Groves point blank

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

10 January 2004

Grimsby Town 0 Plymouth Argyle 0

A mild-mannered janitor of a day with the lightest of fringe-flapping breezes drifting into the Main Standers. The promised hordes of pilgrim fathers and sons turned out to be a statistically significant chunk of the Devon diaspora: perhaps 700 or so tightly grouped inside the Osmond Stand. Or were they a convention of misplaced stewards? Plymouth's away kit was a strident orange shirt with broccoli green trimmings. I prefer peas with my roasted chicken.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Edwards, Ford, Barnard, Anderson, Groves, Pouton, Jevons, Boulding and Mansaram. The substitutes were Cas, Onuora, Hamilton, Young and wee Jonny Rowan, fresh from his mock GCSEs. Like policemen, he seems to get younger every time you see him.

Woh, bit of a hippy-hippy shake in the team, ringing out the old and ringing in the older. Ford's return was greeted with some very crossed fingers and prayers. Would it be one of his Earth or Jupiter days? The Pontoon silently nodded in pleasure at the removal of a couple of the conspicuous consumers of wasted space, but the return of Groves was met with mixed metaphors. He certainly wouldn't be hiding away from his critics. And, don't you know, the crowd suddenly became mature. No pre-match chuntering against individuals, moaning, groaning, imploring change. There was even a chorus of "Paul Groves' black and white army" as the teams prepared to kick off. Supporters supporting: weird.

Plymouth warmed up with a highly choreographed series of manoeuvres reminiscent of the police dog display team at the Lincolnshire Show, though 'twas a great disappointment that they didn't actually jump through fiery hoops (but they have already played QPR, haven't they?). They were all given a Scooby snack after their little run around and patted on the head. There's a good boy Friiiiiiiiiiio! Nice to see they'd been trained well, for there was no need for any pooper scooping. The pitch was immaculate.

Town just did their usual half-hearted aerobics and kickabouts. The Hamilton/Ford game of keepy-uppy was particularly amusing. At least I think it was keepy-uppy. You never can tell with those two.

First half
Plymouth, dullards and spoilsports, won the toss and made Town kick off towards the Pontoon. In retribution, Town confused them by passing the ball to each other, very pointedly not kicking it straight out of play. On Earth we call this passing. This clearly freaked out the Orangistas, for Town flew into them with controlled aggression. Tip, tap, tip, tap, Groves curled the ball down the inside left channel, over the top, for Boulding to run on to.

The little scamp held off Coughlan, the huge Plymouth gargoyle marking him, and played in Mansaram, just inside the penalty box with his back to goal. The Human Octopus twisted, turned, churned, gurned, circumnavigated the globe twice and arrived back in the Plymouth penalty area, like Francis Chichester, to a hero's welcome. The ball was still at his feet, and the Pontoon were on theirs, as he made one last turn to try a cross-shot from close to the bye-line. A long leg protruded and diverted the ball out of the area. C'mon feel the noise. Jevons and Boulding stood and tutted, for they were unmarked and awaiting the simple pass.

Plymouth cleared, managing to just get inside the Town half before Groves floored Friiio, right next to the Plymouth bench. Two minutes gone and their best player had been downed by enemy ire. Groves crunched in the tackle and remained on top of the wailing Frenchman, helpfully staunching the flow of oxygen with a well-placed knee.

Disturbed by someone taking away his thunder, Pouton hoovered up a little munchkin by sheer force of personality. And boot. The Town fans roared. This was what we expect; this was exactly what we were getting. Deep inside the main stand a Buckley-shaped shadow was hanging over Groves, so he put his belief in the yesterday of Town: Pouton and Groves; passing and movement; tackling and commitment. The comfort of the past.

Back again, the ball flying furiously towards the Pontoon, immoveable, impenetrable Town rocks, swallowing up the little ripples of Argyle attempts at attacks. A corner on the right, swung high to the far post, eluded all, dropping to Mansaram on the edge of the six-yard box. Here he goes again, spinning like a record, round and round, and up and down he goes again, let's twist again. How can anybody defend against a Mansaram? He doesn't know what he's doing, so how can a defender predict?

Once, twice, thrice a spin with an attempt at a right-footed cross thrown in casually. But Mansaram succeeded in missing the ball and kicking the defender on the shins, getting the ball back and turning again, before knocking a short pass to Boulding who, about eight yards out and wide of goal, slapped a shot a yard or so wide. Four minutes gone. That was a warning to Plymouth.

Onwards, ever onwards Town surged, Plymouth barely able to keep the ball, outfought and out-thought; the game was firm and fruity, but one side dominated. Crosses in, just over, back again, pressure building, expectations rising by the second. Town, all Town, Groves and Pouton imperious, Boulding and Mansaram pestering the life out of the visitors' defence, even McDermott and Barnard were free-raiding roamers on the fringe.

