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Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

12 August 2003

Doncaster Rovers 3 Grimsby Town 2

A pleasant, temperate evening with around 800 Town fans relaxing behind a goal. Expectations were high; after all, we are the big boys now, so all those little refereeing decisions would go in our favour – the luck would flow, like a mountain stream, we'd let our luck flow. Some teenagers were aghast at the standard of the ground; they were clearly too young to remember the jumpers for goalposts days in the old fourth division. "You think this is bad – luxury!" Well, when in Rome, as Jimmy Hill once said in Paris.

Town warmed up at the other end, in front of nine steps of empty concrete and some salmon pink safety barriers. The terrace had not been given a safety certificate. Perhaps it hadn't dried. Were the nine steps of empty concrete a metaphor for the new Town? The good news was that there was a new toilet block somewhere in the ground, which was loudly trumpeted by their tannoy announcer. Not literally trumpeted in Herb Alpert style – that would be too much to expect, a little light Latin lip movement in South Yorkshire. The bad news for anyone wearing sunglasses was that the toilets at the away end didn't have any working lights. That's both male and female toilets. We really were spoiled in our previous life, weren't we.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, Cas, Ford, Crane, Barnard, Crowe, Campbell, Hamilton, Anderson, Boulding and Ten Heuvel. The substitutes were Pettinger, Edwards, Mansaram, Rowan and Groves. In other words, the same as on Saturday. Ah, the opening day of the Nationwide League season, which is increasingly known as the traditional curtain-raiser to the traditional curtain-raiser of the season. Always different, always the same. A quick glance at the programme revealed yet another exciting new player for Town, a tricky winger called Paul Smith. Groves really is a sneaky one – we have a secret player! But it seems that Smith moved to Hillsborough in June. Hang on!

Doncaster warmed up right in front of the Town fans, nothing too wild to report, except McIndoe's Bobby Shaftoe boots and their use of a rope ladder (unfortunately not a gold lamé one, so Little Richard was absent from the training routine). Skipping and hopping across the horizontal ladder, bets were being placed on which of these strange men doing impressions of rabbits would tumble first. None did.

As is traditional at this stage of the season, "the pitch looked good". There you are, had to be said. Lovely and green, perfect for a team like Town. It was all set up nicely and Grimsby expected every man to do his duty. Wake up Simon Ford.

And I haven't even been rude about the chubby local lasses with pom-poms holding out for a "heeer-row". Whoops, have now. They weren't even in time with themselves.

First half
Town, in that plain greyish thing labelled the away kit, kicked off towards the massed ranks of Marinerdom waiting behind the goal. Tip, tap, sideways, the ball meandered back through the team and was eventually hoofed down a channel. Clearly we haven't worked out the proper second division way of kicking off. How many seconds before it is launched out of the ground?

The next four minutes were down at the other end, as Doncaster pummelled through Town. They were exactly what one would expect – a vigorous, direct team. They have a method and nothing's going to stop 'em. Town just didn't cope well, with a load of corners forcing the team back. We were shown five different corner routines, perhaps the first in the series "50 ways to kick the ball out"? Maybe this is a little too dismissive: as each corner rained in it dawned on the Town fans that Doncaster knew what they were doing, while Town simply watched and wondered. In the case of Crane and Ford, that was wandered. The grumbling started, and it was only 7:48.

At 7:49, the grumble started to rumble. A deep corner was flung beyond the back post, way outside the area, and their right-back played a lifted, side-footed volley from 25 yards which looped high towards goal. The ball rebounded off Davison's right post and was scrambled away with what dignity the Town defence could muster. So none then. Town? Well, Boulding had run towards the ball quickly once.

Still Doncaster poured forward, using Fortune-West as an awkward wall with players buzzing around him, bursting beyond the Town defence. What a loose description that is. Four men stood in a line in the same conurbation. There seemed little organisation, with individuals saving the day with last-minute tackles, Cas being the most prominent danger saver.

It wasn't pleasant viewing, for the Town fans at least. Their team barely got beyond the halfway line, with far too many long balls down the wings or up in the air to the forwards. Isn't that Anderson supposed to be any good? Where is he? Ooh, that's lovely, that is.

