Stop all the clocks

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

23 August 2003

Luton Town 1 Grimsby Town 2

A hot, bright, humid afternoon in the carnival of lost souls that is wonderful downtown Luton, with around 300 or so Town fans squeezed into the less than plastic fantastic Tupperware seating, to the left as seen on TV. Anyone over five foot two, with eyes of blue, and over eight stone struggled to fit. If only Luton had bought the stand from Marks and Spencer's they could have taken it back for a size 20, as long as they kept the receipt, of course. That really is a lesson for us all, isn't it. But hey, wouldn't you take this grand old opré above a multifunctional leisure complex in a field? It is, despite everything, recognisably a football ground, replete with Pleatian history.

The pre-match entertainment was a secret, never to be told, so I can't tell you which soft rock classics were pumped out to soothe the masses, or which exhilarating anthem Luton ran out to. The tannoy at Blundell Park is a state-of-the-art super digital enhanced surround sound sensation by comparison. The Town crowd amused themselves through regional pride and a some late afternoon window shopping, for down the left-hand side the old huts remain, spruced up but still looking like a double glazing showroom. Personally, I thought number 11 looked quite snazzy, a tinted, toughened, non-reflective pane with no frills. Exactly what's required to get out of the second division.

Town lined up in the ambiguously coloured away kit in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, Crowe, Ford, Crane, Cas, Hamilton, Campbell, Anderson, Boulding and Ten Heuvel. The substitutes were Pettinger, Edwards, Groves, Rowan and Mansaram. So same again, but with a twist. Cas and Crowe swapped round, so that Crowe was at right-back. Let's hope that's not a comic twist.

The pre-match contemplation of which kit Town would play in, given that Luton play in white shirts with black shorts, was answered when the teams eventually strolled out: Luton would wear their away kit too. So orange versus greyish tan, the sort of kit clash you only get in lower division football, computer games, and the over-active imagination of seven-year-olds in art lessons.

First half
At five past three Town kicked off away from the Town support, varying the routine again; this time it was Crane's turn to lump it long after four passes. Sigh.

You're going to wait a long time before someone has a shot. Nothing of great consequence happened during the first half-hour. Oh sure, Luton had some attacks; their crowd got excited, which was nice; but they never looked like scoring. Their big-man-little-man routine up front (hulking Howard and mini-man McSheffrey) buzzed but barely burned the Town defence. McSheffrey dribbled into the Town penalty area a couple of times, but his 'shots' were either blocked or completely mis-hit.

At some stage a Luton midfielder wellied a shot from 20 yards which troubled the Town fans greatly, as it zoomed towards the bulk of the bulky Mariners, grazing a couple of lightly brushed heads, smashing against the corrugated iron at the back of the stand and nearly knocking someone's cup of tea over. How rude.

Town attack! Well, sort of. Boulding spun free down the left after a caressed curling pass down the touchline from Barnard. Boulding got to the bye-line and hit a cross into the heart of the six-yard box, and that was it. No-one there. Town won several corners, but only one brought the remotest hint of interest. Barnard struck it beyond the far post from the left towards Crane, who had peeled away in an extravagant arc. Howard tried to punch the ball away, but failed, and Crane trapped the falling bomblet and rolled it back to Hamilton (remember him?). Disco Des swiped a low shot towards goal, where Ford tried to spin and shoot. The ball was blocked away after a scramble. In the context of this match, that was high excitement with oodles of Latin-like skill thrown in.

Crane was booked, this time for tackling from behind and then moaning. Barnard suckered McSheffrey into a late tackle when punting up the touchline. There was a long delay as Barnard received treatment and McSheffrey was booked. Minds began to drift. Every three minutes a plane appeared over the top of the stand opposite the Town fans, regular as clockwork. Do Luton fans count aeroplanes to go to sleep? Let's hope Simon Ford hasn't noticed. Ford? Ford, why are they barracking Simon Ford? For a reason not readily apparent to the travelling Townites, the Luton supporters heckled Ford relentlessly. It just served to keep him awake. Apart from a few minor moments of fear down the Town right, Luton didn't get inside the penalty area.

