Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

30 September 2003

Blackpool 0 Grimsby Town 1

A pleasant evening in what tourist guides describe as a major seaside resort, with around 100-150 Town fans sprawled over some temporary seating down one side of the pitch. What a strange land we visited. Desolate and bleak, concrete and candyfloss. That infinite imponderable "why do people come to Cleethorpes for a holiday?" has finally been answered. Because they went to Blackpool last year and have a taste for the jet-set lifestyle. What colour was that kettle that just shot over my head?

With ample parking in the flatlands and badlands around the ground, an imposing modernist structure loomed before us. Hmmm. It would be difficult to claim they'd paved paradise to put up this parking lot. Where's the away end? Go under the bridge, up the steps, over the road, under the bingo hall and up a gum tree.

Like walking back through the decades, the Town support emerged in an open area infested with puddles and with a fantastic view of the Time Team's latest dig. That was once a football stand? Did they take the roof off to keep the Universal Business Rate down to a manageable size?

Opposite the poor and huddled Mariner masses was the swishing swoosh of newness, the Pricebusters Matthews Stand. Demeaning an icon or what! What next? The Mothercare Maradona Stand? The Costcutters Charlton End? The Kwiksave Kilmore railing? The ground is clearly in a state of flux, with the next stage being an approaching blowtorch.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Edwards, Barnard, Crowe, Hamilton, Daws, Campbell, Onoura and Boulding. The substitutes were young Jevons, young Mansaram, young Bolder, young Hockless and young Young, which makes him sound like a panda, doesn't it. So Crowe for Cas was the only change from Saturday, with everyone where you'd expect them to be.

The pre-match warm-up and entertainment were suitably downbeat, bordering on the non-existent, though there was a series of tannoy announcements. Or was that the local bingo hall? "On its own, number one - blind Davison!" "Two and six, pick 'n' mix - Jason Crowe!"

Just before kick-off the Blackpool supporters rose to their feet to acclaim some bloke who had wandered onto the pitch. A private investigator was contracted and it emerged that this man was a popular former player, a Mr Paul Groves. Oh, our Grovesie. Or to give him his full title, according to the nylon generation, "Sort it out Groves".

And the game hadn't even started yet.

First half
Town kicked off towards the goal behind which humans lay, sat, slumped, slept and daydreamed. In other words, to the right as seen by the Town fans; to the left as seen on television. The ball was tapped back to Crane, who whacked it down the left. Eventually sanity was restored when one of the Blackpool players sliced the ball out for a throw-in. That's the way to do it; well, the way first division teams do it.

Fifteen minutes of comforting, slow, tippy-tappy football followed. Lovely. Nice. Quite charming in its olde worlde way. Like a pair of woolly slippers and a hot water bottle, it was so relaxing to snuggle up and watch the way things were. When everything was in black and white. You knew where you were in them days. The names change but the Town on song remains the same. Possession, passing, practically no action. It may have quietened the Blackpool supporters, but they were so far away it was hard to tell.

Oh, look out - Boulding's free. Crane chipped a first-time pass up the right wing, to accompanying groans from the polenta-reading poetry-eaters. Boulding leapt free, twisted past one defender, zoomed towards goal and dragged a very forgettable shot into the side netting. What was that? Sorry, forgotten already.

Woah, an Onuora flick on the edge of the area, Boulding almost free. If he'd been awake, that is, narcolepsy spreading from terrace to pitch. Or perhaps he'd been bedazzled by the five-man passing move that preceded, including a Daws dummy and Hamilton hop. A Town corner, the usual routine, with Barnard clipping the ball to someone 30 yards out. Campbell scuffed the shot and the ball ping-ponged through the area, with a minor scramblette in the middle of the box, and rolled way past the right-hand post. Well, something almost happened, but at least it almost happened in front of their goal.

Blackpool got into the Town half a couple of times, with Sheron finding space between Barnard and Edwards. Finding space is one thing; doing something when you are there is another - and Sheron did what he always does against Town (and most other teams for that matter) and that is nothing, sir.

Eventually Blackpool played the ball out to their left, enabling the far-sighted to note that Danns was wearing white boots. Pffft, and before a suitably laconic comment could be thrown towards the pitch we were blinded by the light. Coid had scintillatingly sizzling silver boots. That don't impress Macca, for Coid cut loose like a deuce, another runner down our right. McDermott calmly shepherded this little lamb away from goal, away from the ball, away for a goalkick.

