Giving it all away

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

1 March 2003

Grimsby Town 0 Coventry City 2

A clear afternoon with a surprisingly chill and occasionally stiff breeze blowing haphazardly around the ground. Around 300 Midlanders joined in the holy commune of morose silence, arms folded, head bowed, cheeks jowled. It was difficult to work out whose expectations were lower. Ours. Always are, aren't they. That's the definition of a Grimbarian.

The pre-match warm up was enlivened by nothing more exciting than the Mighty Mariner banging a drum and turning his head backwards, like the Exorcist, but without the green vomit and spiders crawl. Perhaps he should try that next time to enlarge his repertoire? Or maybe he should re-enact great scenes from great movies (suggestions to the club only), though I'd plump for the scene in Alien where android Ash gets his head knocked off by a fire extinguisher. The footballers? Well, there were some interesting omissions from the squad, and I'm not referring to the unmystifying absence of J Rowan, a local boy. No Barnard, no Cooke; Livingstone sporting an orange bib, Groves wearing tracksuit bottoms like knickerbockers. With just the addition of a baggy cloth cap and a walking stick he would have been the spitting image of George V. I'm digressing again, aren't I?

Town lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Santos, Gallimore, Campbell, Coldicott, Pouton, Hughes, Oster and Boulding. The substitutes were Allaway, Chettle, Groves, Mansaram and Livingstone. Oster played around, about, occasionally near, Boulding, with Campbell on the right and Hughes on the left. Hughes, Oster and Pouton all received cheery welcomes. Coventry lined up in a 4-4-2 formation wearing a striking all-yellow ensemble, with royal blue flashings running from shoulder to hip. Very tasteful. Up front they had Lincolnshire Lad Julian "Ooh, look at me hair" Joachim and Matt Jansen. Everyone ignored Jansen, forgetting he'd decided to join Coventry instead of us. We can't even be bothered to heckle the opponents these days. Everyone ignored Joachim's hair, which was an act of kindness on our part, but there again Chippo was on the pitch, and one bad hair is enough to distract even the most diligent member of the Anti-Hairy League. At right-back they had a little lad called Whing, which was a shame for lazy hacks, as "Whing on the wing" has a nice ring to it.

First half

Coventry kicked off towards the Pontoon. The ball didn't go out of play. The crowd barely noticed the game going on and were bored very quickly, for nothing was going on. Town started incredibly sluggishly, and worryingly ineptly. There was a shambolic structure in front of us swaying in the wind. Hughes drifted infield so far he was virtually standing on Coldicott; while Santos and Ford were still awaiting a formal introduction from the party's host. Campbell decided McDermott needed help and played so deeply he was a mini-Macca, but without the sense of positioning, timing and strength, or indeed sense. Oster and Boulding kept running into the same places. Pouton trotted; Coldicott sat in front of the defence; Gallimore was Corporal Jones. Ahh, Galli. The tone was set early on, after just a couple of minutes when Coventry broke down their right. Hughes was still in his hotel, combing his hair to get just the right curl above his collar, and two Coventry players belted down the touchline. Gallimore took one step forward, then turned around and sprinted towards the corner flag pursued by two men in yellow and a ball.

Coventry had a plan - that was clear. Their midfielders, especially the human dynamo, Pead, hared around and hassled any meandering monochromer who had the ball. Their central defenders allowed Oster or Boulding no time to control the ball and turn past them. Their forwards moved. Their midfielders passed; their full backs ran up in support. They played like a team. That's almost cheating - don't they know the rules of football? It's March; our opponents are supposed to lay down before us. Jansen and Joachim kept drifting off their markers into space, with Pead and Chippo bursting past Coldicott and the inert Pouton. The ball was rarely whacked forward, but tapped into the spaces. It was most disconcerting to see a whirl of yellow swirling around static black and white.

Five minutes - a shot. Coventry broke as described in the last sentence, ending with Eustace whacking a shot from 20 yards, which sailed safely over the centre of the goal. Town had brief encounters with the Coventry penalty area, but it was unrequited love. Boulding almost dribbled into the area, but he never had the ball under control and simply Donovaned into the defender; that is, he ran into Eustace and fell over like a prawn.

