Sunshine after rain

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

6 September 2003

Grimsby Town 1 Peterborough United 1

A bright, warm afternoon following a short, sharp shock of a shower as the players warmed up. Around 150-200 Peterboroughians rather noisily plastered themselves over the seats, in contrast to the silent (non) masses elsewhere in the ground. The home support has been sleepwalking its way through the first few games, awaiting the inevitable deluge of Town goals before they can be bothered to rouse themselves from their comfortable postprandial nap. The newly created unreserved seating area seemed to be well populated, but as detached as the rest of the Pontoon.

Barry Fry's armpits weren't yet visible.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Ford, Edwards, Cas, Groves, Bolder, Campbell, Boulding and Rowan. The substitutes were Pettinger, Parker, Soames, Hockless and Young. Edwards played at left-back, otherwise everyone else was where you'd guess them to be. Was that it? No Crowe; and Ten Heuvel – gone in ten minutes? Were there no other players left?

But from the mists of time, a faint fog wispily wafting around his ankles, a forlorn, forgotten figure emerged from the tunnel. Mr P Jevons handed over his shirt to his sponsor. Was this a sign of a rapprochement between club and clod? Or were the sponsors getting in early before he disappears into the foundations of a local building site? Well, Town could do with the money from the insurance, couldn't they.

There was no ambulance, thus saving £360, nor was the Mighty Mariner visible, thus saving 360 street credibility points, which I understand you can add to your Tesco Clubcard. Were the absences of the ambulance and Mighty Mariner linked? We were unlikely to have a mini riot without foam tomfoolery.

First half
Peterborough kicked off towards the Pontoon, with a waft down the Town left, which Edwards coolly headed back down the touchline to Campbell, who bent a pass with the outside of his right boot further down the line. Boulding scampered free and the goalkeeper, the bright, yellow-clad tiny tot Tyler, hacked the ball away from the corner of his penalty area. You'll have to wait a long time before Town string more than that number of passes together.

Peterborough, playing in their traditional all-blue kit, and in a 3-5-2 formation, were exactly what you'd expect of a Bazza "Mr Personality" Fry team. Well, almost. Their wingers, Newton and Farrell, were a bit nippy and tricky, more than just blokes who can run quickly. Unlike poor old Mike Edwards, who is less than a left-back. Clearly a bog-standard lower-division centre-half, he was fine if the ball came to him, but alarmingly absent when Newton sprinted. Still, we can't blame someone for being slow, can we. His legs moved and he could hear what we were saying – which, for the most part from the Pontoon, was very unkind.

And he wasn't the only one. Bolder missed every tackle, shinned every pass, and ran like a prototype android receiving intermittent radio signals from his remote controller. Add that to Campbell's determination to be anywhere but on the left wing and you have the ingredients for a tripe pie.

Town were a complete and utter mess. Shapeless, shiftless, shonky and much more beside. Peterborough roamed freely down the flanks, and skipped happily through the centre with a song in their heart and a smile on their face, lacing daisy chains as they passed Crane, a man capable of standing in every place but the right one. Fortunately, he was so badly positioned that Peterborough, in shock and awe, kept passing to him. McDermott mostly coped with Farrell, though Cas's unique defending style contributed to many an alarming moment. Cas kept running up to Farrell and marking McDermott, allowing Farrell to turn or pass to the wing-back, who simply swung in cross after cross after cross.

Details? You want details? Well, here goes. Let's get the Town attacks out of the way first. After about five minutes Cas, eventually, received a pass (it had to be Macca, didn't it). About 30 yards out, in the shadow of the Smiths/Stones/Findus stand, he spun through two tackles, burst to the bye-line and dinked over a cross to the far post. Campbell and Rowan ducked to the near post. The moment had passed peacefully, and some flowers were later laid on the spot in remembrance of things, a pass!

About five minutes later, Cas again received a pass from McDermott, a lovely curling caress through the gap between centre-half and wing-back. Cas was free, bounding gaily towards the floodlight. He crossed low towards the near post and Rowan ran across his marker and swept a first-time shot straight to the keeper. Swept with the vigour of a disgruntled school caretaker, for it was mistimed. Still, a brief moment of excitement which was savoured long into the afternoon.

Oh, all right then – them. What they did, or should that be what our collective and individual ineptitude allowed them to do. A corner, a scramble, a shot, a deflection, a wafted boot, a stretching block. Davison, leaping left, leaping right, unsighted, a shot, a deflection, the ball safely rolling clear. That's all one attack, not a summary of the half. No verb, in sympathy with Town, for they didn't do.

