And then there were nine

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

19 October 2002

Grimsby Town 0 Rotherham United 0

A clear blue day, virtually windless with just the merest hint of a chill to greet our four feathered friends from the adjacent county. And a whole bunch of them there was too, packing out the Osmond Stand, with even the green seats containing humanity, rather than the usual odd steward. Or even an odd unusual steward, take your pick.

The Town fans, or those that bothered to turn up, were in sanguine mood. Support is dwindling, with clumps of empty seating seen in all three Town stands. So it's good to see the locals rallying behind the club again. Nothing fancy to report in the pre-match build up. The usual stuff – a kick, a trot, a miss, a Gallimore funny face pull. Oh yes, Galli, he's back.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Ward, Ford, Raven, Gallimore, Campbell, Santos, Pouton, Barnard, Kabba and Livingstone. The substitutes were Allaway, Coldicott, Robinson, Mansaram and Cooke. Oh, no – Livvo. He's back. This news brought forth varied reaction. Some liked the theory; most shuddered at the reality. What creativity there was was wrapped up inside Kabba's crazy ankles and rumbling shoulders.

Rotherham? Well, they lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, looked bright-eyed and bushy-eared, appearing to be as eager as a fly in a bottle. They had that comfortable look about them. Comfort can lead to complacency, of course.

The referee wore a yellow shirt. Was that significant?

First half

Rotherham kicked off towards the Pontoon and within four seconds the ball had sailed majestically over the head of their right winger and into the back of a waiting ambulance. Is the speed at which a team kicks the ball out of play from the kick off related to their league position? Must we factor in the height at which the ball crosses the line too? Surely there's a mathematician out there who could work it out? I won't ask you again.

The game started quite slowly, and was a bit dull. Byfield kept nipping about down the channels, but was generally shepherded to safety by Ford, whilst Lee played in the Ronnie Moore mode – ‘rumbustiously’ – which led to some manly tangling and tussling with Raven. But nothing much happened near goal. Not that Town got near the Rotherham goal at all, with Livvo acting as a midfield shield for the Rotherham defence.

In the early, boring, part of the game magic moments were flee-ee-eeting. Oh look – there's Livvo; he's near the ball. Well done! Kabba's attempts to control the ball caused much mirth; one could almost hear the Yorkshiremen chuckle from the Pontoon. The first attempt on goal I can remember came from Santos, who played a one-two with Kabba and sliced a shot over the bar, over the scoreboard, over the roof and over the Pier. It's probably about to hit the ionosphere now. There were a few wibbles in the Town defence, with Ford almost scoring a wonderful lob over Coyne. Under pressure near the right edge of the penalty area and facing goal, he decided to play a nonchalant flick with the outside of his right boot, which arced over Coyne towards the top right-hand corner of the goal. Coyne back-pedalled furiously, leapt up as if to head it out, then clearly thought "sod it" and parried the ball away. Curiously, no Rotherham player appealed for a back-pass, which it was.

A little later Ward fell when the ball was lobbed over his head and he tried to head it back to Coyne. There was a very strange bounce, as if it had hit a divot, though Livvo was at the other end of the pitch. Whatever, Rotherham wasted the opportunity, as their left winger decided to dribble across the face of the penalty area, succeeding only in running into four Town defenders. Now that's the kind of success I like to see.

After about 15 minutes, Rotherham won a free kick about 20 yards out, right in the centre, after Ford slid in to tackle Garner, who tried to dink the ball over the horizontal centre-back. Ford's feet missed the ball, but he did block with another, less obvious, part of his anatomy. To the indignation of all in the Pontoon the referee gave a free kick. McIntosh loped up and curled a left-footed shot over the wall and about a foot over the bar, with Coyne wishin' and hopin', and prayin' it was over.

And still the game trundled on, with no hint of skill or excitement. Livvo drifted across the face of the penalty area and, from the right, curled a left-footed shot a couple of feet wide of the keeper's right post. No Town supporters raised even an eyebrow in anticipation: no "ooohs", no "ahhhs", for it was Livvo, and we knew what to expect. But a corner? Then we woke up, but fell asleep again when that plan came to nought, just half a page of scribbled lines on the training ground. Rotherham immediately broke away and Pouton ran the full length of the pitch to flip the ball away as Byfield (I think) was about to shoot, inside the Town area. The Pontoon roared Pouton on for a great track back. Yes, that's the excitement we were getting. A satisfying tackle was greeted like a triple stepover and double Lutz with handstands.