After about 10 minutes Town attacked! Anderson touched the ball for what seemed like the first time, drifted infield from the touchline and, about 30 yards out, dinked a perfect pass over and through the Doncaster defence. Crowe sprinted in from the right wing and got to the ball just before the keeper, around the penalty spot. There was a tackle; the ball reared up; and suddenly the diminutive dasher was past the goalkeeper and heading towards the bye-line, to the left of goal. From a narrow angle he curled the ball across the face of goal and...a free kick was awarded to Doncaster for handball after the linesman flagged furiously, which made Crowe furious and he was booked.

Still Doncaster muscled forward, creating danger, but not many clear-cut chances. There were crosses, some falling to boots, a couple of scrambles inside the box and several long shots. Davison was forced to make two excellent saves when their right-back advanced and, from virtually the same spot about 25 yards out to the centre right, thwacked goalwards. The first Davison caught low to his right, the second forced a lunging, plunging, groping tip away from the top right-hand corner. The ball dropped towards two lurking hoops, but Davison recovered to plop upon it safely.

More corners, more breaks, more wibbles in the heart of Town. It was all very frenetic, up-and-at-'em stuff, with Town not coping well as a team. The Town fans started to taunt the homesters with "Who are you?" At least I think it was aimed at the Doncaster fans; it may have been a polite enquiry of our own team, as there were many, many hushed conversations and quizzical enquiries of "Who is that?" when Town had the ball. Can you tell your Anderson from your Barnard from 50 yards?

After 24 minutes a huge cheer rose from the Town fans as Disco Des finally touched the ball. Fact or fiction for comic effect? It isn't a bluff, it's true. Sadly big Dessie was awful for the first part of the game: cumbersome, lumbering, badly placed, just dreadful. He looked unfit, or we hope so. We want Des the Dude, not Des the Dud. Then, suddenly, he grew into a major influence, driving forward from midfield, with a high ratio of successful passes (compared to Pouton's): nearly 50 per cent went within a year of fellow Town players.

Town started to gain some control. Not much, but some, with Ten Heuvel gradually beginning to hold off his marker and flick little lay-offs in a weird meld of Rees and Woods. Let's hope he's Roods rather than Wees. And another thing about the saucy Hollander up front: he's very good at winning free kicks. In fact for the first half Town won a lot of decisions, simply through their greater 'professionalism'. Boy do we know how to fall well.

Which brings us nicely to the all-important 38th minute. Under a lobbed punt forward Ten Heuvel remained firmly on the ground and stood in a funny way (I don't mean he looked like a teapot). The referee immediately gave a free kick, about 20 yards out, just beyond the left corner of the Doncaster area. Barnard, Anderson and Campbell stood around and appeared to mess up a routine, but the ball was eventually rolled sideways to Campbell, who smacked a drive towards the centre of the penalty area. Warrington started to dive to his right and the ball was beautifully steered into the left of the goal by the head of a Doncaster defender. Fantastic – after last year's procession of rotten fortune maybe our luck's in?

Town began some lovely passing and movement, especially down the right, with Ten Heuvel flicking, Boulding sprinting and Cas kicking the ball out of play. Has he an adverse camber on his boots? Perhaps he should be told "Right foot in right boot". Well, he's European; they drive on the other side of the road, don't they. Or is that a metaphor?

Smug wisecracks aside, Cas had a strange first half, being dreadful at passing and crossing, but linking well with Crowe and Ten Heuvel in opening up the Doncaster left. Moments of fleeting danger were wasted by woeful crossing, such as when the three cavaliers oozed through the opposition, with Crowe being released near the touchline, just inside the area. He spun and pulled a cross back, straight to a Doncaster player, with no Townite within 10 yards.

Any more chances to describe? Yes, just the one, when Ten Heuvel held off his marker , allowing the ball to roll free in midfield, creating space for Campbell to advance. The captain mis-hit his shot from 20 yards, the ball bombling across the lush green grass of Doncaster's home, straight to the goalkeeper.

That's it, the well of desperate recording has run dry; that's all folks from Town. Doncaster pressurised, but nothing too alarming occurred. The last quarter of an hour of the first half saw Town ascend. Danger lurked from Town, whereas before only the air of surly failure had hung around their shoulders, like disaffected youth on a street corner.

So there we are, a fortunate goal and a fortunate lead. Was this to be the triumph of the will of the individual over the collective enterprise?

