Too late the hero

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

22 January 2005

Grimsby Town 2 Lincoln City 4

A still and cold afternoon in the tropic of Cleethorpes with the Osmond End mostly full of impatient Impites gazing in wonder at the scene before them: a shallow hut filled with silence and a slab of grey looming behind. So much more evocative than an old church on top of a hill, don't you think?

Hang on, this is strange, this doesn't feel right... Blundell Park... on a Saturday. How last year. Town players are used to wandering around Poundstretchers at this time of day. How will they cope psychologically?

Town lined up in a 3-4-3 formation as follows: Williams, Forbes, Ramsden, Jones, McDermott, Fleming, Coldicott, Young, Reddy, Gritton and Parkinson. The substitutes were Pinault, North, Crane, Hockless and the alleged Glen Downey. Poor young Young - crowbarred into a left wing-back position. We gulped - a centre-half flying down the wings? And I've seen an elephant fly. The rest were where you'd think they'd be, given recent managerial selections. No Frenchman, no hair, no flair. Transit Stan? He was, wasn't he.

They're keeping up the Downey Conspiracy, I'll give ‘em that, but they should at least be bothered to be consistent with their made-up facts. They even did a player profile on him. That picture of the young Glen Downey is some old Polaroid of Gary Henshaw, isn't it. You'd have thought they'd have auctioned it off with those rare GTFC plates they keep finding under the manager's desk. Do you think they bought a job lot in 1999, a stash for Buckley to chuck? Anyway, that Downey Conspiracy, they could sell the film rights for a pretty penny. They may have to relocate it though; Grimsby isn't very Hollywood.

The Town subs, as usual, finished their warm-up by having target practice against Fraser. We're doomed, doooomed, I tell yer. They couldn't hit Tony Crane with Steve Livingstone's banjo. Except Tony Crane, who was lethal. Perhaps, after all, he was Slade's missing link. All that glisters should be told. Danny North was wearing gold boots. Oh dear.

Dish of the Day: they're really struggling now. "Eating the Clock". What's wrong with pickled parsnips?

Oh, Lincoln. Yes, they turned up and played in their usual kit, but with white shorts.

First half
The kick-off was delayed while the tannoy completed the first verse of 'Up The Mariners'. Catchy tune, just about the right amount of cheese on top of that wholesome hopeful toast. Twiddle that pennywhistle, we're off!

Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand.

If you want to recreate the first five minutes just sit back, cross your legs, lean to one side, glance about you, scratch your head a few times, decide to inspect your glasses and wipe the lenses. If you don't wear glasses, think about going to the opticians to have an eye check. Have a sudden thought about fruit pastilles, look at the ceiling, look around, rub your left elbow twice and have a meaningless chat about the effervescent qualities of diet Tango with the next person you meet.

Hey! Town won a corner when Parkinson fiddled down their right and his cross was blocked away from the bye-line. Well, it was something, I suppose. McDermott pulled the corner back to the edge of the penalty area. Where's Iain Anderson gone? Good idea, but maybe eight months too late, eh?

If you want to recreate the next five minutes then stand up, walk to the nearest window and stare at the clouds. Somewhere there is sunshine, somewhere there is day, somewhere there is Grimsby Town, many miles a-way.

Hey, hey! Town won another corner. Reddy rockin', rollin', ridin' out along the bye-line, cross blocked easily. Nothing.

I have just one question: how high are the clouds?

No shots, no crosses of any consequence, no attacks of any note, nothing to report from either side. The ball, still inside the ground, bumping between the groovers on the dancefloor. We've got no room for ravers. We must grumble. Horrid stuff. Inert attackers, reactive defending; Town an empty vessel bobbing along, hoping the tide would push it home. To put it simply, Town simply hoofed the ball from back to front. Lincoln's defenders sat relatively deep and were taller than our attackers. Simple is the word; you know sometimes words have two mea-hea-nings.

After 12 or 13 minutes Parkinson was caught offside down the left. Parky offside? Never!

