There's a word for this

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

19 October 2004

Shrewsbury Town 1 Grimsby Town 1

Tony was a bit late getting to the ground - he made it in time for kick-off, I mean, but not in time for the usual weather and warm-up reports - and so this account of the match begins with the observations of Cod Almighty's perennial supersub, Mr Miles Moss.

A clear and still night, with only a small smattering of clouds meant that this was a pretty chilly night. It wasn't that cold, actually, but my core temperature had dropped to cryogenic levels in the two-hour drive from Manchester to Shropshire as my car heater insisted on steaming up the windscreen unless it was set to cold. Fortunately, I received a warm welcome from the friendly Gay Meadow ground staff, a warm cup of coffee from the pie stall, and watched Town warm up.

Said warm-up consisted of the usual walking-jogging-scampering around those bright orange pimples; meanwhile Williams got that 12-year-old keeper to blast the ball at him from point-blank range. "Come on, son!" he seemed to be saying, "Call that a kick? Come on! Harder! Try and hurt me!". The outfielders then moved onto the routine where they stand in a big circle and try kicking four footballs to each other all at once. It's a bit like a White Helmets display; although if it had been, they would all have been waking up in hospital this morning. And the pitch would have been a right mess.

As it was, the pitch was in fine condition, and was surrounded by a proper football ground: corrugated roofs, old iron turnstiles, concrete terraces. Some may call this 'dilapidated', but me, I like it. There are big old trees poking their branches over the tops of the stands; the ground is by the river, and right near the abbey and the castle. Shrewsbury looks like a lovely town; I'm already looking forward to going back there for a long weekend.

So, what of the match? Well, just before it started, stalwart match reporter Mr Tony Butcher appeared, so I stuck my notebook and pen back in my pocket. We had a short discussion regarding who should file the report, which pretty much consisted of me saying: "Well I'm not doing it now that you're here". I felt intimidated by his analytical brain and powers of amateur journalism, so in the pocket the notebook stayed. However, I did promise to be his warm-up man, and hey, I've already told you what happened in the warm-up. As it was, I feel Tony had the short straw thrust upon him: I enjoyed watching Town for the first three minutes up until they scored. After that... well, I'm just glad Tony's doing the bit about the football. Tony, over to you...

A warm, still evening by the Severn with around 120 Town fans skipping along the terrace behind a goal, swapping stories of badly signposted roundabouts near Tamworth and lorries full of straw. We've finally gotten to Shrewsbury - que sera, sera.

Town warmed up, on the pitch, doing things. I'm sorry I haven't a clue: the service in the pizza parlour was not conducive to pre-match meanderings, but even a mile away in the Town one could hear the gasps of the Town supporters when they realised that Pingu had been dropped.

Gasp again. Town lined up in a nominal 3-4-3 formation as follows: Williams, Whittle, Forbes, Gordon, McDermott, Coldicott, Fleming, Crowe, Sestanovich, Reddy and Parkinson. The substitutes were Bull, Pinault, Cramb, Jones and... and... the one everyone forgets about. Ah yes, that's right Clint Marcelle. No Pinault! No Pinault! Yes, we have no Pinaultnas, we have no Pinaultnas today. Some good old British stodge on the menu, none of this nouvelle cuisine, three Michelin-star-rated midfielding. Oh, and Sestanovich seemed to be given licence to roam, a la Donovan, between midfield and attack.

Shrewsbury had a few bullet-headed SMSs in their line up, with Darby and Joan up front, sorry, I mean Rodgers and Hammerhead. No, no, no - Rodgers and Darby. There is nothing else to say.

First half
Town kicked off towards the home end, with Gordon raking a riveting pass from left to McDermott's right boot. Lovely, football, nice. The first few minutes were relatively open, with the passes relatively accurate. That's my theory. The reality? A couple of surges, a couple of blocked shots. Reddy rumbled down the right, hit the bye-line and rolled the ball back to Crowe, deep inside the penalty area and all alone. Crowe mis-controlled and passed the ball to a statuesque Salopian.

