Reading between the lines

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

26 April 2003

Reading 2 Grimsby Town 1

A clear, bright, but cloudy afternoon in the hop-smelling shrine to a man with unfeasibly bouffant hair. Around 200 Town fans amiably ambled around the vast canyons of someone's mind as the locals settled down for a fetishist's feast. Well, they'd come to see some young boys being thrashed, hadn't they? Enough bitter and twisted asides for one paragraph: the leg room was magnificent and they'd painted the toilet walls.

The pre-match entertainment consisted of a panel beater's brass band belting out an unusual selection of 1960s-based music in strict 4/4 time. No, they didn't do Cinderella Rockefella, which dismayed at least three cardigan-clad Town fans; nor did they stretch to Sucu Sucu by Nina and Frederick, who many feared would be Town's central defenders today. Actually, only Nina turned up. In honour of their chairman, the first pap record of the afternoon was by Haircut 100. Fantastic Day? Not for everyone, surely. Reading players warmed up with a routine right out of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Holding hands, they sashayed up the touchline, kicking left, then right, with the New Vaudeville Band as accompaniment. Now if only they'd worn feather boas they'd have topped it off nicely. I didn't see Dick Van Dyke either.

Diagnosis: footballing murder about to occur. As the Town players jogged about in green and orange bibs, Reading outdid them again, by playing that little game of two-touch passing with poles. Playing ski football, they slalomed up and down, the faint sound of cowbells ringing round the stadium.

Town lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, rather than the 4-5-1 formation, as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Santos, Young, Gallimore, Cooke, Hockless, Bolder, Keane, Campbell, Sagare. The substitutes were Allaway, Parker, Chettle, Thompson and Mansaram (or Mansararium, as he was announced by the tannoy man. Is that Grimsby's version of the London Planatarium?). I'm sorry, I gave you the reserve team from last Wednesday. Oh. No I didn't. Admit it, you just did a comedy double take, followed by a cheeky, but knowing, raised eyebrow. You're in on the gag too then.

Young, who facially looks a bit like Vinnie Jones, played at centre-back, with Hockless a sort of rightish midfielder. Keane played in the centre-left midfield slot, and Campbell out on the outer limits of the left-hand side. Poor bulbous-haired Sagare, the man with the unpronounceable name, was all alone, desperate for a coalition of the willing to join him. Ah, now Sagare stands no chance of winning a contract with Town. It's the hair. Wholesome hair, lovely hair, the sort that the lead singer with a top Christian rock band would wear. He may rock for Jesus, but will he score for Town? And Hockless wore silver boots.

Reading lined up in a very tasty looking 4-5-1 formation. How could that be, 'cos 4-5-1 is negative, isn't it?

We were promised Mr Woo at half time.

First half

Reading kicked off towards the Town support and just kept the ball. Slowly they tapped it back and forth, side to side, eye to eye, before they broke on through to the other side with a diagonal ball over Gallimore's head. Galli, to his credit (and that isn't a phrase often used in close proximity to our ailing, failing left-back) headed the ball down and lifted a pass over Chadwick to Campbell, about 30 yards out. Campbell took one step back, leapt slightly, visibly raised both eyebrows and stopped, allowing a Reading player to retrieve possession on the touchline.

The ball was immediately fizzed infield and then out to their left wing, whereupon one of their players whose name began with S sent a deep cross into the centre of the penalty area. Oh dear, there don't seem to be any defenders. The ball went over Young, bounced once and Forster miscontrolled the ball with his right hand. The ball bounded on to LITTLE, wide of goal, perhaps 12 yards out, who controlled the ball and placed a low shot across Coyne and into the bottom right-hand corner. Not even 90 seconds gone and Town had fallen apart. Well, at least they'd touched the ball - if you count Galli, the semi-detached left back, as a Town player. And what about the old shed at the bottom of the garden, Mr Campbell? Who? What? Where? And increasingly - why?

Reading poured through Town, with rapid transferring of the ball from left to right, and front to back, with midfielders bursting forward in numbers, overwhelming the part of the Town team labelled ‘the defence'. Quite simply, Reading showed Town how to play 4-5-1. You see, they pass, they move. Stunning, eh? It also helps that their players are ‘any good'. They have added skill to the organisation and pace they displayed at Blundell Park.

