Coming up for air

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

22 February 2003

Ipswich Town 2 Grimsby Town 2

A pleasant, bright and clear day by the Orwell with around 200 Town fans shoved into the usual top corner of the old stand, hovering like growling gremlins above the corner flag (as seen to the right on TV). The Ipswich players warmed up with a strange variation on the 'running up and down between cones' routine that is de rigueur for aspirant Premiership clubs. They ran together, jigging and jagging like one of those awful modern dance routines that BBC1 have decided are the hip way young persons will be encouraged to view their educational telecasts. Town? They ambled about, played a giant game of piggy in the middle. McDermott was the only player bothered about the rules, putting his hand in the air: "Sir, Sir, Darren's taken three touches."

Our first glimpse of the unknown soldier, Richard Hughes, revealed him to be chunkier than your normal Town player, with more distressing hair than your average bear. He's been growing it in anticipation of Portsmouth's ascent. A bit too long and 'continental' at the back for my liking. His shorts were a little too small as well, or maybe he has a big bottom. Ah, there's little Johnny Oster, back home again with his family, under the care of the Uncles Paul and Graham. Perhaps Town shouldn't try and sign him, but apply to court to be his legal guardians.

Town lined up in the less than usual 4-5-1 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Santos, Gallimore, Oster, Coldicott. roves, Hughes, Campbell and Boulding. The substitutes were Allaway, Barnard, Chettle, Soames and Bolder. Oster and Campbell played down the wings as the designated supporters of Boulding, with the other three holding the central areas. Hughes played on the centre left, with Coldicott the centre right, and Groves the hub around which everything whirled. As the game was about to start, Iain Ward, Chris Thompson and Terry Cooke appeared among the Town fans, to a big round of applause. Cooke was serenaded to his seat with eulogies, and if garlands rather than a narrow selection of confectionery had been available from the refreshment stall, they would have been bought and strewn across his path. He looked a bit embarrassed, and the upshot of this was that I am unable to give a pie report, as he was swamped by bonhomie and teenagers. Both Cooke and Thompson wore parkas that were at least one size too big, while Ward wore his duffel coat again [Duffel coats are the future - indie Ed.].

The pitch was very cut up, and there were three newly laid strips of turf in one of the goalmouths, incongruously placed among the mud. It looked more a like golf driving range than a football pitch. The younger element of the Town support wafted an inflatable lamb draped in black and white towards the elderly and content gentlemen below us hailing the Ipswich chairman, or did I mishear them?

First half

Town kicked off away from the bit where the Town support was congregated. It was carefully knocked back to Gallimore, who produced his world-famous dummy, fooling one of the Bents (they had two, D and M) into thinking a punt upfield was a-coming. Galli cut back inside and passed to Santos, who passed to Ford, who caressed a long pass forward. Suddenly Campbell was free on the left, 25 yards out with just one defender in his way. Clobbered. A free kick resulted, which was flighted beautifully by Oster, straight into the goalkeeper's hands. Of course it was a rubbish free kick, but it was done with such style that ladies of a certain age cooed and fluttered their fans, Mr Darcy. Well now, their goalkeeper was soon espied as a potential weakness. A little lad called Pullen. This was his league debut and there was an air of apprehension in the Ipswich defence whenever the ball went near him, which was replicated in the stands.

All of which rather sums up the first few minutes. No great moments to reminisce about as you drift towards slippers, draylon curtains, and infrequent visits from your ungrateful grandchildren. Though nothing was produced, the mood music was much more upbeat than last week. More a little bossa nova than a Kentish funeral march. Ipswich were unable to work out what Town were doing (hey, we feel like that mostly), confused by the single striker being quickly supported by wingers and, most of all, by the fact that Town were passing the ball and moving into space. Cha-cha-cha. Ipswich were relying upon the muscle of M Bent and the pace of D Bent. Quick and early the balls flew through towards Santos' head and Coyne's waiting arms.

After about eight minutes, Town broke down the right, with McDermott steaming up in support to challenge for a bouncing clearance near the left corner flag. Shoulder to shoulder, McDermott bounced off the blue barbarian and a free kick was awarded. Much to the chagrin of locals, for it wasn't much of a Suffolk punch. Hughes and Oster stood over the ball, perhaps taking the opportunity to introduce themselves, and finally Hughes curled the ball into the area using his left foot. Now that will cause arguments on the team bus with Galli and Barnard - whose left foot is most beautiful? Which is exactly the sort of abstract mental meanderings that were going through the Ipswich defence as the ball lazily arced into the six-yard box. And through to the far post, where Groves swung his right foot over the flight of the ball, allowing it to strike his standing foot, thus causing the opposition to gasp in wonderment at such outrageous and audacious skill. The ball trickled towards the near post, rolling past the ballboy who was accidentally wearing the goalkeeper's jersey, and a defender eventually wellied the ball away. The Town support rose, sat down, hovered three inches above their seats, and then roared in laughter as the referee pointed upfield. GROVES had scored, though some believe to this day that it was Max Wall.

