Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

17 August 2002

Grimsby Town 1 Derby County 2

A draining, boiling, frazzling day gave way to a pleasant evening sur L'Humber, with a watery sun, hot air and a cool breeze. The Osmond Stand was almost full with daytrippers, even the green seats were occupied with some sunseekers, soaking in that sizzling seaside ambience. The green tarpaulin (wasn't that a comic strip hero from the 50s?) had been removed from the Upper Smiths/Stones/Findus, so, presumably, the cleaners had been working through the nights cleaning up the pigeon droppings.

During the pre-match warm up McDermott received something from Groves in recognition of his 500 years in the game. It couldn't have been very big as it wasn't visible from the Pontoon. Perhaps he was presented with a little urn containing the burnt ashes of left wingers past, who never passed him, of course. There was a rather strange atmosphere, the weird kick-off time had completely thrown most people's body clocks. It didn't even feel like a Saturday, it was out of time, baby, dislocated from the rest of football.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Groves, Chettle, Gallimore, Cooke, Coldicott, Campbell, Barnard, Livingstone, Rowan. The substitutes were Hughes, Ward, Ford, Jevons and Robinson. So, as we all knew, no Pouton, no miracle cure for our Pinball Wizard, and for that the crowd bowed their head in disappointment. No step-overs today, the milkman's gone away. This resulted in Campbell playing in centre midfield, with Barnard on the left. Casting a sneaky glance towards the opponents Ravanelli was espied jinking and stretching, with Christie darting around energetically. Whoops, pace and guile against Waldorf and Stadtler in the Town defence. However would we cope?

Just prior to the kick off half a dozen strumpets shook their bottoms at the Pontoon, which sent the hormones a-racing in several 14 year old boys, and the occasional disappointed father of three with interesting hair. Sub-saucy seaside postcard drivel that pandered to the saddest aspects of maledom. They were accompanied by a boy in an ill-fitting suit "Tuck yer shirt in" and "You'll grow into it" were the kindest comments.

First half

And we're off! Derby kicked off towards the Pontoon and embarrassed Town with Premiership precision passing and one touch *total football* for 2.4 seconds. Now, you can forget about Derby for 30 minutes of playing time. The game was Town, all Town, the flow only broken by a dirty great big whack up the backside from Derby defenders, who followed Gregory's public instructions to a T and simply assaulted their striped opponents. Or perhaps the First division is full of dilettante teams who regard football as a non-contact sport, unlike manly Derby. They played for half an hour like their manager speaks, which is not a compliment.

Within a couple of minutes their giant 'keeper, Mart Poom, made our hearts go boom when he came way out of his goal, beyond the far post to drop a Cooke cross. The ball appeared to run down his body and off his boot to Coldicott, just outside the area on the centre left. Coldicott held off a challenge and smacked a terrific shot just over the bar at the top of the scoreboard to a land far, far away where Noggin the Nog was watching on Sky Sports 3.

A couple more crosses, a couple more Mad Mart moments where he absolutely refused to catch the ball. He punched, palmed and flapped at everything as if plagued by invisible flies. Town were lively and playing a "mixed game", some direct balls to Livvo's head, some passing and movement down the right. Always the right, eh? Livvo was playing well, moving freely, winning headers, controlling the ball and passing it accurately. There were no one-liners aimed at our loveable lumpen legend today. All was going swimmingly. Cooke looked to have the beating of whoever was supposed to be marking him. I am afraid that player never got close enough to the ball for us to decide who it was. Town pressed, Town got corners. From the left , from the right, from the left again. Some played long, some short and from one, which was played back to Barnard (I think) who crossed deeply in to the centre of the box, level with far post, Groves stooped and headed down firmly. The ball bounced up and was seemingly making steady progress towards the back of the net when, as if by magic, a goalkeeper appeared, diving spectacularly to his right, punching the ball away for another corner. This was swung to the middle of the goal, a bit of head tennis resulted in the ball arcing up slowly to the edge of the area where Groves rose up like a leviathan and headed powerfully towards the 'keeper's top left hand corner. Poom shuffled across his goal and tipped the ball over the bar.