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"It's just a mish-mash of pom-pommery."
"It makes you pine for the days of Stacy Coldicott." "That sounds like a country and western ballad."
"What kind of diet is he on?" "The Ron Atkinson diet."
"Crane is less Lever-lite than Lever-heavy."
"He went shopping in Lincoln, so he's too tired to come tonight."

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time. Except that Doncaster came out buzzing, bursting and battling. The Town players started like they had in the first half, ambling, wondering and dreaming. For a quarter of an hour the game was played just 10 yards in front of the Town fans. Wave upon wave of red and white hoops, flailing at the Town defence. Doncaster missed three sitters, stone-bonker sitters.

After just a couple of minutes Doncaster won a corner on the Town left. It was played short and somehow Crowe and Barnard managed to let the corner taker stand two yards beyond them, unmarked. Arms raised hopefully for offside, they watched as a little scuffling midfielder dribbled along the bye-line towards goal. The shot was kicked away by Davison at his near post, with the ball flying out to a slightly bigger scuffling midfielder, 20 yards out in the centre of goal. The first-time dipping volley, well, dipped, just over the bar. I tend to find dipping things dip, don't you? Or am I being old-fashioned?

A few minutes later, some more dreadful defending by Town. Loose clearances, mis-hits, and standing around resulted in the ball being passed directly to a Doncaster player just outside the penalty area on the Town right. The ball was rolled gently between Cas and Crane. Fortune-West turned inside Crane, who promptly fell onto his backside. Davison eventually raced off his line and the Doncaster Beau feinted to his right, then checked the ball back to the left. Davison plunged forward and missed the ball. Fortune-West started to sweep his boot towards the ball, but Crane returned and smacked the ball away, having several studs embedded in his ankle for his trouble.

The linesman flagged and Fortune-West was booked and went bonkers, moaning and moaning and moaning and moaning and moaning. He moaned well after his initial booking, even placing a hand on the referee's shoulder at one point. He's probably still moaning now, as you read this.

And there are more tales of derring-do in defence. It was just like the previous incident: awful hacking and thwacking on the centre and right, with Doncaster players unmarked and Town players passing to them and backing off. The left winger was sent beyond Cas, at the edge of the penalty area, about a dozen yards out. He whisked in a fast, low cross to the far post, with Davison stranded at the near post. Open goal, just eight yards out - and Anderson produced a superb, stretching, volleyed clearance, sending the ball a foot over the bar. Phew.

Shall we pass over Crane's stupidity in raising his hand when a deep cross to the far post sailed over his head? Fortunately the ball missed as it travelled over and then back as Fortune-West headed high and wide. Yes, I thought we should.

By this time the floodlights were on, and they are worse than Blundell Park's. If anything, visibility dramatically deteriorated with these B&Q garden lighting fitments on. Or perhaps they were saving money and only had them on dip, not full beam? Whatever - things happened down at the far end, and we can only guess at who did what and where they were when they did it.

Ten Heuvel and Boulding indulged in some keepy-uppy, one-touch volleyed passing down the left touchline, with the yet to be satisfactorily nicknamed Ten Heuvel flicking Boulding free. Boulding surged to the bye-line and whipped in a low cross, which went in front of and beyond Crowe. Campbell dribbled down the right, after being sent free by some lovely flickery and trickery, and crossed to the near post, whereupon Boulding leant back and steered a volley way over the bar from perhaps 10 yards out. Perhaps, maybe - it was dark.

Town began to keep the ball, probing, thrusting and generally starting to cause a bit of panic in the Doncaster defence. Just a bit, a hint, a soupcon of fear. Just past the hour Town exerted some concerted pressure, with Hamilton picking up a loose pass in midfield, surging to his right, pursued by three little bears. Mummy and Daddy Bear snapped at his ankles, and Hamilton was sent flying after a terrible sliding tackle from behind. Hamilton arose, squared up and wrestled one of the offenders to the ground in the style of S Livingstone, a Carlisle player. Half a dozen assorted players sprinted up and started pushing, shoving and generally causing a hubbub.

