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Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

4 October 2003

Grimsby Town 0 Queens Park Rangers 1

On a clear day you can see forever, or at least to the stunning vista of Spurn Point, which is what probably delayed all those QPR fans who seeped into the Osmond Stand a few minutes before three o'clock. Hundreds of 'em, at least 700, spilling into the covered corner too: a huddling, heaving mass which would assist in keeping them warm against the brisk autumn wind that sporadically chuntered into the Osmond Stand.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Edwards, Barnard, Crowe, Hamilton, Daws, Campbell, Boulding and Onuora. The substitutes were Jevons, Young, Hockless, Anderson and Soames (eventually, as Mansaram had been warming up, with Soames wandering around the stands in regulation club attire of dark grey everything). In other words the same starting team as against Blackpool.

QPR underlined their status as media favourites by re-introducing mass bad hair to Blundell Park. A bit like a Moonie wedding, too much of a bad thing. Hello Marc Bircham, with a blue stripe right down the middle, putting Proudlock's sloppy OAP rinse to shame. Ooh, hark on Day, the Larry Grayson of goalkeeping, with a drunken wiggle of blue down the back of his neck, almost like a badly tied ribbon. Padula, tiny, tiny Gino, like a waxwork Hernan Crespo. Is that a goatee I see before thee, or have you overdone the Mars bars? Ainsworth just looked like the pub rocker he is. Woah-oh-oh-oh, here he comes, smiling from his head down to his feet. He'd just roasted and toasted Galli, hadn't he?

The good news was the return of the real Mighty Mariner, foamfoolery to please the masses. Did I say good news? Perhaps the real MM only comes out when crowds are expected to top 5,000. You know, it's a safety matter, subject to HSE rules.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand and wellied the ball straight out of play – no messing, no thrills, deep into the Lower/Smiths/Findus Stand. What a class act we are sometimes. And it rather set the pattern for the first half, with Town totally unable to produce any rhythmic football. QPR were organised and professionally prepared, seemingly knowing our tactics and set plays. Cheats!

Within the first couple of minutes QPR had a shot. Nothing exciting, momentarily concerning, but it was outside the area, mis-hit and straight at Davison. All the ingredients for Pontoon satisfaction then. Town – no, no, not yet. QPR nibbled and nudged in midfield, robbing and rolling their way through with swift inter-passing and late runs from midfielders. All very impressive stuff, if a little irritating for the monochrome paying customers.

Still more impressive stuff as they knocked short passes behind the Town defence and pesky Thorpe kept nipping in front of Crane, causing yet more moments of danger. A couple of corners, a few crosses, pressure building on Town. The ball never 'stuck' upfield, and so the hoops flowed forward, imposing their will upon the strangely hesitant homesters. The crowd were restive, then silent, as Davison punched away a cross in a most curious fashion, like he was teeing up a volleyball slam. The ball lazily looped to Gallen, about 10 yards outside the penalty area on the centre right, who side-footed it back. Davison caught the falling star's soft drooper and put it in his pocket.

A minute or so later another corner, this time from their left, was curled inwards at speed to the near post. The unmarked Ainsworth sauntered forward and lashed it with his quiff, the ball crawling over the bar and running across the top of the net. Ooh indeed, Mr QPR fan.

Town – no, no, not yet.

On and on the game went, with Town hoofing hurriedly and QPR controlling the match. A Town corner! Barnard clipped the ball back to Campbell, 25 yards out. Except it didn't get that far as a QPR player ran out and intercepted the ball, like he knew it was going to happen. A dozen matches and we've been sussed. So still not yet then.

The linesmen were flag wavers of the first order, infuriating sections of the lower Stones/Smiths/Findus with the defenestration [I know it's a word and you know it's a word, but the Word spell checker has brought out the red underlining – Ed.] of Michael Boulding, but saving the Town defence some collective embarrassment with some exceedingly dodgy wafting. A couple of absolute sitters were missed in front of the Town goal but, hey, they wouldn't have counted, so why are we bothered about them? You're not, so on with the show.

Town, yes, yet! A long throw from the Town left high and long towards the near post. Crane headed once, twice, three times, nodding like a donkey at the bouncing ball, which eventually squirmed out to Campbell, in the middle of the penalty area. Campbell leaned back and hooked a shot (in the context of Town's first half efforts this was a chance) over the bar and just under the new scoreboard. There was enough power in the shot to dislodge a programme from a child. Not much of a yet, was it.

