12 June ~ It's fair to say that Grimsby Town's first season in non-League football for 100 years didn't quite go to plan. Expecting a deluge of silverware, the club's cleaner had even rearranged the trophy cabinet to make room for a new gong or two. However, despite all the pre-season hype, Town only managed a disappointing 11th placed finish in the Blue Square Bet Premier, ending the campaign nearly as many points off relegation as the play-off places.
Following the Mariners' capitulation away at Burton on the final day of the 2009-10 season, an emotional Neil Woods vowed that he wanted to stay on as manager and help rebuild the club. Seventeen professionals were shown the door and replaced by a dozen or so new boys – most of whom had themselves been culled in an equally ruthless clearout elsewhere. While all the evidence hinted otherwise, in the optimistic melee of pre-season and thanks to one half-decent win over Sheffield Wednesday, Woods seemed confident his squad of journeymen and misfits were strong enough to challenge for promotion. Unfortunately, they weren't.
All too rarely Grimsby showed glimpses of what they were capable of, such as impressive victories against Mansfield (7-2) on New Year's Day and away at Histon (6-1) two days later. But these stand out like the sorest of thumbs in the "match stats" page of the programme. The other games, however, are a melange of score-draws and humiliating home defeats. In 46 games, Town managed to draw 17 with 12 of them coming at home – the highest amount in whole division. Years of knocking around the wrong end of the League table had had an effect on the clubs mentality. Too many times did a goalkeeping error, defensive mix-up or lack concentration cost them, but these were bad habits they'd picked up a long time ago when they at least had the excuse of playing far superior opposition.
Although the Mariners were seldom out of the top ten, there wasn't any point in the season when they ever looked like mounting a serious promotion challenge, especially as big-spending Crawley had already bought promotion before a ball had been kicked. Town's inconsistencies eventually cost Neil Woods his job in February and after Mark Cooper and Steve Burr had apparently turned down the post, young management duo Rob Scott and Paul Hurst made the short trip up the A16 from Boston United to – in the words of Grimsby chairman John Fenty – "try and resurrect our promotion ambitions".
Both Scott and Hurst have been openly quite critical about the team they inherited. They blame a lack of fitness, character, leadership and "a winning mentality" on the clubs lowly league finish. Sadly, they were right. Since the end of the season they have gone about restructuring the whole club. Most of the squad have been told not to report back for pre-season, the reserves have been ditched along with their antiquated scouting team and, so far, they haven't signed any 30-something journeymen – it's as though these guys actually know what they're doing.
Realistically, Grimsby's expectations for next season should be more humble. They have a new management team, new methods and, undoubtedly, come the start of season, a whole host of new faces. Much of the club's immediate success depends on whether 29-goal talisman Alan Connell is sold to the highest bidder. If the board decide to cash in, that would almost certainly condemn the Mariners to another season of anonymity. Rob Andrews