Tea and sympathy: Northampton (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

21 November 2006

Gary Croft waved, no-one waved back; the moral of this story is don't a wear a hat.

Grimsby Town 0 Northampton Town 2

Oh what a night, late November 2006 - that's the size of the crowd, right? The zillions returned for the anti-hero's return? Perhaps their memories are too painful to withstand the light of day. No ticker tape welcome, no hollering whoops of delight, just the sound of the bare bones rattling.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, McDermott, Fenton, Whittle, Croft, Boshell, Harkins, Bolland, Hegggarty, Lump, North. The substitutes were Murray, Bore, Ravenhill, Rankin and Toner. Everyone played where you'd expect them to. I won't patronise you this time with allusion and delusions; there'll be plenty of time for that as we meander towards mid-table anonymity.

Gary Cohen, our action man with real hair, wandered around the pitch in a short parka and drain pipe-trousers. I wonder where he parked his Chopper bike? Did he fail his audition for the Double Deckers?

Around 100 purplish people sat in the Osmond stand, being a bit lairy about Town. I said Osmond, not Pontoon; do concentrate. This is a new museum: Buckley's World of Yesterday, where your senses are enchanted by evocative sights, sounds and smells.

Where is he?

First half
He appeared as Town kicked off towards the Osmond and was cheered as Croft lumped the ball toward Lump. He wouldn't have been cheered by that.

Dim-di-diddle-di-dee. Do-doo-doo-do. Shall we play charades? The game as dull as the crowd: sitting, waiting, watching, wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'; planning and dreamin' of something happening. Northampton hassled and hustled, doing unto us as unto them us had done previously. Syntax error overload: eat an apple - brain must keep moving. Stalemate: a doopy, gloopy splodge of hurried whacks from Town and calm stroking from them.

I suppose you'd be interested to know they played with three centre-backs and five in midfield: a pillow placed over Town's head boys. Nothing moved, which concerned Gary Croft greatly: you need some market churn to generate commission. Oh, not that kind of movement.

Isolated moments of almostness on Town's wings. Hegggarty crossing, Boshell raiding with Macca roaming in support. Out of all this activity Town got some corners, which were drabbled to the first defender by Heggggarty and Harkins, a new crime-busting duo exclusive on Mariners World. Down these mean streets a young pro must tread; be neither tarnished nor afraid, little Nick. Did Jason Crowe just call you a mook? He used to fail for Arsenal, you know.

Around the 10-minute mark Northampton started to peel Town's apple. Slowly, methodically, trying to unravel it in one long strand. They got halfway then their knife slipped as Boshell blocked a shot, then nodded a corner away. Hey, Town attacking after three passes! Harkins blocked and Heggggarty socked away as glimmers of Grimsby past shimmered in the distance.

Still Town hoofed it a bit: Barnes drop-kicking, the full-backs thwacking chuntering chips up the bye-line; Jones and North smaller, slower, weaker and just plain unable to cope. It was all a bit Graham Rodger. Oh no, not this, not the ultimate annoyance - Jason Crowe trying hard and scoring. No, not the ultimate annoyance - Crowe swiped a swinging, slicing shot from 24 yards which slowly swung towards the top left corner. Barnes toppled to his left and easily plucked this falling satellite from the sky.

Northampton continued to gently press the Town buttons, searching for a duff connection. Quinn received the ball 30 yards out on their centre-right. He turned and flicked a pass between Fenton and Whittle towards the penalty spot. Barnes crept off his line, Whittle retreated and stretched as McGleish yapped at his ankles. Oh, it's a goal; how strange. Someone poked the ball into the bottom left corner. I suppose it was Whittle, as McGleish seemed too far away. That's a bit of a bummer, isn't it.

The next 29 minutes unfurled almost exclusively within the Cobbling half. After detailed analysis of a bit of string, government scientists proved a Northampton player managed to get inside the Town penalty area: it was nice of them to take away the crisp packet.

Mmm, passing, movement, nice. Town gripped Northampton around the neck and proceeded to stare at them with a vaguely menacing, if slightly camp, expression. Harkins was omnipresent, stopping them and starting us with bulldozer tackles and swiping cross-field passes to release the full-backs. Boshell and Macca were a constant irritant to Northampton. Minutes on end were taken up with intricate patterns weaving across the pitch up to their penalty area and back to the halfway line. Town were pleasing on the eye until North or Lump received the ball inside the penalty area. They really do need to watch some old videos of Tony Rees.

