The last action hero

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

18 March 2003

Rotherham United 0 Grimsby Town 1

A clear, still, but surprisingly warm, evening in a suburb of Meadowhall, with 700-800 Town supporters bouncing along happily behind the goal, as seen to the right on television. An odd, slightly surreal atmosphere pervaded the Town support. It was like a mass Pontoon day trip, an inversion of the normal procedure whereby the dour denizens of the Don Valley area pootle over to Cleethorpes for a fun day out at "reet good value." The home support was quiet, perhaps resigned to mid-table, the rest of the season a chore to them. Fine by us, for the away end rocked and rolled its way towards kick off.

Town lined up in the usual 4-5-1 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Santos, Gallimore, Oster, Campbell, Groves, Hughes, Barnard and Mansaram. The substitutes were Allaway, Chettle, Coldicott, Livingstone and Soames. Barnard played wide on the left, meaning Campbell played in Pouton's position on the centre right. There was some concern when the team was seen warming up with green bibs, but it didn't dampen the enthusiastic bobbing and bopping in the crowd; even that old staple the beach ball came out for a dance. There was definitely an air of anticipation within the travelling Townites. It's March - the football season has just started.

Santos was virtually deified before the game had even started, such was the outpouring of love and affection to the Grimsby Gaul. A cheeky wave and thumbs-up were enough to make growing teenagers swoon.

The pitch looked infirm, with more than a hint of 20 tonnes of sand about it, not to mention all those divots caused by the rugby matches. So perhaps Rotherham would abandon their world-famous passing game?

First half

Town kicked towards the Town support in the first half, and very little happened near us. Rotherham huffled and puffled around, being very basic, a sort of half-a-trick pony. Their initial tactic was to duff up Coyne, for within the first few minutes Warne and then Mullin had barged into the keeper after he'd caught hopeful, hopeless punts into the area. Not so much late challenges as arriving tomorrow on a special charter flight. The referee had 'little words' with the offenders and, essentially, wimped out. After five minutes, Barnard was laid out by Farrelly when Town were starting to break away down the left. Barnard had pushed the ball past this midfielder and would have been free down the left touchline, but received a hand in the face. Another 'little word of warning' from this pusillanimous gull in green.

The minutes ticked by, the players collided with each other, and Town got a lot of throw-ins. Rotherham seemed incapable of passing to each other: within the first 15 minutes they had passed the ball put of play three times and managed to throw the ball out for a Town throw-in. Hands were rubbed in anticipation, for three points were being offered on a slowly heating barbecue. Despite this fantastically rubbish opening by our hosts for the evening, Town didn't do anything. Mansaram ran around, almost crossing once; erm, er, Barnard was seen near us, and Oster kept dribbling forward, but kept bumping into the fourth defender.

Woah, did you see that? Rotherham crossed the ball, bringing an "oooh" from their strangely invisible support. The ball plopped between Coyne and Gallimore, with no-one else anywhere near. The cross was, like 95 per cent of their attacks in the first half, a lump from their left to right, for their sole tactic seemed to be to lift the ball over and behind Gallimore. You can't blame them for that; it is the obvious thing to do. And boy, was it obvious - even Galli worked it out pretty quickly.

Shall we jump forward a quarter of an hour, not because I fell asleep, but because the game was devoid of what you and I might call football. Town just shuffled across the pitch, keeping Rotherham 30 yards out, so they just ended up chipping the ball into the box. Santos headed the ball out, or Coyne came out and caught it. Or, more often than not, Town got a goal kick. Some strange strangled noise emerged from the dourness, which suggested the locals thought something nearly happened, but it didn't look like it from our dark, dank corner. Town weren't in control, but were certainly untroubled. The Town fans were slowly, slowly, losing their enthusiasm and settling back into the default mode of raging silence, especially as Rotherham began to get closer and closer to the crosses that were being haphazardly pinged in the vague direction of Coyne. I cannot stress the word vague enough.

Around the 25th minute, Rotherham nearly scored in typically robust fashion. In other words, like a third division team. From their right they wellied the ball high into the air towards Coyne's near post. The ball disappeared from view, then dropped vertically as Coyne was challenged by a big lumpy bloke. Big lumpy bloke rose above our flapping stopper and the ball bumbled off some fleshy part off his anatomy and stumbled towards goal. McDermott ran around the back and knocked the ball away from somewhere near the line. Good old Macca - where would we be without him? Well, 1-0 down.