The fouls accumulated and it was already clear that the referee had decided not to let anything go, with no advantage played. He also seemed to be a little Argyle-phobic, infuriating their supporters with constant whistling for little shoves and tickles by their front players. Good!

The Argyle style was apparent in the fleeting moments of attacking. Fling it forward, fight for it, get the scraps. Vigorous football, with set pieces clearly a strategic aim of the military campaign. Another team with a long throw merchant. Yawnsville Arizona, Reggie. Lowndes and Evans were mobile, strong and well supported by midfielders, but there was always a Town foot, head and every other body part in the right place at the right time. Usually Groves, who cut out most of the crosses at the near post.

And then there was the Town pack of hounds, for whenever danger lurked inside and around the penalty area three, four, five Town players smothered the ball with monochrome machismo. Thou shalt not pass. Thou didn't. Oh, and Friio tried a spectacular Izzet-esque overhead kick which gently dropped into Davison's arms.

Around the quarter-hour Boulding caused minor peril inside the hearts of every perspiring Plymouth fan. Wouldn't that make them Argyle sweaters? Boom boom, Mr Roy. Fouled after finagling his way past Aljofree, and the first of many yellow cards was flourished at the overwhelmed oranginas. From the free kick Pouton had some kind of shot, which was quite dull by his standards of missing.

But Town flowed like a mountain stream, pure and sweet. Passing intricately down the right, they speeded it up, then they slowed it down, before Macca made his mind up, clipping the ball to Boulding on the edge of the area. Twisting, spinning, a low drive towards the bottom left corner; the ball went straight to McCormick, the surprisingly small keeper with a nascent mop atop his head.

Wellied upfield and Town came back again, with Boulding receiving the ball with has back to goal, 30 yards out. With two hairy-kneed defenders man-marking his derriere, Boulding twizzled around and ran between their legs. Grappled, gripped, wrestled to the ground. "Penalty!" cried the hopeful Pontoon. Nothing given by the referee. Hmm, well maybe he isn't totally Anti-Argyle then, for Boulding had been fouled when through on goal, even if the original fouling of his pathway to heaven was outside the penalty area.

And still Town drove forward. Corner after corner, all curled into the middle of the area, with Plymouth heads only just managing to flick clear. The closest to a goal came when Coughlin steamed in just before Groves and headed a few inches wide of the left post. So nearly a clanking great own goal. Scrambles, pressure, flapping of wings inside the pasty boys' shirts.

And finally, Cyril, Plymouth managed to have an effort on goal. I have the vaguest of vague recollections that one of their full backs had some kind of shot from the edge of the area, which may have even caused Davison to wake up and smell the coffee-centred chocolates he'd been bought for Christmas. In the 2Second minute they broke away down their right, after a Town attack floundered for once, with Barnard stranded upfield. The ball was smuggled out to Phillips, who cut infield and clipped a cross into the penalty area. Evans, somewhere close to the penalty spot, flicked a header across goal. The ball looped lazily, with Davison concerned, the Pontoon worried, and finally the Argyle fans saddened, as it drifted just wide of the right post. Whoops. So that's why they are doing so well: from nothing, they suddenly looked a little tasty.

A couple of minutes later another cross, but Lowndes glanced very wide as Edwards challenged. A huge Devonian burr of "Penalty!" rose from the Osmond Stand as Evans backed into Groves and tumbled a little too easily. Pah, Mr Evans, all sideburns and girth, to the mirth of the Town fans. Yes, he's the man who ate all their complimentary Ginsters pasties.

A period of relative flatness followed in that Plymouth had the ball more, and the game was more even. It was competitive, of a relatively decent standard, but not much was happening in front of goal. A lot of almost and nearly moments from both teams, invariably foundering on some determined mass defending. It certainly wasn't dull. The nervous tension was palpable.

Back again, Groves flipped the ball over the top, Boulding harried off down the inside left and cut back inside the area, smacking a low drive across the goalkeeper from a wide angle, perhaps 15 yards out. McCormick half stopped the ball, which squirmed away into a vast unpopulated area. As Town players eventually arrived to fill the void, the keeper, still grounded, managed to fly-hack the ball to a team mate, just outside the area.

