Heart of darkness

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

4 March 2003

Grimsby Town 1 Sheffield United 4

A temperate evening with a less than wicked west wind gently drifting across the faces of a packed Osmond Stand, stuffed to the rafters with expectant South Yorkists. The Town fans drifted in two by two, hurrah, hurrah, with hope in their hearts, but fear in their minds, especially when they saw Boulding on the pitch. In a suit. There wasn't even the Mighty Mariner for distraction, absent without explanation. Whodunnit? Who killed the Mighty Mariner? And how? Obviously he can't have been shot; well, not by any of the players. Perhaps a Pouton tackle, or Livvo stare? Does it matter? Was the crowd any less frenzied than normal?

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Santos, Gallimore, Oster, Pouton, Hughes, Campbell, Livingstone and Mansaram. The substitutes were Allaway, Groves, Barnard, Chettle and Thompson. Oh, how we sighed at the sight of the same leaky back five as normal. Sighing doesn't come close to the reaction to Livingstone, who has crossed the Rubicon, from loveable lump to dirty dishwater. Pull the plug out!

The Pontoon was by no means full of people, but initially full of voice, supportive despite the collective fury at Saturday's debacle, and the absence of the totemic Cooke. Kabba was given a traditional mixed reception: some boos, some applause, but absolutely everyone scared stiff of his power and pace. And then we looked at the rest of the their team and worried even more. Fingers crossed - let's hope they're saving themselves for their cup game. Toes crossed too, remember. And ears.

First half

Sheffield kicked off towards the Pontoon, McCall lofting lazily with a seven iron towards Kabba. Worryingly, they didn't whack it straight out of play, showing some finesse and ambition there then. What has got into anagrammatically correct Neil 'Colin' Warnock? They were passing it. And accurately. And he wasn't moaning from the start. Ah, that's better - they passed it straight to Town, who went on to dominate the first 23 seconds. Oster played a superbly weighted pass with the outside of his boot to Mansaram, who rampaged comically down the right touchline, eventually winning a corner. If only the game had ended there. We'd all have been happy.

Within a couple of minutes the Pontoon was deafened by a very loud hooter hooting, a bell clanging, and warning lights flashing. United simply passed quickly and accurately up and down the pitch, the ball eventually being slid carefully up to Kabba on the centre left edge of the Town penalty area. He laid a pass off to the unmarked winger under the police box (no, not literally), for once taking notice of Gallimore, who was helpfully pointing towards this little chap. Marking would have been even better, but why quibble about the finer points of the game. The ball was whipped in first time to the near post, where McDermott sliced the ball away for a corner. The corner was swiped away towards Mansaram near the halfway line, who was beaten to the ball by a falling Blade. A free kick was given, which they managed to advance about five yards down the touchline. Brown curled the kick into the heart of the penalty area; Kabba muscled his way in front of Ford and, from the edge of the six-yard box at the near post, headed powerfully a few inches over the angle of post and bar. Cue songs of praise from some of the younger Pontoonites.

A couple of minutes later, embarrassment. Santos knocked the ball back to Coyne on the left corner of his six-yard box, who slipped as he went to smack the ball upfield. The ball squirmed off in a high loopy arc straight to Ndlovu, alone, on the penalty spot. Ndlovu tried to hit a spinning, dragging shot across Coyne but scuffed it three yards wide of the left post. Phew upon phew - great miss and thankfully he didn't try and pass to the unmarked Kabba.

Maybe we've got away with it, eh? Ooh, maybe. A Town attack that actually got inside their area. And a shot. Pouton swept up a loose ball 30 yards out on the right and knocked it to Hughes, unmarked on the edge of the penalty area, who fell over the ball, but miscontrolled it straight to Mansaram. Flash, aa-aah, who is just a man, with a man's left foot, cut infield and mis-hit a shot through a defender's legs and four yards wide. Who hit the D in NISA Today? Now you know the answer if it comes up in the pub quiz tonight. You never know - that piece of trivia might win you a crate of beer.