Up went their big men, upfield went the ball, launched to the centre right of Town's area. Forbes was tempted out to the edge of the area and was beaten to the ball by one of the centre-backs. The ball was flicked on into an unmanned area about eight yards out. Ramsden hesitated at the hair products section and was caught briefly contemplating a choice of hair gel. Yeo swerved into the empty patch, twisted and obliterated the ball into the top of the net, just above Williams' head. Excellent finish, droopy drippy defending. So simple, so sloppy, so Town.

The Town lion roared? No, in this comic monologue we're Albert; Town eaten by yon Lincoln lion. The game remained the same. Silent Town fans, awful football, witless lumpings, no chances, Town never inside their penalty area. The Imps were organised, committed, a pleasant afternoon by the sea. Yeo... not quite, matey boy; a lovely curled pass down the centre saw him briefly free, but Ramsden emerged from behind a bush to crash his cymbals.

That clock is still ticking away. Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three... still no Town shots. Hang on, you aren't going to claim a rubbish cross from Parkinson that went straight to Marriott, are you? You are! How desperate is that?

Twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six... nope...

Lincoln, for all their reputation, weren't exactly a route one side. They were direct, but only in the sense of breaking quickly, using their front three to shovel the ball up and across the pitch on the ground. Down their right, at speed, Yeo twirling free, shot deflected, Ramsden smooching, blocking, corner on their right.

The penalty area was swamped, the ball curled into the centre, grazing off a Town head to just beyond the far post. An unmarked Lincoln player controlled the ball about eight yards out. HANDBALL! The Pontoon spontaneously combusted as one. The ball dropped, he shot, deflecting off some ankles across the face of goal. Yeo, unmarked about ten yards out, stepped forward and fiddled the ball low through a thicket of Town legs and into the centre left of the net.

The Pontoon in momentary uproar for handball, then the self-pitying fury set in, turning against the players. Oh, the irony eh? Will we ever get a handball decision in our favour? Do you think the opposition would have to catch it before we'd get one? Are the Town defenders still in the 10 items or less queue? With Town there are always more questions than answers.

[In supermarkets that get their words right, that's 10 items or fewer - Ed.]

Are you still waiting for Town to attack? So were we.

Taylor-Fletcher received the ball in the centre circle, Coldicott hustled, Fleming joined him in the shakedown. With one leap he was free from the muggers, racing goalwards down the middle. Huge panic, Town players converging, Taylor-Fletcher tripped right on the edge of the area. Town constructed a wall, then slowly, slowly, it dissolved. They'd forgotten to put any mortar between the bricks. I did say bricks, wash your ears out. Williams hid behind the wall, Westcarr stepped forward and curled the ball a foot or so over the left post.

Back to normal. Thirty-two... thirty-three...

Ooooh, Young almost through, but overhitting the ball as he strode down the left behind the full-back.

Thirty-four... thirty-five... thirty-six... thirty-seven...

YES! Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelelelujah. Thirty-eight minutes and Town had a shot. Three passes! Movement!. On the right, switched to the left via Parkinson, Young steaming up the wing, surging into the area and slapping a half volley straight at Marriott. The ball rebounded off his chest, Young followed through and the keeper managed to fling himself on the ball, and cling himself on to it.

Thirty-nine... forty... forty-one...

We're blessed with a cornucopia of attacking football. A second shot. And it even stayed within the county of Lincolnshire. Gritton, on the right edge of their penalty area, chested the ball down and looped a volley in the vaguest of directions of the goal. No-one, least of all him, ever thought it was going in. He seemed to be going through the motions of shooting. It may have been the least worst option available. After all, it wastes a few more seconds. They can't get a third goal if the ball isn't in the ground.

Young did an awful fly hack where he missed the ball and fell over; Reddy was booked for a late sliding swoosh of the full-back, under the noses of the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus, where the anorak remains iconic fashion.

There, you know everything now.

Riddled with ineptitude from start to finish, this was the very opposite of last week's performance. The Town players lacked urgency, didn't appear fired up for the game. The tactics were bone-headed in the extreme. A couple of stoppers in midfield and three runners up front works away from home, but not against a formidably disciplined and ferociously motivated opposition. Relying upon the ball over the top and down the sides isn't very subtle. It isn't very clever either.

