Nice 'n' easy does it

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

8 November 2003

Grimsby Town 1 Queens Park Rangers 0

All the leaves were brown and the sky was grey, with a stiff, swirling biting wind blowing in from the Humber and into the faces of 600 or so returning QPR trippers. The Town fans oozed into the ground like overflowing drains - you don't notice it happening, but suddenly they are all over your kitchen floor.

Perhaps the magic of the cup was defeated by the disappointment of the non-appearing hair. Only their goalkeeper, Day, of the hirsutists from hell came back for more moogling and googling from the Pontoon. Even Ainsworth had had his hair cut. How can football compete with B & Q warehouses if the players have sensible hairstyles?

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation, but not with the usual players in the usual positions, as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Edwards, Barnard, Campbell, Crowe, Hamilton, Anderson, Boulding and Onuora. The substitutes were Pettinger, Groves, Mansaram, Cas and Jevons. How strange: Crowe started in central midfield with Campbell on the right wing. How very strange. That is strange.

The pre-match entertainment was provided by elements of the Pontoon, who indulged in some Mighty Mariner molesting, tweaking and twanging the nose, perhaps playing 'Name That Tune' on the plastic proboscis.

First half
QPR kicked off towards the Osmond Stand, crooning the ball straight down the middle. Within the first minute Thorpe turned in midfield and slotted a pass through the space between the heavens (Barnard) and the corner of some foreign field (Edwards - well, he is from Hull), with Davison rushing off his line to scoop the ball off Sabin's foot.

Now let's get things straight: from this moment on QPR didn't get inside the Town penalty area; they didn't have a shot, they didn't have a mis-hit pass bumbling and stumbling through the area that would have gone in only if Davison had passed away at least three decades ago. In short, the words they didn't should precede any thought you may have about what they could have done. Rangers were crushed by the Town glacier as it remorselessly ground forward towards the Pontoon. The superhoopers were hanging on from the pre-match warm-up. Town were up and at 'em from the off, harrying, scarrying, pestering and dispossessing.

In the third minute a throw-in, under the police box, was flung to McDermott, who flicked the ball back to Crowe, about 30 yards out. Crowe curled a first-time cross high towards the back post, and Onuora, who had bent a run behind the centre-back, waited with intent. About seven yards out and unmarked, Iffy rose majestically and steered a header across the goalkeeper and on to the face of the crossbar. The ball bounced down inside the six-yard box and was smuggled out of the country, possibly stuffed underneath Palmer's ample flapping shirt.

Another five minutes of Town nudging and noodling QPR off the ball, with Boulding chasing the centre-back, Forbes, into cul-de-sacs and Onuora bullying Clarke, a recovering Gallimore, had the crowd stirring. QPR almost had the ball at one point, close to the halfway line, but Hamilton used his huge dancing shoes to skip across the turf and sweep the ball away from one, then two opponents.

The ball careered towards the managers' dug-out, seemingly on its way out of play, but Dynamic Des slid and hooked the ball back, rising from the ground in one movement. He drove back infield and dinked one of those fashionable reverse passes between two defenders to McDermott, who had run infield. Macca surged on and tapped the ball onto Onuora, continuing his run and causing blind panic in the hopping hoopers.

Onuora held off two defenders, twisted and lifted a superb pass through the defence to Boulding, who was free on the right edge of the penalty area. Onwards zipped the tiny terror, and Day came off his line. Boulding set his sights and, from about 10 yards out just to the right of goal, horribly sliced a right-footed shot straight into the Pontoon, the ball going further wide than he was standing, or more accurately rolling.

A couple of minutes later more Town fizzing down the right, McDermott, Campbell, Crowe dashing, darting, harem scarem, crossing and finally Hamilton thwacked a drive from 25 yards which curled gently away from the keeper as it manoeuvred itself through a thicket of legs. Day carefully lay on the ground and just held onto the ball at the foot of his right post as Anderson and Boulding lurked.

More, more, more Town attacks, especially down the right, how did we like it? Oooo, a lot. Crowe was omnipresent, the mighty atom full of beans, unlike Marcus Bean, who was a peripheral presence for QPR. Did that bother us? No. We'll gloss over Crowe's dribble down the right, where he beat three defenders and, when about to cross, kicked the ball away for a goal kick with his left foot as he swung his right ballwards.