Hang on, what's this then? Suddenly they were attacking, following a raking crossfield pass by Brown directly to Ndlovu, bounding down their left towards goal. Oh, bummer. McDermott strained to get back as Ndlovu looked up and, from the edge of the penalty area, dinked a cross towards the far post, which Santos shinned out for a corner. Thankfully Ndlovu had ignored the unmarked Windass . But was all this just delaying the inevitable? Yes, of course it was. Town play with a permanent Sword of Damocles swooshing and swaying over the defence like Oster's hips at a 70s-themed discotheque. And Hughes' hair.

The corner was cleared straight to McCall, lurking 30 yards out in the very centre of the pitch. He clipped the ball out to Ndlovu on their left, who, in acres and acres of space, controlled the ball, looked up and saw before him not a wall of monochrome, but a whole vista of exciting opportunities for the young, ambitious professional. From about 30 yards out, he drifted a cross through the Cumberland Gap and into the middle of the penalty area. The Town defence joined the crowd in watching events unfold, as WINDASS shook off his designated marker, who appeared to be the referee, and steered the cross low into the bottom left corner from close to the penalty spot.

No time to reflect on such matters; you'll only cry. On with the game. I would like to say Town gathered up their skirts and had a go, but they didn't. Mansaram kept falling over the ball; Hughes joined Livingstone in the invisible club, recently vacated by Mr Campbell. Nowhere on the pitch were Town the equal of Sheffield United, with the possible exception of Santos, who kept running, jumping and heading, a one-man defence. Ah no, not again, here they come. Like a permanent tape loop, Town attack, Sheffield get the ball 30 yards out and fling an accurate long pass down the wings. This time Brown, and another wonderfully weighted whack to Windass, on their left, with only Gallimore between him and glory.

Looking up, Windass saw waves of red and white crashing over the feeble sea wall and tapped a short pass into the middle of the penalty area. Kabba, with no Town player within five yards, saw Coyne race off his line and tried to show off, back-heeling the ball first time. Coyne plunged to his right and knocked the ball out of the area. Only Pouton reacted, with a trademark sliding, swiping, full-frontal assault on Kabba to stop the follow-up. The corner was worrisome, but I won't bother describing the minor details of history, for every attack was worrying. Crosses drifted through the area, players surged free, only the Sheffield inadequacies were preventing the score increasing exponentially.

Twenty-five minutes gone and only 1-0 - should have been at least 3-0. Are we lucky or what? No, we're rubbish. Tippy-tappy football down on the Sheffield left after a free kick was half cleared saw the ball knocked back to some bloke or other about 40 yards out. A long diagonal ball was clipped in towards the far post. Let's stand around and see what happens, shall we? Murphy, about seven yards out, tiptoed through the tulips and around the back of Livingstone to pass the ball across the face of goal to KABBA, unmarked in the centre just 8 yards out, who mis-hit the shot into the bottom left hand corner. Cue arguments between Gallimore and Pouton and a booking for Kabba, who indulged in some stomping taunting of the Town fans, jumping around and mouthing something which was unlikely to be "I'm sorry, I really like you". Perhaps quite the opposite.

There was an attempt to rally by the Pontoon, mixed in with some more earthy contributions. Town did rally, in that they didn't concede another goal for a few more minutes. Well, they did, but it was disallowed for offside, the linesman having taken 30 minutes to work out how to use his flag. Murphy bundled the ball in at the far post after it was played in diagonally from their left. Now where did you read that before? Town huffed and puffed, you can't fault that; they were just devoid of wit. Twice, dangerous moments were created by Oster dribbling into the area, but twice crosses were pulled back way behind the Town strikers. Strikers? Did I say strikers? I meant those two males dressed in black and white who the tannoy announced before kick off as "also appearing".

