Fixtures and results so far
Meek's football cliches
Think of a number competition
Charts and graphics
CA man of the match
CA un-man of the match
What came before
Review previous campaigns covered by Cod Almighty
Into the groove
20 March 2007
David Burns, the Radio Humberside sport editor, frequently seems to open his mouth without engaging his brain fully. Last Saturday seemed to be no exception. 'Burnsy' observed, in his summary of the day's action for the three local League sides his station covers, that their fortunes were varying.
Despite losing at "promotion-chasing" Sunderland, the mighty mighty Hull City hadn't slipped into the relegation places of the self-styled Ship of Champions. Scunthorpe grafted out a point at Brighton, extending their unbeaten run to a club record 16 games, while remaining top of the third division – and probably playing this great football we're told about every weekend by Radio Humbs, but which no-one else actually seems to have seen. And then Grimsby, "on a decent run".
OK. It's certainly not 16 games unbeaten. And they may not be in the division below football's hallowed ground of the Premiership. But seven wins in eight games? Has David Burns been to Blundell Park recently? Or is he too sounding great on Radio Humberside's FM frequency from the big grounds with great acoustics that Hull get to lose in? The fact is that this "decent run" saw the Mariners rise from second bottom in the table to 11th, and 15 points clear of the drop zone. That's not "decent"! That's bloody great!
Tonking six goals past Boston! Roaring back to win by the odd goal in seven against Bristol Rovers! Danny North's dramatic late winner against Mansfield! An injury-time winner to sink Wrexham! Boring a win out of Bury! Effortlessly winning at Hereford! All with thrills – and a few spills from Phil Barnes. And along come Swindon, hovering in the play-offs. We'll lose this. We should be safe from the drop now. We don't need to turn up. They need the points. They'll pop our merry bubble, the spoilsports.
Come half-time: disappointment. 0-0. Nothing-nothing. Nothing in it at all. Hardly any action, let alone shots on goal. Two teams neutralising each other. We're drawing with a team that's 20 points above us in the table. Sort it out Buckley! A surprise half-time switch, the removal of Bore. In all senses it turns out.
Attacking the Pontoon, the team get into their groove, the crowd warms. Who is that little limpet on the left? It's Tom Newey, looking the kind of player you want to be tied to your club on a three-year contract! And rejuvenated, John McDermott plays like he did ten years ago, overlapping down the flank. Our centre-backs are getting stuck in, committed to marshalling the Swindon forwards. The body of Justin Whittle is a human barrier between ball and goal, sometimes between red-shirted players and the ball. Nick Fenton? Oh, Nick Fenton! None shall pass you, and then you pass, deftly lofting the ball long into one of the channels.
The midfield? There is a midfield! It works! It battles! It defends! It manages to string together two or three passes! It sprints upfield on breaks! It also scores goals! What more do you need? James Hunt's simplicity is his strength – blocking, blocking, blocking – allowing Paul Bolly, back to his imperious form of last season, to run amok. Despite being right-footed, Ciaran Toner seems to be building a handy relationship with Newey, and continually looks inside to move the play in from the flanks. Bore's replacement, Peter Till, brought excitement, taking the game to Swindon's left-back: twists, steps over the ball a couple of times, haring down the wing.
Scampering along their backline, the harrying spirit of Martin Paterson lives on in Danny North. The week's sweetie cupboard shows no danger of burning away from Gary Lump's waistline, but he shields the ball and lays the ball off for the team to spring forwards off.
The second-half performance is a pleasure to watch. Passion and passing. Wingers and wily. A return to the old days. Unfancied Town the upstarts, upsetting the favourites. What more does a fan of the perennial underdog want? The goal is an indicator of a rejuvenated confidence and professionalism that the team is starting to exude. First it was marking at corners. Now following the first maxim of football: play to the referee's whistle. Unlike the Swindon defence, distracted as they were by the linesman's frantic flag-waving. Isn't 'savvy' what other teams do to us?
And yet now, elated after that performance, it's hard not to look upward, hard not to glance up the table, towards the play-offs. An eight-point gap to bridge in eight games. Impossible? I remember just after the mauling in Torquay. I wouldn't have dreamed of this current run.
This coming Saturday Town play the team just above them in the league, Peterborough, and get a chance to leapfrog them. To continue our sneak up the table? I don't expect victory, but maybe this season isn't over just yet. And if we win, I'll phone "the region's biggest football phone-in" and tell David Burns what it's like at Blundell Park these days. And quiz him as to why Hull – the region's biggest team – haven't been able to pull off such a rise away from the foot of their league table. And whether Scunthorpe play with the verve Town have shown recently. I wonder what he will answer...