Tactical analysis: How Grimsby’s resolute defensive unit frustrated Bury

League Two 2018/19 tactical analysis: Grimsby Town vs Bury
artwork by @chapluana

Grimsby Town entertained Bury at home in the League Two last weekend. The home team was hoping to steal a victory against high flying Bury during this game. In the end, they didn’t manage to get the win, but still got a point against a decent Bury side.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at two tactical trends during this League Two game. We will have a look at the formations of both teams, how Bury manifested themselves going forward and how Grimsby were set up defensively.


Credit: Wyscout.

Grimsby against Bury ended in a 0-0 draw, which was disappointing for Bury because of their promotion-chasing dreams. It was a game that was battled out in the midfield with many players in that particular area of the pitch.

The home team opted for a 3-4-1-2 formation with a back three supported by a four man midfield. Grimsby hadn’t won in four games and manager Michael Jolley wanted to put in a solid display against a strong Bury side. Especially, wide-midfielders Ring and Hendrie provided support going forward, but also when the home team were playing defensively.

The away team hoped to get an advantage with quick attacks to surprise the Grimsby defence with their 3-5-2 formation. Going forward, their entire midfield would assist the two strikers Maynard and Lovery in their attempts to score.

Bury’s attack

Bury had the task of breaking through the tough Grimsby defence – which I will touch upon a bit later. Their 3-5-2 formation was built to be very attacking and to make runs at the Grimsby defence, with the whole midfield supporting the two strikers.

Bury’s 3-5-2

In order to burst through the Grimsby defence, Bury needed to go all-in with the attack. This meant that the back three of Wharton-Thompson-O’Connell closed into the midfield when the visitors were in possession of the ball. The wide-midfielders, McFadzean and Adams, made runs down the line in order to assists the two strikers Maynard and Lovery.

The core of the attack started with back three playing high with the three central midfielders receiving the passes. The attacks were constructed from the midfield, who played close to the defence, as you can see below.

Three defenders and three midfielders when in attack

After the midfield got possession of the ball, the concept of their attack changed. Bury tried to create spaces between the lines with short passes, followed by actions of the wide-midfielders, McFadzean and Adams.

Quick attack with movement from the wide-midfielders

The visitors tried to open up the Grimsby defence by creating quick and short passes combined with good movement. The strikers receive the ball from the defenders or the central midfielders, and after that, they give the ball to the wide-midfielders. They would make runs down the line and attempt to cross to the strikers Maynard and Lovery.

Grimsby’s decisive defense

Grimsby’s defence needed to step up to make sure they didn’t lose against Bury. As said above, they wanted to do that in a defensive 3-4-1-2 formation. This might not seem very defensive with the three defenders, but in reality, there were many numbers behind the ball in defence.

Grimsby Town’s defense 3-4-1-2

As it looks like the defence only consists of three men, this changes when the team goes into defensive mode. The wide-midfielders Ring and Hendrie drop a line and the defensive transforms into a five-man defence.

Wide-midfielders Hendrie and Ring help the defense

On the image above you can see the wide-midfielders drop down in support of three defenders who now transform into central defenders. But the wide-midfielders are not the only ones to drop down. Also, the central midfielders help with the defending.

Woolford and Hessenthaler play in front of the defence

When there was pressure from the visitors, the Grimsby defence always had five defenders supported by two midfielders. Those seven players could keep a clean sheet. The compact defence of Grimsby Town made it frustrating for the visitors to get through the final third of the pitch, which saw the home team clinch a point rather comfortably.

Final thoughts

Bury came to Cleethorpes searching for another three points to maintain their push to League One, but their attacking style of play was stifled by the tough Grimsby defence.

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