Crowe and Cas were defensively better too, albeit marginally, as Cas came back to help a few times. Not many, but a few, and Crowe snuffed out many a potential danger through his pace, rather than his perception. Crowe was up against Courtney Pitt, a loose-limbed sprinter, not the loose fingered saxophonist. Pitt did get free once, after Town attacked and left gaping holes down the centre and right. Pitt hared away, alone, with Crowe and Ford in pursuit, but dragged a weak shot a yard wide from about 20 yards out. The Luton fans "ooh"-ed, but the Town fans "ahh"-ed, for it was just not worrying.

Whoops, here we go again. Crowe mis-controlled the ball on the halfway line, allowing it to squirm off his thigh. McSheffrey sprinted clear, pursued by the three little bears in Town's defence. He tried to cut inside Crane and simply ran the ball into the path of Crowe, who cleared adequately.

Ten Heuvel had rarely touched the ball, looking a forlorn figure, uncomfortable in his shoes - until about 10 minutes before half time. Down the right-hand side he controlled the ball with his back to goal, turned infield and passed to Anderson, about 25 yards out and just to the left of goal. Anderson cut back inside, feinted twice, dropped his shoulder, made a little bit of space and thwacked a tremendous low shot across the keeper into the bottom right-hand corner. Wahey, one touch, one goal. Now that's the way to wake the fans up.

Luton immediately pressed from the kick off, rolling the ball into the penalty area from their right. A dummy, a roll, a bundle of bodies six yards out. Ford felled, Crowe clambering, Cas coolly stepped across and walked the ball away from near the foot of the right post. Another long delay as Ford received treatment for a blow to the head and kick on the calf. His left eyebrow smeared in Vaseline, like a boxer he rose, staggering, as the Luton fans bayed at this blatant time-wasting. His head was still attached, so why the delay?

Apart from another breakaway (when Ford was fouled and McSheffrey was offside), which ended with a frankly rubbish shot from the edge of the area, that was it as far as even possibilities of Luton shooting on target. They huffed and they puffed, but they didn't get beyond the front gate. And it was only on the latch too. Ah, now Town - two more moments to savour. Campbell, about 35 yards out on the centre left, suddenly spun around in midfield and zoomed a dipping, wobbling whacker. The ball sailed over Beckwith, just cleared the crossbar and kissed off the stanchion at the top of the netting.

In the four minutes of added time Luton tried to exert some pressure, but the ball went to Neilson, a conveniently forgotten ex-short-term Mariner from the dregs of the Lawrence era. Neilson reminded us why he was laughed out of Cleethorpes by falling over after receiving the ball on the halfway line, allowing Cas to sprint off down the touchline. Cas got to the edge of the area, went outside the last defender and smashed a rising shot against the crossbar, the ball sailing off into the crowd and dislodging several cravats.

That was the first half that was. Really a collection of clashings and hashings, with three Town shots thrown in for good luck. As has been apparent all season, the Town defence was a-rocking and a-rolling, three men in a boat with Barnard riding an old bicycle on the canal side bellowing instructions through an experienced international megaphone. Hamilton hardly touched the ball, or a Luton player. His best, no, his only moment to savour in the first half was an extravagant dummy in the middle of the pitch, letting the ball roll up to Ten Heuvel. So his only contribution was to not touch the ball. But Luton didn't look particularly frightening, just couple of weak shots and nothing for Davison to do. They ran around a lot though. Three balls were kicked over the stands, a satisfyingly high ratio for just 45 minutes of football.

But this was Town, so would we be relying on the kindness of strangers for victory?

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Is he wearing his nephew's shirt?"
"I was once kicked by Paul Futcher, and it bloomin' well hurt."
"That Anderson does nothing. Apart from score."
"Bass guitar? Is he a plucker or a slapper?"
"I wanted two oranges but they'd only sell me eight for a pound."
"The first one was chicken tikka and the second was beef and onion!"

