Qu'est que c'est? The Newcastle

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

26 October 2005

Grimsby Town 0 Newcastle United 1

A damp squib of an evening in the Grand Ole Opry: a ram-packed ground, but the snap, crackle and pop of the previous round were missing as the Town fans huddled and hoping for humiliation avoidance. It's the curse of the green seats.

The pre-match festivities were elongated by several hours as the tannoyboy read out the biographies of all 16 vestal mascots who were leaving for the coast. Asked for their predictions, the best they could come up with was a "hope Town win", with most expecting defeat. Ah, broken in already; realism and pessimism seared into their DNA. The one from Waltham (no, not an episode of Friends) loves football, cricket and dog-fighting. Well, he would out there in the badlands where they shoot squirrels for tea.

Town lined up in the usual stodgy gloop of a 4-4-1-1 formation as follows: Mildenhall, McDermott, Whittle, Jones (R), Newey, Cohen, they still call me Mr Kalala, Bolland, Andrew, Jones (G), Reddy. The substitutes were Barwick, Gritton, Ramsden, Toner and Parkinson. Would Calvin Andrew be our salvation on the left? Jones the Lump remained in place, though that may be because the heavy lifting gear hasn't arrived from Seattle yet. We'll just have to work around him.

Now they really are patronising us, playing Peter Rabbit in defence and having Martin Gritton on their subs' bench too. Oh, it's those acoustics again: Ramage and Brittain. Perhaps tannoyboy should enunciate his vowels better.

Are we interested in them? Shall we fawn at their feet, these glitterati jet-setters? It's only Newcastle; we used to beat them in the Buckleydays, which isn't that long ago. It's so nice for Shearer that, before he retires, he finally plays at one of the great grounds of the world. I'm sure that's why Mr Personality has delayed his media career: ever since he was a little boy it's been his dream to play at Blundell Park.

Dish of the Day: water. Not the sports ones - they rot your teeth - but good, old-fashioned clear and simple water. If our bodies are 70 per cent water, would that mean Tony Crane is Lake Windermere?

We'd better get this old jalopy started. Crank the handle, somebody.

First half
Newcastle kicked off towards the Pontoon and didn't do the decent thing at all. We all know that people are the same wherever you go: the ball must be kicked into touch within five seconds. They passed to each other, quickly; they moved their legs, quickly. Taylor planted the ball upfield, right on to Shearer's chest. He laid the ball off to N'Zogbia, who scuffled a shot straight at Mildenhall from about 20 yards out. Hmmm.

Town enjoyed their finest moments for the next 20 seconds, passing to each other in nice, neat little triangles, even managing to almost get a throw-in. Newcastle soon retrieved the ball and pickpocketed their way back upfield. Jones the Stick thundered across to end this phase of the phoney war.

After a couple of minutes something happened off down the Osmond End: Jones the Lump, on the left, flickled the ball on into the area. Reddy shimmered in the haze between their centre-backs and the ball seemed to roll away via Taylor's arm. No-one appealed and play continued as if the bodysnatchers hadn't invaded. Newcastle broke upfield with speed and intent, Shearer again bouncing the ball away to an onrushing chum. I am, of course, assuming he has friends, and not just acolytes and courtiers. Babayaro swung his huge pants forward and zithered a shot straight at Mildenhall from about 25 yards out. No worries for the Mildster.

Wasn't Babayaro a song by The Who? It was wasted anyway, so don't worry about a thing.

Town were just not getting the ball as Newcastle played something like a Premiership team. It was beginning to be a bit worrying as they indulged in a little bit of chess while Town were still playing conkers. At least we still held on to the string. After about five minutes Whittle bent down holding his head after a challenge from the Mary Archer of football. Sergeant Rock waved away the patronising pat on the head from Shearer and just got on with it. If we only could be tough like him; we could all win our own battle of the texters.

