Wild things run fast

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

17 February 2004

Grimsby Town 1 Bristol City 2

A clear, cold, bright night down the boulevard of broken dreams (South Bank version) with around five to six hundred Bristolians levered into the plastic fantastic seating in the Osmond Stand. There was a huge queue outside the club shop, presumably to pick up those free fridge magnets that the club haven't stocked since 1999. Hundreds of disappointed fridge freaks trouped into Blundell Park; they'd just have to watch the live action fridge magnets instead.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, Crowe, Ford, Crane, Young, Campbell, Daws, Coldicott, Anderson, Rankin and Mansaram. The substitutes were Hamilton, Jevons, Soames, Hockless, and Edwards. The invisible Barnard meant many a crossed finger for young Young. It was not a back four that inspired confidence within the bowels of the Pontoon, but at least Rodger's yard dog, Stacy the West Midland Terrier, was pawing the ground and prowling the park.

Bristol City warmed up with some natty routines, one of which resembled formation yogic flying. They looked as though they meant business, unlike Town, who were even more half-hearted than normal in their light jogging and this new one-touch passing whirl. They just didn't look like they knew what they are supposed to be doing, and that was before the game. There were one or two suspicious hairstyles over in the distance. Miller looked like he had just come down from his treehouse after protesting about the new Keynsham (that's K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M) gyratory system.

Before the kick off the Bristol goalkeeper, resplendent in a dashing yellow outfit, had a long conversation with the referee, holding up the start of the game for a minute or so.

First half
Bristol kicked off towards the Pontoon in a heck of a hurry and Town panicked. The ball was flipped up their inside right, headed on into space and Anderson scampered across to guide the ball away as it slowly trundled towards the area. Anderson tipped the ball back to Davison and continued running, as did the two Bristol strikers. Anderson and Davison collided as both tried to thwack the ball clear. A-tishoo, a-tishoo, they both fell down, with the ball rolling across the face of goal, pursued by a bear of a man, the be-gloved Peacock. Luckily, Peacock ambled rather than sprinted, allowing a Town player to scurry the ball out for a corner.

The corner was delayed as Mansaram had a bit of continental slapping with Coles, a Bristol defender who was rolling around Davison, trying to do American football-type blocking. The referee told Mansaram off and let Coles continue, which he did. It was even more blatant than Trevor Benjamin on Saturday, with Coles not even looking at the ball. Corner somehow cleared eventually.

Bristol City simply harried the life out of Town, never giving an inch or second, clamping, stamping out any hint of a thought of a suggestion of danger. In fact Town just could not get out of their own half, pressed back, resorting to hackneyed hacking, there was a distinct gulf in the abilities and organisation of the two teams. They just looked a division better than Town. And this after about 127 seconds.

In the fourth minute, one-two, buckle Cranes' shoes as the ball was played up to Peacock, laid off, and passed behind Crowe. Brown zoomed off from the touchline, just inside the Town half, unimpeded. Into the area, Davison creeping off his line. A dozen yards out, about eight wide of the right post, Brown hit a low shot towards the bottom left corner. The ball hit Sugar Ray Davo's shins and careered out into the centre of the penalty box. Luckily for Town, Daws had managed to retreat and retrieve.

Daws and Coldicott were completely outmanoeuvred by nimbler, fitter, younger push-me, pull-me opponents. Town were unable to get hold of the ball for more than a couple of seconds, and when they did there was no-one to pass to, just a big bloke in red haring towards them. Ooh, Town won a corner, and Ford headed it over. Nice break from the steady stream of red pouring towards the Pontoon.

After about 10 minutes Town managed to keep possession for at least 10 seconds, being the time it took Crowe to take a throw-in. Play was flung back to Crane underneath the Stones/Findus/Smiths stand around the halfway line, and it was only a matter of seconds before Town would implode.

Crane looked up, saw Young alone on the left and very deliberately turned his body, swung his right boot and chipped a slow pass to him. Wilkshire saw this and, from about 10 yards inside his own half, sprinted forward. By the time the ball arrived at Young's feet Wilkshire had too. Young tried to dribble his way out of danger. He failed. Wilkshire mugged him and zoomed down the wing, crossing in to the centre, where Crane stretched and strained to head out for a corner.

The ball was curled at pace towards the centre of the goalmouth, where Miller raced in front of his marker and thudded a powerful header into the top left corner. Coles' impeding of Davison worked a treat, sowing the seeds of panic and confusion. Or should that be adding to the panic and confusion? It's already there, isn't it.

