Fumbling dice: Shrewsbury (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

26 January 2008

Grimsby Town 1 Shrewsbury Town 1

A grey squirrel of a blustery day down in the hollow belly of the fourth division with around 150 or so Shropshire lads and lasses slumbering silently in the Osmond stand. Don't worry, for when the game is over there'll be time enough to sleep.

Town lined up in the it'll-do 5-3-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Hird, Atkinson, Fenton, Newey, Hegggggggarty, Clarke, Hunt, Bolland, the man they call Jones and North. The substitutes were Montgomery, Bennett, Boshell, Taylor and Till. Not much of a fish finger to chew on there: it's the usual as usual, so let's wait for the usual to happen. It usually does.

Well somebody's chewed the fish finger. Mighty Mariner and a giant gnawed fish-type finger roamed the Earth, terrifying children everywhere. Had a big mouse been nibbling? In his perma-tanned embarrassment, he's a living endorsement of local entrepreneurs' employment practices. The mascot and the marketing tool: hard times indeed, Mr Gradgrind.

Shrewsbury were big and butch and had a little huddle and cuddle before the game. That's as close as they got to their feminine side.

First half
Shrewsbury kicked off towards the Pontoon. Well, when I say Pontoon, I mean into the third row of the lower Frozen Beer Stand. Less than two seconds for a throw-in. Close your eyes and chant the tantric mantra: throw-in, throw-in, corner, corner, corner. Ommmm. The Shrews were shrewd and pumped Town full of lead. High octane, high ball, high camp nonsense in the noughties and Town were crushed like a grape. Outmuscled, outfought, outrun: it was like watching American Football.

Headed clear, half cleared, headed clear and caught. Sliced out, scruffed out and finally passed out. The ball or the crowd? Biff, bang, oi! Hunt rose to head the ball, but from stage left entered the big bad wolf. Arms up, elbows out, elbow into head and Hunt flattened. After a few thoughtful sucks on his pipe, the referee eventually gave Town a free kick and raised not even an eyebrow towards their midfield miscreant.

Repeat action, repeat sigh. The ground was silent for its groundhog game.

After about five minutes of this Sealed Knot Society charity re-enactment of Friday night down Meggies, Town did something. North received a pass near the Police Box. A pass! A pass! A pass! He spun and flicked Heggggarty free. With raging hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants, he did the old soft-shoe up the wing and cut infield. Hird flew down the right, a hollerin' and a hootin' for the ball, and that ball duly arrived along the ground. Now there's fancy. About 20 yards out, to the right of goal, Hird waited for Bolland to race around and come up behind him again. Unmarked and a dozen yards out, Bolland shankled a shot way over the bar.

A couple of minutes later the Shrewsters broke away surprisingly. Someone missed something and their little right wing bojangled away to flabble a drippy, bumbling cross through the middle of the six-yard box. The ball skipped and tripped and hip-hopped long, with the unmarked Madjo lolloping after it. Where have you gone, Guy Madjo? He caught up with it by the corner of the penalty a area, turned around and went on a crazy leg meander back towards goal. Tom Newey stretched and blocked the eventual shot. Woo, woo, woo.

Was that handball in their area?

Newey pumped a Neweyian punt down the left and Jones flicked on; North spun and walloped over the bar. Is that it? Yes, that's Town: punting down the river of dross. This was awful, ugly and bereft of beauty. This was a fight club where bare-knuckle pugilism masqueraded as association football. Town were battered by the angular extremities of the blue shirts: we'd paid to watch a series of street muggings. Fenton came out of it naturally the worst: beaten and bloody, he was almost sick down his shirt as forearms snapped into his neck and nose. Out of all this the referee decided to warn Atkinson for winning the ball in a tackle. Not a word was said to these Welsh ruffians as they trampled Town underfoot.

Oh. Bolland had a shot. It stayed inside Blundell Park.

O-oh, Madjo. Barundling and barging, rolling and rawhiding the Town back three, this man was a perpetual motion pest. Town were besieged and permanently encamped within 20 yards of the Pontoon, incapable of kicking the ball more than those 20 yards. Clearances were shinned and scraped, or sometimes just passed back to the Brutes. A shot! Wide. A shot! Blocked. A corner! Murdock headed down from a dozen yards; Barnes watched it slowly swerve and skip off the turf before rather theatrically falling upon this spinning globe. A minute later something else happened which caused gasps and gawps from the timorous. Whatever it was it is lost in the broth of banality, the endless loop of mugball and mirthless marauding.

