Into the Groves

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

15 March 2003

Grimsby Town 1 Watford 0

A sunny, cloudless afternoon in the Cote du Humber, with around 350 world-weary Watfordians, those dedicated followers of fashion, with anoraks zipped right up tight in the Osmond Stand. A cold, blustery wind blew through those souls in the Pontoon who had bothered to turn up, for many a vacant seat was evident throughout Blundell Park, great chunks of plastic sparkling in the sunlight. Mighty Mariner reappeared, leaning on a big bass drum, leading the singing. That's leading a chorus of two teenagers, for the mood was relaxed but disengaged; no-one expected ultimate survival (surely ITV's new game show for chefs and former members of the Rubettes).

The players warmed up as usual, the usual announcements were made, the usual sandwiches were eaten - the usual result then? Town lined up in the now usual 4-5-1 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Santos, Gallimore, Campbell, Pouton, Groves, Hughes, Oster and Mansaram. The substitutes were Allaway, Chettle, Barnard, Livingstone and Soames. Nothing new to say there, then; everyone played where you'd expect them to, except that the middle five was structured slightly differently, with Campbell and Oster standing further upfield - in other words, closer to Mansaram.

Watford were just Watford; bright yellow shirts, some big blokes, some little blokes and some rather old-fashioned footballers' names in the squad. Sam Swonnell, Jack and Tommy Smith, and my own favourite, Elliott Godfrey, who sounds like he should be a gentleman's outfitter, or perhaps a cad with moustache and a racy little motor car that he takes for jaunts and japes in the country.

First half

While such notions were pondered, and the crowd swapped stories of great derring-do on how they avoided all the roadworks to get there, the game started, with Watford attacking the Pontoon (though not literally; that would have resulted in a FA enquiry). Town started very slowly, very haphazardly, like strangers on a train. Frankly, they were a mess for the first 20 minutes, defensively inept and elsewhere barely visible. Watford swarmed through gaps, even forgetting to lump it down the channels a few times. They were encouraged by all that jazz to play something recognisably akin to football.

After about five minutes of falling over, shinning and ankling the ball directly to the yellow perils, Town should have conceded a goal. A simple thing really, Watford broke quickly down the centre left and pinged a diagonal cross into the heart of the penalty area from about 30 yards out. Helguson drifted towards the far post, about 12 yards out, and nodded the ball back across the face of goal. Two Town defenders, including the great untouchable, Monsieur Santos, sauntered across to Helguson and made a very feeble challenge; and a massive, some say ginormous, hole appeared in the Town defence between Santos and McDermott, who, of course, had been out there hassling the crosser.

Into this Great Sandy Desert ran a Watford Midfielder, Mahon, who allowed the ball to bounce and, about eight yards out, simply froze as Coyne walked forward with the insouciant air of a man about to meet his new neighbours. Confident nonchalance mixed with trepidation. Mahon eventually swung a boot at the ball and Coyne blocked, clutching the rebound as the shaven-headed hoofer held his head and wailed, as the Pontoon hailed.

A couple of minutes later, Town had a shot. Pouton, from outside the penalty box; deflected; not interesting, even to Pouton's dog. Watford simply broke forward, forcing much backtracking from those nominally classed as Town players, with Helguson eventually thwacking a thumping great drive from about 25 yards out, right in the centre. The ball dipped a couple of inches over the bar, though Coyne was underneath the flight path.

Ford's performance deteriorated from poor to atrocious, with Santos having to use his personality a couple of times to avoid catastrophe. Ford seemed to be on Planet Zog, or maybe even one of its satellites, for he ambled about, miskicking, passing directly to Watford, forgetting to mark, being two seconds behind in everything he did. Hey, life's a breeze, man - he had a real space cadet glow about him in the first half. A clip round the ear and a bucket of cold water were needed urgently.

He wasn't the only one, either. Groves seemed incapable of passing to anyone wearing the same kind of clothing, while Oster pranced and preened like a ninny, fluttering like a mayfly on the wing, wasting the ball every time with several tricks too many. He was easily brushed off the ball and wasn't displaying any determination. Even Santos was decidedly ropey. Hanging back and being slow to run upfield, he often allowed Watford players to remain onside as the other three defenders ran out. Get the drift?

Here we are again then: a quarter of an hour gone and another gold-plated, money-back-guaranteed, once-in-a-lifetime offer. You'd be mad not to buy it! Santos lost the ball while trying to show off 35 yards out on the right and Watford flipped the ball over to their left. Smith dribbled forward unchallenged as a Town player backed off and off and off. I can't remember who, but as it was on the Town left local police have indicated they are interested in speaking to a local character aged 30, 5 foot 11 inches tall and weighing between 13 stone and a lot more, depending on which day of the week it is. Unlike serial killers, he doesn't keep himself to himself.

