Phoenix nights

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

9 November 2002

Stoke City 1 Grimsby Town 2

A clear windless day with the slight suspicion of a chill in the air as about 500 Town fans gathered far away, on a hill, through a field, down a track, behind a farm, over the canal. A big new shiny stadium that is the last thing in town, it was impressive in a bland, non-threatening, superficial way. Especially as the ground was sparsely populated, a sea of red seats greeted us, as did a John Smiths Stand, not the. We have that. The Town fans were situated behind the goal to the right (as seen on TV), next to the players' entrance, which was a hole in a brick wall covered by some tarpaulin. It resembled nothing less than the back door at the local working men's club. I half expected Colin Crompton to introduce the teams (our younger readers should substitute Brian Potter for Colin Crompton).

Ah, who's this emerging form the tent? A familiar gait, a familiar's Mr Peter Handyside! A warm reception from both sets of supporters, and as the teams lined up the Town fans gave him a standing ovation which he made a point of acknowledging for a longer time than absolutely necessary. We were sending those thoughts: "Come home Peter, come home." Or as the wags shouted: "You're in the wrong stripes." Interesting to read his interview in the ‘Official Matchday Programme Issue #9'. Was it all a dream? "I was in and out of the side under Lennie Lawrence and when you're not realise that you're not wanted and look elsewhere.” But you're wanted now.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Ward, Ford, Gavin, Gallimore, Oster, Coldicott, Groves, Campbell, Livingstone and Mansaram. The substitutes were Allaway, Barnard, Parker, Rowan and Soames. A pretty strong reserve team, I am sure you'd agree. No Macca, no Cooke and a striking Kabbastrophe thanks to Trevor Francis, the paranoid adenoid of South London.

Town played in blue, the ball was yellow and Stoke's mascots are a his 'n' hers set of foam cows. No, I didn't get it either. Some Columbo-style investigations revealed the cows to be the punning Pottermuses, as in hippopotamus. It makes you pine for the Mighty Mariner who, I am assured, doesn't rub himself against lampposts when he's not ‘in character'. The teams ran out to some bland rock music: there was a bit of Status Quo, a bit of ELP and some other loud nonsense which firmly placed Stoke in the musical sheep section of Our Price. Rocking All Over the World. Tush, and pfft. At least they didn't play Tush, I suppose - just tosh. And they have Brian Wilson in their squad. God only knows what he was doing there.

First half

Stoke kicked off away from the Town support and were a little too eager to prove themselves to their new manager, Tony ‘I don't beat up all my players' Pulis. It took 1.89 seconds for them to kick the ball into a John Smiths Stand, approximately 9.7 yards behind the left winger and 12.6 yards in front of the left-back. The home fans groaned, we laughed heartily. The first few minutes were lively in a ‘both teams can't defend' sort of way. It was immediately apparent that Stoke were a schizophrenic team; half of them wanted to pass it around on the ground, the other half wanted to whack and chase. Their two centre-backs, the man on a sabbatical from Grimsby and the appropriately named Shtaniuk (thus giving us the opportunity to sing "you're Shtaniuk, and you know you are" when he miscued) kept trying to dictate the game, but as soon as their full backs got it: welly, though sometimes they refined it to a whack.

Enough general observations: what actually happened? Well, let's see - in the first couple of minutes a tiny tot midfielder from Stoke received a chest back from Tommy Mooney and shot extremely wide from outside the box. Town nearly broke through following a bit of passing and movement through midfield involving Groves, Livingstone and finally a late run between the centre-backs by Oster. The Stoke keeper rushed off his line and scooped the ball away from Oster's toes, right on the edge of the penalty area. A minute later a Town corner was cleared to Groves, right in the middle, just outside the penalty area; and his half volley almost landed in the section reserved for Town fans.