Hang on to your hats. Danger! Crane underhit a back pass and Davison raced off his line, swung his pants, shuffled and lifted the ball away from the rampaging Ainsworth, sending the walking talking air guitar back south as he wandered over to the Main Stand to book a dental appointment. The fly swatted.

Crosses into the box, desperate headers out by the hooped ones, the Pontoon roaring, the pressure building. QPR players took it in turns to break up the flow of play by laying on the ground rolling in agony at the slightest touch. Or whack. The referee began to irritate, then infuriate, with petty stoppages, baffling decisions and then plain perverse ones. A foul throw given against Barnard for taking it three yards from the right place, booking Crowe for challenging for a clearance near goal.

Then the biggy. Around the 20th minute Town pressed these southern grapes further into the vat. The ball was chipped up to Onuora, just inside the penalty area on the right. Onuora had his back to goal, but controlled the ball with his chest, only to be flattened by a heavy goods vehicle with dodgy brakes. The referee ignored the polite enquiries made by players and crowd alike. And also the impolite reaction to his refusal.

Thirty seconds later the noise ratcheted up to 11 on the Spinal Tap scale of earthquake intensity, when Boulding was sent through the middle. Forbes clutched Boulding's arm like a timorous tot hanging onto the dinner lady. Boulding was pulled in some weird ways, then barged off towards the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus stand as Day came out to gather the ball.

Still Town poured forward, smothering their midfield with a blanket. Let's call it euthanasia shall we? It meant they didn't have to endure greater suffering later. It was for the best. There was a ten-minute period where Town didn't manage to have any efforts on goal, with play confined to the middle third, with yet more spurious stoppages.

Crane stooped to head clear and, after the ball had gone, McLeod jumped up and, perhaps misunderstanding the latest developments in mobile phone technology, placed a foot in Crane's right ear. Crane got up and shoved McLeod in the chest and several other players joined in the buffeting. Barnard waddled over and had seemed to issue harsh words in the direction of Crane. Eventually the referee booked the principle actors in this Feydeau farce.

A photographer under the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus was barracked for failing to return the ball not once, but twice. Remember, three strikes and you're out, matey.

The lull lasted only slightly longer than a Livvo sprint and Town were back, the tourniquet turning ever tighter. Boulding almost sneaked past Day, who came out of his area and kneed the ball away for a Town throw-in.

Campbell, near the halfway line, lifted a perfectly weighted pass down the inside right channel and Boulding was off again, the lone marauding Mariner. He swished onwards, into the box, defenders converging like ducks on newly baked bread. About 10 yards out and just wide of goal Boulding flashed a shot high across Day, who parried excellently across the face of goal. The ball looped up and behind Onuora, with Rowlands eventually flipping the ball away. Ah, Rowlands, such a handy defender to be up against, a man who controlled the ball out pf play for two Town corners.

Like Rushden last week, QPR's forwards were constantly offside, with Thorpe the major culprit. That or the linesman had been hypnotised to raise his flag whenever they had the ball. So not often then.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the half-time forum. After 41 minutes Campbell collected a pass underneath the police box, with two defenders jostling him. The ball bounced up and Campbell raced on. The referee blew his whistle and pointed to his hands. Campbell went bananas, and the crowd went ballistic. Absolutely nothing had happened and it was typical of this useless, one-sided referee to give a free kick to... us. Yeah, great decision, well spotted that man.

Nothing came of that free kick, but the last five minutes were played out in front of the rollicking, raging Pontoon. Crosses, corners, blocks and madcap clearances and finally a corner from the right. Anderson curled it into the centre of the box, about eight yards out. Crane barnstormed through the box and hurled himself forward. The ball thumped off his forehead and Day magnificently arched his back, raised his right hand, and fingertipped the ball over the bar, with perhaps the merest kiss of ball and bar.

In added time, Sabin got the ball inside the Town half, which was nice for those perishing park rangers in the Osmond. And then the referee ended the scintillating, sizzling half.