After about 10 minutes, Town got a corner on the left and played it short to Hughes, who had drifted into an interesting position just inside the penalty area. Hughes faffed about and the ball eventually made its way across the face of the area to Coldicott, who sidestepped a couple of challenges and briefly had a sight of goal before a third defender tackled him. The ball squirmed out to Gallimore, 25 yards out, who smacked a first-time drive through the area. The ball was deflected at an angle of 78 degrees, spinning curiously, but slowly towards the goalkeeper on the left-hand side of his goal. Boulding advanced and the keeper easily scooped the ball away from football's greatest ever tennis player. In short, a messy scramble with a rubbish shot.

There were brief moments when Town threatened to pass to someone who may have thought about shooting, and even a moment when someone did pass to someone who did shoot. McDermott chipped a long high pass down an inside right channel. Boulding sprinted clear and allowed the ball to drop, controlling with his thigh. He cut inside the defender and completely mis-hit a left-footed shot, which dribbled pathetically through to the goalkeeper. For the avoidance of any doubt, that was Town's shot on target. The only one. That aside, there was not even a blocked tackle or badly placed through pass that can be spun by the official Downing Street spokesmen into a shot. There is no need for any pre-emptive action, for there is not one shred of evidence to suggest that Town strikers would pose a threat to anyone in the future. After Jansen had curled a shot very wide of Coyne's goal - no, it's more accurate to say very wide of the penalty area - inertia set in. This looked like a terrible 0-0 game, and only 15 minutes gone.

A couple of minutes later this looked like a terrible 0-1 game. Hughes absent, Gallimore flapping, Coventry right winger, a little chap named Partridge, in loads of space about 25 yards out . He curled in a cross towards the centre of the penalty area, but no danger: Ford was in front of Jansen, time for a snooze. Oh dearie me. FORD, near the penalty spot, flicked a superb header over Coyne and in off the underside of the bar. Stunned silence, followed by crumpling shoulders and a brief moment of support and defiance from some of the Pontoon, as they attempted to lift the team. They were the younger members of the Pontoon, who lack the experience to see when the horse is dead.

Town did respond, well, sort of. Coldicott crunched, Campbell whizzed; a cross finally went beyond the first defender and their goalkeeper punched the ball away as Boulding challenged. A brief flurry of activity only. Town were just inept. Hardly three passes were strung together, with every Town player seemingly having a difficulty with the colour yellow. They looked up, and just could not see that big bloke dressed in yellow stood 10 yards away. All of which simply allowed Coventry to break away, usually through Partridge, who terrorised Gallimore all afternoon. A series of crosses from their right curled into the centre of the penalty area, with Coyne alert and plucking them all from the air, or scooping off the turf.

With about 10 minutes left to half time, something finally happened. Unfortunately it happened in front of the frustrated and seething Pontoon. Santos intercepted a pass, then proceeded to tap the ball directly to a Coventry player 10 yards outside the Town penalty area on the left. He raised his arm slowly in apology, turned his back - yes, turned his back - on play and walked back towards the corner flag. Partridge ran past the French Fancy and the ball was simply stroked into the huge space behind the Gigantic Gangly Gaul. Santos saw this, but still walked. Partridge raced into the area, hit the by-line and cut a cross back into the centre. Chippo's shot was blocked and fell to Jansen, around the penalty spot with Coyne running back towards the goal, and the shot was sliced to somewhere in the extremities of the Pontoon. Lucky Town, shoddy Santos. Disgraceful play really, but as it was Gorgeous Georges, he didn't get any heckling from crowd or players.

Only one more effort on goal in the first half, when Chippo blocked an attempted Santos chip deep inside the Coventry half. Chippo raced onto the loose ball and dribbled up to the Town penalty area, before curling a shot a few feet wide. That's it. Coventry wasted oodles of opportunities with overhit and underhit passing, and just plain careless play. Town had a series of corners, which were all wasted, just like the crossing opportunities. Each and everyone failed to rise above the Coventry player at the near post. In the last minute of the half there was a minor scramblette in the Coventry penalty area, with a deflected shot that bumbled through towards their keeper with Town players hopping about. The half ended. Some booed, others ran off to the toilet as quickly as possible.