Quite simply Town could not cope with them or keep the ball. How do we keep the ball? Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes: put it in a pantry with our cupcakes; or on the grass.

After about 25 minutes Bolland walked off and on came Boshell. Poor Danny. 'Twas too early and his head was still upon a pillow, dreaming of electric sheep, while his legs were under the duvet. His body and mind moved yesterday, while the Shrews were already on tomorrow.

Was that handball in their area?

Town had a free kick, Boshell stopped and gently headed back towards the near post. The keeper who couldn't kick caught it. No-one died. Town had a corner on the right which was overhit. Fenton chased it to the corner flag and tackled Langmead, who cleared. Langmead fell to earth and the Town fans wondered whether we'd get the throw-in. Shrewsbury cried. Half the Shrewsbury team hurtled over and started barging Fenton, jabbing fingers and jabbering into the referee's ears. The coward in yellow booked Fenton because they asked.

Was that a handball in their area? C'mon, hath thee not eyes to see? They have arms to hold Town too.

In the last minute of the half Town's defence disappeared into the salt marshes of Donna Nook. Gulping Guy fibbed down their right, pursued by Newey; Davies sprinted right down the middle, with Hird already queuing for his half-time tea and the ball was duly rolled into his path. Barnes crept out, lay down to his left and Davies, after oodles and oodles and oodles of time, passed the ball against Big Phil's lovely legs, the ball being kicked back to the edge of the area. And still Town dithered and didn't, passing the ball back to them once, twice, and nearly thrice. The Pandemonium Carnival is back in Town. Can we go to the toilet now, Dave?

Ghastly, grotesque and gruesome. And that's just their back three. An awful, awful half, where it was hard to tell who was worse: Town or the referee. The coward in our county allowed Shrewsbury to manipulate him and manhandle Town by ignoring jutting elbows and chest-high studs-up challenges. For all that, Town did not play intelligently, succumbing to the scare tactics and just being feeble. The back three were fairly staunch, but elsewhere there was just the occasional Hegggarty moment, mainly in defence. There ain't nothing going on up top.

Still, we never lose when we're rubbish. So let's carry on regardless, eh?

Second half
Till replaced Hird at half time, with no change in formation, for Till was the right wing-back, still not a pink toothbrush. Isn't this just a repeat?

From the off Till's attacking intent was clear. He pounded forward, turning his marker three ways, four ways and finally five ways to win a coroner. I mean corner. Hmm, it is a repeat. For three minutes Till was magnificent: as the tackles did fly, he jumped so high, then he lightly touched down. Roving and roaming at pace, swishing past several large lumps of Shropshire Blue, Till terrified them. But nothing came of these runs, just moments of potential excitement. We stood up, we made a noise, but they fizzled out through an extra touch, or a lack of movement from the strikers.

North was sent free, with Hegggarty in support, Lumpy in another port and Clarke in the court of the crimson king. Ah, but Dannyboy did what Dannyboy always does: he didn't look up and the moment passed because he didn't. Oh, look at this. Till tip-toeing, Lumpy licking and North nobbling for Clarke to sandpaper the crossbar from 25 yards out. One-touch passing and movement. See! It works!

This was better, but then sticking your head in a fridge and staring at the cheese would have been an improvement on the first half. There were hints of hope, the smallest smidgeon of the sense that Town were starting to get a handle on their handlers. And then it all went wrong.

About ten minutes in to the half, Town's mental roof caved in when North chased a punt over the top towards the right corner of the penalty area and big bad Murdock pursued our erratic errant knight. After some minor handshaking and shoulder-rubbing Murdock raised his left arm and did a forearm jab across North's neck and into the left cheek, sending Dannyboy sprawling. Given the referee's performance so far we expected North to be sent off for being attacked. Oh no, have faith that there is a little humanity left inside Roboref. Murdock was dispatched from the pitch after much moaning and groaning by irritating Salopians. They couldn't believe the ref's inconsistency, for what was so different about that challenge?

I hadn't noticed how high their keeper had pulled his frilly nylon shorts up. Oh, tight. Perhaps that's what attracted his manager's attention. Why did he sign him? For his music or his trousers.