The referee pulled Hamilton away and, after a few minutes, produced a straight red card. Off went Hamilton. The referee turned towards the original sinner, and out came a weedy yellow. The Town crowd, already in a very agitated mood, had a minor eruption, with the police lining the pitch and carting off various young men. A policeman's helmet was obtained and dealt with appropriately deep within the bowels of the Town support.

The result of all this was that Town were awarded a free kick, just inside the Doncaster half, on the centre right. Anderson looked up, saw the goalkeeper off his line and Beckham-ed it. The ball sailed over the falling goalkeeper, hit the inside of the far post and bounced out straight to Boulding, who half controlled the bouncing ball. As Boulding was about to smack the ball into the empty goal a Doncaster defender travelled horizontally at a cruising altitude of 3 feet, scything down the little scamp at about waist height.

Penalty. But it didn't look as though the Doncaster defender was even booked. A small matter, though; who would care about that, with Town about to go 2-0 up, eh? Let's be big about it, let's be smugly magnanimous. Anderson strolled forward and wellied the ball down the centre right as the goalkeeper dived to the left. Wahey, a flukey 2-0 win. Never mind the quality – feel the width of victory.

Ah, summertime, when the winning is easy. Let's relax and watch the last 20 minutes drift by, as the clouds drift across the moon, giving an eerie pink tinge to the sky. Snap out of it, this is Town – it doesn't matter who plays for us, who manages us, it's Town, so we are damned to see history repeated ad infinitum. We were about to live in interesting times, which I may remind you was a Chinese curse. Groves replaced Ten Heuvel, with Town going to a conventional 4-4-1 formation. Let's hang on to what we've got, it's not a lot.

Doncaster should have scored immediately, when the Town players were still rubbing their chests in self-appreciation. A cross from their right was allowed to be clipped into the middle of the goal. Fortune-West, just half a dozen yards out and unmarked, flicked a header a couple of feet wide of Davison's right post. On Earth we call that missing.

And again, a couple of minutes later, a little blond-haired bundle of energy was allowed to spin around at the corner of the six-yard box, on the Town left, his shot running along the side netting. Just awful, awful defending, with huge gaps between the defenders for passes to be played directly to feet, straight in front of goal.

Oh, not again. A midfielder burst through, unmolested by man or beast (or Ford and Crane) inside the area on the centre left with just Davison to beat, but our man in electric blue raced off his line and parried the resulting attempted dink.

We needed some more dilithium crystals – the whole ship was breaking up, we couldn't hold it any more. With just a quarter of an hour left, for the 876th time, the ball was rolled up to Fortune-West, who easily held off the Town defenders just outside the Town area on the centre left. He attempted to turn, but was half blocked, the ball ricocheted off the stumbling Groves' shins straight back to the huge lunk, about a dozen yards out, wide of goal. Davison came out and Fortune-West took one step and rolled the ball underneath our man and into the centre right of the goal. Davison proceeded to walk around the defence, putting a consoling arm around some distraught youngsters.

The shakey ship shook further, with Doncaster sensing weakness. Sensing? The klaxon had been klaxoning all night, with two red lights spinning as well. How could they miss it? Like they missed all those sitters, I suppose. And it was at this point that Town's luck really ended, which also provided a fantastic scapegoat to cover up the multitudinous sins of the match.

Yet again, Town failed to clear the ball, passing clearances straight back to Doncaster players just outside the box. On this occasion, it was on the right, and the ball was clipped back to Fortune-West. He turned and played the ball through a gap between Cas and whoever had accidentally stumbled into a centre-back position (probably Crane) and Barnes was free inside the area. Cas ran back. Barnes fell spectacularly and with very little artistic merit. Of course, the crowd claimed penalty; of course the referee gave it. And, applying a consistent approach, he produced a red card for the rather sheepish looking Cas. Consistent as in consistently sending off Town players, of course.

Was there contact? Sorry, couldn't tell. Barnes was between us and Cas, but Cas didn't complain about the award of a penalty, which suggests some contact was made. Given that two Town players were haring over towards where Barnes would have been if he'd stayed upright, then Cas wasn't the 'last man'. But there you are; we should be used to this, shouldn't we. Why did we think relegation would change anything? The Town players went ballistic, especially Campbell, and at least one of them got booked for dissent. Barnes got up and smashed the penalty to the right as Davison plunged left. Actually, it may have been down the left, but so what, the damage was done.