Bump, that Town feeling. Just when you feel at your most relaxed something happens. Only this time, as Sheron had the ball, it didn't. Fortunately. Barnard threw the ball straight to a Blackpool player and off they went, dribbling straight down the middle, sucking in the rest of the defence. With Barnard upfield still waddling back, an inviting hole was espied where the Welsh wanderer should have been. Sheron shuffled into it and the ball was eventually shifted over to him. Alone, free, inside the area about 12 yards out, Shezza tried to side-foot the ball, but Davison stood tall and fingertipped it over the bar with considerable ease. What a fine miss.

What more can I say? More minutes passed where Town passed and Blackpool occasionally broke upfield. They ruined their chances by passing to Sheron.

Except the time they didn't, when a loud klaxon sounded in the head of every Mariner. Wellens was free right down the middle with Crane nowhere to be seen. Wellens hared off towards goal, pursued by McDermott and Edwards. Hail the wizened one, for McDermott managed to schmooze the midfield muffler away from goal, then placed himself between the orange raider and Davison, allowing Edwards to nip in and tuck the ball under his jumper for safe keeping. Normal service resumed.

Hamilton tried his luck from about 25 yards, managing to squirm his shot way, way off to the left of goal, almost hitting the advert for Shire Industrial Estate. Come to think of it, it was probably nearer the industrial estate than the goal. Pouton would be proud of you!

Someone else tried something and something happened, whatever, you know, that sort of totally forgettable, briefly interesting thing that Town specialise in. Crowe cut in from the right, drifted across a defender and tried to curl a left-footed shot into the far corner. It hit a defender. Yes, that sort of thing. That was a highlight, by the way.

McDermott spent a lot of time roaming down the right, but the movement stopped when he got over the halfway line as Crowe simply stood still and Onuora didn't bother to move to that Tony Rees position towards the corner of the penalty area. Wall pass? Wall pass? We don't do that at Bramall Lane. Hoof it, man.

McDermott's roaming led to a few moments of concern as Blackpool started to play with a bit of tactical astuteness. Come on, that's cheating, this is Division Two. They simply exploited the fact that McDermott went forward and Crowe didn't provide much cover, so one of their midfielders kept trotting towards the vacant right-back spot when they won possession.

They didn't so much as have a sniff of goal though. The Town defence was most unified, and even Crane wasn't that far out of position, by historical standards. Edwards was magnificent, the solid rock at the heart of the defence, reading play, stretching legs, heading away, covering for the occasionally erring, wandering partner.

Erring? Wandering? Not always. I said "occasionally" for in the last few minutes of the half Crane was useful, not to say vital. Sheron was sent free down his right after a Town attack was broken up. Edwards chuntered over and, from the bye-line, Sheron dinked an excellent cross over Davison. Crane stretched and stretched and stretched, enough to glance the ball just over the lurking Taylor, with the goal a-gaping.

And that was the first half. Not much to it really. Davison was forced to make a, that is singular, save. However, although Town seemed to have the majority of possession, Blackpool created more moments of danger. They looked very dangerous when surging forward on the break, but required Town to give them the ball first. And that's something that rarely happened.

Hamilton and Daws were an effective block in the centre, while both Campbell and Crowe worked hard to squeeze their wingers, though not literally; they weren't that friendly. Up front Town barely existed. Onuora seemed to be working towards the soubriquet "the new Livvo", with his energetic pursuit of the ball a couple of seconds after it had gone. Boulding just doesn't look fit, not having that zip we are accustomed to.

And some spots of rain appeared, forcing a few concerned Grimbarians to run to their cars for umbrellas and coats. Of all the open terraces in all the world it had to start raining on this one.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Does this town have any banking facilities?"
"Edwards has been faultless, and that's the problem."
"I'm not putting that coat on now!"
"I'm sorry, but Stockport makes me sneeze."
"Do you think he painted his own boots using Tipp-ex?"

Second half
For a change both sides made changes at half time. Young replaced Edwards, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the thought of the Sheffield Wednesday youth team centre-backs from 2001 being the only thing between Town and humiliation. Blackpool replaced Clarke, their version of Crane, with Murphy. Means nothing to you? Well, put it this way: they took off a centre-back and threw on another tall attacker. They seemed to then move to a 3-4-3 formation, though it was difficult to tell as most of the second half was a blur of orange to our right.