This galvanised Ipswich into attacking, which was not what my doctor ordered. They suddenly picked up the pace and realised that McDermott could defend. So they switched to attacking down their right. Oooh dear - it'd only taken them ten minutes. Gallimore was totally skinned by Wilnis (is that the capital of Lithuania?), who proceeded to cross straight into Coyne's arms, and a minute later, out of play. The Ipswich pressure was relieved only by a Town breakaway, from which a corner resulted. And Town nearly scored from that as Groves, at the far post, leaning back, headed firmly across goal, forcing the goalkeeper to fall sideways and hold the ball.

Just four minutes after one of the greatest goals Town have ever scored in Ipswich this century, the opposition replied. Ipswich probed and prodded down the Town centre and right. They got nowhere, of course. Santos, Groves and McDermott repelled them easily. So Ipswich rapidly switched their attentions to the Town left. When the ball was still on the right, movement was made on the left, with M Bent pummelling across the face of the area, from right to left. McGreal curled a pass over and around Gallimore, who turned and slowly stretched to intercept. He missed by a few inches, thus allowing M Bent, who had infiltrated a space behind and between Santos and Gallimore, an uninterrupted view of the goal. M Bent, just outside the penalty area, crossed from the by-line towards the near post, and D Bent, about seven yards out, stooped in front of Ford's flailing boot and firmly headed down to Coyne's left. Cue tannoy playing a popular music track to artificially stimulate the locals.

The pattern of the game continued, with Town making some very interesting inroads into the Ipswich penalty area. Campbell and Oster were having a field day, roaming freely between the Ipswich defence and midfield. Twice opportunities were wasted when they got behind the defence and crossed behind everyone. The better one of the two was when Campbell bustled into the area on the right, feigned to cross, but cut back inside, looked up, saw Boulding and rolled the cross 10 yards behind the little scamp. This was a game between two bad defences, with, incredibly, theirs looking worse than ours. Tactically, Town were the top trumps. What is it about former Premiership teams that they flap like gnus when Town visit?

Chances? Well, Ambrose tried a spectacular bicycle kick following a high loopy cross from their right. It was not accurate or worrying in any way whatsoever. Gallimore got in a tizz when a cross was flighted into the middle of the penalty area from about 25 yards out. D Bent raced in and Galli decided to wrestle rather than head the ball. Bent ignored the minor irritant and reached the ball just before Coyne. He glanced a looping header over the keeper, who back-pedalled furiously, but the ball drifted a few inches wide. A little later Ambrose slowly curled a free kick from 20 yards out near the corner of the Town area towards the top left of the goal. Coyne ambled across goal and held the ball at head height, with no fuss. Things were going swimmingly for Town, Ipswich were beginning to pass the ball out of play, their fans began to grumble. What more could we ask for? Another goal? Come on, this is Town, we don't do that sort of thing.

Hughes won a crunching, full frontal tackle near the centre circle, right in the middle of the pitch. The ball flew forward to BOULDING, who turned round and ran at the defenders. That's the Galli-like retreating defenders. He kept on going, veering to his left. Oster sprinted up the wing, begging for the pass to be made as Boulding neared the penalty area. The Town fans stood up begging Boulding to pass to the unmarked Oster, but Boulding, greedily, hit a weak shot. The ball diverted off McGreal's backside and skidded across the cabbage patch. Pullen took great care in adjusting his feet and raised his hands to shepherd the ball away. The Town fans growled in frustration at such a wasted opportunity. Oster started to moan and wave his arms about. In the meantime Pullen forgot to actually dive and try to touch the ball, and it rolled pathetically, slowly, under him and in. My, my - did we laugh again? The answer is yes, we did. The tannoy didn't play any popular music to celebrate, though the theme music from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em would have been apposite.

Just 66 minutes to hold out. Ipswich carried on as they had done before, using a rather basic and atypically Ipswichian style of play. Little attempt was made to pass through the centre, which was partly due to the rotten pitch and to the permanent roadblock set up by the visiting Mariners militia. There were a few very worrying moments when the ball was loose in and around the edge of the Town area, but there were barely any attempts on goal. I can't remember Coyne making a save in the remainder of the first half as the men in front of him hunted in packs, closing down any hint of danger through weight of numbers (Groves, Coldicott and Campbell), weight (Gallimore and Hughes) or sheer force of personality (Santos). The nearest they got to causing any anxiety was a steepling cross which disappeared from sight for several seconds, eventually plummeting to earth from a cruising altitude that troubled the local flying school. Coyne punched the ball out straight to an Ipswich player, but his shot was charged down. For the locals that was exciting, so poor had Ipswich been. And that didn't bother us one iota. The football was being played by the Town.

