The rub of the green

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

16 November 2002

Grimsby Town 3 Preston North End 3

A misty, murky afternoon with around 500 Prestonians huddled together somewhere down at the Osmond End. The attempts to generate a pre-match atmosphere continued with a canned laughter version of Annie's Song. The Mighty Mariner tried to conduct the Pontoon, but gazes were carefully averted. The matchday programme has never held such interest for so many. Even a second attempt failed to ignite the flames of passion, with just a couple of scarfwavers droning along to the muzak. The Mighty Mariner knows his audience; waggling up and down the goalposts brought some in the crowd to life. Though not many.

The sight of Cooke and McDermott, hands in pockets, waddling across the turf in dark suits, brought dismay. Cooke stopped next to the Town players and joined in the aerobic arm-waggling and stretches. Was this a sign? Or is he a joker?

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Parker, Ford, Gavin, Gallimore, Oster, Coldicott, Pouton, Campbell, Livingstone and Mansaram. The substitutes were Allaway, Groves, Barnard, Rowan and Soames. So Parker was making his debut at right back, with Ward heard to confirm that he was being ‘rested'. Craig Brown stood by the halfway line with a piece of paper in his left hand, staring intently at each Town player, then down at the paper. Probably trying to work out who they were and where the heck they'd play. Brown missed a trick in confusing us, as he failed to pick either Iain Anderson (31) or Ian Anderson (34), perhaps because neither had a beard or a flute. Despite having no past or present members of Jethro Tull in their starting XI they did have some huge blokes, particularly Etuhu and Fuller, and the hack's delight Skora, who isn't a striker, so was unlikely to be eponymous.

First half

Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand. The usual thing: back to Coldicott, over to Gallimore and eventually the opposition get the ball somehow. Within a minute, Fuller had the collective knees of Grimsby shaking with a turning midfield, twist, roll and muscular drive through three challenges. Only his fascination with his own feet, and the arrival of Gallimore, averted danger. Within another minute Fuller did it again, racing past Gavin down the Town left and crossing meekly to the near post, where it was scrambled away. A few seconds later he did it yet again, running down the centre of the pitch, leaving a trail of destruction behind him, Town defenders tossed aside like flimsy caravans in a hurricane. This time it took the combined might of Coldicott, Gavin and Gallimore to form a wall of steel inside the penalty area, which even he couldn't break through.

A brief Town attack down the left, which saw Campbell trick his way through two challenges on the edge of the penalty area and cross to the near post, was the only time Town had the ball. All a bit disconcerting really. After three minutes Town were given a free kick in midfield, on the Town right near the halfway line. How would Town waste it this time? Oster (I think) whacked the ball diagonally towards the edge of the box, level with the far post. One of the lesser haired defenders (which I hoped was Broomes, but was actually Alexander - so the Scunny reject rather than the Grimsby reject) had no Town players near and decided to chest the ball back to the goalkeeper. All so easy, so humdrum, it was barely worth watching. Many turned to continue that fascinating conversation about cheese, or debate the identity of the inventor of the rotary engine. Some reached for the packet of crisps in their coat pocket; others idly stared at the football. And laughed. For the Preston goalkeeper had come right out of his goal to collect the rubbish free kick and was heading home towards Finland. CAMPBELL zipped in and toe-poked the ball into the empty net as the goalkeeper ran after him like a cartoon cat about to be hit by a falling anvil. And how the Preston supporters not 10 yards from Moilanen wished for that anvil to plunge unexpectedly from the sky.

The goal did not change the pattern of the game at all. Town were a complete blancmange; well, not complete - more an unset, slightly mouldy blancmange. The passing was loose, the organisation absent; Preston ran Town ragged, making exceptional use of the intelligent running of Cresswell and the muscular dribbling of Fuller. In no particular order: Fuller, twist, turn, shot from 25 yards swaying five yards wide of Coyne's right post; Fuller, turn, twist, twist, turn, Lomu-like run through Gavin, then smothered by the worker bees in Town's midfield near the penalty spot; Fuller wriggle, wiggle, twist and turn, a barging run down the centre left and a weak, weak shot from 12 yards straight at Coyne; Fuller, twist...oh, you know the rest by now. Terrifying as he was, he was a pretty dumb player, as he never passed to his team-mates, despite them often being in space and screaming for a pass. Perhaps their screams were drowned out by the anxious wailing from the Pontoon. There were a couple more moments of extreme danger when Cresswell burst through down the inside right channel, twisted inside and set up shooting opportunities for onrushing midfielders. The shots barely reached Coyne as there were too many Town bodies, my dear Mozart.

