Diving for dear life

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

28 December 2002

Grimsby Town 1 Norwich 1

A clear, bright, windless and temperate afternoon in a jam packed Blundell Park, even the seats twixt Pontoon and Main Stand were occupied. As usual with a big Town crowd, the atmosphere was inversely related to the size of the home support. Quiet, contemplative and rather too content with life, with the usual ranters and ravers sitting with beatific smiles and benign intent.

Town lined up in the old 4-4-2 formation as follows :- Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Santos, Barnard, Oster, Coldicott, Groves, Campbell, Mansaram and Livingstone. The substitutes were Allaway, Gavin, Cooke, Soames and Thompson. Just for once, everyone was where you'd expect them to be, if you expect Campbell to be on the left and Oster the right, that is. Oh, and Groves in the centre of midfield, with Santos at centre half. And Coyne in goal, of course. The contentment levels rose off the scale with the sight of McDermott trotting out, all's well in the world when McD's in black and white stripes. You don't know what you've got ‘til it's gone. A quick glance through the Norwich line up revealed a happy sight - no Iwan Roberts, but Nielsen was there, as was the fantastically haired Daryl Russell, a latter day Stig of the Dump.

That's it for the pre-match festivities, we're off.

First half

Norwich kicked off towards the Pontoon and managed to knock it straight out of play. A good solid, Nationwide start. Less than two seconds, almost a season's best.

There then followed 30 minutes of Town putting on the style: lovely, sumptuous free flowing football with Oster at the centre of the universe, teasing, pleasing, rocking and rolling. Within the first minute he dribbled down the right, cut in, cut out, cut past the full back, drifted towards the goal and, from a narrow angle, poked a cross shot through the 6 yards box. A bundle of bodies converged on the same spot, sneezed and all fell down as the ball rolled slowly across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.

From the restart Norwich buzzed, like only canaries can, flicking and tricking their way upfield and into the Town penalty area. Daryl Hair dived spectacularly over a challenge by McDermott, earning a stiff rebuke from Coldicott, and a little talking to by the referee, who appeared to have bought Mark Lawrenson's old moustache in a car boot sale. And Norwich "scored", though the referee had long since given Town a free kick for a foul and/or offside. The Norwich supporters were oblivious to the facts, celebrating without cause. Town played their way upfield, with power and pace, one touch passing and a looping cross from McDermott, 25 yards out. Groves rose at the far post like Zeus, for it was briefly 1994, and powerfully headed over the goalkeeper. The ball smacked against the underside of the crossbar, dropped down near the line, straight to a defender who hooked clear. The Pontoon awoke briefly, as did the Scoreboard, which initially showed the score as "~~17 1 Norwich 1", later "Grimsby 0 Norwich1" and after about quarter of an hour simply packed up completely. So it got the right score lines, but not necessarily in the right order, sunshine.

Norwich had a couple of menacing breakaways which produced nothing but boos for Nielsen, who is still considered an avaricious foundling by the elephantine section of the Pontoon. Nielsen provided more reasons to be tearful with a series of late challenges that produced free kicks and some finger wagging from the referee. But the crowd rose in glee when Barnard pursued Nielsen down the touchline, slid across and did a Poutonian hooking tackle, scooping the ball up like an old carp in a net. Nielsen fell face down in the dirt, whilst Barnard got up and hared down the wing, cut past a tackle, played a one-two and carried on. And on, and on. When he was at the corner of the penalty area he whipped in a dipping, curling cross, which the goalkeeper clawed away from near his top left hand corner. Hey, hey, hey, Barnard! Town drove forward, pinning Norwich back with controlled passion. The defence looked solid, with enough pace and height to deal with the tricky forwards. Nielsen we know all about, and all he did was run around and foul. The other striker, Zema Abbey a tallish, wiry slippery eel, was occasionally tricky, but was kept out of the penalty area. So all Norwich could do was try long shots, which were so ordinary I can't remember how many yards wide and high they went. It wasn't totally comfortable viewing, as there was an underlying threat, hints of danger, for Norwich looked dangerous. It was merely that Town were defending professionally. Except when they weren't. There's always one moment isn't there, and here it is. From a Town corner, cleared easily, Norwich broke at pace after a misunderstanding between Groves and Mr A.N. Other (not a new loanee, I just can't remember which of our dark haired little players mucked up). Henderson ran forward from his own half, down their centre right , exchanged passes with Abbey and was behind the Town defence with just Coyne to beat. Coldicott and McDermott were like chalk marks in the rain, you could just make them out in the distance. Henderson approached Coyne and knocked the ball to the left. Coyne dived, but withdrew his hands and swivelled to avoid contact. Henderson, late of Pablo Fanques fair, fell over hoops and garters and lastly through a hogs head of real fire. The Norwich supporters bellowed for a penalty, and Henderson was booked and received a severe tongue lashing from Coldicott. A clearer dive you will not see, not even worthy of Jack Lester.

