Triumph and Disaster

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

10 April 2022

A pleasant winter evening by the Humber, until five minutes before kick off, when a torrential sleet storm appeared from Scunthorpe, blowing down the pitch into the Osmond Stand. The sleet arrived just as Matt Tees and Dave Boylen wandered on to the pitch to get the crowd "up", with Boylen in charge of the cheerleading, calling to each stand for some noise. The kids obliged, for there were many.

Stockport brought some supporters, huddled together in the corner of the Osmond and indulging themselves in some gallows humour. Perhaps they are a month ahead of us there then? The Town fans were unusually confident, expecting a big victory. But surely Stockport can't be that bad. We'll soon find out.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Groves, Todd, Smith, Butterfield, Burnett, Pouton, Campbell, Pringle and Allen. The substitutes were Croudson, Coldicott, Ford, Boulding and someone else (who looked a bit like Jevons). All the subs were under several layers of wool and man-made fibres, so it was difficult to tell which was which and who was who. So the left-back conundrum had been solved: old Smithy, brought back from beyond the grave, yet again, for a cameo performance. Many a grumble about the lack of Chapman. And no-one mentioned Willems. Who? The grumbles turned to excited whoops when the crowd realised Allen was partnering Pringle.

As Stockport lined up it was difficult to discern a formation. There were 11 blokes in yellow standing around, some grooving with a pict, and they all seemed to be standing in the middle of the pitch. It was also noted that their kit was exactly the same shade of yellow as the ball.

So, it was now or never for Town. How would they start?

1st half
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon (to huge groans of disappointment and fear, as Challinor was in the Stockport team and the wind was a-howling and a-raging into Coyne's face) and tore Stockport apart for the first 10 minutes. Wave upon wave of Town attacks, most set up by rotten passing from Stockport. They were incredibly poor, all of their players seemed to have a rabid fear of the spaces outside the centre of the pitch, they simply ceded the wings to Town. I don't mean that they didn't have many players there, they had none at all on the right or left.

All this meant that the entire first 10 minutes was spent in front of the Pontoon. Butterfield and Campbell had almost an entire solar system in which to play, but produced nothing but moments of excitement as they ran towards goal. Butterfield had a penchant for hitting flat crosses to the central defenders, ignoring McDermott's sprints down the touchline on the 'overlap'. He was rebuked several times by said McDermott, Allen and Burnett. Campbell simply ran and ran until he ran into a defender.

The first effort on goal was a Butterfield header at the far post, from a Smith cross, which looped gently wide. Stockport's defence, no the whole team, looked totally disorganised and there was a feeling abroad that Town were going to score at will, especially when the crowd caught their first glimpse of Pringle, who was strong, fast and skilful. Pringle and Allen were all movement up front, looking very dangerous. All it needed was someone to pass to them!

And after seven minutes the pressure finally brought reward, to nobody's surprise. Town won a corner on the right, after another lightning quick break initiated by Pringle. Butterfield hit an outswinger beyond the far post. Todd, about nine yards out and four or five yards wide of the post, opened his body and placed a right foot volley across the keeper into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. Such a sweet and simple strike, no fuss, just a pass into the net. Todd milked the applause, and he received much. At this point it looked like professionals against a pub team, so awful had Stockport been. They had Carlton Palmer in Mike Lyons mode, playing centre-forward, with similar results.

After Town scored they seemed to relax, and relax a bit too much. They allowed Stockport to have the ball and watched as they buzzed around and played the ball across the pitch, and back again. Nothing much came of it, the only effort on goal was a free header at the far post from a corner on their right (which looped way, way wide and high). But it resulted in 15 minutes of poor football, as Town kept giving the ball away to Stockport, who passed it back to Town again (or out of play for a throw-in).

The referee had already incurred the wrath of the crowd for an over-officious, pernickety approach which stopped play for the most minor of matters. Campbell was frustrated when Pouton played a lovely pass over the defence setting him free. The referee stopped play for a Town free kick in their own half, as a Stockport player had caught Pouton as he passed. Allen was frustrated when a Burnett pass down the right touchline induced the keeper to trundle out of his area and try to fly kick the ball upfield. Allen tackled him, the ball rolled up to Burnett, the goal was open, the keeper stayed on the floor and 'writhed' a bit, and the referee gave Stockport a free kick.