After about 10 minutes, something dreadful happened. The ball was knocked forward towards Livvo about 10 yards or so outside the Derby penalty area. Livvo was stood still, waiting to jump vertically, the Derby centre back, Higginbottom, sprinted forward 5 or 6 yards leapt and went straight through Livvo. Both remained on the ground, the players rushed around, the crowd bayed for a red card for the *challenge* and the game stopped for a very, very long time. Groves went slightly ballistic (in his own way) at the referee and at Higginbottom, who only received a yellow card. Then the club doctor ran out. Well, he didn't run, more minced across the turf as if skipping gaily through a dewy meadow early one autumn morning, just as the sun was rising. Then a stretcher came out, then another one, which looked like an ironing board, or a home made surfboard. And still Livvo remained motionless upon the earth. More minutes passed, Livvo hadn't moved. More minutes, Livvo still lying in the position he first fell. More and more people emerged from the bowels of the Main Stand wearing uniforms of various descriptions, bringing medical appliances and such like with them. After a dozen minutes Livvo was eventually, very gingerly, taken away. Ravanelli made a point of going over to the stretcher and enquiring as to Livvo's health. He looked genuinely concerned and was the only Derby player to do more than give a cursory stare. A few minutes after play restarted a man walked on to the pitch with a shovel and dumped some sand on the very spot Livvo was slain. Those with mobile phones, and a friend at the other end watching television, reported that it was to cover up a big patch of blood, not a diesel spillage as some now chastened humorists first thought. Jevons replaced Livingstone.

The pattern of the game didn't change though, Derby still kicked anything that moved, collecting a couple more yellow card, with Campbell the chief target for some unfathomable reason. Rowan also managed to get booked, probably for being the youngest looking, and skinniest, player on the pitch. The referee, as all weak men do, picked on the one who wouldn't bite back to try and demonstrate his authority. Pathetic.

I can't remember too many chances in the next 20 minutes, just Town pressure and a series of crosses from right, and left, which had Poom all in a tither, but no efforts on goal. The highlight was probably the sub-Poutonian step over from Barnard which resulted in a deep cross and desperate headed clearance from deep inside the Derby penalty area. And finally Derby did something, and it needed a bit of a mistake from Groves to kick-start them. A simple ball over the top, down their inside right channel saw Christie sprint behind Groves and beat him to the drop. Christie was alone, in the area, bearing down on Coyne, from a position a few yards wide of the left hand post. He let the ball run, and run, then swiped a terrible slice into seat L74 of the Pontoon. "How *did* you manage to get relegated last season?" sarcastically flew down from the upper reaches of the Pontoon. A couple of minutes later Christie tried a flamboyant overhead kick from near the edge of the penalty area, on the Town right. The ball arced pleasingly over and wide. Not a troubling moment.

Ah, now Derby attacked down their right, won a free kick in annoying fashion and whipped in that cross. Here we go, dodgy free kick conceded and they'll score against the run of play. No! The ball was headed clear to Campbell just inside the Town area, he turned and broke upfield, passed out wide to Cooke, who continued forward, looked up and from around the half way line pinged a long, long diagonal through ball towards Jevons. The ball hung in the air just outside the penalty area, and Poom raced out, jumped over the top of Jevons and headed clear towards the left touchline. Barnard strolled forward, had a short chat with his caddy before selecting a sand iron, adjusted his stance, tipped his flat cap a bit further back on his head, and hit the ball straight down the middle of the goal from about 35 yards. Poom ran back, raged and turned as purple as his jersey. And the crowd went wild. A goal up, it was the very least Town deserved.

The lead lasted all of five minutes. Just before half time, or at least when half time would have been had Livingstone not been offered up to the gods of defending as a sacrifice, there was a short stoppage when a couple of players remained on the ground following a collision. Unfortunately for Town Cooke was in space and about to whip in a cross. The referee dropped the ball, instructing Derby to relinquish possession. They duly did this - only by whacking the ball out of play deep inside the Town half. Town were on the back foot and possession was quickly lost, with Derby setting up a short period of pressure. Christie, again, was played through behind Groves on the left edge of the Town area. Groves chased, Groves stretched, Groves legged Christie up, but the young whippersnapper stayed on his feet and laid the ball back from the bye line, 7 or 8 yards wide of goal, to a small shaven-headed player. The small, shaven-headed player chipped the ball beyond the far post where Bolder (brother to our Bolder) rose unmarked and placed a header down and across Coyne into the bottom left hand corner from about 6 or 7 yards out. What a bummer, and just before half time too. Er, not quite, as the fourth official raised his board with a number 14 on it. We scanned the programme... we're taking off Chris Thompson? No, 14 minutes of added time.

And in this 14 minutes Derby pressed, with Town beginning to look tired. Ravanelli treated us to a masterclass in multimillionaire missing. Firstly Groves, 30 yards out on the left, completely misjudged a very mundane clip forward by a Derby defender, allowing the ball to bounce under his foot. Ravanelli burst forward free, free at last from the human shackle that was Chettle. He allowed the ball to bounce up off his chest and away straight into Coyne's arms. The Pontoon appreciated the sublime, silky skills displayed and remarked that "Jevons can do that". A few minutes later Ravanelli received the ball with his back to goal, about 8 yards wide of the right hand post and a dozen yards out. He twisted, he turned, he hooked a soft shot a couple of yards wide of the far post. And I haven't even mentioned Christie's volley which sliced a Poutonian 22 yards wide of the goal, or Ravanelli's weak header from deep inside the Town penalty area. Town rarely threatened, the exceptions being a Jevons twist and cross which fizzed through the centre of the 6 yards box; and a wicked dipping volley from Cooke which remained inside the ground. Only because it dipped.

