One lump or two?

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

5 October 2002

Grimsby Town 0 Reading 3

A grey, overcast, dull day with barely a murmur from the gathering throng. The crowd shuffled in apologetically, silently watching the pre-match warm-up. The usual sprints, jogs, stretches and wild shooting practice. It was nice to see Croudson in goal, even if he was one-armed. The Town forwards still had difficulty scoring against him. Around 350 Readingites sauntered around the Osmond stand, perhaps bemused by the sight of 5,000 holes in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. And yes, the news is rather sad.

Dave "The Suit" Boylen was wheeled in to start the "Save the Mariners" campaign early. Doesn't that usually start in March? "One, two, three, wahey." Still the same routine. Hasn't anyone told him the secret of great comedy is being funny? He's wasting his time, no-one believes anymore.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Raven, Barnard, Cooke, Pouton, Coldicott, Campbell, Kabba and Mansaram. The substitutes were Allaway, Ward, Santos, Rowan and Robinson. So, for the first time since Oliver Cromwell glowered, Paul Groves missed a game through injury, meaning big manpower and structural changes. Barnard at left back, Campbell back on the left, Cooke on the right and the two-man octopus up front, Kabba (all arms) and Mansaram (all legs).

First half

One of the teams kicked off, which was a pity, with Reading attacking the Pontoon (not literally). Within a minute Barnard sent 10,000 hands to heads with a terrible sub-Gallimorian drag-back, being easily dispossessed by Rougier. The ball was tapped behind the Town back line to Forster who smacked a rising drive into the net to Coyne's left. Offside! Phew, that was lucky. Town's response was a chip down the left hand side, a Mansaram twist, turn and, well, it may be described by the most charitable of observers as a "shot". From near the corner of the penalty area he swung his boot and the ball went at a 93-degree angle, going behind Kabba, out of the area and setting up a counterattack. Still, youthful zest has to be encouraged, doesn't it?

Barnard raised yet more hackles with a Chettlesque head-clutch when Rougier outjumped him 10 yards outside the Town penalty area. The cross was eventually, fortuitously, cleared - but no thanks to the alleged left back. A minute later Barnard retreated as Rougier jumped to head the ball infield. So within five minutes Barnard had the fjords pining for Tony Gallimore. That takes some doing, and gives an indication of his incompetence at left back. The Pontoon was already sarcastically uttering stage whispers about "our international left back".

It was clear to all sentient beings inside Blundell Park (including the cat and Alan Pouton) that Reading had a very simple modus operandi. Hit it in the air towards Rougier, who headed into the spaces behind the Town centre backs. Their forwards, Forster and a deeper-lying player, Hughes, were very nimble and kept nipping in front of the Town centre backs. It was quite clear that the Town defence was totally disorganised and receiving very little help from the midfield. Essentially, Reading had two wingers who hugged the touchline, which meant that the Town full backs were caught between tucking in to cover the centre backs and hanging out wide to mark the wingers. Result: massive, massive spaces between the Town defenders into which many hooped humans poured.

After about eight or nine minutes Rougier outjumped Ford (as Barnard retreated away again, not bothering), flicking the ball on into a space between where Barnard should have been and Raven wasn't. Forster sprinted through, ran on towards the bye-line and, from about 10 yards wide of goal, crossed low and hard. Raven slid across and carefully caressed the ball against Coyne's left hand post, playing a wall pass to McDermott, who cleared. A minute or two later Ford, to the right of centre of goal, inside the area, messed up a clearance, walloping it straight against Forster, which ballooned back towards Coyne, who swooped swishingly to save.

It was all very, very bad, with Town playing at half pace, disjointedly, and defensively inept. Let me remind you only 10 minutes had gone so far. The Town support was silent, sullen and bored. Some started to hum various cheesy 70s songs to accompany the dross. Perhaps I should stop lumping in Reading with Town here, as they were at least organised and pacy. Nothing else, mind; they could run fast and knew where to stand, like a dangerous second division team. We wouldn't like to meet them in the early stages of the LDV Trophy.

Ah, a dozen minutes and a Town move of great importance, as it included three passes. Count them, one, two, three:. Pouton, McDermott, Coldicott, one touch, one pass, down the right and up to Kabba, who turned, spun and waggled a firm shot across the face of goal from the edge of the penalty area. The ball crossed the bye-line inside the penalty area, so it was "close", at least by Town's standards.

While the crowd settled back to contemplate this moment of extreme excitement, Reading scored. A long high ball up to Rougier, about 35 yards from goal; he outjumped Ford and nodded the ball infield to the centre, about 25 yards out. HUGHES sprinted down the middle unhindered by the local menfolk, who were still grizzling into their light ales, ran in front of McDermott, tapped the ball under Coyne and into the left-hand corner of the net from a dozen yards out, just to the right of centre. Silence, utter silence greeted the goal, like the crowd had expected it, a collective shoulder shrug.