Despite the occasional break, it was Town dominant, with Oster the wizard: Merlin to Groves' King Arthur. Oster decided to roam where he pleased, which was invariably to the left, safe in the knowledge that McD was on the pitch, the comforting blanket at right back. More Oster the magician, the alchemist on the wing, pulling bunches of flowers from behind the fullback's ears, and bunting from their nose The "oohs" and "ahhs" resounded around the stands as he continued to torment and terrorise. Oster crosses fizzed though the box, with legs flailing desperately at the ball, but Norwich legs were longer. Livvo was present, but not quite a presence today, failing to win headers and only effective when the ball was pinged straight to him, allowing him to be dainty and deft in link up play. Now Mansaram was something different; a real pest, twisting and turning, a constant thorn in the side. After about 20 minutes something happened to really make the Town fans perk up. Livvo knocked the ball out to McDermott, who immediately rolled the ball infield to Mansaram, about 25 yards out near the corner of the penalty area, with his back to goal. Mansaram shimmied left and allowed the ball to roll across. In one movement he turned and wellied a left footed curling drive towards the right hand corner. Green, spectacularly and excellently, plunged to his right and parried the ball around the post. He is supposed to be a good ‘keeper, and obviously is. Now that isn't the sort of thing we pay our money for, is it.

In this period - still the opening half an hour - Town had several more efforts on goal. A sweet one touch movement down the left ended with Coldicott, on the edge of the penalty area, hitting a shot a yard over the bar. Another Oster inspired move ended with a little dink into the centre of the penalty area. Livvo with his back to goal looked set for one of his once a season Copacabana goals. Would he flick it up and do a bicycle kick? A back heel? No, he lost control rather feebly, dissolving like a sandcastle at high tide, only less spectacularly. Barnard was having a superb game, looking like a full back, looking fit, looking good. It couldn't last - it didn't. Norwich appeared to target him (and later Santos) for some professional challenges. You know the sort, slightly late, just enough to get a free kick but not enough for a booking. Either Nielsen or the Hairman (both of whom were chief ankle tormentors) clattered Barnard and he was left in a heap. A couple of minutes from half time Barnard just walked off and down the tunnel, replaced by Gavin.

I seem to have jumped 15 minutes here. Well, that's because Norwich took control, with their midfield mauler, Holt, taking over the game. Norwich twittered around the Town box, but didn't create anything other than an Abbey header straight to Coyne, right near half time. Unmarked, 10 yards out at the far post he headed softly to Danny Boy. Earlier, Wales' No. 4 made a small blooper, when a miss-hit shot from the Norwich left bounced up off his chest. Fortunately no-one was around to pounce upon his mistake.

And that's just about it for the first half, Nielsen committed at least four fouls, and Stig at least three, causing a certain grizzling amongst the Town support, particularly when Nielsen's hand caught Santos in the face. For once it was an accident, so we, like the referee, will let him off for that.

A rather good football match, with two decent teams thrusting and parrying. Town controlled the first 30 minutes, Norwich the remainder. It was very pleasing to see Town play with such poise, calm and verve against one of the better teams in this rotten division. But Town hadn't scored during the period of total dominance, and that was the gnawing worry deep in the bowel of Blundell Park.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"Do you think I'm the sort of man would buy a chocolate orange McFlurry?".
"Coldicott's job is to stand where Oster was. A bit like their full back then".
"Nielsen's half the man he used to be".
"Seven flavours of ice cream? Is that like the seven ages of man".
"Why am I never in toilet talk?"