Shrewsbury hustled and harried, flying in to tackles and breaking away quickly. Bit worrying, especially as their number 11, Aiston, seemed to have the beating of McDermott. Twisting, turning, wrapping McD into little parcels of pot pourri, Aiston dribbled down their left, cut infield and flapped a fizzer straight at Williams.

A minute or so later Town were ripped apart again down the right, with Rodgers suddenly free inside the area, about eight yards wide of goal. He drew back his boot and we prepared for unhappiness, but Forbes slid across the turf and made a magnificent block.

Town did attack, were producing a few moments of panic for the Shrews' defences. A corner, a cross, half cleared, Crowe on the left flashed the ball back low. The ball was controlled by Parkinson at the near post and something wonderful happened: he looked up. He passed across the penalty area to the unmarked Fleming, about a dozen yards out, who took a touch, turned and smelled a shot high into the centre of the net. A goal, some contentment amongst the yelling yellowbellies.

Shrewsbury didn't do what they should have done. They didn't go home crying to their mums. If they could get stuffed by dire old Orient then surely they'd see the sense in letting the almost sophisticated Mariners play the glockenspiel on their exposed ribcage, perhaps with a monocle and silver soup spoon for added style. A raid down their left ended with a tumble in the area. Hopeful claims were waved away by Jones the steaming referee.

Gordon was overrun by their full-back, Moss, near the bye-line just outside the penalty area. Moss nicked the ball and ran around Deano. Oh, Dean. A lunge, no contact with the ball and a blur of blue a-falling. Penalty, claimed all Shrews. The players stopped and looked, the referee waved play on. Gulp, three falls and we're out? If Moss hadn't been so intent on falling then a penalty would have been given; he didn't have to be a tragic Shakespearean heroine in local rep. "Woe is me, woe is me, I feel faint, my Lord Lardbucket".

Town were poor, lumping high balls forward, little co-ordination, no cohesion, the defence exposed by opponents running towards them. The problem? Quite simple really: Town conceded the flanks, just as they had done against Northampton, relying on poor crossing or poor finishing for salvation. When Town did have the ball only Sestanovich could pass it, so possession was frequently handed to Shrewsbury. Urgh.

Ah! Sestanovich raiding, roaming, rifling down the left. Step over left, step over right, and a low cross to the near post. Howie flew to his left, exposing the whole of the goal as the unmarked Parkinson slid in about six yards out at the near post. A certain goal? It's Parky - what do you think? He missed by two yards. Awful.

Shrewsbury stepped up the pressure, starting to dimple passes down the channels, behind the Town centre-backs. Rodgers barrelled along, barging Townites away, free kicks arbitrarily awarded. And again, he's off again. The ball was passed down their centre right and Rodgers shuffled after it. Gordon and Forbes blocked his route to goal; Crowe became the top layer in the sandwich. Crowe's arm came out. The force was weak, Luke, feel the Force and you shall succeed. Whoopsee, down he went. Out went the ref's arm towards the penalty spot.

Being the nearest supporter to the incident it was a pretty obvious dive, but Crowe was daft enough to extend his left arm and allow Rodgers the opportunity to be distracted by a gust of wind. Rodgers got up and recovered from this terrible battering and placed the penalty low to Williams' right. Yes, vengeance is ours. Williams blocked and Crowe scrumbled the ball away.

Were they crushed by this miss, bemoaning their ill-fortune? No, darn it. Back they came again, a Gordon slip, Rodgers free about a dozen yards out wide of goal on their right. Williams advanced, Rodgers clapped a low shot straight at his legs. And again, more wild wandering down the flanks, crosses not dealt with, desperate blocks, rebounds, ricochets. Tolley, with his back to goal, six yards out, tried an overhead kick which arced safely over. Ignore that hand he used to control it, ref, why don't you.

Tolley again squirming a shot a couple of feet wide; Lowe a dunkin' donut nodding over from eight yards out. Pressure, all self-induced, with sloppy, slovenly passing. Where was that midfield bite? Where was that midfield control?