The most farcical moment came when Allen chased forward to challenge as the ball was chipped over the defence, near the halfway line. The Stockport right-back waltzed over and cleared the ball against his centre-back's bottom. They both fell over, the ball rebounded towards the Stockport goal, down the left, leaving Campbell alone and free. So the referee gave Stockport a free kick for a 'foul' by Allen!

Around the 24th minute Town had a bit of pressure: a cross from the left, half-cleared and Pouton raced in to smack a drive into the top corner from 30 yards out, on the centre left. A Stockport player raced forward and just managed to poke the ball away from Pouton, and so caught the full force of a Pouton boot. Both went down, though Pouton hobbled back to his feet pretty quickly. The Stockport player stayed down and didn't get up again. There was a four minute delay as he was stretchered off. The referee made Pouton stand on the halfway line, in front of the Smiths/Stones/Findus and delayed the start of the game until Stockport brought on a substitute. Then he let Pouton come back on again.

This break woke Town up a bit, and they started to pass and move again. Just after the half hour Smith, who had been a potent attacking force down the left, received a pass out on the wing, ran forward, exchanged passes with Campbell and got to the bye-line. His cross was blocked for a corner. Pouton swung the corner in high, into the middle of the six-yard box. Groves leapt up, unmarked, and headed down past the keeper, who was standing on his line, flapping like a confused ostrich. Tidings of comfort and joy spread round most of Blundell Park. The scoreboard immediately packed up, being completely fazed by "Grimsby 2". It then returned with some Egyptian hieroglyphics. As I forgot to bring the Rosetta Stone with me, I couldn't decipher the messages flashed up.

After this Town started to do some 'showboating'. There weren't many chances, or efforts on goal, but a lot of pressure and fine build-up play, principally from Allen and Pringle, who kept dispossessing the Stockport defenders and setting up Butterfield and Campbell for crosses. The crosses were generally rubbish. Ah, Pringle and Allen, they terrorised the Stockport defence and each almost scored crackers. Allen twisted and turned on the left-hand side of the penalty area, swivelled, then wellied a right-foot shot straight at the keeper from a dozen yards out.

Then there was the 'Pringle moment'. A short pass was played up to him on the edge of the Stockport area, on the left. He had his back to goal but controlled the ball, then swivelled past his first marker, shaking him off by making use of a Swedish bottom. Pringle then nut-megged the second defender, swayed past him to the left, opened his body and curled a right-foot shot a couple of inches past the keeper's left-hand post. The crowd stood up and applauded some wonderful skill. I have a vague recollection of Todd having another effort, or at least being near the ball, near the Stockport goal, possibly from a cross from the Town right. A small matter in the great scheme of things, I know, but evidence of his danger near the opposition goal.

So far virtually no mention has been made of the Town defence. That's because they had so little to do, but of course did it so well. Until the 42nd minute that is. McDermott controlled a high ball about 25 yards out, on the right. He then knocked a short pass up to Butterfield, who turned slower than a sleeping sloth, allowing Palmer to nip the ball off his toes and stride forward into a big gap. Palmer surged into the penalty area, near the right-hand corner, and smacked a swirling left-foot shot over Coyne and into the top left-hand corner of the goal. The Town fans did not appreciate the excellence of the finish, preferring to ponder the rank rubbish served up by Butterfield. This goal rather summed up Butterfield's contribution to the game thus far. Slow, dim-witted, lethargic, he was Stockport's most effective player in the first half.

There were four minutes of added time, four minutes for the Town fans to fret and groan. Four minutes for Town to score again, sir! Burnett played a pass between the Stockport left-back and centre-half, down the channel towards the corner of the penalty area. The goalkeeper started to wander off towards it, then stopped. The Town fans gnarled and gnashed their teeth at Butterfield for not chasing it. The gnarling turned to cheers as Pringle sprinted across from the centre right and caught up with the ball. He turned inside, then out, throwing two defenders the wrong way, before whipping a low cross into the centre of the six-yard box. Allen steamed forward and toe-poked the ball past the keeper, who had again stuck to his line and moved his arms around in a circular motion, like a tai chi trainee.