I'm wasting time here: next goal, just after the half hour. A Sheffield corner from their left was headed away by Santos. The ball bounced out straight to their full back, KOZLUK, who, about 30 yards out, hit a first-time half volley. The ball fizzed through the centre, through a bunch of players all running out of the area, between Kabba's legs and into the net, low to Coyne's right. Kozluk went berserk, running around in circles, ripping off his shirt and twirling it like a small plastic windmill bought from the seafront just 50 minutes earlier. From the centre of the Pontoon there was a suspicion of offside against Kabba and a little criticism of Coyne, as the ball had gone very, very close to him. The crowd were stunned, with isolated pockets of anger and defiance, but mostly stunned, resigned silence. Town had been ripped apart by a superior team with superior individuals. My, how that hurts. One of life's certainties is that Warnock's teams play brutish, detestable football. A certain critical reappraisal is in order.

Deflated, defeated, on the verge of complete humiliation, Town finally pricked the Blade balloon. A couple of minutes after the third goal Town (or rather Campbell) won a free kick about 25 yards out near the Main Stand. Hughes curled the ball onto a defender's head and Pouton intercepted the clearance, knocking it straight to Campbell, in the middle of the D. CAMPBELL took one touch and belted a right-footed shot in off the bottom of the right post. Huzzah! Something positive to get us off our seats.

After this, Sheffield concentrated on blocking, rather than full-pelt attacking. That isn't to say they were devoid of intent, for every breakaway was highly alarming, but Santos, with a little help from his friend McDermott, managed to hold back the tide. And yes, Gallimore, you do sing out of tune, please walk out on us. I have a vague recollection of Kabba wasting an opportunity inside the Town area, slicing the ball well wide, and of Montgomery swiping a shot into the Pontoon from the corner of the penalty area. Oh, and the usual crosses through the area, usually with Ndlovu wandering around near the ball at the far post. They had a free kick too, with a Town wall made out of wattle and daub, without the daub, or much wattle either, come to think of it, which Brown curled safely wide.

Town pressed and had a few 'almost' moments. Mansaram almost broke free, but the goalkeeper raced out and plucked the ball off his feet at the edge of the area. And then, just before half time, an almost, almost moment. Town exerted some pressure, with Pouton at the heart of it all. He won the ball, he lost the ball, he won the ball, he lost it. Then he received it back from the marauding McDermott, and dinked a left- (yes, left) footed pass over the top of the United defence from about 25 yards out on the Town centre right. Campbell snuck around the ball and, on the edge of the six-yard box, tapped the ball back across goal as the goalkeeper rushed out. The ball rolled slowly towards the penalty spot and Mansaram unwrapped his prized left boot and hit a shot low towards the bottom left corner. The keeper was beaten but a defender sliced the ball off the line for a corner. The corner came to nought, and then it was half time.

Were Town atrocious or were United excellent? Put it this way: if had Town played like that on Saturday they would not have lost. Still, 45 minutes left and Town were starting to come back. Anything could happen. Including more disaster, of course.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"He was described as a man, white and male."
"Am I the only one who thinks we could still win this?" "Yes."
"Why do I keep coming here?" "I guess you need the eggs."
"It's like men against the boys."
"Kabba or Boulding? Who got the best deal there then?"

Second half

Blundell Park, still only in Blundell Park. You know, some day this war's gonna end.

The first 10 minutes were a cracker. The game was evenly poised, with Town driving forward: passionate, helter-skelter football, sheer adrenalin and fury forcing the Blades back. A taste of their own medicine and they didna like it. There was the tantalising glimpse of hope, there, just over there, a faint red light floating southwards over the top of the Osmond Stand and towards Lincoln, and the second division. Oster almost broke through after Pouton robbed and roamed down the left. He tried to turn near the penalty spot, but managed to thigh the ball back to the goalkeeper, Kenny, who has no neck and the air of a roasting chicken about him. Less "Donald, where's yer troosers?" than "Kenny, where's your giblets?"