While shepherds watched their flocks, trippers snoozed under a tartan blanket and the Town defence stared at a passing speedboat, QPR took a throw-in in front of the Lower Stones/Smiths/Findus, with Gallen turning and smacking a low driven cross through the penalty area from the right corner. The ball hit the unmarked Furlong's knee and plopped into Davison's waiting hands. Nice of him to miss.

A minute later, another sitter missed. A one-two, flick and punt around the edge of the area saw the ball arc towards goal. Crane took a step back and attempted to guide a glancing header towards Davison. Fine. Great, no problem. Ah, problem. Thorpe had read Crane's Big Book of Flippin' Obvious Defending (Vol 2) before he arrived on the luxury padded coach, and there he was, waiting on a friend. Fortunately Davison rushed out and smothered as Thorpe twisted and flicked a shot goalwards.

Well, that's lucky. After 21 minutes or so more fortune as the worm turned. The referee spent the first part of the game failing to notice little fouls by QPR. I particularly like the way he thought Town players could make themselves move several feet laterally while suspended in mid-air. Do we have hoverpacks or are there poltergeists on the playing surface? Stop griping – he took agin the opposition for 20 minutes after he awarded Town a free kick. Thorpe moaned and moaned and groaned, sufficient to get booked and for the free kick to be marched forward 10 yards. Perhaps he was pointing out the small print in the contract between the two parties: "We don't foul; they do"?

Barnard whacked the free kick into the wall. The ball bounced down then up and flew towards the top left corner. Palmer nodded the ball away from near the goal-line, with Day seemingly unconcerned behind him. After much debate the Pontoon decided it was worth a half hearted "ooh", so half of us heartily "oooh"-ed.

Hey, Town pressure – in the sense that there was a five-minute period when QPR didn't mesmerise and make mincemeat of Town. A Daws long throw was scrambled away to Hamilton, 20 yards out in the centre. The crowd sucked in air, anticipating glory as Hamilton wound himself up to thwack the loose ball goalwards. And he did! The ball sliced away, away, on to the roof, over the roof and towards the goals on Sussex Rec. Pouton would be proud of you, Discotheque Derrick; you are fit to fill his shooting boots.

A Town free kick from the left was flung way beyond the far post. Crane snuck around the back and firmly headed downwards. Day made an instinctive parry at the foot of the post, the ball trundling out for a corner, the wavy blue keeper rolling back into the net.

As the half ended QPR pressed again, with Town being fortunate with offside flagging and wayward crossing. Furlong was released down his right and crossed dangerously into the centre of the goalmouth, only Crane's knee being between ball and the unmarked Thorpe. Welcome to lottery corner, as the ball could have gone anywhere. It ended up looping over Davison and bouncing behind the goal. My, my, it was almost a Lever moment. We were almost back on the heritage trail. The club really should think about erecting a blue plaque to commemorate the Beverley Bumbler, advertising historical re-enactments every two weeks. That'd get the missing fans back.

Yet more QPR pressure. McDermott to the rescue, heading the ball away from under the crossbar as a cross was dinked over Davison and an attacker lurked. Replay scene, add one minute, substitute Edwards for McDermott. You get the picture.

That's the first half, leaving out many minor details of huffery and puffery. In simple terms QPR outthought and outfought Town, which isn't so much a criticism of the Mariners as a compliment to QPR. They had clearly studied Town and sought to nullify threats and exploit weaknesses. It's only what you'd expect the opposition to do. The Town midfield was malfunctioning, with Hamilton looking ponderous in the extreme, almost Onuoraian in the time delay between lights, camera and action. It was like he was on his first driving lesson and having to think mirror, signal then manoeuvre. By which time four QPR saloon cars had overtaken him down Taylors Avenue. Let's hope he knows where the petrol cap is.

Crowe and Campbell were non-presences, adding nothing in attack and only occupying space in defence. Daws did his best, but could only be in two, not four, places at once. The defence creaked; the Town fans silently groaned; but it was still 0-0. No-one booed and no-one moaned (out loud anyway) – it was all remarkably tolerant viewing. Perhaps there was a collective recognition that QPR were any good and it wasn't Town being rubbish that was causing the paucity of free-flowing football.

Drawing at half time was a bonus. Much less than QPR deserved. And weren't we thankful for that.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"They've just signed Warren Beatty."
"Two ambulances at Blundell Park? They're just like buses, aren't they."
"Have they got a bicycle kick fetish?"
"QPR know what they're doing. That's a first for this division."
"Is that a fur-lined cagoule?"

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time, though it suddenly became much windier, with a strong bluster billowing down the pitch from Pontoon to Osmond. Or was that just the crowd? This resulted in Town clearances hanging vertically over the halfway line, while QPR through balls and the keeper's drop kicks all zipped through to Davison.

