Points failure, Town derailed

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

16 September 2003

Grimsby Town 1 Swindon Town 2

A warm, windless evening in the home of happiness, the Town of tranquillity, with just over 100 Swindonites visible in the Osmond Stand. Again Mighty Marinerless, again without atmosphere, without humans. Ah, that's it, that's why no-one comes anymore - no Mighty Mariner! The pre-match warm-up was the typical tipping and tapping, though it was noticeable that the 'front six' played a game of one-touch football with each other. It's never too late to practice.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Ford, Crane, Barnard, Cas, Bolder, Campbell, Hockless, Rowan and Boulding. The substitutes were Young, Soames, Nimmo, Edwards and Crowe. The only changes to the previous game, where something happened to bring attention to the club, apparently, was the return of the Mac and Bolder for Groves. If 100 people in a field can buzz, then they did when the team was announced sans Groves.

The bright, new, shiny scoreboard flashed out a message to the fans, accompanied by the booming tannoy, or was it the voice of the Mysterons? It was just about this ambulance nonsense, with the club inviting the fans to join them in a fight for truth using the simple sword of justice and trusty Grimsby sense of fair play. Together we shall cut this cancer from the heart of British journalism. Alternatively, they could just send a copy of All The President's Men to the GET: you need a second source to print a story, remember.

So there we are then, a glorified reserve game atmosphere, though as kick-off got closer there was an attempt to get behind the team with some cheering and chanting. We tried, in adversity - we, the fans, tried. One tried too hard, with amazing monochrome hair, like a walking allegory, black on one side, white on the other.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand with a nebulous hoof upfield by Barnard. And that was probably the high point of the game.

Somewhere early on Town almost had a chance, when a cross from the left was flicked on into the centre of the penalty area. Cas, unmarked, perhaps 10 yards out, swung his left boot and back-heeled the ball with his right to set up a Swindon counterattack. Aimless punting, artless crunching, the game was a shapeless mess, though the hint of danger was there from Swindon. They moved purposefully in attack with much movement from Parkin and Mooney, supported by midfielders, especially the tricky Milner.

Whenever Crane and Ford challenged the crowd winced, expecting disaster; but Ford wasn't too bad. Unlike Mr Crane, who wallowed around like a sad hippopotamus, miles from his mud. How can a six foot five man fail to win a header for 30 minutes? Send your answer on a postcard to your local MP and win a fridge. Mooney simply Gabbiadini-ed Crane away, using hip and hope. The referee saw no wrong in this 70s disco dancing around the Town handbag and Swindon were regularly on their way. A handbag?

Around the 17th minute the Town defence finally imploded, courtesy of a misunderstanding between our C-list celebrities, Crane and Campbell. The ball was lobbed up the Swindon left and Parkin flicked the ball on as Crane retreated. Campbell saw Crane backtrack and stopped. Crane saw Campbell stop and increased his rate of deceleration. They both stood and stared at each other as Mooney zipped through this Hellespont and ran off towards goal. About 12 yards out and well wide of goal Mooney dragged a low shot across Davison, who parried the ball away.

A minute later the ball was given away on the Town right near the halfway line. Play zoomed over to their left, with Barnard standing off the winger, as if a particularly pungent aroma had drifted in from the police box. The Swindon player headed off for the touchline, via the cornerflag, and tricked Campbell and Barnard with a Bouldingesque swish. Into the area, along the bye-line, Mooney raced to the near post; the ball was pulled back to the penalty spot; and Parkin side-footed the ball over the bar via Ford's hand. The corner was half cleared, quarter cleared, eighth cleared and finally not cleared, with Mooney allowed to swivel (or was that the Pontoon's suggestion) on the centre right and poke a half volley straight at Davison.

Town had attacks; well, striped footballers were near the ball at the Osmond end. This forced Swindon defenders to make contact with the ball. A couple of minor breaks down the right resulted in clearances at the near post, being very minor moments of almostness. A-ha - Campbell poked a volley from about 20 yards straight at the goalkeeper. Oh, I didn't mention that Swindon breakaway where McDermott saved the day with a tremendous sliding, scooping tackle at the post, six yards out. I have now.

Halfway up the stairs of the first half, being 22 minutes and a few seconds precisely according to the speaking clock, the crowd's attention lost in a haze of alcohol-soft middle age, the ball was in an indeterminate, non-threatening position near the halfway line. Suddenly Rowan flicked the ball over the top of the Swindon defence. Boulding, about 10 yards inside the half on the right, zoomed forward and managed to wiggle his way in front of the last defender. Excitement at last, especially as the goalkeeper appeared by the scamp's feet, way outside the penalty box. Boulding glided past Evans and rolled the ball into the empty net from the edge of the penalty area. Relief, mixed with surprise. A minor earth tremor in Cleethorpes, no injuries.