Another Rotherham breakaway, after about 25 minutes, from a Town corner saw Santos also run back 50 yards, but the psychopathic teddy bear simply walloped the opponent from behind, right in front of the referee. A yellow card: no arguments there.

A couple of minutes later, pandemonium. Santos tricked and barged his way through the Rotherham defence, about 25 yards out to the left. Garner, who had the physique and stubble of a Sunday league division two team's gifted but temperamental playmaker, legged him up from behind, with a mild raking stamp. Santos waggled his boot at Garner, got up, shoved him, and was then pushed over. Loads of Rotherham players ran over, as did Pouton and Livingstone (I presume, though Livvo ambled rather than ran) and much continental slapping ensued, being manly chest-beating and pouting. Pouton engaged in a lengthy, intimate, philosophical discourse with Garner and, as one would expect, the charabanc trippers behind that goal enquired whether the referee would consider that Mr Santos should be removed from the field of play. Which they shortened to "off, off, off".

The Town fans had a contrary view: as Garner was still alive, Santos could not possibly have touched him. Right? Out came the red card (not a second yellow) and our weapon of mass destruction was off with 75 minutes left. No UN resolution required here, then. Santos is at times like a glowering inferno – he's outta control and heading your way. The linesman flagged with some style to attract the ref's attention, which resulted in the shaven-headed Rotherham centre back being booked, presumably for being the only player who tried to calm things down. The result of all that was a Town free kick, which Gallimore curled around the wall and into Pollitt's midriff.

A couple of minutes later, as Rotherham were about to take a corner, Livingstone was replaced by Coldicott and Town shuffled into a simple 4-4-1 formation. Rotherham didn't threaten at all really for the rest of the half. The occasional breakaway, which fizzled away like a cheap firework, with a few offsides thrown in for good measure. I can't remember Coyne having to make what independent observers would call a save from a Rotherham player in the first half. The Town players ran around like furies, gradually rousing the crowd from initial resigned silence to combative carousing. If anything, Town had the best efforts on goal after Santos disappeared. Pouton, twice, cut in from the right and pinged left-footed shots towards goal, the first of which only just failed to curl in at the far post. Kabba too had his trademark rumble in the jungle down the flank, twisting past a couple of defenders, drifting across the face of the penalty area and slightly scuffing a shot low to the near post. Easily saved, but justification for a roar from the crowd.

Whenever Rotherham threatened to create anything a Town boot, bottom or bonce got in the way, with Ford particularly thriving in the last-ditch clearance. Raven managed to get himself booked for upending Lee. The moaning, groaning Lee, who spent all game mouthing off or rolling around on the ground. What an irritant he was, and not for anything he did with the ball either.

Ah, I've remembered now – the moment they nearly scored. Some interplay 25 yards out on the Town centre-left ended with a little pass between Gallimore and Raven for Byfield to zoom in on. Raven's outstretched right boot managed to half clear as Coyne raced off his line to collect. The ball went straight to their right-back, who immediately lobbed the retreating, stranded Coyne, a la Barnard against Derby. The ball gently curled, curved, arced and dropped a few inches over the angle of post and bar.

And that was the first half, where nothing happened except a bit of testosterone-fuelled posing, which made the game spin off in an entirely unexpected direction. They may have had Warne on the pitch but it was the ref who chucked in a googly to spice things up. Scoreless was about right on the balance of play and chances created, but as one would expect, hopes were low in the monochrome ends. This daft season continues daftly. Still, 45 more minutes: anything could happen and probably would.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"No matter how slack I try to be they won't sack me.”
"What's wrong with Galli? He's playing adequately.”
"I've brought the chicken soup, but left the croutons behind.”
"Can you do my shouting in the second half? I'm a bit tired.”
"They make you pay for your own suit!"

Second half

No changes were made by either team at half time. Town kicked off and refused to kick the ball out immediately. Surprisingly, Rotherham continued to play in the half-baked way they'd played in the first half. They were a little more direct, but there was still a lot of ambling about by their podgy midfield, who took much umbrage at the stern swashbuckling challenges meted out to them, particularly by Pouton.

The very first action of the half was a surprise to all, with Town almost sneaking a goal. Kabba chased a ball played down the left touchline, spun, bundled and surged to the by-line, crossing towards no-one. The ball veered towards the top near-side post, forcing Pollitt to tip it away with some discomfort. The corner was clipped high towards the far post by Barnard where Raven, unmarked and about 10 yards out, slightly misjudged his leap, and the ball skimmed off his forehead softly and well wide.

Did this wake Rotherham up? No. We had another half-dozen minutes of midfield battling, with Town strung across the pitch in two lines of four, closing down space, snapping at ankles, hustling and harrying in the old way. It was noticeable that when Kabba broke away there was always a Town player racing up the pitch in support with, initially, Campbell being the designated supporter.

