Two for joy

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

21 October 2003

Grimsby Town 2 Notts County 0

A chill, clear evening with around 100 Nottingham Contrarians dotted around the Osmond Stand in knots of torpor. An unremarkable warm-up with no pratfalls, some say plattfalls, to report. The Town players jogged lightly across the turf, gathered in a circle, then went off in little groups to kick the ball about. Except the white-booted Jevons, who had a ball, but no-one to play with. He turned this way, that way, all ways, but gazes were averted, backs turned. Perhaps he should have stood next to the goal and waited for a kindly old man (hey, that'd be McDermott) to invite him in.

Then Mansaram, in front of the Pontoon, blew it, displaying that little bit of naivety in front of goal that Groves often grumbles about. Flash looked up and Jevons immediately passed him the ball, suckering the Dazzler into his world.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Edwards, Barnard, Campbell, Hamilton, Daws, Anderson, Boulding and Onuora. The substitutes were Jevons, Young, Pettinger, Cas and Mansaram. So say same starting XI as Saturday, but Fordless and Croweless in the substitutes. At least one determinedly cynical anti-Croweist decided that the lack of evidence led him to conclude that Crowe had thrown a hissy fit at not being selected. Hissy fit? The answer to the question must be: "No, that's why he isn't on the bench."

County strode out in a faded yellow-with-a-hint-of-orange kit, like diluted diet Tango, but without the bubbles. Platt received muted barracking for his summer refusal to see Grimsby as some kind of personal Mecca. But not that much. Mr Baraclough was totally ignored. County were viewed as a non-speaking extra in Town's latest production. Let the play begin.

First half
County kicked off towards the Pontoon and didn't kick the ball anywhere near the touchline. Ten seconds, twenty seconds… hang on – have they been fixing the odds? Is this a betting scam? Thirty seconds before the ball sailed out of play. C'mon, call the cops – this is an outrage. This is the second division. It's the law – kick off, boot ball out of play.

And that was the longest County had the ball for the first 20 or so minutes. They weren't awful, but Town were supreme, swirling dervishes in stripes; speed, power, flicks, tricks, and that was just Iffy O. Suddenly he was twice the man he used to be; he was here, there and everywhere. It moved, the Leviathan lives!

A cross, Iffy close, a corner. The Town trick corner wheeled out after just a couple of minutes, with Anderson lurking outside the penalty area and his shot thudded into Barras's "inner thigh". Anderson dashing down the left, cutting inside, flaying crossfield passes to the unmarked McDermott, roaming in the gloaming, space, infinite, a sea of stripes pounding forward, incessant, beautiful, marvellous. For a creamier texture just add some sparkling Campbell juice. Fizzing, the irrepressible Stu shredded the County leftish wing back type defender almost to tears. This was football, this was Town, this was most enjoyable.

A Barnard free kick from about 35 yards out was floated into the centre of the penalty area. Onuora rose out of the sea like Poseidon, held back the clashing rocks and flicked the ball on. The ball bounced through the area and Campbell, near the corner of the six-yard box, wrestled the defender out of the way before hooking a shot across goal and in… to the advertising boards. Perhaps a foot wide at most. The goalkeeper and defender had an argument over the garden fence about whose cat had dug up the newly planted winter pansies.

Anderson zooming out to McDermott, a surge, a firm pass to Boulding, a mighty chest on, into the area, McDermott almost in, a desperate sliding hack out for another Town corner. More corners, more raiding down the right, Campbell twisting, turning, spinning past the notional marker. Campbell thwacked in a low shot and the keeper scooped the ball away from the near post for another corner.

The corner was played short to Anderson, who slid past a defender and, from an eye-wateringly tight angle near the corner of the penalty area, nearly obliterated the keeper with a tremendous nuclear explosion. The ball ricocheted off the keeper's chest and went out, with just one bounce, for a throw-in near the corner flag.

Wait, there's more. More wizardry and dribblery down the right saw Campbell, near the touchline, drag a pass back towards goal. The goalkeeper raced off his line and smothered the ball as Boulding and a defender stretched forward. Boulding looped the loop, spinning over the top of the keeper, while the defender lay in a heap.

The rhythm of the game was broken, and County swept forward and managed to actually get inside the Town penalty area once, but were miles offside, so sit down again, relax, the traffic flowed towards Cleethorpes again. An endless procession of floats and marching bands, wowing the crowd, simply by waving gaily as they strolled towards the County goal. Groves was manically clapping again, which encouraged the Pontoon into action.

