Gone in 60 seconds: Northampton (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

6 May 2006

Grimsby Town 1 Northampton Town 1

So here it is, this is it.

A grey, hazy afternoon in the home of the happy shoppers, with a full complement of Cobblers down in the Osmond Stand desperate to poop our promotion scoop. The ground was buzzing with frenzied anticipation, or was that just the tannoy?

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Mildenhall, McDermott, Whittle, Jones (Stick), Croft, Cohen, Bolland, Woodhouse, Goodfellow, Lump (Jones) and Mendes. The substitutes were Barwick, Futcher, Kalalalala, Reddy and Parkinson. Cohen started on the right with Mendes up front. Was this to be his hour? Perhaps his greatest contribution to Town's season was that miss. Perhaps his only contribution.

No Glen Downey? How do we expect success without our talisman?

Northampton had a couple of ex-Townites: the joke Jasons, hanging around to provoke the hard of jeering. Crowe was in proto-mullet mode and Lee had taken off his pineapple wiggery.

Dish of the Day: the Greeks and Romans enjoyed a good sausage, which explains many things Is the social liberalism of a nation in inverse proportion to the number of indigenous sausages? There's a thesis waiting to be thesed.

The Town players huddled and cuddled before the kick-off, signifying that this game was important to them. You don't say. If Downey was there, would that make it a Glen Huddle?

Northampton turned up in claret shirts with white sleeves, the rest of their clothing was white. Enough of the acoustic support acts - hit that power chord: let's rock.

First half
Northampton kicked off towards the Osmond stand and the first few seconds were lost underneath the rippling flag. Daylight returned and they'd advanced eight feet; Cohen restored sanity by thwacking the ball out of play.

Town breezed forward, pummelling, pulverising, urging and surging. Please feel free to add in you own alliteration and rhyming couplets. There was a young full-back called Jason, who looked like a shrivelled-up raisin. Darn it, he's trying.

The whole ground was bouncing, with Town bounding along the left. Woodhouse disrobed some shaven-headed claretite and Goodfellow tricked, flicked and flew down the wing. Woodhouse stood in the way and ran off with the ball, despite being offside. Silly boy. The moment was lost.

"Handball!" No, play on. "Foul!" No, play on. Shoot! No, fall over the ball. Junior, Junior, take off those dancing shoes and play the blues. Or at least put your faith in a loud guitar, for we're getting less than what we're looking for. Mendes was everywhere, yet nowhere. At the near post, the far post and all points in between. Cohen slipped a cunning cross to the edge of the six-yard box towards Mendes, who spun and inner-thighed the ball to Harper.

Bolland mugged a dilatory Cobbler; Lumpy flicked, Mendes nicked, and Doig doinked the ball out of Lincolnshire. Town's waves were lapping against the Northampton shoreline as they pulled up their windbreaks and ran off to the car park. Their toes were a little drippy, but their trousers were dry.

Nice for them to visit their own fans. After about ten minutes they suddenly broke down their left; Low swingled past McDermott and a cross was crossed. Whittle stooped to clear once and the Stick windmilled to clear twice. The ball flew upfield and Cohen za-zoomed goalwards, swinging a shot against the last defender's back when Mendes was free to his right.

What was that? What's going on in Oxford? A ripple, a gurgle, an explosion swung around the ground, sweeping Town forward on the crest of this shockwave. Oxford had scored! Bolland strung a Cobbling cat up in the centre circle and Town poured into the Northampton half, barging, barundling, bullying their way through this iron gate. Clattering, shattering, the ball broke and Mendes was suddenly free inside the area, eight yards out. A huge space to the left and right, the goal was demanding some slap and tickle, but Harper stood upright and our soul man clapped the ball at the keeper's chest.

Orient had equalised.