And that's a nice way of putting it. Lincoln were not bad at all, with three very slippery strikers. They looked like they'd score every time they got within 20 yards of Williams. Yeah, I know - who doesn't?

The first half of games is all about the preparation, the long-term planning of the manager. He spent a week getting it very wrong. He now had 20 minutes to put it right. There was only one phrase on the lips of every Town fan: "Sort it Slade". And, for once, there can be no argument with that.

Go into a darkened room and sob.

The half-time entertainment provided more drama and footballing skill than the previous 45 minutes. A penalty shoot out during which Fraser parried one straight into David Smith. He'll be singing a medley of Stylistics hits for at least a couple of nights. Ouch.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"In Immingham no-one can hear you scream."
"I think I'll stay here for the second half, it's less painful."
"With a hat like that they'll think you're a Lincoln fan."
"How does he manage to de-motivate them for derbies?"
"They'll be dancing in the cloisters tonight, perhaps to some heavy dub evensong."

Second half
The crowd rose to acclaim their hero. On came Thomas Pinault for Greg Young; Town then moved to a different formation; one looking suspiciously like a 4-3-3, with Ramsden at left-back. He'd been having a stinking game in his normal position, so what would he get up to being stuck in the outer reaches of Mongolia? Take some oxygen and crampons. You're gonna need them.

From the off Gritton messed up in midfield, setting Lincoln up for a break. They fizzed down their right, flattered down the left and won a corner. Pinault cleared. Town broke; Pinault tugged a short string, setting Reddy free. The crowd started to rumble, at last something to cheer. To get behind the team, not rail at their inadequacies. A corner: roar! Imps not so cool now. Pinault again, flicking, tricking taking the micking down the right. Caressing, undressing their defence with teasing tickles. Ramsden hurtling down the left, another corner. Roaring louder.

One, two, three, wonderful one-touch passing. Coldicott, Pinault, Reddy sidling Macca down the right touchline, raiding, raging down the flank. A corner. Lincoln shivering.

Another tempting lob down the Town left saw Parkinson chase, but two defenders eased him away. McCombe lurched across, drew back his right boot to clear... Reddy sprinted across, charged the ball down and raced down the wing. Flying on, chased by a lumberjack, Reddy caught up with the ball, held it up by the corner flag, awaited friends and turned back upfield.

Reddy set off for the corner of the area, looked up and curled a bewitching cross between defenders and goalkeeper. The ball dipped and bumbled through the six-yard box with Marriott scampering across his goal line. Pinault popped up from behind a toadstool at the far post, a couple of yards out, adjusted his beret and slid the ball under the keeper. The Town fans exploded, vindicated within five minutes, belief pulsing through our veins.

Move 'em on, head 'em up, head 'em up, move 'em out, keep the defenders rollin'. Magnficient moments, marvellous, marvellous mauling in midfield. Pinault the transformer, controlling all, dictating the play, ripping the script up and improvising with just the aid of his little feet and Gallic insouciance.

Oops, Jones miskicked, possibly ankles tapped, a Lincolnite free, shooting high. Their heart still beats. Most definitely, sir. Yeo hurtling free down their left, one bounce, one shot, slam! Straight into Williams' arms and out again. Lucky this time.

Back again, roaring, squeezing every last decibel out of the massed Mariners. We can do it, we can do this. The roof rocking, the directors' box dancing to the beat of a little Parisian tango. D'Artagnan had truly arrived to help our three musketeers in their hour of need. That wall of sound returned, a primal scream of pleasure and pain, demanding, deafening, divine intervention from the Pontoon, the Mount Olympus of Blundell Park. Young Imps visibly trembled at this sudden outpouring of local pride.

Foul! Free kick to Town Yes, first one of the game, isn't it? Lumped long, battling, barging, scrambling, knocked out to Pinault on the right edge of their penalty area, volleyed down Marriott's throat.