Oster was a little too self-indulgent, though, when he received a short free kick inside the Ipswich penalty area. Unmarked, he waited for a defender, tried a couple of tricks and crossed behind all the Town players. A simple whack at goal would have been better. And Town, technically, had a goal disallowed. Another Town break, where they poured forward and outnumbered the defenders. Boulding, on the centre left edge of their penalty area tried to dink a pass behind the defence for Hughes. His first effort was blocked and his second released Hughes, who crossed to the totally and utterly unmarked Campbell 10 yards out, who tapped the ball in, but the flag had already been raised for offside well before.

That's the first half action. Not much from either side, but one of the Towns was better than the other. And it was us! Ipswich couldn't cope with the fluidity of Town's attacking, nor the depth of the Town defending. It wasn't perfect, for Ford was defending diffidently and Galli erratically, but generally it was fine and incomparable with last week's abject non-performance. But there were still 45 minutes left - plenty of time for fortune to slink its way towards the other Town.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"My dad supports Liverpool, but he's old."
"Hughes tackles like an oil tanker."
"I have itchy knees."
"Oster. Ahhhhhhhh."
"Spatial awareness, Boulding."

Second half

Ipswich made two changes at half time, replacing McGreal and Magilton with Naylor and Wright. This meant Matt Holland went to centre back to mark Boulding and they played with, effectively, three strikers.

The second half? I'll name that tune in six. They were coming through in waves. Holland marked Boulding out of the game, interpreting his feints and spins with ease; he matched Boulding for pace, but was always three yards ahead in his head. The result was that Town didn't have the outlet they had in the first half. And more and more clearances and passes were in the air. We had to put it together sooner or later, didn't we? Perhaps the simplest thing would be to describe the Town attacks. Well, let me see. Boulding was released down the left touchline, spinning past his marker (who wasn't Holland this time), cutting inside and letting fly from 20 yards. The shot hit a defender's bottom and Boulding fell over when the ball went back to him. Mucho frustrationo as Campbell and Oster had burst forward in support. Erm, Campbell was played through by Boulidng, again after a turn and sprint down the left, but Campbell overhit his intended knock through the defence. Goal kick. Yet another Town break saw them pouring forward in huge numbers; well, more than two. The ball momentarily fell for Coldicott, perhaps a dozen yards out. Perfect for a flying left-footed volley into the top corner, sufficient to send the Town 200 into paroxysms of delight, into the stratosphere of sensory pleasures. One supporter was so overcome with excitement he ran off to the toilet at the very moment Coldicott controlled the ball, turned round and passed back to Hughes on the touchline. Yes, a moment of almost danger.

That's it for Town - just isolated breaks that often foundered on Matt Holland, or a misplaced pass. After 64 minutes, Groves mis-hit a through pass to Boulding when Town were briefly four against two in the Ipswich half. He mis-hit it because of the lumpy-bumpy pitch. The game was almost entirely down to our right, so if you see a few dozen people in Grimsby with their heads permanently set to their right, and slightly down, then you know they were at Ipswich on 22 February 2003, between the hours of 3pm and 4:52, your honour. Or at least that's my alibi. Eyes switched between the players and the clock in the stand behind Coyne, counting down to zero in bright blue, false hope rising by the minute. Would it be our day? Two fluky goals and the opposition indolent. Could be!

Here comes some more circumstantial evidence. Ipswich pressed on the Town left, prodding and probing away at the running sore they saw in Gallimore. But Galli had a much more effective second half, standing his ground rather than running behind Mother Santos' skirt. Suddenly the ball was fizzed diagonally across the penalty area to the far post, where Naylor rose alone on the edge of the six-yard box. He carefully steered a precise header back across Coyne, which bounced once, twice, three inches past the post. Head in hands, 24,000 groans ringing in his ears, and just 200 cheers to salute his waywardness. And to think he turned us down for a loan. Pah!

A few minutes later D Bent caused a bit of a flutter in the centre of Town's defence, turning past Ford, who hacked and missed, and running into Groves and Santos. The ball deflected off the Wall of the Sound directly into Naylor's path, 18 yards out, to the right of the penalty area. His shot was diverted a couple of feet wide of the near post by something black and white. Ford was then booked. The corner was curled into the area and no chance followed. Ipswich had numerous corners, most of which hit Santos firmly in the centre of his huge, gleaming (uncannily like London Planetarium) cranium.