And that was the longest half. Derby put in a lot of work for parity. But we don't like to talk about that. This was by some distance the best Town performance so far this season, the players fizzed and were a cohesive unit, but still the strikers don't have shots. Chettle was so calm and unruffled he was barely noticed, though again he revealed his trick of falling over when an opponent was free, winning a free kick when danger beckoned. Campbell was back to the form he had when he came on loan - all action, the human dynamo, creating panic with strong surges forward down the middle. It was pleasing in every respect, apart from the scoreline.

The scoreboard packed up early again, with Town today playing "by C", with the Pontoon taunting the Derby folk with "Who the *flip* are by C?", which probably confused them.

Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk

"Gregory is just an (ex) Premiership version of Neil Warnock". "Blood coming out of his ear! Eurgh". "I prefer my cardigans to be yellow, with buttons". "Macca isn't past it yet, is he". "The pitch looks good".

Second half

No changes were made by either side at half time. Derby came out and changed their style, abandoning the more direct game and trying to set up the front two for combination flicks and tricks around the edge of the Town penalty area. And they should have scored a couple in the first few minutes of the half. A diagonal ball into the middle, right on the edge of the Town penalty area, was delicately headed into space by Ravanelli. A short, shaven headed Derby midfielder ran through the Town defence and, from what seemed to be a dozen yards out to the right of Coyne's goal, massively miss-kicked a shot several yards wide of goal, the ball careering off his big toe and into a family picnicking on the Site of Special Scientific Interest, the very spot that the "Wimbledon" supporter sat on Tuesday night. I understand that the National Trust will be making an offer to preserve that seat for the nation.

And then, out of the blue, another opportunity for Ravanelli. Nothing seemed to be happening, a Derby player clipped in a low, flat diagonal pass from the right over Chettle and onto Ravanelli's left boot, about 12-15 yards out, just beyond the penalty spot. He raced forward, adopted a Roy of the Rovers pose, and whacked a volley a few inches just over the bar. Town's response? Campbell had a shot from the edge of the area which hit a Derby player inside the box (in both respects). Not much of a response really. Rowan and Jevons got weaker and weaker as the game progressed, with Rowan especially visibly running out of steam around the 60 minute mark. But more trouble for Town before then. After 50 minutes Ravanelli rolled around Chettle, leaving our man in a heap, holding his side. A minute later he was off, replaced by Simon Ford, who got a rousing cheer.

Now the masterclass was nearly over. You see, that's why Derby's strikers cost billions and Town's cost thruppence ha'penny. Ours kick it just over the stand, they kick it just over the bar. But they create an awful lot more chances, so one is bound to go just under the bar eventually.

What more to say? Not much for Town, as attacks, if I may be allowed some poetic licence, foundered at the forwards, who were not quick enough to collect balls over the top, or strong enough to hold off a challenge. There were isolated moments to raise the hopeful Town fan from their seat, but they were just that - isolated, fleeting and ultimately frustrating. Ford, soon after he came on intercepted a through ball, advanced up field and played an excellent pass through the Derby defence, setting Jevons free. But up went the linesman's flag, down sat the Town fans. Derby had more of the play and started to press Town more when the defence had the ball, resulting in a Galli faux pas. He dawdled on the ball, seeking to feign a punt, then cut back inside. Unfortunately for the man with arguably the finest left foot in his house, he turned back into another Derby player. He now had two bearing down on him. He panicked, but refused to launch it long, instead he noticed a Town player 35 yards from goal, unmarked. He drove a low pass directly to this Town player who, for some inexplicable reason, was wearing a white shirt and white shorts. Derby broke forward, the ball being tapped wide then drilled back in low as Galli was caught in some barbed wire no-mans land as a flare lit up the night sky. Ravanelli ran onto the cross and, from about 10 yards out, to the left of goal, toe poked the ball 4 yards wide of Coyne's left hand post, as our grey goose squawked at him.