Blundell Park throbbing.

More probing, Lincoln bringing more and more players back with every attack. Marriott flapping at corners, his defenders throwing themselves at everything that moved, just in case. What a game, what a derby. This is what it's supposed to be like. Gritton, with a free header eight yards out, flicked the ball a couple of feet over with Jones hanging around behind. Jones, flicked goalwards; the ball drumbled off a Lincoln head and looped just over the bar. They're crumbling.

Another corner to Town, on the left, cut out, returned to Pinault. He piddled about with it; there was some huggy bear huddling; he hurled himself at the ball and sliced a swinging cross into the middle from the edge of the area. Players threw themselves at the ball and it was deflected out to the edge of the area, just off centre. Coldicott took a couple of steps, closed his eyes and walloped a low shot across the onrushing defenders and into the bottom right corner.

Giant steps are what you take, walking on the moon. The whole town leapt up six inches, with worried parents ringing the local fire service for advice. The players congealed into a black and white blur near the dug out, someone set fire to something in the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. Did someone spontaneously combust with pleasure? The air was sucked from the ground and blown back again, pinning the Lincoln players to the turf.

Now, if only the game had ended then.

The highest high is often followed by the lowest low. There has to be balance. They kicked off, the ball went somewhere fast, then down their right. Oh. Taylor-whatsit is free, bounding onwards behind Ramsden. A cross, Yeo towards the near post and unmarked, steered the ball in to the net, first time.

That's right, our friends from the south, we aren't singing any more. Half the Town team immediately ran after the linesman claiming some infringement, probably offside. Watch the video for your chance to rail at the injustice of the world. Or not.

But fear not, Town didn't give up. Back they came, the crowd still alive, still believing. Pinault, always Professor Pinault, prodding here, pumping there. A scooped flip over the full-back, Macca free, Macca crossed, blocked, pressure building. What a move, Pinault to Parky, dribbling, twisting, swaying past Bloomer.

Parkinson hit the bye-line and pulled a cross low through the six-yard box. Ramsden (I think) slid in from the penalty spot, but the ball ricocheted away to the edge of the area, to almost the same position the Yard-Dog had scored from. The goal gaped. Pinault slapped a low shot towards the bottom left corner. Several thousand Lincoln legs dived across, with the longest leg of ‘em all just managing to divert the ball past the post.

Pinault again, nicking the ball in midfield, knocking it out to Parkinson, who tippled the ball over the top. Reddy hit the nitro button, nodded the ball on and zoomed past the last defender. Into the box, two defenders leaning on him, Reddy smirked a low left shoot across Marriott from about 15 yards. The keeper stretched every sinew and managed to flip the ball just past the post with his forearm. It's all Town.

More Town-ness down the right. Reddy, unstoppable, slivering across the grass, sneaking around defenders, rolling into the area, defending moths inexorably drawn towards his bright gleaming sun. The ball squirmed loose a couple of yards out, McCombe panicked, swung a lump of lignite at the ball, and fell on his knees and prayed as it arced slowly over Marriott and onto the roof of the goal, just behind the crossbar.

In the meantime Lincoln had visited their supporters a couple of times. They still looked very dangerous when in our half. Yeo flashed a first-time shot across Williams, forcing him into a stumbling, walking save. Taylor-Fletcher had a shot too, I think, but, hey, so much was happening that it wasn't close enough to register.

And again, here they go, off down the Town right, into the area, about to shoot. Don't worry, Macca's there. You can all go home now, there's nothing to look at. Go, safe in the knowledge that the unimpeachable president of perfection is dealing with the matter.

Urgh, argh, guggle. That's the sound of someone eating their own words. McDermott picked up the loose ball and passed it to an opponent, stood in the middle of the goal, on the edge of the area, unmarked. How could he do that? Toner controlled the ball, took a step and leathered it low to Williams' left. The air was finally blown out of the Town fans, allowing some of the more purple-faced people eaters to happily vent their spleen again.