Woh, they're back again, these millionairesses, making our hearts go boom-diddi-boom-diddi-boom-diddi-boom with their shiny teeth and sparkly boots. Babayaro pootled the ball to N'Zogbia who rode along the touchline on his pushbike past Macca, teasing a cross through the six-yard box. Shearer trundled to the near post and, about four yards out, flicked the ball goalwards. With tuppence for paper and strings, Mildenhall has his own set of wings: swooping down from the stands, blocking with his feet and groping with his hands, he clawed the ball to freedom.

Ten minutes gone and no sign of a Town shot. Given was camped out in the Osmond End, his sausages burning while he put his tent up. Here they go again. Town peering over the hill at them thar injuns' wigwam, scared off by Parker's whooping. Circle the wagons! Two touches and the ball moved from one penalty area to the other, Chopra drivelling a snivelling snorter towards Mildenhall. Safe: the shot weak, the keeper perfectly positioned.

Let's just sit back and watch this exhibition of lateral passing. Left to right, right to left and back again, and again, and again, and again... it's like watching tennis. C'mon Tiger Tim! "Out! Advantage Miss Newcastle."

Ooh, almost something. If you want a summary of this game, that's it - "Town nearly…". Jones the Lump turned and passed infield to Kalalalalabamba. Reddy peeled his lemon and set off towards Given as the ball curled towards the keeper. Pity, that, for it verged on football, only a slight recalibration of the laser-guided missile required.

Sorry, I blinked. Flish-flash, bash against the post. Newcastle whistled up the right, switched the ball infield to Faye, who advanced towards the centre of the Town defence, drawing out Whittle. McDermott scurried around to cover and the ball was dinkled through. N'Zogbia, on the centre-left, hurtled around Cohen and took a couple of steps into the area. Mildenhall gulped up the turf, Cohen leant on the outhouse and N'Zogbia passed the ball against the outside of the left post.

Another minute, another surge down the centre, stopped only when Jones the Stick pressed the little red button on his hip and telescoped the ball away at the last. Another surge, another minute down the centre. This is a footballing kaleidoscope - the same patterns swirling around, just in different places. Some great Town blocking stopped Shearer, but the ball rolled out to Peter Rabbit, who peeked out of his burrow and knitted a bobble hat, or did the shot go way over, threatening Sky's remote camera dangling above the Pontoon like a glitterball.

Town heading, Toon passing, repeat ad infinitum. We can't get the ball. Why can't they be like Tottenham and bring their own wine? Parker a pest, impassable, the antithesis of Carrick. He's holding our ball. The pendulum is swinging… you are feeling sleepy… imagine you are a goat… what a rubbish corner! Newcastle tried that Blazin' Squad routine, where they all walk, reeeeal cooooooooooool, towards the goal then run back. N'Zogbia belted the ball out for a throw-in near the managers' dug-outs. It makes a change from plonking it onto the first defender's forehead.

After half an hour Town got a free kick, just inside their half on the right. Newey clattered the ball high into the box. Bodies tumbled, Jones the Lump stumbled and was free, about eight yards out. Whatever happened to this likely lad? Well, Thelma, Jones the Lumpy Jellyfish crumpled and nodded the ball into the Elm Lodge Housing Estate. Town's first chance wasted. Town's only chance of the first half tossed away like a wet salad. Nobody wants a wet salad in Grimsby.

From the restart Newcastle piddled about for a bit then chipped the ball towards Shearer, on their centre-left. Whittle jumped, Shearer didn't, play continued. The Fragrant One ran after the referee and moaned about something unseen by the Pontoon, pointing to his mouth and gesticulating wildly. And carried on moaning for what seemed like a thousand years. You know a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down: just get on with it. Isn't that what professionals do, Mrs P? Oh dear, Alan, you've started a conversation you can't seem to finish. You're talkin' a lot but you're not sayin' anything. Whittle stood back and ignored the perambulating Shearer. Innocence has always been his position.

Play continued.

