Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
8 February 2003
Grimsby Town 2 Stoke City 0
A mild, bright day with an unexceptional wind staggering off the Humber greeted the less-than-massed ranks of Stokies, perhaps 300 at most, scattered around Blundell Park like confetti from last week's weddings. The Town fans gathered in little clumps bemoaning the dwindling forwards. Who would play upfront today? And against Handyside too, who all agreed "should come home". So that's official policy then, we won't need a UN resolution. The Town team trotted around rather aimlessly in the pre-match warm-up, though the return of the Magnificent Seven perked up the sentient. But which Pouton had turned up - the rabblerousing roaming roisterer or the accidental tourist?
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Santos, Gallimore, Cooke, Groves, Pouton, Campbell, Thompson and Boulding. The substitutes were Allaway, Barnard, Rowan, Soames and Bolder. Santos, literally, filled the huge gap at centre-back, with Groves acting as Pouton's brain in central midfield. Everyone else was where you'd expect them to be. The two strikers looked, well, not even lightweight. Two spindly twigs who were not going to appreciate aimless punts forward. And neither would we.
Glances cast towards the Stoke players morphed into raised eyebrows and grimaces. They were huge, with a starting XI containing one midget (though he wasn't a gem), nine great big skittles and a Coyne-sized keeper. So route one it'd be then.
Stoke, in a royal blue ensemble, kicked off towards the Pontoon. They tried to kick it out for a throw-in but failed, and McDermott took pity and did it for them. The resulting throw-in (a foul throw and a half - he might as well have rolled it) was eventually cleared from the edge of the Town box by a most spectacular overhead bicycle kick from Pouton. He's back! And the crowd roared.
The opening couple of minutes set the pattern of the first half in stone. Stoke hit high balls to their two monoliths, Mills and Iwelumo, who barely troubled our man-mountain and his trusty shepherd; for Santos was impassable and Ford the very study of concentration and application. Most excellent dudes! The Town attacks were the polar opposite. Quick, ground-based and a blur of motion. Cooke and Thompson were a constant thorn in the (left) side of the Stoke defence. Thompson played like he always thinks he does, but hadn't before. Flicks, feints, falls and full of fun. As early as the second minute, he'd riled the Stokies with a cushioned twist and shout for a foul on the left edge of their penalty area. They couldn't work him out at all.
The free kick brought a corner, on the Town left, which was delayed for ages by the referee, who lectured Groves and Hall, and anyone else who knew them, about their tussling. Pouton flipped the corner to the near post, where a wedge of big blue converged and headed the ball back towards him. Pouton ambled forward and, from just inside the box, hit a flat, first-time, half volleyed cross. The ball sailed over half a dozen frozen blue heads and into the six-yard box. Banks raced off his line to punch clear, but BOULDING, just five yards out, leapt and nodded the ball high into the centre left of the goal. A loud noise was made, which signified joy and no little relief.
Still Stoke persisted in whacking the ball up to gangly Mills, the perennial scorer against Town, and the equally angular and awkward Iwelumo. This time, more than any other time, this time, Town got it right, for Stoke were nothing of any consequence in the first half. Stoke did not have a chance: Coyne touched the ball a couple of times from weak, uninteresting long shots which dribbled apologetically through the area and straight to our guardian's ankles. Coyne was conscious, so there was not even the hint of a possibility of a chance of a suspicion of anxiety among the Townites present. One of their players crossed the ball into the back of the Pontoon, which, for Stoke, was a first-half highlight.
Get it yet? Stoke were beautifully poor. We couldn't have scripted it better. I would, however, back them to maintain their second division status. What Stoke lacked in basic footballing skills (Handyside excepted) they made up for in pure thuggery (Handyside excepted). An extension of their manager's personality? Whack, thwack, crack and hack. Every time a Town player received the ball a boot, an elbow, a knee and any other bony body part that came in useful was deployed to stop him. The Stoke fans were most irritated by the referee for his persistent free kick awards to Town. Perhaps on the long day's journey into night they'd analyse the origins of the game's name. Foot and ball, not foot-in-back, or elbow-in-head. In return, Town had Pouton, who simply swept these blue meanies aside whenever they broke away. Legally, of course. Mostly. But magnificently.
Ah, that's the general stuff, now the specifics. Just after Town scored, Thompson was flattened by Hall, requiring some immediate treatment for a head injury. The free kick, about 20 yards out to the right of centre, was curled low around the wall by Gallimore. There wasn't much power, nor danger really, as it went straight to their keeper, but the ball took a crazy path, hitting every little divot in the box and bouncing off his chest, being gathered at the second attempt as Groves slid in.