From this moment on the game was almost exclusively down the other end, with Rotherham - oh, you know full well what they did: cross, corner, free kick, lump, welly, barge, bang, hoof, whack, thwack, crash bang wallop what a picture. And then there were those irritating but fear-inducing long throws that zoomed into the six-yard box. But we've got Georges, so why worry? Worry because it's Town; there's always a calamity round the corner, isn't there, especially with Ford in Mr Supercool mode. So cool he doesn't have to open his eyes; his mere presence on the pitch would be enough.

Wake up over there - Town are attacking. A corner, half cleared to the edge of the area, and who's this knocking at the door, ringing the bell? It's Mr Santos, who leaned back and swiped a stinging, singing half-volley, which shaved the post...of the fence behind the goal. It was perhaps a yard or two wide, but enough to rouse the Townites into an "ooh" and an "ahhh". Without a piano you have to make your own entertainment these days. Perhaps if FIFA really were interested in making the game more entertaining they'd introduce those moveable goals like they used to have in It's a Knockout. We'd score more then, but we'd have to have bean bags full of flour instead of balls, of course.

A little later came another Town attack, another Town chance, another "ooh" and an "ahh". Mansaram broke down the left; Barnard waddled up in support, got behind his full-back and crossed into the centre of the box. The ball deflected up and over the defence and suddenly, but briefly, Mansaram had a full sight of goal, 12 yards out with the ball bouncing like a succulent kumquat. Eat me, eat me, it screamed. Mansaram wafted his right boot around in a circular motion and radio contact was established. The merest hint of ball-boot synergy and the chance was gone. There were frequent 'almost' moments like this when Town broke, but lack of numbers and fiddling about soon dampened hopes of actually seeing a shot on target. We hadn't had a shot, and then we had a shot, but heaven knows some were still miserable.

Rotherham, blah, blah, blah, up in the air, header, bundle, blah, blah, boring, boring approximation of football. I'll say this for them: they'd give Chesterfield a good game. Yet in the context of the match, they were swarming all over Town. Lee managed to glance a header a foot or so wide of Coyne's left post, climbing above Gallimore to meet a deep cross from their left. Other crosses, other headers, nowhere near goal though.

And then they surprised us, and probably themselves too. After a long series of two-touch passes, stretching to perhaps four, Farrelly, on their right, 10 yards inside the Town half, spun around Hughes and zoomed forward. And kept on going, accelerating, drawing other Town defenders towards him like the Childcatcher offering "lollies and sweets my lovelies", he went straight towards goal. Then, about 15 yards out, he let rip and smacked a rising drive that stroked the top left of the crossbar as it passed Coyne. Yes, Rotherham fans, you can "oooooooooh" now.

My, it was awful; and thankfully that was it, with the Town players cheered off, simply because we weren't losing and those three points were still on offer, at a knockdown price too. Analysis, like resistance, is futile. Rotherham hoofed, Town sort of defended all right. A mixture of their ineptitude and Town's improved resilience and organisation resulted in what pundits up and down the country agreed would be stalemate. Perhaps Rotherham have already started next year's relegation battle? Thank goodness for Santos' head and colossal psychic aura, which acts as an invisible forcefield around his body; attackers have to detour around the back of Tesco to get round him. When he's in this mood, they might as well do their shopping.

It wasn't magnificent, but this is war - it's no good working on points for style. It was pretty, oh so pretty vacant football, but we didn't care.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"I seem to spend half my life buying blue cardigans."
"This is my first away game for eight years, and I remember what I've been missing."
"This is wonderfully rubbish."
"Is it the shave or the shades that does it?"
"Did Mansaram get some blinkers for his birthday?"

Second half

Neither team made any changes at half time. The pattern of the game didn't change either; Town sat back, defending in two solid lines, with Rotherham scuffling around trying to work opportunities to cross the ball. And Rotherham got closer and closer to Coyne as Town players started to back off, allowing players space and time to cross. Fortunately, they were rubbish. Town had the first shot of the half. Well, I say shot - it may be a slight exaggeration to describe a Santos tackle that launched the ball from the halfway line back towards Pollitt as a shot; but times are lean, there is a recession, so I'm a-claiming it.

