Catching the worms: Lincoln (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

22 September 2007

Who do you think you are kidding Mr Fenty, if you think you have the RSPB on the run?

Lincoln City 1 Grimsby Town 2

A hazy, crazy sunny day in Bomber Command's deepest bunker, down the boulevard of broken dreams, with over 1,000 strangely smiling Mariners, smiling strangely. Forty years after the summer of love it's a Lincolnshire loath-in. Mr Purple's there in the haze, you know; lately things just don't seem the same with him. He's acting funny, don't know why, 'scuse me while I eat my pie.

Town lined up in a 4-5-1 formation in the two-tone blue away kit as follows: Barnes, Spikey Mulligan, Fenton, Whittle, Newey, Till, Bolland, Hunt, Boshell, Toner, Rankin. The substitutes were Monty, The Lump, shoeless Jamie Clarke, Tiny-tot Taylor and the Humber Bore. There were no audible groans from the quivering masses, or perhaps it's the early start. Psychologically we're all still in aisle 8b of B&Q. Do you know where the whitewash is?

They have a pitch and it is green, with grass and no mud. This must confuse the locals no end. Gary Croft received a standing ovation from... the Town fans, perhaps looking for a little discount on those selling fees, eh. He is, after all a Town player, rather than someone, like Forrester, who just played for Town.

The teams are out, they're running about as the air raid siren blared out.

First half
Town kicked off in the usual fashion. Sigh now, or forever hold your peace. The teams, as blurry-eyed and dopey as the spectators, staggered slowly across the turf.

Newey punting, Rankin chasing, the ball said hello, then waved goodbye. Lincoln were just being Lincoln but in a less Lincolny way. What a lovely day, what a lovely view, oh, oh, oh what a lovely bore.

Their dirty and wonderfully rubbish number 26 kept upending our morally superior midfielders for, to him, the ball was simply a theoretical concept. He had yet to catch sight of this beast, even under a microscope with a big pointy arrow pointing at it. Nothing was happening, but it was happening right now. Town were ticking over in neutral, waiting for Dad to come out of the newsagents.

Oh. Toner. He's having one of those days where he's stuck in a bog wearing gumboots and a knotted handkerchief. It's...

Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull game. But remember dull is good sometimes. Lincoln's tactics seemed to consist of wallying the ball above and behind Mulligan for N'Guessan to hobbly-di-hoo. And after ten minutes the mirror cracked. Mulligan messed up an attempted fancy flick and N'Guessan flew away to the bye-line, crossing low and hard into the centre. Forrester lurked, but Newey scraped the ball over the crossbar with his right shin. Boshell cleared the first corner, then the second.

And then we could have another snooze, safe in the knowledge that Nick and Justin, those interior designers at the heart of the defence, were busy stripping Lincoln's wallpaper and clucking at the curtains. Meanwhile Hunt the brickie was steadily erecting a little ha-ha in the front garden. It's like happy families, isn't it. Can someone tell the plumber to fix the heating before it gets cold?

Town were retaining possession, pushing the ball left and right, right and left, up and down, and twisting again. Even Barnes joined in with this total slow-motion football. It's called calmness and control. Minutes passed, just like the Town midfield. Then boom! Newey suddenly zoomed up the left, exchanged passes with Rankin and was upended by Brown on the edge of the area. Brown was booked; Mulligan teed himself up and coiled the ball against a defender's head. A corner to Town. Hit high and long and half cleared; Town simply started again: passing, passing, passing, crossing and winning another corner.

Boshell clipped it hard and flat from the right, but it sailed on and over everyone. Toner chased the ball towards the opposite corner flag, retrieved possession and levered a dimply cross into the heart of the area. The ball sailed through to a large man dressed in blue, a dozen yards out, just to the right of centre. The big man fell backwards, dipped his toe in some cold water and the ball slowly, slowly arced high across goal. The ground was silent and the players stopped moving, turning to watch the satellite plunge to earth. Magnificently burning up as it re-entered the earth's atmosphere, the ball dropped in to the net. The Town fans, exploded for Justin Whittle had scored. He looked happy, and so did we. Only 70 minutes left.