Nothing much happened during the rest of the half. Reading were constantly offside, with Town attacking sporadically. Mansaram and Kabba were two strangers on a train, rarely in the same carriage. They tried to do everything themselves, twisting, turning, falling over, occasionally shooting from distance straight into a Reading boot or bottom. Campbell twice tried a shot when a corner was cleared to him, each was easily blocked. Barnard put in a decent cross deep and low into the six-yard box. But these are the pork scratchings of football.

The Town support started to grumble, with a misplaced pass by McDermott acting as the catalyst for griping. Half an hour gone and the isolated heckles started. One strangely coiffured man in leisurewear obviously believed the way to make Raven run faster was to alert him to the fact he was not as quick as Forster; I think Raven had worked that one out for himself a little earlier. Barnard, on the other hand, was continuing to avoid challenging Rougier, and kept giving the ball away with aimless punts down the touchline. I think the strangely coiffured man also made reference to Barnard's aimless punts, but the acoustics are quite poor in the Pontoon, it could have been something else. Similarly, the Reading supporters seemed to be eulogising "one Nancy Astor, there's only one Nancy Astor".

All of which is just a way of avoiding having to describe the next calamity. With just over half an hour gone, Barnard continued his international masterclass in avoiding physical contact by standing a long way away from Rougier, I think Barnard was still in Lincolnshire, but I cannot be sure. Rougier was allowed to control the ball, not a phrase easily sitting near his name, and pass to Forster, just inside the Town half, in the centre. Ford challenged, slipped, landed on his derriere, and Forster raced off down the centre into the penalty area with just Danny to save the world. FORSTER swayed to his right, then left, skipped around Coyne like he was a snoozing plumber and tapped the ball into the right hand side of the goal as Raven desperately slid back near the post. A dozen or so Lower Smith/Stones/Findusites immediately got up, put their hands in their furry jackets and headed for the pie stand (the optimists) or the toilet (the pessimists). (I saw three of them leave the ground - Ed.) The Reading players celebrated wildly in the empty open corner twixt Pontoon and toilets. They looked rather silly. Silly, but winning.

Town's response was not very edifying, as they kept lumping the ball forwards towards the two Wanchopian forwards. There were even moments when Town almost passed to each other, and those with vivid imaginations could see Town have shots. Then they opened their eyes. The nearest Town came to scoring was a Barnard free kick, about 20 yards out, on the Town right near the corner of the penalty area. Barnard carefully, precisely, but slowly, curled around the wall a left-footed shot, which the Reading goalkeeper spectacularly parried away for a corner. He was just showing off, as it was a very comfortable save, no need for such over-indulgent nonsense. There was huffing and puffing by Town, but that was all.

Reading should have scored again just before half time, when Forster twisted Ford like a Rubik cube (as done by a dim 12-year-old) on the right of the Town penalty area, swayed past Coyne and, from a narrow angle, drove in a low shot from 10 yards wide of the goal. Raven heroically slid across and knocked the ball about six inches wide of the post.

The half ended with the expected booing. No-one could disagree with that. Reading were nothing special, just efficient with pace. They played as a team and should have scored with every attack. The worst thing about Town's first-half "performance" was the lack of passion, the indifference. No-one was having a game to be proud of, some having right stinkers. Absolutely everything about the team - the structure, the formation, the tactics - was awful. The players just looked out of their depth.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"It doesn't work unless you switch it on.”
"Barnard is Galli without the serenity.”
"He always whines when we get to Peterborough. Who wouldn't?"
"If Raven's a donkey, I'm an aardvark.”
"Can I borrow a table?"

Second half

Here is an important announcement: Reading had a shot. A gentle looper from Watson, 25 yards out in the centre following a half-cleared corner. Coyne saved so easily the players had already run back up the pitch. And here's another bit of Coyne action - he had to catch a cross. Have you twigged yet that this match was appalling? After about an hour there was the infamous penalty incident that changed history. Alternatively known as that rubbish dive by Pouton. Someone in a striped shirt knocked the ball over the top of the Reading defence, Pouton ran after it and two defenders converged before his very eyes playmates. Pouton, a couple of yards behind them, took the opportunity to fall into their ankles. The referee immediately pointed to the spot...from which Reading would take their free kick. Incredibly he didn't book Pouton for diving, or even poor diving.