Normal service resumed; they can pass it sideways all night for all Town cared. Have you noticed something? Newcastle haven't had a shot for ages. Sure, they got their felt tip pen out and did some modern freeform art outside the Town area, but nothing they could hang in even the cheapest of galleries. Town had paid attention to detail and were not allowing them any space whatsoever within 30 yards of Mildenhall. Cohen and Andrew, in particular, were muscular, pacy auxiliary full-backs, nullifying the threat from the flanks. If the ball did swim free there was always Jones the Stick to Inspector Gadgetify the ball away.

Hum a tune if you want, or shall we hum a tune for you? I'll put the i-Hum on autoshuffle. Ah, here we are. I know that one, it's… it's… especially for Big Al, the kiddies' pal. Chim-chim-in-ey chim chim-in-ey chim chim cher-ee. Blow us a kiss, that's lucky Toon.

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhwup, kaboooooom. A firework burst over the ground, the stick landing inside the Newcastle half. No, not Jones; the wooden stick upon which the firework was tied. It was a very large stick indeed, as big as Solano. At this point it is appropriate to confirm that Nolberto Solano was on the pitch. Newey and Andrew placed him in a jiffy bag and left it with the fourth official for safekeeping, so nobody steals him when we're not looking.

With about five minutes left they had some kind of attack. Whittle did his usual aardvark-on-rollerskates clearance and they had a chance. The ball was tribbled towards Shearer, 20 yards out. He waited for the ball but Pope Jean-Paul glided back and whisked it away for a corner. Oh yes, the Pope wasn't on a rope today, for he was clearly intent on being seen on television. Good for the sales pitch, that: "as seen on TV".

As the half sulked towards its cup of tea Town managed to exert some pressure, even execute some passing. Bolland released Cohen down the right and his low cross rolled behind all, with Reddy stretching back, his turning circle obscured by a large Transit van of Geordie navvies. Possession was retained and Town tried down the left flank, with Andrew drifting a cross to the far post, where Bolland lurked while a defender skimmed the ball away for a throw-in. There you are: another Town highlight. We had a cross and won a throw in their half. Success City, Arizona.

The half ended with them playing Town's squeezebox: in, out, Town not quite shaken all about though.

After the blistering start we were all happy with parity. Town had done nothing in attack, but nor had Newcastle in the last half hour. It was a bit boring, but we're used to that in home games by now.

As the half ended the mobile phones trilled with news from home: the Sky-watchers had been watching the Discovery Channel which revealed the full history of the secret War of Shearer's Lip. Ah, so maybe Whittle had touched him after all. And in such a delightful way too.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"As long as we have a shot I don't mind what happens."
"Sky say Whittle whacked Shearer." [A toilet queue cheers.]
"You look like a duvet on legs."
"They're playing like Spurs should've."
"Any man who listens to Celine Dion deserves what he gets."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time, though Whittle was stalked by a cameraman, who whizzed around him like Scorcese on acid. The way Justin sees it, everyone takes a beating some of the time.

Town kicked off, with Newey neweying it up the left. Nothing newey there then. Newcastle broke away and Town trembled more than Shearer's lip. They oozed the ball from left to right and cartooned it towards the near post; Jones the Stick slipped, shinning the ball directly to Shearer, about 10 yards out. Shearer set himself to blast the ball goalwards, but Jones the Big Stick got up off his sick bed and smothered the danger with his hot water bottle.

A minute later Town got a free kick deep inside their own half. The ball was bazookered forward and after some indistinct head tennis it fell to Kalalalalalalalala on the left. Faced with Babayaro and N'Zogbia, he shivered his timbers and clipped the ball into Cohen, unmarked inside the area about 16 yards out, who scoopled the ball, first time, against a defender. Chance on, shot on, nothing to report. A moment lost in the night.

