This was first published in the Cleethorpes Chronicle right after the disaster that was Town's home performance. It was 1st April and the Mariners were the fools, losing 5 - 1 to their close-ish local rivals.
Town v Donny
I'd been looking forward to the game all week, assuring the kids that it was for fixtures like this that we so desperately wanted to be back in the Football League; it was the kind of game in which a stuttering Town team excels: a full away end to make sure the Pontoon would match the players' stubborn resistance and a decent team come to give us a decent game. This wasn't going to be like those Lincoln games with the travelling Imps who can take thousands to Arsenal but can't even fill the Osmond. This was going to be a special day that even an early kick-off couldn't spoil.
Eldest's protests that he'd seen Doncaster on the telly and they looked really good only stoked the excitement. This was the kind of game that we looked forward to. This was the League 2 equivalent of those home fixtures against Wolves and the Sheffields back in the 90s and early millennium when we would battle and frustrate those 'better' opponents.
Then the team sheet. It felt like a betrayal. Here was a chance to see the climax of our return to the Football League: spring sunshine for a proper game with proper competition and proper fans. And Bignot didn't take it.
That team was full of inconsistencies and bizarre choices: in Dan Jones we have a competent support for the full backs and in Comley we have a good holding midfielder, strong in the tackle and comfortable on the ball. The latter played wide and the former central in a melange of a formation whose shape could only be described as WHY? At the back Bignot upped his selection from bizarre to weird: in Gunny we have a player neither midfielder nor defender, too slow, too easily knocked aside, too quick to complain. Partnering him we had Boyce, a defender who is strong and tireless but is surely not good enough. Both were chosen to play against the best team in the division and both allowed the Rovers' forwards to move through the back four almost at will. Only a couple of point-blank saves from McKeown and some poor finishing from the Donny forwards stopped us from being two or three down by the time Sam Jones scored the opener. Bignot claims we started well and caused Doncaster all sorts of problems, but I didn't see it; the goal came from nowhere, a bit like the straws the manager so desperately clings to.
He is right about Sam Jones, but the forward is rapidly becoming the only source of optimism in our staccato run-in. A positive player, full of energy and questions about how he's spent so long below this level. But other than that what was the point? What was learned? What could have been learned from this experiment? What was the message from manager to players and fans? Pre-season friendlies in March and a glut of players clamouring to leave the club
Off the pitch we have players whose competence has been proven; Pearson, Collins, McAllister, Bolarinwa, Disley. Out of the club there are players who matched and exceeded players brought in. Does Yusuf bring anything more than Jackson or Chambers? Clement any more than McAllister? If Henderson had been recalled a week later would we have found ourselves without a goalkeeper and enjoying a late flirt with relegation? Bignot flirts with the town and the club, teasing us as if we are his project with which to experiment. He speaks confidently and assures us of honesty, promising us he will never duck the hard questions. But in his post-match interview he goes over old ground bemoaning the departure of Bogle. He blames defenders for not signing contracts. He puts Doncaster's success down to money. He makes references to a new ground still nowhere near its beginning let alone ready to host League One football. He reminds us of where we were twelve months ago and that perhaps we need to show a bit of gratitude for the job done this year. He implies tactical genius and expert man-management on his own part and poor defending and attitude on the part of the players. Duck and cover seems his first response. I wonder, does he still go to restaurants after defeats to show his face as he told us he would? I hope Fenty's expenses policy is generous if he does.
By the end it felt as if we were denied our last 'big' game of the season as we watched the players' hands firmly tied behind their backs. A season of celebration has turned sour with this sickly run-in. There's always next year, but if it starts like this in August then that sourness will quickly turn to echoing anger in a half-empty stadium.