Al's well that ends well

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

26 December 2003

Grimsby Town 3 Oldham Athletic 3

A grey, overcast afternoon with a toupee-raising wind flying into the faces of the losers, boozers and jacuzzi users in the Main Stand. Oodles of Oldhamites, perhaps eight or nine hundred of 'em, were gathered together in the Osmond End having, like a modern stone age family, a gay old time, while the Town stands just kept on filling up - with people!

The pre-match entertainment was provided by the Mighty Mariner and one of his few friends in 'the business', Chaddy the Oldham Owl with attitude, who strutted around the pitch, hitching up his shorts and rolling his shoulders. Perhaps he'll grow into the costume when he gets older. For those who need to know every detail, no matter how small, Mighty Mariner won the impromptu penalty competition 2-1. His only miss (a cheeky chip straight into the Owl's wings) brought forth the first "sort it out Grovesie" of the afternoon.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Edwards, Barnard, Campbell, Hamilton, Pouton, Jevons, Boulding and Onuora. The substitutes were Groves, Anderson, Cas, Mansaram and Ford. Once again, Jevons was stationed on the left wing, with Hamilton joining Pouton in a broad beefy midfield. It may not be mobile but Oldham'd have to run the long way round.

Ah, a problem. Oh dear. Oldham were wearing yellow. The Town players are allergic to yellow, especially East Pennine yellow, a particularly pungent aroma which has our monochrome aesthetes backing away holding their noses, waving little doily fans.

A man walked past the Pontoon acknowledging his mates at the back. He tripped over a step. The referee waved play on.

First half
Oldham kicked off towards their own fans, took two touches and hoofed the ball out of play. Nice. That was just to lull Town into a false sense of superiority. Their strikers, Jermaine Johnson and Calvin Zola, were immensely mobile, frighteningly quick and tricky. Johnson especially, as he flailed Crane, stripping him of all dignity. Within the first minute Zola had sucked in and rolled around a couple of Town defenders, and passes were fizzed between several blurs of yellow.

A free kick about 25 yards out, just to the left of centre. Trouble brewing, worry spreading through the Pontoon. Boshell stepped forward, whipped a shot goalwards and Davison just managed to shuffle across to his right and tip the ball onto the crossbar and out for a corner.

Town responded by doing something vaguely interesting but forgettable in the great scheme of things. The ball was crossed, I think, and Oldham headed it away. Off they went again, Johnson drifting away from Crane and flicking the ball behind Edwards for Zola, who raced clear into the box, curling the ball around Davison and into the bottom left corner for... nothing. Offside. Phew.

Five minutes gone, two very loud bells rung, with a couple of hooters in the background, for Crane had been left crushing grapes while Johnson spun clear and goalwards, and only a combination of Edwards and Barnard had squelched danger away. Let's just say that Oldham were looking pretty impressive going forward.

A-ha, at last: a Town attack worthy of misremembering. Wing play, trickery, dickery, Campbell clear, on the bye-line, crossing to Onuora, six yards out, in the centre. A goal? No, a firm header down, bouncing into the goalkeeper's midriff. Which was longer - his name or his legs? A huge, hulking Aussie with an unpronounceable name, Pogliacomi. Isn't that served with pasta twirls and a sprinkling of hard cheese?

And Town continued to attack, surging down the right, Barnard twisting, turning, drifting, driving on, to Campbell, a cross half cleared and back to Pouton, in the centre, 25 yards out. The moment to make grown men weep - a Pouton goal on his return, or for grown men to weep with laughter as he returns to form and slices it into the Imp's car park?

Neither, but a slight comic twist on events, sir, for Pouton's shot was charged down, taking a huge deflection off to the left, straight to the man in the white boots. Jevons, near the corner of the penalty area, opened up his body and carefully lobbed a volley over Poggy and into the left hand corner of the goal. Up went his arms, up went the crowd and out came the spoons from significant sections of the Town crowd, for the finish was magnificent, as shiny as a chrome cooker hood. Spoons? Needed to consume that humble pie left over from yesterday.

Less than 10 minutes gone and already more stuff happening than usually passes this way on Saturday afternoons. What would these Boxing Day trippers make of it all?

