The Curate's Egg ? Rochdale (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

12 October 2007

They really shouldn't have cleaned the pipes; it just left a bitter aftertaste.

Grimsby Town 1 Rochdale 2

A still, dead evening in the Shed of Sighs with around 250 cobwebs twinkling in the Osmond Stand. A funny thing happened on the way to the Pontoon - people were queuing to get into Blundell Park. The crowd was growing to a critical mass, which is as big a harbinger of distress as the Kestrel of Doom. People, always a bad thing for people to see Town: they never fail to disappoint the casual booer.

Town lined up in a revolutionary 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Logan, Fenton, Bennett, Newey, Till, Bolland, Clarke, Toner, The Lum, and Shankin' Rankin. The substitutes were Montgomery, Hunt, the old rugged Whittle, growing-stubble-by-the- week-Taylor and the wild Bore of Grimbeo.

Town warmed up like a proper team with no idle, arbitrary punting to their mates; we can save that for the game. Maybe Watkiss wanted to impress the little lad from the Big Club. Didn't he realise all he had to do was take off Shaleum's sneakers and tickle his feet?

Ah yes, Shaleum Logan: small, wiry, lithe and a self-described smooth boy. Let's break him in gently to the world of lower league football Yo sort it! It's called getting a football education.

Rochdale played in yellow shirts and white shorts, so at least we could see them run away from Town. They had Le Fondre and Murray upfront who, if anyone cares to remember, are a pesky pair who score goals. Way, way off in the distance they had a boy with biliously blond hair at left back and a shrunken Paul Robinson in goal.

It is time for you to start all of your sobbin'.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond with the usual Newey na-na-na-na-na-na-na-nurgh. As usual Town were nibbly-nurdly-not and they doobly-diddly-did. A corner to Rochdale.

In they piled towards Barnes, recreating scenes from West Side Story, going this way and that. Gee, Officer Fenton! Yellows zigged and zagged before Barnes as Murray leapt in front, a free and open goal beckoned. Six yards out, free header, Barnes punching behind. Nice miss, for us.

Town were slow, the crowd muttering low as Clarke missed two tackles, Bolland a third; Fenton and Bennett ran parallel to Le Fromage Fondue and the Murray mint. Newey tutted and it was left to Logan to use his premiership legs to divert danger using just his pace and youth. He hasn't learned to professionally amble yet. Are we going to pass it anytime? Oh yes: Rankin rolled, Till boiled down the wing and crossed tantalisingly across the face of the penalty area towards Toner. The ball ran out of steam as a defender prodded it away from the very tip of Toner's tenth toe.

After another Clarke stretch-and-miss Newey turned himself into a pumpkin and Le Fondue set off down their left. Drifting, gliding, swaying Town were praying as he curled a shot around Bennett and around the post from the edge of the area. No tackles, just close observation by Town players. Fenton felled Murray way out and their full back crumpled a curling free kick over and around the wall into Barnes' midriff. Pressure was constant, corners frequent: Town were inferior; there was no control.

Are we going to do anything tonight? We haven't seen Logan run yet. He's quick, he's neat, his ball control is exquisite, but what next? Did I say he was quick? Make that super-ram-jam hootly-tootly-hot. Logan nicked and knocked towards Rankin, who rolled his marker down the right. Till blinked and Logan was already approaching Isaacs Hill roundabout. Perkins, their blond eggshell, bumped Logan aside and sheltered the ball as it rolled towards the bye-line for a goal kick. Logan dived down a rabbit hole and popped up five yards beyond the bleachy head, slivered along the line and rolled a perfect pass to The Lump, eight yards out at the near post. The startled Mariners monolith poked a foot out and was smothered in custard. The moment was lost before it arrived for old Lumpy. The pace of modern life, eh.

After about 10 minutes of drivelling nonsense from Town, Rochdale zithered down their right, exchanging passes and releasing some bloke behind Newey to cross. He duly crossed beyond the far post as Newey jumped in to tackle a little late. The ball dropped in the six-yard box and minor peril ensued. Hang on the ref's given them a free kick, five or so yards from the bye-line. Rundle beckoned his prey and coiled a lovin' spoonful to the near post where Cheesey and Minty waited, obscuring Barnes' sight. Le Fondre rose above the static Newey and flicked the ball with the outermost split ends of his quiff, diverting it slightly over the panicking Barnes and into the centre right of the net.

The silent crowd were silenced, then the singing ringing tree corner burst out into spontaneous support for Town. How queer, how quaint, they think supporting means to keep from failing, to give strength to, to encourage. Get Balderdash and Piffle on the case: its modern meaning must be included in the next OED. Let's launch the word search here!