Analysis? The word rubbish sums it up. Everything was wrong: the players' attitude, the formation, the tactics. The team was totally imbalanced by Hughes, who is as much capable of playing in a wide position as Coldicott. Boulding and Oster fluttered occasionally, but these butterflies were crushed upon the wheels of two giant centre-backs. Oster tried to do it all on his own, and all the other players seemed like they were content for that to be the modus operandi. Pouton was a waste of space. The adrenalin-soaked rampaging of the Stoke game was replaced by a delicate wallflower, glued to the same spot. He did one stepover, which was a stepover in the right direction, but that was all. At one point he surged upfield from the Town penalty area, down the left, and at no point did he have the ball under control, which rather sums up his contribution today.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"There was more football played when I went to the dentist."
"You can only be happy when you aren't here, normally on Thursday evenings."
"Don't worry, Livvo will come on at half time and murder their keeper."
"Do you think the GET will report Coventry's Pead all over Town then?"
"Town are like a lobster in a pan - they think the water is nice and warm."

Second half

Neither team made any changes at half time, though Town did emerge very, very late, leaving the Coventry players standing around like curdling lemons for nearly five minutes.

Town were ever so slightly better for a bit. Boulding almost broke clear after Oster tricked, but didn't. The resulting corner finally brought some salty skill to the dinner table. Taken short on the Town left, Oster shimmed infield then swayed to the by-line, foxtrotting past the defender. He cut infield and, from just inside the penalty area, curled a cross towards the far post. The ball skidded off a defender's head, just missing the far post. Another corner followed, but failed.

The momentum was beginning to swing towards Town. Hughes finally did something - a cracking tackle in midfield that allowed Pouton the opportunity to kindle the fire in his belly, to get that testosterone a-pumping. Pouton surged down the middle, with Oster and Boulding unmarked to his right. Thirty yards out Pouton decided to thwack a low shot into the bottom right hand corner of the goal. Deciding and doing are two mutually exclusive concepts for Pouton in this mood. The ball dribbled over the grass like an apologetic serf, passing several yards wide of the goal, with barely enough energy to disturb a sleeping steward. A brief moment of hope. The fingertips were about to lose their grip.

After about 10 minutes, Coventry roused themselves from their temporary torpor. Jansen was suddenly free and behind Santos 10 yards to the left of goal. Santos managed to get out of a trot and swooped down upon Jansen as he was about to shoot. Santos slid into touch, while the ball and Jansen remained on the pitch. Coyne raced out of goal and blocked the resulting shot with his chest. The corner, from their right, was smacked towards the centre of goal, about 10 yards out. Konjic, the big Bosnian bruiser, barged forward and smacked a powerful header back across goal. Campbell, standing next to the post, wobbled on the goal-line, and the ball seemed to brush against his thigh and out. There was a bit of a scramble as the ball came in, then out, with Chippo surging forward down the middle, about 25 yards out. Chippo fell spectacularly before a Town boot came near him, performing a piked double Lutz and twist. The referee ignored this overtly theatrical tumble, allowing play to continue, in the form of a Town counterattack.

Oster, supported by Campbell and Boulding, drove forward with just a couple of defenders back-pedalling. Instead of passing to the unmarked Campbell, our hero attempted to chip the goalkeeper from about 40 yards out. The ball drifted a foot or so over the bar. Sounds close. It wasn't. It never looked like it was going in. It was over-indulgent nonsense. Chippo was finally booked by the referee for his dive and claimed injury. The Moroccan had stayed down so long that he just had to go through with it, limping somewhat suspiciously away with the physio as the referee shook the yellow card towards him. The Coventry fans howled further displeasurable sentiments towards the referee as Pead lay down holding his fetlock; and play continued, with Town absolutely refusing to kick the ball out.

Around the hour mark Mansaram was seen preparing to come on. At last, but too late. After 62 minutes Joachim wiggled himself clear to the right of the Town area, turned, cut in, and dribbled past Ford, who lunged. Joachim tumbled, the ball went out of play and the referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot. EUSTACE strolled forward and smacked the penalty down the middle as Coyne dived right. The ball hit the underside of the bar and rolled down the back of the net.

Within a minute or so Mansaram replaced Pouton, which annoyed sections of the crowd, who had conveniently overlooked Pouton's ineffective amblings. He just looked unfit. Town reverted to 4-4-2 with Oster on the right wing, and within a couple of minutes Town created something with actual factual football. You know - passing, movement, excitement. Mansaram robbed a Coventry defender 25 yards out, near the police box. Oster combined with McDermott, who surged forward into the penalty area, receiving the wall pass back. McDermott, at pace, reached the by-line and pulled a cross back past the sprawling keeper to Campbell, at the near post two yards out. Under pressure, Campbell managed to knock the ball a foot or so wide of the near post. If anyone was in any doubt that Town would lose, then this rather confirmed it. A resigned air fell upon the crowd and seemingly the players, for the rest of the game was just seeing out time for the sake of it. Had the rules of the game not compelled them to play the remaining 25 minutes, they would have left the pitch there and then.