Off they jolly well broke from Town's moment. Suddenly Chopra released Shearer, unmarked on the left edge of the Town area. Newey ran back in to the centre rather than challenge, and Shearer cracked the ball towards the near post. Newey stretched and volleyed the ball away from the onrushing Solano, a fruit-flavoured ice cream if ever there was one.

Settle back, the game is drifting along becalmed, just flotsam bobbing on top, the gulls pecking the surface in search of food. They're starving to death. A cross here, a throw-in there. Newcastle just retained possession, playing little triangles up the pitch - and there was the difference: Town played triangles to get it to the full-backs, who then wellied it forward. They did it everywhere.

Reddy… no. Taylor steered the ball back to Given.

Reddy… no. Andrew curled the ball down the left flank and Reddy raced away. Swiped away by Bramble, suckered into a foul by Babayaro, another nearly moment of almostness to think about… but forget.

Reddy… no. Taylor eased the riverdancer away as he chased a long ball down the left.

Kalala… no. Town trumpets fading into the background as Newcastle just held a line on the edge of the area, waiting for the inevitable error. Babayaro did thehippy hippy shake on Cohen, the ball zooming out for a goal kick. The crowd had long since settled in to comfortable middle age, waiting for the commercial break so they could have another tea and a slice. It was dull.

On the hour Parker sneaked the ball away from a Town player and drove his jeep down the middle. The audience parted and he tickled a pass for Shearer, who was leaning on Whittle's lamppost. Shearer leaned; Whittle learned of this plot and interceded, brilliantly rolling around the former footballer and swiping clear. Oh look, another firework, this time nearly landing on Mildenhall.

Are you bored, Mr Mildenhall? A Newcastle corner to the near post was rabbit-punched to McDermott on the six-yard line. This must be really yawnsome on TV. At least we had the atmosphere.

Eh up, they've woken up: one, two, buckle Macca's shoe. N'Zobia and Babayaro, no longer strangers on our right, played a swift exchange of glances. N'Zogbia was free and curled a cross low through the six-yard box, just in front of Chopra. Is this what fishing is like? Hours of tranquility punctuated by seconds of pumping action?

Jones the Lump. You remember him, don't you? Reddy flicked on a throw-in on the right and the Lump, at the near post, briefly had visions of glory. The ball rolled off his thigh and… out for a goal kick. That, sirs, was a highlight.

Slowly, slowly, Town started to get closer to Given. Bolland crossed, the ball was cleared, Kalala clipped in a flat zoomer from the right and Andrew, near the edge of the penalty area, snickered a header goalwards. Given was forced to touch the ball. He's touched it! It's only taken 67 minutes. The sheer indignity and effrontery of such things! It only served to wake them up again. They raided and roamed freely down their left and centre, pulling Town aside, creating space for Peter Rabbit to bound up the wing into a huge space. Shearer tapped the ball behind Newey and the full-back pingponged a forehand smash over the net. Oh no, a net cord, Mildenhall palmed it over.

With 20 minutes left Town made changes: Gritton replaced the Lump and Parkinson swapped with Andrew, who had defended superbly. At last - two strikers! Maybe Town will attack. Within two seconds of arriving, Gritton had placed a beautiful flick into the path of the Kamu-chameleon. Town threatened, the crowd roared, but Parky fell over. A minute later Mildenhall whacked the ball downfield and Bramble was overcome by fumes. Reddy sneakled behind, stretched and tried to chip-volley the ball over Given from the edge of the area. He succeeded in failing, the ball ballooning way wide, way too high. Still, it's a thought.

Oh, I forgot - Newcastle made a couple of changes too, bringing on Clark and Martin Bri-TTAIN. Got that? Bri-TTAIN, not Gritton: Bri-TTAIN.

Hey, this is getting interesting: Town attacking, the pressure tightening upon the complacent Toon's necks. Newey belted a free kick from inside the Town half deep, deep into their area. Given stayed on his line and Gritton flicked the ball out to the unmarked Cohen, on the right. He looked up and dinked a cross to the far post. Jones rose with half the Newcastle team, the ball was skidded away and Peter Rabbit stayed down, clutching his head. With Town in possession play was halted. After a tub of lard was rubbed into Peter Rabbit's head, play resumed with an old-fashioned competitive drop-ball.

