Done roamin': Wrexham (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

8 August 2006

Wrexham only 3 Grimsby Town barely 0

A bad joke told twice is still not funny

You know, there's good and bad in everyone - and don't we know it after Saturday. Have we a squad of goldfish, or have they read the writing on the wall? Can goldfish read? Is that where we're going wrong?

Two hundred Town fans all in a row, grey and cool on a grey, cool evening. Hey, there's Paul Futcher - better not heckle young Ben, eh? The Racecourse Ground: strong on girders with a new soufflé-stand more impressive on the outside than the inside - so much metal and brickwork for so few seats. What's the point? A question we ask so many times when following Town.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 barn dance formation as follows: Barnes, McDermott, Whittle. Futcher, Rankin, Harkins, Bolland, Beagrie, slim-line Sir Lumpalot and Reddy-to-leave. The substitutes were North, Bore, Toner, Croft and Barwick. Same as Saturday but let's hope not exactly the same, eh. It's a long way to go for a plate of pasta.

Town warmed up with a dilatory, painful trot and imaginary skip over the River Nidd. Oooh, mind out, they'll be wet. Wrexham warmed up with fast-paced one-on-one sessions. Perhaps they'll tire themselves out. There's always a straw to clutch somewhere in a football ground.

A large man walked in front of the Town fans. Let's cut to the chase.

First half
Town chased those red shadows for 45 minutes, that's what. Wrexham kicked off towards the Town fans and within ten seconds it was clear that they had a clear path to goal, if ever they felt like moving. It was like playing chess against a three-year-old: Town dumbfounded by movement, the rickety old queen lured into the middle, her pawns scattered by the Welsh wind, the king exposed.

These cheating Welshies: passing and moving. At pace. Roberts constantly pricking Futcher's skin; Whittle unhinged by Llewellyn; Done dinking between Rankin and Macca; Newey a lone, sleepy lockkeeper as the narrowboats drifted by. And this was the first minute.

It went on, and on, with Town stringing half a pass together, half a tackle, half a clearance. Possession - er, what is that? A book? Hoik! Hoof!

Llewellyn turned and Roberts burned off down the middle, Done crossed and their Jones shinned a volley into the ground and straight at Barnes. No mention of Town defenders there. There weren't any.

Done again - Macca, that is, done again by Done. They had pace, they had space, and Macca was beaten in a race. Rankin and Macca went face to face over who was to blame. The memories of this debacle are like a strawberry swirl: chasing the fruitiness round and round. Their Jones shooting again, free after a raid down their left saw a cross twirled to the right. Town can't clear, no Town player near. Whither the midfield?

Shall I save you the effort? When I say Jones, I mean their Jones. Lumpy did one thing worthwhile all night: a slow-motion double drag-back and pass to Reddy. What a waste of time that was.

Another Wrexy raid repelled by Whittle's wayward shin from inside the six-yard box. Clipped from their left, Evans rose and nodded towards goal. Beagrie, standing next to the left post, sliced a huge oop-'n'-under back to Evans, who'd not moved. He rose again and thundered a header down to exactly the same spot. Barnes casually leaned on the bar, ordered some dry roasted peanuts and, as an afterthought, dropped the ball. Minor panic, major Wrexham excitement. Barnes retrieved as Roberts lurked by the post.

I'll ignore a succession of fast Wrexham attacks and Town flappings. Sorry, Wrexies - to retain sanity I've had to blank out most of the awfulness.

After about quarter on an hour Wrexham got another corner. The pedants among you will churlishly point out the ball wasn't within the designated quadrant. Whatever: the inevitable was about to inevit. The ball was clipped to the far post from Wrexham's left, and Town, probably through Futcher, managed to clear. Clear means 'not in the goal yet'. It went back out to their left and nobody bothered to hunt and shunt. They had all the time in the world to curl the ball back to the far post; Futcher was nudged slightly by Lawrence; and on it sailed. Evans rose, nodded and lofted the ball firmly back, over and across Barnes into the right corner.

Who among you was surprised?

Town managed to get worse. We're still waiting for a pass. We're still waiting to see Harkins and Bolland. Are they still on the bus? Hello Peter Beagrie! Now he was still. Swapping wings with Rankin like a philandering shoesmith, but to no avail; there is no hiding place. Poor old Beagrie - he tried and tried so very hard to get to the ball, but he's, well, old. He's one yard ahead in his head, but three yards behind in his legs. Town surpassed their Boston incompetence, moving way beyond embarrassing. Whittle and Futcher, together only in their electric dreams, certainly not in anyone else's.

Was that a pass? No. Sorry to alarm you. Just a mis-hit clearance which accidentally squirmed through towards Michael Reddy's knee. Some Town player had a loopy header which went vaguely towards goal. It's getting worse. Town are so bad we can't even moan. Words are failing us.

"Are you Chester in disguise?"

