Deepdull dross

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

14 December 2002

Preston North End 3 Grimsby Town 0

A grey, gloomy, shivering afternoon with about 150-200 Town supporters wrapped in several layers of wool behind the goal to the right as seen on TV. My, what a strange construction Deepdale is. Part Hawthorns, part H G Wells. An unfeasibly complex tripod-like Meccano construction held up the floodlights and there was plenty of pipework and breezeblocks to excite the amateur architects among us. As with many new and renovated stadia, there was a heady atmosphere of remote silence.

The Town players ambled around without purpose or conviction in the pre-match warm up like they'd rather be out Christmas shopping. The tannoy was so inaudible – just a series of mute grumbles, gurgles and mumbles – that it needed Sherlock Holmes to deduce the Town squad. Town lined up in the all-blue kit in a 4-4-2 formation, as follows: Coyne, Ford, Groves, Gavin, Gallimore, Oster, Coldicott, Santos, Pouton, Livingstone and Mansaram. The substitutes were Allaway, Ward, Cooke, Soames and Thompson. Brows furrowed at the sight of Ford at right-back, Santos in central midfield, Pouton on the left and Oster on the right. The word unbalanced floated on the breeze. So no dietary tips from Terry Cooke today.

First half

Preston kicked off towards the Town fans and ran around exactly like they did at Blundell Park just one month ago. A blur, a blizzard of white, like a novelty paperweight won at the Boys' Brigade Christmas fete. Town were lethargic and reactive or, to use a technical term, rubbish from the start. Within a couple of minutes, Preston had a couple of corners, the second of which, from the Town left, almost brought a goal. A short corner was eventually tipped back into the middle of the Town penalty area, about 15 yards out. The ball was flicked on and big Lucketti, on the right edge of the Town area, steered a volley about 2½ inches wide.

Another couple of minutes, another couple of deeply depressing moments of non-defending, the return of the Keystone Cops; hacking, thwacking, falling, then calling each other. Gavin giving Groves a fearful earful for some timid tackling. Preston almost scored again with another cross from the Town left. Almost an exact replica of the previous chance. Oh, and another cross fizzing towards the unmarked Cresswell. There were more moments of danger with Cresswell bursting down the channels and causing much flappage from the Town defence. What was Town's response? Oster beat Edwards and, from deep inside the penalty area near the by-line, crossed to their big centre-half at the near post.

What an awful game, and just 10 minutes gone. It was already lining up for a mundane stuffing, with the adequate defeating the atrocious. For the umpteenth time, Preston simply chipped the ball down the channel between Groves and Gallimore. Groves, 30 yards out, stretched, missed and crumpled. The ball zipped off the sodden turf and into the area. Coyne hesitated, then sprinted off his line towards the edge of his area about a dozen yards out. He dived across as Healy approached, missing the ball and sliding towards some crumbling masonry. Healy considered the invitation carefully before deciding not to avoid the grey mass approaching from the east. Over he went, out went the referee's arm and a penalty it was. Game over.

ALEXANDER waddled forward and whacked the ball down the centre left as Coyne dived right. We might as well have gone home there and then.

There was a Town counter, a near miss, a shot, even. A brief, brief glimmer of artificial hope. After about a quarter of an hour, Town won a corner on the right, which was hit high to the back of the area; and there followed some comedic bumbling as boots were wafted by several innocent parties. But Preston had been fooled by a series of superficially slapstick shots which, to the untrained observer, looked like mis-hits. Finally, Groves, on the left edge of the area, hit a slicing, swerving thing, which sliced and swerved to the unmarked Oster on the right, about a dozen yards out and wide of goal. He controlled the ball and smacked it a foot or so over the angle of post and bar.

Ten more minutes of turgid Town, with no more than three passes made before either a whack in the air towards the immobile Livvo and the ineffective Mansaram – the only Town player who could raise sufficient energy to move – or a pass to a Preston player, cutting out that tiresome build-up play. Not once, not twice, but three times a malady. Groves continued to have a total and utter shocker, seemingly incapable of co-ordination; his foot bone was not connected to his ankle bone.

Light relief came through a familiar source, the ever-reliable Gallimore. He used his arguable left foot to curl a clearance down the touchline, out of play and back in again. The ball chased the linesman down the line like he was Duncan Norville.