Another break, and Newton twisting, turning, crossing as Edwards wallowed in his wake. Poor Ermintrude; our thoughts were with him. Legg's long throw was soon in evidence, launched deep into the heart of the Town penalty area. But Davison is no floppy-haired flapper of hands, for he sought to dominate his area, rushing out to deal with the rocket-propelled mortars. His first attempt at creating a new world order saw him out beyond the penalty spot, punching Crane's head and blocking a follow-up with his legs a couple of yards from the edge of the penalty area. That was as bad as it got, for generally the long throws were dealt with adequately, without panic attacks.

Crane headed a Newton curler away from goal following a corner and the storm seemed weathered for, ooooh, a minute. Back they came, using the power and pace of Clarke and McKenzie down the flanks. Another corner from their left, clipped low into the middle, just eight yards out. Crane stopped; Legg didn't, and glanced the ball very wide despite being very unmarked. Groves glowered, waved his arms around and delivered some stern words.

Peterborough tippy-tapped around on the Town right as Cas played piggy-in-the-middle. The ball was rolled to Clarke on the right edge of the Town box and Bolder missed, lunged and missed again. Clarke clipped a cross to McKenzie, six yards out in the centre, who carefully steered the ball wide of Davison's left post. Ford watched the miss with admiration, or should that be with three aspirins and a hot towel?

Shambling, rambling, fumbling, stumbling, here comes the humbling of Town. Tyler thwacked the ball upfield. No danger: routine, humdrum up-and-under stuff in the middle of the pitch. Oh no – this is Town; there is no such thing as routine up-and-under stuff. Crane headed back infield; Bolder was first to the ball but third to the tackle and the ball rolled free to Clarke, about 30 yards out in the centre.

The defence backed off and Clarke passed the ball to Newton, near the left corner of the penalty area. The merest suggestion of a stepover and shimmy saw Edwards shuffle backwards like he'd learned from that video teaching aid he saw yesterday: The Gallimore Plan: 101 Ways to Retreat. It wasn't a treat for Town, as Newton stepped inside and curled a wonderful shot over Davison and into the very top right-hand corner. The ball even did a little pinball-style rinky-dink-dink between the staves of the stanchion.

The Pontoon was silent, then a ripple of applause for the goal, followed by a torrent of abuse for the culmination of 17 minutes of just plain dross.

So bad that things can only get better? For the opposition, normally. Whoops. Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear. A throw to Peterborough, near the halfway line, simply lobbed down the line. Edwards missed the header. The ball bounced once and Ford allowed Clarke to shield and bound off towards the bye-line. He looked up and saw McDermott racing across to the centre to cover for the absent-minded professionals, and the ball was clipped to the far post. Farrell, unmarked and about 12 yards out, steered a volley across Davison towards the right hand corner. Davison rose majestically and floated on the thermals to brilliantly tip the ball aside for a corner. Most magnificent. We rose as one to acclaim his greatness. Oh Caesar the saver.

And from this moment the game changed. Groves spent a lot of time coaching and eventually some solidity emerged. Not much, but enough to stem the flood of free-flowing forward play from our fenland foes. The game was dull, boring, and really dreadful. But at least Town were holding on, and the crowd began to quieten from the rumbling, grumbling seething mass, to its former state of detached, silent annoyance. Hey, that's progress!

Not much more happened in the rest of the half, save a woeful Cas shot, where a bit of ricocheting on the edge of the Peterborough area saw the ball bounce nicely to our Dutch dream. Echoes of a hopeless Hollander past came fluttering back through the years, for, in Menno style, Cas leant back and thought of that video CV crammed full of spectacular goals. Free, with acres of space in which to run, Marcel flashed a terrific shot against the outside of the left post keeping the scoreboard up.

The ball stayed inside the ground, just, which is more than can be said for the one Peterborough's Shields managed to launch over – yes, over – the top of the Findus/Stones/Smiths stand, probably dislodging a gherkin from a Premiership-clad youngster's burger when it landed. We can hope, can't we?

Apart from a scramble inside the Peterborough area, where Boulding almost turned a few yards out, and a glancing, near post header by Rowan from a Cas corner, that was it. Thank goodness it was over. Like an interview with Brian Laws, it had seemed to go on and on with no purpose.