What a change. Gone was the hopeless hoofing towards Boulding's head and Onuora's feet (surely the wrong way round?): Town gained ascendancy early on and never let go, and the match was played almost exclusively in front of the Pontoon. The first few minutes saw Town turn their defence and have half moments when things nearly started to happen. But at least that was a start, getting players into their penalty area. Corners, crosses, enough to allow the crowd to rouse themselves and that old Grimsby Roar returned, like the belief was back, after 18 months working on an oil rig.

Within a couple of minutes Crane had got his obligatory injury. A corner was hit towards him, his header was blocked, the ball dropped, he drooped, and tried to head the ball again while on his knees, receiving a whack in the head for his troubles. So, of course, he rubbed his ankles. His brain bone is connected to his ankle bone, and that's the way of the lord.

After a Town corner was half cleared Campbell zoomed down the left wing, outpacing the full-back, then cracking a cross into the near post. Edwards chested the ball down and fell under an unco-ordinated lunge by Forbes. The ball was wiped clear, but only back to Town. The pressure built upon QPR, the crowd on its feet. No clear chances, just sheer will driving Town forward. Daws hit a superb crossfield ball out to the rampaging McDermott, who continued forward and clipped a low pass across the face of the penalty area. Onuora blocked off a defender and Campbell sneaked in and, from the centre, swept a horribly mis-hit dribbler safely past the right post. At last a Town move, flowing freely across and down the pitch.

Oops, here they come. No, don't bother. Bircham chipped a diagonal cross from their left which brought an excited "ooh" from the QPR supporters, but didn't look thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening as it floated out of play. Relax. No, don't. Ainsworth dribbled through several Town players down their right, running across and in front of Barnard, who 'accidentally' collided with the lardy air guitarist. Barnard was booked and QPR had a free kick on the left corner of the Town box. Bean smackerooned a low blaster through the wall and Davison parried the ball at the foot of his left post. The ball rolled back out and Thorpe side-footed it over Davison, onto the face of the crossbar and over for a goal kick. Throats were cleared in many parts of the DN35 postcode, with eyebrows raised too.

Just a temporary blip on the otherwise Pontoon trajectory of the ball. Town came back, surging down the left with one-touch passing and movement, Boulding and Campbell infiltrating the spaces around and behind the right-back. Rowlands mugged Campbell for his mobile phone on the right corner of their penalty area, being booked for his troubles. The crowd noise simply ratcheted up one more level, the pressure remaining upon QPR as they were unable to clear properly, Daws and the two full backs sweeping up most of the rebounds and ricochets that came out of the box.

Onwards, onwards Town cruised, Crowe finally peeping out from behind his cotton sheets, outpacing Padula and flipping a cross into the unmanned box. Just where was Onuora? After 63 minutes Boulding fluffed his lines at the audition. Shame really. Suddenly he was free behind Forbes on the centre left, haring down on goal. Out came Day and Boulding looked up, saw Onuora unmarked in the centre of goal. He decided to use Onuora as a dummy and did a little Generation Game twirl, showing off his new frock, before turning infield across Day and straight into Palmer, who swiped the ball clear just outside the six-yard box.

A minute later, another 'almost' moment. Boulding was sent free down the right. Outpacing the defender who wasn't there, he looked up and decided to pass the ball. His low trundling cross went behind Hamilton and reached Onuora, about 10 yards out at the far post. Onuora sidefooted the ball against Rowlands and then hooked the rebound from behind his left ear (or so it seemed) over Rowlands. Day just managed to tip the ball over the bar as it arced over him.

At the height of the Town pressure Bircham went off the pitch, injured, while play continued. As Town won another corner he stumbled, tumbled and fumbled back on, and then fell, demanding treatment. To Edwards' great chagrin the referee allowed this cheeky chappy to halt play and get some TCP on his grazed knee. You can't blame him for trying, but can blame the referee for being pusillanimous. Bircham indulged in a discussion about hairstyle aesthetics with some squares in the crowd, daddio. Oh, and the Pontoon surely already knew the answer to the question regarding Padula's mobile home. Somewhere near Freshney Way, if I read the GET correctly.

More Town pressure. An Onoura header; Macca surging, sweeping, breaking down the right, forcing Day to hack clear near the police box. Forbes weirdly chesting a cross out for a corner, almost trapping the ball in the process. Perceptible signs of minor panic in the QPR defence.

