Tales from the riverbank

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

24 August 2004

Grimsby Town 1 Wigan Athletic 0

A still, clear evening in the capital of cool: Cleethorpes in August, it's the place to be, isn't it? Certainly was for 84.6 Wigan supporters (well, one of them was quite small) who appeared by osmosis in the Osmond Stand. The Town supporters strolled in like it was a pre-season friendly: the lack of tension was palpable. I don't know, perhaps we're getting blasé about the new Town, or maybe we can't get our heads around Wigan being a top team. Whatever gets you through the night is all right, it was an authentic, genuine monorail of a match. It might put Town back on the footballing map. Winner takes all, Geoffrey.

Town lined up in the 3-4-3 formation as follows: Williams, Whittle, Ramsden, Gordon, McDermott, Pinault, Fleming, Crowe, Sestanovich, Parkinson and Reddy. The substitutes were Wheeler, Mansaram, Coldicott, Marcelle and Bull. There you are, same as Saturday in the starting XI but with Wheeler on the bench, which excited exceedingly few people in the DN35 postcode area. Whether DN36 was feeling groovier about it is another matter entirely. Warm-up? It was nothing special; in fact it was a bit of a bore.

What happened to all this stormy weather we keep being promised? The resident meteorologists in the Pontoon, some wearing stripey ties, claimed that the Grimsby conurbation is in the rain shadow, which I thought was a hit for Cat Stevens.

How happy were we when we saw the Wigan team? The wrong Roberts up front, no Ellington, no Frandsen, mostly lower-league fringe players. Were they taking Town a bit too lightly?

Dish of the day was Russ's Chinese prawns. Do we have to be reminded of Lennie Lawrence?

First half
Wigan kicked off towards the Pontoon and just kept the ball. Oh dear, they look very good. Pass, pass, flick, pass, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh throw-in, at last. For the first couple of minutes Wigan gave a little masterclass in possession football, the ball moving from one side to the other, a Town boot never close enough to touch the bag of air. Gulp, and this without their first team.

Town have it, Town nearly score! Pinault passing, Parkinson probing, Reddy roving, Reddy rampaging through the back line on the right. Shot blocked. Another minute, another attack. Reddy into the area, twisting, turning, whirling and swirling past defenders and nearly surprising Walsh with an early shot. Walsh rose and forearmed the ball over the bar for a corner. The corner came to naught.

Reddy again, fouled, Reddy again, again, falling over a leg, another free kick to Town. Oh, Town, Town, like a Town team: passion, passing, pressing back Wigan incessantly with pure football. Reddy was hounded by two and three defenders whenever he had the ball, and they needed to use all their charm to stop him.

That's nice. Pinault spinning this way, spitting passes that way, linking and lurking behind the strikers. Controlling the ball, controlling the game; why's he playing for a fourth division team? The match had a rhythm, beat out by the Galloping Gaul: wonderful tonight. Ooh, nearly, oooh, now sit down. Last-ditch tackles, head-clearing crosses, Gordon heading over, Town a smooth machine, Wigan steadfast and stout. Have they attacked yet?

Just after the quarter-hour an embryonic Town attack was broken up by a huge whack in the air back towards the Town goal. Gordon, about 25 yards out on the left, set himself and guided a cushioned header to Ramsden, who flicked the ball infield to Fleming. Tezza let the ball roll past, turned and played a short pass to Sestanovich, inside the centre circle. Sestan rolled past two Wiganites and was free just inside their half on the centre right. Macca fizzed down the touchline, Sestan ignored the old man of the sea and caressed a perfect pass between a triangle of defenders for Parkinson to run free. Pesky Parky hurtled through the centre, knocked the ball out to the right and, from the edge of the area, smackerooned a terrific shot high past Walsh into the top left corner. Walsh didn't move, but 3,000 Town fans did: upwards, very noisily. Ooooh that was good.

Wigan upped their game a little after this, settling back to their previous tempo, their neat possession football, your basic upper mid-table solidly organised team. We know a decent, though not frightening, second division team when we see it. Second division? Isn't it so much easier to go back to the 1970s for your reference points?

A couple of minutes after the goal Wigan got a free kick about 25 yards out. There was a bit of piddling about before it was hit rubbishly goalwards. No panic, no problem, Williams picked it up. Back came Town, Sestanovich drifting off the wing into the Kingsley Black Hole, that pit of Donovanian despond, to end some Parky/Reddy interplay with a rather airy-fairy shot from outside the area. Walsh finished reading his novella and took a goal kick.

Are we worried? No. Mitchell swayed infield and nearly dislodged the fading, raggedy baseball cap of the inhabitant of P57 with what the anorakian obsessives would call a shot. Oh, go on then - it was a shot, but not a very good one. Mahon had a shot from outside the area which bombled along, hurting no-one, not even the local worms. Ah, pleasing.

More pleasing from the teasing Town tearaways upfront. Oh such sumptuousness and sumptuosity hasn't been seen in these parts since dinosaurs roamed. Yes, it's that obligatory Livvo reference again. A four-man move culminated in Reddy spinning free inside the area and crossing from the bye-line towards Parkinson, but the linesman put his flag up for something or other. Nice play though. Lovely, smashing. Great, super.

