Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
26 July 2004
Grimsby Town 1 Willem II 1
The aroma of manure pervaded Cleethorpes on a summer night. Tell you more? Tell you more? There must have been a council feeding frenzy on the begonias on Sussex Rec. The evening was still and warm, bright and lovely: just the sort of day to attract those Tillburg trippers over to play crazy golf on some matt-painted concrete.
Around 1,700 Town fans sauntered into Blundell Park and plonked themselves into Pontoon and Main Stand. There were four people in the Osmond. No, we couldn't hear the Dutchmen sing.
Town lined up in the 3-4-3 formation as follows: Williams, Whittle, Ramsden, Young, Crowe, Pinault, Fleming, Bull, Parkinson, Tangara and Mansaram. The substitutes were Fraser, McDermott, Hildred, Hockless, Marcelle, Sestanovich, Soames and Wheeler. Who played where? Whittle on the right of the back three, Young on the left, Bull at left wing-ish-back, Crowe at right wing-ish-back, Parkinson on the right up front, Mansaram on the left. Tangara is a big man, but is he in shape?
Willem II played in a curious red and white striped kit with the occasional blue stripe, looking like a 1960s pinafore. They seemed to line up in that classic Dutch fluid formation, 4-3-3, and have quite a few players with classic Dutch hair -all Rijkaardian twizzles and twirls. A lot of names on their team sheet had too many vowels. The scoreboard (new added feature includes a red border) listed their centre-forward as Johnny Oomens. Or did I dream it? They seemed to be sponsored by Interpol.
As the game was about to start, a man with an extravagant combover scuttled along the front of the Pontoon.
Willem II kicked off towards the Pontoon. Please don't wake me, no, don't shake me, leave me where I am, I'm only sleeping. They passed it left, right, back, right, left, back, across, across, across, across, across... I will count to three and you will wake up believing you are a house-trained goat in Crumpsall. Continental possession football, tipping, tapping at walking pace. Then whoosh, a long fizzing pass from the hairbanded Koeman-wannabe in the middle of their defence. The pattern was repeated ad infinitum. Town did the same, but without the tippy tappy bits. The back three launched it long, launched it early.
Whittle accidentally whisked the ball off their number 9 as he twirled through the Town penalty area, and that was about it for the first few minutes. Pinault started well, being a passer and a tackler, showing some impressive ball skills and vision; dinking and dropping diagonal passes over the full backs, right onto Mansaram and Parkinson's toes.
Ah, at last - a shot. After about 10 minutes Young curled the ball high down the touchline, where it dropped at Bull's feet as he scampered along. Mansaram hurtled infield, collecting the ball in his stride as it bombled off Bull's shins. Onwards, inwards, shimmying, shammying, Mansaram hit a low shot from about 20 yards. The goalkeeper was way out of his goal and made an extravagant one-handed save, tipping the ball away for a corner. That's tipping the ball away from the invisible goal six feet to the right of the real one.
The game perked up a little, with Town players starting to pass regularly in the direction of each other. Tangara nearly won a header, which made the teenagers rise in adulation for the new hero. It is a rather perverse idolatry: why do Grimbarians love a lump of lard? Willem had a free kick, about 20 yards out to the right of goal, which was curled around and over the wall.
Williams scampered and plopped on the ball as it flopped towards his post. And then came off his line a couple of times to collect through balls. And then a catch. He's improving.
After 17 or 18 minutes Town won a corner on the right. Pinault clipped it into the area, with Young stretching and volleying the ball back out to the corner flag. Obviously a routine worked out on the training ground. Pinault coolly caressed the ball, swivelled and glided a perfect low cross into the middle of the penalty area, where Parkinson headed firmly over and across the keeper into the right-hand side of the net. Ooh, that was nice.
Not much happened in the rest of the half. Town sometimes threatened, but attacks fizzled out when it got to any one of many. Pinault good, Parkinson good, let's draw a veil over many others. Mansaram didn't do anything we haven't seen from him before. All arms and legs, a flurry of cheap fizzy water, the bubbles dissipating into the night air. Tangara was Iffy O with slightly more mobility, but less chance of scoring.
Ah, poor Terry Fleming. Let's hope Brigg wasn't the acme of his Town achievements, the level at which he excels. He gave a cameo of Des-ness. He was there, but not there. On the pitch, but not on the ball, like a Hamilton boiled in water for three days: a shrivelled Des.
Young kept miskicking and generally panicking at inopportune moments. Whittle didn't seem to do much and was barely a presence. I can't decide whether that was through competence or creaky limbs. Town weren't unduly threatened by the laid-back Dutchies, who continued to stroke the ball around to very little effect. Had they appointed Alan van der Buuckleye as manager?
Jason Crowe had a running battle with the left winger, who fell over at the slightest kick up the backside. After some continental slappings and preening, the left winger was taken off injured. I think his ego pulled a hamstring, or maybe he had suffered an emotional disturbance the night before. Bull was similarly uncomplicated in his approach to technical excellence, legging up the other winger whenever those saucy Hollanders passed.
I'm not mentioning shots. There weren't many. I can't remember Town having any more. Mansaram was released down the left and crossed into the goalie's arms, and there were a couple of headers, or sort of nearly headers, and a few crosses. Nothing tangible from Tangara. A Dutch bloke tried a snap shot from 20 yards which skipped past Williams' right post. There were another couple of long shots which didn't even disturb the resting seagulls.
