Slugs and snails: Shrewsbury (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

1 September 2007

Don't follow the signs.

Shrewsbury Town 2 Grimsby Town 1

A grey afternoon in the barren outlands of a Shropshire Town, caught 'twixt rail line and ring road. Nowhere to park, nowhere to stay, nowhere to run, baby, nowhere to hide. Around 350 Town fans admired the Legoland asymmetry of the bland and bleak Bacofoil Stadium. I'm sure it looked good in the Powerpoint presentation, where you can maximise optimal throughputs and footfall frequency, lowering human bumper interfaces. The hot chocolate is much better at Blundell Park.

Town lined up in the now usual 4-5-1 away formation as follows: Barnes, Bennett, Whittle, Fenton, Newey, Till, Bolland, Hunt, Boshell, Toner, Rankin. The substitutes were, in full: Monty, Sir Lumpalot, Bore, North and Mulligan. The Scunny Scouse Kiwi had aspiring hair, all highlighted peaks and lowlife troughs, like his follicles believed they were slumming it in a cheap B&B. Physically he's chunky but Buckley-sized, like a modern-day Kevin Jobling. You could say he's joblong, the official shape of utility full-back-or-are-they-midfielders; I just did. It's official then.

The Shrewsbury players looked very tall or very bald.

"Now many of you reading this might think of Grimsby as a footballing backwater, for ever wallowing in the lower divisions." Nope, you're confused, Mr Bond. You are thinking of a town - like Shrewsbury - not the Town. You expect us to walk?

You can stick your park and ride scheme up… oh, have we started?

First half
Town kicked off away from the massed Mariners and towards the unpopular stand with a Newey chip and Till chase for a Shrewsbury throw-in. Usual start then.

Their public gets what their public wants, I suppose. Biff-bang, umpah-umpah stick the ball up yer jumper - it's Cumberland sausage wrestling in a footballing bun. Shrewsbury had two runner beans up front and big broad beans behind them, clumping and clamping everything that moved. It was fast, frenetic and a schoolyard fight. Quick, quick, Sir's coming.

Throw-in, a throw-in, a foul. Ouch, it bloomin' well hurt. Hunt limping, Barnes thrusting the ball aside for treatment. Hunt got up, Shrewsbury threw it back to Barnes. They play firmly, but fairly.

The Shropshire lads play the multiball system and their Hunt has such a supple wrist to fling the flan so far. A tremblingly thrusting throw that is Challinor-esque in its torpedoing flatness. Town were worried, but ultimately unperturbed. These Shrewies sure play a mean pinball.

Bennett was shredded by Pugh the Shrew, but Whittle threw some sand upon the hand grenade and asked everyone to stand back behind the yellow tape. A corner, caught easily by Barnes, then another was plucked with aplomb from the circling sky. There's movement, there's action, but nothing to say.

At last something to write home about: Rankin was splattered into one of the shiny stands by Murdock, who received a booking. The referee was gathering a bucketload of ire by allowing our Town tackles, not theirs, which let our Town troika set up base camp in the foothills. Newey exchanged passes with Toner, then caroused the ball in to Rankin's feet, right in the centre 25 yards out. Rankin rolled and back-heeled sumptuously into the path of Newey, who scootered on. Unmarked, behind the defence and fifteen yards out, Newey poked a right-footed shot against the onrushing keeper. The ball pooped up, up and away via several request stops on the ring road to Till, on the left edge of their penalty area. Defenders descended, Till rocked back and twiddled a right-footed volley goalwards. Garner was still hailing a taxi as the ball looped and arced and boinked against the face of the crossbar and… out towards Percy Thrower's Garden Centre (permit holders only). We don't have a permit, we're not local.

Off Shrewsbury roared, belting the ball upfield and hurtling towards Barnes. A skip, a scrum and a bumble saw the ball shin out to their Hunt, 25 yards out in the centre. He leant back and twinkled a fizzing low shot across Barnes onto the inner side of the right post and back out past the Orangeman's ear to one of the Town safety officers.

