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Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

14 February 2004

Grimsby Town 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 1

A mucky, yucky, murky afternoon in the open-air swimming pool that is Blundell Park. Around 150 Brightonians were glimpsed in the distance through the piddling rain. Incessant, driving, deflating rain floating in sheets from behind the Pontoon. The groundsmen wandered the earth like Cain, arbitrarily pitching their forks into pools of mud.

The pre-match warm up was a desultory affair, played out to the echoing tones of light popular music from previous decades. Would anyone else turn up? Is there anybody out there? Who's in, who's out? Who's that with the woolly hat? I can't see Edwards, I can't see Thorpe. Iffyless too. And just what has happened to Coldicott? There was no number 11 in the team sheet on the back of the programme. Have Town discreetly disposed of him? Has he too gone to Barnsley, the rest home for incurable tyrants and kings?

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, Crowe, Ford, Crane, Barnard, Campbell, Daws, Coldicott, Anderson, Mansaram and Rankin. The substitutes were Young, Hockless, Soames, Jevons and Hamilton. A-ha, so that's who was hidden under the woolly hat: Town's secret weapon, Pacy Stacy. Brighton will be dazed and confused when the hat is whipped off to reveal The Jackal, the midfield snapper and snarler. Hmm, but just half a game in a year isn't much football is it? How long will he last?

Oh, and everyone else was where you'd expect them to be, though the Jevonistas grumbled slightly about the dropping of the chosen one. However, so much stuffing has been knocked from your average Town fan that even the mightiest Mariner moaner couldn't muster a shout. When you're in the gutter you're looking up at people laughing at you.

Brighton lined up in a yellow kit, which has been this season's version of the kestrel, a harbinger of doom. Or has that been when the opposition turn up?

There was a minute's silence before the game, impeccably observed, and ended with a huge throaty roar. The release of tension was palpable and a little exhilarating, as the Town players got into a little huggle. All for one, and one for all.

First half
Brighton kicked off towards the Pontoon. They didn't even attempt to pass it to their own player; it was simply whacked down in towards the corner flag for a Town throw-in on the right. It's going to be one of those days, is it? Hoof, whack, fight and scrap, all in a monsoon in front of the Pontoon.

Indeed it was, but the Stacemeister was back, hounding, harrying, flying to the rescue with monstrously manly tackles. After a couple of minutes Town strung three passes together with Coldicott, of all people, flying past the strikers down the right and tapping the ball against a defender for a corner.

Barnard floated the ball into the middle of the goal. Brighton panicked, with the ball appearing to bounce off a defender and hit a large object on the goal line that may, or may not, have been the goalkeeper. Probably wasn't, as he rarely caught anything all afternoon. The Brighton Belles were a bit fortunate there.

Brighton had a breakaway which saw Town in the usual mess, with only sheer weight of numbers averting danger. And the Brighton player failing to pass accurately too, which always helps - and it did, all afternoon.

After four minutes something happened. The ball was sploshing about in the puddles under the Findus/Smiths/Stones stand, around the halfway line. Coldicott imposed himself upon a dilatory defender, forcing him to retreat, retreat and retreat again. Stacy's posturing made Brighton crumble, for they gave the ball away, put their hands to the heads and screamed.

The ball was played up to Mansaram, about 30 yards out on the right. He looked up (note that in your diary) turned and flipped a pass at chest height into the penalty area. Rankin, to the right of the penalty spot, chested the ball sideways, leapt up and hooked a spectacular scissor kick across the keeper and into the bottom right corner. The bedraggled, bewildered remnants of the Town support went wild; we'd never seen that failed tennis player do that. "Wahey," "woohoo," "yes!" and other exclamations of joy were heard.

A couple of minutes later nirvana was almost reached. Anderson bullied Mayo down the Town left and dribbled into the penalty area. He crossed low, with the keeper in a void of his own making. The ball zoomed across the sodden turf, with Rankin sprinting into the area, totally unmarked. Rankin slid forward and just missed the ball, the goal gaping, open and, like Jim Davidson, demanding to be hit.

Passing, movement, tackling, trying. Ah, so this is football, is it? It was by no means perfect, but at least the middle of the park was forming a barrier. Brighton had done nothing.