At about this time Mansaram replaced Boulding. The last 10 minutes were a bit of a siege, though Town did have a couple of attacks. In the first, the ball was worked neatly to Anderson, who cut in from the centre left and hit a fiercely struck right-footed skimmer low through the area. The goalkeeper just managed to tip the ball around the post for a corner. From that corner, on the Town left, Barnard curled it back to Anderson, just like at Plymouth, but Anderson's shot went a foot or so wide of the right post. Clearly Doncaster didn't watch Goals on Sunday.

As the fourth official put up the board - five minutes of added time - Doncaster ratcheted up the pressure. Balls were pumped forward, bodies collided. A Doncaster midfielder crossed the ball directly into the Town fans, without passing Go. Well caught at deep mid-wicket. The catcher turned round and chucked the ball out of the ground. Petty, I know, but hugely satisfying in the circumstances.

The new ball rolled free just outside the Town area on the left, with three Doncaster players seemingly against just Barnard. Fortunately they went backwards. Unfortunately the full-back mis-hit a cross-shot, which bobbled slowly through the box. All the Town players stopped, some putting their hands in the air. Davison appeared to stop. They all wanted the linesman to put his flag up. He didn't; and the inappropriately named Blundell stretched and poked the ball in from about eight yards out at the far post.

Crane was furious and ended up being booked for saying rude things to the delicate petal of a linesman. At some stage Mansaram got booked too. Who didn't, eh? It is entirely possible that some of the Town fans were booked for looking at the referee in a funny way. Campbell may have been booked for walking on the cracks of the pavement.

Town fans drifted off, disillusioned with both team and referee. Game over, game long over, well before the final whistle. As soon as Doncaster scored their first goal, we could all see their players roused, while Town's wilted. They were a team, organised and unified in purpose. Town were just a lot of more talented men, who thought that was enough in itself. Someone, somewhere would always do something to save the day.

There were suggestions of wonderment to come, for on a handful of occasions two and three Town players managed to pass to each other, to link, to forge a common bond, and Town looked oh so sweet. It was possible to see what Groves is trying to piece together. But the important word is together, for they aren't yet.

Crane played like we feared he would when he first signed. Long gone are those carefree days of friendlies when he looked like a big Handyside; he argued with his fellow defenders quite a bit (not a good sign, is it) and at times looked feeble. And he's 6 foot 5! Crowe ran quickly in a straight line a few times, but always seemed betwixt and between, being a piggy in the middle as the ball was popped around and over him. Cas was just odd. Neither of them look like a right-back - bring back McDermott, no matter how many legs he hasn't got.

Hamilton took a long time to do anything, while Campbell was back to last season's infuriating cameos – fleeting moments now and again. The central midfield was lost early on, so there was little passing from Town. Anderson was superb when he had the ball, which trained observers state was 11 times, if you count the penalty. I think I'd like him to touch the ball more, and that means Town should lose their fixation with the right-hand side. Barnard was an improvement on the previous holder of the office of the worshipful left-back, and when he did go forward was a danger.

But overall Town were poor, very poor, and a victory would have been extremely fortunate, relying upon Doncaster's striking inabilities. The referee is a fine excuse, but let's not kid ourselves - Doncaster were the better team. There is something there. The Town house looks nice from a distance, but the roof is still leaking.

Nicko's man of the match
Well, after much thought Nicko has brushed aside the claims of Michael Boulding, despite his fortitude, and Darren Barnard, despite his occasional international calmness. First of the season goes to Iain Anderson. Everything he did he did for Town. Most excellent. If only Town had actually passed the ball to him.

Official warning
Mr Boyeson was vaguely Town-ophilic in the first half, with a dislike of defenders touching Ten Heuvel, but he flipped out in the second. It was a feat of some kind to avoid sending off the persistently dissenting and permanently fouling Fortune-West, as was his leniency towards two-footed slide tackles from behind, which uprooted several Town trees. Consistency. Not a difficult word to pronounce, but an alien concept to this preening ninny. They fouled, we got booked. And sent off. It is not possible to give him a mark other than a derisory 0.9051, for he did actually turn up. Anymore and you'd be up for a disrepute charge before the FA just for reading a diatribe. So I'll keep a Groves-like silence for now, to save you. There are many lines above. Read between them.