The Northampton fans suddenly found their voice, indulging in a sing-a-long-a-Kassam. Ah, 1998 and all that, you haven't forgotten then. Maybe the Pigeon of Hope would fly down to Oxford; it'd better hurry and avoid the Kestrel of Doom, which is feeling a little bit peckish.

They attacked, we broke; end to end, fast and furious, frantic, frenetic; alliterate to accumulate. They had a tall striker called Lee, who liked to have cream cakes for tea. What a great stop by Sir Stick. Get your hair cut Doig. A foul on Mendes 25 yards out on the right allowed Woodhouse to waddle forward and wimple a free kick to the far post. The ball sailed over the portly, porky Harper and Jones the Lump, five yards wide of goal, couldn't twist his neck through 640 degrees, heading into the Pontoon from virtually on the bye-line. The amp in the Pontoon was turned up another notch.

Crowe kept fouling: he was the corn on the Cobblers.

Tired and emotional, the game rested in a large reclining chair and entered into a period of recuperation, gently fanning itself with a paper doily. A sip of mineral water and an extra-strong minted tackle from Bolland later and we're off again. Crosses galore, corners aplenty, pressure a-cooking, the Cobblers were squeezed like a ripening lemon, but these pips were not popping. Oooh, Woodhouse lacquered a volley from the edge of the area. Harper scrumbled across his line and scooped the ball up at the base of his left post.

After half an hour Croft, who'd been limping for a few minutes, was replaced by Kalala, the new lord of the ring, as Woodhouse retreated to left-back. Kalala tickled and a corner followed. Whittle smershed a volley goalwards after the ball was half cleared, but there was a ping and then a pong and the hope did not last long as a maroon loon swooned.

From the clearance Kalala smuggled himself in front of a Northamptonite, shuffled and brushed a perfect pass through the centre, right to Gary Jones' chest, just inside the area. Two defenders ran into Lumpaldinho, barging him to the floor. A clear penalty... not given. The whole of Town in tumultuous turmoil at another of Taylor's follies.

On and on Town roared forward. Goodfellow disposed of Rowson in the centre, raiding unmolested down the centre-left. With Mendes imploring and Cohen touring the east, Goodfellow bedraggled a shot uninterestingly across the face of goal from about 20 yards. Bolland and Cohen combined on the right. He beat one, he beat two, he crossed but a white sock shinned the ball away. The Lump swished and swirled a ricochet to slice a looping volley goalwards; Harper saved easily.

The pressure was building, building, building. Crowe upended Mendes a few inches outside the penalty area on the Town left. Goodfellow took over free kick wasting duties from Woodhouse and, as the whole of humanity waited at the far post, Goodfellow rolled the ball to the edge of the area. Woodhouse, unmarked, leant back and boomed a shot a couple of feet over the bar.

Shall we have a rest? Time for the half-time tea and crumpet.

Town were rocking. Northampton were not rolling over, but they weren't going full pelt either. Do you see that? That, there. It's a chink of light isn't it? Hey listen lads, we can still do this!

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"If that wasn't a penalty I'm a bag of compost."
"You can insult us but don't diss the Dock Tower."
"I've never seen Jason Crowe try so hard. He's even tackling."
"It's the second Tuesday of every month, except when it isn't."
"He's not here because he's at a church barbecue."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

From the off Northampton pinned Town back, with only some desperate defending from Whittle and Jones the Stick averting an early anticlimax. We could still hope, that curse of football fans. Why do they do it? We do we do it? Why? Simply why?

Gasp, they're free down the left. Rowson was winked away to the bye-line and he sneaked a cheeky cross to the near post. Kirk raised his big toe and poked the ball softly into the side netting as Mildenhall withdrew his hands. Had he touched it yet?

Town hurled themselves forward: corners were clipped, slipped, skipped and dipped. The pressure cooker started to whistle. Kirk dived under no challenge from the Stick and a free kick was awarded. Town cleared; Low sliced beautifully high and wide as Kalala jived and jostled. Town broke and the Town support was up on their feet, a wall of noise, demanding more, more, more and more still. More of what? Anything, but more of it. Get up, stand up, say it loud and say it proud: "C'mon Oxford, c'mon Oxford."