There now follows a short display of judo from the Shrewsbury Betty Boo Dan-Di-Do martial arts club. Fifteen minutes of young men crouching and holding their lapels while grunting like a pensive pig. In manager speak, you have to compete. You also have to fight for your right to party, but that's another game in another season.

At some point one of their long throws grazed Fenton's head and skipped across Barnes and a foot wide of the right post. That's the appliance of their science. Barnes caught the corner. No, really, he did. The only other moment of slight concern was when some head tennis ended up with one of their lanky lamp-posts levering the ball way over from near goal while surrounded by trees. It was of no consequence or concern, you may be seated.

Near the half-hour Town sweltered the ball around, with our Hunt sweeping and Boshell swaying passes from side to side. Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely. Fenton suddenly swept forward, digging down thricely to retain possession from the slashing secateurs of Shropshire. Till and Bennett sucked the defence close and Bolland eased himself to the bye-line, crossing deeply towards Toner. The ball hit a human in an unmentionable place at the far post and rolled across to Rankin, about eight yards out with his back to goal. The left boot snaked forward, then back, diverting the ball an inch or so wide of the left post. Two minutes later Town struck up the Blue Danube again, but a cymbal crashed inelegantly when our man Hunt swankered a first-time shot safely over the bar from just outside the penalty area.

Town were controlling the game, dominating possession and denying these rugby players the opportunity to chip and cheese. Or even chip and chase. Mmmm, chip and cheese with ketchup: the healthy option. A Shrewsbury corner was cleared towards Bolland, just outside the Town area. One of the balder Shrews leapt high and flattened Bolland, who, after a very long delay, was led away by Dave Moore. And on came Mulligan. Maybe third time lucky with our Scunny cast-offs, eh?

Town retained the 4-5-1 formation, but little happened, apart from us being a little slower and weaker, for Mulligan may need a Turkish bath or two to get a bit of flappage in his shirt. Shrewsbury started to exert pressure, with many long chucks and chivvies, but the Town defence was strong and unflustered. Barnes was calm, Whittle and Fenton imperious and James Hunt pootled around in front of them in his electric-powered council roadsweeper.

And Town were dangerous. A corner was cleared and roly-poly Rankin twizzled his marker and raced off down the centre of the pitch; Toner supported, with Till sprinting down the centre-right, bellowing for a pass. Toner carried on, and on, and on, delaying so long that Till was offside when the pass eventually arrived, eventually. What a waste, what a waste, what a waste of time.

Five minutes later a Shrewsbury corner was cleared and roly-poly Rankin… haven't we been here before? Ah, not quite, for Till za-zoomed down the right as Rankin barundled down the centre, attracting the remnants of the defence like a particularly persuasive pet shop owner. Moss, Murdock and Tierney woofed, squawked and screeched and Rankin tickled the ball aside, straight into the path of Till, about 15 yards out on the right. Till set himself and thwacked a low shot goalwards. From outta Africa a Shrewsbury foot flew. The ball spun, looped and dipped around the near post for a corner. Boshell clipped it low and hard, Fenton stooped and steered the ball over the bar.

Ah, now it's time to stand around getting a bit chilly in the breezeblocks and plasterboard.

It may be a new ground, but it's the same old Shrewsbury: high intensity causing high anxiety through their high-ball hoppings. The pitch was perfect, but they don't need grass. That's something you stand on before you jump. Barnes hadn't made a save; they'd had one and a half shots, and Town were relatively comfortable. It's too good to be true, isn't it?

Second half
Neither side many any changes at half time.

Off the Shrews flew, these blue-clad determinators. Within a minute or so Barnes was mugged at the near post as two blue meanies clasped hands, formed a daisy chain, and laughed as the ball flopped out of Barnes' hands, bouncing towards goal. One bounce, two bounces, then Newey stepped across and calmly lofted the ball away.

