It was back to an old page in his tactics’ textbook for Grimsby Town boss Russell Slade in the Mariners’ Checkatrade Trophy tie at local rivals Scunthorpe United on Tuesday night.
During his first spell at Blundell Park, 13 years ago, the former Cardiff and Coventry chief was famed for an adventurous 3-4-3 formation that would see a smaller ball-playing defender sandwiched by two big centre halves, two holding midfielders, two non-linear wingbacks and an attacking midfielder behind the two strikers.
This time around the honours went to Zak Mills as the sweeper, Mitch Rose and Harry Clifton in the centre of the park, Tom Bolarinwa and Sam Kelly out wide, with Norwich loanee Diallang Jaiyesimi given the free role ‘in the hole’.
And for 43 minutes the Mariners played football that belied their mid-table League Two billing, passing and pressing their loftier Lincolnshire rivals off a bowling green-like Glanford Park pitch.
Clifton had a great opportunity to open the scoring on the quarter-hour when a corner was half-cleared to the penalty spot but his shot was charged down.
JJ Hooper then got in down the right channel after a rapid break from deep by the fleet-footed Bolarinwa; the ex-Port Vale striker firing over the angle of bar and post.
On 32 minutes the visitors got the lead their play deserved. Kelly and Hooper linked up well down the left, before the ball found its way into Jaiyesimi and he skipped inside to fire the ball underneath Iron stopper Rory Watson for his first Grimsby goal.
But this formation requires the midfield men to look after the ball and the Mariners didn’t meet that requirement on 43 minutes, leading to Scunthorpe’s equaliser.
Bolarinwa was caught up the field after a loose pass on the other side of the field and that left a gaping hole that Kevin van Veen filled.
His shot was superbly turned away by Ben Killip in the Town goal but Tom Hopper was on hand to fire the rebound in through a crowd of players.
For the second half, the Mariners switched to a 4-5-1 formation. Mills went to his more familiar role of right back, whilst Cardwell moved out to the right with Bolarinwa taking up a central role and Kelly shifting to left back with Jaiyesimi wide left.
And that meant the visitors lost some of their momentum and they were indebted to young Killip for a string of saves that kept van Veen and Paddy Madden at bay.
Clifton came close with a header as the Mariners regrouped. Former Iron favourite Martyn Woolford then entered the fray to replace Mills.
This meant the all-action Clifton slotted in at right back, before Siriki Dembele was brought on for Jaiyesimi as the Mariners searched for a winner.
But it was the hosts who snatched that winning goal with ten minutes of the game remaining. Killip came for a corner and didn’t get to it and when Madden headed back goalwards, van Veen was on hand to flick home from almost on the goal-line.
Scott Vernon was the Mariners’ last throw of the dice, replacing Hooper with eight minutes remaining but it was fellow sub Dembele who came closest to an equaliser, nipping in behind Murray Wallace at the back but seeing Watson block his poked effort, before being crowded out in the 18-yard box in injury time.
Victory sees Scunthorpe through from the group stages, whilst the Mariners exit at the first hurdle for the second season running.
Iron: Watson; Sutton, Wallace, Burgess, Butroid; Redmond, Mantom, Adelakun; van Veen, Hopper, Madden. Subs not used: Gilks, Morris, Bishop, Novak, Holmes, McArdle, Hornshaw.
Mariners: Killip; Osborne, Mills (Woolford), Collins; Bolarinwa, Rose, Clifton, Kelly; Jaiyesimi (Dembele); Hooper (Vernon), Cardwell. Subs not used: McKeown, Dixon, Jones, Matt.