Town broke quickly down the right, with Hughes bundling forward, losing possession about 35 yards out. Then, with Pouton, he harried the defender into losing possession. Hughes tapped the ball forward into a big gap and Pouton skipped goalwards, only to be tackled on the left edge of their penalty area, and the ball squirmed out sideways. Oster beat a defender, then another, and was surrounded by a quartet of defenders, about 10 yards out, just to the right of centre. Weirdly, he decided to chip the goalkeeper, and succeeded in chipping it delicately into the goalkeeper's stomach. Perhaps he too was mesmerised by the neckless stopper. McDermott was a brief danger, exchanging passes on the edge of the area and momentarily alone behind the defence. Unfortunately the linesman, who hitherto had been resolute in his reluctance to raise his little yellow duster, vigorously fluttered.

Wait, there's more. Roared on by the home crowd, distant memories came flittering across the mind. Would passion be enough? A corner on the right, won after incessant pressure and some search-and-destroy reconnaissance by Mansaram, saw Santos soar above his former friends, on the edge of the six-yard box, and head down, but a yard wide at the far post.

And then the beginning of the end of the final act. A United attack was repulsed, with Pouton clearing. Play continued down the right and I am afraid I have no idea what happened next - like the Town defence; I was ball-watching. The referee stopped play, gave United a free kick 25 yards out right in the centre and booked Pouton. It certainly confused the Pontoon for, if whatever Pouton had done was serious enough to warrant a free kick, why only a yellow card? Whatever, Pouton stayed, moaned and watched as Brown curled the free kick over the rudimentary privet hedge, alleged by the optimists to be a defensive wall, and Coyne produced a rather excellent save to parry the ball away from the top left hand corner.

A minute or so later, the end was well and truly upon us, not just for this game, but the season too. Pouton had the ball out near the touchline, about 10 yards inside the Sheffield half. Pouton turned inside as the ball broke loose and did a stretching, lunging tackle as Kozluk sprinted across and just managed to get to the ball before the heartbeat of the midfield. Kozluk wellied the ball upfield and spun off Pouton's boot. The referee immediately brought out a red card, much to the annoyance of all wearing black and white spectacles. It was certainly not a violent red-card tackle - arguably (and only arguably) a yellow card, as, from the Pontoon, it seemed to be two blokes tackling hard, and one got there first. Of course, had it been the other way round, we would have bayed for blood.

That was it. Over half an hour left and merely a case of how many they wanted to score. For a couple of minutes after the sending off, Town players were so charged up they pressed Sheffield back, but it didn't last long. McDermott surged into the left of the Blade penalty area and, after a one-two with Oster, sliced a shot well wide of the goal from about 10 yards out.

Now for the list of missed chances at the other end. Forgive me if I leave any out; for great swathes of time my shoes held a strange fascination and I just couldn't take my eyes off them. It was that or watch the football. Kabba turned Ford on the touchline, on their left, burst forward and pulled a cross back into the middle of the area. Windass, at the near post, dummied a midfielder, raced in and shot first time. The ball cannoned off Santos and back to Windass. The Hull hefferlump, on the corner of the six-yard box, crossed immediately and Santos, in the middle of the goal, three yards out, sliced the ball out for a corner.

Around this time, about 65 minutes, Thompson replaced one of the Town players, someone who had previously passed unnoticed through the crowded penalty areas. Livingstone! Off, at last, he looked stunned at being subbed, though he should take note of the cheers that greeted his removal. Poor Livvo, deluding himself to the last. His immobility was matched only by his invisibility. Wisely, Groves thought that Town needed a 10th player on the pitch.