And that was the first half. Incident-packed, and long moments of tedium. As Stockport had only had two efforts on goal, and barely got in the Town penalty area, the 'one' rather flattered them, but the 'three' didn't flatter Town. Stockport were appalling, but were being cut apart, which one would not expect from Town. The main reason for this was the Pringle-Allen partnership which delivered all that it promised. They moved, they linked, they had an understanding. It was a partnership, not two men standing near each other. It brought happiness to Blundell Park, and hope of survival. Despite the shortcomings (the wingers, who were quite poor), Town looked a solid team, capable of beating most in the division. However, there was one other poor performer – Pouton. Sure, he got stuck in, but his positioning was dreadful and his passing beyond description. He probably made two successful passes in the whole half. He kept passing to Stockport 30 yards out from the Town goal.

But who can complain at a half time score like that? I didn't hear anyone complaining, and that's a first.

Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"That Pringle's really sharp." "Complimentary pies for season ticket holders?" "Have you got a spoon? I can't get the back off." "I would wish Butterfield on my enemies." "Todd was on his todd for the goal!"

2nd half
No changes were made by either team at half time. Yet again, Town kept the opposition waiting for their return, which Palmer used to give a pep talk to his floundering charges. Either that or it was his new, revolutionary tactics – "all run after the ball", like the end of a Benny Hill Show.

The first five minutes were relatively uneventful, with a couple of Pringle spins and wasted crosses from the wings. Then the game, and perhaps Town's hopes, disintegrated.

A pass was played up to Pringle, to the right of the centre circle. Challinor slid through from behind, literally kicking Pringle up in the air. Pringle crumpled and never got up. The Town players ran up and frantically waved the physio on. A minute or so later they gesticulated towards the bench and asked for the stretcher and a leg brace. Allen went bananas and had to be restrained by Coyne, McDermott and Burnett. The crowd bayed for Challinor to be sent off. The referee only waved his yellow card. Now that was pusillanimous in the extreme, as Challinor had no chance of getting the ball, the only outcome of his tackle would have been a kick on Pringle. The crowd sank down in to their seats, stunned and visibly upset. Carlton Palmer then ran up to Groves and had a long discussion with him as the game restarted.

Oh, and Boulding replaced Pringle, who was given a standing ovation and had his name chanted, even as he was being placed in the ambulance. The ambulance was only away from it's position near the police box for a minute or two, and the two ambulances then spent the next 15 minutes reversing up and down. Did he ever get to hospital?

The game was played in a very subdued atmosphere after the incident, with the Town players quite obviously affected by the injury. The crowd too were down. About five minutes after the incident Challinor was taken off, though this only caused the crowd to rouse themselves into a froth of indignation, as Challinor wandered to the touchline, then didn't go off, then he did, delaying the match for over a minute. It was all down to the pompous, preening prig in green.

The next action of the game came in the 62nd minute, when Boulding surged down the left touchline, got to the bye-line and, mark this down for posterity, for it is a momentous moment, looked up and crossed. And an excellent cross it was too, zipping through the six-yard box just in front of Allen. A couple of minutes later Boulding spun in an inside left position, near the halfway line, and simply ran at the Stockport defence. He beat three players and, from the edge of the area, hit a low shot across the keeper and a foot or so wide of the left-hand post.

About 10 minutes after that, after a bit of one-touch passing on the right, Burnett dinked a pass over the Stockport defence, between their centre-back and left-back. Boulding sprinted forward, got in front of the defenders and scampered towards goal. The goalkeeper came out, stood up and Boulding, just to the left of goal and about a dozen yards out, clipped a right-foot shot against the keeper's chest.