Did this goal energise the Town players? Did it release them from the shackles of fear, to produce that free-flowing football we all love? Er, no. They still ran around a lot, but produced nothing of any consequence to report. Rowan's attempted overhead kick ended up as a sliced clearance for Swindon. I'm still thinking...still...still...nope, no more. Nothing, absolute zilcho Towno attacko to describo. Swindon were just better; Parkin and Mooney still buzzed, while Gurney and Hewlett commanded the centre of the pitch.

But somehow they failed to create chances; a Ford foot and even once, just once, a Crane head, got in the way. McDermott defended without tackling to great effect, robbing and roaming upfield. Swindon resorted to falling in the penalty area, though the referee was as impressed as the Pontoon at such tumbling dice. Bolder flattened Duke in heading the ball and, right at the end of the half, Duke again (I think) fell spectacularly when challenged on the centre right. As the defender missed the ball it could only be a dive or a penalty, in which case the failure to book the Swindon player was crass.

Not surprising, though, as all through the half Swindon were awarded free kicks when Town players looked at them, even if not in a funny way. How strange that the Swindon defenders were rarely penalised for the laying of hands upon Boulding's shirt. It would have been nice if the linesman in front of the Main Stand had functional use of his arms; times have moved on from 1872. Offside?

Have you got it yet? That's it for the first half, no more action, a very poor game, with four added minutes to account for a bunch of injuries to Town players. Crane crumpled, Rowan slumped, McDermott was scythed down. Rowan was replaced in the 34th minute by Nimmo, who added some perkiness and strength to the attack, not to mention a very stylised stepover with his first touch. We had four seconds of wonder, when Cas flicked the ball over a defender, Nimmo lifted the ball over the next defender and Boulding almost dinked the ball over the final defender. A surprising goal: one shot and four seconds of wonder don't add up to a hill of beans, but at least Town were ahead and weren't being overrun. Hanging on in quiet desperation more like. But leading.

The crowd tried so very hard to get behind the team and the goal helped. There were songs of support; there was much merriment; we even stood up and applauded shinned clearances, stumbling thwacks and Crane's incredible stringy bandy complete miss when a through ball whooshed through his legs and went straight to Davison.

Fortune on Town's side? Too good to be true? I can't believe Town aren't butter.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Crane's too tall to head the ball."
"Nimmo ate all my friend's ginger biscuits."
"I wish Cas was playing. He is?"
"They're all milk snatchers in Grantham."
"Mooney'll never score in open play."

Second half
Neither team made any change at half time and it was nice of them to come out eventually. We were running out of things to talk about. Within the first minute Town had had a shot. Another one! Three in one game! They do spoil us at Blundell Park these days. Cas, near the halfway line in the centre, stretched out his long left leg (as opposed to his short one) and sprinted down the middle. When about 25 yards out he let fly and dragged a shot a yard wide of the left post, with the unmarked Boulding having made an excellent run through the centre left, arms wide, head high, frustration apparent. A couple of minutes later Hockless did the same. Same position, same shot, same Boulding run, same Boulding flapping of arms.

And then the game ended, nothing happened after this . No sir, honest, the referee decided that 50 minutes of this guff was enough and went home. And so did we, and we all lived happily ever after where the trees are green and waters blue.

If only. Swindon had a half attack of indeterminate origin and inconsequential conclusion. A shot from the edge of the penalty area, right on the centre, which didn't even hit the R in the Ramsden's advert. Pffft - even Pouton would have been embarrassed by that.

La-di-da meanderings in midfield then, suddenly, danger as Swindon increased the tempo and started to move. A midfielder surged towards Barnard. What problem could there be to an international defender? It is Darren Barnard isn't it? Or have we got some Stars In Their Eyes wannabee by mistake? What has happened to him since he went off to not play for Wales? Barnard disappeared and the ball was played up to a striker, with Ford blocking the way to goal. Gurney ran through and past the back line on the centre left. Whoever was marking him wasn't, obviously. And the Swindon swaggerer was free inside the penalty area, perhaps a dozen yards out and a few to the left of goal. Gurney smacked a shot with the outside of his boot inside Davison's left post. Silence descended upon the Pontoon and the over non-populated areas of Blundell Park, with just a few boos and grumbles audible. A well constructed goal from a Town.

The growling increased with every misplaced pass, missed tackle or clearance that failed to result in a goal. What was the players' response? Surprisingly, they didn't suddenly become the masters of the universe. There wasn't any passing - plenty of movement, but no ideas. Just hoofing up to Nimmo and Boulding. Plan A being to use Boulding's pace; plan B to use Boulding's aerial dominance. It didn't look like a tactical choice from the management.

There really isn't much to describe from Grimsby from now on. Swindon clearly saw the whites of the Town defenders' eyes and could see the fear, for there was an increased freedom in their passing and movement. Mooney, as one would expect, was a constant pest, never still, always looking to gain an edge. He couldn't shoot straight though.