Second half
No changes were made at half time by either team, as the second half kicked off around 4:10.

Luton started out as one would expect, double the pace, double the frenzy, with their supporters catching the fever too. For they were far noisier and from the off were hissing at the referee for every decision not in their favour. For 20 minutes the ball fizzed into the Town box: in the air, on the ground, bodies flying, feet flapping, the crowd constantly baying. Pitt was becoming a nuisance with some dribbles from deep positions, zooming towards the centre of the Town defence, as was their right-back, Foley.

The story of the second half can be summed up in one word: handball! For every time Luton lost possession - well, it felt like every time - their fans shouted those eight letters, in that order. Or mostly that order. I have to agree with them; the referee was disgracefully one-sided. So many blatant handballs by Town players. Every time Luton kicked the ball out of play Town players would literally pick it up and throw it back in. Shocking! Set up an FA enquiry NOW. There was one occasion when it looked like the ball might have struck a Town player's hand inside the penalty area, but only MASSIVE (copyright any Sheffield Wednesday supporter) clubs get those sort of decisions. After Pitt surged down their right and cut the ball back, a shot struck one of three Town players who threw themselves into the flight path. You wouldn't find anybody in the away stand who would have given it. Oh no.

Luton threw away a golden opportunity to win a penalty when Foley dribbled at speed down their right, sweeping forward from the halfway line and into the penalty area. He swayed past one defender and leapt over Crane as the lumbering Lever-alike slid in at full speed. To the relief of all Townites, Foley kept on going, pulling back a cross, which was cleared for a corner. The Luton fans roared and roared, and moaned and moaned as Crane claimed injury. The referee made him go off the pitch and stand next to the corner taker.

The corner caused a modicum of panic as it plopped into the near post. After a scramblette, the ball was hoofed away by Ford for another corner, another scramble, another hoof, and another claim of handball as Davison caught it. You can repeat that little cameo every three minutes. Hoof, hope, claim, clear. Town were barely a threat. Ten Heuvel was replaced after about an hour by Rowan, who was most perky in open play, dropping just off the front, in pseudo-Sheringham position.

And things changed a bit. Town started to break away and cause some panic and anxiety in the Luton defence. There were several breaks where Town outnumbered the defence, but the front two were a little too fey when inside the penalty area. A Boulding break down the right saw him dink a lovely cross to the unmarked Rowan at the far post, just eight yards out. Rowan controlled the ball on his chest and lost his footing as he turned, allowing a defender to sweep the ball away. Another Boulding break, another Boulding cross - behind everyone. And yet another break with Cas careering away like a runaway train; another nearly moment as he ended up clearing the ball for Luton, instead of crossing.

So near, but nothing tangible to report. No shot, unless you count Cas's extravagant toe-poke that slapped against a steward. The steward gave a silent yelp of pain when he thought no-one was looking. But we were, oh yes, we were.

More Luton thrashings, more claims for penalties. It was getting rather tedious, and stretching credulity a little too far. What's this? A sliced shot from about 25 yards out on their left swung through the middle of the Town area and a striker flung himself towards the ball at the far post, missing. Corner? How do they work that one out? Well, nothing really happened - another scramble, but again no shot. It was all rather too easy for Davison, he hadn't been required to touch the ball in the second half.

Oh, I smugged too soon. Foley tricked, danced and swirled his way through three tackles on the Town left, drifting infield and, from the edge of the area, hitting a surprising shot towards the near post. Davison made a plunging save to his left, plucking the ball away from danger with style and little fuss. A minute or so later Luton again surged down the Town left, cut infield and some little fella mis-hit a shot straight to Davison from about 20 yards.

Town claimed a ridiculous penalty themselves when Boulding was sent free down the centre left. He took on one defender, who started to lunge, but stopped. The second defender turned towards the bye-line. Boulding then fell over the invisible leg. Ah, the leg that never was. Didn't Hitchcock make that in 1954 starring James Stewart?

