(Just like) starting over: Walsall (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

9 September 2006

Welcome to Blundell Park: the boos capital of Britain.

Grimsby Town 2 Walsall 1

Never in the field of football conflict has so little been expected of so few. Three thousand turned up for duty in their summer uniforms: when the sun is out you can tell who's bought their shirt from TK Maxx, for too much shiny satin blinds a man.

This week's Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Croft, Fenton, McIntosh, Newey, Toner, Bolland, Rrrrrrrrrrrricky Rrrrravenhill, Beagrie, Jones, Rankin. The substitutes were Boshell, McDermott, Whittle, Bore, and Taylor. Rrrrricky is a Boshell/Bolland-alike. Have we blown our transfer budget on cloning Bolland? Has the experiment been a success? Well, Rodger's finally got his man, so does this mean the season starts here? It's obvious where everyone played, so I won't insult you by telling you where everyone stood; I'll insult you in a different way, a little later.

Town ditched the girly white socks for manly black, with no frills and spills down the back, looking less fey than usual and more like professional athletes.

Town really should change the music they run out to. Has no-one thought to raid the back catalogue of Long John Baldry? It's three o'clock on a Saturday: let the heartaches begin.

First half
Before they kicked off towards the Osmond stand Walsall had a little bit of male bonding with a big group hug and a little sniffle. That's all they did for ages.

Town dominated with aggressive agitation and a little bit of football on the side. Ricky the Hitman got stuck into everything that moved and Rankin whirled his dervish.

Walsall were pulled to their right and stretched up the middle as Jones flicked, Ravenhill tricked and Rankin gave us a twirl, Anthea. Rankin rolled like a mop, flopped around his markers, crawled between the centre-back's legs and thrashed a shot straight at Ince. Offside given, but let's ignore that and savour some soccerball excitement. Go Grimsby dudes!

Town were encamped in front of the Pontoon, winning every tackle, pinching every Walsall armpit as it passed. Their centre-backs were forced to nod out for throws, slice out for corners, and pray that Ince was in one of his good moods. Ince was huge, confident and wearing a short-sleeved shirt. I thought his shorts were too tight, but there you go.

And there they go, which is nice for them. Walsall crossed the halfway line after throwing Croft to the ground. Sam was trickled free down their left touchline and a Town attack was suddenly not. Please don't look to your right side Hector. He did. Down the mean streets of Cleethorpes these men must flow. Neither tarnished nor afraid, Fangueiro and Wright were alone inside the penalty area. When I say alone I mean Tom Newey was near. Beagrie? Within these walls, somewhere. The ball bounded through the area and across the face of the goal with Barnes doing his Pacman impression again. Newey pursued, Wright hooked the ball back from the bye-line and Butler, unobtrusively perusing the postcards and novelty hats, tapped it into a completely empty net from six yards out. One tentative step towards goal and they scored. Don't shout too loud or there'll be an avalanche.

That's it, isn't it. We may as well go home now. We're doomed, doomed, I tell yer. It's Barnes' fault, it's Newey's fault, it's Beagrie's fault, it's Rodger's fault, it's all the fault of Louis XIV of France. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was rubbish. He should never have signed it; he should have signed Pouton. Booo, sort it Louises.

Well, not quite. The crowd didn't rise in tumult, just shrugged and tutted, for Town had played well for those first nine minutes. The best opening nine minutes of a game so far this season. We love Town more than any pig, and that's saying summat.

Town flew back into Walsall's face. Rankin was a one-man band, nobody knows nor understands. Was there anybody out there wanna lend him a hand? Oh yes, ten team-mates. Town turned Walsall's mattress continually with ropey Roper a nodding donkey giving away throw-ins. Newey hurled long from underneath the Police Box; Mac2 flicked on; Ince wandered and the Pontoon wondered as Rankin flew high and acrobatically hooked a bicycle kick goalwards. The ball struck Roper's temple and squinched an inch past the angle of post and bar. Beagrie curled the corner high to the far post, where Mac2 rose imperiously and headed back across goal, with Walsall panicking the ball clear off several shins. Rankin again, turning, gurning and earning applause as one of the midland midfielders charge down his shot.