Whittle headed wide from a corner. Whittle headed over from a corner. A Boshell free kick was charged down and from the rebound Fenton smirked a right-footed volley towards the top left corner but some purple boot diverted the ball a foot wide. Heggggarty drifted across through a gaggle of hagglers. Macca flipped a curling cross through the middle of the penalty area after Boshell had riverdanced along the touchline. No Town players near, all too far forward or too far back. No-one filled the void. Town were not fast enough, or clever enough, to unravel the Cobblers' cardigan.

Just after the half-hour North latched on to a deflected block from Harkins, spun and tippled Heggarty through on goal, just inside the penalty area. Heggggggarty had eons of time, oceans of space, but waited too long and Doig threw himself along the ground and blocked the shot with his bottom. Hegggarty retrieved, but was covered in purple as his shot droobled through to Mr Bunn the waiter.

The minds of men in large coats started to drift away, slowly, slowly on the breeze. The memories of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime: someone's tent got burned down on the third day of the Bardney Festival. Man, what a gas. Monty Python, the Beach Boys, Genesis, even Focus. You can't get enough Dutch electric yodelling on a summer's day. Was it obligatory to have Sha Na Na at every festival in the days when the hair was longer than the guitar solos? And then you find 10 minutes have gone behind you.

With a couple of minutes left Whittle walloped a clearance high, high, high downfield. Doig wobbled, Lumpy throbbed forward and the ball dropped inside the penalty area, on the centre-left. Jones rolled around Doig, stumbled and bumbled a draggy shot towards the bottom right corner. Mr Bunn the shaker shook and looked on as the ball rolled goalwards, then Mr Ploppied onto it on the goal line.

There were two minutes of added time as the crowd seeped towards the pie stalls and toilets; stomachs rumbling, mood grumbling. Harkins, on the centre-left, 35 yards out won possession, sneaked infield and tried to roll the ball across the pitch. A purple boot intercepted and the ball squirmed up and back towards McDermott, who slipped. McGleish was free, but was forced wide and danger was averted. Not. Town splayed and everyone zoomed into the six-yard box while Northampton set themselves for one last cross. Crossed it was, and Burnell, unmarked eight yards out in the centre, nodded down firmly, the ball squishing between Barnes's legs. Then the whistle blew and it was all over.

Someone get the kettle on for Big Al's half-time tea talk.

Two goals from two shots. How annoying.

Second half
He's faster than most and he lives on the coast: Peter Bore replaced Hegggggarty. Town moved to a 4-3-3 formation, with North on the left and Bore on the right. Crowe didn't come back, but who cares about him - he was never here in the first place.

A funny thing happened on the way to a first-round exit: Danny North started to look like a footballer. Within a minute he'd rumbled infield from the touchline, wheelbarrowed through three challenges and fallen theatrically 25 yards out to win a free kick. The referee paced out 9¾ ever-receding steps and Harkins' curly-wurly was headed wide by the middlest person in the wall. Another minute and another Great North Run, without any air traffic controllers dressed in pink tutus, or twenty-four yogi bears running for a good cause. Inwards, onwards, past three, then four, the high-speed east coast express bundled towards the area and, 20 yards out, scuffed a dribbling shot to Mr Bunn.

McGleish stooped and headed safely wide from a dozen yards out. They won't be back for ten minutes, so Barnes boiled a couple of eggs. The midland mufflers snuffled Town out in the middle of the pitch, with no time allowed for standing and staring. Bolland's inability to control the ball, or pass it, and Bore's unwillingness to move sent Buckley into apoplexy, and he berated the dawdling dude from just a yard away. Bore was instructed who to mark, when to move, what to do. In short, watching Bore was a chore, for he was poor, poor Peter Bore. He doesn't know Buckley's Law of simple harmonic motion: pass and move; mark or I bark. Bore was shocking.

He's back, searching for the North West Passage between Doig and Dyche, the boy-Danny bazoombled in from the left touchline, dissing three old men in maroon and flailing wildly 25 yards out, sending the ball towards the top left of the Pontoon. That's all there was: North running infield from the left. Nothing else happened.