Town hounded the bleeding beast across the moors. They passed back and back and back as Boshell then Rankin then Bolland hassled the rickety rocks in their defence. A final back-pass was played to Mad Marriott, whose kick was charged down by Bolland. It rebounded wide of goal and, at a narrow angle, Bolland tried to wrench a shot goalwards, but Marriott blocked. Another corner. Boshell clipped it to the near post and Hunt, falling back, steered a glancing header across the face of goal. Ooh.

Oh. N'Guessan stumbled theatrically over Mulligan's invisible legs, just outside the penalty area on the right. Frecklington flung the ball into the middle of the six-yard box and Barnes punched away as some stripeys fondled his fragile ego. There was a bit of higglidge and pigglidge, then there were ten minutes of serenity. Ah, relax, breathe in the herbal infusion of scented Boshell and Hunt aroma candles, burning brightly and burning slowly. Is it time for the pan-pipe version of Tales from a Topographic Ocean? When is it never?

Is that the time? After half an hour of pleasant swaying in the breeze Town won another corner, on the right. Again Boshell clipped, and Fenton rose majestically at the far post a dozen yards out and bonked a firm header down towards goal. The ball hit the post, or the man on the line, and was clobbered clear. A Newey free kick curled long and lovingly through the area, dropped down at the far post and Fenton just missed. It's all going swimmingly.

Get out the arm bands. Lincoln attacked, Town cleared, the ball ricocheted back to Bolland 25 yards out on the centre-right. Alas a Bolly folly, for he swung his boot and sliced the clearance back towards the Town penalty area. Forrester snuck himself under the barbed wire, exchanged passes, twisted, turned and carefully curled a superb pass into the top left corner from a dozen yards out.

Lincoln awoke, Town were broke, Toner slept and we nearly wept. Forrester was alive, alive-o, receiving a quick throw-in, turning and gurning a cross to the far post. N'Guessan rose above Mulligan the static caravan and glanced a free header nicely wide from barely five yards out.

Let's all have a nice cup of tea and a French fancy shall we? Yeah. Let's call it quits and come back in quarter of an hour.

An odd half, with Town mostly in control without creating much. Lincoln had sporadic bursts of activity almost exclusively through the scurrying little gerbil that is Jamie Forrester and the big nuisance on their left wing. Mulligan didn't win any headers, relying on a late body roll to try and put off his lanky nemesis. It didn't work Spikey-boy.

It could have been worse, it should have been better. One slip, that's all it took.

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time, though Town emerged five minutes before Lincoln and just wandered around staring at the daisies. When the Impies finally emerged Croft received a standing ovation... from the Town fans.

Somehow, somewhere, sometime, they, that is Lincoln, managed to get towards the Town goal and win a corner. I'm sorry, I can't remember exactly how this occurred, I was too busy thinking that Isaiah Rankin just needs to grow a little Welsh moustache. Torpey headed it nicely wide. Ah yes, Torpey. Peel Justin a grape, will you? Old Scunthorpians never retire: they just sponge another year's wages off a different Lincolnshire team. At least it ain't us this time.

The game was cutting and thrusting, with the Impies revved up like a raving and drooling Victorian villain. They even wore top hats. An aimless punt was cleared into midfield and Town nicked the ball away. Passes were made, triangles were constructed and a lot of work was carried out by men in hard hats with wheelbarrows and a screwdriver. The ball was played up to Rankin on the halfway line; he turned his marker and powdered his nose goalwards. A trickle of blue to his left, a drizzle of azure arriving on his right and onwards he roamed. Defenders converged as Rankin arrived on the edge of the area. Rolling left, ducking right, Isaiah burst through the bunching bodies, then fell over the third or fourth wobbling leg, just inside the area. Penalty!

Lincoln booted the ball out of the ground and we waited, and waited as everyone looked around holding their hands out and shrugging loudly. Sir Alan of Bucksford, using his local knowledge, found a ball in a cupboard under the stairs leading to the directors' toilet. Toner clutched the ball to his bosom, walked forward and calmly placed the penalty low into the bottom left corner as Maid Marriott grasped and groped in its wake. Only about 40 minutes to hold on tight to our dreams.

Lincoln brought out Big Bertha Beevers to fling a long throw into the heart of the Town area. A blue head screamed the ball away, but it fell to Dodds, a dozen yards out in the centre. He leant back, shinning the ball into the ground, and it bounced through and over a huddle of humanity in front of Barnes. Pheromone Phil was motionless; the ball hurtled to his left and wide of goal. A phewsome moment. Phew.