Ah, but there was one moment when Town's luck was seemingly out. Preston broke away down their right following a Town corner. Cresswell made a run from the centre towards the by-line. Gallimore stood still, Gavin drifted over to cover, both seemed flummoxed by a simple ball knocked down the touchline for Cresswell, who controlled the ball, cut inside, outside, inside, then outside again, crossing from about 10 yards wide of the left post and a couple of yards infield. Fuller sprinted to the far post and, from no more than a couple of yards out and only just beyond the far post, hung out his right leg and steered the ball into the side netting. What a miss, what a guy! As some on the Pontoon sang: "You thought you had scored, so did we."

In between the Preston attacks thoughts turned to the important matters in life - the scoreboard. It had trouble with the first letter, so Rimsby were playing Reston. The clock got stuck at 1 minute, encouraging much merriment over time dragging, and even after Town had scored it was still Rimsby 0 Preston 0 after 1 minute. Then it was after 11 minutes. Perhaps the scoreboard was only working in binary code? I have a vague recollection that around the 20-minute mark Town had a shot, which was probably the one where Monica eats the pies. The ball was chipped down the Town right towards the edge of the Preston penalty area. Mansaram bothered the defender like he was a nervous sheep, such that the defender fell, Mansaram switched the ball back into the area to Livingstone, who swept a firm drive low, straight into the goalkeeper's midriff. Mansaram was the one Town attacker to be causing any problems, with his lanky impression of a recent loan player who is no longer loved.

The referee had not, up to the 26th minute, been a factor in the game. Maybe slightly annoying as he allowed Fuller to bump, bundle and barge defenders off the ball, but nothing too serious. All this changed in one farcical instance. Pouton brought down a Preston player about 35 yards out, in the centre left of the Town half. A nothing foul - the Preston player simply got to the ball slightly quicker than Pouton and at a 90 degree angle. Both fell over. Pouton got to his feet and started to run back towards the goal. The Preston player kicked the ball against Pouton, whose back was turned. The referee booked Pouton and took the ball forward 10 yards. Much fury was vented at an appallingly bad interpretation of the events, and Town suddenly had to construct a wall, which was rickety and rocky.

Coyne eventually got the semblance of a wall in place, which just about covered his near post, and he could see the ball. A Preston player ran up to the wall and elbowed his way onto the end, causing a bit of flapping. The free kick was tapped sideways, whacked in low, ricocheted off someone on the edge of the area, ricocheted off someone else inside the area near the penalty spot. The ball was diverted towards the centre of the goal as Coyne was plunging to his right. Coyne flicked out his legs and managed to block the ball, but it simply ballooned up and towards the left post, where CRESSWELL ran forward and tapped it in from a couple of yards out. The referee got the verbal assault he deserved for creating the situation. It would be a bit harsh to criticise the Town defenders; it was a chaos, with Preston working on the principle that anything could happen and they might strike lucky. They did, for three ricochets worked in their favour. It was a surprise when they scored, but not a surprise that they had scored.

And from this moment on Preston were not a real threat to Town; they sat back, seemingly content with their lot. Fuller still troubled with his aggression and directness, and Cresswell with his perceptive runs, but Preston were less than the sum of their parts, like a Meccano set built by a three-year-old. Town got a bit better, in that that they started to pass to each other regularly and even had shots, but most of the most eye-catching fancy football was done inside their own penalty area. Oster was at his most creative with one-twos, cushioned volleys and back-heels when within 10 yards of Coyne. Gavin too, caught this showboating bug, trying to play Cruyffian defence-splitting passes through his own penalty area. Coldicott silenced just one of his critics with a left-footed half volley which flew feet wide of the keeper's right post. You have to admit that's quite near for old pacey Stacy.