There's passing, there's movement, and it's all from Town.

Town roared forward: Walsall were shivering in the sun; the Pontoon in voice, backing with a chorus of approval. Sometimes even the bad times are good. Another corner to Town and Mac2, again, rose at the far post and thundered a header back into the centre. Ince clambered above Rankin and parry-punched clear as his team-mates hobbled and bobbled. The pressure incessant, Walsall creaked like an old wardrobe door. Get the three-in-one out, Dickie Dosh!

Ah yes, Rankin again, swivvering past his marker on the left, juggernauting his way in to the area, unimpeded. He hit the bye-line, looked up and saw Toner at the far post but the cross curled out with his right boot, just too far in front of the careering Cairan. Toner retrieved and rolled the ball back to Croft, who clipped a swinging cross first time to the centre edge of the penalty area. Rankin stumbled back and steered a hooking volley a few inches over the bar as Ince stretched and strained beneath the big dipper.

Look at the scoreboard - it's working! Just 17 minutes gone and Town have already done more than in the previous seven games.

Oooh dear. Walsall decided to revisit the scene of grime with a little lump over the top. Mac strode back and delicately noodled the ball back to Barnes. Sam nipped in between these two tourists and there was a sharp intake of breath from three quarters of the empty seats. Barnes plunged, Sam fell and Barnes emerged with the ball. Phew, just a corner to the morose midland daytrippers.

There then followed five minutes of mundane itchy and scratchy football, which was a cue for the Purple People Hater to erupt in bongo fury - his opaque melodies just bugged most people. We're laughing at you, not with you.

Just before the half hour Purple Man turned pink, as Rankin ruled the waves. Town passing, from left to right, Rankin raving and drooling on the left edge of their penalty area, then suddenly becoming a Tasmanian Devil, spinning-topping his way through two challenges. Ince raced out towards Rankin, who took two touches before trying to place the ball through Ince's outstretched arms from about eight yards out. The big man parried aside and Town maintained a thumb upon Walsall's throbbing veins. Jones dredged up memories of Lumpaldinho to drift and drain on the right before smershing a shot with the outside of his right boot towards the near post. Ince clasped the lover to his chest; his defence had a whip round and bought him a card to say thank you.

I haven't mentioned Carlos Fangueiro for a while. There's no need to, except it rolls off the tongue even better than he rolled on the floor after being tackled. Keates hit a free kick into Barnes' stomach. I wasn't worried. Were you?

Marvellous Mariners marauding, with Jones grazing for Rankin to milk the moments. Corner after corner, the pressure rising, with just Ince between Town and happiness. Beagrie curled yet another corner from the right to the far post; Fenton soared and dunked a header goalwards. A little Walsallian chested the ball off the line and after a scramblette, danger was temporarily quelled. Newey, on the halfway line under the Frozen Beer Thing Stand, wellied the ball back into the area. Mac2 waited on the left corner and bumped a firm header down towards goal. A bundle of bodies collided, Jones falling, the ball carrying on with defenders swishing and mishing. Fenton fell over a lunge and the ball rolled straight into the path of Bolland, who swept it in on an ebb tide of relief. A weight fell from his shoulders: a man released from inner turmoil, a crowd released from outer space.

Walsall got into Town's half again for a few seconds, but the force was with the dark side. A long ball over the top drifted upon the swirl. Ropey stumbled and Rankin bumbled forward, free, alone, inside the penalty area with just Ince between him and happiness. Rankin hesitated, drifted right and Ince picked the ball off his toes near the penalty spot.

It's exhausting watching the Town glacier crush this grape.

There were more Mariners moments: a Jones shot, a Beagrie cross, a corner, a free kick; the ball bob-bob-bobbing along in front of the Pontoon like a good old singalong. What a half: Rankin alone could have scored five, and should have scored two. This was enjoyable; this was what we were promised a month ago. Ravenhill and Bolland were impassable in the centre and the centre-backs were perfectly fine behind them, which meant we only had a couple of Barnes moments. The top and the tail was Isaiah Rankin's clockwork orange. Somebody had wound him up to the max, for he never, ever stopped moving. He'd be useless at those training ground games of musical statues.

