Splash and grab

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

22 November 2003

Brentford 1 Grimsby Town 3

A stinking wet, wet, wet, wet, wet, wet, wet afternoon in dreary, drizzly west London. The choice from the turnstile menu was a la carte or full course nostalgia. Standing? Sitting? To the consternation of the men in shiny anoraks, some chose to go back the 80s, the living, breathing, sodden past, standing on an open terrace. Which would crumble first: the terrace or the Town?

So around 60 diehards stood in the rain, and another 100 or so dentists and opticians huddled together on a corner of some foreign field that shall be forever dry. The pre-match entertainment was lost in a haze of rain and late arrivals from warm pubs, but seemed to consist of the mascot getting heavier and heavier as it soaked up water quicker than the pitch.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Edwards, Barnard, Campbell, Crowe, Hamilton, Anderson, Boulding and Onuora. The substitutes were Young, Groves, Mansaram, Cas and Jevons. Everyone played where you'd now expect them to - no surprise tactical switches this time.

Brentford seemed to have many tall players, but on close inspection they all seemed to be about 15 years old, apart from Rougier and Noadesenstein's monster in midfield, Hutchinson. A gratuitous insult? No sir, for we now know why Coldicott and Pouton have not been seen since the summer. Sold to Ron Noades. Stacy's head was grafted onto Pouton's body to construct the perfect midfield machine. You had to admire it, for its purity was matched only by its aggression. As the teams lined up Rougier waddled down the touchline and inspected the puddles that lay down in the corner near the Town fans. Barnard followed, peering at the ground, and they clearly came to the same conclusion. It was wet.

Anderson eschewed his white boots, or perhaps they were just caked in mud.

First half
Town, in the away kit laughably labelled silver, or perhaps labelled laughingly, kicked off towards the Brentford supporters, all la-di-dah happy undercover. The local teenagers showed their inexperience by heading the ball out of play for a throw-in. Just let it go, man, it's da rules.

In the first couple of minutes the ball was away in the distance, mostly at the feet of Town players. Nothing of any consequence to report, then Brentford launched it forward, chased, harried, hassled and forced a corner. Vigorous chasings with attacks causing mild peril. In about the third minute a corner from their left was fizzed in low towards the corner of the six-yard box. Hutchinson, their effervescent Pouticott, raced in and glanced a header goalwards. Davison, in the middle of his goal, parried the ball away from his face and back out, fortunately, to a Town player.

A minute later there was a long, long delay as Anderson received treatment following a reckless sliding, dumping challenge on the left touchline which made our tubby terror slide head first into the advertising boards with a mighty thump. There wasn't an Anderson-sized hole in the board, so the referee didn't even have a little word with the perpetrator. In the circumstances, it was a bad challenge; he could have had someone's eye out with that, literally. Anderson was off the pitch for three or four minutes, during which Town played with 10 men.

Brentford whacked it forward, utilising their little/large front pairing well, but ultimately ineffectively. Ah, Brentford, same old Brentford; whatever, whenever, their teams always seems to consist of a couple of tiny scurriers and the rest whack whatever is nearest very far down the pitch. Subtlety is for yer yoghurt-eating neighbours, for teams whose supporters wear turtleneck sweaters and white trousers.

Worked it out yet? Nothing of any consequence was happening. Ball in air, header, tackle, throw-in - random, damp nonsense.

In the ninth minute Brentford lauched a free kick down the Town right. The ball bounced up near McDermott and some stripey bloke, out on the edge of the penalty area. McDermott, the pro, the master, turned his body slightly and nudged the ball away using the top of his shoulder, then cleared. A timid, pathetic shout of handball emerged from one of the home stands. We laughed at such desperation, or perhaps they have a surreal sense of humour. Chuckling turned to heckling, outrage, indignant fury - and that was just the players. The mad man in green had immediately pointed to the penalty spot, tapping his forearm.

A really awful decision, being grounded in the ref's hallucinatory fantasies rather than reality, unless he knows something we don't about Macca. How many of us have seen his naked torso? Perhaps McDermott is like Anne Boleyn and was born with additional features, a hand upon his shoulder. There were certainly tears on the terraces. Hunt tapped the ball into the right corner as Davison plunged left, then set off towards the main stand, flopping to the ground with several teammates a la Klinsmann.

The next few minutes were taken up with ref-baiting, which he actively encouraged with some more wilfully perverse decisions. Brentford were visibly perkier and their long punting began to reap dividends, in the form of pressure and corners. The Town defence was resorting to last-ditch lunging and plunging to clear danger as those Bees were a-busy and a-buzzing, with Tabb a persistent irritant, darting, dashing and splashing between defenders.