Some fine flowing football down the right, with one-touch passing and movement by Groves and Cooke released McDermott behind the full back. Macca's cross flew straight into the goalkeeper's chest at the near post, but as it's McD, we'll call it a shot. Still, lovely move - it was like watching the real Town again, not a bunch of blokes stumbling towards their next pay packet. Oh it were grand, lad, as Town surged forward passing to each other, twisting, flicking and shooting. After about quarter of an hour it was like the ghost of Tony Rees had risen from its footballing grave, with a McDermott surge, wall pass, and a Groves flick to release Boulding, who had spun around the back. Boulding's cross from the by-line rolled behind Groves, across the penalty area and was sliced away by a concerned Stoke defender.
So it was Town, Town, Town, all Town and all along the ground. Thompson kept dropping off the defenders, swaying his hips and twisting away from the lunges. He formed a very effective little double act with Cooke, who just kept on running at the defence. Cooke brought the crowd to its feet with a dribble that began just outside the Town penalty area with a little dummy and twist to glide past Gunnarsson, a very large Icelandic glacier which is creeping south-eastwards at the rate of four feet a year. Cooke just kept on going as the blue sea parted in front of him. About 25 yards out he let fly, with his shot being deflected by a large defender's large boot - Shtaniuk, I think. Shtaniuk, I must confirm, is his name, not a description.
Still more Town attacks, with the quality as well as the frequency increasing, and all inside the first 25 minutes too. McDermott, inside the Stoke half, underneath the Stones/Smiths/Findus stand, chipped a careful pass up to Boulding, about 20 yards out in the centre. Boulding laid a first-time, cushioned volley pass into a big space out on the Town right. Cooke came steaming in and hit a slicing, swinging volley a yard wide.
We haven't finished yet, you know. A free kick on Town's left, near the halfway line, was punted into the right-hand corner of the Stoke penalty area. Thompson controlled the ball on his chest, swivelled and hooked a volley straight to a slightly startled goalkeeper. You can hardly blame him for being surprised. Town strikers don't do shots, let alone first-time, hooking volleys, and on target too. We'd entered the world of the strange. A couple of minutes later Thompson was at it again, you know, that shooting thing. On the left side of the Stoke area he chased a hard, driven pass from Cooke, controlled it a la Mendonca on his right toe and in an instant hooked a volley from a narrow angle across the face of goal. People were starting to sit up, poised on the edge of their seats, actually expecting something to happen, rather than hoping for something to turn up. You know the world is right when Pouton does his stepover, and after 36 minutes 42 seconds it arrived. His public acknowledged him appropriately. He had rather teased us with a couple of new tricks - namely double drag-backs, where he rolls his foot over the ball a couple of times, while performing a three-point turn (always aware of oncoming traffic before beginning the procedure). We can confirm that Pouton passed his driving test.
A couple of minutes after Pouton's posing the afternoon took a wholly expected turn. As the ball was simply chipped up the left touchline, the Stoke right-back, Thomas, jumped above Thompson, and smashed his right forearm into the back of Thompson's neck. Thompson was flattened. Graham Rodger and Paul Wilkinson, who were perhaps five yards away, went ballistic, running on the pitch and gesticulating wildly with their elbows. Stoke players snarled; Wilkinson and Stoke's substitute keeper had a shoving match; Rodger and Pulis disappeared into a ruck - which included stewards and police officers; and the rest is guesswork, as players converged, with Pouton and Gallimore prominent. The referee indicated that Thomas had used an elbow and booked him. The fourth official minced onto the pitch and had a little chat with the referee, the upshot being the removal of Rodger. The crowd were in uproar, a seething mass of indignant anger.
As the crowd were still rumbling about the rumble, Gallimore lumped the free kick towards the penalty area. Thompson ran behind the defence, way out to the right of the Stoke penalty area. THOMPSON controlled the ball, glided inside one challenge and, as a second arrived, flicked a firm shot with the outside of his right boot low past the keeper into the bottom left hand corner. Outstanding shooting - get that man a crate of beer. The goalkeeper hadn't moved by the time the ball was past him and before the Town crowd were up celebrating. And a righteous joy it was too, Tony Gallimore was not the only person to indicate to Pulis what the score was - but only the Town score; no nought required. Coyne stood facing the Pontoon roaring and roaring with arms raised.
Caught your breath yet? Well, have a rest, it's half time and Town were walking all over their woeful opponents, the bores in blue. Who'd have thought that, eh? Further analysis not required - domination in every respect. The passion, the organisation, the flair was all there in black and white. Pouton back, Pontoon purring. You bet your sweet bippy it was, for he was in that mood where he has decided none shall pass. And they didn't.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Is Santos one of the Ents?"
