Nothing will come of nothing: Lincoln (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

16 December 2006

Christmas is a time for visiting distant relatives, no matter how uncouth and brash. OK, let's get in the car and get this done: just don't mention their Uncle Keith running off with that tart from Peterborough.

Lincoln City 2 Grimsby Town 0

We need to laugh when the sun is out; will we have something we can blab about? A bright and beautiful day, with fifteen hundred creatures great and small packed into the end of the Sincil Bank stand. One goalmouth bathed in glorious sunlight, the other dank and dreary with glistenings of ice atop and shifting sands beneath: a typical winter's tale of beauty and the beast.

Town lined up in the regulation 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Croft, Lump, Whittle, Newey, Bore, Ravenhill, Pulis, Hegggarty, Rankin, Paterson. The substitutes were Murray, Harkins, Boshell, North and Reddy, a Dapper Dan man. Cross your fingers: Lumpy's at the heart of the defence of the realm. Which Bore will turn up today - Little Peter Pumpkinhead or the Great Humber Bore?

Lincoln played their jokers early on - Gritton and Forrester up front and making it personal. We can all laugh at Martin Gritton, but Forrester's another kettle of prematurely rejected fish. He's the one that got away; our nets were too big at the time.

Ah, yet more jokers - Mighty Mariner in Exorcist mode, finally having found the happiness he seeks, out together with his Imp foe dancing cheek to cheek.

Enough of this Lincolnshire love-in: let's get to work.

First half
Lincoln kicked off towards the smaller of their stands with even fewer of their supporters in. That's towards the fens and farms of the Deep South, where the rednecks and fraudsters lurk behind every beetroot and barn. Oh look, a throw-in. Sigh, yawn, grimace and other gestures of disdain and boredom emerged from our little corner.

Town were ambling the cobbled streets like goggle-eyed tourists. Oh look, that's quaint - a thatched centre-forward! And there, a 16th-century timber-framed full-back! Within a minute Lincoln had got a free kick 20 yards out on their left. Just what they wanted: a set piece to chuck into Town's concrete mixer. Curled and whirled low through a zillion boots. Barnes stooped and scooped the ball off the mud on the edge of his six-yard box.

Lincoln fizzed into tackles while Town strolled. What passing? What movement? The ball always arrived at Newey's feet… and so our world ends. Newey either passed slowly to Hegggggarty, stood facing Uncle Tom on the touchline with two defenders harassing his ankles, or hoofed a hoik down the touchline. Hoof and hopeless; awful, embarrassing, tedious and just plain ungrimsby. Haul him before the House Committee.

A dink over the top, the ball slowing as it approached the penalty area. Barnes raced out, stooped and softly headed the ball to Forrester, 25 yards out on their centre-right. Barnes was stranded in no man's land, unable to turn without his ice skates, while Forrester collected a few green shield stamps, selected a child's scooter with an amusing horn and curled the ball goalwards, but only against Jones's chest. Town scrambled the ball into an omelette before hoiking it into a soufflé. Diddling, daddling, paddling upstream without a canoe, Town were a shambles.

Roll forward 30 seconds… back came Lincoln with a tip and tap down their right. Newey, Newey, where art thou, Newey? Eaden free and crossing unhindered by humanity from the bye-line, low into the middle of the six-yard box. A Town shin swung and the ball flew out of the area and back to Kerr, or Frecklington, or any one of their little scurriers. A shot was blocked by Whittle and a throw-in resulted. It was hurled long. Town scrabbled for scraps, unable to retain possession; in fact just plain unable.

Five minutes and Town had strung two hoofs together. Hang on… no… Old Mother Riley has started to whistle his happy tune. Rankin rolled Brown and was free, but hope was killed by Riley's thrill of the shrill: a free kick to Lincoln.

We're playing like a Rodger team.

Lincoln this, Lincoln that, Town just patsies. Where are we going? What are we doing? Nothing. Are our methods unsound? I don't see any method at all. A one-man team, Whittle frantically soldering the rusty bits of iron strewn around him into the shape of a garden gate. Lincoln flowed forward, drowning Town in adequacy. My, this is dull.

Ravenhill slain, hobbling and hollerin' as he hopped towards Dave Moore. Firm in tackle, fruity in follow-through, Lincoln were treating this as a football match they wanted to win, not a necessary social engagement to be endured for as short a time as possible. Fix that rictus smile upon your face.

As the minutes ticked on the game's life ebbed away. Town at least managed to bore Lincoln into a catatonic state, creating the illusion of equality. Paterson chased a long thing of nothingness down the right and charged down the centre-back's clearance; the ball rebounded into the penalty area and Rankin spun free. He took a touch and, from eight yards out wide of goal, clipped a low shot against Marriott. That's Town's chance, 'created' from a block and bobble. It took a quarter of an hour to get into their penalty area, and then by mistake. Let's go back there again sometime, say in another 15 minutes?