Coventry enjoyed themselves, realising that Town were beaten and just waiting for the referee to end the misery. And they were intent on piling on more of it, with Partridge the source of their devilment. Somewhere within this nether world of the last 20 minutes Partridge dribbled towards Gallimore, who just backed off, and off, and off, like those contestants in It's A Knockout with an elasticated rope tied to their midriff and a tray of water in their hands. Galli kept dropping the water. Back to Partridge, who went down the left, cut past Gallimore inside the penalty area and curled a shot from a dozen yards to Coyne's right. Coyne reacted late and parried the ball sideways, straight to the unmarked Jansen, who sliced the rebound wide from the centre of the area.

Shortly later this scene was replayed, this time with Coyne diving to his right, punching the ball superbly, but straight to the unmarked Chippo, who mangled it wide from about six yards out. Chippo began to enjoy himself immensely, having declared a 12-mile total exclusion zone around himself, which Town dutifully complied with. He could do what he wanted, but fortunately that didn't include shooting straight. The nearest he came was after a 30-yard unmolested surge down the middle and a whipped shot that zoomed low across Coyne and a yard or so wide.

It looked like half the Town team had given up, with the players ignoring McDermott's attempts to rally. Many a back was turned as the captain exhorted his troops. It was all very like those old Spike Milligan shows where the sketch had run its course, and they don't know how to end it. Just think of the Town midfield shuffling slowly across the pitch towards the tunnel: "What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now?" Vast areas of Blundell Park were left uninhabited, with Hughes and Coldicott trotting back when Coventry attacked, and Ford and Santos divorced. What about Campbell? He gave Gallimore as much help as Hughes had done in the first half - and, oh, how right that he is described in the club calendar as the midfield magician. As in the ability to disappear in a puff?

Coventry probably had other efforts on goal; who cares, so what, the Town fans seeped away steadily as the game drifted. A flock of starlings swirled around Blundell Park in the last five minutes; was I dreaming or were they flying in formation and spelling out the word garbage in the sky? If you really want to know, Boulding was replaced by Livingstone with what may have been 15 minutes left. Again sections of the crowd booed, but hey, what had Boulding done? Apart from take a few heavy tackles and limp? Near the end Coldicott was replaced by Groves, to much sarcastic cheering. Harsh on Coldicott: he was not the worst Town player, by far. But he is the official club scapegoat, the latest in a long line stretching back to Phil Bonnyman, Bobby Mitchell and beyond into the era of short shorts and black and white photographs. Livingstone's first two contributions were fouls, so he's back to form then.

To enliven proceedings Coventry brought on a substitute, Engonga, which the tannoy pronounced as "a conker", though at least one person misheard this as "a plonker". I've given you the line, now you make your own joke, inserting the Town player of your choice deep within the punchline.

Three minutes of added time enabled more people to leave early, thus clearing the streets for the die-hards. Rarely has Brereton Avenue been so free of traffic at 5 o'clock. Perhaps Mr (K) Livingstone should have had a perpetual Town game in inner London, rather than a congestion charge?

Maybe the only way to deal with this game is to bury your head in the sand for 48 hours and hope things will get better. Certainly the team selection was bizarre from the outset, as if the management had asked Lennie Lawrence for some tips. There was no part of the team that looked competent, with the best performers being merely adequate. Santos was at times disgracefully indifferent to events going on inches from his boot, while Ford seems to be playing in fear of fault. Gallimore? Pffft. For Coldicott see Ford; Pouton unfit; Hughes a slowcoach out of position; Boulding weak; Oster wanted to do it all on his own. Campbell? Who? Rotten, rotting, going, going, almost gone. The second division doesn't seem so bad a prospect, does it? Almost over now. Can you see any glimmer of hope?

Nicko's man of the match

No-one deserves it. Perhaps McDermott was the least bad, in that he made no mistakes and played adequately.

Official warning
K Hill

Disgracefully, I can find nothing to complain about. That's two weeks running Town have had competent referees. That's not football as we know it. His mark? Well, a grudging acceptance that 7.562 is appropriate.