Here we go, that great big scary Gorgon Zola was free again, scored again, offside again. It was already clear that there was no way Town'd keep a clean sheet. Waves of yellow flowing over them like custard overload, drowning the apple tarts in defence, or more specifically poor old Crane, who was made to look foolish several times, simply through his inability to move in the same century as Johnson.

After a quarter of an hour Johnson, for the third time, was flicked through and beyond the Town defence. Crane turned to run back and Johnson ran across Big Bird's flight path. Crane stumbled, Johnson fell, the Oldham fans went ballistic, the Town fans silent. Crane walked off, was called back by the referee and walked off again as the red card was wafted in front of his nose.

The Pontoon, being in the perfect position to see these things of course, decided that Crane wasn't the last man, and had barely touched Johnson, if at all. Without watching the video endlessly, it is very difficult to work oneself into a soapy lather of indignation, for had it been Boulding who fell we'd have gone stratospheric with anger, demanding several limbs as a sacrifice. Johnson was so fast he was effectively clear, Town were just hoping for refereeing benevolence, and we haven't had that since about 1906.

Crane off, Town flapping, Town fans worried at the sight of Ford warming up on the touchline. Onuora was taken off and on came Ford, with some of Onuora's loudest critics having a life-changing Damascene conversion to the wonders of Iffy. The free kick, from about 25 yards out on the centre left, was curled towards the centre of goal and Davison was forced to tip the ball over the bar, somewhat spectacularly.

Oldham flew forward, pressing, probing, zipping, zapping, scoring. Town had a mini-attack, with Hudson keeping Town at bay with a telescopic Inspector Gadget-like elongation of his right leg.

Off Oldham went upfield, down their left. Half repulsed by Edwards and McDermott, they simply kept possession, intelligently working the ball around waiting for a gap. They found it, down the Town left, with a player spinning down the wing, overlapping, crossing from the bye-line into the centre of goal, perhaps eight yards out. Johnson dived forward and headed at Davison, who half stopped the ball, but it eventually rolled over the line on the centre left.

Town were spurred on and had an exciting minute or two. Hamilton breaking forward from the half way line on the left, the defence backing off, onwards, onwards, onwards to the edge of the penalty area. To pass, to shoot, perchance to dream of actually doing something right? Des eschewed the simple pass to Boulding, electing to shin the ball even further forward and straight to a defender.

A corner to Town, on the right, curled into the near post. Jevons rising, alone, time to think, time to sink to his knees as he flicked a header a foot or two over the bar. The crowd briefly spurred Town on, but the momentum was quickly lost as these 'new' fans were too thickly set among the diehards, and simply didn't know how to chant, to sing, to support.

They watched, they waited and then it came, another Jevons moment. Another Town corner, half repulsed, scraped clear to Pouton in the centre, 30 yards out, the ball lobbed back to Ford on the edge of the area. He controlled the ball, espied the unmarked Jevons to his left and dinked a delicate pass through the floundering, flaky defenders. Jevons took two strides and Poggy sprinted off his line and flung himself at the Tippex-booted talisman. Jevons, eight yards out and to the left of goal, tried to lift the ball over the keeper, but it struck an antipodean limb and deflected a yard wide of the near post.

This was a brief respite in the Oldham charge, for they were ripping Town apart continually. Only some excellent last-minute blocks and hassles by the talented triumvirate, Edwards, Macca and Barnard, kept them away from Davison. Oldham were getting closer and closer, smothering the Town penalty area with yellow bodies. Movement, tricks and flicks, pace, some sumptuous football - what a weird division.

A momentary glimmer of hope as just past the half hour Town broke away down the centre right. The ball spun to the left of the area, with Jevons and another Town player closing in on the bouncing ball. Boshell just managed to get to the ball before either Townite, lifting it forward, a touch, a spin, a pass, and they were free down the Town left, racing forward in numbers, Johnson and Zola haring around, a man free on their left.

The ball was drilled low across the face of the area by Zola to a rampaging riddler, about 20 yards out near the corner of the penalty area. One touch from Cooksey and thwaboom! The ball seared the turf as it cracked into the bottom left corner. It was a truly brilliant goal, with fluid teamwork and a marvellous finish giving Davison no chance at all. It was even applauded by some Town fans and it was the least Oldham deserved.