Back they came, with some route-one all-Irish hurling and whirling. Crosses and corners: Town under pressure. N'Guessan glanced wide, Brown noodled wider. Town feet, knees and backsides appeared, as if by magic, to stop and block these infiltrators. And in a bound we were free. Barnes rolled the ball out for once and Town duly counterattacked as a pass was rubbed down the touchline to Till, who hared away from his marker and teased Brown out to the wing. Till trilled onwards, singing his way through life, the universe and Lincoln's left wing. He switched to his left foot and dinked a sultry little number over the defence deep, deep into the heart of the penalty area where Hunt waited six yards out. He rose, he prepared to celebrate, but Beever, at the very last microsecond, grazed the ball out for a Town corner.

Boshell drilled it hard and flat over Marriott and over Fenton. Toner chased, retrieved, cut infield to the corner of the penalty area and curled a Dalglishian dipping shot just a few inches over the crossbar. You can ooh again, if you wish. It was silky, it was smooth and we were still winning, not whining for once.

Gulp, just our luck eh? Marriott walloped a fly-kick downfield. Hunt stepped back, Fenton raced forward and two giant heads collided. Both received treatment, both had to walk off, and both returned, though Hunt was limping and visibly groggy. Oh dear, the Lord Protector of the defence was slain.

While our rocks crumbled, Croft was substituted on the hour - problems with his hips, no doubt - and received a standing ovation from... the Town fans. The Impites were silent, sullen and shrinking into their cobweb-encrusted seats. They took Torpey off too. How was that going to help us? Torpey had been fantastic. We couldn't have asked for less from him.

Oh, here we go. Hunt was dragged off and was replaced by Clarke. Town did not alter the formation, but the rejigging caused our geodesic dome to have a little hole on the left. Their sub Amoo (unfortunately not a silly amoo) ripped through the outer skin and crossed deeply to the far post. Stallard, perhaps eight yards out, drifted behind Spikey Mulligan and headed down firmly towards the bottom right corner. Barnes waited, watched and brilliantly flung himself to his right and strong-armed the ball aside.

Town freely flowed down the right, with Clarke beautifully caressing Till free. Till, previously just a mobile hatstand, tore down the wing, turkey twizzled his marker and rolled a pass to Bolland, on the corner of the penalty area. A defender plunged towards the Yorkshire terrier, who simply stepped over the ball and allowed it to roll into Clarke's path. He shimmied, he shammied, he bedraggled a shot straight at Marriott. Shame.

Shall we take a breather? It's all a bit too much, this running up and down stuff. Five minutes alright?

Ready? Here we go. Twenty minutes left. Big Bertha Beevers boomed a long throw-in from their left. The ball missed all the tall trees at the near post and bounced dangerously through the six-yard box. Shall we throw in a few stocky characters and an unexpected plot twist here? Mulligan missed it. Forrester, alone six yards out, had an open goal before him. How could he miss? How did he miss? He leant back and poked the shot twelvety feet over. He could have fainted and still scored; it was impossible to miss. But he did, and for that we shall thank him. We haven't had such fortune for a long, long time.

As Lincoln moped about Town decided to recreate some scenes from our glorious past, using the spaces that they had rather conveniently decided to leave empty. Barnes kept throwing the ball out, especially to Till and Clarke on the right. They had a tea party. Clarke to Till, to Rankin, to Till. Za-za-zoooooom. A perfect pass, a perfect opportunity for Till, who leant back, closed his eyes and clattered the back of the stand. If only he'd looked up and seen two unmarked colleagues, they'd have had the chance to miss too. One needs to share failure around; it's only fair.

Up Town, not quite top Rankin. After another exhibition of one-touch passing and movement down the right, Clarke stroked a sneaky pass between centre half and left back. Rankin rolled into the area and...and...couldn't quite reach the ball as Marriott raced off his line.

Back Lincoln roared, hoisting the ball higher, faster, further. More and more of their players loitered permanently on the edge of the Town area. There was no formation, no tactics, just all-out frantic, frenetic, panic-riddled attack. Town started to stand off them, to allow players to turn, to cross. We watched, we waited, we simply reacted. Stallard and Forrester menaced and mingled. The moment was nigh, we could feel it.