Around the quarter hour Brentford had an effort on goal, their first (the penalty doesn't count as an effort - it was a free gift in the post from a dodgy mail order company). They pressed and pressed down the Town right with the full back whipping in a hard fast cross to the far post. Barnard had drifted a little too close to goal and the ball sailed over him to the unmarked Rougier, eight yards out, who nodded powerfully a couple of yards wide. Should have scored, didn't, don't care. The last time Rougier met Barnard was that terrible defeat at home to Reading last season. Fortunately Barnard is now on planet Grimsby, while Rougier has had many Sunday dinners since then.

There was another penalty appeal when Crowe controlled the ball with his chest. Even this ref couldn't give two rotten tomato decisions, could he? No.

Town, in fits and starts, were beginning to probe at the heart of the Brentford defence, with the occasional foray down the flanks. Some passing, some movement, some hope. A free kick wellied goalwards and sliced clear form the middle of the goalmouth at least allowed us to "ooh", and a couple of minutes later Anderson popped up on the right, cutting infield, drifting past his marker and, from about 25 yards out, fair murdering the ball. Faster than a speeding bullet, the ball wobbled in front of the keeper, who punched it away from his face for a corner. A spectacular and quite excellent save.

The corner, on Town's right was - you know what was going to happen, even if Brentford didn't - pulled back to Anderson, lurking 30 yards out. He smackerooned a low drive through the penalty area, the ball careering away off the outside of a defender's boot. These people, they are supposed to be professionals! Town do it every week and they still don't cotton on to it.

A spell of Town pressure followed, switching play from right to left, with Campbell scuttling hither and thither, teasing, toasting then roasting two defenders [I don't think that's an expression we can use any more - Ed.] before dinking an inswinging cross into the penalty area. Onuora moved like Livvo, stretched like Livvo, missed the ball like Livvo and that fleeting moment of danger had passed, straight into the goalkeeper's arms.

Still Town held on to the ball, with one-twos exposing the weaknesses not very carefully hidden by the Brentford kids. Crosses swung in, swung out, missed Town players. Swing low sweet halibut, as some Town fans crooned.

I haven't mentioned the rain for a while. It rained. Incessantly. Puddles grew deeper, wider, longer, higher, stronger, faster. The ball stopped near the left touchline, zipped away from the right. A lottery, almost unplayable. Town fans were beginning to call for the game to be abandoned, the weather conditions ruining our beautiful game.

Not that Brentford seemed to care: happy as Larry they were, floating on, splish-sploshing about, lumping balls down the channels, chipping and chasing; Hutchinson omnipresent, starting them, stopping us. Another corner, another free header, with one of their big centre backs heading several yards over the bar from about 12 yards out. Then a long shot, lovingly wide, causing the umbrellas to part like the Red Sea as it made its way towards central London. The game drifting away, marooned, listless, lifeless; no paddles to row this boat ashore.

In the 35th minute Brentford had another chance, created by the water. Lumped long down the Town left, the ball was covered by Crane until it stopped dead in the ever-growing puddle near the corner flag. Off went the attacker, over went the cross, clipped to the near post, flicked to the far post and to Hunt, alone, a dozen yards out. McDermott and Edwards advanced; Hunt allowed the ball to bounce off his chest then volleyed hugely over the bar, the ball dipping onto the terraces, the terraces whooping in joy.

More isolated Brentford attacks with the usual ricochets and hustlings causing concern, but no efforts on goal. Davison touched the ball only when receiving it back from the terrace dwellers. More rain, more calls for the game to be abandoned. Memories came rushing back of great abandonments past. Were you there in Swindon? Sunderland? Surely it can't go on, for the ball isn't.

Another stupid challenge by May resulted in him finally being booked, for as the ball rolled out for a goal kick, right in front of the Town fans, he shoved Barnard into the metal fence behind the goal.

In the last minute of the half Hamilton, about 40 yards out on the left, curled a free kick low towards the far post. Crane raced in and, somewhere near the edge of the area, glanced a header a foot or so wide of the keeper's left post. Ah well, half time coming and only one down. Perhaps the referee would call the game off? Brentford surged forward and attacked Town's right, but these hordes were repulsed.

The ball was knocked up to Boulding, about 30 yards out, way out on the right, who expertly held off a giant defender and tipped the ball to Anderson, who was sprinting down the touchline. Anderson dribbled on, down the touchline towards the bye-line, then crossed deep, to the far post, where Onuora, between two defenders, headed goalwards from about six yards out. The goalkeeper dived, the ball bounced down and Boulding trotted away with his hand in the air rather than tapping the ball into the empty net. Only then did we realise - a goal. Up went the umbrellas, dancing in the dark.