Oldham continued to pour forward and a couple of minutes after their second goal they stripped Town to their underpants down the right. Someone got to the bye-line, twisting past Ford and advancing into the area. He clipped a cross towards the near post and some other guy stopped and headed against Davison's left post. Lucky old Town eh? Two goals, two disallowed goals and two shots against the woodwork in just 35 minutes. It could have been a lot worse, couldn't it.

The Oldham fans were enjoying their day out, adopting that annoying Mancunian posture of 'larging it'. Don't count your chickens too soon, matey boys. Boulding was trying his little heart out, giving Haining a difficult time, winning plenty of free kicks with his ability to trip over his own feet if need be. He even got Haining booked for complaining about a free kick, given after Boulding had tried, and failed, to win his level one swimming proficiency badge with a piked belly flop in front of the Pontoon.

A Town break, Boulding free, to Jevons, now Boulding unmarked to his left, 25 yards out. What to do, what to do? Does glory beckon? Jevons, 30 yards out, sees a bouncing ball, he sees Anfield, he sees the ball slice a yard wide of the top left hand corner of the goal.

As half time approached Pouton grabbed the moment and gave the crowd what they wanted, a stepover, in the 40th minute. Appetites duly whetted for 2004. Anything else? Yeah, loads, but so much it isn't possible to remember all Oldham's attacks, shots and near misses.

Davison made a late entry for those end-of-year blooper awards when a huge whack into the penalty area bounced from left to right and kept on going. He chased the ball, as did an Oldham attacker. The ball caught the wind and kept on going, with Davison and yellow peril running after it, out of the area, towards the corner flag, with Davo eventually bundling ball and player out of play. They really shouldn't use those cheap plastic balls from the seafront; it's a false economy.

And that was the first half. Even with 11 men Town were being whupped; with 10 it was a case of close your eyes and hope Oldham miss. Campbell was the human dynamo again, Edwards stepping in, Barnard sweeping, Pouton barking orders and glowering at teammates, Boulding tireless in an non-Nogan way and, er, Hamilton was on the pitch.

It was painful viewing - where is that sea mist when you need it?

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"You can't tell by the way you walk, or the way you talk, that you're a Disco Des fan."
"I think I'd be happy with 2-1 by the end."
"That's not the Zola who used to play for Chelsea, is it?"
"Well, my mum liked it, but she is related to me, and it's not often you can say that."
"...and then the vicar's son opened the door in his underpants."

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time, though it did start raining.

The half started in a low-key fashion, just a bit of hum-drummery in midfield, then whoosh. Barnard waddled Welshly down the left past a couple of opponents, dinking a pass down the touchline. Campbell spun away and lobbed a high drooping cross to the back post, where a defender ducked down and back headed away from near the goal line as Jevons lurked. The clearance went straight back to Town and the ball was flipped over to Campbell, who drifted past a defender and hit a low shot from the edge of the penalty area. The ball thumped into the side netting, though the Pogman was unconcerned and had it covered.

There followed five minutes of Town rather wasting possession and Oldham not doing much inside the Town penalty area. A flurry of inactivity in the middle is how best to describe it, with the game seemingly drifting along to an inevitable Oldham victory. Town not creative, not passing, not shooting, simply not.

Ooh, a bit of Town pressure, a cross, a clearance, another cross, another clearance, busy going nowhere. Barnard used his hips to bump an Oldham player off the ball, about 30 yards out on the centre right, and the ball rolled to Pouton. He looked up and flicked a pass through to Boulding, in the centre. Boulding, with his back to goal, rolled to his right and turned, smacking a low drive across Poggy and into the bottom left corner of the goal. A goal, a goal, and a replica of his goal against QPR. Out of nothing, a total surprise to all.

This woke the Town fans up, and the players, for in the back of my mind I can see Campbell having a shot, which went over the bar. I think it was in this game, though of course it could have been against any of the last three teams we'd played at home. The opponents were definitely wearing yellow in this memory. Anyway, whatever, if it did happen, it didn't go in. Look, this game was what hacks would call "incident-packed": loads of things happened, so you can forgive someone for being as confused as Simon Ford, can't you?

