The song remains the same

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

21 August 2004

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Grimsby Town 0

A gleaming afternoon in the middle of nowhere, with no-one there. There ain't nobody here but us Town chickens, 600 or so clucking away, happy and we knew it, clapping our hands, stamping our feet, relaxing in the sun. Irthlingborough: the dead zone; Nene Park: the dead pool. Is there anybody out there? What's that sound? Dim, and distant, just audible underneath the tinny tannoy. Are they duck hunting? I can't make it out.

Town tried out a new pre-match routine, which is really an old one - the Metropolitan Police dog display team jumping through hogs' heads of real fire. Three balls, three men, one touch, collision-city Arizona. The Dazzler being the chief culprit. Which Dazzler? - for the host professional club's mascot claimed that moniker.

What is that sound? Heavy sibilance?

Rushden warmed up with a sideways salute to current events or, in the modern way, a tribute to the Olympics. Some rhythmic gymnastics, sadly without the ribbons and ponytails, followed by some Keystone Cop 20km walking, though without an 80-year-old pianist playing a jovial tune to hurry them along. I'm sure I saw one of them lift both feet: he should have been disqualified. The tannoy made a series of announcements about upcoming features, which all seemed to feature tribute acts. The local Elvis, the local Meatloaf (let's face it, that's just a fat farmer in a nylon shirt, isn't it?) and, finally, the local tribute footballers playing Grimsby in a charity match at 3 o'clock.

Ah, that's what it is. They are calling ducks! Rushden were giving away horns to the crowd, imploring them to make some noise and have some fun. They still don't get it, do they. Football, that's why you're there, that's the fun. Or at least the opportunity to laugh, laud or lambast a bunch of blokes wearing similar clothing. If you want fun with a kazoo, go down to the local Toys 'R' Us.

Town lined up in the 3-4-3 formation as follows: Williams, Whittle, Ramsden, Gordon, McDermott, Pinault, Fleming, Crowe, Parkinson, Reddy and Sestanovich. The substitutes were Marcelle, Young, Coldicott, Mansaram and Bull. Happy now? Happy that Reddy was starting in place of Our Little Scapegoat? Thought you were. Reddy played in the centre with Sestanovich initially on the left. You don't have to use too much of your frontal lobe capacity to work out where everyone else was. For those who like to know every detail, no matter how small, Town played in the full first-team kit and Rushden played in all white with some blue bits here and there. And some red lipstick stains down their side.

First half
Town kicked off towards the home end, which in itself is an abstract concept. What is home for them, who are they, why are they? The crowd was tiny and silent apart from the Town support, who sang for a few minutes as the striped ones marauded at will. It was as if this game was a mere continuation of last week, for Town flicked and tricked, teased and tormented from the start. For a full five minutes Rushden not only didn't touch the ball but were made to look inferior, collectively and individually. The movement was marvellous, the passing pristine….up until the edge of the Rushden penalty area. It was like an exhibition, the Town Globetrotters whistling their way to victory with some comic capers and faux tension on the way.

Their mission? To score the perfect goal, preferably involving every Town outfield player and at least three spins from Reddy. Oh how we chortled, how we sat back smugly loving every second of this mismatch. Reddy this, Reddy that. Ooo, aaaahhh, oooo, ooo, aaaaaah. Ha-hah, they nearly had the ball! Reddy, nearly, back again, almost, but fouled.

Town got a corner on the right and waited for the big men to trundle up to the far post. Hah - caught you out there, Irthlings. Pinault rolled the ball back for Anderson to steam in from Dundee to whack it in, just like last year. Oh, sorry, history doesn't repeat itself exactly, does it. Macca flew forward and mishit a shot through the area, the ball being knobbled away off a white sock, but instantly retrieved by Town. Macca got the ball back and dimpled it through one of many gaping holes for Parkinson, who got it trapped under his feet for a microsecond, allowing a defender to arrive and clear.

More Town pressing, more Town attempts to humiliate the opposition. Town were toying with Rushden, like a slightly arrogant uncle in the back garden. Waiting for the little 'un to run, but stretching that adult leg forward and back, rolling it through the legs and making the toddler fall on his backside, crying in frustration. Don't be cruel, Uncle Towny - let the boy have the ball.