Back to the action - you blinked and missed something. They broke down the middle, they passed to Kabba, who shouldered the ball past Ford and was free, alone, and set on stroking his own massive ego. As Coyne came off his line, Kabba attempted to lift the ball with the outside of his boot. Coyne blocked with his chest. Kabba wangled his way free on the right of the Town area, beat a couple of defenders and whacked the ball into the side netting. Someone, somewhere, at sometime deep inside the Town area was free behind the defence and Coyne managed to block with his chest near the foot of the left hand post.

And finally Kabba was taken off, to muted boos and thoughts of what might have been. He should have Grimsby Made Me tattooed across his backside.

The game degenerated into a kick-fest as Town players took their frustrations out on any passing Sheffield United player (now there's a phrase never used before). Or possibly their frustrations at the referee, who was increasingly stern with Town, but at least didn't give them penalties when Kabba and Ndlovu fell inside the Town area under pressure from huge and enormous Georges. Campbell's last contribution was to watch Sheffield United players play piggy-in-the-middle with him and Gallimore, before releasing Brown down the touchline. Galli and Campbell looked at each other, shrugged, and prepared to resume their positions for the resulting kick off. Brown virtually walked along the by-line into the area, kept on walking and rolled a cross through the six-yard box to Windass, two yards out at the far post. The ball disappeared; a loud noise emanated from the gleeful, but surprisingly moderate, Yorkists; and, hello, here it was in Coyne's arms by the near post. If they want to miss open goals that's fine by me.

Campbell was immediately replaced by Groves, although the public execution of the left back would have been more popular. The case for Darren Barnard grows with every minute he isn't on the pitch. Groves had a shot, you know - from 25 yards, which the goalkeeper pushed aside at his near post. And Oster too, when Hughes knocked a corner from the Town right straight to him inside the area. Oster hit it first time, low to the near post. But low straight to the roasting chicken, who is quite pale, so he is unlikely to be a cornfed goalkeeper.

With about five minutes left the inevitable (and deserved) fourth arrived, just as the Town stands were emptying. Peschisolido, distracting defenders with the most ridiculously long shorts in football history (aren't ankle-length skirts banned?), dribbled around in circles on the left of the Town area. He ran out of the area, then passed up to Brown, about 25 yards out. Groves shuffled the midfield maestro across the face of the area to Hughes, running in the opposite direction to BROWN, who increased his pace and whacked a left-footed drive from the right edge of the D across Coyne and into the top corner. Unstoppable, just like his team.

There was a final Town attack, when Santos hit a long pass down the left touchline to Mansaram, who turned his marker and whacked a low cross through the six-yard box. Dangerous, but as it was Town no-one was within five yards of the ball. There was more danger of an own goal. Three minutes of added time, no further punishment meted out by referee or Sheffield.

Sometimes you just have to sit there and take it on the chin. Our collective jaws are very sore, for Town just weren't up to the required standard. We witnessed the finest performance by anyone at Blundell Park this season - power, pace, organisation, wit, skill; absolutely everything you'd want from your team, except it wasn't our team that provided it. Santos, and to a lesser extent McDermott, Oster and Coyne can stand tall; the rest tried, but weren't good enough. The crowd didn't boo the players (a couple of diehards excepted), for they recognised reality. The Town players tried, but their weaknesses were ruthlessly exposed. Warnock may have no eyebrows and be related in someway to Mr Beelzebub, but he's got a fine team, playing fine football. Urrggghhh. The horror, the horror.

Nicko's man of the match

Odd as it may seem, Coyne and McDermott were adequate (though a small question mark against Coyne for the third goal). The Town man of the match has to be Santos, though. At times, he took them on on his own. As an individual he was a colossus

Official warning
P Dowd

Seemed to flip after half time and snuffed out the makings of a match when Pouton was dismissed. I just didn't like him; he seemed to lose control of the game, with small inconsistencies, such as allowing McCall to virtually dig Oster up with a two-footed full-frontal tackle, minutes after Pouton had got a red card. There was a lot of tough tackling going on from both sides, but until Pouton's dismissal, nothing dirty. Oh, you want a number. Will 4.03 do?