Somewhere in the opening 10 minutes Reading took off their centre-back, Williams, and replaced him with Ricky Newman, who has the demeanour and name of a market trader in Walford. I think he sells batteries and cheap watches. The enforced change didn't alter anything, for Town were infinitely inferior, and I suppose we shouldn't expect anything less with only three players. Young had a rather torrid time, soon learning what real football is all about. He had great difficulty keeping up with Forster, and needed help from the old stagers with his positional play. 'Tis a pity Galli kept telling him where to stand - like that'd help. Still, he kept trying and seamlessly morphed into a fun figure from Town's past. He is Lever-lite, all gangles and gaffes, but wholehearted gangles and gaffes. Groves soon came off the bench to stand near the touchline. After one Leveresque miscue from Young, Groves called him over and simply pointed to the stands, for the advice was quite simple: "If in doubt, get it out". [Works for editing as well - Ed.]

The game was played out right in front of the Town fans: nice of Reading to think of us. Like Mongol hordes they simply swept through Town's fading empire. Propped up by kids and pensioners, Town were no match for a fully trained professional army. Santos cleared a corner from the middle of the penalty area as the ball rolled slowly across the six-yard box. Young clobbered Forster as he broke free, and Chadwick ran at Gallimore, who retreated perhaps 20 yards before falling on his backside. Chadwick got to the by-line and slightly sliced his cross. The ball arced over Coyne, kissed the crossbar and fell to Salako at the far post, six yards out and wide. Salako (who younger viewers will need to know was once a highly rated professional footballer - don't confuse him with that film starring Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot and, err, Eric Sykes) smacked a first-time volley which Coyne parried away for a corner, though the ball was actually going to hit the outside of the near post. Can't be too picky, can we - better safe than sorry.

A minute or so later Chadwick again danced through the non-existent Gallimore and rolled a cross into the near post, whereupon Hughes sprinted forward and flicked a first-time shot to Coyne's near post. Once more Coyne plunged to earth and clawed the ball away for another corner.

Town managed to string several passes together, but unfortunately the ball always ended up with Bolder, or even worse, near Campbell, who was making all his nowhere plans for nobody. Campbell was - and despite three hours' research using a large dictionary and a thesaurus, I can find no other word to accurately summarise his contribution in the first half - pathetic. Utterly and disgracefully pathetic. Shrugging, sauntering, weak and a complete waste of manpower, resulting in Town having no humans on the left-hand side. Oh sure, Groves used the old smoke-and-mirrors trick to create the illusion, but there wasn't anybody out there.

Sagare spent most of his afternoon leaping for high balls - and he isn't tall, despite the bounciness of his hair. When he did gain possession there wasn't anyone to pass to. Town didn't get anywhere near the Reading goal. In fact I can get Town's ‘chances' out of the way very quickly: Cooke had a shot charged down outside the area and Hockless, after some neat interpassing with Sagare, wafted a shot hugely over the bar from about 20 yards, somewhere near the end of the half. Other than that, Town literally did not get in the Reading half.

Reading this, Reading that from now on. Shorey hit a shot from the edge of the area 17 yards wide, which the home fans "ooh"-ed over. Perhaps it's a local joke, like Mansaram's shooting - as aimless as a leaf in a gale. More waves of hoops, those hula-hula hoops, tipping and tapping their way through some straw bales. Chadwick, especially, was having a gay old time; roaming freely and without hindrance down the Town left, he set up a whole dessert tray of chances for his fellow travellers. Hughes burst through and fired over, then at Coyne, with Town players watching the skies, waiting for that spaceship to take them away from this alien landscape. Marking? Marking is for teachers and we just had a bunch of first-year pupils.

After 22 minutes the inevitable second arrived. Usual source, down Town's left. Chadwick was allowed to run in a virtual straight line, with know the rest of that sentence and beyond. Chadwick got into the penalty area, looked up and rolled a short cross in towards the near post. HUGHES, about a dozen yards, out tapped the ball forward and then twisted and rolled a shot low across Coyne and into the centre right of the net. Only two? It'd be unfair to blame Galli for everything; after all, he wasn't even born when the Hindenburg blew up. Oh, the humanity!