As tight as a tourniquet, as dry as a funeral drum, the pressure returned. Another series of Town corners pummelled Plymouth, with the final one being hurled from the left to way beyond the far post. Mansaram turned and retrieved the ball out on the touchline, right underneath the police box. Brilliant, marvellous, wonderful, teasing and taunting the defender with the mastery of his control, Mansaram revolved twice, sending his marker into a nether world between the conscious and unconscious mind, colours blurred, sounds amplified yet slowed down too. Mansaram left him in cloud cuckoo land and pinged in a superb cross, right in to the heart of the area. Groves, about 10 yards out, towards the far post, leant back and powered a header across the face of goal. The ball zoomed towards the left corner as the keeper prayed. Was this the bittersweet moment for the Groves baiters? Ah, no: the ball crawled across the face of the post, missing by inches.

Wait, there's more. Mansaram, again, a whirligig of whizzing worry for the Argylites, a carousel of delights for the Pontoonites, laid the ball back from the bye-line on the left of the Plymouth area. Groves steamed in and hit a first-time shot from the edge of the area which rose into the Pontoon, a couple of feet wide of the post.

In added time Town should probably have scored the goal they certainly deserved. Pinned back inside their area, Argyle couldn't clear the ball. To the left, to the right, crosses, movement, passes, blocks. Finally Pouton advanced, a shimmy and shout, a shot scuffed straight to Boulding, level with the post on the right side of the area, a dozen yards out. Boulding took one touch, turned and mis-hit a shot into the ground. The ball took a slight deflection off a despairing diving defender and slowly, slowly arced towards the top right-hand corner of the goal, dipping, drifting and disappointing as it just managed to avoid going in by a couple of inches.

Off they trooped to an ovation richly deserved: pride restored, Plymouth pounded, a return to old ways. Plymouth were not poor; they were very strong physically and organisationally. They knew what they were doing, but Town stopped them playing how they wanted to, with Groves particularly doing a very important job by simply standing in the right place at the right time. He marked Friio almost out of the game, especially with that first-minute challenge.

But it was still 0-0, and the squid of despair usually lurks around the corner. They probably serve it in the local McDonalds, with 'fries'.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"A kick from that horse would break a swan's arm."
"Are we good, or are they bad?"
"It was supposed to be a man with a dog, but it was really a tree."
"It's comforting to see Town play like Town."
"My hat was on the front of the Telegraph."

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time. Plymouth kicked off in traditional style, immediately lumping the ball down behind Barnard for a throw-in to Town, not far from the corner flag. Pressure immediately put on Town, and for the next three or four minutes the ball was pinging about inside the Town penalty area. The throw-in succeeded only in getting the ball up to the halfway line, whereupon Plymouth lumped it forward. The Town defence squeezed together and Argyle managed to flick the ball out to Phillips skipping gaily down the left, unmarked and with cruel intent in his eye. He whipped in a cross behind the attackers to Friio, 12 yards out at the back post. He leant back and steered a drive well wide of Davison's left post. A little Gallic shrug and off he went back up the pitch.

From the goal kick, Plymouth won it back and whacked it high in towards Lowndes, inside the area. Bundling and trundling, he got the ball back to the full back, who slashed in a dangerous low cross through the six-yard box. Barnard had to stoop and nod the ball out for a corner as a orange-socked boot lingered longingly behind his right ear. The corner curled in from their right, with Davison blocked by Lowndes. Uh-oh, it's going in. No it isn't. Pouton, at the near post, rose majestically, almost scornfully, to head the ball off the line for another corner.

The storm weathered, Town regained some composure and control by kicking Friio. The Argyle players lost their temper a bit at the never-ending roll call of free kicks given against them by the, at least in Town terms, unusually benevolent referee. Over the next five minutes Town got loads of free kicks. The Plymouth players moaned and kept getting booked, including a wild sliding, stamping tackle on McDermott on the touchline by the end of the Stones/Findus/Smiths stand. Ouch! That tackle is to be contrasted with Pouton's controlled wild sliding tackles, of course, which in no way whatsoever infringed the rules of association football. A gentler soul you'll never meet, as he dumped Capaldi in the Imp's car park.

Where are we now? Still at the end of the Smiths/Stones/Findus stand with a free kick to Town. Barnard waddled up and curled the ball into the centre of the penalty area. Jevons, near the penalty spot, drifted in front of his marker and gently steered a glancing header towards goal. The keeper watched, the crowd rose silently, hopefully, the ball dropped against the foot of the post and away from goal, being panicked away for a corner as Mansaram approached. The keeper caught the corner. Sit down again at the back there.

Stand up again. Barnard, on the left, 25 yards out, performed a tremendously obvious foul throw, almost rolling the ball up to Jevons, who turned his marker, let the ball bounce a couple of times and from the very corner of the penalty are of the opposition's intent when they did similar things. He gets a huge 9.32, simply because it's a long time since we had someone who you didn't feel was going to send a Town player off for breathing. He was in control. It was a hard match, but not a dirty one.