Crowe was replaced by Anderson, who initially played on the right, but later moved to the left. He looked unfit. What a surprise. His first touch was when a corner was pulled back to him 40 yards out. Gallen dispossessed him, but the scampering Scot chased and retrieved. Boulding, on the Town centre left, received a short pass inside the penalty area, 10 yards out at the near post. In one move he turned Forbes and swiped a firm low drive towards the foot of the post. Day reacted superbly and just managed to palm the ball away from the near post.

QPR made a couple of change, replacing a striker (Thorpe) with a defender (Barton), and a little later Ainsworth riffed his last, replaced by Sabin. Unfortunately this seemed to work, as QPR were less ropey defensively, and Town lost some of the momentum. The attacks started to crash against firmer rocks; pressure remained but there were more hooped shirts in and around the goal.

And QPR had another attack. Wasn't it nice of them to visit their fans now and again. Rowlands zoomed upfield, cut infield past McDermott and, from just inside the penalty area, curled a shot towards the top left corner. Davison took off and hung like an albatross, clutching the ball spectacularly, if a little ostentatiously. Maybe he was bored and wanted something to do.

But still Town poured forward: another minute, another corner, half cleared to the edge of the penalty area. Crane tried to curl a shot towards the right corner, but a desperate hooped sock arrived, diverting the ball up, up and away, over Day. The ground fell silent, awaiting fortune's fickle finger to fall. Which way did the ball fall? Onto, not into, the roof of the net.

Boulding again, fighting his way past Palmer, and into the penalty area on the right. His cross shot bombled through the area as four defenders shepherded the ball away, no Town players near. I'd love to say Onuora zipped or zoomed his way towards goal, but it would be more accurate to say he zimmered forward. It isn't his fault he's old; it's nature.

The game entered the last few minutes and both sides appeared to have exhausted themselves in slugging it out toe to toe. With just a couple of minutes left QPR launched a clearance upfield. The ball was caught in the wind and Edwards set off after it with Furlong in pursuit. The ball bounced up, with Edwards underneath it. Furlong managed to finagle himself in front of the hitherto immaculate Michael and he was free on goal. Edwards bundled, barged, wrestled then launched himself at the exiting striker. Both fell over and the crowd waited... and waited... and waited. Referee looked at linesman. Linesman looked at referee. Then they both ran off upfield shaking their heads. A perfectly reasonable atrocious decision from where I was sitting.

So definitely a draw then – Town's luck was holding. Maybe even a fluky win. Come on lads: one more go – we can still do it! Forward Town piled, and in the third minute of added time Barnard floated a cross toward goal, but it hung and dropped into Day's hands with no Town players near.

Day walloped it forward and Edwards, just outside the town area headed high, but sideways. McDermott stepped forward and mis-hit a volleyed clearance straight to a QPR player. Rowlands and Gallen interchanged pass (with a nifty back-heel setting Gallen free where McDermott had been, but Campbell wasn't). Danger, danger. Gallen cut back across Campbell and dragged a low shot from a dozen yards out past Davison. The ball hit the near post and bounced back across goal straight to the unmarked Sabin, who appeared to be almost standing on the goal-line. Goal, of course. Scene of great joy and merriment from the Osmond Stand, the likes of which haven't been seen for several years. The Town fans silent, gut-wrenchingly silent, drained of feelings, numbed and shocked. Ten seconds later the game ended.

Despite the loss, and particularly the lateness of the goal, the crowd was not in a seething rage of indignation. It was "one of those things". Annoyed rather than angry. The team had roared its way through the second half, recovering from a bit of a lesson in football tactics in the first 45 minutes. It felt like a first division game, not the usual comedy capers we've seen so far this season. If we can't take the opposition seriously, then how can the players? Today we did, and they did.

This last week has been a bit like the old Morecombe and Wise sketch. They were all the right results, but not necessarily in the right order.

Nicko's man of the match
No-one was totally blemish-free, but Michael Edwards has the least spots on his face, having carried forward some bonus points from Blackpool. Tenacity, positioning, perception, luck: the four riders of the Town storm. And yes, that is ignoring the non-sending off incident that Arsene Wenger, disgracefully, claims he didn't see.

Official warning
Did we celebrate Mr Kaye, performing feats on Saturday at Blundell Park? There were feats of a kind. A weak, weak man, who muffed the controversial decisions, like the rest of his 'team'. Should have sent Edwards off and probably given a penalty too. He spent the first 20 minutes being extra-lenient to the snapping southerners, then he flipped when Thorpe had the cheek to answer back. Then flipped again, like he did last summer, no doubt. Both sets of supporters had legitimate gripes and he is fortunate to get 3.012.