Mansaram wasted an excellent opportunity, which he had created through persistence, strength and skill, when he burst through 25 yards out with Oster free to his right. Mansaram used Oster as a decoy, drifting back towards the centre and having a left-footed shot deflected towards the keeper. Oster - remember him? - wasted the best (Town) chance of the half. Campbell clipped in a flat, diagonal cross from the left. Mansaram back-headed the ball, which fell to the unmarked Oster, about a dozen yards out level with the far post, only for him to lean back and carefully side-foot the ball a foot or so over the centre of the goal.

With a couple of minutes left Gallimore collapsed inside the Town half after hobbling around for a few seconds. Off he went with what looked like a twisted ankle, and on came Barnard. Was this replacing like with like? Though for some this was replacing dislike with dislike, which is rather cruel on Gallimore as he had played very well up to then, even slipping in his trademark dummy near the managers' dug-out.

And that was just about all in the first half, ignoring for the purposes of bias the cross from Preston that brushed against Ford's hand. The referee kept tapping his chest, as were the Town supporters. I haven't mentioned Parker yet. Not much to say - he seems to be able to head the ball all right; he hardly passed the ball to a similarly clad player; and he was occasionally stuck in limbo-land between covering the centre-backs and marking his winger.

In some ways Town were fortunate to be level at half time, in others unfortunate. A cold-hearted analysis of the first half would be that Preston couldn't shoot and Town couldn't pass. For all their flurry of movement when attacking, Preston didn't actually produce many shots. So both sides were unluckily fortunate.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"If only we'd had a sell on clause for Clare we could have afforded to have the scoreboard fixed."
"Who needs Kabba when we have Mansaram!"
”He opened his back door especially, so I could see his Chiminia."
"Broomes is due for a move soon R beyond the far post towards Mansaram. The ball went over his head but remained in play. He chased it, kept it in and passed back to Oster, who delayed his cross, toyed with the defender, dragged the ball hither and thither before rolling the ball back to Mansaram, on the touchline, perhaps 15 yards out. Mansaram curled a cross into the middle of the penalty area, near the six-yard box, where FORD threw himself in front of the dithering Finn in goal to head into the centre of the net. Ford was delighted, as were we. And it all started from Livingstone using his personality to good effect.

With the lead restored Town seemed to up a notch in pace and confidence. Pouton even found his old bag of tricks deep down in his trunk of torpor. He surged down the left, step-over, step-over, shake, shimmy, twist, and past Broomes up to the edge of the penalty area. The irate itinerant legged up Pouton, gesticulated wildly and received more encouragement from the crowd. He was rattled and we loved it. The free kick was clipped low to the edge of the area as a galaxy of stars descended on the goal's busy west end. Pouton lurked and lamped a thwacking great volley towards the bottom left of the goal. Unfortunately, it hit a defender and ricocheted around and eventually to safety.

Town continued to turn, turn, turn the Preston defence again, with their defenders forced to foul, foul and foul again. Eventually, a couple of yellow cards sneaked out of the referee's top pocket, but they took a long time coming, and should - especially for Broomes - have resulted in a second yellow. Broomes kept pulling and pushing Mansaram inside the penalty area when awaiting free kicks. The referee studiously ignored Broomes' bullying, not to mention the trips and wrestles.

For all Town's improvement there weren't that many chances created, but quite a few promising moments of danger. Livingstone and Mansaram looked like a partnership, with an understanding. Mainly that Livvo couldn't be expected to run too far. Somewhere in this Campbell dragged a shot three yards wide from the edge of the area after an exciting bit of rollicking one-touch passing and movement down the Town left.

With about 12 minutes left Preston had a bit of pressure, which at least woke their supporters up. Some desperate clearances by Town resulted in two players injured at the same time, Coldicott and Campbell. After treatment the referee made both players go off the pitch while Preston took a throw-in 15 yards out. Mild panic at the thought of a nine-man Town trying to defend an aerial bombardment turned to comic relief when Preston simply passed the ball straight to Campbell as he ran back on, thus setting up a Town counterattack.