Reading continued to roll forward, but the second goal was enough for the party to begin. There was an element of showboating going on, though there were no dancing girls, or any more dancing goals. Young got a bit better, helped by Forster being injured; and Keane continued to charge around, doing both his and Campbell's running. Santos made a few important and cool interceptions, and McDermott generally handled Salako comfortably. Elsewhere it was not so pretty. Reading made chances, but over-elaborated near goal, rolling crosses behind team-mates, or trying to take on one too many defenders (that's Santos and McDermott to the cognoscenti).

Ah, half time - when will it come? The game was, frankly, very boring for the Town fans, as Town didn't have the ball, never looked like getting it, and were quite shambolic. At least one supporter started to read a book: War Crimes in the Home. Make of that what you will. None of the youngsters looked up to first division football, and all were far too wee for the second division. But apart from that, it was great fun.

Still, it doesn't matter anymore, does it. Who cares about the dog days of this season? I know Campbell didn't.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"Who are we keeping for next year?" "All of their players, I hope."
"What were those giant balls on the A43?"
"If this is the future, give me the past."
"Did you catch the number 77? No, the 79 - two buses better."
"He's planted anemones on the drive."

The crowd were, indeed, entertained by Mr Woo at half time, who is an Asian man with fluffy hair. He performed a bunch of party tricks as everyone went to the loo. He holds the world record for keeping the ball up, but he dropped it in front of the Reading supporters. How very in keeping with the occasion.

Second half

Town showed a little more verve and purpose after the restart. Hockless was noticeably closer to Sagare, which meant that Town lost possession closer to the Reading goal than in the first half. Keane really riled the home support with some clattering challenges that brought a booking and a ticking-off (he should really have received another yellow card for reckless batterings of opponents' ankles). His booking was for a tackle that was simple revenge for being nutmegged. He isn't very subtle.

A few minutes into the half Reading attacked down their centre right, with the ball being flicked this way and that, confusing the bedazzled Town defence. Young diverted the ball away from a striker, but only across goal and straight to Chadwick, near the edge of the penalty area. He strode forward and carefully curled a shot towards the bottom left hand corner. Coyne sailed on the Sloop John B, superbly tapping the ball aside for a corner. A nice remembrance of saves past for us. But Town's defence was still so broke up; several wanted to go home.

After 55 minutes there was a Town attack worth thinking about. Sagare and Hockless bothered a defender into giving the ball away. Hockless tapped the ball down the right flank for Sagare, who twisted past his marker and flighted a superb cross to the far post. The ball floated over the last defender to Keane, just seven yards out, who thought about heading the ball, then volleying. After much deliberation, cogitation and just plain prevarication, Keane tried to control the ball. Big mistake, Mr self-styled ‘Keano'. Running around is your forte, and our leprechaun-like loanee was easily dispossessed.

A corner followed. And then, almost immediately, Sagare and Hockless were replaced by Thompson and Mansararamamamamam. Town reverted to a 4-4-2 formation with Keane and Bolder in central midfield.

Now, I don't want you to get the impression that things turned out nicely in the end, with Town fluid, vibrant, attacking, and in any way a danger to Reading, but the black and whites did have a number of efforts towards goal. Campbell smacked a shot from 20 yards, which Hahnemann, who could go on Stars in Your Eyes as Stacy Coldicott, caught very easily. But does he sing as well as the midfielder with a prosthetic forehead on his real head? Keane headed a deep Galli cross softly wide from about eight yards out. Campbell dinked a pass over the Reading defence for Thompson, who was half pulled back by Brown as he raced into the left of the penalty area. The sulky Scouser stopped and appealed for a penalty before drifting wide and dragging a weakish shot across the face of goal.

See, reading all that you'd think that Town were much better at 4-4-2, and were making a decent fist of the game. It was all academic, and never looked likely to cause Reading any problems. Bolder lobbed a lazy shot over the bar from outside the area after some interesting passing and movement down the Town left. It was the sort of shot that golfers would be proud of: high, back spin, the ball right next to the hole.

Had Reading stopped trying to score the perfect goal, they might have actually had some shots. The Town defence improved in the second half, until Young hobbled off after 65 minutes. Chettle wallowed on and Reading contrived to miss three virtual open goals. A break down their right saw a striker free. Coyne raced out of his penalty area and forced the striker wide of the penalty box. The striker stopped. Coyne stopped. Coyne ran backwards and the ball was clipped over to the far post, where Salako (I think) managed to volley across the face of goal between Santos and the posts.