Aaah, Macca nicking the ball, Reddy surging towards goal, upended on the edge of the area. Gordon waved away the little people and curled a shot over the wall and just over the bar. Five minutes gone and the locals were sub-silent, their team barely touching the ball, brushed aside casually in the tackle, spun into madness by the magic swirling Town ship, their senses have been stripped.

This is too easy.

Ooooooh, that's nice. They have the ball. Nice passing, pretty too. And pretty ineffective. A cross, headed clear, but still, it is their ball, it would be churlish to keep it for 90 minutes. And on nine minutes they had a shot: some bloke cut in from the right and dragged a bumbler a couple of yards wide of the near post. Williams unfussed, the Town fans unperturbed.

Ah, that's better, Town swaggering forward, Reddy dropping deep, spinning, surging down the centre right, dappling a pass behind the defence. Who's that whirl? Why, it's Mr Jason Crowe, zazooming across from the left, unseen by the locals. Behind, free, just Turley to beat, Crowe tried to wrench the ball back across the keeper in one movement. He had time, he had space; but Crowe succeeding only in tapping the ball straight at Turley, who had got himself in a terrible position, neither here nor there, just in between.

And again, Town, Town ,Town: stop the bout ref, they're punch drunk already. A corner from the right headed back across goal by one of our centre-backs. Bouncity, bouncity, bouncity, bounce across the face of goal, past the post. Parkinson chased it, hooked it back towards goal, over the keeper and... panic, confusion and no goal. Reddy appeared to hook the ball off the line. Are we so cocky we want to do their defending for them?

On the quarter hour, yes, only 15 minutes gone and I'm bored of this already. Score godammit! Ah, here it is. A monochrome blur of movement, causing our hosts to have a migraine. Reddy, McDermott, Reddy again behind the defence crossing and Crowe raced in to hook a swinging blue jean shot just over the angle of post and bar from about a dozen yards out. Ah, here it wasn't.

Can you hear the kazoos now?

The game dribbled into nothingness. An empty shell, tedious, without any tension, the massed Mariners becoming a little annoyed by this murder without a body. A couple of bookings, a few free kicks, Rushden had the ball again. Then Town got it back, playing olé football, without plunging the spear into the confused bull's body. Sestanovich was especially infuriating, surging infield, attracting defenders to him but passing to the last Rushdenian when two or more Town players were free inside the area. Repeat that scene every five minutes, like an annoying fax machine on auto-dial.

Twenty minutes of direness; so, so dull, so, so devoid of noise. C'mon, c'mon Town, stop taking it easy. Purr again: their inside is out, their outside is in as Parkinson twizzled free down the left touchline, taking one stride and flashing a low cross through the six-yard box. Reddy raised a boot, Macca strained an old sinew. Close.

What were Rushden up to? Not much. They had some free kicks and a few corners, which caused mild interest. Williams even came out and caught a couple of their more inaccurate chips. There were moments when they looked likely to nearly shoot, but a Town boot or backside arrived without undue cause for concern. The Town defenders even started to indulge in some playful total football when clearing: little triangles around an attacker with Williams even getting involved in this exhibition of one-touch passing and moving inside the Town penalty area.

As the half ended Town went up to second gear again. A corner floated in and Reddy headed softly into the arms of Turley from the centre of goal. And that was it. It was a stroll, a charabanc trip to Skegness, a jolly by the Nene, but we wouldn't be giving anyone a crate of beer: there had been no outstanding shooting, red-stockinged leader. There were other Town shots: Sestanovich had a 30-yard wobbler; Pinault an attempt to chip the goalkeeper who was on his line. Take confidence a bit too far and it strays towards arrogance.

All disrespect to Rushden but they did play pleasantly when allowed the ball. They were physically a bit weak - a team that will dissolve under a heavy barrage - but they did try to play football as we know it, Jim. They were just inferior to Town. The shame is that the Town players knew it too and played like they were already three up. Carefree can lead to careless.

But if you wish to accentuate the positive, then Town simply overran Rushden for most of the half. It could be construed as being a fine performance so far, just without any of those goal things which statisticians and be-suited administrators seem to think are important. What happened to beauty! To art! Do they count for nothing? At 0-0, I suggest they do.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Rushden are as dangerous as my cat."
"D'you think he bought that shirt on e-bay?"
"We should be four up by now ."
"A day at the races or a trip to Rushden?" "No contest - stay at home"
"It was like this last season, and look what happened."