Town were passionate, pacy, almost perfect. But still goalless. QPR were being pulverised, being forced to defend like rabid rabbits. Davison was a lonely figure, stalking his area like a forgotten pony, embarrassed to be paid for standing in a field. The game had the pace of a first division game, with Town the superior. It is impossible to single out individuals, for the team was all, the collective spirit, the cohesion, the performance was purrful. But still 0-0, and we know what happened last time we played them.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Give me a nudge when QPR have a shot."
"You can't get me on dirigibles."
"Town look like a team again."
"Mary Shelley. Wife or sister?"
"Where do you stand on the Groves debate?" "He claps, rather than waves."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time, though QPR did make a tactical change, pushing Ainsworth up front with Thorpe, and Gallen seemed to be playing in that infamous hole into which players of indeterminate abilities always fall. Especially those with white boots. And it worked, for a few minutes, unlike the scoreboard, which started the second half at 50 minutes. It's one way of ensuring Town don't concede a 90th-minute goal, I suppose.

After a couple of minutes of the half, Boulding was tripped right on the very, very, very edge of the penalty area, about 10 yards in from the bye-line. Anderson and Barnard stood together, hands on hips, two roly-poly leftists like Town's Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Anderson rolled the ball to Barnard, who curled a shot high through the penalty area, over heads and hands. The ball arced gracefully goalwards, then suddenly jack-knifed, having appeared to hit the angle of post and crossbar.

A minor scramblette followed, along with a few raised eyebrows and huddled discussions in the Pontoon over what actually happened. QPR broke away quickly and three of their players ran into the Town half at one point.

Yes, really. Town were not so dominant, with QPR reaching some kind of midfield parity. Their tactical change and the increased tempo resulted in them having a couple of almost, maybe, nearly moments. Final passes were mis-hit and Edwards and Crane, mostly, read the play and did some McDermottian shepherding.

The scoreboard eventually returned from the future and in the real 50th minute Crowe surged forward and released Boulding, the little tinker, with a little dinker along the ground, through the middle. From a distance of 100 yards, and peering through the half light that is the Blundell Park on a winter afternoon, Boulding seemed free, but unable to get within a couple of yards of the ball, like an invisible forcefield was stopping his valiant efforts. Then he fell to Earth, with a giant hooped figurine bestriding the fallen idol. A corner was given, and nothing happened of any consequence from this.

A minute later QPR had their effort on goal. And from a bit of pressure too. They broke, they crossed, they buzzed around and crossed again, like they did last summer. The ball was worked back to Palmer, about 25 yards out on their left, who swung in a loopy, gloopy cross towards the near post. Sabin leapt up and, from about eight yards out, firmly headed a few inches wide of Davison's right hand post. Now was that really worth a 300-mile round trip?

In the 55th minute there was the incident that dare not speak its name. QPR had another spellette of pressure, with a player free on their left. He crossed, the ball hit McDermott 'somewhere' and plopped towards off behind the goal. The Town fans fell eerily silent, looks were looked, noses tapped, heads nodded, but utter silence. Not even a murmur. Then a few coughs and when the referee didn't give a penalty someone switched the volume back on again. Well, Macca is an old hand, isn't he.

The sight of the opposition actually shooting unnerved a few of the Town fans, who called for their messiah. There is a marketing opportunity for the club here, one that'll help pay the wages of their chosen one, for surely the Seventh Day Jevontists would buy little black and white bracelets with "WWJD" inscribed upon them.

Onwards and upwards, or rather up the pitch Town went. McDermott, Campbell and Crowe exchanging glances, though not strangers on the right, the hopeless hoopers ripped apart, with McDermott nicking behind the defence and crossing to the near post. Onuora toe-poked the ball very wide with an ungainly lunge.

On the hour QPR thought they'd had another shot. Sabin ran 40 yards down the centre, exchanged passes with Thorpe and, whoops, suddenly he was free inside the area, with a phalanx of stripes in hot pursuit. As he was about to shoot, just eight yards out and to the left of goal, a hawk swooped and plucked the little fieldmouse from the grass, a tasty aperitif for Crane. A he-man of a tackle, rippling fear through the opposition as he ripped the ball away from the slight and slender Sabin.