The rest of the half was without concern. Brentford tried to press, got a couple of corners, but nothing happened, for the Town defence was organised, solid, resolute and all those other words that are wheeled out at times like this.

Despite the conditions, Town had played some decent football in fleeting moments and generally coped with the up-and-at-'em approach by the striped locals. Generally coped? Well, Davison had only made one save and they had just a couple of headers and one shot. Not much for a high-tempo, route-one-ish side who rely on the law of averages. One could almost stretch to say Town looked comfortable. Not too far, mind - your emotional hamstring might snap.

It was still raining.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I hope your car isn't parked below sea level."
"Any more rain and Boulding will get trench foot."
"Do you think Des will touch the ball today?"
"Trombone and guitar - he's the new Don Partridge."
"I don't know why they were drinking champagne - they were from Doncaster."

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time, though there was much concern that the combination of man-made fibres and water would cause shrinkage in the shorts, especially combined with the half-time cup of tea. Then we really would be on a trip down memory lane. Tight shorts, tight grounds, tight games.

Brentford lobbed the ball straight out of play, laying their credentials on the table right away. The game continued as it had in much of the first half. Nothing happened near goal, with much midfield huffery and puffery leading to many deeply exciting throw-ins. Five minutes passed behind us, as though no-one had told the players when to run.

Suddenly, action - if not lights, for the floodlighting was sub-Blundell Parkian in its lack of intensity. A weird glow surrounded the players, like they'd all had Ready Brek at half time. Brentford fiddled around on the halfway line, lulled into passivity and unnatural thoughts of passing the ball. Crowe nicked the ball off an opponent and hared off down the middle, drawing defenders to him like moths to a nightlight.

Crowe flipped the ball sideways to Onuora who, 30 yards out, played a delightful weighted pass through the defence back to the flying burrito. He knocked the ball forward, pursued by two defenders; the goalkeeper raced off his line and from about a dozen yards out Crowe clipped a shot across and above Smith as he dived. A goal, surely... but Smith raised one hand and parried the ball to his left, the ball drifting towards Boulding about six yards from goal and at a narrow angle.

The ball slipped off the boot of Boulding, who spun and laid it back to Crowe at the near post, who in turn knocked the ball back to Onuora, in the centre near the penalty spot. An open goal, surely... Onuora side-footed towards goal and a defender and the keeper flew across to block. The ball skated out of the area to Anderson, 25 yards out on the centre right, who hit a low shot skimming across the face of goal, just missing Campbell and going about 10 yards wide of the right post. This brought the Town fans to life, with the unwet ones starting up the Groves beat, in strict 4/4 time. They're Grimsby when they're dry.

Brentford were not threatening much, with a series of punts which brought only the occasional alarm. Hamilton lost possession in midfield, slightly jumping out of a tackle as a Brentfordian slid in from Heathrow. The ball squelched forward and May was off behind the defence on their left. He looked up, saw two similarly dressed men in the distance and rolled a cross through the penalty area several yards in front of them, with Barnard strolling back and passing up the line to Campbell. This happened a couple of times and shall be classed as moments when Brentford tiptoed towards a moment of danger.

Whoops, spoke too soon. They pressed and they pressed down their left, the ball half cleared twice, but failing to roll out of play, being stuck in the mud by the touchline. Eventually Hunt , 30 yards out, swung in a deep curling cross and one of their tall, young players rose unmarked somewhere near the penalty spot and glanced the ball just over the bar.

Another cross, another header sent way, way over the bar. The game was down at the other end, with Town defenders hacking and thwacking clear as the ball was pumped in and Brentford players streamed in. Edwards, then Barnard, then Crane all made last-ditch clearances inside the six-yard box. Hamilton briefly entertained us with his soft-shoe shuffling through the middle, an echo of the Pouton stepover. A caricature rather than impression. Keep your dancing for Saturday night, Derrick, or at Grandma's party, whichever mild-mannered 70s faux disco you prefer.

The game descended into a farcical flip flop nightmare of stumbles and tumbles. Awful stuff, and the calls for abandonment were raised again. Certainly if Brentford scored again there would be a compelling case to end this water torture, the drip, drip, drip of dross.

But lo, Boulding broke free down the right, drawing the defence towards him, and rolled the ball across the six-yard box. Onuora got slightly ahead of the ball and tried to stop himself but fell over, in his now trademark fashion. He has to do it once a game - it's a contractual obligation, I understand.