Town were awarded another free kick (two in one game – unheard of) on the left and Daws ambled forward, with Platt 'marking'. Daws walked past Platt and Barnard curled a deep cross to about eight yards out beyond the far post. Daws stretched forward and steered a volley a yard or so wide, as Platt watched, perhaps perplexed by a new-fangled foreign idea in football, that thing they call shooting.

Twenty-three deliciously pleasurable minutes of dashing cavalier football had passed, but no goal. Yet. Patience, patience, that's what's required. A bit of hum-drummery down the right and concentration was lost, gazes gazed towards the Humber. What a big bright ship, what?

Campbell, on the touchline about 30 yards out, snapped, crackled and popped a lofted pass over the defence in the general direction of Boulding. Mildenhall, summoning his goalkeeping powers and glowing slightly from his toes, came off his line to pluck the ball off the turf as it dropped, about eight yards out to the left of his goal. Boulding slowed down and Mildenhall did a passable, and much appreciated, impression of Paul Reece in 1995. Whoops. He missed the ball, effectively nutmegging himself. Boulding nipped around and knocked the ball in one-legged, as Mildenhall clutched his leg, like a desperate spinster infatuated with the local bohemian troubadour. Don't we just love second division goalkeepers.

Click. Someone turned off the electricity, for Town just stopped. Campbell stopped whizzing down the wing; Hamilton was less present then before; Daws took a knock on his ankles and sat deep, and there was no movement. Static, complacent, Town ceased to use the full backs as the starting point of attacks, retreating into punting upfield, usually towards Boulding. Davison had no-one to throw to, and when they did get the ball the full backs had no-one to pass to, except Crane. And that just meant the hoof was delayed for one pass.

The period up to the goal had been very easy for the Town defence, the only hint at calamity being when the ball was near Crane, who seems intent on becoming the new Lever. It may look to the causal viewer as though he's taken a huge swipe and missed the ball, but it's really skill that can only be mastered through hours of hard work on the training ground. He times the swing of his left boot such that the ball then bounces off his right boot, up onto his backside, and back towards Davison. It totally confuses the opposition – they just can't see it coming! Bit like Our Tone really.

After 24 minutes County had a shot, their very first, and they got a smug, condescending cheer from the Town fans. How nice for them, we thought. Rubbish shot, mind. A minute later Caskey wellied a shot from 20 yards that only just missed going over the roof of the Pontoon. More ironic applause. But it gradually dawned on the languid locals that County were having more of the ball, that they were starting to pass to each other, regularly, in Town's half, near Town's goal, and that no stripey was challenging much.

We watched ten minutes of Notts County manoeuvres before they were ready for action. In the 35th minute Heffernan reduced the Pontoon to tears of laughter with a claim for handball as a McDermott backpass ballooned off his own – yes, Heffernan's – back. Perhaps he was being a bit too literal with his interpretation of the backpass rule? Davison caught the ball as the Town fans choi-oiked the cheeky pup. Caskey pootled up to Davison and lifted the ball out of his hands and flipped it into the net. The referee gave Town a free kick and didn't book Caskey.

A minute later Heffernan received a throw-in on the centre right of the Town penalty area with his back to goal. He twisted right, then left, before suddenly spinning and hooking a firm shot against the foot of Davison's right post. Throats cleared. A minute later, with County crawling all over the Town penalty area like hungry little ants, Caskey was allowed to swagger forward – chief Town culprit being Disco, who firstly failed to track back with a County player, letting him infiltrate the penalty area behind the defence, and then got in the way of McDermott, shinning the ball directly to Caskey.

When about 25 yards out, and a similar position to Heffernan a minute earlier, Caskey slapped a swirling, dipping, arcing shot towards Davison's top left hand corner. Ancient Aidan leapt across and clawed the ball away from the goal, with it dropping back towards an incoming forward. Davison, as he fell backwards, reached out, swiped his right arm around and flipped the ball wide of the post. Now that's what I call goalkeeping. Now that wasn't what I call defending.

As far as action goes, that was it. County pressed and pressured but failed to get too close to Davison, while Town were ambling towards half time. There seemed little urgency and alarming disorganisation at the back, as the defence wandered out after clearances without paying attention to the County players. Hamilton just kept getting in the way, twice tackling Edwards as he was about to clear and once making a terrible hash of an intended back-heel. He ended up frolicking like Eric Morecambe, bringing sunshine where there was previously darkness in the County attacks.