Then two incidents to further fan the flames. Rotherham tried to break quickly from the halfway line, right in front of the dug-outs. Raven flew across and slid at Byfield, who knocked the ball forward and rolled. Oh dear, Raven's off here. No – Byfield booked for diving. Cue angry arguments with the referee, led by Lee. Two minutes later, just about 10 minutes into the half, Lee burst down the touchline in almost exactly the same spot. Raven again flew across and legged Lee up, who rolled, rolled, rolled, writhed and rolled again. Yellow card number two for Raven and off he went. A lenient referee may have allowed Raven another chance as it was a slightly mistimed lunge; but then again, why give someone the opportunity to fall and the ref a chance to send you off? It did appear that some of the Rotherham players were seeking Raven's dismissal, and I do point a very long, ET-like finger at Lee.

The second sending off raised the roof a further six inches as the home crowd were enraged beyond normal safety levels. The ground reverberated to deep, deep booing and rancorous shrieks of rage. Every tackle, clearance, throw-in even, was met with a wall of noise that echoed around and around. Questions were certainly raised about the referee's competence and even right to exist. He was not popular; even less so when a series of little decisions kept going against Town, including being another referee to apply the disadvantage rule to Town after a chop on Campbell. All of which served a useful purpose, for it meant the Town players were given a quick fix of adrenalin. Pumped up by the perceived injustice, the crowd seemed to create an invisible 10th player, then a transparent 11th.

Town reshuffled to a 4-3-1 formation, with Gallimore at centre-back, Barnard at left-back and Campbell, Coldicott and Pouton in the centre. Sounds negative, doesn't it, with Town just trying to hold on. In reality, it was Town who created the best chance. Ward intercepted a pass deep inside the Town half, ran forward and passed up to Kabba in the centre circle, who turned and ran at the defence. Another futile headlong run against a brick wall? Hang on a second. Ward sprinted up the touchline, into a gaping hole where their left-back should have been, and received the ball back from Kabba. Ward took on the covering defender and crossed from just outside the area, near the touchline, towards the near post. Kabba and McIntosh converged on a spot six yards out, level with the near post. The ball bounced off the defender's shins and slowly bumbled towards the bottom left-hand corner. Pollitt just, and only just, managed to change direction and tip the ball an inch wide of the post for a corner. ROAR. The corner was floated towards the far post, bouncing off a defender, off Ford's back and into a space six yards out. Kabba, unmarked, turned and Pollitt plopped onto the ball as Kabba's boot swung. ROAR again.

Rotherham didn't produce anything for ages, so they kept making substitutions, taking off defenders and midfielders and throwing on strikers. Eventually Mushy Pea Moore did the obvious thing and sent on Mark Robins, to a sotto voce groan by the Town fans. Yet another in a long line of strikers who always score against Town. Everyone has one, apart from us, obviously.

From this point, with about 20 minutes left, Rotherham suddenly became a threat. On occasions it was like they had more players than us! At corners Town literally didn't have enough players to mark everyone, which was a little concerning to say the least. There was an intense period of pressure with about 15 minutes left which started with a cross from their right to the far post, which was headed down into the ground at Coyne from about eight or nine yards out. A minute later a header from a corner landed on the roof of the net, and a minute or so after that we thought they'd scored. A swift one-two down their left resulted in the winger getting beyond Ward and crossing to the near post, where Robins peeled away, went back towards the ball, and from about six or seven yards out, level with the post, headed firmly down and a few inches wide.

Town still threatened on the counterattack, with Barnard, Campbell and especially Ward bombing up to support the mighty Kabba, who had four markers but still kept emerging with the ball. Ward won a couple of corners when his crosses slapped against flabby parts of the big shaven-headed centre-back. Perhaps off his arm on one occasion, but only perhaps; no-one really appealed; we were so wrapped up in just making noise. Ward also slashed a drive a foot or so wide of the keeper's left post following another fantastic sprint and support to Kabba. Town players were everywhere, but at times there just weren't enough as Rotherham, rather belatedly, started to play with a bit of intelligence, keeping possession and switching wings constantly. There were at least three occasions when there were four of them against one Town player, but the final pass was always intercepted, which was most fortunate.

Crosses kept flying in, with Ford and Gallimore heading, heading, heading away. Corners in, corners cleared. Coyne even came off his line to catch a couple too. As the game reached the last ten minutes Rotherham were reduced to shooting from outside the penalty area. Their right-back, Bryan, twice slashed the ball a foot or two wide of Coyne's right post; a couple more squirmed through the thicket of legs, but straight to Coyne. The pressure built, but the time ticked on. Could Town get the fabulous point they deserved?