I digress. Smith looked up and floated an excellent flat cross to the far post. The ball drifted over McDermott, who stumbled as he jumped and turned, leaving Helguson alone, seven yards out, just wide of the post. Helguson brought the ball down and, in one flowing movement, sliced it wide and over, his backside hitting the turf 3.2 seconds after the ball was caught by a delighted youngster in row G of the Pontoon.

You can relax now, for without giving away the plot (it wasn't all a dream; when you walked out of the shower Alan Buckley was not still manager, and Tony Rees has shaved off his moustache that is oh so fashionable in downtown Baghdad) that was a good as the first half got for our fine feathered friends from the South. Oh sure, they broke away dangerously, the Town defence flapped a lot, but no actual factual chances. A couple of pinball moments inside the Town area, with shots careering off accidentally placed boots and bottoms, crash bang wallop football, the old percentages game, but the ball often ended up hitting the biggest chunk on the pitch, Santos. Helguson had a header at one point that didn't even trouble the ballboys; Cox advanced and hit a tremendously rubbish shot that dribbled slowly across the grass and eight yards wide. That was fantastic - no, truly; we enjoyed it a lot, especially those who remembered he used to play for Scunthorpe United, a local team with aspirations.

Town - ah, Town - they improved, but that is not particularly praising them, for the first 20 minutes had been on a par with recent home performances. Fortunately, the opposition were a bit la-di-da Gunner Graham; more interested in playing nice tunes on their piano than being a ruthless killing machine, and thank goodness for that. Slowly, slowly the wormed turned, with - count them - one, two, three, four, yes, four passes strung together before someone fell over, or passed it out of play.

Town did have shots, and they started to get closer and closer to goal, though they were all from outside the box. Campbell stepped inside after Mansaram twisted and turned his way down the touchline and cut back a pass, and smacked a shot straight to Chamberlain. Pouton shot, and then one from Groves with his left foot. That's right, his left foot, and quite a powerful blockbuster, which flew straight to the goalkeeper.

Minutes ticked by and Town kept the ball, but just didn't get inside the Watford penalty area. Oster fizzled out on the edge of the area, running into the third man, trying a shimmy too far. Mansaram ran around a lot, but his most effective work was down the flanks, resulting in a couple of corners. Hughes swept a firm left-footed drive towards the centre left of the goal, but again Chamberlain was perfectly placed. A little later Hughes sliced another shot from the edge of the area comfortably wide of the top left corner.

The tide was turning. The ball was more often up at the Osmond End, which acted as a perfect springboard for counter attacks. But Watford wasted them with over-elaboration, or as one Pontoonite shouted in homage to Barry Davies: "Overindulgent nonsense!". Watford had pretensions, often trying to pass to each other, which isn't exactly playing to their strengths, is it. Perhaps all this FA Cup success has gone to their heads?

With about five minutes left, Oster was brought down on the centre left of the Watford penalty area. Watford fluffed around building a wall, and Barnard took advantage to clip the ball in while no-one was looking, but the referee was wise to the cheeky chappie and ordered him to take it again.

Barnard? Barnard, where did he come form? Germany, actually, but in the context of this association football match, he came on after 32 minutes or so, replacing Pouton, who was injured by one of his own sliding hooking challenges in front of the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus stand. The Jake La Motta of Grimsby received a couple of minutes of treatment on his knee, went off, came back on and crumpled during his next challenge. We won't see the likes of him again for many a month. Campbell took up Pouton's central midfield role and Barnard played out wide, as Galli's protector.

Still waiting for the free kick? So were we. Eventually, Barnard curled the ball over and around the wall, but also over and around the top right-hand corner of the goal. We "ooh"-ed, but it was never going in. The half ended with Town in the territorial ascendancy, and Watford content to cause minor mayhem on counter-attacks.

First half over, and a joy it was...for it to have ended. Very poor quality. Town started dreadfully and with no cohesion whatsoever in their play. There was very little space, for Watford, much to the disgust of the Town support, were trying. That just isn't their role. Most of the play seemed to flow and be controlled by the Watford number 8, Hyde, who seemed out of place and out of time. He looked "any good", while no-one else did. Coyne's kicking was down to its usual standard, which didn't help the game, and 0-0 at half time was generally greeted as an achievement.

Things can only get better. How often have we thought that?

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"It's in here somewhere, I saw it when I put my trousers on."
"We're bound to win, there's no-one here."
"They'd be lucky to raise 75p for Oster on that performance."
"Loam. That touchline definitely needs loaming."
"Apparently Town are losing 1-0 on telly."

