If... ? Peterborough (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

6 October 2007

Now what are those yellow seats for? Are they the naughty step?

Peterborough United 2 Grimsby Town 1

A static grey day in the Venice of the Fens (raise at least one eyebrow when spoken) with around 500 or so Marinetters marching to the beat of a tambourine into the Wind Tunnel Stand, the blackest hole in the fourth division. Mind the pigeon droppings: they give you deep stains of spiritual nourishment.

Town lined up in the now usual 4-5-1 away formation as follows: Barnes, Bennett, Whittle, Fenton, Newey, Till, Bolland, Clarke, Boshell, Toner, Rankin. The substitutes were live, exclusive and free at the point of use: Monty, Sir Lumpalot, Bore, North and Taylor. Yeah, well, there you are; though Jarman was warming up too, which was nice for him and maybe a warning for others to buck their ideas.

Peterborough warmed up by taking pot-shots at their keeper from all angles. Ooh, fancy-pants ideas or what. Town just kicked the ball against the wall with their hands in their pockets. Where's my tea?

Will they ever finish the roadworks outside the ground?

First half
Peterborough kicked off towards the Wind Tunnel, eschewing the Neweyian nobble and passing thricely before Neweying accurately down their right. Mackerel-Smith chased and harried, dissolving into some kind of throw-in; it always is, isn't it.

Add in another couple of throw-ins then a pinch of a Town corner. As Boshell clipped the ball into the centre the referee blew for a foul. That's as, not after; it should have been retaken, not a free kick given to the Poshies. We'll have to watch this ref: he's already suspiciously nice to the homesters.

Bumbly-dumbly-doo. No, not one of Peterborough's subs, but the soundtrack to the next two minutes, as the Poshters passed briskly, with mucho movemento from their forwardso. Ah yes, you want to know the tactical schmactical stuff. They played in a 3-5-2 formation with two extremely agile strikers. They were fast, they were fluid, they nearly scored while you were pondering the unbearable lightness of Peter Till's blue boots.

Mackerel-Smith moved and Hyde grooved a pass straight down the centre. The ball deflected off a Town boot and looped loopily through the middle. Barnes wondered should he go or should he stay; Whittle hopped and hoped the ball would zimmer through, but it didn't. A melange of muddling muddy boots formed a little collage on the edge of the area and the ball squirtled to the right. Barnes was flat on his back; Fenton and Whittle knelt before the gods of footballing fortune praying for forgiveness, and McLean calmly side-footed from 15 yards out towards the vast and empty ocean that was the goal. Bennett, that raging torrent of calm, leapt upon his hovercraft, glided across the tranquil turf and raised his boot to deflect danger away for a corner.

Settle down, settle down. The Poshies pushed but Town's waters hadn't broken, it's just a lot of flim-flam-flummery in midfield.

After about ten minutes something tremendously exciting happened: Town had a cross. Three minutes later there was another one! Finally Town started to pass rather than letting Newey hump the ball down the left for a Peterborough throw-in. Clarke bestrode the midfield, forming an impassable barrier, swiping the ball away from them and starting us. It was all rather nice for a while, with Town a slower, more patient version of Peterborough, passing pleasingly and tightening a very loose tourniquet around the flabbier Fennish extremities. The match glided on downstream like a serene swan. There was furious action below the surface; above us were waves of nothingness.

Eventually someone did something. Chubby Lee, their midfielder comedian, showed his lapels and squirted water in Boshell's eye on the right edge of the Town area. As Town defenders lunged, Lee bedraggled a shot five yards wide. Well, it was nearly something. This was the start of five minutes of intense Peterborough pressure. Town had been encamped outside their penalty area for five minutes, now it was their turn. In and out the bellows pumped, but Town remained firm and true with Barnes an interested spectator. He may as well have leapt over the boards and joined the singalong. Hmm, glad he didn't. After another small daft decision by the referee, Peterborough got a free kick 25 or so yards out on their centre right. Tapped aside, Day wallied a shot low towards goal. The ball hit a Town boot and scootled droopily to Barnes' left. He waited, he waited, he plunged and fell to his sinister side, parrying away rather superbly.