A few minutes later QPR did have another shot, after a fast breakaway, when Thorpe went one-on-one with Davison, who brilliantly, magnificently tipped the ball away low to his left. But what a waste of everyone's time: Thorpe, of course, was offside. He really should sign for Rushden; it's his destiny.

The game was a bit devoid of action, with QPR defending better, allowing Town less space into which they could sweep, or Boulding run. Town kept battering against these firmer walls, but nothing was happening inside their area. The plucky little Londoners were holding on to what they'd got.

The wind swirled and curled, sending the ball in cruel and unusual flights of fancy, allowing Hamilton to spend minutes on end avoiding the ball through 'dummies'. There was a purple haze in the sky, apposite given that it was neither day nor night. A few fireworks twinkled in the distance, a helicopter circled in the Humber, something was about to happen, but what?

Ah, that old Cas-for-Anderson trick. With just less than 20 minutes left Cas came on and played as a left winger. Weird. Cas's first contribution was a brave block from a Crane header, ensuring that Tony Tight Trousers' goalbound nod (have you seen his shorts?) failed to concern Day, who many have come to regard as the Liberace of goalkeeping. It's that blue wiggle on his head. Derision is de rigueur for shocking topiary.

Cas then dribbled the ball out of play and finally did something, when he hurled a long throw-in from the Town right. The ball was half cleared back out towards the chucker, and Campbell, on the edge of the area, beat the defender to the ball, chesting it down and hitting a dipping volley across the face of goal. Day, at his near post, saved low to his right as unfriendly feet wafted around his nose.

All very well, all very good, but still Town had failed to score. There was a horrible, nagging feeling abroad that history was about to repeat itself, with the undeserving poor sauntering back home having conned the old lady into parting with her milk money.

With about 10 minutes left a long ball from QPR was variously headed inside the Town half. The ball bounced up and Barnard thwacked a thumping great welly forward and very high. The ball disappeared from view, returning after an orbit of the earth somewhere near the edge of the QPR penalty area, on the centre left. Onuora leapt and glanced the ball sideways to Boulding, about 25 yards out in the centre. Boulding chested the ball to his left and, in an instant, twisted and hit a left-footed shot across Day and into the far side of his net, leaving him standing like a guilty schoolboy. Half a second later the Town fans reacted. Wahey, what a nice day, or something similar.

The last 10 minutes were a comparative cakewalk, with QPR still unable to shoot, nor even apply any concerted pressure. They had a couple of breakaways which foundered on the Crane/Edwards double act, and a couple of corners which floundered on their own incompetence.

Town spent the last few minutes time-wasting in the open corner between Osmond and Stones/Smiths/Findus, and doing it well. Onuora teased and pleased, rolling the ball this way and that, winning a couple of corners. It all looked almost professional. The three minutes of added time just flew by, with not a hint of catastrophe.

And there you are - a simple, easy stroll through a November afternoon. Outclassing, outhinking, outfighting and outknocking insipid infidels from the south. And that with a strangely constructed team too. There was nothing negative to say about anybody or anything in stripes today. It was a Town performance of old: passion, purpose and poise. We know they can do it, they just did it. Now do it again.

Nicko's man of the match
Who could it be? Everyone was at least OK, with Edwards Mr Supercool, gliding and sliding danger away, before it was even danger. But Crowe and Crane, Crane and Crowe, heads or tails? Hmm, tails. Best of three? So very difficult to choose between the two, with Crowe surprisingly effective in the centre of midfield and Crane at last justifying the glowing epithets. Tails again. It is the man from Department S: Jason Crowe.

Official warning
Rubbish. Was Mr P Danson in control? Of his own bowels, yes; of the game, hardly. Spent the first 40 minutes infuriating every monochromer within a 12-mile radius of the centre circle, and the next 50 being equally baffling, but somewhat more pro-Town. Rather than make judgements, it was far easier to allocate periods of time during which decisions would be given to one team. Hey, these things even themselves out over the course of the game anyway, so why not take the arbitrary out of the arbiter. Do I hear 6.023? No. Do I hear 5.476? Do I hear 4.981? No, the wind whispers a faint 4.0000001.