Town were booed off at half time, and it is hard to disagree with those sentiments, for they had been, generally, rotten. Rowan was playing like a 10-year-old again, feeling a bit miffed at those big men who keep pushing him. Boulding ran around a lot, but hardly had the ball, for the distribution from, well, everyone was hopeless. Campbell was not so much invisible as an abstract concept that scientists will produce cunning theses about in obscure journals.

The world had passed Groves by; and Bolder needs no deconstruction, merely our collective sympathy. To criticise would be cruel, like shooting dead fish in a barrel full of dead fish, in a warehouse full of barrels of dead fish. Poor, poor lad. The defence existed in theory. Ford covered for the wandering minstrel Crane, but was prone to those Fordian moments of incredible space cadet glowing. As for Edwards, see above: too slow, out of position, did his best. Not good, is it.

Well, at least it was half time and we could rely upon Barry Fry to do his magic with an incoherent ramble at his players. He had been, so far, disappointingly calm, at least to those not within 20 yards of his large trousers. But it was only 1-0, when Town should, probably, have been three down. Not our problem if they miss sitters, is it.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Are those frontages Georgian?"
"I'd rather go shopping." "I think Bolder is shopping."
"Only soft southerners carry umbrellas."
"They're a superior form of average."
"My new Town mug is hoops, not stripes. Ten Heuvel's gone?"

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time, at least not in personnel. Town started with much more gusto, being quicker to fling the ball forward, but also with a little more control. In short, they passed it quickly.

Within a minute Town had had a jolly decent effort on goal. Cas bounded down the wing and flung in an excellent cross to the near post. Rowan and Gill, about 10 yards out, challenged and the ball zoomed a foot or so past the near post. Elements of the Pontoon claimed handball, as there was a hand near the ball, though it was difficult to tell whose. So it was obviously a penalty. Five minutes of tedium followed, but at a faster pace and with less Town errors than the first-half ennui. So higher-quality boredom, which is what we pay our money for, after all.

Ah, another nearly moment when something almost happened. A Cas corner from the right fizzed over the clump of players in the centre and beyond the far post. Groves stretched out his right boot around his marker and managed to volley the ball into the ground. The ball bounced high and Tyler had to leap up and tip it over for another corner.

The Town fans shrugged off their torpor and were actually getting behind the team; you know, support, positive statements. They really tried, and finally the unreserved seaters were doing their thing, and it did seem to galvanise the players and keep them going. There was a bit of momentum building up, with Peterborough occasional visitors to Davison's bouncy castle. They got close enough to say hello a couple of times, which was nice considering they'd come all that way. Actually, that's a bit harsh; they had several excellent breakaways, where they outnumbered the Town defence, but they always messed it up with a stupid pass, or stumble, or Crane would simply stand in the way in "thou shalt not pass" mode. They even hit the post, but the offside flag had long been raised.

After an hour Bolder was put out of our misery, being replaced by Hockless, who trotted out to the left wing. This resulted in Campbell officially playing as a central midfielder, though all this did was acknowledge the geographic reality.

From this moment the game really did swing Town's way, for instantly there was balance, and there seemed enough Town players on the pitch. Hockless had superb control and confidence, which gave the rest of the team confidence in him. He was often the outlet for clearances, and the instigator of Town attacks. He never gave the ball away and was highly positive in everything he did. In short, which he is, the Town fans liked him.

Town surged forward, though without much goal threat. Boulding was sent free down the left, twisting, turning and twisting again past his marker and into the penalty area. Gill held Boulding's shirt, leaning, pulling and hauling all at the same time. The referee waved play on and the ball rolled out to Groves, who completely mis-hit a shot from 20 yards, the ball hobbling a few yards wide of the near post. Tyler took ages to take the goalkick, thus incurring the wrath of the untamed Pontoon wits, who surprisingly didn't comment upon his enormous shorts or sing "we can see your knickers," opting for a more basic and time worn-insult. It isn't wise to wear dark underwear with light skimpy shorts.

Campbell surged, fell over, spun and mis-hit a shot from 25 yards. It wouldn't have been a loss not to know that, but let's be completist about these things, eh? Hmm, ah, let me think; Boulding? Ah yes – set free down the right, he outpaced a tubby marker and scuffed a right-footed shot across the face of goal. It would have been nice if he'd looked up and crossed to Rowan, but he didn't. Hockless clipped a free kick from the left side of the penalty area, close to the bye-line, into the centre, where Groves, leaning back, headed a foot over the bar. And many, many more nearly moments, when a Town player was almost through. Boulding and Rowan began to cause problems, principally because they, and the Town midfield, started to move.