Then they did. Or rather Knight did: a small, irritating little cheat, really. His reputation preceded him and he surely lived down to it. He dribbled down the Town right and, when possession was lost, theatrically hit the mud, actually starting his dive before the Town player had even moved a body part.

The referee had no hesitation in awarding the free kick, and from it Town flapped, or rather Davison flapped. The free kick was flung into a bundle of bodies at the far post, with Davison creeping off his line to half punch. The ball fell to the huge number n-n-n-n-n-n-n-19 Virgo, whose shot hit someone's legs and was wellied clear.

And Town slowly, slowly succumbed to Brighton's pesky 'professionalism' from then on. Let's gloss over Anderson's Poutonesque miscue from one of the trademark free kick routines. The ball stayed in the ground. Knight confused the Town players by not falling over, dribbling from the halfway line towards the edge of the penalty area. The shot ballooned off a big Town boot and landed on top of the goal.

The corner was eventually taken after several little tussles and tantrums in the six-yard box. Benjamin rubbing himself against Davison; Cullip and Mansaram almost coming to blows. The corner was clipped to the near post and half cleared off Crowe's back.

Returned to sender, the ball was chipped in again. Davison came off his line, punched rubbishly, and the ball dropped straight to one of the midfielders: Oatway, the smaller, more bruisingly constructed one. His shot fizzed along the ground towards the right-hand corner. Benjamin, standing in the line of fire perhaps five yards out, flicked at the ball and it arced slowly towards the left hand corner, with Daws just failing to get back. A real soft, wet weather goal.

The Pontoon tried to get behind the team again from the kick off, but it was hard work; the deflation had taken the wind out of our sails. When was the goal scored? The 18th minute. I am certain, and also sure of this, as the scoreboard froze for 10 minutes. Perhaps mortified by the injustice of a bunch of hoofers and kickers scoring by accident.

And just to rub it in, to infuriate those fair-minded souls who follow Town, the referee decided it was his one-man mission to book the Town defence. Firstly Barnard for standing in the way of Knight as the tiny terror flicked the ball past him down the left. Barnard turned his hips, Knight jumped into Barnard, Barnard was booked and the referee walked the free kick forward ten yards to the very corner of the penalty area. Fortunately Daws' big feet got in the way of the free kick.

A minute later Benjamin chased a through ball down the left touchline, under the Stones/Findus/Smiths Stand. Crane slid across and swiped the ball out for a throw-in. The referee decided to book Crane and give them a free kick. The crowd were roused and riled beyond a safe level, as were the Town players. Knight then won a free kick for slipping over right next to the linesman, in almost exactly the same spot.

Next up, or rather next down, was Mansaram, flattened from behind by Cullip, who went though the back of the octopus with legs and elbow. Just a quiet word from the referee; got to take account of the conditions, haven't we. The free kick was chipped to the far post and Ford, unmarked about 10 yards out but stretching, headed a couple of feet wide.

Around this time Brighton had a shot. Davison diverted it to his right, Crowe cleared. They didn't have another. They were awful.

With about 10 minutes left Town began to attack again. Rankin, who had been strong and tricky, flicked a loopy header from a free kick just over the bar. Worth an "oooh". Mansaram turned superbly on the right, about 25 yards out, spinning and thwacking a tremendous shot which sliced across goal and went 25 yards wide. Not worth an "Oooh".

Oh, and a couple more bookings, of course. Daws slid across to block Knight, who spun off the old man's thighs, then Crowe thundered into another wailing wimp.

We're drifting towards half time now, you know. Campbell - hello Mr Campbell! - ran in from the right wing past one, two, then a third who hauled him down as he approached the penalty area. You can't be serious thinking the ref might book a Brighton man. Barnard and Anderson held an impromptu balloon debate, with Anderson winning, curling the free kick towards the top left corner. The ball flicked off a strand of hair on the end of the wall and looped a couple of yards wide.

Barnard curled the corner high to the far post. Jones dropped it, the ball landing at Crane's feet. The man with the largest backside in association football stabbed the ball goalwards and it disappeared behind several bodies, re-emerging away on the Brighton right. It had been knocked off the line by someone, we presume not a Town player.

Brighton broke away, but didn't do anything particularly threatening. Poor old Stace was gone from this world, eventually arriving inside the Town penalty area, hands on knees, looking ready to drop. He'd given his all and more.