Barnes dropped a corner shabbily, falling upon the ball as he fell over Bennett; Town were swaying like a hen party at a karaoke. At first they were afraid, then they were petrified. When's Newey back from outer space? But we had Logan, our little pocket dynamo, who started everything good. He was our hope, the galvaniser, the catalyst, the creative driving soul of this bunch of cocky strollers. Rochdale were quick to learn and quick to upend this clear and present danger - Murray chased Logan and crudely thwacked him from behind just inside the Town half, averting a hazy, mazy jinkathon.

But not for long.

Rochdale had a minor breakette down their right, switching play to their left, but dithering to the point of dathering. Bleachy head, ten or so yards inside his own half, tried to control the ball and was dazzled by Till's bright blue boots sh-sh-shining in the floodlit beauty. Till teased towards the touchline and cheekily back-heeled infield as Shabba-dabba Logan boomed up from full back and swept forward fifteen yards to the edge of the area. The yellow-wellies ran to the hills, backing off and off and off as he-who-cannot-be-tackled shook his hips, squeezed our pips and Lumpy and Rankin peeled away from the centre. Logan buried a sizzling left-footed shot low into the bottom left corner and the roof of the Pontoon shook, depositing a ticker tape confetti shower of celebratory rust upon this marriage of convenience. We may now kiss this pride of Manchester, but not before he'd stopped doing ten somersaults on solid ground down the wing towards Sir Alan of Bucksford. What a scene!

We're on a roll now. Logan infiltrated their penalty area, rolled and back-heeled to The Lump who tumbled, and Till's shot was blocked by the Yellow Sea. Pressure, pressure, pressure from Town as the ball was retained and passed, passed and passed again. Rochdale were rocking and blocking and little else.

The Lump lumped about, fiddling and widdling the ball to Clarke in the centre. The Dalers quivered in their boots as Logan appeared, caressing a pass into the left edge of their penalty area towards Rankin, who brilliantly stamped a back-heel into space. Logan, our lovely lad Logan, waved from his jet ski as he splashed the Dale trippers watching on a lilo. Into the area, ten yards out, Logan smithered a low drive across Spencer, who managed to fling up a forearm and grapple the ball aside. Lumpy leapt, a defender crept in front and flicked the ball out towards Toner, a dozen yards out, who volleyed into the ground towards an empty net. Their Gary Jones threw himself across the face of goal and chested away for a corner. Toner mishit the corner low into the near post and comedy chaos ensued. Legs akimbo! A yellow sock scrapled the ball away from near the line and several Town boots.

Bolland surged, Bolland shot: Spencer lunged, Spencer plunged and fingertipped the ball around the post for a corner. Bennett headed down, a Lancashire foot swingled the ball away from the line. Town were near, Town were far. Clarke swirled a free kick two yards over the bar, Rankin twisted, turned and shouted "Mr Grimsdale!" and a Dale boot tickled the ball away as he swung his boots . Sumptuous, scintillating, sexy and not scoring. That's Town.

Beware the sleeping pudding: Rochdale suddenly broke with Murray ice-dancing through the negligée that was the Town defence, before Clarke, thankfully, got his bottom in the way of a shot from the penalty spot. Barnes caught the corner and threw it immediately out to Till who river-danced the full back to the edge of their penalty area, before being felled. "Let Newey take it". He did, from a similar position to that from which they had scored. Crackling low and hard into the near post, a yellow shirt dived, stretched out a leg and shinned the ball across the face of goal and over and out for a corner. Oh was this the corner where Toner caused panic with his mishit? Or was it the one off the line, or maybe the other one where it was cleared off near the line. To tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost count. Chances, half chances, moments of panic, all far, far away underneath the quivering noses of the travelling cobwebs. Spencer flapped as a cross was deflected. Bennett challenged, the ball dropped, Toner volleyed and the ball was blocked. Where are we, why haven't we scored? We're Town, that's why. Beauty and the beast.

The fruity pudding is almost ripe. Murray chased a clearance and Town stood off, allowing Rochdale to sort and assert themselves. One pass, two passes and players moving whilst Town shuffled. Eventually Rundle hugged the ball and touchline, turning, turning, and turning again as Logan shuffled near. Then Logan backed off near the corner of the penalty area, allowing Rundle to steady himself and place a dinky dipping cross through and over towards the far post. Fenton and Newey hoped Barnes would come out, Barnes wished Fenton and Newey would stick a head or leg out. Wishin' and hopin' won't get the ball into his arms. Le Fondre sauntered into the six-yard area and casually steered a volleyed into the rusty roof of the Pontoon. Well that's two sitters they've missed from inside the six-yard box from Rundle pin-point curlers; some would say there's a pattern.