It wasn't perfect, but it was perfectly acceptable by any measure. People were actually smiling inside Blundell Park. It's time for the players' half-time Mogadon now.

Second half
Walsall made two changes at half time: exit stage right Pead and Fangueiro with Taylor and Westwood waving at the room from the left. You really did need to know that. Your life is now more complete. Westwood is the Badly Haired Boy of the fourth division, but I don't know whether he's fed his fish yet.

As usual Town started drearily. Walsall started to turn on their right, tune in their walkie-talkies and the strikers dropped off the centre-backs. The Walsall waters were kept at bay for a couple of minutes before the dyke cracked on the Town left. Newey was bamfloozled by a triple Wright stepover, finally succumbing to his mortal fear of doorknobs as the winger winged away. Wright hit the bye-line and scooped a dainty cross to the far post. Butler stormed forward, rode Toner like a pig, and firmly headed the ball a few inches over the bar. The Walsall fans squealed like a pig at that miss, while we squealed in delight. Yee-haw.

A couple of minutes later Fenton, in the centre, waited for a hoofed free kick to drop on the edge of the penalty area and flopped a volley straight at Ince. The game ticked over and a Walsallian was ticked off for clattering Beagrie, who was replaced soon after. On came Bore to a roar for 40 minutes of hot action.

Oh look - Butler's headed the ball over again.

You could say we had a fallow ten minutes: not much to report, no incidents or accidents, just the bump and grind of barrel-scraping professional football. But Town were competing for the ball, standing in roughly the right places and generally doing all those really boring things that have to be done, like the hoovering and occasionally digging out the weeds. There is merit in the necessary mundanity of life, and Ravenhill appears to be the brand new Dyson we need - the baggageless cleaner. He didn't play up to his reputation as the psycho's psycho, although he did shoulder some bloke in the back and fall after a gentle tap on the cheek. Just keeping your hand in, were you, Rrrrricky?

Ah, I wrote a little too soon, didn't I. Town were stretched across the ironing board and steam-cleaned into submission. Sam flashed after Westwood mashed a pass down the left. Whither Tom? Sam crossed, Fox rose and plonked a free header into the upper reaches of the Pontoon. He's no fox in the box. A minute later Dobson looped a pass from the right. The ball swirled and Croft slipped, leaving the less than cunning Fox free on the edge of the area. He dithered and lathered a low shot safely across the face of goal and well, well wide.

Bore hasn't touched the ball yet.

Rankin was still a busy buzzy thing, but this is a fuzzy time in the game. Did he head the ball vaguely near goal, vaguely dangerously? Yes, of course he did. We went "ooh" so he must have. We went "oh" when Mac2 walked off with 25 minutes left to be replaced by Whittle. Whittle was Whittlesque in his Whittleishness: nobody Whittles better than Whittle, and that's a fact. There are fewer Whittles in China than bicycles; now that's a fact too, but not really relevant to the game. Whittle got in the way of them, which is what he's paid to do.

Town were starting to tickle again, probing gently, then ba-doom - the ball would go to Rankin. With about 20 minutes left Rankin twizzled his way through on the centre-left and was one-on-one with Ince for the third time. For the third time Ince won, plunging low, a few yards out, to block Rankin's placed shot. Play continued, Town won a throw-in and Jones sizzled and swerved a low drive from the edge of the area.

Bore still hadn't touched the ball

Rankin, magnificent Rankin, jacked his body through three, maybe four, challenges on the left and hit the bye-line, curling a cross towards the near post which Clayton clutched to his bosom. The force was with us.

Way out on the left, way inside the Town half, Town got a free kick for something or other. "Let Newey take it!" rapped the talking hat. He did, hung high, hung long, dropping and dropping down inside their penalty area on their left, near Bore. Taylor leapt and skirtled the ball high back across the area. Jones took a running jump and, a dozen yards out, powdered the ball down and back towards Bore. Taylor flailed with his right boot, dollying the ball up in the air, on the edge of the six-yard box. Ince threw himself forward at Bored, who rose and bravely nodded the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. Who's crying now?