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time. The Rushden goalkeeper pulled his socks above his knees. Turley's terrible tights were not a hit with the ladies.

Rushden kicked off and kept the ball for a bit. Ramsden got clobbered, went off, came back, Town had the ball. That's all you need to know about the first five minutes of the half. Town this, Town that, Town didn't shoot or score. Nearlys and almosts aren't news in the new improved Town, now with added gel.

Now the champagne started to flow. Crowe uncorked the bottle, dispossessing easily in midfield with Reddy haring forward, just failing to reach the through ball. Turley wellied the ball upfield; Town got it back and attacked again, down the left, switched to the right, Reddy frightening the dormice, releasing Parkinson behind the full-back. Parky perked up, pootered through a couple of tackles and laid the ball back to Fleming, about eight yards out on the centre right. Fleming scooped the ball across the face of goal, spinning, curling, drifting, dropping towards the top right corner. Turley scampered across, hurled himself along the line and plucked the ball from the sky. A good save rather than a great one, for Fleming had slightly mis-hit the shot.

All Town, not one moment of Rushden hope. Did they get across the halfway line?

Sestanovich doing his thing. With players free either side, he spun around three times, stopped, rolled the ball under his feet a couple of times, jinked, janked and hit a shot high and wide from about 20 yards. Try passing. From the goalkick Town got the ball and it was Pinault's turn to wink and wave as he did a stylish gavotte through the left-hand side of the Rushden penalty area. Eventually he flailed a shot from almost the same position as Sestanovich, and put the ball into the same spot in the stand.

This was getting very, very frustrating. Town were irrepressible up to the edge of the Rushden penalty area, then all movement ceased; the tanks dug deep into the soil awaiting the infantry. Too many Town players wanted to score a great goal to, in effect, show off. Aesthetically pleasing but of little substance, all this badger baiting, all training ground poses.

Here we are again, play that funky music wide boy. Parkinson received a throw-in near the corner flag on the Town right. He ran through the legs of the defender and along the touchline, and cracked a low cross towards the near post. Crowe ran in and dinked the ball into the side netting from a couple of yards out. The plastic owls in the plastic stadium were perhaps more animated than the locals, though I think I heard one of their coaching staff cry out: "Miss, Miss, can we have our ball back?"

Town were harmlessly passing the time in this grassland away from home, only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air. It was still 0-0: destruction does not always follow dominance. Parkinson? No, saved. Parky again? No, blocked. Wave upon wave crashing upon the Rushden rocks, but the little cockles and mussels were alive, alive oh.

Surely now? Sestanovich, deep inside the Town half, made two cracking tackles near the touchline, scooping the ball back, feeding Pinault, who gorged on this little truffle. Stroked along the ground, Reddy spun and swished forward at speed. Onwards, upwards, acrosswards from left to right, drawing a couple of defenders and flicking them away like somnambulant woodlice. Inside the area to the right of goal, Reddy ignored the black and white stripes that were streaming forward and pinged a low shot towards the near post. Turley saved easily.

And then Rushden started to get the ball, they started to get inside the Town half, they started to attack. A deep cross tempted Williams away from his line. He flapped, some Town defenders flipped as the ball drifted out for a goal kick. Another Rushden cross, a header, a save. Simple stuff: a warning? With about 20 minutes left they won a corner on their left after McDermott blocked away an attempted cross. You could feel it, that Town had slacked off, that Rushden had suddenly realised Town weren't invincible conquerors, that Town had an achilles heel. The one we've have always had: crosses and corners.

The corner was floated into the box, it was half cleared, fell to a blond-haired midfielder inside the box whose shot ricocheted off some red socks straight to an unmarked striker, a dozen or so yards out on the left. Braniff slapped a right-footed shot over Williams into the top left of the goal. Pathetic defending, sloppy. Yes, sloppy - and Russ says he doesn't do sloppy. His players do, though.

That's what you get for pretending the danger's not real. What a surprise for us, a look of terminal shock in our eyes as the next 10 minutes flew by, and the ball flew towards Williams at alarmingly regular intervals. Oh, and Sestanovich was replaced by Mansaram on the restart. Sestanovich had rather deceived with his flattery, but had proved how important he was. His ineffectiveness highlighted the paucity of attacking flair elsewhere. Reddy and Parkinson rely on him to create: he feeds, they chew.