Such trifling and piffling details, let's enjoy the ride shall we. Off Town flew again, not quite reaching the stars. Bolland's shot was blocked after one-touch interplay had suckered the Dalers. It's all so beautiful you could hang Town on your wall. Swoon, whoosh, whelp and cry for help! Logan's control was perfect as a high ball dropped: in one movement the ball was dead and his body was positioned to pass. He instantly leant to his left and dripped a perfect cross over the last defender to the far post, a dozen yards out, right on to Rankin's head. Poor old Isaiah, no-one works harder to get into a position to miss. He leant forward and skimmed a diving header a yard wide.

They did a substitution. Do we care? Why should we when we're having such a hoot!

As the half ended Town were still in the ascendant, the dominatrix whipping the old chubby Co-Op assistant manager. Rankin rolled down the right, dumping his marker into the Humber and crashing a fast, firm low cross through the middle of the penalty area. Bolland hurtled towards goal at the far post, jumped and waved his left foot at the ball. The goal was widely open, a defender close, and the ball was missed. If they tried to miss, they'd score more, wouldn't they.

In added time Le Fondre dribbled past Fenton on the left of the Town area. Fenton did a dive-stamp towards the ball, but missed, with cheese boy falling to ground. The crowd gasped, awaiting a penalty, but Le Fondre bounced back up and dribbled the ball out of the area. These days that counts as exceptional sportsmanship.

Tongue tied and twisted it's an earth bound mystery how Town avoided scoring at least four. Oh, and conceding three; let's not forget the defending, which is what Fenton and Newey, in particular, had done. After the Rochdale goal Town woke up and were sublime going forward, absolutely sublime. They played like we know they can - and missed chances like we know they can. Town were fantastic to watch, they really were. If only points were awarded for artistic merit.

Still, one of these days we're gonna cut someone into little pieces; and win. Aren't we?

Second half
From the off Town bludgeoned Rochdale with the bluntest of velvet pigeons. Toner pickled a perfect pass with the outside of his right boot curling the ball around and through the defence. Rankin burst through and was free down the left, spinning past McArdle who swiped him down 25 yards out when last man.

Newey and Toner played out a little farce, ostentatiously throwing their hands to their foreheads and wafting a neckerchief under their noses. Suitably distracted by the Victorian melodrama, the Dalers ignored the gruesome twosome and let them take it short and advance to the penalty area. Toner waggled a shot through a thicket of legs and Spencer hurled himself low to his right, parrying away from goal. The ball slowly dribbled towards the touchline, Newey awoke from a dream and chased after the ball. It rolled along and along the touchline and Newey stretched forward and clipped a cross into the centre of goal, where Lumpy, six yards out, tromboned a header into the top right corner. The linesman decided he could see the ball was out. No-one else could, and no-one else was sure whether it was in, or out. On such small things the world turns to the left, or to the right. It didn't turn right for us.

It was still all Town, with Rankin revved up for his fifteen minutes of fame in front of the Pontoon. They cannae hold him cap'n! A Reesian roll and lay-off allowed Clarke a view of Spencer's nostrils, but the shot bombled wide. Rankin chased a clearance down the centre left, winking the ball over the defenders as he turned. Off he hared, pursued by three little bears. Rankin stopped, then shivered through two fey wafts, zipped into the penalty area, across another then another, past the penalty spot. Will he shoot? Can he shoot? Should he shoot? Should he be shot? He shinned, he scraped, he stretched and hooked the ball to Lumpy, beyond the far post and eight yards out. The Lump turned magnificently and scooped a first time shot towards the top left corner. Spencer flung up a hand and superbly parried away for a corner.

This was just wonderful, wonderful stuff. The sullen freeloaders were dancing with delight.

And then it all went wrong. Logan misplaced a pass along the back line, setting bleach-boy free but Le Fondre had, fortunately, strayed offside. Bennett brilliantly stooped and headed a free kick over the bar from inside the six-yard box. Then Town receded, losing possession easily, failing to challenge, failing to tackle. Where's Bolland? Where's Clarke? Ah, Hunt stood up, waiting to come on. That's better: some bile is required.

Nothing was happening nowhere. The ball was in the centre, bumbling and stumbling from shin to shin. Lump miscued a challenge sending the ball high and back into the Town half. Fenton miscued a wallop, no-one challenged a Daler, Fenton missed a tackle, Clarke tackled the ball back to them and suddenly Rundle was free on the left. Logan again stood off slightly and allowed a cross to be dug up, around and over to the far post. Barnes hopped along his line, Newey trotted vaguely close to a yellow shirt and Murray leant over the non-jumping Newey to plonk a header down in to the bottom left corner from a few yards out. An hour gone, Town gone, there's nothing else to say. It's over.