Fill this bit with images of corners and throw-ins, of little men in striped shirts scuttling and hustling. Men in white trudged wearily after them. Hail Hegggarty for a heroic hunt of two skippy Impies, saving the day with a head back to Barnes. After 26 minutes Lincoln finally had a shot worth remembering. A corner was cleared twice and thrice to Kerr, 25 yards out in the centre. He waited and looped a volley over the advancing peace corps and Barnes stood still, watching and waiting as the ball dipped and clipped just past his right post.

More pressure, more corners, and one of their big blokes from the back headed over from eight yards out. He was unmarked, unmolested and untroubled. Town were just not marking when the ball was crossed in from their right. Bore got an ear-bashing for standing still. I'd forgotten he was on the pitch.

On the half-hour something incredible happened: Town made four passes - to each other. Jones carefully cleared from a corner, passing to Hegggarty, who raced forward; passes were exchanged with Paterson, and finally Newey, who was slobbered to the ground. Paterson received the ball on the edge of the area, swivelled and swerved past his marker. As Brown turned Paterson knocked the ball outside and fell flat. No penalty, no booking for diving; play just continued with Newey writhing in agony. What kind of decision was that? It must have been one thing or the other.

A couple of minutes later Town again nearly did something worth mentioning to passing pathologists. Hegggarty broke down the left and curled a through ball behind the defence towards Rankin on the edge of the area. At the last moment the ball curled and Brown's outstretched boot just managed to slither it away for a corner. We never score from a corner. This one was cleared to Pulis, who hit a volley from 25 yards which spun towards the top corner, but, well, it was near enough to justify an "ooh" from the desperate and the dreary. Or was this the corner where Hegggarty swung it to the near post and Whittle raced across with an acrobatic flying twisting volley and… landed on his backside?

Town did nothing else.

Whittle, Whittle, jet-propelled Whittle, that's all you need to know.

With a couple of minutes to go to half time Lincoln started an attack in the centre of the pitch with a rolled pass and a couple of one-twos. Eaden raced down their right and the ball was played into a big, big gap between him and Newey. Uncle Tom went forward, stopped, then sprinted towards the ball, just missing it as Eaden tickled it forward. Eaden crossed low to the near post where Forrester stretched and Whittle smacked the ball away into the empty stand. Whittle just got up and stood inside the six-yard box as others claimed a goal kick. Frecklington clipped the corner in a flat trajectory towards the far post. Two Lincolnites waited and rose, unmolested, about eight yards out. One of them headed it back across goal, where Forrester spun and swung the ball in from a couple of yards out. Hardly a surprise that they scored, that he scored, that we had conceded from a corner.

From the restart Town's apple crumbled again. Actually, more like rhubarb than apple, I'd say. Forrester chased a punt down Lincoln's right and was one against one with the Lump. Forrester trickled the ball past Jones, who, just outside the penalty box, let Forrester collide with his dangling limbs. Nicholson belted the free kick over and around the wall, but straight at Barnes, who tipped it over for a corner. They took it from their right and had a free header again. The ball dropped eight yards out; bodies and boots flailed and the ball stabbed goalwards. Barnes dived to his left and parried, and someone belted the ball away as it bombled near the goal line. And then the half ended, just like that.

Just rubbish. No passing, no movement, and nothing to be happy about. Town were sitting back waiting for Lincoln to attack. Whenever the ball was played forward Town players stood away from their foes.

It felt like October again.

Second half
Town kicked off the second half by passing the ball to Newey, who chipped it upfield and out of play. Sigh, yawn, grimace and other gestures of disdain and boredom emerged from our little corner.

There were men on the pitch and a ball too. What can I tell you about the next seven minutes apart from that? Err, nothing.

Town did something, involving Paterson and Hegggarty and possibly Ravenhill. Was Croft involved? Have I forgotten about Rankin? Have you? Well, Hegggarty was released by Paterson, zoomed through on the centre-left and, from the edge of the area, flibbled a shot over and over and over the crossbar.

They never reached such heights of competence again.

Sure, sure kid, there was a period of Town pressure, and we're in it now, but what do you want to know? A cross headed clear by Morgan, a free kick caught by Marriott? A tackle by one of them somewhere not dangerous on Paterson? The stuff of nonsense. Poor Peter Bore, exposed on the right, patrolling a damp patch of Lincoln underneath the increasingly seething mass of Marinerdom. Please someone, run over the rabbit. He was everywhere the ball had been, and finally, finally, he miscontrolled a pass and the ball rolled out of play. He shrivelled as his fickle public turned and just looked like a frightened schoolboy.

While Bore disintegrated before our very eyes, Lincoln pounced on Town slackness on the left. Just don't ask where Tom Newey was, for science has no answer, despite using a powerful electron microscope. Frecklington bounded into a huge vacant mass of mud on their centre-right, skipping gaily into the penalty area. He pulled back his right boot and thwacked the ball goalwards. As if by magic the gatekeeper appeared: Justin Whittle magnificently dodging the divots and diving horizontally to block the goal-bound effort.

Bore was taken off and replaced by Harkins. The corner flew in, flicked off a red head at the near post and arced slowly across the face of goal. Forrester stumbled forward at the far post and Croft steered the ball away from the goal line.

When all this dust settled Town had re-jigged, with Harkins at centre-back, Jones at centre-forward and Rankin on the right wing. Still Town banged the ball forward, ignoring the earth upon which we tread.