And then it started to lash down with rain.

Fortunately for Town, Bristol seemed to switch off a bit after scoring, for, though still stern and strong in tackle, they didn't exactly put themselves out in attack. Alternatively, Town got stuck in and fought their way back into the match. Choose your spectacles very carefully when deciding which to believe.

On the quarter-hour the usual awful refereeing decision appeared. The ball was nodded on to Rankin on the centre right edge of the Bristol area. Back to goal he rolled, rocked and rolled again past his marker. With a black and white shirt held in a Bristol hand and a red-stockinged boot outstretched and clipping our temporary Isaiah, the crowd rose for a penalty. The referee pointed towards the penalty spot and then over for a goal kick.

A staggeringly bad decision. The Town players went ballistic and the crowd was so stunned it lost its booing voice. Thirty seconds later the ref gave a free kick against Rankin for clearly winning the ball. The Town fans collectively decided that the ref was not top-notch, or something similar.

About five minutes later he eventually awarded Town a free kick for a foul on Rankin, about 25 yards out on the left. The ball was touched to Anderson, who leathered a shot goalwards, which skimmed off the end of the wall and scooted across the face of goal and out for a corner. The corner was curled into the near post and there was a small scramblette inside the six-yard area, with the ball hoofed away from near the goal line. In terms of Town attacking that was the best yet. Not much, was it. Rankin looked pesky and pert, but Mansaram, well, you know, I know, we all know, he's the chicken who left his head in Doncaster.

A couple of minutes later we nearly had another captain comedy own goal. Bristol just chipped a cross from deep towards the centre of the penalty area. Davison came off his line, without shouting; Ford rose and guided the ball towards where Davison had been. Result: Davison pootering off towards the Spurn lighthouse while the ball trolled its way slowly towards the right post. Peacock skipped between these two unhappy newlyweds and Ford tutted before cantering off in pursuit. From a yard or two out, just wide of goal, Ford clipped the ball against Peacock for a goal kick.

This was just the most theatrical of a whole series of gaffes and gadfly defending inside the Town penalty area. Hesitant, fearful, minds in a tizz, if in doubt get it out!. Except Crane, who managed to make the wrong decision every time. Hoofing when he should have passed, passing into danger when a neanderthal thwack was required, he was the rottenest banana in the fruit basket that was Town's defence. Let's, like the referee, ignore the handballs by Young and Ford inside the Town area. We saw no ships. Or perhaps he was confused by the scrolling teamsheet on the scoreboard, for it was stuck on fast play.

On the half hour Rankin was sent clear down the inside right. He beat one, cut inside another and voomed into the penalty area. About a dozen yards out, just wide of goal, he pulled his right boot back and... what a fantastic tackle to clear the ball. A few islands of one-eyed hopeful Town fans claimed a penalty but, heh-heh, they were young and inexperienced in these things. Why waste your energy. We wise old fools who remember tight shorts and bubble perms, and possibly tight perms and bubble shorts, wouldn't bother with such outrageous flights of fancy.

Oh, it's a penalty. The Bristol players complained, of course, as did their fans, but then again they hadn't insisted on the referee making a correct decision a quarter of an hour earlier. Swings and roundabouts, sirs. Anderson puffed out his little chest, placed the ball on the spot and wellied it low to the keeper's right, the buttercup boy plunging that way too. My, what a bright scoreboard. It was like being in a modern discotheque, all flashing strobe effects and teenagers with their hands in the air.

The rest of the half was played satisfactorily away from the Pontoon for long periods. Not much good happened, but we are reduced to being excited by players not falling over too often.

And then one did. As Town built a breakaway down the centre, Rankin was hauled down on the halfway line, way, way, way off the ball. Play continued and eventually the linesman called the referee over. A sending off perhaps? No, just a yellow card. I didn't see anything, so it should have been a red card, obviously.

The Town fans were getting mighty restless with the referee for his inability to see Bristol nudges and pushes, but imagineering fouls by Town. Oh look, here we are again: another non-foul, and a free kick to Bristol City, 25 yards out on their right. Flirtingly curled into the box, Crane took one giant leap for Cranekind and miscued a header across Davison, the ball lolloping a foot past the left post as Wilkshire decided not to stretch out his leg and score, which was nice of him. Davison caught the corner and the half ended.