Halfway through the half Ipswich had a free kick, 25 yards out, to the right of centre, following an somewhat basic hack by Hughes. The ball was rolled sideways to Holland, who sliced a firm shot Poutonianly wide, to the huge satisfaction of those who know a Poutonian shot when they see it. There's one in every game, even when Pouton isn't playing. It must be an homage to the master.

I'm sorry, but that's just about it for incidents. Town didn't have a shot on goal in the second half and Ipswich, hard though they tried, created nothing else at all in open play. Two solid banks of black and white faced them, impenetrable fortresses that they couldn't scale, topple, undermine or storm. As the game wore on their style degenerated; they abandoned any pretence at passing and the ball was lumped up, usually diagonally. But their forwards didn't even get scraps. Fleeting moments of worry were usually assuaged by Santos, bustling, hustling, cuddling the ball away. The central three in midfield were immense, each covering for the other, sweeping away any loose chippings before a blueman could get near.

With 10 minutes left, Groves was replaced by Bolder, which surprised a few. There was no discernable change in the game, though: up to the Town area, and out again, in, out, in out, over to the left, back to the right, in, out. Never shaken, only occasionally stirred, the defence held impressively firm. Ford came out with grit, stronger, more determined, concentrating; he improved greatly as the game wore on. But still that nagging feeling, gnawing away at the back of our collective minds. It's Town - disaster always strikes at the cruellest moment.

The clocked ticked on, on, on - just two minutes left, and the final assault repelled by Santos, who knocked the ball to the left. But no. As Gallimore was about to clear down the touchline the ball hit a huge chunk of turf, forcing him to miskick wildly. The ball sluiced out backwards for a throw-in. Ipswich quickly switched the ball to Reuser on their left (who'd come on with about 20 minutes left). Macca chased and harried, forcing Reuser wide towards the corner flag, but the Dutchman clipped the ball against McDermott's shins at the last moment, gaining a corner. All Ipswich players bar one raced into the penalty area and heads dropped into hands all around as the corner was swung into the middle of the area. One big bloke flicked a header on from the middle, about 10 yards out. The ball looped and dropped onto the face of the crossbar, down, up and straight to another Ipswich player stood at the far post. He nodded the ball goalwards from a few yards out. The ball hit the post and arced slowly back out. McDermott, on the edge of the six-yard box, turned and looked as though he was about to whack it clear, but in rushed D Bent, who bundled the ball down and drove a low shot through the packed penalty area and into the net.

We looked at the clock: one minute left. An audible hiss emanated from the Town support. We really shouldn't have spent the previous five minutes celebrating our victory. The fourth official held up the board: three minutes left. After two of them Ipswich won a lucky corner following a Macca tackle that sent the ball out towards the by-line, only for it to spin through 90 degrees and out for a corner. The corner was curled at pace into the near post and Coyne punched the ball away as an Ipswich player barged into him. Coyne stayed down clutching his head, the game carried on and Ipswich lobbed the ball wide of the empty net. After a bit of treatment, play continued. And continued. And continued. Town won a corner way past the three minutes and just kept it in the corner, wasting time. Santos and Ford had raced up for the last-gasp effort, then had to turn on their heels and sprint back again.

Eventually, four minutes and 41 seconds after the board had been held up, the game ended. A rousing reception for the players, for despite the dejection brought on by the last-minute equaliser, the support appreciated the vast improvement since Gillingham. Town were the equal of a poor Ipswich team, or should that be poor Ipswich performance. But was that because they were poor or Town made them play poorly with innovative and fluid tactics? As always, perhaps a bit of both.

Individually no-one was dreadful - a couple had ropey first halves, but improved drastically after half time. Oster seemed to be a catalyst merely by his presence. He didn't do that much today, just the occasional swish and sway, but just being there was enough. Campbell was prominent and thrived in the five-man midfield, where the middle three were an excellent defensive wedge. None had any pace, and only Hughes looked like he could pass with any accuracy, but they did what they were supposed to do. Hughes? Jury out. He looked fine for what he was asked to do, which was simply to stand in the right places and stop them. Don't get excited about him; he doesn't seem to be a flair player. A solid character in every sense of the word.

So a point gained or two lost? We can only get a true perspective in May. Town played well and Oster is back - you can all sleep a bit better now.

Nicko's man of the match

What a difficult one. Campbell buzzed and worked himself to a standstill, Groves was mightily effective for 66 minutes, then he seemed to wilt. It probably has to be GEORGES SANTOS again, for a steady stream of timely tackles and for the fact he was never beaten.

Official warning
R Olivier

At 2 feet 8 inches, the smallest referee in the league. He kept the game flowing, but was always in control. His only arguable decisions were actually ones made by the linesmen, one of whom refused to give any offsides. Oh, and that mysterious disinclination to end the game. Overall he was most acceptable, refusing to bow to home demands, and deserves a high marking. That'd be 7.682979 then. And it is.