Town still dominated in terms of possession, still created half moments of almostness. But there was something lacking; the will, the belief had gone. They'd allowed the game to slip away when it was in their grasp. Lincoln were cock-a-hoop, confident and content to search for more. Four wasn't enough. They sat back, soaked up pressure and kicked Town on the break. They could, probably should, have had more, with many a break foundering upon greediness or, latterly, excellent Forbes tackling. Oddly, Forbes only started to play well in the last quarter of an hour, as though five would have been too much for his ego to bear. And four wasn't?

Pinault still prompting, still winding up Reddy for some runs on the right. Bloomer fouled someone and Town got a free kick. I mention each of the free kicks Town got just so that you realise some were actually given. Nice of the ref to think of us. Pinault guided the missile in; Jones rose unmarked and headed a foot or so wide. Should have scored.

With about 10 minutes left Town again pressed down the right. Reddy chased a pass from Pinault, the ball bounced, a Lincoln defender barged Reddy and the ball hit a red-striped arm. HANDBALL! The Pontoon repeated those earlier calls. The ref waved play on and the ball bounced out to Westcarr a few yards outside the penalty area.

Oooh dear. They were set up for a fast break with more of them than us. Thank you Mr Westcarr. The wee laddie caught the ball and launched into a verbal assault on the referee for awarding the penalty he hadn't given us, presumably. The referee stared at Westcarr for a few seconds, walked towards him like an embarrassed verger accidentally stumbling across an Ann Summers party, and took the ball off him. Westcarr promptly kicked the ball away, thinking it was a drop ball. A booking, and the ball was walked forward 10 yards.

Pinault curled the free kick a few inches over the bar. Never looked like going in, it was safely just over. So it is demonstrably true: referees will give handballs in Town's favour if the opponents catch it, but only after a lot of thought. You can hold on to that research grant money now, Mr Fenty.

And still Town pressed forward. Pinault, playing chase the ace with Sandwith, curdled a cross to the far post, where Ramsden steamed in and headed straight at Marriott from half a dozen yards out. Marriott continued to flap at corners and crosses, but the ball always fell to his mates. Parkinson and Gritton caused minor mayhem on the fringes of the penalty area. To the bye line, crossing to no-one, just behind, just beyond, that little word 'just'.

Finally, the last big chance of the game. Great Town play: passing, movement, aggression. McDermott, receiving a flick from Gritton in the area, drifted across two challenges and had a clear sight of goal about eight yards out. He leant back and wafted the ball over the bar with his left foot.

Ramsden shot wildly into the Pontoon in added time, but that wasn't interesting, just a footnote to the footnote of a game that sums Town up.

What does this match tell us? Nothing new; that a team can be greater than the sum of the individual parts. Town have some talented individual players, but collectively they are weaker than many of the opponents seen so far. We have fickle performers. When they matched Lincoln's intensity they pulverised them. Lincoln were battered, their defence laying prostrate in the road, waiting for the next car to come round the bend. It never did: we stopped in a lay-by and handed the keys to a bloke munching a burger, who ran us over with our own car.

We can moan about two of their goals if we wish to delude ourselves; we can seek excuses, but the better team won. A team for 90 minutes, not the one that was supreme for 15. A fairer score may have been 2-1, given the high proportion of chances they took, but that says a lot about their strikers and goalkeeper, doesn't it.

Nicko's man of the match
No-one did anything worthy in the first half so, despite some excellence from Coldicott and Reddy, the message to the world is Thomas Pinault. He proved his, and our, point. One misplaced pass, in the 87th minute, but even then he got the ball back. He was, by far, the best footballer on the pitch. The truth is out there, Russell Slade.

Official warning
What is handball? What is a foul? Is it the same for red and black? What is advantage? What is going on? Do you know, Mr K Woolmer? The man was fortunate that the players were disciplined, for he didn't seem to be very consistent. He stopped many Lincoln attacks with arbitrary whistling in their favour, and never saw red arms holding, but imagined some red socks tripping. Slightly disfavoured Town in a generally ropey performance. Below average even for a below-average league, so 4.754. And why not?