The siege was broken.

Are Town going to have a shot? Ah yes, a Rankin swivel and prod plopped gently along the ground into Jalal's arms. It was on target, so we're counting that one. Clarke harried and carried and the ball metronomed across the pitch. Town were probing for a slip, a weakness, to overload their wing-backs with a surfeit of stripes. Newey tickled to Toner and caressed a dripping cross to the far post. Eight yards out and stretching around his marker Till toe-poked well, well wide. Well, well, a Town chance.

Wella, wella, urgh, I'll tell you more. More of the same: each team methodically meandering in the middle. Fine by us.

At some point during this elongated gentleman's excuse-me, Westwood headed one of their gazillion corners over the bar and Clarke curled a free kick unspectacularly over the bar. It wasn't boring, but it was uneventful; and then they had a goal disallowed. That wasn't boring and highly delightful. They broke and Whittle chased a dink into the left corner of the area. Hyde wriggled free and steered a shot across Barnes. Whittle had won a free kick with his Whittle-wiggle. Thank you Mr Linesman, for once.

What else? Chubby Lee bonked a shot down Fenton's nostrils, knocking him down and almost out. Nasal Nick wobbled, woozied and blinked. And then it was half time.

Is that it? Yes, it is. Nothing else happened, except a lot of quite exquisite football played entirely in the middle of the pitch. The Poshies were quicker than Town, in thought and in foot, but just didn't quite pass precisely enough when near the penalty area. Town had defended stoutly and intelligently. It was a game between two good teams, neither of whom gave possession up lightly.

The Poshites pressed buttons but the Town door wouldn't unlock. Perhaps they should try again with a different combination; or just use some dynamite, that usually works. You got the feeling Town were just about coping.

Second half
Peterborough replaced their right wing-back, Newton, with Gorgeous George Boyd, whose hair was flapping more than his shirt. And with this they moved to a sort of 4-4-2 formation.

Newey kicked it out as usual. Wait, something was different. He kicked it out quicker than usual and the Town fans beat out a constant wall of sound and rhythm. Atmosphere! That's what it is, and the players responded. Town were magnificent for 20 minutes. Newey raided at will, terrorising their right, with Toner the straight guy. A Newey cross was blocked after wonderful criss-cross passing and movement. At speed! Town began to seep forward through the now porous Posh membrane stretched across the middle.

A couple of minutes in, Town got a free kick way out on the left after Morgan handled. Toner curled a delicious cross beyond the far post, where Fenton rose like a Titan and placed a looping header back across and over the keeper. Jalal reached for the stars; the ball bounced off the face of the crossbar and straight to a defender. Back Town raced, roared on by the Marinerettes in their minarets calling the faithful forward.

"AlanBuckley'sblackandwhitearmy: G.T.F.C."

On and on and on the song was sung, like a Zulu war chant, and the warriors responded. A chip, a trick, and shot from Boshell, charged down. A Bolly volley dollied against a thick blue chest. Newey sailed, then wailed as he was chopped to the turf following an imperious Town surge.

Here he goes again, Mr Teasy-Weasy Newey swept aside the fallen leaves and jingle-jangled up the left, cutting off some split Fen ends on the way. He crossed, Bolland stooped at the near post and the ball ballooned off his back into the centre. Boshell's shot was charged down and ricocheted to Till who shuffled inside one tackle and dragged a low shot towards the bottom left corner. The ball zipped through a thicket of legs past the keeper, onto the post and back against Jalal's hands.

Such beauty, such wonderment, such a Buckleyesque performance: everything but the goal.

We're back. A Bolland shot was blocked, but town picked up the clearance, ticking over, prodding the putrifying Poshites for signs of life. Clarke broke free, but was offside. Shame. Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful goal in the world? Well, almost. One-touch triangles sent Peterborough into a tizzy, with Newey frizzing their hair and applying some lacquer. He feigned and frowned and skipped down the touchline, evading several snipers and muggers on the way. He hit the bye-line and cracked a tremendous cross into the centre, where happiness lurked. Jalal leapt across and plucked the ball off Rankin's head. Now that was excellent goalkeeping. Jalal rolled, looked up and threw the ball upfield in an instant. Within five seconds McLean had shimmied past Fenton and sniffed a whizzing cross through the Town six-yard area, just in front of his mates.