Town had isolated moments of football. Oh look: a Town attack, a Town player fouled. Sestanovich lazily curled the free kick over the bar. A few minutes later Fleming snacked a clearance from a corner firmly, but safely, over the bar.

Anything else? Not really. The game became very fruity, with the referee an occasional interloper in a neighbourly squabble. Boots were left hanging, elbows akimbo and out came the yellow card. Macca booked for mistiming a tackle, booked because the crowd bayed. Aiston booked for a sliding lunge which missed Macca. Booked because Macca had been booked. Tolley cynically hacked Sestanovich, no booking. There were two minutes of added time and a big barney when the half ended. Much pushage, shovage and finger jabbage ended with Fleming being booked.

It wasn't very good at all. Shrewsbury were vigorous and direct, Town were on the pitch in the requisite numbers. Still, Cramb hadn't wasted his time, for he spent the entire half giving a masterclass in stretching to the Shrewsbury substitutes, who seemed starstruck in his presence. Tolley was wearing Cramb's hair though.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I should have stayed for a pudding."
"Has Parkinson controlled the ball yet?" "Today or this season?"
"I once had to dress as a squirrel and dribble with an acorn."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time, though O'Connor came out with a numberless and nameless shirt. You can change, but you can't hide. We know who you are.

Town started the second half quite brightly. A pass, a shimmy, and Sestanovich hit a superb crossfield ball to the right. Macca reached the ball before the diving full-back and raced on down the wing, beat a defender, hit the bye-line, and looked up. He saw another win bonus in the shape of Parky or Reddy, both at the near post. McD dinked a soft chip towards Parkinson, five yards out, who ducked; Reddy had stopped and the ball sailed gaily between the two of them into the middle of the box.

A flimble of failings later and the ball ended up with Crowe, who dribbled to the bye-line on the left and crossed. McDermott ran around the back and steered a first-time shot comfortably over the bar from a dozen yards out.

A few minutes after that Macca was at it again, haring on to a flick inside the penalty area and smacking a low shot towards the near post. Howie parried aside, Parkinson pounced, but the goalkeeper got up and flipped the ball further away from goal and along the bye-line. Parky retrieved, like the good little gundog he is, turned and passed into the middle of the area, straight to a defender.

The rest of the game was a badly maintained cesspit as far as Town were concerned. The Shrews gave it a real go, running head first into the Town defence. At first Gordon and Forbes demanded a little shrubbery, but after that they seemed to run out of ideas. They both made dreadful errors, allowing the ball to bounce over them and little Shrews to bound free. Town spluttered to deceive, the occasional breakaway keeping the growling Grimbarians happy. Another Macca raid, Reddy turning and crossing on the right, Howie stranded, Moss flapping. Setsanovich trotting behind the dithering defender. You wouldn't see "the boy Linacre" do that.

With around 20 minutes left Sestanovich was replaced by Cramb. Transit Stan slowly shook his head and even more slowly made his way across the pitch. By 23:27 he'd reached the managers' dug out. Cramb? A decent holding game for Shrewsbury, breaking up Town attacks and doing one nice little flick back to his old mate Howie.

Town got even worse once Sestan, a man, went off. Who's passing now? Surely you don't expect Coldicott and Fleming to tap out a beat on their tambourine? Town did have one more decent attack; again Parkinson was heavily involved, being tippled free by McDermott down the right. Parky put his head down, twiddled about, beat a defender, and from a very narrow angle decided to shoot across goal, ballzooning just past the far post. Close? No. He should have looked up, or opened his ears, and passed to the unmarked McDermott.

I don't seem to have described any homeboy efforts in the second half. There weren't that many, but it was all blood and thunder, up-and-at-'em pressure. The sort of thing that you'd expect from a struggling fourth division team. Crosses, crosses, more crosses, shots blocked, passes half intercepted, limbs flying everywhere, clearances hoofed. Panic station Arizona.