At last Coyne was forced to make a save. Daws, 20 yards out on their centre-right, cut inside, saw just Barnard in front of him and let fly, zinging a right-footed drive across Coyne and towards the right-hand corner, at hip height. Coyne, with grace and glamour, floated upon the thermals and tipped the ball a few inches past the post. Hail to the Chief, the magnificent man was a flying machine. Here we go again: a deep cross from their left dropped between the defence and Coyne, slowly arcing through the penalty area nine or ten yards out. One player jumped and missed; another, near the far post and unmarked, leapt forward and missed; another, unmarked beyond the far post, slid forward and missed. A crumpled, crestfallen mass of mid-table madness in the Town area. And finally, Cyril, their best chance. A deep high cross from their right towards the edge of the six-yard box dropped over Ward. The striker took the ball down on his chest, leant back and volleyed the ball over the top of the scoreboard. A huge rollicking roar rose from the Town stands, everyone standing, jumping, shaking fists, shaking everything.

Pouton indulged in some more stepovers, with a most complicated and slow version, just under the Stones/Smiths/Findus, causing much confusion in the minds of the watching Millers. Campbell started to surge forward, Barnard to raid freely down the left. All fantastically spirited stuff. A Barnard raid foundered upon the clashing boot of a defender. The referee, of course, waved play on as Barnard was prostrate. When the ball was eventually kicked out of play the referee slowly, slowly walked to the prone left-back, right in the corner between Stones/Findus/Smiths stand and Pontoon. A perfect opportunity for the Town fans to vent a collective spleen, and I am sure Barnard stayed down longer than required just so the referee endured the long invective.

With less than 10 minutes left, Kabba was replaced by Mansaram, receiving a huge ovation for his unquenchable desire to run for Town. All alone for an hour, against four big blokes, he caused them many, many problems. What a guy! Mansaram seemed to have been told to play like Livvo, for he ambled around as if he'd just run a half marathon. Unco-ordinated, slow of foot and mind, he was a bit of a mess. And with five or so minutes left Ward was replaced by Cooke (which meant Coldicott went to right-back). Ward had literally run himself to a standstill, being incapable of movement after his 28th foray down the right. The lad ran his heart out for Town.

Which just leaves one more effort on goal to describe – a Town one too. Mansaram received the ball just inside the Rotherham half on the Town right. He spun around four times, with the ball never, ever, more than six inches from his body, but never, ever, under control. He managed to attract three defenders and the ball squirmed away to the centre, about 25 yards out. Cooke hared forward and thwacked a first-time shot, which zipped through a couple of defenders. Pollitt saw it late, leant back and just managed to tip the ball over the bar. The noise deafened, with the crowd roaring Town on. Who cares that there were only two Town players in the area for the resulting corner; it's the noise that counts.

There were three minutes of added time: no worries for our heroes. Pouton led half the team in a lap of honour as the crowd rose as one (excepting the Yorkists, of course) to salute the weary warriors.

0-0 at home against Rotherham. Sounds boring. No way Jose. The crowd seethed; the players showed tremendous willingness, discipline and no little skill. There were so many positive aspects, collectively and individually. This could be a very important game for Town, for it would have been very easy for them to cave in. But they didn't. Town had a bit of fortune in the last quarter of an hour but they deserved it for the season so far, and this game in particular. The collective performance makes you feel proud to be a Mariner. It was an exhilarating experience, in its own way.

Man of the match

Ooh, there are so many to choose from – it's almost unfair to single one out. Ward was wonderful until his legs gave way. Who's McDermott? Gallimore, despite his propensity to run like a man whose trousers are falling down, was excellent, almost faultless. Ford made only one error, the almost catastrophic back-pass, but otherwise played beautifully, matching pace with pace, strength with strength. I could go on and mention everyone, but for once the sponsors got it right – ALAN POUTON: a true captain's performance, leading by example and acting as the motivator, the organiser, pumping passion and driving the demonic defenders on.

Official warning

Mr R Beeby

I am obliged to give this man, the custard tart, -0.67. Not for the double sendings-off, because for each one the Town player put themselves in the position of appealing to his better nature. Just generally, the man did not control the game, did not grasp the mechanics or logic of football. This was not a particularly dirty game – just a couple of minor melĂ©es that were not managed properly. He spent the last five minutes giving free kicks to Town, perhaps to try and even things up. They didn't.