The game was exclusively down in front of the Pontoon, with hardly any Peterborough attacks. Davison made perhaps two saves, both from shots from outside the area. Comfortably close, easily dealt with, no cause for concern. But still Town hadn't forced Tyler to do anything spectacular, nor even average. Nor anything really.

Then they did, as Groves raced forward and cushion-headed down from the central edge of the area. Tyler flew off his line and blocked as Campbell slid in. The ball skimmed forward and was lost in a haze of flying feet and waving arms. Cas twice crossed into the Pontoon and the game seemed to be slipping slowly, quietly away.

The crowd still roared Town on, especially when an attempted Rowan hook-shot rolled across the chest of a Peterborough defender; but we didn't get that decision, so there was no way they would get a penalty when Crane's huge chest diverted away a scrambled shot down at the Osmond End. You wouldn't find more than 200 people in Blundell Park who would even think it may have been a penalty. Nor when McKenzie executed a humiliatingly poor dive when not challenged by any Town defender.

A little bit of kicking and slapping followed Legg's kick at Cas when the referee wasn't looking, with Cas pushing the old flinger in the chest. Both were booked. And oh, the scoreboard irony: when a Peterborough player stayed down injured, the scoreboard put up the graphic of an ambulance coming on to the pitch. How very droll.

All of which is leading to the only moment that any of you idle readers are interested in. With about 10 minutes left Peterborough attacked down the left, with Town seemingly outnumbered. Daftly, the striker headed towards the clump of Town defenders rather than passing to the unmarked winger. Ford, then Groves stopped this nonsense, with the ball falling to Edwards a few yards outside the penalty area, near the centre. Edwards wellied a straight 'pass' right down the middle of the pitch.

The ball didn't hesitate or deviate as it dissected the two centre backs. Suddenly Boulding was alone. He waited for the ball to arrive and scooped it on, not losing momentum as he hurried off towards goal, holding off a defender and, from just inside the penalty area, poking the ball through the goalkeeper's legs. Ultimately a deserved equaliser; and wasn't everyone happy, apart from those 200 Peterboroughians.

From the kick-off Town regained possession and gained confidence, for Edwards performed a dragged back-heel clearance down the touchline to Hockless. Woah, now there's fancy. The momentum was with Town, but no chances were created. Rowan was replaced by Soames with five minutes left, about ten minutes after he first clutched his elbow and grimaced. Soames scuffled around in sub-Daryl Clare fashion. He won a free kick and a throw-in.

In injury time Town again claimed a penalty. A long throw was lumped in from the right, Groves headed on across the face of goal and the ball rolled behind Boulding. Tantalising, teasing, the ball rolled slowly across with no-one beyond Boulding, who tried to turn but it appeared as though his shirt was being pulled. He fell, his arms raised to the heavens; the Pontoon roared; the referee ignored; and that was that.

In the context of the game Town got away with it, being a disjointed shambles for an hour when any decent opposition would have scored three. There was little, ultimately, to cheer, apart from the determination to plough on regardless of the quality. The ball was given away easily, with lazy chips upfield and with the front two easily muscled away from the ball. The midfield was marred by a lack of organisation, which exposed the defence to overlapping wing-backs and tricky wingers. Town had been tactically outmanoeuvred by Barry Fry, perhaps the least impressive boast in the history of football. However, the last 30 minutes redeemed matters, as the removal of Bolder made everyone's life more pleasant, and Hockless rocked.

So, if you missed it, you saved some money and a lot of nervous energy. Unlike the Giant's Causeway it was neither worth seeing, nor going to see. Town are prone to losing games like this one, but at least they didn't this time, which is good. Always end on a positive note.

Nicko's man of the match
Nobody excelled, with many a wayward Mariner thrashing around the pitch like a beached porpoise. Davison made one excellent save and several calm interceptions, but, on the balance of probabilities, Michael Boulding, is the unanimous choice of the absent Nicko, for being a tireless worker and the goal scorer. Without him Town wouldn't have scored, and would, therefore have lost. So it's him.

Official warning
Generally not too bad, Mr Danson missed many a foul claimed by Town fans and perhaps could have given a penalty or two. He was OK in a negative way – he never looked likely to send someone off. A perfectly reasonable 6.203 to the man in green.