In. Out. In. Out. Keep up the rhythm on the right. More corners, more free kicks, more throw-ins. More of everything with Macca standing in the centre circle raging and whirling his arms, imploring on his team-mates. Kalala dived at a cross, the ball skidded off his head and wide. Whittle hurled himself towards goal and the ball skidded away. Kalala was tapping his baton, the violins were tuned, the big bass drum was booming and the trumpets were blaring. All together now: one, two, three, four, can we have a little more?

Another corner, barely cleared, the Cobbling penalty area stuffed with breadcrumbs. Goodfellow glided out to meet the ball, perhaps 25 yards out in the centre. He controlled the ball - how quaint - and dinked a perfect pass diagonally into the penalty area, behind the advancing left-back. Lord Macca of Dermott sprinted into the gap and chested the ball down and forward. Harper stood at his near post, the big bad wolves descended and, about eight yards out and wide of goal, Macca disappeared under a blanket of maroon. The ball zipped goalwards and careered off Harper and in to the crowd. The corner was curled high the far post and Jones the Stick rose and grazed the ball wide.

Cometh the hour, cometh the substitution of the man for half a season: Goodfellow was replaced by Parkinson to the accompaniment of a simmering boo-fest. We're only interested in one thing Parky. Can you tell a story?

Still Town were in the ascendant with Northampton happy to sit back and soak up the atmosphere. Kalala shot; the ball hit Whittle and bounced and flounced but no-one pounced as it bi-du-dubbled-di-dooed. Sorry, I'm regressing - it must be the tension. Language was slipping away like the minutes. Ticking, tocking, the season flowing down the drain.

"Two-one to the Orient," sang our guests. Reddy was about to enter the fray. Suddenly the Main Stand erupted, the Pontoon exploded and the Smiths/Stones/Findus clapped a few times. A huge and mighty wind blew towards the Osmond, the Town fans leaping and weeping: Oxford had scored again.

Michael Reddy replaced Junior Mendes. The amp was turned up to eleven.

The Cobblers were stoic, Town were heroic, the game was played exclusively within their penalty area. Kalala was magnificent, imperious, the overlord, the commander and generally playing quite well. Lobbing, probing, teasing, tackling, demanding excellence from all fellow stripeys. Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat. We heard the thunder of stampeding rhinos, elephants and tacky ex-tigers as Town ram-raided, bull-whipped and carpet-chewed their way towards Harper Lee. So much pressure, so few chances; we need some help. A quarter of an hour to go, we just need one small thing to go our way for once.

A Town free kick was half cleared, quarter cleared, then an eighth cleared to Woodhouse, who looped the ball back into the centre of the penalty area. Lumpy waited underneath as two defenders demanded money with menaces. Lumpy fell. The referee pointed to the spot. A seismologist in Papua New Guinea recorded a small increase in tectonic plate activity, which he later attributed to the conjunction of extreme joy and immense fear in North East Lincolnshire.

Kalala ran after the ball and hid it under his jumper: no-one else was going to take this. He was the man, the man with a man's courage. The ground fell silent. The Northampton fans waved their arms about as Kalala ran up and brilliantly curled the ball into the right of the goal. Harper plunged to that side but was helpless against such accuracy, such strength, such moral strength. Kalala, Kalala we love you, we only have 14 minutes to save the Earth.

Fourteen minutes, fourteen slow, agonising minutes to survive. We are the yin, Oxford the yang; is the world to be in karmic balance?