These were extremely isolated moments, as the game slowed down and both teams seemed to accept that Town had won, and were just waiting for the game to end. The referee continued to annoy when he made Town take a throw-in three times, and he ended up booking a couple of Stockport players for late challenges. He also failed to book a defender when Pouton was body checked in midfield as he surged forward towards a loose ball, and when a defender literally hauled Boulding down as he sprinted on with the ball at his feet and no-one between him and goal.

The crowd amused itself with Palmer baiting, the most popular being that they believed he has onanistic tendencies. After a while Palmer began to react to this, clapping the crowd occasionally, in between his constant moans at the referee, and his constant trots to the touchline to consult his assistant manager. And that was perhaps the only interesting thing about the second half – the contrast in player management. Palmer has the Lyons approach, whereas Groves left the bench to make decisions, he merely played. And Stockport looked leaderless and clueless as a result.

You know I haven't mentioned Coyne touching the ball with his hands yet. That's 'cos he didn't. Stockport managed to get near the Town penalty area a couple of times, even running into to it once, but no shots. Until the 78th minute when a midfielder tried a shot from 25 yards, which was going wide, but bent even further wide as it travelled towards seat J36 in the Pontoon. And that was Stockport's contribution to Town safety. One shot in the second half, one shot and a header in the first. Literally nothing else.

Town attacked intermittently, but without too much purpose. Boulding kept running into Stockport players and Allen looked a little lost without his Pringle jumper. Campbell disappeared completely in the second half, with Butterfield unfortunately visible. One cannot accuse him of being lost in a blur of activity. With Dreadful Danny there is only ying these days. Groves, up for a free kick, hit a first-time right-foot shot a yard wide from a central position about 20 yards out. The only other effort I can remember is a shot from Pouton from about 30 yards out on the left, which hit one of the Town forwards and deflected towards the keeper's right-hand post. The deflection took away most of the ball's energy, and it was going wide anyway before the goalkeeper picked it up.

But there were two other incidents, one bad, one a bit of crowd pleasing by the referee. Firstly the bad. After 78 minutes Todd limped off, to a standing ovation, for the man is Handyside with knobs on. Ford ran on and was excellent, guiding, shepherding, caressing the ball to safety. And now it's comedy hour. After 84 minutes the referee suddenly stopped, turned round and waved a red card at Palmer, presumably for dissent. Palmer went mad and was led away by Pouton. Wow, Pouton as a calming influence shock. Palmer hung around the bench, the crowd bayed at him, and he was eventually led off down the tunnel, looking most displeased by the turn of events. Curiously, the crowd were most pleased.

There were five minutes of added time in which nothing happened. And that was it. Triumph overlayed with disaster. The Pringle injury ruined the game, and most felt that it ruined the Town recovery. The injury to Todd just exacerbated that feeling. In the first half Town had looked, on occasions, excellent. The two Charlton players have added solidity and competence. Or should that be 'had'. Allen was rejuvenated by Pringle and an exciting partnership fluttered, but was crushed on the wheel by Challinor. All very distressing.

Stockport were as bad as their points total suggests, which won't come as a surprise to any stray Stockportian reading this. You do have our sympathy. For Palmer read Lyons and Laws. Been there done that, eh. We expected a bombardment via Challinor's long throws, but he only did one, which ballooned up and was easily dealt with. Ah, you see what happens when he doesn't have a dry ball or gaps in the fence.

There were a couple of poor performances from Town players – yet again, the two wide midfield players. Pouton was also very wild, getting in the way a lot and passing below even his standard. But the defence was untroubled (mostly because Stockport were so fey), with Smith a very useful attacking full-back. He overlapped and dribbled into the area, not for him the usual Galli cross from 30 yards. He certainly added an extra dimension to the attacks (and made up for Campbell's lethargy).

But a win is a win, and oh so vital too. Town are still grasping the flotsam as it bobs towards the open sea. What a pity a shark bit off Pringle's legs.

Man of the Match
Pringle and Todd get very special mentions in despatches, but the academy award goes to Paul Groves, for an assured, calm display at the heart of defence, and some excellent distribution from the back.

Official Warning
Mr M Clattenburg

A petty little man, very much in the "I'm in charge" school of officialdom. Despite his sending off of Palmer, he gets 4.16.