Anderson faded from view, playing almost as an auxiliary left-back for the last 10 minutes. McDermott and Campbell stayed at home. How very disappointing after the scintillating opening 20 minutes, eh? But Notts County were far from poor, much better than, with every disrespect, the "likes of" Chesterfield, Colchester, Wycombe and Wednesday. Given time and space they were adequate, if a little lacking in pulling power up front. They were a bit like Town were most of last season: not quite as good as the opposition, rather than bloomin' awful. They used their 5-3-2 system well to expose the Town flanks and there was many a worrying moment as they pestered the Town defence.

There you are then, there's good and bad in everyone.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"The ambulance men are wearing coats tonight. Is that some kind of code?"
"The shoelaces stay broken until we lose."
"I think it depends on the colour of the carpet."
"Which game is Geoff Ford at today?" "Bury v Aldershot in 1987."
"We should be four up, or losing. Or maybe drawing."

Second half
I think County made a secret substitution at half time, as Baldry, who was short and not called John, appeared. Either that or he was so rubbish in the first half that I never noticed him.

Town kicked off and spent five minutes trotting around while County attacked. A couple of minutes in, the defence parted as a little yellow man ran towards them, with unmarked team-mates either side. Eventually someone cut inside Barnard and shot straight at Davison from the right edge of the penalty area.

A minute later they got even closer. Again Town dallied as County broke. Again unmarked players on either side of the penalty area. This time they chose to go to their left, with someone (hey, it's dark down at the Osmond End, what with Town using 60-watt bulbs in the floodlights to save those extra pennies) cutting in well inside the penalty area and, from about 15 yards out, to the right of Davison's goal, smacking a low drive that ran along the side netting. It was sufficiently close for the County fans to acclaim a goal and some nervous Town fans to decry the concession.

Town were still unable to string any passes together, with the flanks closed down (I suppose we should acknowledge the opposition's tactical change) and the punt upfield the favoured option in giving the ball away. It was not pleasant stuff, and mightily frustrating to watch, given the start to the game.

After 51 minutes a Town attack. Well, a punt upfield, which squirmed off Barras's head for a corner. It was played short to Anderson, who tricked two defenders with a neat little pass inside for the dashing Dazzer, who swept imperiously forward. About 10 yards out and 12 yards wide of goal, Barnard lashed a shot across the face of goal. Onuora slid forward and the ball skipped off the grass and over Iffy's flailing boot, just a couple of yards out. That's better: passing, shooting, nearly scoring.

Back came County, with a dinked cross into the centre with Caskey heading firmly over the bar from about the penalty spot. More County pressure, more drossery from Town; dire, turgid nonsense, time ticking slowly, slowly. Is the scoreboard operator changing the time manually (ie. once a year)? It seemed only a matter of time before County would actually mange to shoot on target. Crosses, twists and turns, Platt lay-offs, Heffernan's Clare-like pestery. All little things that could have led to some danger.

But didn't. Just before the hour, Town had a throw-in near the police box, and weren't the crowd thrilled by that. Town players, near the Pontoon. We could almost see them. Daws chucked it long and Onuora flicked it on towards the near post. Boulding got in front of his marker and was clear, just five yards out. But he stopped, making a long, long lunge like he was playing a rather dull game of twister, and Mildenhall brilliantly saved by walking off his line and holding the ball as it bounced up to his chest. Well, compared to the goal it was a fantastic piece of goalkeeping. Credit where credit's due.

The Town fans in the Pontoon suddenly stood up and started to beat out a tempo of support, egged on by Groves, for no obvious reason. After about 63 minutes Town attacked again, in the sense that the ball went towards the Pontoon and Onuora was moving in the same direction, but the linesman flagged for offside.

Mildenhall waltzed out of his area and tapped the free kick forward towards a dozing defender. Campbell sprinted up to the defender, nicked the ball off his little tootsies and chipped it forwards, being sent in a huge cartwheel for his troubles by the lunging leggy leftist. The ball arced into a massive space on the centre left into which Boulding was bounding. Onwards, goalwards and Mildenhall came off his line as Boulding curled the ball around him and into the bottom right corner from near the edge of the penalty area.