A-ha, Bore had touched the ball.

Walsall, as one would expect, decided they need to score another goal. But the Town defence held a line on the edge of the penalty area. There were moments when disaster seemed imminent, but Whittle has body parts that poke out at strange and unusual angles. Shall we gloss over the time Fenton was flustered and Wright was touched by his presence, but forgot to appeal for a penalty?

Wright cut infield past Newey and bedraggled a shot inhumanely slowly, utterly wide of the left post. A few minutes later foxy Fox did the same thing on their left before being replaced as Walsall made their last substitution. Yes, yes, yes, it's Ishmel Demontagnac, who likes his football on a Saturday, almost as much as his hair. He can run quickly, but he just acted as a ball boy, retrieving the overhit passes for Barnes to hack away his goal kicks a little more quickly than usual.

The last few minutes were a hectic hubbub of hard-boiled eggs and hard luck Walsall. A Dobson big dipper flew straight into Barnes' hands. A Dobson dribbler slurped into Barnes' midriff. Crosses were crossed, corners were corned, the ball and the Town central defence were getting closer and closer to Barnes. We quivered, we quaked behind Barnes, as the ball ping-ponged along, under and through the penalty box.

There were three minutes of added time.

A corner, half cleared and wellied back in towards goal. A leg stuck out. The ball stuck under a leg, a Town man fell, a red man yelled and another corner followed. Newey was pushed, the ball lodged under his knees and a bit of hacking and thwacking saw the ball curdled away for a corner. Town replaced Rankin with Taylor. The corner cleared, Taylor was given offside on the halfway line and back Walsall came. Launched high and long, the ball fell in the area. Another corner or was it a free kick? Was it then that Barnes came off his line to punch clear? Or was that three seconds later? In, out, in, out, Town did the hokey cokey as a final cross was clipped into the middle. The ball fell into a space and two Redmen blocked the way as another thwacked goalwards. The ball stuck again, ten yards out, and Toner finally swiped clear. Back it came, but up went the whistle to the referee's mouth. We'd won, won well, won deservedly. Was this a swallow we saw before us, or the dove of delight?

And all he did was score, Peter Bore.

Exhausted, exhilarated, the Town players saluted the Town fans who saluted them. We won, they won, you won, we all won. At last. And at last a decent performance throughout against a team, we must remember, that was previously unbeaten. It may be a little acorn, but Rodger's acorn antiques were watchable. There was less wobblage, more solidity, and never a feeling that the opponents would simply run down the middle: now there's something new. First to the left, then back to the right; we got the balance right today.

It's a small step for Town, but a giant step for Townkind.

Hey! Where's Mr Purple now? Nuzzling his holdall?

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
Bolland had by far his best game of the season, especially when he was Ravenhill. You may say they looked pretty good together. However, despite his total inability to shoot, the biggest pricker of the Walsall balloon was Isaiah Rankin, who was just Mr Perpetual Motion throughout the afternoon. He was the human dynamo that kept the home fires burning.

Official Warning
Mr K Woolmer seemed to shrink as the game progressed, as did any respect for his decisions. He avoided anything controversial, such as the Sam and Ravenhill slap and tickle show, and the felling of Mister Rankin inside the area (I'm strangely uninterested in Wright's plunge). He was erratic in allowing advantage, such as when Walsall didn't get any advantage for fouling Rankin. Overall he was just plain irritating in his feebleness, so 4.765, simply because those are the numbers that first came up in his lucky lotto. The bonus ball was 18.

The Others
Walsall were a curious, curate's egg of a team with an imposing keeper with a ring of confidence round his neck and some fast, flirty players on the periphery. They started off looking organised - they ran to the right places in some kind of unison when they disengaged from their huddle - but they were relatively easily flustered by a bit-part team. They looked a little like Town last year, in that that everything flows from the goalkeeper keeping them in the game to allow them to nick something on the break. Their central midfield looked a bit stodgy and their defence easily panicked into hacks and slices. Perhaps we caught them on a bad day.