The lunatics are on the grass

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

2 March 2004

Notts County 3 Grimsby Town 1

A chilly evening in Trentland Central with around 700 or so Town supporters dotted about one of the crazy identikit stands behind a goal. The faintest of fogs was apparent in the air, or was that just Stuart Campbell warming up? Tinny tannoy, echo-o-o-o-ing around the vast canyons of the Nottingham mind, a stadium desolate: 20,000 seats and no-one sat on them, soulless and rather depressing. The pre-match announcements were drowned out in a screech of feedback. Now where would rock 'n' roll be without feedback?

Town lined up wearing that anonymous shroud, the failing sponsor's corporate colours, in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Pettinger, Ford, Crane, Armstrong, Barnard, Hockless, Campbell, Daws, Jevons, Rankin and Thorpe. The substitutes were Soames, Young, Hamilton, Mansaram and Parker. At least Hamilton wasn't starting, I suppose, but Coldicottless Town just looked vapid. And still no Edwards eh? The first cuckoo of spring was seen, as Hockless scamped about on the right, being cheeky to the locals.

County? They looked quite tall.

The tannoy announcer whipped the crowd up in to religious fervour with "C'mon you Pies," in a soft, avuncular manner, like a schoolteacher at the local fete. Jolly well done, and may the best team win. No, no, no, we can't have that.

First half
County kicked off towards the Town support. Tip-tappy, nice stuff, la-di-di-da, happy-clappy, football being played. Groan. After about a couple of minutes Town's fantastic defence made an uncharacteristic error, and of all people Simon Ford was the culprit. No, no, it must be said, and I know it will shock many. There, it's like calling Cliff Richard a shrivelled prunish prude in front of your Great Auntie Bessie, a social taboo.

The ball was knocked over the top down the County left. Ford, erm, Forded. An arm half raised, a half turn, a half-hearted amble back as Marie Antoinette-Curier scuttled off towards goal. Onwards, into the box, a goal certain, A-C drew his boot back and Armstrong flung himself across and blocked about a dozen yards out, the ball whizzing out for a corner.

A few minutes of little triangles, passing and movement, with Thorpe a rock-solid presence, ended with Armstrong, unmarked and about six yards out, heading a corner from the Town right just over the bar. So far so good, just the one Calamity Jane moment in 10 minutes. Things are improving!

Things soon became magnificent, and our collective hat cocked at a jaunty angle on a haughty Humber head. After Jevons was fouled way out on the Town left Barnard plopped a perfectly flighted free kick into the six-yard box. Crane jumped up at the far post, and the ball hit his head and went into the top right corner of the goal. The Town fans rose, applauded and sat down smugly. Are we finally on a roll?

The scoreboard suddenly spluttered into life. A vague flash of yellow slowly transformed into "County 0 Grimsby 0 after 0 minutes". Then "Goal". To resumed cheers from the self-satisfied south bankers.

A couple of minutes later County attacked down their right. The ball went out to their full-back, whose attempted cross was charged down by Rankin, tracking back, looking bothered. Uh-oh. Rankin stayed on the ground, writhing in agony, shaking his ankle. He was rolled off the pitch and lasted another minute when he came back on, being replaced by Mansaram as County were about to take a corner. Mansaram struggled to co-ordinate his arms and head, but eventually passed his elementary dressing exam. His shirt was on, and not inside out or back to front. Success.

The corner, from their right, was flung beyond the far post to the unmarked Barras, who headed firmly goalwards. Four Town players stood and stared as the ball made its way towards the centre of the goal. Antoine-Curier stooped and conquered, nodding the balcorner. Yes, people of Nottingham, we knew we were one-nil up no longer, meaning that things hadn't gone to plan. It was nice of you to tell us anyway.

Shortly later, with about five minutes left, Parker replaced Ford. In these final stages Mansaram really topped off his performance with some further masterful misses. A long free kick into the centre of the box was nodded to the left by Crane. Mansaram was free, the ball bouncing across his body. Around the corner of the six-yard box Mansaram leant back and volleyed the ball across goal and way over the bar.

A minute or so later a Town corner on the right was headed on to the far post. Mansaram, unmarked, steered a volley way over the bar from just a few yards out. It doesn't end there. A Town break down the left saw the ball crossed into Mansaram, four or five yards out at the near post. He missed the ball.

Apart from another couple of County attacks that was it. You still want to know about those two then? Well, there was a header at the far post and some more embarrassingly inept doodling along the touchline which saw Parker clear from inside the six-yard box then divert the follow-up shot away with his bottom. There you are, now you know. Happy now?

No, of course you are not. Town should have been stuffed out of sight by half time, but should have got a draw, for all their pressure and relative dominance for most of the second. Defence: with Town it's a concept, possibly an aspiration, not a reality. Barnard was mostly adequate, Armstrong almost completely adequate. The other two were horrid. There was little protection from the midfield which, defensively, consisted of Daws only. Where's our Stacy? We need our little Stacy. Up front Thorpe was a noble figure, going way beyond the call of duty. We admired him for his purity of spirit and perseverance after Rankin got injured. And that was the turning point of the game. The moment Rankin fell you could almost see it in the eyes of the Town players.

This game was the epitome of Town's season. All the faults, all the false hope, in 90 minutes of Feydeau farcery.

Nicko's man of the match
Daws and Armstrong were fine, though top man today was Lee Thorpe. His performance was wasted in that shambles. Strong, direct, dainty, a threat to County all night. Yes, you did hear people sing "Sign him up".

Markie's un-man of the match
Take your pick from a pot pourri of pusillanimous pratfalling from Messrs Crane, Ford and Mansaram. But Ford did improve in the second half and Crane did, once, manage to get his big backside in the right place. The biscuit is taken, though later dropped down a drain, by Darren Mansaram, poor lad, who tried so very hard, but was pitiful, absolutely pitiful. Verging on the worst performance ever by a Town striker. Though for the first time in months he regularly passed to players in black and white stripes.

Official warning
No problems with Mr M Cowburn in the first half, though he went a bit funny in the second. He ignored the more blatant fouls and booked County players for persistent small things, while not even talking to Crane when he did a forearm smash into the back of a striker's head. So he was heading for a fine upper seven, but loses marks for bias against Town: he didn't send off Crane. In the end a finger-the-air, stick-a-deckchair-up-his-nose 6.341.