Five minutes later Chopra fell, clutching his head. After another long delay there was another drop-ball: this time Bolland was ordered to knock it back to Given. Being a polite chap, he obliged. Town's momentum was halted, a fortunate side-effect of all this Tyne head-clutching.

With ten minutes left Newcastle built slowly from their defence. A throw-in on their left, the ball stroked across the back four, Town dozing, the crowd silently contemplating extra time. Rabbit tapped the ball infield to Shearer, who played it to Brittain on the wing. Newey and Parkinson surrounded the tiny tot, but he finagled the ball through. Bolland slipped and Chopra infiltrated the left of the Town area. Whittle was forced across and Shearer simply filled that empty space. Chopra dragged the ball back perfectly and Shearer smackerooned a shot into the bottom left corner from about 15 yards out. Gawd bless you, Mary Poppins!

The last ten minutes were a series of Town free kicks, every minute on the minute. You could set your watch by them. Newcastle were a bit dim, for that simply allowed us to belt the ball up in the air towards Jones the Supreme Stick. Underneath the Police Box, Whittle was swiped away from the ball like a credit card at Woolies. Newey chipped the ball in around the far post area. Given half came out, Jones challenged, the ball bumbled about incoherently and Bolland swept across like a debutante. He chested the ball down, turned and clattered it against Given's shins. Corner! Newey clipped it past the penalty spot; Jones rose and glanced the ball a few inches wide of the far post.

Gritton was felled; a Town free kick was pumped high, pumped long. Jones fighting, the ball not falling for Town, Newcastle panicking the ball away.

Gritton felled again, the ball boomed high, boomed long, Jones fighting, the ball bouncing down. For a fraction of a second, the goal seemed to invite glory. Jones, beyond the penalty spot, swung his left foot and dragged the ball several years wide.

A couple of minutes left, another free kick. Launched on the latest Chinese rocket, Jones waiting for re-entry at the far post. The ball arrived and Jones strained and skimmed a glancing header wide from about eight yards out. If only we'd tried attacking earlier: they don't like it up 'em at all. Cohen was released in the centre, dribbling past two, the ball squishing out to Parkinson, 25 yards out: a mis-control. That's it. No more; the end. Three minutes of added time were taken up entirely by cute time-wasting in the corners. It really did end with a whimper.

As the players went off there was a bit of scufflage. Was Shearer vain or were we blind? Don't you hate people when they're not polite.

Town defended well but barely attacked, just like any other home game. Newcastle looked decidedly shaky whenever the old-fashioned hump was deployed. It's such a shame that Town's ambitions were so limited: to avoid embarrassment and see what happens.

Newcastle passed purringly well when we let them, but didn't really create much. Orient and Wycombe were far more troubling. The difference was what it always is: rich big teams can afford strikers who fail less than Michael Reddy. There it is in a nutshell: the cream of the crop, tip of the top - it's Mary Poppins, and there we stop.

Nicko's man of the match
Defensively Town were superb, considering. Newey was not turned into the mushy pea left-back he usually is; Whittle was the Rock; but once again, the glue, the mortar, the leader of the pack was Mr Rob Jones the Stick. No messin'.

Rob's rant of the day
Forgetting the argument over club colours, the dredging up of an old favourite takes the chanting biscuit. First hurled towards Warren Barton in 1990, Peter Rabbit was the subject of a short rendition of "Does your mother cut your hair?". Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Official warning
Ah yes, the admirable Mr Mark Halsey was perfect. The Mysterious Affair at Whittle's Elbow: that's a novella he read on Doncaster station. Surely he gets extra marks for watching Shearer's lip crumble and quiver. Oh yes. A magnificent 11.87 for giving the nation what it wants.