"With Livvo out I thought we might be back to Rowan and Jevons' Laugh-In."
"In the struggle between good and evil Town sometimes win."
"Hoekstra? Sorry, I thought you were clearing your throat."
"Is that the same Thompson who was rubbish?"
No changes were made by either team at half time, though Pulis sent his team out a few minutes early to perform light jogging routines in front of the jeering Pontoon (Handyside excepted).
The second half didn't match the first, for Town tired, especially the front two. There were incidents, but they were fleeting moments, mainly packed into the opening few minutes. Stoke managed to string several passes together, which was nice for them; though they were unable, or perhaps unwilling, to replicate it. The string of passes ended with a stringy shot which harmlessly passed its time drifting towards the lone steward to Coyne's right. The steward was surprised, but not deflected from his duty, as the ball collided with his stool.
A little later Hall, one of at least three Stoke players booked in the first half, surged into the Town penalty area on the right and fell near Cooke. A rather risky strategy, given the rubbishness of his fall. No penalty; no booking for diving; play on. Town broke away and nearly scored. Some fine passing in midfield created some space for Groves, who played a perfectly weighted and placed through ball down the centre right between the central defenders. Boulding raced forward, drifted to the right, cut back and, from about 10 yards dragged a left-footed shot between Shtaniuk's legs towards the bottom left corner. Banks managed to plunge upon the ball, holding onto it one-handed on the goal-line.
A few minutes later Boulding was again released, this time in an inside left position, after interplay involving Groves and Pouton, who passed with the outside of his right boot (surely you didn't think it was his left, did you?). Boulding chested the ball down, surged at the retreating Handyside, got to the by-line and dragged a cross into the six-yard box. Unfortunately, a defender shinned the ball away, with Thompson and Cooke lurking behind. A few minutes after that Campbell - remember him? - dribbled past a couple of defenders on the right before having his cross charged down by the ubiquitous Handyside.
I am afraid that's Town done for a fair few minutes; not that Stoke created any chances, nor accidentally stumbled across anything resembling football. They had the ball, but lumped it forward and produced nothing but heading practice for Gorgeous Georges and his trusty Sancho Panza. As the game wore on - and at times it was wearing - Santos became more overt in his 'physical presence', realising that the referee was a bit insipid, booking where a sending-off was due, and chatting where a yellow card is normally de rigueur. Perhaps the top Santos moment was when he wrestled Iwelumo out of play, held him down for three seconds to win the contest, and ran off. Or perhaps it was when Iwelumo challenged Coyne for a bouncing ball. Coyne clutched the ball elbows up, which caught Iwelumo a glancing blow. As he fell Santos 'stumbled' over him and kicked him up the backside. Lovely - the biter bit. Or perhaps the kicker kicked, and all done in the best possible taste, pop-pickers. Harsh? Why no, sir, for Iwelumo was involved in the second non-sending-off incident. As Pouton stood underneath a loose high ball, Iwelumo came steaming in from behind and flattened our hero. The referee immediately ran across, gave Town a free kick, indicated an elbow had been used and again only waved a yellow card somewhat camply towards the Stokie.
A couple of substitutions were made halfway through the half: Stoke replaced Richardson with Gudjonsson and Town the limping Thompson with Soames. Well, at least the Stoke fans got what they wanted, for they had been chanting "Barney, Barney" throughout the second half, which confused several under-10s in the Pontoon, who thought they wanted a stuffed dinosaur to come onto the pitch. But Livvo was banned, wasn't he? Life is so complicated, isn't it. Thompson got a deserved standing ovation and, as he was warming down near the police box, got a personalised chant for his efforts, which were considerable and with no little skill too.
Around the same time Stoke had their chance. A corner from their right was swung into the near post; Iwelumo, unmarked and perhaps six or seven yards out, glanced a header that carefully rolled over the top of the bar. That was it, and they blew it. The Pontoon celebrated with a rousing "You're going down with the Wednesday", with a coda "Except you Handyside". And Town celebrated with a shot. Soames pestered a defender near the corner flag and laid a short pass back to McDermott, who swung in a high, loopy cross which curled back to the unmarked Campbell on the edge of the penalty area, to the left of centre. Campbell stood under the ball like deep square leg under a steepling hook, shaking, shivering, altering position; he wafted his right foot at the ball and mis-hit the volley a yard past the right hand post. No danger, no chance of a cracker. Sir, you are no Gary Childs. It's the lack of moustache that gives it away.