A minute later Coldicott was replaced by Groves, who got a big cheer, as Town defended a corner. The corner, from their right, was cleared at the near post and eventually made its way up to Mansaram inside the Town half. He fended off a defender, turned and surged down the middle. When about 35 yards out he looked up, saw the Livvosaurus Rex rampaging down the left and tapped a pass through the retreating defenders to our totemic titan. Livvo continued forward and, from just inside the penalty area, wide to the left of goal, side-footed a pass back to the twisting Town tyro. MANSARAM, right in the middle, right on the edge of the penalty area, knocked the ball up with his left foot, then steered a superb volley into the bottom left corner with the same foot. He ran virtually into the Pontoon screaming with delight, and all the outfield Town players joined him. Game over.

A minute later Mansaram, clearly buoyed by the goal, received a pass with his back to goal near the managers' dug-out. He flipped the ball over his shoulder and ran off down the touchline, leaving Broomes sulking (a natural state) in his wake. Mansaram flew down the wing, drifted past the covering defender, sidestepped a third and pulled a cross back to the edge of the area. The ball was half cleared and Barnard steamed forward and unleashed an unstoppable piledriver which was stopped by a young man in row F, around seat 41. Well wide. At least when Galli shoots it's either great or woeful, not just dull and wide. It's a long way to Azerbaijan, it's a long way to go (to sit on the bench). It was all Town, all singing, all dancing, hats on the side of our heads, nothing to worry about. Errrrrrr.

With about eight minutes left Livvo passed back to Ford halfway inside the Town half. Ford turned back towards Coyne, fending off Fuller with an air of disdain. Ford then underhit a pass back and set off in pursuit of the ball as Fuller ran in from his left. Fuller appeared to run across and into Ford and down went the Preston forward. Penalty, and Ford sent off. From 100 yards away it looked like a collision, but no-one expected anything other than a red card. Only careful analysis using the latest video technology may reveal ‘the truth', but that's irrelevant. The penalty was given. Or for Town the potential double penalty. ALEXANDER hit the penalty down the centre right as Coyne went to his left. Groves went back to centre-half, with Livvo somewhere between attack and defence in a sort of centre midfield position.

A minute later another scramble, with a hubbub inside the Town penalty area, which followed a break down the Preston left. Parker was absent as Lewis zoomed forward and crossed, and the rest is lost in the mists of time and the Osmond End. A minute later another Preston cross and scramble, then another, then another.

We knew they'd score again; it was just a matter of when, and how. Bookies refused to take any bets on ‘header from a corner, heartbreakingly late'. With just a couple of minutes left Gavin conceded a corner when blocking an attempted cross from their left. Lewis swung a left-footed corner away from goal to the far post, perhaps a dozen yards out. Jackson rose suspiciously high above Pouton for what seemed like seconds, and headed back across goal towards Coyne's right hand post. Bodies jumped, headed, moved and ETUHU headed in from a few yards out. There were three minutes of added time, during which Town had a couple of free kicks and a corner. And from one of these, from the Town right, swung to the far post towards Groves, a Preston player handled. Not deliberately, but the ball went over his head and rolled off his arm to safety. If your luck's in you get 'em, but Town didn't have the rub of the man in green.

It ended. And they were happier then we. All in all, Town got less than they deserved, despite a ropey first half. Preston seemed incapable of scoring in open play and needed some fortune. This isn't to dismiss them as lucky Lancastrians, for they clearly have some skilful players, and the beginnings of a slick attacking machine; but they certainly aren't a cohesive team and were easily ruffled when pressurised. Yeah, I know - a bit like Town then.

Hey, the positives. Livingstone's revival, Mansaram's flowering talent, Campbell's adequacy, Gallimore's reliability (until injury), Ford's coolness (until his disaster). But above all Town look like they'll score when they go forward. The passing and movement were purrable at times. Pity about that ‘goals against' tally though.

Nick0's man of the match

Step forward and take a bow, DARREN MANSARAM. An all-action 90-minute performance, he was a constant threat, turning Broomes inside out at times. A deserved goal, a splendid goal. Splendid .

Official warning

C H Webster

Each of Preston's goals had an element of doubt about them. On each one it would have been at least arguable to have made a contrary decision. Missed two handballs in the area, or rather he saw them both and declined to give a penalty (to each team), and generally seemed to have little comprehension of the dynamics of football. Never really grasped what was going off out there. A dangerous referee to have in a game involving physical teams and/or physical supporters. I am inclined to award 4.902. The Pouton booking incident was just ridiculous.