And that was the first half, well, almost. It ended with a throw-in under the seething Stones/Smiths/Findus Stand. As Town prepared to chuck it in, Campbell was elbowed by Oatway, who then turned around and pushed Campbell away, hand in face. The referee saw it, ran over and told Charlie boy not to do it again.

To a chorus of boos the referee made his way off the pitch, as Town were applauded. In such times we must make mountains out of molehills, for the very thing missing from last Sunday was back, personified by Coldicott. Even his perennial critics were moved, if not to tears, then at least to support and appreciation.

Rankin looked as quick as Boulding, and much, much stronger. He linked up well, he passed, he held the ball up, he looked a more complete forward than anyone seen in black and white for a considerable length of time. Competence is something Town now aspire to.

Town were a little unfortunate to be level at half time to a bunch of brigands, a team very much in the mould of their manager: as Norman Stanley Fletcher once observed, "a charmless celtic nerk". How the heck did they manage to be fluttering around the play-offs?

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"If elbowing's allowed, bring back Livvo!"
"We can never have a manager who once drove a lemon Escort."
"Well Geoffrey, I'm putting my money on the 3-1 shot - Town to finish with seven players."
"I have crocuses around my tree."
"It's a pathetic fallacy, isn't it?" "Do you mean the club or the crowd?"

Second half
Coldicott was replaced at half time by Delicious Des Hamilton, with the result that Town lost a bit of oomph. Well, a lot really. Des spent the first 20 minutes being Des, doing Des-like things, such as ducking under the ball, watching the wheels go by. Daws eventually took on the 'midfield cruncher' mantle, giving a nod towards his imperious October form.

Brighton had the first effort of the second half, when they broke quickly down the right. The ball eventually fell to Carpenter, near the edge of the penalty area. Thank goodness for Tony Crane's body, eh, as he threw himself in the way, the ball thudding into his soft bits and rebounding upfield.

Town won a few free kicks around the penalty area and tried to do a Bolton, but it was totally ineffective, for Rankin and Mansaram ran back too quickly. Brighton just left them to it.

The rain still poured down upon this sorry scene. Hashing, thrashing away in the puddles, the players seemed to be getting stuck in the mud, which seemed to suit Brighton fine, as they weren't that bothered about passing the ball. Benjamin continued to spend his time needling the defence, while Knight forgot to fall over a couple of times.

And then Town remembered things, a dim, distant memory of a past life. Anderson started to dribble at the defence, Crowe to overlap: a twizzle, a twist, and Crowe was free behind the defence on the right. He looked up and clipped a super cross at head height to beyond the far post, where Mansaram stretched and nodded the ball into the Pontoon. That's the way to do it.

Don't mention Mr Punch to the keeper, Jones, who couldn't punch, couldn't catch and was a walking error. Poor lad - his jersey was soaked and it must have been weighing him down. The Pontoon quickly latched on to his fallibilities and waited for the moment to arrive, for it surely would. C'mon, Mansaram, wake up - he's going to drop it at your feet!

Mansaram seemed to have had a little snooze at half time, for he walked around in a daze in the second half. He barely challenged and his only contribution was to run after El Abd, who was felled by a stray bullet. Mansaram was displeased, and even Cullip came over to El Abd and told him to get up and stop embarrassing himself.

And again sir, Crowe pounding free, released after some lovely one-touch wall passing. Ah, a Reesian flick from Rankin, and in the area again. Crowe clipped a fizzer in, Jones parried up in the air, a scramble and, fortunately for him, no egg on his face - ball hoofed clear by... I can't believe it's Guy Butters.

Mansaram's final flurry was to receive a pass inside the area on the right, near the bye-line. Campbell ran inside, but the dazzler decided to turn to the touchline and drive in a cross. He just kicked the ball out of play, and then he was off, replaced by Jevons, who'd been sung for by his claque. They called his name, they knew who to blame for being unfair. We were only twenty-four minutes from full time.

And don't you know Jevons ran around, lurking and linking well with Rankin. Town won a corner on the left, after Jevons had roamed like a wildebeest, and Barnard chipped it in to the near post. Ford, about 10 yards out, headed goalwards and a Brighton player, stood next to the post on the goal-line, nodded the ball away.

Frustrations mounted as the referee again showed a disinclination to look favourably upon Town. Anderson jinked about on the centre right of the area, tricking his way past a full-back, who laid both hands upon our pint-sized winger's shoulders, pressed down, and watched and waited for the referee to point spotwards. He didn't, play continued.