Spurred on by this chink of daylight in the Town defence, Shrewsbury played up to their secret club motto: higher, stronger, faster. They strangled Town with humps down the sides, forcing throw-ins. It was an aerial siege, this latter-day Battle of Shrewsbury, with hot rocks flung from a catapult deep into the heart of the encampment. Up stepped the siege engine, over came the hot oil. Pikes clashed, armour was pierced, and body parts were strewn across the penalty area. A long throw was bazookered in from their left and scrapped away by a Town head. The ball squirtled out to Moss, 25 yards out on their centre-right, who harpooned a shot back into the penalty area. Hibbert had freed himself from the tangled mass of humanity that had dodged the cannonball throw and, near the penalty spot, swayed back, high-stepping a hooked volley into the top right corner.

That's how to shoot.

Town were deflating, Shrewsbury hyperventilating with excitement. They thrive on the thrill of the chase, hunting like dogs when they sense a wounded beast. But Town limped on, with our thrill of the Till titillating down the right, tickling Rankin free behind the defence. He turned, he shot, he wrinkled his nose in disappointment as the ball kissed the net on its way to the advertising boards. Town started to wrench some control away from the homesters, but no chances, just moments of nearlyness. A cross, a corner, a throw, a head, a bundle, a deflection, a five-minute period of frustration. Rankin rolling, falling, and befouled by Murdock, 20 yards out on the centre right.

Rankin was replaced by North. The time elapsed: 56 minutes.

The wall swayed in the wind and Mulligan curled the free kick straight to Garner, who was stood by his right post. Everyone ran back to await the drop-kick, which was duly dropped deep, deep into the Town half on the centre-left. Fenton waited, but was slightly underneath the dropping ball, succeeding only in skipping it at an angle behind him and Newey. Herd, their right winger, had anticipated this and was already running goalwards. The ball hit him, rebounding infield and away from the lolloping Town defenders. Herd glanced across, passed low into the centre and Symes, from near the penalty spot, swept the ball across Barnes into the bottom right corner.

That's how to shoot. It took you longer to read it than for it to happen: route one, two touches and a goal. You blinked? You missed it. A blubbery and possibly blubbering man was assisted by stewards in descending the steps, backside sliding into view with every step he took. You blinked? You missed it. Lucky you.

An hour gone, the game gone and a couple of minutes later Mulligan had gone, replaced by the Lumpaldinho. Mulligan had struggled to cope with the pace of the game, being only occasionally spotted between the reeds on the salt marsh. Maybe he'll acclimatise after a few more days in Buckleyland.

Shrewsbury lamped it long, Town cleared: repeat three times and then add a saxophone solo. In and out the game bellowed, with Jones' presence adding a sturdy English oak to the woodland walk. With just over 20 minutes left, Town pressed, flipping the ball from side to side, crossing, retrieving, crossing again and finally just kicking it towards old Lumpy. He fought, the ball fell and Newey revved up in support, eight yards out. A Shrew leg crossed his path and down he went. Penalty! Whose turn is it to miss this week?

North walked purposefully towards the penalty spot, but Toner had squatter's rights, having been sat there for ten seconds and already added running water. Toner calmly strolled up and lifted the ball down his centre-right as the keeper plunged down a cul-de-sac.

They're doing it again, aren't they - raising false hope.

Shrewsbury wobbled; Town used their own tactics against them. The ball was simply hurled high and fought for. Bennett's long throws caused mild panic and Boshell's corners minor tremors as Whittle and Fenton wrapped themselves around lamp-posts suggestively. Till tapped North free, but Langmead, at the last with a desperate lunge, swindled the ball away for a corner. Whittle leant back and steered a header across goal and straight into Garner's hands. Town players lurked, but lunged ineffectively as the ball drooped in, through, round, over and under the radar. A Blueman fell backwards, dragging the ball away with his hands as he tumbled in mid-air. Penalty? No, not again, don't push your luck. Boshell picked up a clearance, chested the ball into the area and … let's not scare the children with tales of misshaped bananas, shall we.