This still wasn't enough to get the electricity turned back on, for Notts County pressed again, and were even more dangerous. One-touch Town-like football down their right saw the now wobbling Barnard flailed by a winger. The cross, from the bye-line, was volleyed five yards wide by Heffernan at the near post. Heffernan, this time on the left of the area, swished and swayed, cutting infield and thrashed a low drive towards the bottom right corner. Davison plunged to his right and diverted the ball away for a corner, as it slimed its way through a thicket of defenders' legs.

A couple of minutes later County again took a few strips of raw flesh from Barnard and Edwards, with an unknown striker turning near the edge of the six-yard box and thrashing a shot across Davison, who flew sideways and parried the ball away and above a striker who ran in at the far post. Caskey was again allowed as much time as he wished to set himself for a long-range shot, which Davison easily tipped away from under his crossbar. Davison dropped a cross and had to race off his line a few times to smother at Platt's feet. Crane stood in the way as the busy little bees swarmed around a loose ball inside the area. Edwards slid, McDermott eased, Barnard bullied as the pressure increased.

All Town had to show for 30 minutes' meanderings was a goal. Yep, that's all; nothing important then. Campbell sliced a long-range effort several yards wide just after the second goal, and Hamilton mis-hit a drive from the edge of the area after a corner was cleared, but other than that it was the odd, isolated raid using Boulding's pace, Onuora's... erm, and that was it.

The crowd murmured for Marcel and eventually on he came, in the 8Second minute, replacing Anderson. As usual Campbell trotted off to the left. And the game did change, back to the happy-go-lucky, carefree bygone days of around eight o'clock. Cas's first intervention was the accidental use of his backside as a clearance bounced off his behind and across the face of the penalty area. Onuora flicked the ball on and Campbell was free, inside the penalty area, just a dozen yards out. He advanced, waited for the keeper, opened up his body and from about eight yards out side-footed weakly against Mildenhall's chest. Should have blasted it Mr McCampbell.

A couple of minutes later Cas advanced down the right and flipped a low pass to Boulding, outside the penalty area on the centre left. Boulding took one touch and spun round, hitting a terrific low shot towards the bottom right corner. Mildenhall dived and diverted the ball away with his wrists for a corner. That was a rather good save.

The Town chances were coming thick and fast. Boulding received a pass near the halfway line under the Stones/Findus/Smith stand, turning and knocking the ball down the line. Barras stopped Boulding the old-fashioned way, with an ice hockey-style block, but without the stick rammed across the windpipe. At least I didn't see the stick; though it was dark, remember.

Any more? Yes, of course there is. Another minute, another chance. Boulding free, free as a bird inside the area on their left, defenders trailing way behind. Onwards, onwards, just seven or eight yards out, and Boulding passed the ball against Mildenhall's shins for another corner. And again a replica with Boulding outpacing the absent defence and thrashing a shot high into the Pontoon from a similar position.

In the 87th minute Mansaram replaced Onuora, who received a warm standing ovation. Or perhaps the fans were just ready to go home. Onuora had played quite well, by far his best game for Town, even showing all those bustling, battling qualities he used to have when playing against us. Mansaram's only contribution was to take the ball into the corner and give away a free kick, presumably for not losing possession or kicking it out of play.

Hey, that's it, game over, three points in the shopping bag courtesy of generous goalkeeping giveaways – hurry while stocks last. Town had been superb for the first 25 and last 10 minutes, but the rest of the time highly disjointed, ordinary and, frankly, looking bored. It was as if the players felt they only needed one goal, so why bother. At least we'd finally seen Town play some excellent free-flowing football. The lesson was there if they cared to take notice. Play it short and fast and the opposition can't cope; knock it long and slow and Town are mincemeat, relying on opposition failings to survive.

Oh, one more thing. Clive who?

Nicko's man of the match
Town owed the victory to one man, so it must be Steve Mildenhall. Oh, sorry, he doesn't officially play for Town. Hmmm... Onuora was astonishingly mobile and Boulding did get two goals (though he was a bit weak throughout). It's a toss-up between the agile Aidan, who made some superb saves but, to be awkward, Nicko pulls a big ball out of the bag with the number 8 on it. Mr Stuart Campbell, it's you, for mental alertness and physical omnipresence. It's amazing what a bit of competition does.

Official warning
Mr L Mason was most unwilling to book, which these days isn't something we should complain too much about. He annoyed the away support with a few decisions, but strangely that didn't worry us. He was extremely adequate, with nothing much to grumble about. Actually take the word 'grumble' out of that sentence – he gets 7.291, despite giving a foul throw against Town. The cheek.