Within a couple of minutes it was obvious that the second half was going to be a right nail nibbler. Blackpool stepped up the pace of their play and quickly found a groove, while Town retreated into the old tactic of banking two sets of four just outside the penalty area. And standing still.

Wave upon wave of attacks crashed against the rearguard. A surge down their left saw McDermott only just manage to intercept a cross. The resulting corner was curled in, at pace, to the near post, where some bloke leapt up, flicked his head from left to right and the ball flew past Davison. Barnard scraped the ball off the line, with it hitting Davison on the back and being scrambled away in a most undignified fashion. And that's just the starter for the antipasto for the hors d'oeuvre.

But not before Town had had a little peck at the breadbasket, cheekily asking for extra butter. Crowe lofted the ball forward and over the Blackpool defence. Boulding was free about 30 yards out and bearing down on goal. The Town fans cleared their throats, straightened collars, brushed some crumbs from their trouser legs, stood up and prepared to ovate - sorry, that's just his female fans. Boulding tripped over the ball, knocked it forward wonkily, got in the area, dallied, dillied, and about eight yards out stumbled as Davis lunged. The ball skewed off Boulding's shins and flopped several yards wide and high. We sat down in stunned embarrassment.

Hello Iffy, where are you? Nope, not there. Iffy, if only, eh?

More tangerine peeling away Town's defensive layers, down their left, incessantly, irrepressibly onwards and onwards, through the no-Crowe zone. Pace and power, Town defending stoically with bodies flung, legs stretched, blocks, stares, stocks, skips, everything they could lay their hands on used to stop the flowing orange juices.

A Taylor shot from the edge of the box ghosted through the area and Davison made a brilliant block as the lurking Sheron diverted the ball goalwards. Danns clipped the rebound in to the goal, but the offside flag had already been raised against Sheron. This was just the morning snifter for a full Blackpool bender.

Taylor again, dribbling like a demented terrier down the Town left, drifted past one, two, three four, then he came across Nick Daws. A spectacular tumble resulted in a free kick about 20 yards out on the centre left. The wall existed in theory, if not in practice, barely covering Davison's left post. Wellens took one step and curled the ball towards the top right hand corner of the goal. Rest easy, for the ball started wide and curled wider, missing the angle of post and bar by a foot or two.

A couple of seconds later the Blackpudlians "ooh"-ed. We were already eating our sandwiches.

Still more attacks from the humming buzzing homesters, relief temporary, and often from the boot of Crane, who managed to launch one clearance out there, beyond the sea, over the top of the new stand and towards the South Pier. Again a fast incursion down the Town right saw Coid sweep infield and lash a drive towards the top left-hand corner. Davison hovered in mid-air before tipping the ball over the bar.

A minute later another shot from the edge of the box, Wellens, smashing, Davison smothering. Then another tipped over at full stretch from who knows who, who cares who. It was one of them, the imperious Seasiders.

How long to go? How long to go before they finally score? How long before Town get into their half? Oh, here we are with a bit of possession for once, passing, movement, in the sense of feet definitely moved. Campbell in the area. Why didn't he shoot? Back to Barnard and to Daws, who strode forward like Cockerill, all puffed-out chest and wardrobe-sized shoulders.

On and on into the area, and from a narrow angle Daws pinged a left-footed shot towards the top corner. The goalkeeper flipped the ball over for a corner. Interesting.

Barnard wasted a few seconds making indeterminate hand signals in the vague direction of the penalty area and hit a flat outcurler [Is that a word? - Ed.] towards Onuora, near the penalty spot. Onuora rose majestically above his marker and thundered a header against a defender's chest. The ball rebounded to the side towards Crane, who, about eight yards out, wellied or smashed, depending on your viewpoint, the ball inside the left post. Perhaps he smellied the ball as a couple of defenders seemed to turn their noses up at getting close as it sailed by, and in.

How long left? Too long: 18 minutes. Eighteen seconds is too long. Oh yes, we celebrated. By laughing, of course. Crane celebrated by trying to get his imaginary Ford Cortina in gear.