And that's it from them, apart from the disallowed goal. Right on half time the referee gave them a free kick because they cried, 15 yards out on the Town right, just outside the penalty area. The ball was curled in and the big twizzly-haired number 7 was unmarked eight yards out in the centre. He headed down firmly and Williams zoomed across to his left and parried the ball off the line. The Big Number Nine ambled across and tapped the ball in from a couple of yards out. Offside, disallowed, cue lots of extravagant gestures and running of hands through extravagant hair.
It was boring. We had to content ourselves with minor moments of magic from Pinault, a silky, steely craftsman. We particularly loved his pass to the right while ostentatiously looking and pointing to his left.
No changes were made at half time by Town. I couldn't tell whether Willem II had. Perhaps they couldn't either, for Town ruffled their carefully placed hair within a minute. Mansaram, who had been sent free down the left by Young, squirmed around and passed back to Bull, who drifted a curling cross into the six-yard box. The juggernaut jumped at the near post and, from just four or five yards out, headed a few inches wide.
That was it, Mr T - your time may be up. And 15 minutes later it was: he was replaced by Sestanovich. Tangara had played for an hour and didn't do anything the other giant redwoods haven't. He won three headers, which ended up as giant clearances for Willem II. He controlled the ball twice. And he missed that chance. The sound of misplaced adoration drowned out the sound of Slade's chainsaw. Timber!
Now Sestanovich is a mighty, huge mound of flesh, with a tiny, tiny head. Are we seeking out boiled footballers? But what an impact. His first touch was a dainty dribble and chip over the bar, his second a strong turn. He has a footballing brain and seemed to strike up an instant rapport with Parkinson and Pinault, forming a bemusing triangle around the edge of the penalty area.
Here we go then: a Pinault lay-off, a Sestanovich turn and pass through the defence, and Parkinson was sent free 25 yards out on the right. His shot was blocked by the keeper with the ball ballooning straight to Crowe, about 20 yards out on the right. He took one touch and leathered the ball a foot over the bar into the Pontoon. A minute later another Sestanovich turn and perceptive pass sent Parkinson peskying away down the right wing. The keeper rushed off his line and the cross managed to go in just about the one place a Grimsby player wasn't.
The game was gathering pace, with Willem II suddenly looking like they didn't want to lose, as if the presence of Sestanovich had woken them up. They needed to try 'cos Town might actually score another. The ten minutes after Sestanovich came on were excellent, with Town playing football and ripping through the Dutch defences (the polderpuffs, if you wish). They even started to attack, winning a free kick on their right, which was clipped into the penalty area and a tall bloke glanced a header straight at Williams.
Then they started to pass to each other, at pace, especially down their left. Crowe was forced to defend a bit and he was up against a very tricky player, someone with a very unpronounceable name. Several times this player cut into the penalty area and almost had shots.
Still Town attacked: a clever free kick, 25 yards out on the centre right, with many Town players circling like vultures. Pinault stroked the ball low towards the penalty spot and Whittle turned around to find the ball coming towards his head. He stopped, he flicked and the ball zipped past the left post. Another Pinault cross from the left grazed Parkinson's head; a Sestanovich drooper just went over Crowe's head at the far post. And then there was Pinault's audaciously cheeky chip which crawled a few inches over the crossbar. Nearly moments, good play. Football. Hope, peeking its blurry eyes through the long night.
With just over a quarter of an hour left Marcelle replaced Parkinson. Marcelle is very small and had a surprising hairstyle. Remember that bloke in Boney M? He may be crazy like a fool to come to Town but let's talk about Daddy Cool. Marcelle looked bright and tricky: a very useful substitute. He had some pace and some idea about how to play football.
And a minute or two later Willem II scored. Fleming absented himself from this world as a midfielder ran forward. Young intercepted and, for want of a better expression, pratted about. He was easily dispossessed about 25 yards out on the Town left. Bish-bosh-bang, goal. Before you could blink, passes were exchanged and the ball was smooching the net in the bottom left-hand corner.
Willem had a couple more efforts down the left, infiltrating to the penalty area almost at will, with only desperate blocks and desperate shots saving Town.
Mansaram was replaced by Soames, much to the annoyance of the Town fans, who had been calling for Hockless. Soames ran after the ball once.
With a couple of minutes left Willem almost scored again. The tricky left winger fluttered through the Town defence, receiving a lofted pass. Williams came out, Williams was lobbed, Bull ran around and headed the ball off the line. Pinault was replaced by Hildred, allowing Pinault, Pinault, Pinault, Pinault (the law says you must say it a la Gino) a richly deserved ovation.
And the game ended. Slade brought all the players over to the fans, not allowing them to simply walk off the pitch.
Overall there were more goods than bads. Pinault, Sestanovich, Parkinson, Crowe were all excellent. Ramsden was perfectly fine, as was Williams. The jury did note that Willem weren't very physical or aggressive, and the defence was not tested by a series of lumps and lamps. The bads were Young, Fleming and Tangara. Mansaram is always in a category all of his own.
Nicko's man of the match
It has to be our French fancy, Thomas Pinault. Let's hope he carries on like this, for he seems to have everything and more that you'd want in a midfielder at this level. Burnett with claws.