Don't delude yourself – we didn't – it was already a case of how many from Preston. And here comes the second. After about 25 minutes, after the usual set of clearances and clashes in midfield, the ball ballooned up in the air near the halfway line on the Town left, with Groves and Cresswell jumping together. Suddenly, Cresswell was running flat out down the touchline towards the penalty area. Coldicott ran across but CRESSWELL stepped inside the most timid of tackles, continued forward and, on the edge of the six-yard box, toe-poked the ball between Coyne's legs.

And you know, this will surprise you: it didn't get any better. The only Town player who had been performing adequately had been Santos, who'd been cheered at every swiping, scything tackle. But even he started to make some basic errors, missing tackles and generally sinking towards the rotten standard of the rest. Preston attacked at their pleasure, but didn't seem to have the will to humiliate, settling for an ambling ascendancy with occasional bursts of intent from Healy and Cresswell. I have a vision of Cresswell bursting through the defence on the Town left and hitting a low shot just past the far post. Did it happen? Was it all a dream? There may have been more efforts on goal by Preston, but who cares? Coyne certainly did not make any saves in the first half and there weren't any more moments that excited the local population enough to utter a faint and distant "oooh".

You may wish to cut out and keep this next bit - Town had a shot and it was on target. Mansaram twisted, turned and curled a low, left-footed shot from the left edge of the Preston penalty area, which made their keeper lie on the ground and hold the ball. He seemed reluctant to let go of it, perhaps intrigued by this strange, slightly luminous lemon object that had come from afar.

There isn't anything else that could possible be described in the first half. Even before the second goal a few Town fans were bemoaning the failure of time to move at the pace of modern life. The ten Town teenagers decided to taunt some local schoolchildren, just for something to do. You'll be pleased to know they managed a score draw. One thing looked clear: changes were needed at half time, with Groves the most likely to disappear. Quite ironic, given that he hardly appeared in the first half.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"My Dad's not big on subterfuge. He's a lorry driver."
"Will we have to update our chants in line with EU regulations? If there's no fish, how can we..."
"It isn't possible to describe a blank wall. Except that it’s blank. And a wall."
"If Preston went home now they'd still score another."
"We're missing Campbell – we always do."

Second half

Sure enough, changes were made. Groves was replaced by Cooke, with Santos retreating to centre-half, Oster to the left and Pouton back into the centre. The whole thrust of the game was changed for several seconds, with Cooke shimmering down the right and whipping a dangerous cross to the near post. And that is the full extent of Town's attacking in the second half. If you are feeling extravagantly benevolent, then Gallimore attempted a low, volleyed cross, which went straight to their keeper, and Santos made two poor, long passes which sailed slowly into the gloves of an under-used athlete. Strictly speaking, I suppose, they were goalbound efforts.

Gazes wandered to the skies. Salvation in a snowstorm? No such luck. Saved by smog? Alas no. Fog? Face the facts – the weather wouldn't rescue Town. Well, what about trauma? Amid cries for help from the psychologically distressed Town fans, the referee refused to abandon the game when Skora was stretchered off, having failed to live up to his name. He sauntered across the area from their right, drifted past defenders and, from 20 yards out, Poutoned a shot towards Morecambe Bay. He fell to earth clutching his head, seemingly in embarrassment. After a long delay, he was taken away by men in fluorescent jackets. Perhaps litter would stop play? Nope – despite the Preston keeper being circled and attacked by crisp packets like vultures in a western, the referee ignored the cries of "Stop this farce". He had, after all, no reason to run down that end of the pitch. Clearly, nothing was going to stop this game.

Soon after Cooke's cross, Preston had a corner on their left, which was swung into the centre of the penalty area and headed just over the bar by one of their balding bruisers, probably Murdock. On the hour, another Preston corner, this time on their right, was slung high, way beyond the far post, way out of the penalty area. A pass inside and a cross arcing into the centre of the goal on the six-yard line. Santos, stretching, lunging and hacking, sliced a clearance up towards Venus. The ball dropped down near Coyne's right post, bounced up and back towards goal. As two Preston players jumped at him, Coyne flapped the ball back across goal. HEALY eventually poked it through the sea of blue and into the left corner as Coyne fumed about something or other. No-one cared or bothered about the possible foul on him, certainly not the referee.