Town looked dreadful. They couldn't string one pass together. Shrewsbury won throw after throw, the ball looping into the area every few seconds. Off the line! A corner from their left was hung up to the far post. A big bloke headed down firmly, Fleming chested the ball off the line and humped it clear. The ball came back and another scramble and scruffle. A block, a fall, a penalty claim. Handball! Foul! LBW! BMW! BMX! BMI Baby! Anything, everything, nothing. C'mon, they should have realised by now that every third penalty appeal would be given.

There was probably another header somewhere in this melee of madness. They certainly had a couple of shots deflected just wide and just over. The game was 100 yards away, with bluemen everywhere. The first commandment: wherever the ball shall drop there shall be two Shrews and no Mariner. Town had not cured their first-half narrowness; if anything the players had huddled together in a circle in the middle as the injuns rode around whooping and a hollerin', throwing occasional arrows inside the wagons.

A Town attack? Surely not, sir. Aye, 'tis a rare flightless bird that wobbles towards to me. A Parkinson cross from the right and Crowe arrived late and side-footed wide from the penalty spot. A minute later Parkinson volleyed wide under pressure as he tried to poke a Crowe cross in the vague vicinity of Howie.

We're waiting for the end. The worse Town play the less likely they are to lose, eh? Town are playing so badly they'll win? Of course. Shrewsbury, for all their sturm und drang, hadn't created any clear chances in the second half.

With 10-ish minutes left Shrewsbury powered forward for the umpteenth time, charging down the valley into the cannon fire. Coldicott dived in, a Shrew fell, a free kick 25 yards out near the right corner of the Town area. Sedgemore wombled over and curled a low cross towards the near post. The ball skipped off the grass towards Williams, who was waiting calmly by the post. Williams put his arms by his sides and allowed the ball to slap off his shoulder and flick in to the right hand corner of the net. Absolute silence among the Townites; embarrassment and expectations fulfilled.

Shrewsbury were clearly energised further by this faux pas and dive-bombed Williams. They abandoned prissy passing and simply hoofed high hanging crosses into the six-yard box. More scrambles and desperation, more angry flounces towards the referee. Williams dropped a cross when Rodgers attempted to strangle him in mid-air. Play on. A rare respite saw Town knock the ball over the top down the left. Reddy leapt on the back of the defender and wrestled the croc to the ground. How could that be anything but a Town free kick?

With a couple of minutes left Crowe pulled up on the halfway line, holding his thigh. Off he limped, replaced by Bull. I don't think Bull touched the ball, so he put in a faultless performance. His best yet.

There were four minutes of added time, a minute for each hour it took Sestanovich and Crowe to get off the pitch, during which Town contrived to waste time in the corner, attack from the resulting free kick and then get caught on the break from said attack. How was the breakaway stopped? Forbes had to get booked.

A right shocker from the Town perspective, for Shrewsbury tore strips out of Town, especially down the wings. The middle was a mess, the attack was a short dress on a windy day. There were no redeeming features, and an embarrassingly conceded goal. Shrewsbury were a better version of Leyton Orient and caused Town more problems than any team I've seen so far this season. That doesn't make them any good though. Any team that can regularly pass the ball out of play as often as them doesn't have an intrinsic level of competence. But they worked, they tried, they never gave up. Basic qualities that were almost too much for a complacent Town. We were lucky to draw, but had enough chances to have won comfortably.

Markie's un-man of the batch
There were a few candidates, including the disappearing world of the midfield, but Andy Parkinson picks up his dead crown of thorns. He ran around a lot, he had shots, but he just wasted so many opportunities with Mersey tunnel vision.

Nick0's man of the match
If one really had to be selected then Justin Whittle for not making any clear mistakes. Macca was great going forward but had a torrid time against Aiston; so Big J for heading it a lot

Official warning
Mr J Jones was absolutely useless. He pandered to the crowd with his penalty decision and spent the entire game giving free kicks on the basis of whose turn it was next. They got the odds, we got the evens. Whenever the whistle blew the crowd fell silent, the players stopped and stared, there was always a sense of foreboding. He favoured neither team, and did himself no favours by being rubbish. He gets 2.222, because that's where my fingers landed on the keyboard.