There are vague memories of another Stoke attack leading to another poor long shot, well wide, and a header three yards wide following a bit of ‘triangles' around Ward. The huge Dutch winger Hoekstra (wasn't that a Chas 'n' Dave song?) easily drifted, barged and tricked his way through a feeble Ward challenge to clip a cross into the middle of the area, perhaps seven or eight yards out. Greenacre (I think) made the home fans "oooh", when it should have been a "grrr". Free header, well wide. Good for us.

And even better for us after about eight or nine minutes. A quick Town break, instigated by Oster of course, who drifted infield and carried the ball down the centre, rolled a pass towards Mansaram, who left it for Livvo, who turned and allowed the ball to continue on into the area. Campbell was alone, free, free as a bird, near the corner of the box. He opened up his body and attempted to place a right-footed shot around big Neil ‘Ivor' Cutler, who spectacularly plucked the ball out of the cold November air to his left. Invention, passing, movement; phwoar!

After anther wild shot from Mooney, sliced wide, skewed high, only concerning the season ticket holders in row 23, Town did something wonderful. Again a quick Town break instigated by Oster, who, following a Stoke corner, received the ball 30 yards out from the Town goal and proceeded to drive down the touchline. As Stoke had been attacking, their defence was depleted. Oster simply drew the residual defence towards him, using Mansaram as a dummy further down the right and rolled a perfect pass into the vast space where a right-back would have been. The Town fans stood up in anticipation, then almost sat right back down again, for the unmarked man was Livingstone, roaming the plains like the last buffalo. Would the hunters appear over the hill? From almost exactly the same spot as Campbell just a few minutes earlier, Livvo prepared to shoot. His brain turned even quicker than his feet, for he saw Cutler race towards him. The ball was bouncing, LIVINGSTONE's right foot went back. Up, up and away like a beautiful balloon, the ball rose high over Cutler, and slowly drifted on the thermals, floating as if in a dream. Or was it a Livvo-style nightmare? The Town fans were preparing to scoff at a Livvo shocker, for the ball was seemingly drifting high and wide, but NO! The ball loped into the bottom left corner, perfectly placed, perfectly weighted, just perfect. We could have danced all night, and so could Livvo: vindication for his continued selection, eh?

Stoke gradually cottoned on to the weakness on Town's right and the combined inability to deal with crosses. Hoekstra swept past Ward and, from the by-line, drilled a low cross into the near post. Greenacre got in front of his marker and from six yards wide of the goal stabbed a shot seven yards wide of the goal. That took skill. Another deep cross from the Stoke left looped into the area and an unmarked little Stokey (probably Greenacre, but could have been Gudjonsson; they seemed to share a hairstyle) headed a couple of yards wide of Coyne's left post as Coyne did a star jump at him. Oh yes, and Mooney whacked a shot into the crowd again. Coyne was forced to make a super save around this time. A deep corner from their right was swung high towards the far post. One of their big players (they had quite a few - their players were either huge or tiny, nothing normal in between) headed powerfully towards the top right corner. Coyne sailed across his goal like a cartoon keeper and parried the ball away as it was about to sneak in.

The Stoke players continued their odd mish-mash tactics, which was quite amusing to watch, especially at corners. From one, clearly perfected after hours on the muddy fields of Staffordshire, they tried a short one, knocked back to the taker and then clipped to a waiting midfielder, 30 yards out. Only they clipped it directly to our waiting midfielder, Oster. He controlled the ball, surged forward and passed it to Mansaram, about 30 yards out just to the right of centre, who spun around a couple of times, shimmied to his right, then to his left, before whacking a superb shot from about 25 yards, from the centre, which gave the angle of post and bar the merest, glancing kiss. Stoke's defence was given a rather torrid time by Mansaram and the intelligent runs and passes of Oster. No higher praise for Mansaram: he was being marked by Handyside and he still caused them problems.