Second half

No changes were made by either team at half time, though the Pontoon was cheered by the funky photographer who wandered up, crouched behind the goal and started taking snaps. With fabtastic sideburns and fuzzy afro affair, he had the amiable air of Bruno, keyboard wizard in Fame. As the hair got closer to the front of the Pontoon, they sang his praise in time-honoured fashion, delving into their vast repertoire of classic songs and finding opus number two, 'Caravan Song', though not the Barbara Dickson one. Oh, he was no match for their untamed wit. The back of the Pontoon harked back to the golden era of television cartoon capers. Appropriately, we were in the Wonderland Zoo: "Help, help, here come the bears". Let's split from this distraction.

The game meandered along quite nicely. Watford didn't press much, for Town began to exert some dominance in midfield, with Hughes and Groves forming a solid block. Town started to pass to each other, which was nice, and run around too, which was even nicer. Oster stopped being a drama queen and started to fight for possession; Campbell was irrepressible, running hither and thither; and Mansaram began to hold onto the ball better, too - all of which meant the game was boiling nicely, with the ball flowing towards the Pontoon. There weren't too many chances, but pressure was exerted and many moments of danger created. McDermott began to buzz down the wing, and the old Town one-twos around the edge of the area were brought out of a dusty drawer.

Oster had the first opportunity, bursting down the right, cutting in and dragging a left-footed shot from just outside the area towards the near post. Gathered safely; not likely to feature on the end-of-season highlights tape; but it was a start, an indication of how the game was subtly changing. His hips were beginning to sway, always a sign of joy to come for Mariners. A free kick from the Town right was swung over to the far post, where Ford rose unmarked and looped a header over Chamberlain and onto the roof of the net. You could feel it: the first cuckoo of spring, life returning to Blundell Park; was this the spark? The bleak midwinter is behind us. Was the Town tortoise coming out of its hibernation?

McDermott played a one-two with Oster, who stroked the a ball like it was his favourite cat, and Town's Methuselah crossed, but it was blocked for a corner. Pressure. The tourniquet perceptibly tightening. Hope beginning to stir within the bosom of the Main Stand, the heart of the Pontoon, and the deeply furrowed brow of the Upper Stones/Smiths/Findus.

Watford had a few breaks, which threatened more than they produced. 'Almost' moments, where final passes were overhit, crosses were sliced, nothing going near Coyne, hardly an effort towards goal. The danger was there, but it was more a theoretical possibility than a certainty. Gulp - here goes Smith behind Gallimore, in the area, free and...sliced into the crowd. Looking up, he probably spotted a distant relative in the crowd and his concentration was lost, as was the moment. Perhaps that's the way forward - strategically placed relatives to confuse and distract opponents.

Uh-oh - Santos slept and the ball was dinked down the middle, over his head. Helguson (I think) burst forward, into the area; Coyne came off his line, shepherded him wide, wider still, and ran back to goal. Helguson stopped, then advanced towards goal, closer, closer still along the by-line, and then crossed into a thicket of players, with the ball being diverted by McDermott's shins. A scramble, a scrum; the ball was cleared, danger over, danger gone; relax.

Halfway through the half, Barnard was upended near the touchline, about 35 yards out right under the Smiths/Stones/Findus Stand. Gallimore put the ball down. Barnard hit a superb - nay, perfect crossfield pass directly to the unmarked Oster's middle toe on his right foot. Well, almost perfect, as Oster wanted it on his big toe. Overshadowed by the police box, but unhindered by any yellow shirts, the winger held the ball up and then caressed it. The Pearl of the South Bank awaited the full back, teased him by rolling his foot over the ball, shaking his knees and other moveable body parts, and let the ball linger a while, inviting a tackle, but a mere mortal cannot combat Oster in these moments. He cut inside and flashed a flat, low cross to the centre of the penalty area. GROVES, seven yards out at the near post and with his back to goal, flicked out his right boot and back-heeled the ball across Chamberlain and into the bottom right-hand corner. The ball took an age to roll in, but the aim was true, and the crowd leapt up to acclaim the man, who ran in front of the Pontoon, arms outstretched, shrugging and mugging to the jubilant dozens.

Watford got 'stuck in' for a couple of minutes after this, but their new-found enthusiasm ended when the referee told them to calm down. Nice of him. Town were visibly more confident and suddenly rather free-flowing. The goal forced Watford to attack more, creating spaces that Oster thrived in, particularly on the counterattack. A rapid break by Town, down the centre, saw Oster free and surging towards goal, with Mansaram and Campbell racing up in support. Oster zipped to his right and smashed a firm shot at head height to Chamberlain's right, forcing a very decent save.