I rather think they are. They aren't what we would recognise as a Grimsby team.

"Shall we sing a song for you?"

Yes please - we need cheering up. Anything by the Rubettes, if you can do the high notes.

Good grief! Did you see that? Four, yes, four passes, along the ground. By Town! And a shot too - Rankin flabbelling a yard wide from outside the box after a typical barundling bundle in from the touchline.

Just as we were having fanciful thoughts of football Town brought us back into the present. Repeat first goal, tweak details. Wrexham moved the ball around, tapping it back to the left-back, about 30 yards out. He sauntered forward, consulted Nostradamus and Old Mother Shipton, possibly even Old Mother Riley too, and stroked a curling cross to the edge of the Town penalty area on the centre-left. Futcher and Newey admired the beautiful curvature on the balustrade while Llewellyn took out some stepladders, plonked them between these two day trippers and steered a loopy-droopy header over and around Barnes into the top right corner. Like the first goal, like the header in the first minute of the Boston game. A weakness exposed, a weakness not addressed. Amateur.

Newey curled a free kick low into Ingram's midriff; Ingram missed a bouncing ball as Lump and Reddy stood idly by; Rankin had another effort, of sorts, which disappeared into a foggy goo of memory. It sounds like Town regrouping. It was Wrexham relaxing. They could have gone home to watch the end of Eastenders and Town wouldn't have scored. Actually, I think they did for the last ten minutes of the half.

The dearth of descriptions of Wrexham attacks is not be taken as meaning that Town were their equals, that things didn't happen. The same thing happened time and again, so they all meld into one big blancmange of home attacks and Town panic attacks. Whittle, where are you? Wrexham attacks foundered on Futcher's feet (note, not his head) and Macca leanings. Barnes caught a cross, caught a cross, Barnes caught a cross. Phil "the Glower" was bemused by the wacky races in front of him and the constant cry of "pass it!" from behind. Not once in the first half did he roll the ball out. Not once did any Town player offer him the opportunity: they turned their backs and trotted upfield. Barnes hoofed, 'Big Dennis' Lawrence headed back. The metronome ticked on relentlessly. We hoofed, they headed back. Town's midfield were incapable of getting near the ball. Constant pressure.

And then the rain came. Town ran and hid their heads, they may as well be dead. In this game, they were.

I'd like to go to the toilet now. Please end this fetid farrago of fumbling ineptitude. Ah, that's better. They even have running water. How bad was it? The teams who went down last year never played as badly as this. Are we playing with a handicap? Are we giving everyone a two-goal start? Passing football doesn't mean passing to the opposition. It's taking an awful long time to get Sladeball out of the system. It takes great skill and concentration to be worse than Saturday's first half. Town managed it.

Newey, in particular, seems brainwashed into automatically chipping the ball a long way when he sees Reddy. Having said that, Reddy never controlled the ball when it went to his feet. There is only one answer to the conundrum: we could do with someone being daft enough to buy Reddy. I'll stop now - Town never even started.

Town in a word

Second half
The substitutes warmed up in the teeming rain and, with a minute or two left, Rodger ran out and beckoned Toner and Bore into the dressing room. Toner replaced Beagrie on the left of midfield and Bore replaced Reddy, with Rankin moving to centre-forward. A-ha - the radioactive Bore on.

The second half was completely different. They kicked the other way for a start, and there were the occasional passing sequences from Town. Mainly bypassing midfield, the ball going to straight to Rankin. A couple of minutes in Bore fiddled and widdled and Rankin raided. Toner was free and crossed beyond the far post. Bore drifted away from his marker and... missed the ball as it dropped. In the context of what had gone before, this was magnificent. In reality, it was only what you'd expect any competent professional team to produce a few times during any given match.

Bore tore into Wrexham. Once, twice, fiddling through. But the third time they got wise and posted three men on him, not giving him any time to control the ball. Rankin turned and flapped a dipping volley a yard or so too high. A shot! Macca intercepted; Bore drove forward, beating one, a second defender, into the area, crossing low, and Ingham fingertipped the ball just past the post. Lump waddled, retrieved, crossed and Evans slapped the ball away for a corner. Exciting wing play by Bore.

Sounds good and was, in these isolated moments. Wrexham looked satisfied with their plum pie, settling back to allow the pudding to settle in their ample stomachs. But there wasn't much going on: it was a parity of unequals. Minutes drifted by, like the rain clouds. The sky turned mauve, pink, then purple. We had purple rain to go with our travelling pain.

Harkins was seen, disrobing a Wrexie, then giving the ball back. He did this all through the second half. Good, then bad, almost in the same movement sometimes, tackling the ball back to set them up. But all done at the pace of an arthritic snail, and a dead one at that.