Ford was given every opportunity to show his speed of foot and thought, making several well timed interceptions and generally placing Mr Ravanelli in his big pocket. Quite simply, Ford must start from now on. Ravanelli was a constant menace with his movement off the ball and ability to shield the ball under pressure. Town mostly dealt with this by surrounding him with a clamp, with Coldicott the chief warden. But Ravanelli had a strike partner, the effervescent Christie, and it was he who was the catalyst for the defining moment of the second half. With 15 minutes left Christie was allowed to control the ball about 35 yards out on the Town right. He turned and surged towards the centre, jinking past a couple of challenges, and eventually sucking Gallimore into the middle. He then laid a short pass out to Morris on the left edge of the Town penalty, who cut in past the dazed and confused Galli before whacking in a hard shot across Coyne towards the right hand corner. Coyne leapt horizontally and firmly parried the ball out beyond the far post, whereupon it was knocked back towards the near post. Ford stuck out a leg, diverting the ball out to the edge of the penalty area, levellish with the right hand post. Bolder raced in, swayed past a couple of Town defenders and lashed a rising shot into the very top left hand corner of Coyne's goal. It wasn't exactly a surprise that Derby had scored again, as they had shown more verve and vim up front, but it still felt slightly unwarranted; they were not exactly stamping all over a severely weakened Town team. They looked like they belonged in the same division as Town. And that ain't too much of a compliment either, accidental Derby tourists.

Town did not wilt, they didn't give up. Barnard dinked a fine through ball in between the central defenders from about 25 yards out which Coldicott only just failed to reach, being cleverly blocked a la McDermott, by a hirsute Derby defender. Coldicott was then replaced by Robinson, after about 80 minutes, as Town changed to a 4-3-3 formation (which ended up as 3-3-4 when Groves hared forward in the last few minutes). Town had their best attacking spell around this time. Jevons was sent free down the left, he turned inside a defender and, from the bye line inside the penalty area, looked up and crossed behind Cooke, who back off and awaited the dolly cross. He leant back and smacked a half volley a few inches over the bar to the right of the centre. Cooke was really determined to retrieve the game, even sprinting back 30 yards to dispossess a Derby player inside the Town half to set up another town break. It felt like there were waves of Town attacks, but that may be the perception of a starving man. Jevons rather gave up on a through ball at one stage, where a little bit more application would have created danger. His mere presence would have been enough as Poom was rickety and decidedly rocky. Robinson was booked when Higginbottom stayed down after a challenge. Higginbottom had a tendency to make the most of minimal contact, and earned the further wrath (if that be possible) of the Blundell hordes when he clutched his head and squealed after a Rowan challenge. He immediately jumped to his feet and ran off when he noticed he'd got the free kick and the referee wasn't going to send Rowan off.

The controversial incident is coming up now. With about 3 or 4 minutes left Town won a free kick in the centre left of the Derby half. Cooke hit a shallow curling cross into the area, where Groves, about a dozen yards out and wide of the 'keeper's right hand post, threw himself forward and headed across goal. The ball looped, dropped and was going wide, but lo, here's Jevons, flying through the air with the greatest of ease. About 5 yards out and level with the left hand post he disappeared behind the giant Poom. Time froze, the ground was silent, up popped the ball, lazily lolloping over the 'keeper and into the net. The Town fans and players looked at the linesman, his flag remained down, it was a goal, the referee seemed to have given it, the crowd celebrated. Poom went batty claiming a handball, racing to the linesman whose flag remained down. The referee came over and...awarded a free kick to Derby, booking Jevons for (presumably) handball. The Pontoon grizzled, growled and issued forth a chorus of disapproval.

In the remaining minutes Groves headed a corner a foot over the bar and headed high from the edge of the area, the ball arcing gently to Poom, who still managed to look unsteady in catching the ball. Derby had breakaways, but I can't remember any particular chances being created, certainly Coyne didn't have to make any more saves. The game ended, a familiar result. But this time there really were positives to take from the game. The all round team performance was fine, individually too. The difference between the two sides was really the ability to finish. Ironically their expensive and highly rated strikers were Town-esque in their ability to miss. There was a certain cohesion by Town (forwards excepted) which, considering the spatchcock nature of the selection and the injuries during the game, was encouraging. But it all comes back to the same complaint "if only we had a striker". Always does, doesn't it.

And another thing - the crowd. Above all the crowd were starting to find a voice, there were periods of longuer and silence, but when roused they railed and rallied the team. We normally have to wait until March before the Town fans bother to turn Blundell Park into a wall of sound; maybe our desperation is starting early this season.

This was a game where we expected to be thrashed and ended up being annoyed by a narrow defeat. Neither side could have complained at a draw, which would have been a very fair outcome. But football ain't fair.

Nicko's Man of the Match

Groves had a good second half, Campbell a super first half. Ford excelled when he came on, whilst Chettle was solid and assuring when he was on. But, for a full game of exhibition defending, a true master, Mr John McDermott.

Official Warning

A Leake

We've had him before, he was not impressive then either. Very happy to book, but unwilling to differentiate between cynical clogging and miss-timed, ordinary, run-of-the-mill tackles. One never felt confident he'd make the correct decision, so 5.2. The Jevons "goal" doesn't gain, or lose him points, he just lacked authority, never seemingly controlling the game or players.