A couple of minutes later Anderson again, this time near the byeline, surged past the same full back. The same two hands pushed, the same fall, the same non-result. Fury unbounded from the Pontoon .

Brighton may well have got into the Town penalty area at some point, but maybe not.

Daws flirted with danger by steaming across to dump Knight into the executive boxes. He missed and Knight was eventually bundled down by Crowe. Apart from that, Daws was beginning to run the show, popping up hither and thither, starting, stopping, tapping out a hesitant rhythm, like a grandad at a Christmas party.

With a quarter of an hour to go Town launched an old-style Town move: tip left, tap right, surge, stop, move. Eventually Anderson drifted infield and received a pass from Daws. Anderson dribbled forward down the centre, checked out to his right and from about 25 yards out smacked a low shot at the keeper's feet. Jones scooped the ball to his right and the ball spun slowly towards the post as Jevons raced in. Jevons slid forward, Jones grabbed the ball and aquaplaned into the goal, given extra momentum by the late arriving white boots. Jones clutched the ball inside the goal while Jevons claimed a goal. The Pontoon erupted and eventually the goal was given, for it was a Jones own goal, a beauty too, that little bit of luck finally emerging from the cupboard.

The next ten minutes offered very little action in the goalmouths, but plenty of kicking and fighting in the middle. Brighton managed to become even more crotchety, with Benjamin losing the rag he never had, possibly at the sight of Delicate Des Hamilton getting stuck in, winning scooping tackles and making crossfield passes to team-mates. Definitely not what the scouts had told him to expect. Town's confidence was up and it showed, for they looked more like a team, more like footballers.

With five minutes left Soames replaced Rankin, who was given an appreciative ovation for his contribution to Town safety. Jevons and Rankin could be quite tasty.

I have been a little unfair to Brighton. They did have a couple of shots: Knight screamed one out for a throw-in, and someone else flailed a leg at the ball at some stage, with it going vaguely towards Davison for at least part of its amazing journey.

In added time Brighton managed to win a corner after Crowe completely mis-kicked his clearance under no pressure, the referee having ignored a couple of handballs in the build-up. We should be used to that by now. As the corner was being lined up an almighty rumpus erupted inside the six-yard box. The players melded together in a splodge of arms and legs, with Davison emerging with Benjamin's neck locked inside his hands. Crane seemed to have a fist fight, with Oatway involved in some minor off-stage slappings. This way and that the splodge moved, in uncontrollable mayhem.

The result was a red card to Davison, who threw his jersey on the ground and walked off in a massive huff. He took Rodger's implorings a little too literally, didn't he. Or perhaps he believes that you have to fight for the right to party. No-one else was even booked, which displeased many inside Blundell Park.

So who to don the muddy jersey? Step forward our hero, Des-o. The corner was curled into the middle of the area and nodded on to the far post, eventually out for another corner. Again, curled in, again bodies travelled to the same point, with a Brighton head nodding a couple of feet wide. Game over. Yay!

Phew, at last, another win. And it pelted it down the last time too. Do you remember that far back? A summary? We won. So what, who cares, the scores are on the Daws. Brighton were dreadful, mostly in attitude; Town weren't. It's a start, but weren't there several false starts in the autumn. They've done it once; they have to do it again, don't they.

Nicko's man of the match
No-one was outstanding, but adequacy is something to cling to at present. Anderson was solid and reliable, being a pest to them in attack, while Rankin was a truly competent all-round striker. If Stacy had stayed on the pitch longer the he would be the man. But he didn't so his partner in destruction, Mr Nick Daws, gets the nod, for it is important in these diluvial times to have a Humber barrier to protect the shallows.

Official warning
Mr R Pearson was history in the making, a fool and a gull, not worthy of the whistle. His mission, which he chose to accept, was to protect Leon Knight's psychic aura from disturbance. Any Town player within a yard shall be booked. And any stray Brighton elbow or boot, well, we must take account of the weather, mustn't we. The linesman with the red and yellow flag managed to be less competent still. Staggeringly poor. It wasn't just Town who had justifiable complaints, either. Ignoring the Davison dismissal, he still gets -5.987. One must be ruthless in weeding out waste and inefficiency in public life.