Talk of the Town: Grimsby's loan trio so crucial to promotion dream
By Lee Jones
I MIGHT be getting ahead of myself here – but it's looks like January could be the month that makes or breaks Grimsby Town's promotion hopes.
Not because the Mariners face six very winnable league matches in just 26 days, or because two-thirds of the campaign will have been and gone by February 1.
And not even because Town's remarkable unbeaten surge last season encompassed that very month – yielding six victories from seven matches.
But, perhaps more importantly than all that, January could be the Mariners' first month without their loan rangers.
Current deals with Ross Hannah, Scott Neilson and Nathan Pond all come to an end by the start of 2013.
And Tuesday's win at Alfreton illustrated perfectly the importance of Town's trio of temporary signings.
In a season dominated by draws, especially on the road, Neilson and Hannah showed exactly what they bring to the table – with goals towards the end of each half turning one point into three.
Meanwhile, at the back, Pond won his headers, made timely interceptions and tackled anything that moved as Town picked up their eighth clean sheet of the season.
Marshalled by the on-loan Fleetwood man, the Mariners' backline has the best defensive record in the division going into this afternoon's clash at AFC Telford.
The back four has conceded nine goals in 14 games matches – and remarkably, been breached just three times on its travels. Impressive stuff.
True, Town's squad ranks amongst the strongest in the league, even without the loan trio.
Ian Miller and Simon Ford wait patiently in the wings for a vacant central defensive berth.
Frankie Artus and Louie Soares – currently on loan at Ebbsfleet – are keeping an eye on the left-midfield role occupied by Neilson.
And Messrs Cook, Elding, Southwell and Greg Pearson all have designs on the striking spots.
But, for all that strength in depth, the arrival of the loan lads has undoubtedly given the Mariners an extra dimension – maybe even taken them to another level.
Pond's composure and leadership at the back has even rubbed off on his team-mates.
Centre-back partner Shaun Pearson gets more commanding with every game alongside him; Bradley Wood looks every ounce a Football League right-back; and Aswad Thomas can fly up the left flank at will, safe in the knowledge that Pond has got his back.
Neilson's ability to ghost past his marker means the opposition have to cope with flying wingers down both flanks, with Joe Colbeck continuing to impress on the opposite side.
The Crawley man also has a penchant for cutting inside off the left touchline to join Town's attacks, allowing Thomas to overlap into the space created out wide.
With last season's top scorer Liam Hearn out of action for the foreseeable future, thanks to a ruptured Achilles, Hannah has been a godsend for the Mariners.
Three goals in his five appearances since joining Town show what the Bradford City forward is all about – he's a goalscorer, pure and simple.
His finishes, against Luton, Gateshead and Alfreton, were straight out of the top drawer and typical of the 'fox in the box.'
The fact that both Pond and Neilson have eased out of this division as champions over the last two seasons with their parent clubs must also hold some sway.
That 'been there, seen it, done it' attitude could be crucial to the Mariners' dressing room in such an open promotion race.
It certainly won't do any harm if they're still around the place come April.
But that's a big 'if' until we get to January.
So, can the Mariners keep hold their loan rangers beyond the end of the year? Do Town have enough to challenge for promotion without them? And which of the trio would you want to keep the most?
Let me know your thoughts by commenting online at thisisgrimsby.co.uk\sport, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweeting me @grimsbysport