The free kick was curled to the far post where Fenton and Jones rose, but Garner flap-parried away. From the corner Atkinson spun and wallied a volley to infinity and beyond, or the last row of the Pontoon, whichever is further from civilisation. Buckley and Watkiss spun together in impotent fury, like a local version of Strictly Come Ice Dancing Queens. A minute later, after some slower dancing, Heggggarty widdled free and crossed excellently into the middle of the six-yard box. Hunt ran to the far post; no-one went to the near post and Garner scooped the ball up easily.

And then Town turned off. The Shrews upped their mentalness quotient to 11.5 and hit tackles harder, jumped high, stronger and faster. These dervishes were possessed with fiendish madness and a fiercer determination to survive. They eschewed their previous nods towards prettiness and banged everything as far and as high as possible, whacking the ball down the sides for the irrepressible Madjo to chase, with the midfielders determined in support.

Town rocked and rolled. North was the catalyst for the internal combustion with a terrible, ostentatious crossfield pass with the outside of his right boot. He simply set them up for a counterattack on the halfway line. The moment was saved by Fenton with a last-ditch slide. The corner curled into the near post and some big bloke rose above the mediocrity to glance across the face of goal. Barnes was transfixed, but Till was transformed into Toto the hero, rising and stretching to squeal a header off the line.

They did not stop.

A free kick from Davies riffled the side netting, to the fake oohs of the knot of Shrews in the Osmond. Madjo was blocked by Till, Fenton scraped, Atkinson lunged, the ball pinged and ponged, and Town were tottering, panicking, and gripped by inner turmoil. We were no match for their untamed grit.

With 25 minutes left the unlucky Clarke was replaced by Taylor. Town changed to a 3-4-3 formation, with Taylor to the left and North the right of old Lumpy. This allowed Shrewsbury even more space to hump and chase the ball. Onwards, onwards forever onwards they streamed, with pressure piled on the Town defence. The line was holding, just about, with toes still poking and heads still grazing away at the last moment. Their Herd shot comically, the ball ending 20 yards left of goal. We laughed. In relief. He should have passed to an unmarked colleague.

And then the inevitable happened: Town imploded. The ball bounced around on the Town centre-left, just outside the area, and Boshell tried to head back towards either Barnes or Fenton or Newey. It was never made clear and the black box recorder has not yet been found, so perhaps we'll never know. He just headed straight into the path of their substitute, old mother Hibbert, who waddled forward a few yards into the penalty area, steadied himself and completely mis-hit a shot across Barnes. The ball bobbled, bumbled, bombled and stumbled along the ground. Barnes rested his head upon the sea bed and failed to hold on to the ball, fumbling it away from his body, straight to Madjo, who swept it high into the left-hand side of the goal.

Why does someone always send up a firework from behind the Osmond when the opposition score? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to seek and destroy this infiltrating, interloping imbecile. This team self-destructed in ten seconds.

From the kick off Town harrumphed, with nicking and knocking, Taylor seeping into gaps and laying off passes to players who were almost there. Jones bambied on the right, hooking a teasing cross at head height through the middle of the six-yard box. Hunt ducked underneath the ball, much to the chagrin of chavs and chav-nots in the singing-ringing tree corner. You know, something rather strange happened: the Town supporters displayed the semblance of support in adversity.

With Town burning for salvation, in certain knowledge that if they didn't they'd burn in damnation in the dressing room, even more gaps appeared into which the blue battalions poured. What's that you say, Mr Atkinson, Gulpin' Guy has left and gone away? Hunt popped up in his coat of many colours to poke and prod Madjo into a begrumbing slurper at Barnes. Luckily Madjo only got around to trying to control the ball after he'd licked a few second-class stamps and filled in his lottery numbers. Stood maybe three, maybe four yards offside, he received a pass in the middle of the Town half and was so sure he was offside that he stopped and started to shrug his shoulders, but the linesman waved play on. Panic in the studios of Compost, Lincs FM and Hummmmmmberside, as Madjo wondered to himself what he should do. A-ha - pass to a teammate. And so he did - to Hibbert, a dozen or so yards out in the centre, who swept a first-time shot low to Barnes' left. A superb save, held, and we could dream again. Any dream will do the way this is going.

With ten minutes left the game perceptibly changed, for Shrewsbury sunk back to defend, allowing Town's midfield a little more time. And Boshell began to beat out a little ra-ta-ta-ta rhythm. Town started to use their flanks, and passes were passed. Till roamed after 30 minutes of being ignored by his teammates. The Shrews were pushed back and began to be filleted slowly, while still breathing. Newey flew up the left, Heggarty and Taylor exchanged passes and North's shot was blocked. Taylor again, infiltrated and crossed, Heggarty too. Till, Till racing on and on, the blue knees knocking, with Garner flapping.