And while we're on the topic of Town players falling, Crane, after a startling attempt at dribbling through the Luton defence, fell over. The ball wedged under his body and he tried to head the ball to Anderson, while still on the ground. A Luton player took the ball away and Crane lay down clutching his head. The referee, stood perhaps five yards away, very nicely decided not to award Crane a second yellow card for trying to con him.

With just over ten minutes left Town broke again, at speed, down the right. Some interplay involving Rowan and Anderson (I think) saw Cas bounding free. The rest is history, or rather a carbon copy of last week's goal against Port Vale. Cas, near the corner flag, whipped in a vicious, dipping, fizzing cross, and Boulding rose unmarked at the far post, about seven yards out, heading the ball into the side of the goal. Three hundred exceedingly content people rose as one to acclaim the rejuvenated little scamp.

Game over? Groves brought himself on in place of Cas a few minutes later, with Campbell moving to the right wing. Groves simply stood five yards in front of the centre backs, winning virtually every header in midfield as Hamilton watched. He does a lot of that, Des the Peeping Tom of midfield.

Luton still had a go, but it was very comfortable viewing, absurd penalty appeals apart. With five minutes left, though, they actually managed a decent one-touch passing move, which carved Town open down the right. Howard flicked the ball infield and a substitute, their Crowe, zoomed into the penalty area. When about 10 yards out, Ford caught up and slid across, seemingly winning the ball. Sadly the referee eventually succumbed to the pressure of 5,000 baying Bedfordians and pointed to the penalty spot. Nicholls passed the ball into the centre right as Davison fell to his left.

As expected, Luton flew into Town, playing even more directly, harrying, hassling and breaking forward through midfield. Only a couple of excellent covering tackles by Crowe stopped the centre forwards bursting through down the centre, but still Davison had no saves to make. The nearest they came was when Barnard calmly headed the ball back to Davison following a corner.

At about 5 o'clock Mansaram replaced Anderson and Town appeared to be playing a 4-3-3 formation. For the last few minutes they kept trying to waste time running the ball into the corners, but as usual that wasted about three seconds. Town are just useless at that sort of thing. They might as well have had wild shots, losing a couple of more balls. Time - what a strange concept, an abstract thing. Drifting, drifting, would the game ever end? Would we get home before the end of British Summer Time? What was the referee waiting for? Perhaps he was playing until the next bunch of middle-aged men turned up, like you do at leisure centres. Perhaps he was thinking of us paying supporters - more minutes for your pound, what value. Six minutes after the board had been lifted showing four minutes of added time, the game ended, at about 5:03.

But why quibble now? After victory these details are meaningless. We don't need a fig leaf this week, no perceived refereeing injustice to rage against. The Town defence was largely adequate, given that Luton didn't penetrate much; with Davison making only one save, his other stops were barely worthy of mention. Luton didn't create much either, just some scrambles and woeful shooting from outside the penalty area. They had a solid central midfield, and a couple of tricky wide men, but nothing more, or less, than what Port Vale produced. Town are now seeing what standard is required in the second division, and they are hitting it perfectly. You may think that's a positive statement, but I couldn't possibly comment.

One thing is very noticeable about this season. Town don't have many shots, but they score from them. Anderson doesn't have many touches, but when he does it is worth it. The quality is there - let's up the quantity, eh?

Nicko's man of the match
Quite a few individuals were fine, even if the team, collectively, still looked like it was pinned together with tacks and tape. Crowe's speed averted danger; Davison was solid, if largely untested; Barnard rarely wasted possession and defended (and fell) well; but the late kick-off helped just one man wake up and smell the roses. Step forward the curiously baited Simon Ford. He did, and he played exceedingly well.

Official warning
Was he unable? Doing acceptably until that late penalty award, where only the appliance of some suspicious science resulted in Luton scoring. Such a shame, as he'd ignored the increasingly desperate pleas for penalties for so long. And just how long did we play in the second half? But Town won; let's be as magnanimous in victory as we are humble in defeat (stop sniggering at the back). Mr G Cain gets a decent 6.3401, after losing points for the penalty he gave.