Shall we catch our breath? Here comes North, replacing Rankin, who'd occupied their defence effectively in the first half and been a manful nuisance to them in the second half. It's a team game and he's part of the machine: it can't function without him.

Just before the hour Town won another free kick after another foul on the raiding Newey. Crossed high to the far post, the ball was cleared and Town throttled the Poshies. Hurled high again, a blue-shirted arm thrust upwards and tapped the ball away from Whittle and Fenton. The linesman flagged, the Wind Tunnel End erupted and the referee slowly, and reluctantly, pointed to the penalty spot. The offender lay motionless, claiming some kind of injury, causing a long delay (he'd tweaked his stupidity muscle, I think). As Toner waited, the throng gathered behind the goal, cameras in hand. If he misses it's your fault boys and girls. Don't come a-crying if you go and blind him. Lights! Camera! Action! Toner placed the ball to the right as Jalal dived left.

The goal galvanised Peterborough into making another substitution to try and get the ball off Town, which they did. Mackerel-Man twisted, turned and skew-whiffed a hook shot over the bar after a bit of ding-dong scrabbling. Just time for one more Newey raid. My, he was magnificent going forward. Nothing happened, mind, but Town moved so very, very beautifully.

There's no need to mention Danny North, so I won't.

After about 65 minutes a Town attack was semi-repulsed into the centre. Till chased the ball inside Peterborough's half, but was easily turned. Instead of fouling, Till tried to tackle. Big mistake, for off they jolly well rolled. Two passes later Boyd was trundling along the left touchline, perhaps 20 yards out. He looked up, espied some chums beyond the sea and decided to curl a long, long cross to the far post. The cross fizzed over but nowhere near a Poshite. Barnes back-tracked in Seamanesque fashion, leapt and missed the ball as it dipped and curled over his head into the very top left corner of his goal. Boyd had accidentally scored.

That was the end of Town.

Peterborough increased the pace of their passing and the vigour of their challenges and started to brush Town aside. Morgan strode forward from the back and massacred a booming drive from 35 yards out which knocked a youth off his perch a yard wide of the right post. McLean and Mackerel-Man twisted and turned winning corner after corner. One dropped, all flopped and Boshell mopped up, passing a goal-bound shot away. Boyd drifted in from their left and slabbered a shot at Barnes. The floorboard were creaking. This ol' house needs new timbers.

Mesmerised and mauled, Town were in thrall to the blue blurs. McLean, just outside the area on their left, shuffled the ball from right to left, shrugged his shoulders, wiggled his hips and smershed a shot towards the top right corner of the goal. Barnes was motionless as the ball wobbled up and down, then he took a step and flew to his right to brilliantly parry aside for a corner. While Town slept safely the Poshies took it quickly and took it short, dripping a sensual teaser to the far post. A little lad stooped ten yards out and steered a header low towards the bottom left corner. The ball skipped and Barnes flipped it away from the very bottom-most of the corner, with the ball seemingly behind him. Fantastic, brilliant, magnificent and the ball was still in play - so stop congratulating him and defend, will you! McLean hooked the ball over the crowded bar and, well, it didn't go in.

Shall we catch our breath? Here comes Taylor for Clarke. Clarke! Yep, again the midfield bulwark was sacrificed, and again he was unfortunate to be selected for decapitation. He'd played well. For half a moment one expected North to be hauled off, but that assumes the management remembered he was on the pitch. One shouldn't make assumptions; perhaps they really had forgotten.

With the introduction of a second striker, Town's attacking intent was reduced to some hopeful bopping by the teenagers. Taylor scurried a lot, North was more interested in a curry on the way home.