Second half

Neither side made any changes at half time.

Town started as they had done in the first half, one-touch, passing and movement revolving around Oster. Corners, but no chances, unless you count Oster's corner drifting towards the top right hand corner, flicked over with difficulty, as a chance. With our little pearl diver, anything is possible. The game then settled down into Town huffing and Norwich fouling, with Nielsen, again, the chief culprit. After 50 minutes Santos eased the Danish pastry away with the most Gallic of shrugs, on the half way line near the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. Nielsen slid in from behind, slaying Asterix, with Santos clearly hurt and requiring urgent medical attention. He got the physio, which I suppose counts as the same thing. After a minute or so Santos limped back on. Norwich knocked the ball back to Green who whacked a huge steepling drop kick way into the Town half. Santos misjudged the flight, the ball dropping over his head and bouncing about 25 yards out, right in the centre. ABBEY ran across Ford, controlled it on his chest and hooked a shot across Coyne and into the bottom right hand corner. Mmm, they needed to cripple Santos to score.

Santos had a very poor next 10 minutes, giving the ball away, stumbling, fumbling and generally looking like he was confused by the pace of modern life. But still Norwich didn't have any particular efforts on goal. Sure, there was a long shot or two, one even made its way through the pack to Coyne, but went slowly and straight to him. They looked very dangerous on the break, using their pace to great effect, but not using their feet very well when contact with the ball was required. As the game is *foot* ball you'd have thought they'd have at least practiced kicking. Not that Town were much better. The goal appeared to knock a bit of confidence from the team, players visibly snatching at half chances, seeming a bit anxious. Norwich had clearly decided to hold on to what they'd got, with Holt becoming even more prominent, so much so that Groves was reduced to tapping Holt's ankles like he was checking the air in his back tyres. When the referee wasn't looking, of course. I think the Town players had decided the referee would allow a free for all, as he absolutely refused to book the persistent offenders. Rodger stood on the touchline counting the tackles and gesticulating wildly. He needed three hands for Nielsen by the end.

Town didn't give in, continuing to pummel the ramparts, with again Oster the playmaker; the ball attracted to his twinkling toes like small children to an ice cream van. But Norwich had finally realised that he was The Man for Town, and so hounded him in packs, snapping and yapping at his legs. Ban hunting now, for the sake of Town. The half chances were few, but the excitement still high. Mansaram was briefly free inside the area after some jiggery pokery on the Town right, but shinned his shot high and wide from just a dozen yards out. Some more hocus pocus by Oster on the right, led to some Reesian twists and turns. The ball was passed sideways to Coldicott, about 20 yards out in the centre. His delicate, scooped shot drifted a foot high and wide. A corner from the right was half cleared and Groves, leaning back just inside the penalty area near to the left of the penalty spot, hooked a shot towards the top left hand corner. The goalkeeper shuffled across his line and comfortably plucked the ball from the sky, like a furtive apple scrumper.

The game seemed to be drifting to one of those irritating 1-0 defeats where Town *should*, but *didn't*. Mansaram, after treatment, raced back on and nearly, so nearly, completed a fine flowing move down the right. Oster crossed, Livvo approached, Mansaram blasted over and wide (via a deflection) from the corner of the 6 yards box. With about quarter of an hour to go, a Campbell cross led to a half chance for Oster, following pressure from Town down the left. Oster danced into space at the far post, seven yards out, and headed straight into the ‘keeper's arms. The Pontoon fell silent, resigned to fate. Not even the consistent cloggings from Norwich defenders roused the ire. Around this time Mansaram was replaced by Soames. The fearful battering taken by Mansaram over the past two games finally told, as he wearily trudged off to a deserved standing ovation. Time, the game, was drifting. Then something wonderful happened. The ball was knocked up the middle and Livvo stepped across Mackay, clattering *accidentally*, leaving Mackay grounded and injured. Play continued, with Oster being freed on the left by Coldicott (I think). Oster was just inside the Town half but zipped forward, toying with his marker. A swivel of his hips, a shake of his shoulders, a spin, a sidestep, then into the area. OSTER cut back inside and, from about 15 yards, curled a right footed shot around his marker and over the ‘keeper into the left hand side netting. Oster was so cute he deliberately looped the ball in off the defender's boot. Such awareness, such skill, such a vital part of the cause. Groves celebrated the goal in most aggressive fashion, turning towards his own goal and doing a quick one-two into an imaginary opponent's stomach. Mackay and Livvo squared up and had to be separated. What could Mackay have been complaining about? Livvo is such a gentleman.