Another example of Barnardian ineptitude saw Swindon waste an almost open goal. The Doppleganger Darren hesitated, then airily-fairily wafted a foot near the ball around the halfway line. Off the Swindon player went, causing panic, Crane trundling behind. Into the area, with just Ford and McDermott back as a big-haired midfielder stepped inside Crane and tried to curl the ball into the far corner. Ford blocked, but the ball rolled out to Mooney, somewhere near the penalty spot, who dragged a scuffy, scruffy shot an inch or two wide of the left post. More noises off from the Pontoon.

A few minutes later an unmarked Mooney stumbled at the far post as a cross looped over all Town defenders, the ball bouncing over the slipping Scouser and away for a goal kick. There were other shots, all following some free-flowing attacking, which Davison held with varying degrees of discomfort.

After about 65 minutes, the coup de grace. A corner was flipped over from the Swindon left, with the ball sailing beyond the far post. Bolder (I think - hey, it's really dark in the corners) ran after the ball with a Swindon player. There was much wrestling and pushing, with Bolder appearing to be the more injured party. The Swindon player got to the ball first and turned past Bolder. The linesman flagged for a free kick, very close to the corner flag.

The Town fans railed at such an arbitrary decision. Mooney waddled over and belted a low cross through the six-yard box. And through it went, beyond Davison, and still bob-bob-bobbing along....oh dear, and straight into the far corner. Mooney had scored, and this was the cue for some soul-searching among the Town fans, with an outbreak of internecine strife. Some deciding that this was the proper moment to boo, hiss, slow handclap and register displeasure. Strangely, the players didn't play any better. How odd.

Almost immediately Soames replaced Hockless, who had not been very visible, and Town moved to a 4-3-3 formation. And hasn't that always worked in the past? Longer hoofing, even more aimless puntings, with Crane and Barnard being the main culprits. Hardly a pass was attempted, though when it was (hello Mr McDermott) there were chinks of hope. Campbell spun through two tackles near the right corner flag, dribbled along the bye-line and crossed onto the head of a defender at the near post. Ooh, doesn't the moon look nice.

Swindon continued to rampage across the land, with Davison saving from Milner, after a mazy, crazy run through most of the Town team, ending with a dragged shot from the centre edge of the penalty area. Davison failed to hold a low drive, which was almost scooped up by a greedy striker.

And finally, when all else fails, what is left but putting the big bloke upfront. Crane spent more and more time hovering around the Swindon penalty area, with Town winning several throws, allowing Cas the opportunity to hurl the ball and hope for the best. After 77 minutes it almost worked. From the left, about 10 yards infield, Cas walloped a flat throw to the near post. Crane challenged with two defenders and the ball skimmed off Ifil's head, over and across the goalkeeper. For the briefest of moments salvation was in sight, for the ball arced beautifully towards the top left hand corner with Boulding racing in, unmarked and ready to score. Evans, rather brilliantly, skipped across his line, leapt and levered the ball from under the bar and Boulding's nose and away.

What more to say? Parkin had a goal disallowed for offside (very offside, it was clear from the Pontoon); Cas had a couple more long throws; Crane played as a centre-forward for the last five minutes; Crowe replaced Bolder with four minutes left. Town continued to be hopeless, with the youngsters Nimmo and Soames chasing lost causes, and Swindon rampant.

In injury time, Town had one last opportunity to get an undeserved draw. Cas hurled in from the right, header, header, block, fight, scramble, ball in air and Soames attempted to loop a header over Evans from near the penalty spot. The ball drifted onto the top of the net, there never being any danger of it going in. And the referee ended the game right there, right then.

The Swindon goalkeeper had made two saves: one very routine, the other a marvellous tip away to avoid an own goal. And Town only had another three or four shots that could even be considered, in the loosest possible terms, as efforts on goal. There was no invention in midfield, just a lot of effort. Though I may absolve Cas from this description, as he played only the most tangential part in proceedings, not counting the throw-ins.

In many ways this was a worse performance than against Hartlepool, though the defence, which some may say is a relatively integral part of a football team, were a bit more solid. Ford (one late mistake excepted) and McDermott were fine, the other two much less so. Bolder confirmed his position as reserve team midfielder; while Campbell was occasionally effective but often, like the Town passing, misplaced. Hockless and Cas were the most peripheral of peripheral figures.

I can't lie to you about our chances. Our structural imperfection was matched only by our fragility. Do we have your sympathy?

Nicko's man of the match
There is only one John McDermott.

Official warning
Mr Ilderton was rather clueless and totally unable to interpret why some players fall and others are hacked. Mooney had him sussed from the off, winning countless free kicks, sometimes merely by asking. There was a case to send off a Swindon player for a late hack on McDermott, and the free kick for the winning goal was just arbitrary. And he allowed Mooney to intimidate him at half time. It was the accumulation of little decisions which leads the Norwegian jury to conclude that 5.012 is appropriate, in the circumstances, all things being considered.