It wasn't like this in Lawrie Mac's day: we had mud, for starters, not this noncey-poncey grass. Men were men, for they had sideburns, sideboards and sensible family cars. Nowadays they fall over when you look at them and try and pass the ball. And just where does the modern footballer keep his whisky decanter and nutcracker?

Ten minutes later McGleish lathered a bouncing ball across Barnes, who wearily and disdainfully grabbed the spinning jenny as it sliced towards the top left corner. I'm bored with them already - let's cut to the chase. In the remaining half an hour they visited Pheromone Phil a couple of times, even allowing him the opportunity to come and catch the ball, which he did. That's it from them: a few crosses and a dragged, scuffly volley from outer space which went benignly into the advertising boards.

Harkins was replaced by Ravenhill with just under half an hour left. This did not improve things. The Midwich Cuckoos indulged in an extended game of shinball, with Ricky about to control a pass from Boshell three seconds after you read this. Ah, Bolland! Oh, Bolland. An old-style whirly passing movement reached Bolland, who passed a left-footed shot to Bunn. Macca raided - a corner; Bore hit the floor - a free kick. North chased a lost cause into the corner twixt Pontoon and Main Stand - his cross was kneed away from Boshell inside the six-yard box. All moments when people stood up in the vaguest of hopes that Town would shoot.

You know another 15 minutes have passed by without a sound, a murmur or even an expectation of anything. If you see the man with the coat maybe he'll tell us why his tent burned down in 1972: it's bound to be more interesting than this extended training session.

The game plodded on, wasting everyone's time, except the students of Buckleyology. You want a manager with passion? He's literally hopping mad, but waves when requested by the singing ring tree corner. He clearly cared more than anyone else in the ground that Town were so leaden-footed and lumpen in approach. They were fine until the edge of the Northampton penalty area but refrained from shining a light into the darkness for fear of fear itself.

With ten minutes left (my, hasn't the time moved in a mysterious way) a period of Town pressure culminated in a dinky Ravenhill cross from the right. The ball arced slowly towards the far post, where three Town players waited. Jones the Lump was perfectly positioned 10 yards out, but Fenton stumbled backwards, stretched and grazed the ball safely wide.

The animals left the ark two by two to the sound of Sixfielders. Rankin replaced the inert Lump and a couple of minutes later Bolland tackled and bludgeoned his way down the left, crossing dangerously to the near post. No Town player was near, danger merely a theoretical concept.

I don't know why you're still here - nothing is going to happen. It's over: it was over at half time. Town were a malfunctioning old lawnmower without a bucket. The defence looked completely at ease with the opposition, save for two small mistakes from which they had neither the wit nor the speed to recover. For long periods the midfield was competent enough to retain possession but not to create anything. The strikers were just not good enough. North looked a real handful, but produced nothing but a few ooohs for running a bit quickly towards the edge of the penalty area. No other forward player was worthy of mention.

Half the team - Barnes, Whittle, Fenton, McDermott, Croft, Harkins and Boshell - 'get it' at the moment. The residue flap and flop, in desperate need of tutoring. We know the Buckley way depends upon each cog being calibrated to the exact specification: engineering works in progress, temporary buses required.

They'll now realise that each inaction has a consequence. It'll be some players' first opportunity to dodge the teacup.

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
It would have been Harkins if he'd stayed on the pitch. But he didn't. So for all round not appearing-to-be-too-badness, it's Nick Fenton.

Markie's un-man of the match
Paul Bolland: the incapable frown in midfield. It was one of those days when he was reading Janet and John books. Bore was a close second, for he clearly needs focus - two hours listening to Hocus Pocus by Focus will soon have him back on the straight and narrow path to the bye-line.

Official Warning
Mr D Deadman. He's always a bit rubbish. A fiddly, pernickety, which-way-will-he-go type. Pernickety which? Did they play the Bardney Festival too? To him, advantage is a term used in tennis and consistency is something Delia Smith strives for in her custard. No big decisions to make, so no need to belt him too hard with a metaphorical stick. Howzabout 5.231, boysandgirls?

The Others
They did try very hard in the first half, and the second half. They changed formation, they nullified and struck clinically with their only two chances. A professional job done by people paid more than our professionals. Going to Barnet must mean much more to them than us. They had learned their lesson this time.