Town subtly changed their method after this. Instead of passing directly to Preston players, they kicked it out of play. This did the trick. A whole chunk of the second half, the 15 minutes after the goal, featured nothing that pedants would describe as football. Gallimore lost his temper, throwing the ball back to Coyne in a stroppy way, earning from the home fans a sarcastic, Mark Lawrenson impression. "Oo-er!" they chirruped. A few minutes later Galli may have been booked. I'm sorry – I lost interest when the referee gave Preston a throw-in and I started to read the advertising hoardings. The Preston tannoy announcer took pity on all present and gave us a five-minute Norman Collier impression. The splurts and gurgles emanating from the speakers for a second at a time were most entertaining. Was that a power chord? Name that tune. Is he singing? Is he being ill? What was that!

Then the game got a bit salty. Pouton reacted to a second whack from behind by shoving his assailant in the chest and ‘upper neck’. A free kick to Town and Pouton was booked. A few minutes later and Gavin was slashed across the back of his calves in most unsubtle fashion. Gavin grabbed his little attacker, shoved him around, put an Irish finger in his face and generally made public his private anguish. A Town free kick. Gavin was booked and the linesman furiously flagged. After a brief discussion, the referee wandered over to Pouton, waved another yellow card in his face and then dismissively aired a red at him. Pouton went ballistic, Rodger stratospheric. Ward immediately replaced Mansaram and yet another major re-organisation followed. Ward to right-back, Ford to centre-back, Santos to the centre of a midfield three, with Oster wandering lonely as a cloud.

No matter how much more of this you read, there won't be another Town shot. That Cooke cross was the high point, or should that be least low point. A Town fan to my right never moved a muscle in the second half, staring ahead with eyes fixed. Had he frozen? He looked like a zombie (non-flesh-eating variety). He'd been reduced to a temporary vegetative state by the Town turnips.

Preston now had even more space into which they poured bodies and occasionally the ball. Broomes came on at some point, which only a handful of Town fans noticed or bothered about. Fortunately, Broomes' surge and shot down their right brought a goal kick, as the ball drifted just wide. Cresswell surged down their left, cut in and curled a drive a few feet wide of the same goalpost. Etuhu, unmarked at the near post, headed a cross from the left a foot or so wide of the other goalpost.

Getting closer to that irrelevant fourth...and here it isn't. A fast break down the Preston left saw Lewis (I think) hit a perfect dipping cross into the centre of the penalty area, Healy sprinted forward and, from about eight yards out, headed powerfully straight at Coyne. A save at last! His first since November 30. Coyne protected his face with an instinctive parry, sending the ball high above his head and managing to catch it on the goal line as it dropped and a couple of burly Prestonians approached.

Apart from a couple of crosses wonkily cleared by Santos, that was all, folks. The ten Town teenagers started to sing "There's only one Clive Mendonca" for no real reason other than seasonal ill-will. They declined to sing a song for Jackie Bestall. How soon these people forget. There followed four minutes of added time which, it was announced, were "brought to us in association with" some sponsor or other. What has football come to when the added time is sponsored?

I could go through every player and comment – a complete waste of time. Collectively and individually Town were dreadful, approaching the dross served up in the Reading game. The worrying thing is that there were arguments between players, or should I say between players and Gavin, who appears free in apportioning blame to his colleagues. We had the weird sight of Santos acting as an arbitrator at one point, calming people down. Now that is not what we signed him for.

Is there a positive to take from this? No.

Nicko's man of the match

If it were compulsory to choose one, it would be he who is referred to by the chairman as "our French colleague". But his performance was better than the rest only because the others were so, so poor. So NO-ONE.

Mark's un-man of the match

So many to choose from but, with a huge sigh, I have to say PAUL GROVES, who looked shot as a first division player. If one clings by the fingertips to the positive, one would hope that he misjudged his physical condition in returning before he was fully fit.

Official warning

Mr P Prosser

Which, as everyone can see, rhymes with something. He did not appear to understand why people fell over in particular ways. He let things pass at times, applying sense, but at others was eager to book. Why he booked a Preston player for colliding with a Town striker only he knows. The Pouton sending-off was at the behest of the linesman, so he neither gains, nor loses points for that. He gets 5.21. I don't know why – it just feels right.