Five minutes later, after a series of fascinating headers down the left touchline, Hegggarty was replaced by Luton's Michael O'Reddy. Town thus had four strikers on the pitch. Reddy and Jones were down the centre with Paterson and Rankin on the wings. Lincoln were forced back with this new offensive Town, ceding territory, but without any scares inside their area. It was better for Town, but not much better in terms of style or outcome. It just made things less worse.

And then Jones got sent off. A throw-in down the left, on the other side of the pitch from the Town support, was hurled forward by Newey. Jones and Brown jumped and Reddy challenged for the flick-on. Brown stepped aside holding his face and Old Mother Riley flapped out the red card in an instant. There didn't seem to be much reaction from crowd or players during the challenge, but what do we know. We clearly weren't on the same planet as the referee anyway.

A minute later Rankin challenged for a loose ball on the edge of the Lincoln area and there was a bit of shove-ha'penny on the village green with Kerr. Rankin was immediately substituted for Boshell and Town moved to a 3-4-2 formation. Newey was flanked by Whittle and Croft at the back, with Boshell on the right, Pulis the left and Ravenhill and Harkins in the centre. You can tell who the magnificent two were, can't you.

Town had attacks, of sorts. Little breaks, with Paterson and Reddy roaming almost freely. Paterson shimmied clear, attracting two defenders but instead of going on into the penalty area he winked a pass to Reddy on the centre-left. Reddy swerved and swayed; the ball carried on in a straight line and the defender simply duveted the ball out for a goal kick. Reddy is fit enough to run, but not fit enough to be Michael Reddy, yet.

With less than 20 minutes left Lincoln got a throw-in on their right, about 15 yards out. Boring! Yet another long throw hurled towards Gritton. Newey stood back and allowed the formerly bearded flopster to flick a header on into a huge vacant space on the edge of the six-yard box. Frecklington burst forward; Harkins hesitated and watched as the small Lincolnshire village chested the ball down and lashed it into the top left corner while Barnes stooped and asked Miss to go to the toilet. Might as well go home now.

Go on, go home, there's nothing for you here. Move along. We have Christmas shoppers sat in coffee shops to protect from you ruffians. And you, yes you, don't pull faces. It's rude. I just have one question. Would you say this game was egregious?

Other things happened, not much though. They didn't score any more because of Justin Whittle and, in the final minute of added time, Croft. Usual thing, corner from their right, free header and Croft hacked it clear. Sigh, yawn, grimace and other gestures of disdain and boredom continued to emerge from our little corner right up to full time. About time too, Old Mother Riley; we can go home now.

It was a complete waste of time. It was the sort of game you'd enjoy if you like watching The World's Strongest Man. Not one for the sleuths and swingers, and certainly the antithesis of Buckley's Town Mark III. It tells us what we know already: that we have 11 players in the squad capable of beating anyone, but beyond that our cloak is a bit of a joke. Without Fenton we were feeble. Town wore white shorts and white socks and ran out with a white flag. Apart from Justin Whittle there was nothing to remember.

Let's end on a Steve McLaren style positive note: we only turned up to make our country cousins happy. On that basis, we succeeded brilliantly. They couldn't be happier.

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
Croft was OK but O Captain! Our Captain! Justin Whittle. Justin Whittle. Justin Whittle. Justin Whittle. Justin Whittle. Justin Whittle. Justin Whittle. Justin Whittle. It's Justin Whittle. Last season he played for Town and he may have once played for 'Ull, but now he's a reached the acme: he's a Town Player.

Official Warning
"Whistle while you work, Mike Riley is a twerp, he's half barmy, so's his linesman, Mike Riley is a twerp." To blame him for Town's appalling sloth is to reach for the great fig leaf in the sky. It wasn't the big decisions that gnawed away at the innards: it was the accumulation of little things that gnarled. He spent a minute making Town take free kicks from exactly the right spot, but he'd allow Lincoln to take them anyway, anywhere, anyhow they chose. Town players were booked when Lincoln's were spoken to.

The Paterson 'penalty' and Lumpy red card are sideshows, Bob. It was his refusal to let play flow that really grated our cheese. And probably kept the score down. A little bit too indulgent of the home team, but not so obvious as to be obvious, especially to the winners. Obviously he's going to get 6.187. There are a lot worse out there.

The Others
This Lincoln are another variation on a theme. Not long ball hoofers, but vigorous and direct with some passing thrown in. They still love their throw-ins and corners and that's how they scored. They ran around a lot and will no doubt be pleased they stopped Town playing football. All fine and dandy, but how can you stop something that never started?

They were several stratospheres closer to being a football team than hobbling Town, but that says much about how dreadful Town were. Lincoln looked highly vulnerable in defence and on a flat pitch, with a set of opponents who can occasionally pass the ball to each other, they are likely to get a few roastings and toastings. We've seen better Lincolns and it may be possible that some of them have seen worse Towns. Lincoln have play-offs tattooed across their forehead but they have League Two as part of their official name. They are stuck in limbo: for them it is forever autumn.