Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 18th; W 13 / D 12 / L 21 / F 42 / A 66 / Pts 51
The Mariners’ second season back in the EFL started with Russell Slade’s second spell in charge, the previous occasion being a decade prior. Four wins and four losses from their opening eight fixtures was the epitome of a mixed bag. A sequence of seven without defeat quickly followed which, coupled with some good results as November became December, had the Lincolnshire outfit as high as 11th. No-one could have foreseen an utterly wretched 20-game winless run would follow, which unsurprisingly led to Slade being relieved of his duties.
Michael Jolley had 10 games to turn things around, and the positive mentality he brought with him to Blundell Park was infectious, especially given the ever-growing discontent surrounding John Fenty’s de facto chairmanship of the club. Four wins and three draws were just the tonic that was needed to pull away from the trapdoor.
Top Goalscorer: Mitchell Rose (8 goals in 30 starts/2,527 minutes)
Top Creator: Luke Summerfield (4 assists in 36 starts/3,311 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Michael Jolley; one of the very few in the English top four tiers not to have a playing background to speak of. Instead, he started coaching alongside his day job 14 years ago, beginning with the academy at Crystal Palace. In 2013, he gained the FA Elite Coaches Award, and soon after, he had a key role in developing talent at Burnley whilst working on his UEFA Pro Licence. He left with glowing references to try his hand at AFC Eskilstuna in Sweden, but he wasn’t able to save them from being relegated from the top division. Two months later, he was appointed as Grimsby Town manager, placing a firm emphasis on deepening the bonds between the fans, the club, and the larger community. Thus far this summer, he does not appear to have been backed all that well by Fenty, but there are still more than a couple of weeks of the window remaining at the time of writing.
Ins: Louis Robles (San Roque), Jordan Cook (Luton Town), Sam Russell (Forest Green Rovers), Jake Hessenthaler (Gillingham), Elliott Whitehouse (Lincoln City), John Welsh (Preston North End), Harry Davis (St. Mirren), Alex Whitmore (Chesterfield) & Akin Famewo (Luton Town on loan).
Outs: Ben Killip (free agent), Sean McAllister (free agent), Ben Davies (free agent), Jack Keeble (free agent), Karleigh Osbourne (free agent), Nathan Clarke (free agent), Tom Sawyer (free agent), Scott Vernon (free agent), Zak Mills (Morecambe), Luke Summerfield (Wrexham), Gary McSheffrey (free agent), James Berrett (free agent), Sam Kelly (Hamilton Academical) & Sirki Dembélé (Peterborough United).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: On paper, the current personnel are certainly well-suited to a central defensive three. James McKeown is a highly regarded and calming influence in goal. Danny Collins will need to pass on his accumulated years of wisdom to his partners on either side. Superb in the air and more than competent at hitting long, accurate balls to the strikers, his lack of pace will see him sit a little deeper than the other two. Akin Famewo should plenty of gametime during his loan spell, and his left foot will help retain the shape of the trio. Alex Whitmore has a tendency to be drawn from his line, but his balance helps him not go to ground needlessly.
On the left, Andrew Fox is not a natural fit for a wing-back, although he will work extremely hard to not get caught out positionally. Reece Hall-Johnson has the dynamism to push the unit up 10 yards, as there could be a real danger of it appearing more like a flat five when faced with opponents who have the craft and guile to retain the ball far away from their own goal for long periods of time.
John Welsh would make an excellent choice as captain, but the days of him making late runs to the edge of the penalty area are almost certainly behind the anchor man. He will hold fort in front of the defence and help to dictate the tempo, if given the chance to. Jake Hessanthaler and Martyn Woolford are likely to duke it out for one of the other two berths, but in this shape, I’d favour the former getting the nod. He’s reasonably quick and good in the air, but you’re unlikely to find him breaking the lines or drifting wide in support of the wing-back.
Mitchell Rose is the standout talent in midfield. The onus will be on him to carry the ball closer to the front two, as the Mariners seem to lack willing runners. Possessing both outstanding strength and stamina, the 24 year-old will be the key man. JJ Hooper is best deployed deeper than the main striker or as a wide forward. Here, he will be tasked with being the link man between M. Rose and Jordan Cook. His dribbling ability and agile nature could help find him in behind, although he will need to improve on his finishing if he is to lead the line.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Circling the relegation drain; it’s not often whilst writing a preview that I significantly change my mind about a team’s prospects for the season. There’s always the caveat to fall back on that there’s still time for Jolley to bring in at least another left wing-back and a striker with a proven track record. He might do both of those. Losing Elliott Whitehouse for almost the entirety of 2018/2019 is a hammer blow Grimsby will do brilliantly to ameliorate, if possible. The squad as a whole look neat and tidy on the ball but desperately lacking a spark to create chances, let alone finish them off. The manager must now receive the go-ahead to make some headway in the summer window, or it could be another long old season for Town.