Blackpool continued to pummel Town, and Town sank further and further back. Daws sat right in front of the back four, with the other three midfielders scrunching infield. The ball was inexorably sucked towards Davison. Balls pumped in, crosses flipped in, but always, always a Town body part emerged to save the day.

And now the great McDermott moment number two. Inexplicably, the Town defence zoomed up to the halfway line and the ball was tipped over the top, down the middle. Taylor, supersonic Scott Taylor, was bounding away. McDermott stretched every sinew, finding every last molecule of oxygen to chase down the lone raider. Onwards, onwards, Taylor still in front of McDermott, into the area. McDermott nudged, McDermott leant, McDermott rolled and Taylor was wobbled to his left and disturbed into poking the ball well wide from half a dozen yards out.

A brief moment of light relief as Boulding scampered free, in the box alone, alone, too slow as Grayson made a superb tackle to dispossess as a shot was about to be made; then back up the other end as Blackpool, for the umpteenth time, dribbled at pace down the touchline, to the bye-line and pulled the ball back to an unmarked midfielder . For the umpteenth time a Town body popped up and blocked. It's called defending, isn't it. We used to do that. We do again. And again, and again.

Finally a shot got through, but Taylor stabbed his right boot forward and the ball arced like a plummeting petal into Davison's midriff. Another Coid cross-shot from the edge of the area - drifting wide, but Davison caught it low down beyond his left post - followed by more pressure, heads, tails anything to stop this orange horde.

As the minutes ticked away Town started, sorry, continued, to time-waste, with Onuora managing to use up a couple of seconds in giving away throw-ins near the corner flags. You can't say he hasn't made a difference; that's twice as long as usual, so he's twice as good, right?

Crane, meanwhile, mesmerised the multitudes with a display of mis-hit clearances that showed off his full range of talent. Hooked, sliced, skewed with both feet, and all three sides of his head. He finest comedy moment was when he missed a header, climbed over Taylor to mis-head the ball again, kneed the bouncing ball towards McDermott, then shinned the ball out for a corner. Marvellous. That's pure talent. You just cannot coach that sort of thing.

There was almost a "Town have effort on goal" shock when Crowe flicked the ball over Grayson and sprinted down the touchline before flipping an excellent cross over the goalkeeper to... well, me, probably.

Around the 90th minute the fourth official Mr Swarbrick (didn't he used to play the fiddle in Fairport Convention?) emerged and made a secret signal to his contacts in the Norwegian resistance movement. A brief flash of a 3 at ankle level and he skulked back to his dugout. No paratroopers descended from the sky but three minutes later we day-trippers were happy. Alright, it was three and a half minutes, as Mansaram replaced Boulding. He never even touched the ball.

There was one final scare to tell you about, when a cross from their left reached one of two unmarked players at the far post, but Barnard and Young swooped and the resulting shot dribbled safely into Davison's arms. It was probably going wide anyway.

Phew, that was lucky, eh? Yes it was. Blackpool were not a bad side at all and deserved to win. But they didn't and for Town that probably makes up for the Port Vale debacle. Crane had a very solid 10-minute spell after he got kicked in the head. He scored, he headed straight, he passed to Town players. Perhaps Rodger should belt him before every game to literally knock some sense into him?

Young made some excellent tackles and although looking a little rickety at times, he didn't appear to be a lost boy all at sea. Hamilton and Campbell wilted as the game progressed, looking very tired, which placed a great strain on the defence, who coped admirably in the circumstances.

And all this with only half a team. What a difference a week makes.

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside. Sometimes.

Nicko's man of the match
If Edwards had stayed on it would definitely have been him. McDermott made at least two game-saving appearances and was his usual solid self. However, on reflection, the plaudits and laurels go to Aidan Davison, for an all-round presence, together with some fine shot stopping. I'm sure he kept a couple of goalbound efforts out simply by staring intently at the ball. It wouldn't dare go in.

Official warning
Drop a league and suddenly they like us, these robotic demons from our past. First Ryan, now "Clattering Clatts" - what is going on? The only quibble would be Mr Clattenburg's continuing disdain for fallen Mariners. Crane, Crowe and especially Boulding were ignored for varying lengths of time as they lay motionless upon the turf. But apart from that he was very fair, honest and true. Excuse me while I leave this planet for a few seconds. Yes, praise, and a high mark. Am I mad, is he? Are you? It's 6.72!

What is going off out there?