At least that was over. Bristol looked like scoring every time they approached our spindly thicket of dying juniper bushes. That they didn't was entirely down to good fortune and diffidence on their part. It is difficult to say who was the worst Town defender, Ford or Crane, though Ford did, once or twice, manage to make clearances. Young looked like a new-born giraffe, totally unable to deal with Wilkshire.

Luckily for Town, Bristol only attacked down their right in the first 10 minutes. As the half wore on Daws and Coldicott had managed to impose themselves upon Doherty and Tinnion, but only enough to stop Bristol. Town had pressed, but there were just fleeting moments of danger created. A Campbell surge and cross, an Anderson dribble, Rankin bulldozing through. Crosses over the top, but mainly cut out at the near post. Plenty of corners, but I can't recall Phillips making a save.

Town were doing well to hold on to City's coattails. It could have been a lot worse.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"If they wanted to, they could Hartlepool us."
"Shove it in the mixer."
"Where's Ernie Beckett's? I've never been abroad."
"I'd be happy if we stopped this now."
"You can't have two men called Nicky at Town, it's not a boutique."
"Is he the swinger or the antiques dealer?" "Is there a difference?"

Second half
No changes were made at half time, though the start was held up as Bristol were one player short, possibly caught short.

Within a minute Bristol should have scored. A free kick out on their right was pumped into the middle of the area. Crane six minutes left. Thank goodness, as apart from that one moment a minute earlier Mansaram had been terrible in the second half, getting in the way, managing to break up Town attacks just as effectively as the Bristol centre backs.

Soames harried and hassled down the left touchline, muscling his way in front of a defender, robbing, ribbing, dribbling off into the distance. Inside, outside, a cross, cleared, back to Daws, stood in the centre, 25 yards out, who played a marvellously weighted first-time pass through the tiniest of gaps between full-back and centre back to Jevons. The white-booted messiah opened up his body and sliced the ball across goal. The ball drifted closer, closer, and missed the post by a matter of inches as Phillips feigned disinterest.

With a couple of minutes left Bristol actually managed to go near Town's goal. The defence rocked; Jevons, yes, Jevons, averted danger by covering for the hobbling Crowe. Just a couple of minutes, that all, that's all we ask. C'mon Town you can do it.

Hisssssssssssssssssssssssss. That deflating balloon again. Hamilton, for the first time in ages, made a tackle. The ball was played in to a City player about 30 yards out on the centre right. Hamilton slid in from Tetney. The Bristol player was upended; Hamilton came away with the ball. Free kick, complaints, a booking for Hamilton. The ball was chipped to beyond the far post and headed back into the centre. Bouncing, bouncing, bodies around, someone leapt up and scissor-kicked. The ball disappeared into a bundle of players and into the net, somewhere on Davison's right. Brown had scored. From the moment Hamilton started his slide you could feel the goal coming.

Town huffed but that was it. A free kick in injury time brought momentary hope, ended by the linesman flagging for Crane being offside as Phillips collided with a defender. He wasn't. Thirty seconds later Town nearly attacking, ended by the linesman again flagging for a non-existent infringement. And then it was over.

In truth, Town were inferior and had fewer chances. Bristol were just better in all respects, but it could, probably should, have ended as a fortunate draw. Town's spirit deserved some reward and they had been ending the game strongly. There is no need to labour the point about the defence; it was as bad as it has ever been, but Town didn't cave in, so that's two games running where they've tried.

Now if only we can stop the opposition scoring and score a few of our own, then that's this football lark sorted. Easy.

Nicko's man of the match
No-one was outstanding, some managed to achieve OK-ness. And that's as far as it went. Rankin was a threat when the ball went near him (but not in the air, for he decided not to challenge after an hour), Daws was steady, but in a surprise move which will set the showbiz world buzzing it's Jason Crowe. For being the only defender who defended.

Markie's un-man of the match
A joint award to Town's twin peaks of despair, Messrs Crane and Ford. Crane hardly won a header, and Ford circled the earth. Only occasionally was satellite contact made. They were just incapable of coping with the 20th century (we have reached it in Grimsby, haven't we?). They came into our lives and then Town's life was over. Together they are beautiful, if you support the opposition.

Official warning
The whistle blew, breath bated, who knew which way Mr M Jones would point, least of all him. At first he seemed to be scared of upsetting Bristol, and then had a huge guilt trip over not giving an obvious penalty. Those Bristol fans were right; he didn't know what he was doing. Yes, we were all calling Mr Jones. After Saturday's bile some generosity of spirit flows through Lincolnshire. He gets 3.826. How generous indeed.