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Match Previews

Conference Preview

6 August 2014

So, here we are. Another season on the horizon; the fifth, and hopefully the last Conference Premier campaign the Mariners are involved in. The curtain-raiser at Bristol Rovers is just one week away and naturally thoughts turn to another promotion battle. Will 2014/15 be the season that Grimsby Town finally make a return to the Football League? The Conference is clearly a difficult league to get out of but the early signs are positive for Paul Hurst's side.

New Signings 

Paul Hurst's strategy in the transfer market was seemingly to target players with solid experience at this level. Scott Brown and Aristote Nsiala earned rave reviews at Southport last year, with former manager John Coleman labelling Brown "comfortably the best midfielder in the Conference." Meanwhile, Nsiala has already left an impression on those Mariners supporters who watched either match against Southport last season. 

Jack Mackreth, a permanent signing from Macclesfield and long-term target of Hurst, and Nathan Arnold, on loan from Cambridge, bring energy and pace to Town's attack. Carl Magnay offers versatility in defence and was a regular in the Gateshead side that defeated Town in last season's playoff semi-final. Incidentally, he was also the winner of Sky 1 talent search Football Icon, from which he earned a professional contract with Chelsea. Craig Clay and Jon-Paul Pittman then impressed sufficiently on trial to earn one-year deals with the club. And now we see the arrival of Scunthorpe United defender Andrew Boyce who was, of course, on loan with the Mariners last season.  

Contract Extensions 

The retention of key players such as James McKeown, Craig Disley, Scott Neilson and Lenell John-Lewis was equally as important as the new signings, if not more so. While several players departed during the off-season, only Alex Rodman and Andi Thanoj were offered new deals at the club. Shaun Pearson, Aswad Thomas and Ross Hannah also remain at Blundell Park. That continuity - 7 of last season's typical first 11 - could hold an advantage for Grimsby in a league whose clubs often oversee high turnover of players.

The 5-year Rule

The last two winners of this division, Luton (2013/14) and Mansfield (2012/13), were both crowned champions in their fifth season in the Conference following relegation from League 2. This is Town's fifth attempt at promotion back into the Football League.

In what will be Paul Hurst's first full season in sole charge of the team, there are several sides chasing promotion. Here are a few of the clubs who will be looking to stand in Grimsby's way:

Bristol Rovers: It may be rare for a relegated team to bounce straight back up to League 2, but Bristol Rovers will surely be among the favourites this year. Our first opponents have managed to retain some key players from last year, including striker Ryan Brunt, and have added experience with the likes of Lee Mansell and Andy Monkhouse. Ex-Mariner Steve Mildenhall should also line up against Town on August 9th.

Forest Green: The Conference Premier's longest-serving club have finished 10th for three consecutive seasons but are always tipped for promotion due to strong financial backing. They certainly possess goal threats, with a strike force of Lee Hughes, James Norwood and new signing Jon Parkin, who was recently released by Fleetwood Town. 

Gateshead: Gary Mills will be looking to take his side one step further this time around having suffered defeat in the playoff final at Wembley back in May. The Heed have already announced nine signings at the time of writing, including Jon Shaw, JJ O'Donnell and of course Alex Rodman. Mills has already achieved promotion from the Football Conference, back in 2012 with York City.

Eastleigh: Winners of the Conference South last season, Eastleigh are being tipped by many to earn back-to-back promotions into the Football League - an objective which was outlined in 2011 as part of a 5-year plan following Bridle Insurance's takeover of the club. They're another side with a host of attacking options - among them new signings Jack Midson and James Constable. 


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