Mansaram was sent free down the left, but was so far in front of the rest of the team that he was forced to dribble back towards the halfway line, and tapped the ball to Gallimore, who swung a high loopy cross to the far post, headed on by Hughes. Barnard sneaked around the back and, from about 12 yards out at a narrow angle, hit a tremendous right-footed volley, which slightly deflected off a defender and zoomed towards the top corner. Chamberlain sprinted across and the ball smacked onto the outside of the post. It was getting quite exciting, and enjoyable too. Town began to flow, to pass, to look a team again.

But there's always a moment or two of daftness. Watford brought on a huge bullet-headed centre back, Dyche, whose first contribution was to head a free kick to Coyne's right from about eight yards out at the far post. Coyne slowly fell upon the ball, for it seemingly lacked power, seemingly and fortunately. Dyche thereafter contributed greatly to Town's safety by being the most comically inept defender seen for a very long time. Incapable of kicking a football, at times he was incapable of standing up, like a footballing Dickie Henderson, or perhaps a heavily sedated hippopotamus in its last moments of consciousness.

Still Town prodded at the open wound that was Watford's decidedly rocky defence. Again Mansaram was sent free down the left. Turning Dyche and sprinting towards goal, he suddenly realised he was on his own again. Mansaram dillied and dallied and waited for support, which came in the rather portly shape of Barnard, who waltzed towards the by-line and crossed to the near post. The Pontoon sat down, sighed at an opportunity squandered through lack of forwards and waited for the keeper to pick the ball up. But sometimes it pays to be invisible, for Campbell appeared from behind a bush and nipped in front of the goalkeeper, spun and hit a first-time shot from a very narrow angle, perhaps four yards from the near post. The ball hit a defender's boot, looped over Chamberlain and spun away past the far post.

The game isn't over, for Watford suddenly burst into the Town penalty area, with a dink over the top down their right. Ford challenged Helguson (I think) and the ball went out of play as the Watford supporters and players leapt up and down claiming a penalty, for either a handball or a push. When viewed through Grimsby Town sunglasses from 120 yards away it was clearly no penalty. That's a certainty; no doubt about it; oh, no, definitely, for the referee didn't give it, and they are never wrong (when it suits us, of course).

The storm was weathered, the points were there for the taking, and only the introduction of big Gifton Noel-Williams caused concern. But, though he may be big, he ain't as big as Gorgeous Georges, so there.

Town had the last chance, when Mansaram was sent free down the right touchline by a lovely weighted pass from Oster. Mansaram looked up (maybe a first) and spotted one defender running towards him and Darren Barnard steaming in on sunlight beams on the left. Mansaram curled a low, slow pass though the centre of the penalty area, tempting Chamberlain off his line. The ageing stopper got to the ball just before Barnard, who slid in with all weight possible. A two-minute delay saw both receive treatment from the physios, with a sideshow of one Watford defender claiming Barnard fouled Chamberlain and the Pontoon hoping the goalkeeper was crocked, for Watford had already used their three substitutes. Tell Alec it's nothing personal, it's only business.

That was, basically, essentially, and ultimately, that. Town spent the last five minutes playing the ball into the corners and wasting time, and very successfully. We'll gloss over Santos' terrible mistake in injury time, when he tried to dribble forward and was dispossessed on the halfway line. The Watford players would like to gloss over their stupidity in running offside. So we will.

In the end it doesn't matter what the performance was: finally, finally Town win, and keep a clean sheet. The first half was poor, the second much better, with the defence finally reunited on Planet Earth, Ford having been beamed in from another galaxy at half time. Watford played like they wanted to win for about 20 minutes, then seemed to shrug their shoulders and trot about. I liked that attitude. This was another of those games where entertainment was a mis-spelt four-letter word, but that's not the point, is it.

It was not pretty, it was not very good, but it was three points and, in the end, it was effective. The crowd got what they wanted, for before the game pockets of Pontoonites were heard saying the same thing: "I'd settle for three points in a scrappy game." We got it right there. The duck isn't dead yet.

Nicko's man of the match

Very difficult to decide, especially for anyone wearing ridiculous eyewear. No-one was consistently good; all made mistakes at some point. Barnard was most solid, if a little one-paced, Oster had the worst of times and the best of times in the two halves, while Santos made many showy, but important, interceptions, often covering up his own positional errors. Groves had a rotten first half but a mighty second. Mmm, difficult - but through the haze Nicko ponders, cogitates and decides - Campbell, 'cos he noticed him for once.

Official warning
Mr P Prosser

Not bad. A couple of iffy decisions during the second half, when Groves made two excellent tackles but the referee gave fouls. One always felt he'd make the right decision. And if Watford should have had a penalty he definitely did! You wouldn't mind having him again, his name may rhyme, but he wasn't, as the Pontoon (almost) sang: "The referee's P Prosser." The Norwegian jury went out, came back and awarded the following marks: 7.3709.