With about 25 minutes left Santos replaced the now hobbling Cooke (who received a heavy tackle just as he noticed his number being prepared on the flashing board). Santos had been cooed at for minutes by the crowd, who were desperate for change. Santos ran on and took his place in the centre of a front three, all of which meant that Town played a subtle passing game, whereby they lashed the ball high and long towards Santos' big bald bonce. It was not pretty; it was not effective. Just once, about five minutes or so after coming on, did Santos manage to flick on a high ball beyond the Reading defence for Mansaram to schmooze through a challenge. Mansaram, in the centre, rolled around his marker and was for a fleeting moment free and one-on-one with the 'keeper. But the ball zipped off the turf and Mansaram's boot arrived at the ball at the same time as Ashdown's fist and Williams' shin. They all sneezed, fell down, and the ball was cleared from the six-yard box.

Reading created a couple of momentary panics in the Town defence when they had rare excursions towards Cleethorpes. Watson, lurking unmarked on the edge of the area at a corner, headed down firmly into the centre of the goal. Raven swished his right boot, slicing the ball through the area, with Coyne emerging from the darkness, clutching his apple. A little later a deep cross from their left made its way to Coyne via Ford's right leg, the exact bit of which is still shrouded in mystery, but Arthur C Clarke is on the case.

With about 15 minutes left Robinson replaced Mansaram and buzzed around a lot, as he does, but to no great effect. Town were increasingly just a bunch of blokes wearing the same colour clothing. There was very little co-ordinated team play, with several trying to dribble through Reading on their own. Town put in loads of crosses, every single one of which was cleared by a Reading head at the near post. Somewhere in the last 10 minutes Coldicott passed straight to Forster, in the centre of the Town half, as our destroyer was heading towards home. Forster was thus free, behind the Town defence, down the centre. Having spent most of the second half slumbering he was still a bit sleepy, so we can forgive him the wild slicing whack from the edge of the area which sailed majestically past Coyne, past the post and into the Osmond Stand.

And still Town rolled forward, like a malfunctioning traction engine. Santos was already totally drained, with hands on knees, panting furiously; so much for thoughts of a full game there, then. There was the now obligatory comedy moment when Santos received a pass just inside the Reading half, he turned and started to drive on down the centre. Kabba sprinted down the right, up behind Santos, dispossessed Town's third international on the pitch and went on a crazy golf weekend, which ended with a short pass to their right back. Pouton woke up and realised that the sponsor's man of the match award was slipping away, so in the 88th minute, he did a stepover, followed by a double stepover and back flick in front of the Smiths/Stones/Findus. All a complete waste of time, but he clearly wanted that bottle of champagne.

In injury time Raven scored with an acrobatic scissors kick from 15 yards, following a hectic scramble inside the Reading penalty area. The linesman's flag was up for something, probably offside, but who cares? Why waste one of the ten goals Town'll score this season. In added time Santos should have been sent off for a terrible, awful, disgraceful two-footed jump/lunge at the back of a Reading player's ankles.

The game ended in farcical fashion, which served as a perfect metaphor for the season so far. The ball was about 40 yards from Coyne, just to the right of centre. A Reading player ran back towards the halfway line as the ball bounced behind him. Pouton took the opportunity to do a manly, full-thwack challenge, sliding in with one of his tackles that are really shots. Unfortunately it was a damn fine shot, as POUTON won the tackle, sending the ball high and mightily over Coyne and into the top left-hand corner of the goal. Pouton squared up to the Reading player and there was, as Peter Osgood once said, "a minor fricassee in the centre of pitch". One of the Town players tried to take a free kick, but the referee pointed to the centre spot. Five seconds later the game ended.

There wasn't much booing, the crowd stood up, looked at the pitch, shook a collective head and trudged off wearily. There's no point in getting angry; the evidence has been there for all to see all season. Let's be realistic and prepare ourselves for Division Two. Poor old Raven did his best but couldn't run fast enough, Ford doesn't appear to like the rough and tumble of lower-division football, Barnard seems to be on a mission to save himself for his country, Pouton should be dropped (but who in the management has the courage to do that?), Coldicott was as effective as Pouton today, Kabba and Mansaram are two characters in search of an author, Cooke had a couple of promising movements in the first half then receded into Campbellian anonymity. Oddly Campbell was perkier today than normal.

When we are looking for nadirs, this was the nadir of nadirs, similar to Rotherham (home) and Walsall (away) last season. And it probably will get worse than this; that is the worrying bit.

Nick0's man of the match

No-one. Although it was suggested this was young master Rowan's finest game for many a month.

Official warning

Howard Webb

Officious, timid, kept getting in the way. Should have sent Santos off, shouldn't have booked McDermott. Silly, no big decisions to make (the "Pouton penalty" was so pathetic it was embarrassing). He gets 4.6, for wearing a nice yellow shirt.