All was fine and dandy, what a good little game we had a-going on. The crowd were calm, almost becalmed, with only the occasional chicken counting moment. As my granny would have said if she'd thought of it: "You can't count your chickens before they're boiled. How would they cross the road?" Five blokes sang "Top of the league, you're havin' a laff" a couple of times, but it didn't feel like one of those gleeful games. Can you be bothered to taunt 49.7 people (excluding the coach driver and his mates)?

Oh shut up, professional poultry enumerators; Wigan almost scored while you clucked, which is almost what you would have said if Graham's 25-yard drifting whacker had sneaked under the bar, rather than going out for a corner. Williams stood under the ball and rabbit-punched it over the top left corner of his goal. Corner cleared, Town broke: nice.

Dean Gordon eh? Darn fine man if you ask anyone sat inside Blundell Park between the hours of 19:45 and 21:35 on an unwet evening. He tackled superbly, body positioned to drive through man and ball, without giving away free kicks. The merest whiff of danger was extinguished by Golden Gordon, ably assisted by Rammy Ramsden, and Witty Whittle, the hobbling hulk from Hull. Old Big Ears kept getting clobbered by Wiganites, or more specifically Neil Roberts who put an arm in the face then cynically jumped at Justin. On came Dave Moore, limping on went Whittle: he looked crocked. The Pontoon had a mild panic attack when it realised that Wheeler might be wheeled on. He wasn't, Whittle remained.

I haven't mentioned Parkinson's audacious lobbing volley yet. What happened? Well, the clues are there. He did a lobbing volley. The ball bounced free behind the Wigan defence on the centre right. Parkinson hared across and, from somewhere near the corner of the area, stretched and hooked a shot goalwards. The ball dipped into the first row of seats behind the goal. We "ooooh"-ed, just to be keep our vocal chords working.

As the game ticked away towards half time Wigan came back again. Town were a little sleepy on the right, with Fleming and Sestanovich marking space rather that those blue things that kept running around them. A bit of chess play by Wigan resulted in their full-back having sufficient time to complete the Sun crossword. He crossed, and McCulloch, unmarked near the penalty spot, flicked a soft header past Williams' left post. Clear header, should have scored. Didn't. Hooray!

In the last minute of the half Town made grown men cry with a quite marvellous passage of play. From a throw-in Pinault and Gordon toyed with Wiganites, playing not one but two first-touch tip and taps. The piggies in the middle went all the way home as Gordon dimpled the ball up to Parkinson on the edge of the area. Parky flicked the ball on for Reddy, who spun past his marker and was free inside the area. Reddy waited for a defender, rolled past him and surged on towards goal. Walsh came out and Reddy tried to flick the ball with the outside of his right boot in to the near post. The ball hit the side netting as the unmarked Sestanovich bellowed in the centre.

The linesman flagged for a free kick against Ramsden underneath the Police Box. Ramsden made it plain that he considered the decision faulty. The referee blew his whistle and beckoned mulletboy towards him. Ramsden ignored the ref, turned his back and wandered off. The referee made another attempt to chastise, was ignored again, then gave up. I can't find fault in that, can you?

Half time, all is well with the world. We pass, we move, we score.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"How come they are top of the Champions League?"
"Dad it's acemer!"
"It's like watching a good first division game."
"You look like a dancing frog."
"I failed my A-levels and look where it got me. The back of the Pontoon."
"I'd say you're the Waldorf and Statler of the Pontoon, if I knew who they were."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

Let me turn a mental page in my head and remind myself of this half. Ahhh, how relaxing. After a couple of minutes of Wigan passing to each other but not getting very far, Town broke. As usual it was at speed, with conviction and with intent. Who was it this time? Reddy ripping down the right and crossing low into the centre of the box. Crowe raced up but a defender stretched and strained to avert more pain. How did the ball get to Reddy? The normal Town way: pish-pash-posh, passing supreme.

For quarter of an hour Town raided and Wigan had little spells of pressure. The teams traded shots, one a minute, all entertaining and exciting stuff. Us then them. Our General Pinault sat behind the strikers and the lines on the map moved from side to side. Up then down, round and round and round and round the ball twirled, Parkinson free on the right, dribbling past his marker. He crossed to the near post, where Reddy zoomed in and diverted the ball a foot wide as Walsh sat on a park bench, confused by modern life, and even park life. Just have fun feeding some ducks with a bun; it's a better option when you're at the tired and emotional end of a professional career.

Another Town break and Crowe free. Crowe crossed. Thome cleared. Wigan had a shot, another, and another, wide, wider and higher still. I thought we'd sold Pouton to Gillingham? They're getting closer to the corner flag by the minute.

Oops, that's almost a chicken counting moment. Ooooh dear, one of their left-sided players dribbled into the Town area and tumbled under a non-challenge. "Penalty!" cried the 34.8 Wiganites (exclusive of playing staff, friends, relatives and VAT). What a fine ref, not interested at all in such amateur dramatics. The little Wiganite failed his audition for the Caxton Players. Another shot, getting closer, Graham having several. He's enthusiastic, we'll give him that.