Poor old Dazzler had a stinking 20 minutes. His first four interventions were derisory, two miscontrols and two dreadful dozes at Rushden corners, which allowed crosses and shots. From the first, a couple of minutes after the goal, they played it short as Dazzling Daz slept; in came a cross, out came Williams as a striker stooped in the centre of goal. Williams put off the striker with a Coynian star jump. The header seemed to brush the worried Welshman's ankles and bumbled a foot or two wide of his near post.

Another corner, another period of rest for Mansaram, another cross, more danger. Fizzed across the area, fly-hacked back across the face of goal by a stretching white-socked limb, and one of the substitutes dived forward and steered a header over the bar. The goal was unmanned, he was unmarked: Town were becoming unhinged. Have you noticed? Rushden threatened from set pieces.

Oops, spoke too soon. Mills was allowed to run forward 20 yards and crack a cracking shot towards the top right corner. Williams parried the ball over the bar. Cracking. Rushden suddenly started to look like a capable football team, with Town feeling ever so sorry for themselves. "Miss, Miss, it's not fair. Tell 'em, Miss."

After 79 minutes Bull replaced McDermott, meaning Crowe went to the right side of middish-field. Town had a bit of a resurgence towards the end; nothing like the first 70 minutes, though. This was a more desperate, more direct form of association football. Crowe and Bull were pushed forward and there were many moments of hope - well, hope that a cross would come in.

A free-flowing move down the centre had Parkinson scurrying behind the defence on the left. He turned back and laid a short pass to Bull, who whipped in a curling cross towards the penalty spot. Ah, fantastic... Pinault (I think, though some claim it to be Reddy) flew forward and smacked a glancing header towards the top left corner. Turley took off and clawed the ball away . A rather magnificent save. A rather fed-up set of Town supporters. We keep seeing opposition keepers make great saves. The worst goalie we've seen so far is our own, and that is worrying.

Still Town pressed. Off came Pinault with three minutes left and on came Coldicott. Ah, finally ridding the team of that stodgy French water carrier, eh, and bringing on some guile and craftsmanship? Flicked up, over the top, Reddy pouncing, Reddy rolling, Reddy falling under a challenge a few yards out. Penalty claimed, no way, corner given. Whittle headed softly high and wide.

Town again, Reddy, rocking and rolling, a cross cleared, Fleming knocked the ball back over the top. Reddy with his back to goal five yards out, Turley right behind him. The ball bounced between Reddy's legs and off Turley for another corner. Perhaps this was when Whittle headed? Maybe. Maybe not. It was frantic, frenetic and failing. Town again, a Coldicott cross to Reddy, ten yards out in the centre, who flicked and glanced the ball a couple of feet wide. The last chance for salvation was Gordon curling to the far post a cross which drifted, drifted and crawled out of play a matter of inches from Crowe and Reddy.

Another three points bite the dust.

What a waste of time, what a waste of our money. It felt even worse than last season's debacle, as the gulf between the two teams was much greater this time, Town were massively superior for two thirds of the game. You can feel the bile rising from our guilty past: we're getting a complex about this hollow club in Nowhereshire. The same emotions felt, the same words come flooding back. Arrogance, showing off, strolling, strutting, preening, posing. Take your pick. Town were like a nouveau-riche wastrel jalloping down the beach in an open-top sports car, wallet open, having a gay old time.

Angry? You bet. It's Town.

Nicko's man of the match
Hmmm - difficult, this one, for the flashes from the flashy ones wooed the unwary, but generally infuriated. Pinault passed, Gordon hoovered but, on balance, and after a lengthy debate by the Booker prize jury, Andy Parkinson gets to have the metaphorical laurel crown resting upon his ears, simply for being a massive pest. Perseverance isn't a parrot bought by my aunt, but Town's number 10.

Official warning
A little fussy at times, but at least Mr J Singh was consistent: the moans were minor. Nothing terrible, generally adequate, just about as good a gaoler as one could expect down in the deep dungeon. What's the score? It has to have a six in it. 6.996. Oh. It had two.