Are you still here? Why? Are you a masochist?

The last half hour was awful, beyond pathetic, and something to really get annoyed at. There was no fight, no desire. The team imploded, looking like they were feeling sorry for themselves, like they didn't believe they could possibly score a second goal.

The ineffectual Clarke was replaced by Hunt immediately, to no great effect. Rankin was replaced by Taylor: this took away strength and added a small boy. Poor little Taylor was seen running after the ball and jumping near tall men; he needed someone to pass it through gaps, not whack it up to his head. I'm filling space here: nothing happened apart from the crowd grizzled and gurgled, the party animals of the first half became intolerant ranters, with one moment defining the desultory and abject horror of the remaining minutes of torture.

After 63 minutes Town were given a free kick 30 yards out after Logan did his one and only silky smooth whizzle. With the ball running away towards a yellow boot Logan stopped, opened up his arms and asked for a free kick. He asked, he got, how very Premiership. Newey stood over the ball, Fenton and Bennett lurked beyond the far post and over it came. And over and beyond and into the crowd. A terrible free kick, but a cue for an explosion of moral outrage from men with permanent scowls and flat vowels.

Toner was replaced by Bore after 67 minutes, with Till moving to the left wing. Bore had one run down the middle, where he saw the whites of Spencer's underpants and decided to pass to Till, who fell over. Bore was no worse than anyone else.

Rochdale had attacks, but were mostly offside. Sometimes they weren't and a combination of total indifference from me and the occasional decent tackle by Bennett stopped any further embarrassment. Bennett did a great block when bleachy head shot from ten yards out, and Hunt scrumped the ball away from near the line at one point when there was just generally mayhem inside the Town area. These were isolated moments of adequacy.

Oh look, Rochdale are offside again. Yawn. Le Fondre had a turn and shot which Barnes saved low to his right. Yawn. Look at the yawning gaps. Yawn.

Town's attacking consisted of, well, I don't really know. And neither did they. The ball was generally in the air and sometimes free kicks were given. From three of these, yes, three, which were humped in to the general vicinity of their penalty area, Fenton won headers which he sidled towards goal. No-one followed them through and Spencer went to the burger bar before picking them up.

In added time Till buckled a dribbling shot well wide after a corner, and the game ended when a Town free kick was hoiked long and hung in the air. I haven't missed out anything: the second half was that bad as far as Town were concerned, and that easy for Rochdale - after they'd scored the second goal. Maybe they'd have caved in if Lumpy's goal had been allowed, maybe not.

Overall between the two Rochdale goals Town were great going forward and had been utterly dominant, but with the lurking fear that if Rochdale did get the ball they would certainly score. Town really missed that fifth man in midfield.

It's all about goals; it was the only thing missing. What's new? Now we need to find a few more things down the back of the sofa, lost through our own sheer carelessness. That's what it is: collective carelessness.

Nicko's Unofficial Man of the Match
If you ignore his defensive play (and I am) then Shaleum Logan had a staggeringly sensational debut. For 45 minutes he was the first, the last, the everything for Town. He hardly got over the half way line in the second half, and so Town had no attacking purpose. For a teenager to have that much poise and ball control puts Town's older professionals to shame - they've been practicing every day for a decade or more.

Has he got any brothers? Or sisters?

Markie's Un-Man of the Match
There were some right clunkers tonight. Fenton and Newey, especially Newey, were unwilling to challenge, and none of the defence closed an opponent down. They played like it was a non-contact exhibition game. The central midfield was weak, with Clarke lost without the comfort of a third man. But as the game progressed one player got worse and worse. So a by a shinned pass from Newey, it's Paul Bolland, who ended up being incapable of pulling his socks up, let alone his team together. No leadership, no basic skills and a truly terrible night.
Official Warning
Mr D Whitestone. He made a couple of decisions which, ultimately, defined the result, being the free kick from which Rochdale scored their first goal and disallowing the Lump goal, though that was on the advice of his persistently flagging linesman, so that wasn't really his decision. He wasn't to blame, he didn't make Town lose, it was the players who did that. He was a little fussy at times, a little free at others, but nothing out of the ordinary, so 6.876 is neither mean, median nor mode.

The Others
Rochdale. Them. They have two troubling strikers and an excellent winger, Rundle. Elsewhere they had a one man defence in McArdle and an adequate goalkeeper. They were just a team capable of scoring goals, but also of conceding them, probably at a higher rate. So much like last year, where a little confidence went a long, long way.

They were a Macclesfield with goals. They won easily, but could have lost easily.