly needs to ensure our survival and then needs to work with Fenty to build a structure, framework and philosophy for the club and then employ tactics and sign players based on this philosophy rather than blindly panic. For that we need the right man and we must do our due diligence and then stick to a plan for a period.
words Shaun Bennett, Grimsby Town fan