But Shrewsbury held their noses and flung the custard pie back in Town's face. A corner on their left curled out to the near post. A big lad nodded, the ball skipped off the new mown grasslands and across the face of goal. Langmead, beyond the far post, wrenched his head around a corner and nurdled the ball back. Barnes leapt high and tipped it over the bar for another corner. And then it was Town, and then it was them. Then it was Town again. All gas and no gaiters, it was engrossing but without flavour. Town just had to roll up their sleeves and stick their hand up the Shrewsbury cow's backside. As the minutes ticked on the Shrews kept making substitutions, bringing on more defenders, it seemed. Or maybe it was just that Town were strangling them.

With a couple of minutes left a Town corner was headed this way, that way, and the other too. Lump indulged in some arm wrestling, Whittle put down his Tia Maria and shoved a ha'penny and the ball fell, five yards out at the far post. Fenton swivelled, swooped and hooked the ball over his head goalwards. A repeat of May madness? Yes, yes… no. An octopus wiggled its tentacles and somewhere, somehow, a defender block-volleyed the ball away.

From the clearance Shrewsbury broke and one of their subs sneaked in between Barnes and Fenton to lob-volley statistically insignificantly wide. And back Town came, a free kick winkled from the halfway line by Newey. Hang on, how long left? Four minutes of added time! The free kick sailed over everyone and shoulders dropped in disappointment, but shot up again as the ball dropped under the crossbar, forcing Garner to spectacularly tip the ball over for a corner.

The game went on, and on, and on, up and down the pitch. One last chance, one last cross, cleared behind Toner, just outside their area. Toner ran away from the ball, letting a little Shrew run off and off down their right. Newey came across and sturdily clattered man and ball away for a throw-in. The linesman suddenly started wiggling his flag. Newey was dumbstruck: what had he done? He remonstrated and turned around agog and a-gurgling to Fenton.

There goes the last charabanc. We'll be here all summer, what a bummer.

Are they still talking? Yep, the linesman told the referee his whole life story and, eventually, Bennett was called over, shown a second yellow card, then a red one. Off he went. Huh? The home crowd had not been agitated, and no Shrewsbury player appeared to have complained about anything. Perhaps the Hubble space telescope was pointing towards Shropshire? And then one of the Shrewies was booked too as the ref marched into the centre, 25 yards out, and awarded a free kick to the slightly confused but happy home team. They kicked it into the corner and wasted time and after six minutes of added time we could finally stand around outside waiting for a bus that never comes.

This was an even match between a physically superior team and a team who had superior skills. Up to the penalty area, of course. Town definitely deserved a draw here more than Notts County and Macclesfield did against us, but judgments of what is 'fair' or 'deserved' count for nought. It isn't ice skating or trampolining. It's football. Goals. We need them, that's all. Everything else exists for happiness.

Plus ça change.

Nicko's Unofficial Man of the Match
The dynamic duo in the centre of midfield deserve all the plaudits, with Boshell an omnipresent creator, and Hunt an omnivorous destroyer. Let's spread the bedspread of pleasure across the divan of Town and award it to James Hunt.

Official Warning
Mr J Singh was absolutely superb. He made two minor errors and got in the way once, but other than that was faultless. Despite the baying locals he let the game flow brilliantly and refused to give the shrieking Shrews free kicks for falling over. Bennett's sending-off was down to the linesman, so he was just acting upon information imparted by his staff. Anything above six is adequate, so he gets 8.724.

The Others
Town were slain by a skilled bunch of carpetbaggers and panel-beaters. They were very good at what they do for, like a raging torrent, they just wear the earth down, causing the riverbanks to collapse and the unwary and unfortunate to be drowned in chaos. They play for throw-ins and corners, and then bundle about. Less hit and hope, more smack and know.

Vigorous, athletic and as irritating as their park and ride scheme, Shrewsbury are the team that will fill sixth place through their esprit de corps, but lack that certain je ne sais quoi to get promoted. Athletes, not aesthetes: never mind the quality of their football, feel the width of the points gap. Physically formidable and relentless in the pursuit of their method, they are not to be taken lightly. They are what they are: sporting and direct. Not my cup of tea, but then I don't drink tea.