After 22 minutes Mansaram received the ball with his back to goal, about 20 yards out. He shielded it, and, with two defenders hustling his backside, still managed to retain possession and turn towards goal. Finally they stopped him with a combination of shirt-pull, knee in the thigh and push. The referee gave Town a free kick and the usual deliberation by goalkeeper and wall began. Cutler stood next to his right hand post, making fine adjustments to the wall, using a micrometer, sextant, and an old map of the area dating from 1862. While he whipped out his pocket calculator to find the angle of the ball from the moon CAMPBELL took one step and carefully curled the ball around the shuffling wall and towards the bottom left corner. Cutler took fright, yelled "yoikes!" and scuttled across his line, just failing to reach the bobbling lemon as it travelled towards its destination, the corner of the net. It just made Cutler look like a bumbling melon; he turned strawberry red in embarrassment. The Stoke fans grizzled and moaned, and some Town fans chanted the traditional "Pulis out". The Stokeys will get there sooner or later; we just thought we'd break them in.

The rest of the half was pretty much Stoke attacks, with isolated Town breakaways. But at no stage did Stoke look like scoring, principally because every chance seemed to fall to Mooney, who had a personal vendetta against every single seat in the stand at the far end. A clipped cross from the Stoke right drifted over Ward to Mooney, beyond the far post, about eight yards out. He chested it down and thwacked a low drive across Coyne and past the far post. A cross from Hoekstra caused confusion and panic at the near post. Mooney sidestepped Gavin and as he was about to shoot, Ford raced over and pummelled the ball to freedom. Unfortunately he pummelled it against Gavin's chest and the ball fell perfectly for Mooney, eight yards out, just to the right of goal. He turned and smacked a right-footed drive onto the forehead of a small boy in the town of Stone, several miles south of the ground. Oh, and another Mooney mess, slicing wide when given some space to the right of the Town area. There were probably more Mooney mis-hits, but they all blend into one after a year or two.

The only other moment worth describing in the first half was after a short period of Town pressure, which contained a lovely sliced clearance by Gudjonsson, 20 yards out on their right. He sent it high and backwards towards goal. Mansaram slipped into the gap, controlled the ball first time, spun towards goal, sashayed along the by-line past one defender, stopped when Handyside approached, wiggled a la Keith Alexander and tricked Handyside into attempting a block. Mansaram rolled the ball infield and saw his shot from just five yards out blocked by a combination of Cutler and Shtaniuk at the near post.

There were two minutes of added time, of which around three were played. The referee prepared to blow his whistle, then put it back in his pocket as Stoke launched the ball forward, ending play only as Livvo collected a clearance on the halfway line. So there we are: a comfortable lead, though not a totally comfortable game. The standard was mainly very poor, especially from Stoke, who just looked like a dangerous second division team. Half their team looked ‘any good', the rest a division above their level. Town were fortunate that Handyside hadn't told them that "Town don't like it up 'em Cap'n Mainwaring." Speaking of which, Gallimore was playing very solidly indeed. As for Town; defensively frail, but hot on the counterattack. Mansaram was a pain to them, being strong, pacy and tricky. Oster was beginning to take the mickey after about five minutes, doing as he pleased, when he felt like it. Though that didn't include tracking back and helping out the drowning Ward. Town could have been four up by half time. It was all a bit too easy. Something had to go wrong sometime.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"They'll score three this half if we defend like that."
"Look, I don't do impressions of office equipment."
"Is Campbell playing for a contract? He's buzzing baby."
"We'd have had five by now if Kabba was still here. But he's not, and we haven't."
"Was Livvo using his mashie-niblick for the goal?"
"There's a lot of bricks in this ground. You're not wrong"

Second half

No changes in personnel were made by either team at half time, though Stoke did come out with an expensive cluster bomb in their collective backsides, for they were more direct, pumping the ball up front quickly, never letting the pace of the game drop. All of which seemed to disturb the Town players, who had continued to stroll around nonchalantly. In the first couple of minutes of the second half Stoke kept flinging in crosses, and Town kept failing to clear (the story of a thousand conceded goals, eh?).

