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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 15/03/03, 3pm
Grimsby Town
By Matt Rowson

"I can't manoeuvre!"

"Stay on target!"

"We're too close!"

"Stay on target!"

"Loosen up..."

Star Wars

So let's be absolutely clear. This is Grimsby. Not Southampton. I'm writing about Grimsby. Stripes, yes; coast, yes; Southampton, no. Fine. That's clear.

The League, then. Ah, yes. And suddenly we're seventeenth, when a win against that god-awful Preston side would have seen us eighth at the time of writing in this ludicrous division whose mid-table now sees nine teams within just two points. Interestingly, Southampton are also mid-table in the Premiership...

Sorry, bit distracted. As, perhaps, were Grimsby when the three self-appointed rubbish sides in the Division took a break from revolving around the relegation positions to leapfrog the Mariners, leaving them bottom. Flicking through the match reports on The Electronic Fishcake, still turning misery into an art form, you can't help but get the feeling that this has been coming with only one win in thirteen games. This run has included a particularly pitiful defeat at home to a Coventry side that looked pretty inept during our last league victory a month ago. Perhaps as a consequence, even mascot the Mighty Mariner didn't bother to show up for the hammering by the surprisingly not-sludging-into-mid-table Sheffield United the following Tuesday.

Since I started this preview I've woken up from another daydream to note that Grimsby showed some fitful signs of life at the City Ground on Monday night, stringing five men across the midfield and annoying the hell out of their hosts to come out with a creditable 2-2 draw. It'll take a bit more than that for Grimsby to make a dramatic escape from the drop for the second season running however, and the support don't seem to be holding out a lot of hope.

In goal for Grimsby will be Antti Niemi. Wait, sh!t, no, he won't. No, that's... Okay. Sorry. Danny Coyne. Definitely. Welsh International with a couple of caps with backup from Leeds loanee Shaun Allaway.

At the back, John McDermott has been at Grimsby forever and is still probably their best defender albeit not as sprightly as he was. Tony Gallimore on the other side has been attracting stick at left-back for as long as I can remember and his reputation hasn't been enhanced by prolonged appearances in drinking establishments in the area. A spell in the team for another Welsh International, Darren Barnard, would not be unpopular.

In the centre of an often chaotic defence, Simon Ford is struggling to live up to his early promise. He was partnered on Monday by player-manager Paul Groves although the obdurate Georges Santos has also played at the back. Veteran Steve Chettle is another option.

In midfield, Alan Pouton is an aggressive dynamo who occasionally channels his energy in a sensible direction - he starts a ban after Saturday. Richard Hughes is on loan from Pompey and rumours suggest that he's about to extend his current loan, due to expire shortly. The same is true of local hero John Oster, in his second loan spell from Sunderland this season, although the Mariners' hopes of keeping him probably depend upon whether Mick McCarthy sees him as having anything left to prove at this level or not.

Former Leicester midfielder Stuart Campbell ploughs a fairly anonymous furrow, often down the right. Stacey Coldicott has been injured but there aren't many tears being shed at his absence, unlike that of Terry Cooke, whose continued absence from the team appears to baffle Grimsby's websites and messageboards.

Up front, the leggy Darren Mansaram will start unless the limp that was noticed at the end of Monday's game manifests itself as something more serious. Another ex-Mariner back on loan from Villa Park... Villa Park... Villa Park... Michael Boulding, who has been out with an ankle problem but whose pace should be available on Saturday. Steve Livingstone is still around, but has "crossed the rubicon from lovable lump to dirty dishwater" apparently. With Phil Jevons on loan at Hull, youngsters Jonathan Rowan and Chris Thompson are next in line.

Our league form could go one of two ways between now and whatever's happening on April 13th. We could be as hopelessly vague and distracted as this preview has been and end the season in a thoroughly harsh bottom-half nothingness. Or, we could ride the wave of optimism that Sunday's victory has generated and flood back up to the top half, as a Forest-supporting friend suggested happened to his side in the same situation not so long ago. Saturday will set the tone, either way.