After about 50 minutes a Rotherham cross was cleared to Woodhouse, 25 yards out on the Rotherham right, he cut inside and tried to curl a shot over and around Coyne. It dipped straight into the top right-hand corner - of the Town support. You're not fit to wear our shorts - that'll teach him for turning down a loan move to Town. This quite frankly rotten shot allowed the ballboy in front of the Town support to reveal himself. Previously slumbering upon a canvas chair like a surly teenager ordered to look after his precocious and pampered eight-year-old sister, he rose and chased after the ball, running most strangely, like his limbs were two sizes too big. A three-quarter-sized Mr Slinky, he loped around, torso one second behind his legs. I told you we had to find alternative ways of amusing ourselves.

Talk among yourselves for a few minutes; that'll give you a taste of the fervoured, fevered football flung towards us. You over there, did you see that? A Rotherham free kick on their left was won with a pathetic dive, forcing all right-minded people to rise up and moan, though some groaned. From about 10 yards out, right next to the touchline, the ball was curled into the heart of the penalty area. A Rotherham player rose at the far post and headed the ball on. Cue a bit of head tennis and collisions. Someone dressed in red nodded the ball back towards goal from the left of the area, and the ball slowly trundled towards the foot of the post. Coyne scampered across and scooped the ball away, one-handed, straight to McIntosh, about eight yards out well wide of goal. McIntosh, a huge hulking centre back, did a Poutonian step-over and crossed crisply into the crowd. You are fit to wear your shirt.

After 20 minutes Barnard was replaced by Coldicott, who took up Campbell's position while the Paul Daniels of soccer went to the left wing. At this point someone noticed Campbell and let out a delighted squeal, some say screech. The last time they saw him he was standing at a zebra crossing in Waltham. And do you know, Campbell played superbly from this point on. A whirling, twirling, whizzing and fizzing dervish, irrepressible. Slowly the game changed, with Town eventually starting to probe in attack. Several moments of danger were glimpsed as possibilities on the break, with Oster starting to drift into space and tease his marker, while Mansaram started to roll around the big centre-back down the flanks.

Nothing tangible came of these moments, but the Rotherham defence was beginning to unravel. A Mansaram surge down the left ended with a defender passing back to Pollitt, who completely miskicked straight to Coldicott, about 30 yards out. The startled scapegoat intercepted the kick and tried to poke a first-time shot towards the open goal. Branston, the equally bald defender, flew across and managed to get his chin in the way, the ball ballooning up and back to the keeper. Coldicott dismayed his critics with an adequate performance, making at least one bloke furious, incandescent with rage. How dare Stacy not be rubbish. This same Stacy-baiter berated Coldicott for passing the ball to Mansaram's feet, somehow concluding that the ball had been given away. Yeah, he's so rubbish he's passing to his own players now. Pfft, Town'll never get anywhere with that tactic.

Another Town break, another almost moment. And what an excellent break it was, down the left, involving Mansaram and Campbell, with Flash spinning and laying a quick pass to the unmarked Oster, about 15 yards out. Unfortunately the linesman had flagged for offside. Offside? An alien concept to the linesman running the Town defence. At least three times he allowed Rotherham to play on when clearly, clearly and even more clearly, they were offside. Danger, mild panic, but no eventual shots. Gallimore, Santos and Ford all managed to hare back and block crosses for corners and throw-ins.

The most dangerous moment for Town was another non-offside decision (though this time the linesman was probably right) as all the Town players walked up the pitch, with a couple of strikers behind them. The winger raced onto a through ball and careered towards goal. And then came the cavalry, and a pillow was placed over that particular attack, putting it out of its misery.

Rotherham brought on Byfield and abandoned their left-hand side. Big mistake, as Town, although under severe pressure, always had an outlet. Whenever Coyne had the ball McDermott peeled away and the ball was rolled to him. No more aimless, wasted hoofs upfield; the old Town way of building from the back was forced upon them. And it worked, for Oster and McDermott roamed freely, like a proud lion and its cub, the mere sight of 'em forcing those meerkat defenders to scurry for shelter.

A Town shot! McDermott raced forward into the area and managed to slice his shot wildly almost over the top of the stand. Personally I blame the Government for not banning rugby union. And another shot: Coldicott, at the end of a stuttering five-man move, cut inside and curled it left-footed to the goalkeeper's ankles. The shot was powerful - well, compared to a 2-watt bulb. He mis-hit it; so what, these things happen, at least it was a shot. Yet another shot - like London buses, eh? Mansaram, drifting and shape-shifting through the left of the Rotherham defence, cut back from the by-line into the area and dragged a weak shot two yards wide of the near post.