With about ten minutes left Till chased the ball inside their half, but was easily turned. Instead of fouling Till tried to tackle. Big mistake, for off they jolly well rolled again, Day zizzled forward into the Town half with Till in pursuit. Boyd ran from the centre to the left, taking Whittle across with him. A huge gap opened up into which Day advanced. Halfway inside the Town half Till caught up and started to nudge-nudge and wink-wink. Day stumbled, tumbled, took a step, then another and eventually allowed himself to fall somewhere neat the edge of the penalty area. Did he do a Dida?

The referee immediately pointed to the spot and the Town players went a little bonkers, though Whittle didn't take the yellow card out of Dean's hands when he wafted it in front of Till and Newey. McLean calmly strolled forward and rolled the ball right as Barnes flung himself way, way to the left.

"You only sing when you're winning!" The locals weren't even doing that.

With that the Lump arrived, replacing Till. It may have been a 4-3-3 formation, or it may have been just that they were a bit tired and didn't run back sometimes. Within 30 seconds of arriving Lumpy immersed himself in some one-touch interplay on the left and flicked the ball inside to Toner, who stroked a perfect pass between full-back and centre-back. North burst through six yards wide of the goal. The ball ran on, Jalal ran out and, from a narrow angle, North tried to flick the ball over the keeper with the outside of his right boot. Silly boy: the ball hit the side netting, nowhere near goal.

Yeah, yeah, that was it, wasn't it: the chance. With Lumpy on the pitch Town kept whacking it high towards his head. Some he won, some he lost, but nothing came of these things; just hitting and hoping, and we've never been any good at that. The rest of the game was just Peterborough pressure. Corner followed corner, and half chance followed half chance; a shot over, a shot wide, a block from Bennett, a showy-offy Pele flick and thwibble from Boyd.

There were three minutes of added time during which Town had two free kicks, both of which resulted in absolutely nothing. Toner over-hit one, and the other was just swatted away. It's all over now, nothing left to say, just our tears and the orchestra playing.

Another annoying defeat, mainly in the manner of the goals conceded - a flukey mishit cross and an extremely weak, if not completely bogus, penalty. Take away those gripes and Peterborough were an excellent team, possessing individuals with talent, power and pace, but allied to some agreeable football and a solid team unit. They were kept out by Barnes' saves and, apart from the 20 minutes after half time, were barely troubled by Town.

Town had coped with five in midfield but, in truth, the more strikers Town had on the pitch the further away from their goal we got and the less likely to score we were. Mmm, Yoda says yes. Overall, Town were holding on for long periods. The players gave the fans an ovation, and vice versa - we both deserved more than we got out this Saturday afternoon in the darklands.

It was an excellent football match between two decent teams; shame about the ref.

Nicko's Unofficial Man of the Match
Clarke had another impressive game, holding the centre of midfield marvellously, and Newey was a towering presence on the left. These two combined were the reason Peterborough had to change formation - to counter our strengths which had negated theirs. One player was quietly efficient, doing lots of little, but vital things: Ryan Bennett kept his head when all around were losing theirs.

It would have been Barnes for all those great saves, but he still looks a bit feeble coming off his line and that goal may partly be his fault. So if you see it on TV and it's not his fault you can give him a joint award.

Official Warning
A Fergie Family Favourite, their funny Valentine. Mr M Dean spent the first half awarding Peterborough free kicks for trifling matters and ignoring carbon copy challenges on Town. He was a penalty decision waiting to happen. As the Poshies stumbled through the game his whistle was perched upon his lips; he was waiting for the moment to satisfy. I can't remember a bad decision in our favour, which is a sure sign of balanced and fair incompetence. Still, there'll be a nice bottle of red wine waiting for him at Old Trafford. He decided the outcome, so how could he get more than 4.321? He can't.

The Others
A definite cut above anything seen so far, with four exceptional players - Hyde, Mackerel-Smith, McLean and Boyd. Their defence seemed adequate but their attitude seemed to be a little aloof - they forgot they had to work very hard to get the ball. When fortune swayed their way they took advantage, descending upon the wounded animal like ruthless ravenous hounds. They should go up, but they do seem unsure about who to play, and where. That may be their undoing: they've too many choices and, as we know, too many choices leads to confusion and a lack of quality - just look at your satellite television.