Newey and Toner got themselves in a right tizzy, falling and failing as N'Guessan drifted infield. He crossed; half of Lincoln waited at the far post. On the ball sailed. Brown rose, and a shrill little whistle was heard by small, but alert dogs as far afield as Boultham and North Hykeham. Brown powered a header down and onto the bottom right corner. No goal - disallowed for pushing. Acemer!

Still Lincoln poured forward, but Town stayed calm, forcing them to hit longer and straighter punts. Whittle and Fenton can pick up the easy meat with their eyes closed.

With about ten minutes left the indefatigable Rankin was replaced by The Lump. It brought a tear to the eye of many a portly Pontoonite as we had a perfect Lumpaldinho cameo. He floated like a butterfly and almost stung like a bee: graceful and dainty, subtle and strong, Marvellous.

Hold tight, count to three, gotta stay close by Newey. Lincoln adopted a 3-2-everyone else formation. "All hands on deck, all hands on deck!" A-ha, but if they are all in our box, then they aren't in their own half. Whammo! Clarke tickled Beevers under the armpit and smoothed a wonderful pass to Till down the touchline, who scampered forward, spinning like a wheel within a wheel past what little resistance was placed before him. The Lump pointed, Till obliged, caressing a perfect pass behind the defence and into the area: Marriott creeping, Lumpy thwacking a shot against the keeper's chest. The ball squirtled out to the middle of the area, 15 or so yards out. Bolland, unmarked and licking his lips, fell into the ball and mishit a dribbling bounder straight back at Marriott.

Five minutes of added time! Where did that come from?

Hold on, hold on, hold on Town. The clock ticked down, Lincoln abandoned their pretty-pretty hoofing and just wrestled with alligators instead. Well, it is a boom and bust economy. Lumpy chased a long ball into the heart of the Lincoln area, rolling past Brown, over the defender's ankles and plunged to earth, just eight yards out. Play on. Marriott whacked the ball long and Town cleared. Till magnificently ran and ran and ran down the wing. Past one, two and three tackles, he hit the bye-line, looked up and tapped a pass back to Bolland, eight yards out. Let's accentuate the positive: the ball stayed within the ground, Lincoln do not have to fork out another £50.

It must be over, it must, it must! Fenton fouled on the halfway line and was booked, Marriott clumped the ball forward and finally it was. The end of laughter and soft draws. This was the end of something.

Let's be short, let's be sharp, for it may be a shock to you. The formation worked, the team worked, it all worked. The difference was, really, that for once a little fortune went Town's way. It doesn't mean Town were lucky, only that slight misfortune was not present. The win was deserved. Town had more chances and the ones they had were created, rather than happening as a result of a series of events that coincided at the position of maximum opportunity.

And what a place to do it, eh?

Nicko's Unsponsored Man of the Match
Don't you just love them all? But some can be loved more equally than others. Toner and Till had rather poor first halves but were excellent thereafter. Boshell and Hunt ticked, and Rankin never shirked from his job. He was battered in several gallons of hot oil for us today. The foundation of this victory was the rock solid heart of the team, Whittle and Fenton. Whittle was great but Nick Fenton was greater still. He was our first, our last, our everything. It was like swatting flies.

Official Warning
I can think of three decisions from Mr D Deadman that displeased, and at one point he, in effect, tackled Clarke at a semi-critical moment. He's getting better all the time; he couldn't get much worse, you say. Ah, but you're a one-eyed Lincolner. How can this be possible? He gets 7.777. Am I out of my mind? Perhaps he's learned that the world is football-shaped. He even listened to uncle Alan once and gave Town a free kick straight afterwards. If only all refs listened to such sense.

The Others
Perhaps dulled by permanent play-off failure, they're going for the excitement of another kind of disappointment this year. They were neither direct nor a passing team, falling between many barstools like a morose and maudlin drunk. They only looked dangerous at set pieces, where they had some taller players than Town. They were formless, shapeless and hopeless. Stallard and Forrester offered glimpses of something, but Lincoln didn't have the nous to pass to them in the right places, in the right way. All huff and puff. They are going to get absolutely stuffed if they keep reacting to losing by throwing more and more players forward. That's the tactics of the infants' schoolyard. Hey, not our problem.

Who knows, maybe in 20 years Louth will be full of spaceships and Lincoln will get out of the fourth division.