As the game drifted towards its inevitable 0-0 conclusion, players tired and spaces appeared everywhere. Rotherham kept on surging forward, piling on pressure, if not efforts on goal. Heroic defending kept them at bay, none more so than with a breakaway towards the end down the Rotherham right. The ball was crossed: a muddle, a huddle and not so much the Mother, perhaps the Great Auntie Bunty of goalmouth scrambles. Barker was alone seven yards out and tried to place the ball. But from a land far, far away, Tony Gallimore travelled upon his trusty white steed, placing his chest in the way, then his shins as Barker tried again. Up went the linesman's flag and Town got a free kick, who knows what for. Another breakaway and another unlikely hero. Campbell hoovered up the turf to reach a midfielder as he was about to crack in a shot from the edge of the area, after a cross was half cleared.

Tick-tock, the clock marched on, the pressure from Rotherham increased, not through great football, but sheer muscle and willpower. They threw men and balls higher and higher. Corners, throw-ins, the six-yard box packed more densely than your grandma's favourite cushion. But reader, your heroes did not fail you. To a man they stood firm, resolute; with passion and power, they repelled the missiles that rained down upon them. With a couple of minutes left, Livingstone replaced Mansaram, much to the chagrin of the Town support, who wanted Town to win. How would Livvo help - that donkey, that dormant dinosaur?

Still Rotherham pressed and Town broke down the right. Coldicott spun near the halfway line and to the usual chorus of disapproval hit a superbly weighted pass over the top of the left-back for McDermott, who knocked the ball against his opponent. Corner! Last minute! Up went Ford and Santos, over went the cross, out went the ball, upfield raced the Rotherham players. The crowd roared, twenty players hurtling towards us, then Ford stopped them. Passed to Santos, who passed back to a Rotherham player, 30 yards out. Stomachs churned, eyes dropped, hands went to mouths, tears came to the eyes, and Santos redeemed himself with a hassle, hustle and tackle. The ball broke to Campbell. The Town bench stood up and waved the players forward. The Town fans were on their feet, a deafening roar forcing the ball back towards Pollitt. Campbell knocked the ball down the left wing and, well, we entered a twilight zone where the laws of physics and logic were inverted. Livvo beat the offside trap and bounded down the touchline like a starving, salivating leopard. He looked up and rolled a cross through the penalty area to the totally and utterly unmarked Oster, perhaps 10 yards out, in the centre. OSTER leapt up and steered a right-footed shot high into the net to the keeper's left. The ball seemed to take an age to curl over and past Pollitt, and then the whole Town end disappeared in a sea of writhing, leaping, rolling hugging happiness. It was pandemonium. Seven hundred people falling about, drunk on joy and relief. Oh the irony - Town scoring a last-minute winner.

The last few seconds of play were not actually seen by anyone, for the mass was still celebrating. The game ended with the Town players racing around, jumping on each other, sprinting to the Town support and joining the party, which became a street party as we all wandered deliriously around the back streets of Rotherham, people hanging out of car windows, maniacally beeping their horns, singing, dancing, leaping and now believing again.

Deserved? Who cares. It's about time Town reclaimed some of those lost last-minute points. Coyne made a couple of saves only, and Rotherham, for all their pressure, didn't create much. Hit-and-hope football relies on luck and they didn't have any. Town were solid, resolute and eventually triumphant. And Livvo had a fantastic two-minute cameo. Word up Livvo. The Town support was magnificent - only occasional groans were heard - and they were right behind the team, roaring them on, from start to finish.

Never mind the quality, feel the three points. Go on, smile - you know you want to.

Nicko's man of the match

Ou est la plume de ma tante? Despite a dreadful error in the last minute, which was conveniently overlooked by all, Monsieur Georges Santos gets many a nod for a terrifically towering performance. It's like having a solid, double brick wall in front of Coyne.

Official warning
M J Jones

Didn't book anyone, didn't have any big decisions to make, but seemed a bit weak. Leant towards Rotherham slightly in his kindly interpretation of some of their challenges. Was Gallimore holding or did the Rotherham player place an elbow across his neck? And why did he keep telling Town players off when Rotherham fouled? He didn't fill Town fans with confidence, so he gets a surprisingly low score - 4.96.