The goal energised Town further, demonically challenging for every loose ball, forcing error after Northampton error. They started to kick the ball out of play, to control it out for a Town throw-in. This game was ours. We knew it, they knew it, but those footballing gods were hovering. Reddy frazzled their centre-backs, Parky was perky. Lump played a one-two with the Scouse scamperer, flicking wonderfully infield with his personality. Parkinson drifted infield, beat two defenders and, from a narrow angle, carved a flat shot across Harper, who flew to his left and plucked the ball from the sky, as Reddy lurked at the far post.

Oxford... were down to ten men.

The tension increased, Town's rubber band getting tighter and tighter, twanging and almost snapping. Still Town dominated, going for the second goal, with Reddy a thorn in their side, rolling through challenge after challenge.

With two minutes left Northampton were given a free kick, 20 yards out in the centre, when Whittle challenged Jason Lee. The referee paced out eight increasing steps and the wall was stuck together with a couple of bits of old thread. Mildenhall hid behind the wall, the ball obscured by clouds of doubt. The Stick kept hokey-cokeying between the goal line and the six-yard box. Eventually some Northampton player cracked the shot against the wall. The ball bumbled out and was returned, and two unmarked maroonies missed the ball as it arced back through the area. A goal kick.

One minute left.

Reddy burst through three tackles on a typical rabble-rousing run from inside the Town half. A final defender swiped the ball away as he turned back into the centre, 20 yards out. The crowd rose as the scoreboard showed 90 minutes.

Three minutes of added time. We're up, we're up, we're still up. But we're Town: something terrible is going to happen.

Two minutes left. Northampton kicked the ball out of play and Town strolled, taking things easy. The stewards and police suddenly walked to the edge of the playing area. Just two minutes, that's all, not much to ask for is it? If only the world would stay as it is right now...

Northampton hurtled the ball forward. Their centre-back now playing up front. Hang on, this ain't right: they are now trying! The ball was cleared out for a throw-in, halfway inside the Town half in front of the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus stand. By the way, this was a foul throw: his feet were on the pitch when he hurled it in. Whittle rose and screwed his head, trying to launch it back out of the area. He mistimed his turn and the ball squirmed off his head and arced slowly in a spinning loop towards the corner flag, dipping and dropping, just, for a corner.

If we can fill this last unforgiving minute, ours is the Earth and everything that's in it.

Hunt looked up, steadied himself and curled the ball towards the near post. Dyche sprinted forward, threw himself into the flightpath and glanced the ball down into the centre of the goal. Silence, slow motion, agonising silence as the ball slid past Mildenhall. Woodhouse stretched and levered the ball off the line. A momentary reprieve, anguish turned to ecstasy then descended to despair as the ball went straight to Gilligan, three yards out, who ankled the ball into the top left corner.

A silence beyond description. The hollowing of the collective soul meant three quarters of Blundell Park was the carnival of lost souls, unable to move or speak for several seconds. We sank back into our seats, mentally and physically drained of all life. Hollow eyes peered into the distance as Northampton players and fans joyously celebrated a goal that was meaningless to their season. Their revenge is a dish served over eight years in a deep freezer.

Orient scored, our game finished. Some children invaded the pitch, the police horses came on and we went home. Need anything else be said?

Back down the slippery snake we go. Temporarily broken, Russ can stoop and build us up with his worn-out tools. Keep calm, brothers, keep calm.

Nicko's man of the match
Bolland was omnipresent, a constant whirl of motion, and the Stick was impassable as ever, but, despite only being on the pitch for an hour, one man stood head and bead above all others: Jean-Paul Kamudimba Kalala, Slade's latest "Frenchman". He passed purringly, he hassled humongously, he dominated the game from the moment he arrived on the pitch. He was the fulcrum of football.

Official warning
Not as awful as usual, but Mr P Taylor did manage to avoid seeing Lumpaldinho being subject to a full body search by the Cobbling border guards. His ever-reducing steps when pacing out free kicks was an irritant and he loses street cred for past offences. The evidence before this court is incontrovertible, there's no need for the jury to retire: 4.876, and you'll have to wait 40 years before the Home Office releases the file to find out why.