With a quarter of an hour left a Wrexham attack was wrapped in a cotton cloth and placed in the airing cupboard. Newey started to delve inside the dark corners of his own cupboard, taking an age to decide whether to use a mop or a vacuum cleaner. Eventually a homester advanced, charging down his thwack. The ball spun forward a few yards and Harkins won possession, then tackled Bolland. Llewellyn nicked the ball away and started to circumnavigate the globe by the elusive North West Wales Passage. Surfing past Whittle Island, hopping over the Futcher Archipelago, he was free, 20 yards out in the centre. He steadied himself and swiped his left foot towards the ball, but the ball had gone west. Oh, we laughed at this slapstick. Play the piano Grandad. The ball carried on to Done, who took a touch inside McDermott and thwacked a rising shot into the top right corner. Who's laughing now? I know who was crying.

I can only remember one more Wrexham effort. Their left-back, the not so big Spender, collected a clearance and curled a low shot from about 25 yards which crawled a foot wide of the left post. They threatened persistently, with their movement, their pace, their direct running and co-ordinated passing, but Town, defensively, were slightly better. There were still holes, but an individual often did enough to divert danger towards the touchline.

Town had plenty of attacks, mostly involving Bore and Rankin, and latterly a freewheelin' Newey. But Town never, ever looked like scoring, They didn't look like they believed they would score. Most looked like they wanted to go home. Rankin and Bore excepted, of course. Rankin did what he did on Saturday when he went to centre-forward - he roused and ram-raided. Shivering Lawrence aside, rolling past Evans on the left, Rankin smackerooned a curling drive towards the top right corner. Ingham saved spectacularly. Rankin unchained his heart again, bullying his way through the centre, felled in full flow. Newey clobbered the ball against the ankles of the wall.

Rankin implored through the centre again, causing a desperate lunge and a ballooning ricochet. Toner retrieved and someone crossed from way out on the left, the ball sailing rubbishly over everyone. Bore sprinted after the ball, spinning wildly and winning a throw-in. He looked up, took it quickly, releasing Harkins. Another well-timed lunge sent the ball out for a corner. Again Bore looked up and took it quickly after seeing Newey free on the edge of the area. Newey kicked it into the crowd. Grrr, shame.

Still Town attacked, Whittle wasting a free header from a corner with a soft, dinky back-pass to Ingham. Here we go again, another Town corner, sneaking through to the back post, where Bore, at a narrow angle, half-volleyed the ball across the face of goal. A throw-in to Wrexham. Ah well - no harm in trying, lad. Rankin bundled through again after a strong Newey surge, causing mayhem and a series of accidental ricochets. The ball pinged, then ponged, then flew straight to the motionless Ingham. Bore free again at the far post, volleying a yard over.

See, two players keep being mentioned, doing things, causing problems for the opposition. Why are they only let loose when the games are all but lost?

In between all this the dross continued. Barnes, finally, just once, threw the ball out to McDermott. He mostly drop-kicked the ball out of play, or straight onto Lawrence's head. Now that is sensible soccer - aerial bombardment of a 90-foot giant. Bizarrely, it didn't work.

By the end the Wrexham supporters were wanting to see us every week. Ah, that's nice. Appreciated our wit and repartee, did you? A particularly ironic version was on display: "hoof!" whenever a Redster kicked the ball vaguely in the air. In turn we asked them if they'd like to come to Blundell Park. Please do. We'll need your money for our assault on the Conference.

It's over, if you hadn't noticed. Rankin and Bore walked over to applaud the dwindling number of pain fetishists, and we warmly applauded their efforts. The rest? Well, they may have a conscience. Nothing has changed since Saturday, everything is the same, everything went the same, except we didn't fluke a victory through the efforts of one man and one boy. We need more players, we need faster players, we need better players. If that starting XI is the best we have, then John Fenty has one question to answer: where is Forest Green?

Nicko's man of the match
Tempting though it is to award it to myself for surviving this death by mau-mau, Isaiah Rankin never, ever gave up. He deserves some slack, and some support. I almost feel like apologising to him for his team-mates.

Markie's un-man of the match
Sir Gary Jones, young Gary Harkins, Lord Justin Whittle, Mr Michael Reddy: your reputations took one helluva beating.

Official Warning
In these days of knee-jerk neo-conservativism, a liberal counterbalance is to be applauded. Highly reluctant to be tough on the crime, but understanding the causes of crime, Mr D Whitehouse managed to avoid booking anyone until the last few minutes. Even Mad Dog Harkins' madness was soothed by warm words and a smile. We can't blame him, so a creditable 6.001, simply for wearing a colourful shirt and only obstructing play once,

The Others
Wrexham had players with pace, with perception and poise. They played football with purpose. They defended adequately; they attacked at will; they played properly and that was all that was needed to thrash the dead donkeys eeyoring up the seafront. It's hard to tell how good they really are, as Town were just a bunch of rubber pillows. In fact, in the first half, Wrexham didn't even have footballers to compete with. Their goalie is ropey though, like a tall Anthony Williams.