A minute later the ball was dinked in towards the left post. A bunch of players stood around flicking their feet at thin air, and Henderson (I think) was allowed to stand a couple of yards out and miss the ball as Coyne stood watching on the goal line. A minute later, on the other side, exactly the same thing happened: they flicked a kick and we didn't know. The introduction of Chettle hadn't particularly assisted, had it.

We were starting to get the feeling Reading were being nice to us. Their players were missing open goals, and their crowd studiously ignored the gaggle of Grimsby fans. No taunts, just singing to themselves. Then again, they do follow a proper team and not one of your big-time-Charlie outfits. They know what relegation means. A group stood up and sang about going to Cardiff. Ah, they must have tickets for the cup final.

Their left back, Shorey, tried another long shot, and missed by only 12 yards this time. I am sure Reading had other chances, but to tell you the truth in all that excitement I kinda lost count. They moved menacingly forward, but didn't produce anything that lodged in my memory as a chance. Perhaps we Town fans have become blasé about what constitutes a chance against Town. Oh, there was one, when their final substitute, Cureton, stepped outside Santos and, from about a dozen yards out and to the left of goal, drove a low shot across Coyne, who plopped onto the ball with little fuss, but plenty of satisfaction.

Now, Mr Cooke. I know you've all been waiting to see him. Here he was, on the pitch for 90 minutes. Anonymous in the first half, he ran around tirelessly in the second, making a couple of great Poutonian sliding hooking tackles, and supplied several nondescript crosses. Adequate only. He did appeal for a penalty when one of his crosses was forearmed away for a corner, but handball is no longer an offence in Town games. In the last 10 minutes a Mansaram cross was almost caught by Newman, who effectively dropped the catch at silly mid-on. Just a corner given.

We're at the end now, dribbling away to its usual conclusion. As the clock hit the 90th minute Cooke hit a shot with his left foot from way outside the penalty area. The ball slowly bent over and away from the goalkeeper and surprised everyone by smacking against the face of the crossbar. This suddenly perked up Town and they rather poured forward, with Thompson and Mansaram suddenly alert and dangerous. The very next attack saw Cooke play a long pass into the centre, right on the edge of the penalty area. The ball bounced off a Reading chest to KEANE, who spun and slashed a drive across Hahnemann and into the bottom right hand corner. Keane ran up to the Town fans, took off his shirt and flexed his muscles at us. What would his mother say?

And here we go again: Town attacking with Mansaram turning past his marker down the left, surging to the by-line and pulling a cross back to the edge of the penalty area. Cooke, unmarked, hared forward and slashed a first-time half volley rather too high and wide for the self-respecting Town fans to feel dismayed.

And that was it. As the whistle blew Gallimore tussled with a Reading player way off at the other end of the stadium. It looked likely to be fisticuffs at three paces, but it soon calmed down. The Town players walked over and applauded us, with Santos ripping off his shirt, handing it to a small boy He clapped us, shook hands and waved goodbye. Now Dr Freud, what did all that mean?

Town had been fine for three minutes, and nearly snatched a wholly undeserved point. Reading were just superior, and it doesn't take Einstein to see why. We must congratulate them on a simple victory over our has-beens and never-wills. Reading proved that 4-5-1 can be an irrepressible attacking formation. It's the players, see. They have 'em, we don't.

So who will get a debut next week then? We know the game matters to Brighton, but we'd rather Stoke went down, wouldn't we? Mmmm...Handyside.

Nicko's man of the match

Santos and McDermott were very adequate, with Keane a persistent pest, but it would be churlish to overlook Danny Coyne, who kept the score down. He finally produced a string of saves.

Mark E Mark's unman of the match

Stuart Campbell. It's obvious. Unlike him.

Official warning
G Hegley

No, it wasn't the Luton-based poet, but a man incapable of seeing a handball. Which is why we lost, of course. Stop coughing at the back. His petty booking of Campbell saw him lose a whopping 4 points. He would, of course, have got them all back if he'd sent off the Scotch Mist. He gets an arbitrary 5.521.