Except Simon Ford, of course. Ah, poor young Mr Ford, for whom history is bunk. Are there no lessons he can learn? There he was, just a-ambling down the street, singing doo wah diddy diddy dum did he really fall asleep just then? In front of the Pontoon, Ford was having one of his space cadet afternoons, for he looked as startled as anyone at the pace and pizazz on show from these blokes we'd never heard of. Johnson spun past Ford on the right of the Town area, leaving him to call the occupants of interplanetary most extraordinary craft. Johnson got to the bye-line and smacked a low cross into the middle of the six-yard area. Calm down at the back - Edwards was there to volley away for a corner.

Another Oldham break and another Ford error saw them shimmer down the left and cross deeply. Eyre leant back and volleyed a yard over the bar from beyond the far post. We were almost blinded by the warning lights, and deafened by the klaxon. Eyre again, drifting past Campbell to the bye-line, dinked a cross into the centre. Zola, eight yards out, headed down firmly to Davison's left. The ball bounced up, rolling across Davison's right hr and looping over Davison. He stood and watched, we sat and feared, the ball smacked off the crossbar and out for a corner.

And another corner, and another corner. The ball dropped, Johnson turned, a free shot, six yards out, bodies arrived, danger averted. Another corner, the ball pinged around, ding-ding-ding. Tilt! Johnson whacked the ball against the post from about eight yards out. Town cleared, Oldham came back, the ball crossed from left to right, Eyre unmarked, about six yards out at a narrow angle. A volley steered low, Davison flying, saving, clutching the ball at the foot of the post.

Back they came, 25 yards out, a midfielder strode forward and smackerooned a dipping, swerving shot through a thicket of players. Davison saw the ball late, it dipped and swerved away from him towards the right hand corner. At the last second Davison plunged to his right and clawed the ball off the line and around the post for another corner. Aw, a superb save, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Every tackle roared, every misplaced pass by Oldham cheered, every second the ball was in the Oldham half cherished for its rarity value. The latent supporters eventually found voice; they could feel the beat of the Town tambourines, led by the singing corner, the Town players swept on by the emotion.

Pouton, the rock, the very heart of the team, his presence enough to galvanise and inspire, was felled by cramp with three minutes left. What a man. His trademark merciless swoops were back on show, the sheer fist-clenching (controlled) aggression seeing Town through. Campbell scampering; Barnard, injured, back on his feet; Edwards' head nearly knocked off by a piledriving thumper of a shot. One shake of his nut was enough, back to head away the corner.

Could Town hold out? Three minutes of added time, the line holding, Oldham frantically scurrying around, crosses, turns, numbers piling forward into the Town box. Then it was over, the players hailed as heroes for the sheer will to survive. Determination, teamwork, camaraderie, guts, whatever plaudit you wish to throw at them, they deserved it. It wasn't anything to do with the quality of the football, for Oldham were superior in that respect, even in the first 15 minutes, but the fates were agin 'em. And Town refused to lie down and die, which is a bit different from some of the performances earlier in the season.

It would be nice to end a game with eleven players now and again and not to witness great goals scored against Town. But this was, in the circumstances, a point gained. Will this be the catalyst that finally sparks the Town engine? Is Pouton the missing link? Is Pouton's presence enough to turn the ugly caterpillar into a vibrant butterfly?

This game was all about emotion. Fingers crossed - on with the show.

Nicko's man of the match
It has to be said that Jevons took his goals really well and was seen to run around and help out in defence. It also has to be stated that Pouton's presence was enough to make up for the half man, half biscuit that accompanied him in the centre of midfield, though Pouton is clearly way off proper fitness and his movements were economical, shall we say. Campbell was all over the place, and Edwards defended well at important times, though his distribution was a bit off today. So where is this leading, Nick? Up the garden path and to a Welsh Lovely, that's where. Darren Barnard had a very assured game, doing a lot of little things exceedingly well, for without him things could have been much, much worse.

Official warning
Now here's a thing. Is Mr G Salisbury rubbish for sending off Crane, or was he a relatively sensible referee who let the game flow and acted upon the advice of his linesman? Probably the best referee we have had so far this season (that is the faintest praise ever, I know) and fully deserving of a score in excess of 6.54. So he gets 6.55. He would have got higher if he'd been really, really nice to Town and only booked Crane.