What else did Stoke do? A couple of long-range shots, which drifted easily wide, at least got a couple of Stoke fans off their feet. Or perhaps they were going to the toilet? Gunnarson managed to head wide when hardly marked about eight yards out, following a corner from their left. There was a big hoo-hah among the Stokies, who wanted another corner. They didn't get it, like most of their wishes today. I am, of course, assuming that Stoke fans don't want their team to play like a glorified pub side. Mills almost managed to get behind the Town defence and have a shot, but Santos read the run brilliantly, easing back, oozing forward and placing his big left boot across the path of the shot.
Most of the second half was played in front of the Stoke fans, who must have been enthralled. They never looked like scoring, with no movement up front, thoughtless crosses and, after they started to put substitutes on, a confused approach. The substitutes wanted to pass, the rest to whack; and the result was an endless stream of misplaced passes and, wonderfully, a schoolyard scrap. Bjarni, the crowd's favourite children's character, wasted possession with a 50-yard pass out of play. O'Connor turned around and let fly with a verbal volley more accurate than any he performed with the ball. A couple more joined him and Gudjonnson argued back, merely inducing a roughing-up which almost came to a trading of punches. Now that would have rounded off our day perfectly. The opposition beating each other up - who could ask for anything more? Only Handyside's intervention seemed to avert a bout of fisticuffs. Shame on you for spoiling our fun.
With a quarter of an hour left, Pouton, who had wilted a bit in the second half, was replaced by Bolder, who kept up the tackling quotient. Still Stoke had the ball, with Town sitting back in two lines of four, awaiting the next cross. Stoke got relatively close a couple of times. A Greenacre stooping header at the far post was saved by Coyne low to his right. It didn't seem to be going in, as Coyne saved it but carried the ball out for a corner. Hoekstra, the man who embarrassed Iain Ward in November, finally got free of McDermott and curled a shot from the edge of the penalty area just high and wide of Coyne's left hand post. That was in the 89th minute. In injury time a swinging cross from their right bounced through the six-yard box and Mills threw himself near the ball. And that was Stoke. It would be tempting fate to say, "Go back to your kilns and prepare for relegation." They have the kind of style that can roll over the uncommitted - and towards the end of the season there are plenty of uncommitted teams.
Rowan replaced Boulding in the last minute and looked even skinnier than before. The lad is wasting away! Rowan's contribution was to not run into the penalty area when Town had a couple of breakaways. With Soames and Cooke free on the wings and wanting to pass inside, Rowan ambled around conspicuously not going towards goal. In the last minute of the four added (the board clearly showed three minutes when Rowan was being substituted, which 10 seconds later became four) the onomatopoeic Shtaniuk hauled down Soames as the little scuffler drifted past him on the edge of the penalty area. Last man, must go, did go - but only after a shouting match with the referee. And even then he wouldn't walk off the pitch, ambling towards the goal, rather than the changing rooms. Handyside ordered him off. Cooke curled the free kick over the wall and a foot or so over the bar. Then the game, like the Cooke's shot, was over.
Three points, two goals, one sending off, none conceded. The first half was super, the second a bit of a damp squib, but without the real fear of loss. Just like the game against them at their own ground, one never felt like they'd score. They had the aura of permanent missing about them. The Town defence looked solid, with Santos a reassuring block of granite in the centre. Ford was very impressive, back to something like his best; and the centre of midfield was a compact unit, the destroyer and the organiser, the hustler and the dribbler. But it was upfront where the difference showed. Gone were the days of lumping to the lump. Thompson played in a style similar to Clive Mendonca, being a languid creator with some tricks. His previous appearances were most troubling, this one most encouraging; though 90 minutes would be nice. Ah, if only Boulding were fit, for even Handyside managed to outpace him. But he scored again, so can we complain?
Now this was just what Dr Panic ordered.
Nicko's man of the match
No-one played badly, with perhaps Gallimore and Campbell the weakest section of the team, as they disappeared towards the end. Santos and Ford - fine; Cooke a right pain in the derriere to Stoke, as was the tricksy Thompson. Groves was cool and effective as he had Alan Pouton to do the running, jumping, laughing and tackling. Without Pouton, Cooke and Thompson would not have had the stage on which to twinkle. Pouton was the adrenalin-soaked personification of determination.
Superficially a homer, he was relatively kind to Stoke. It would be very difficult for a coherent, rational, sane and/or sober human to argue that Stoke should not have had two more players sent off. How ironic that last week, when he refereed Bradford v Ipswich, he sent off an Ipswich player for an unseen elbow. He gets 5.21, as he lost two points each for his pusillanimous approach when faced by a steaming Pulis.