After a couple of minutes a cross from their left was headed by Gallimore towards Coldicott on the edge of the area. Coldicott was a bit slow to react and Stoke retrieved possession. The ball went out to their left again, was crossed again, and Gallimore headed toward Coldicott again, Stoke got the ball back again and crossed again; it was cleared again, this time to their right. And crossed yet a-flippin'-gain! The ball was hung high and deep towards the far post where one of their larger foreigners lurked. Gavin misjudged the flight of the ball and leapt backwards, about four yards out, with his hands flapping above his head. The referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot and, eventually, much to the annoyance of all locals, booked Gavin. Which was extremely fortunate for Town. Coyne did his usual leaping around waving frantically like a man on an airbed off the Fitties and leapt to his right. MOONEY'S right footed penalty went about a yard from the centre, on the right, under Coyne and in. Coyne raged towards the emerging moon in frustration, and we all knew what was coming.

And it did. Cross after cross, whack after whack, the rest of the game was played out directly in front of the Town fans. Town as an attacking force? Just the once, if you ignore Gavin's header just wide from an Oster cross. You should, as the referee had already given a free kick for offside. Halfway through the half a terrific Town counterattack should really have made life a little more relaxing for those Lincolnshire loafers present, or watching on Ceefax. Town regained possession on the halfway line on the right and Groves exchanged passes with someone, before tapping an absolutely perfect pass between their centre backs and left-back. Oster sprinted away down the right. He was alone behind the defence and sweeping towards nirvana. As the goalkeeper raced out, Oster, from about a dozen yards out and a few yards wide of the goal, attempted to roll the ball under Cutler. The ball rebounded off Cutler's shins and away towards the touchline. That, sirs, was Town's attack during the second half. Never mind. Over and out.

The rest was just like a third round FA Cup replay, with the lowerf the penalty area, way out towards the edge. A corner was given, when all the Town fans (and even Ford) thought the referee was about to award another penalty.

There was another rubbish dive a few minutes later, from the flaming Thomas, but he didn't even convince himself, so hard cheese matey. And I haven't even started complaining about the corners that were given when the ball came off Mooney (it was always Mooney), or the foulest of foul throws from Clarke, who might as well have rolled the ball in underarm. Or the free kicks given against Livvo for looking a bit scary in the dark, or against the invisible Town players when Stoke wingers slipped.

But why complain about such trivial things? Town had won and there were many monochrome smiley faces. The Town players gathered together to salute each other and the fans. Rodger, Groves and the rest zeroed in on Handyside to hug him and have ‘kind words', and the players trouped off wearily but contentedly. Groves almost staggered off, looking physically wrecked. And so we have it: Town finally out of the bottom three, having found another second division team to beat away from Blundell Park. Stoke weren't appalling, just half a team with half an idea. Hoekstra was Oster-like in his sublime silky skills, talent wasted down in the nether regions of division one, as was Handyside; the rest a mixed bag of scufflers, hufflers and mufflers. So a bit like Town then, but without the esprit de corp, the organisation or coherent method. Or even a Livvo.

There were some weaknesses best swept under the carpet of hope, Ward's tendency to break like a butterfly on the wheel, Gavin's occasional inability to judge the flight of the dropping ball, Coldicott's occasional timidity. But moans are for another day. Today we smile.

Nick0's man of the match

Or should that be the Pouton's Kabba of the match? Ford was a rock in the middle; Gallimore calm, steady and safe; Coyne solid; Groves efficient and rarely wasteful; Mansaram Wanchopian in his spiderman twistings up front; Oster simply Oster. However Nick0 surprises himself by choosing STUART CAMPBELL, the invisible forgotten man on the wings. He worked tirelessly in defence and attack and his alertness ultimately won the game.

Official warning

Mr C Penton

On his first half performance he coulda been a contender, but for his descent into hometown blues he gets a raggedy 5.984. The penalty decisions were correct, but the little things stacked up against Town in bizarre fashion. And he probably should have sent Gavin off for deliberate (if bonkers) handball.