Hear that? It's the distant rumble of drums: the Pontoon remembering its past and revving up to a roar. Hegggarty crossed through the area and North at the far post didn't slide, but watched it go a yard in front of him and a yard from the post. Don't worry about the grass stains Danny - modern technology eradicates stains in a single ecological wash. A cross zweered into the near post and Garner parried upwards, clutching the ball as it dropped near Hegggarty's head.

We could feel it, that old Town feeling, that old Town roar; the Pontoon in fuller voice, the opposition wilting under the intensity of the yells behind and the bells clanging inside their heads as Town picked at their seams. Hegggarty fell under a challenge inside the area; play waved on. Did that shot hit a hand? Was that a push? Jones flicked, North stretched, a big defender bruted the ball away, but back to Town. The siege had begun and they sent for reinforcements. On came an even bigger defender.

Town flowed from right to left, with Till dreaming through three tackles, Boshell lifting the ball out to the left and Newey raging a torrent down the wing. Taylor flicked, Jones side-stepped and was crowded out near the penalty spot. The crowd was on its feet bellowing to those below to keep on keep on keeping on.

Jones flicked on a throw-in, and the ball bi-bubbled around with head and shoulder tennis. Hegggarty, a dozen yards out to the left of centre, bounced up and hit a spectacular overhead bicycle kick. The ball arced over the defence and Garner leapt up to fingertip away from underneath the crossbar. Everybody up! Their discombobulation is not yet complete.

Sorry, what was that? I can't hear you any more, and I can't speak any more. Oi, the ref's just elbowed Hunt off the ball!

Bish-bash-bosh. With the ball swaying across the field, Town were finally organised and ripping these straw soldiers apart. Oooh, Jones volleyed, Garner plucked. Ooooooh a final raid. Till crossed deeply and Jones, eight yards out, headed down and back across goal. Garner was soldered to his goal line and his defence moved left, but Hegggarty hared in and poked the ball back from six yards out towards the bottom right corner. A moment of silence, then an explosion of impotent frustration as Garner changed direction and flung himself towards the ball to hold on to the rolling salvation. If only Hegggarty had miscontrolled the ball, but he just ended up doing a cushioned back-pass.

Heads were in hands as the second hand ticked on towards the end of time. Opportunity had knocked but Town had refused to open that door, folks.

But still Town poured forward. Taylor squeezed another opportunity to cross and Town won a corner. Till tipped it high into the centre and bodies collided, sending the ball out towards Boshell, 20 yards from goal. He steadied himself, leant back and cracked a shot into the ground. The ball bounced up, through around and was going well, well wide. North, ten yards out with his back to goal, leapt up and did a high-stepping kick and flick, magnificently riverdancing a volley with the inside of his right foot through his own legs and into the top left corner. North you beauty! He ran into the corner betwixt Pontoon and Frozen Beer Stand and was overwhelmed by teammates and the gaggle of early leavers. If they hadn't left their seats the Pontoon roof would have been orbiting Neptune.

Is that it? How long left? No idea - let's carry on and next goal wins it, eh?

The ground was bouncing, willing and wallowing in sentimental memories: demanding, nay expecting, victory. Town flattened whatever Shrewsbury did, taking the ball and running away towards the Pontoon. Was it a corner, was it a cross, what was it, who cares? The ball was in the area somehow, dinked to the left, but going wide. North squatted, nodded and helped the ball on, flicking a back header towards the top right corner. Another moment of total silence as the ball arced toward the net. Drop, drop, please drop… it dropped, it was in, it was in… it was brilliantly pushed away from the very top corner by the very, very end of Garner's fingers. The corner was cleared, the whistle blew and Shrewsbury ran off down the tunnel as quickly as they could. Town had been magnificently unplayable for about eight minutes, and unwatchable for the other eighty-two.

Town were clueless and useless for much of the game, being bullied and simply holding on. There was little to be proud of until the very end, when it was like old times; free-flowing movement and a crowd permanently on their feet and at the top of their voice. Mostly there was just nothing going forward, and the constant pressure upon the defence resulted in clearances that were hurried and hopeless. No pace up front, no guile in midfield and, above all, not enough big men.

It was exactly the sort of game, and performance, you'd expect from a mid-table team in the fourth division in January. We are what we are.