The last 15 minutes were full of incident, but no chances. Norwich had another couple of long shots, one of which reached Coyne. Town buzzed around without ever looking like scoring a winner. The story of the last few minutes was the referee's sudden decision to book players. That's Town players, not Canaries. Livvo was booked for a scything attack on Russell, Cooke was booked, ridiculously, for winning the ball fairly in front of the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. Ah yes, Cooke. He came on for the visibly tiring Groves with a few minutes left. Cooke played at left wing, with Campbell sent to the centre. Norwich made a substitution and the player walked off at about half the speed of Mansaram at Derby. No booking, of course. But then it shouldn't be, should it. There were three minutes of added time, quite stingy given the number of substitutions and injuries (Santos and Mansaram alone took up at least three minutes receiving treatment).

And that was that. Except it wasn't quite. For when the whistle blew Livingstone turned round and pushed his chest at Mackay, jumped up and down and gave little "come on" gestures to the huge Scot. As he was, very obviously, challenging Mackay to a duel, let's hope it wasn't shooting. I wouldn't back Livvo for pistols at dawn. Groves, like Poseidon holding back the clashing rocks, raced onto the pitch to separate the rutting bison. Two points lost and yet one gained, ultimately. The scintillating opening half hour drifted away to a midfield morass, as Norwich adjusted their tactics to bog the game down. They were also very *professional* in working out the limits of the referee. A daft goal conceded, their only real effort on target all game, yet Town did come back and equalise where, in the past, we have often seen a game dribble away with a whimper. And for that we can, again, thank Oster, who was by several squillion miles the best player on the pitch, virtually untouchable and unapproachable. Back home, he's magnificent. That isn't to take anything away from the other players. No-one was awful, perhaps Livvo and Gavin were the least effective. Both have excuses. Livvo because he is Livvo (and who else on earth can claim that), and Gavin because of his very right footedness, which was noted early on by his opponent. Groves, until Holt outlasted him, was an important cog, whilst Campbell continued his rejuvenation, buzzing, snapping, harrying and fizzing up and down the wings, Santos (until he was clobbered) looked assured and Ford seemed to be calmness personified. Still, we can't complain about the quality and the desire throughout the team. No-one would walk out of Blundell Park thinking Town were doomed. In essence, the game was between two decent upper mid-table teams.

Town are starting to tick over nicely. Now for the big one, let's hope the clock keeps going.

Nicko's man of the match

Quite an easy one, that may have been guessed already. Remember, the clues are there. Join me, through the key hole, to reveal Mr John Oster. His most complete game yet since returning to his spiritual home. He made fair maidens swoon with his every move. If only we could keep him, there would be world peace too, courtesy of those golden boots.

Official warning

Mr S Baines

And a warning it is. In a complete inversion from the usual stance taken, this referee was a weirdo for opposite reasons to normal. He wasn't officious or petty. At half time he was heading for a 9, so sensible had he been, allowing play to flow, not booking rashly. But he didn't cross the Rubicon, allowing Norwich (particularly, though sometimes Town too) to get dirtier and more cynical as the game progressed. His failure to book for persistent fouling irked and eventually led to a bit of a kickfest. How he managed to book more Town players than Norwich is a mystery to the sane members of the Pontoon, and also the insane ones too, I would guess. Ah, he used to play for Scunthorpe, so what would he know about professional football!

He gets 8.7 for the first half and 5 for the second. An average of 6.85. No way, that's shockingly high. He loses another point for annoying me whilst I am writing this. Those painful memories. So 5.85. I feel mean.