Davison annoyed the home support with a marked reluctance to pluck the ball out of a deep puddle behind his goal. They did duck noises at him for the next five minutes, or rather that's what it sounded like. Perhaps they were being more anglo-saxon, but the acoustics aren't great down there.

Somewhere in the middle of the half, as the Thames barrier was raised, Town counterattacked down the left. Campbell clipped in a cross to the centre of the penalty box where Boulding, leaning backwards, hooked a shot a few inches over the bar.

There were a couple of long stoppages after Brentford players were injured, Kitamirike downed by a full-blooded Hamilton challenge and Hutchinson, crucially, felled by a stout northern boot. Hutchinson was forced to limp off and Brentford lost everything, for he was the beating heart of their team, their man who would be kingpin. Without him they were disorganised and leaderless. Whoever kicked him won the game for Town.

And then there was the usual Cas cameo, his weekly 15 minutes of fame, replacing Anderson as per the rules of association football (as amended July 2003).

But Brentford still did press and there was the occasional wibble by Town, most alarmingly when Crane decided to play total football on the edge of the penalty area, passing behind McDermott, forcing our totemic legend to scamper back and hook the ball off the toe of a winger. The ball drifted towards the touchline and stopped dead. An attacker retrieved the ball, knocking it infield, and a cross was swung high to the back post, with Onuora stopping to glance away for a corner.

A minute later McDermott was replaced by Groves, with Crowe reverting to full-back. Just over 10 minutes left and there was the faint sound of a groan when Groves ran on, for the assumption was made that Town were going to sit back. How wrong you were, Mr Groaner.

Brentford attacked down their right, but the cross was easily hustled away to Cas, on the edge of the Town penalty area. The express train left Brentford station and zoomed off in a straight line down the pitch - he can penetrate any place he goes. Mesmerising, tantalising, attracting the boys from Brentford across, he arrived on time, down near the edge of their area on the right.

Cas looked up and saw Onuora moving, then caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of his eye. Boulding surfed into the box and steered the cross with his left foot low across the keeper and into the bottom left corner. The silver surfer ran into the corner and belly-flopped into the pond near the floodlight. The terrace supporters surged across the concrete, leaping, whelping, bouncing and swaying to the music. C'est magnifique, c'est Boulding.

Town were riding along on the crest of a wave, unstoppable, momentum with them, flowing inexorably towards Smith in the Brentford goal. A minute after the goal Groves caressed a long ball into the puddles on the right. Smith came out of his goal, Boulding chased. The ball rolled, then stopped. Smith and Boulding splashed around like five-year-olds in a paddling pool, with Boulding emerging with the ball at a very, very narrow angle near the corner flag.

As the defence sprinted back Boulding rolled a shot goalwards. On and on it went, closer, closer, closer and an inch the wrong side of the post, nestling against the outside of the near post for a goal kick.

Brentford attempted to pressurise Town, to harry with hit-and-hope football, but that proved their undoing again. With a couple of minutes left the ball was half cleared to Cas, who turned round and lobbed the ball over the top of the defence, on the centre left. Boulding scurried free, took two touches into the penalty area, awaited the keeper and rolled the ball under him and in off the near post. The scorer led a parade of champions before the delighted Town fans, jigging their way towards Brentford high street in a conga.

The last few minutes were just a celebration, the game won, the fans singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling, we were happy again. The game finally ended after about four minutes of added time and the players, to a man, ran towards the poor huddled masses to receive the damp claps and roars.

Now that really was a feast of fun, like a museum piece. Long ball opponents, concrete open terraces, and Town battle back to win away, jumpers for goalposts and change from a one pound note too, no doubt. Who said the pitch was unfit?

This was a real team performance against a side whose style has traditionally been our undoing. The facts are pretty stark - Davison only had one save to make all game. They were quite easily repulsed by the stoical back four, tireless midfield and determined strikers. It wasn't great, but it was what was required. What's more, even the substitutions worked.

Rain. We didn't mind, the weather's fine.

Nicko's man of the match
No-one was head and shoulders above the rest. Crane and Edwards were impassive, impassable monoliths, but given the circumstances, perhaps Michael Boulding should get the nod for scoring the winning goals. Ah, those images of broken light that danced before us as Boulding scored a goal.

Official warning
P Taylor? Pee Diddy, more like. With a cretinous penalty decision and some daft interpreting of challenges, the ref was unable to differentiate intent and the conditions causing a foul. Inconsistent towards both sides (eventually). He'd be lucky to get 1.02. So he doesn't. He gets 0.34.