Around the hour mark Gordon picked up a half clearance about 40 yards out in the centre left. He took the ball forward a few paces and set himself to shoot. We've had decades of experience of this sort of thing. You know the routine. The middle of the Pontoon gets ready to catch the ball. Oh no sir, that's the past; this is the present. Gordon clonked a flat bazooka shot which zonked towards the top left corner. Walsh back-pedalled then leapt up and just managed to lever the ball over the bar for a corner. Back on our feet again.

A minute or so later Pinault wobbled a long shot a couple of yards wide. No danger present. Anything Dean can't do, Thom can't do either.

The game started to ebb away from Town a bit. Wigan kept the ball more, pulling Town left and right, right and left, waiting for a train that never came. It was the appliance of a certain science and almost, almost brought rewards. Their substitute, Teale, was fed a steady supply of dry fishmeal, exploiting the spaces behind Crowe as the little Argonaut steamed upfield to support Town attacks.

Many moments of danger, so few things to report. Crosses yes, clearances yes. A cross through the Town area, no-one there. A free kick 25 yards out, flipped well over the bar without a by-your-leave; a fantastic Crowe tackle inside the penalty area; a superb Ramsden interception on the right; Gordon strong and resolute; Whittle limping through heroically, a man barely alive yet unbeatable. A teasing Teale cross, floating, floating towards an unmarked Wiganite. Whittle rose from the depths like Poseidon to flick the ball away and save Town. More crosses, men free at the back post, shrivelling in the presence of Whittle and Gordon.

Into the last 20 minutes and Town visibly slowing, tiring by the second, limbs aching, Pontoon agonising, a little concerned, silent, hopeful, but content with the world. It's a freebie game, no pressure, just pleasure.

Town had many breakaways which foundered at the last, exquisite passing moves, lung-bursting surges from midfield, Town players pouring towards the area. Parkinson a permanent pest, Reddy a thorn in Thome's side. Thome, big Emo, a saviour of Wigan, the big Brazilian's boot emerged from behind red socks to avert many a moment of danger. Typical Brazilian, a hoof-it-anywhere merchant.

Did Sestanovich have a shot? Maybe. To tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kinda lost track of which is which and who was who. He was less effective than usual, a peripheral figure, drifting infield occasionally to try some trickery, conjuring and caressing, but often crowded out. Some homework done by Wigan? Once, twice, thrice, Sestan the Man delayed passes by a microsecond, allowing the annoying linesman to convince himself that Parkinson, then Reddy were offside. You wouldn't find anyone in the Pontoon who would have given offside, oh no.

As the game entered the last 10 minutes Wigan became a bit more frenetic in their attacking, and more direct. Town were slowly pulled apart down the left, then right, with Teale flipping in a cross to the far post. Graham wandered in, unmarked and from somewhere near the six-yard box at the far post carefully side-footed the ball a couple of yards wide. He'd have been better off letting it hit his shins.

A couple of minutes later Graham twisted free outside the box, about 20 yards out on their centre left. He smacked a low shot goalwards, which took a deflection off a defender's boot. The ball arced towards the bottom left corner and Williams made a brilliant one-handed save at the foot of the post. The ball may have even been diverted onto the post. Does that matter? It hadn't gone in because Williams had somehow stopped it; that's the important bit.

Around this time Marcelle replaced Sestanovich. Town played out the last few minutes with some aplomb, keeping the ball by passing to each other quickly, little triangles with Pinault emerging from his purdah to orchestrate the final coup-de-grace. In added time Fleming and Pinault tippy-tapped their way through the flagging Wigan defence. Pinault played the ball down the right, sending Reddy free. Reddy crossed, Parkinson flew in, leant back, twisted and steered a header across the face of goal. Walsh dived, the ball spun towards the right-hand corner and crawled an inch or two wide.

After two minutes of added time the referee put Wigan out of their misery, and allowed the Town fans, at last, to celebrate. The players hugged and walked over to the Pontoon as Slade joined them for his three seconds of fame. Town had played superbly: the most complete performance so far this season. They were up against a well-organised, highly coached team who also tried to play football. It was just an excellent match, from our point of view. Two teams playing football. We won.

Everyone played well, some weller than others, with even the fourth division makeweights excelling. A total team display and you should bask in the warm, warm feeling that we have a team, a team playing swashbuckling football. And winning.

Happy times, happy nights, happy days are here again?

Nicko's man of the match
Such a fine line to be drawn between so many excellent performers. Parkinson was a human dynamo, Reddy flogged himself to death, Pinault was perfection for an hour while Ramsden was totally assured and calm. But the International Jury of Arbitrary-tation delivered a solemn verdict: Dean Gordon. Power, pace, professionalism.

Official warning
I'm trying hard to find fault with Mr P Joslin: maybe his timorous reaction to Ramsden's deliberate ignoring of him was the peak of his imperfection. His was probably the best refereeing performance since Paul Durkin way back when. He gets a straight 8.921.