One of these days...

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

16 August 2003

Grimsby Town 1 Port Vale 2

A bright, warm afternoon, by the Cote D'Humber, with around 150 or so Port Vale supporters mingling in the Osmond Stand. I hope they enjoyed the chips that were still hanging on Town fans' shoulders. Maybe a little bit of vinegar required by now. The Town fans drifted in slowly, a buzz of anticipation absent, with a rather strange air of detachment. Expectant but not hopeful.

The pre-match entertainment was provided by the two club mascots lumbering around the pitch, rubbing themselves against goalposts and indulging in exaggerated hand movements. The Mighty Mariner kept his award-winning schtick of pelvic thrusting and wood-bothering, while the Port Vale mascot, Boomer the dog (be careful how you say that in a vaguely midlands accent), marked out his territory in true canine fashion.

Not literally, of course, as that would have caused crowd pandemonium that the police could not have controlled. That's usually a referee's function in life. Isn't it? If only Boomer had donned a policeman's helmet it would have been the spitting image of Fleegle. How fitting given that the Banana Splits' deadliest soft rock enemies weren't Rush, but The Sour Grapes, the current accusation de jour aimed at all travelling Mariners.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, Cas, Ford, Crane, Barnard, Crowe, Hamilton, Campbell, Anderson, Boulding and Ten Heuvel. The substitutes were Pettinger, Groves, Rowan, Mansaram and Edward. In other words, same again Sam. There is still no consensus over Ten Heuvel's nickname, the latest nomination being Ten Green Bottles. Mmm, still not sure. Ten Days Left? The Shovel? Drooper? Write to your MP - the Government must act. Something must be done!

Was that Roland from Grange Hill in the Pontoon? Great hair, great shirt.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand with a few passes hither and thither, before Barnard launched a long punt down the left touchline. Sighs all round.

Nothing much happened in the first few minutes: Town lumped, Port Vale headed it back. Then a Town corner. Danger! Danger! To Town, as Vale's electric number 6 headed clear and they broke quickly as Hamilton dallied, waiting for someone else to deal with the ball as it bounced behind his big bonce.

Off the sky blue rockets ran, down their left, passes exchanged, Town all of a tizz, with defenders heard, but not seen. Bridge-Wilkinson, 20 yards out, in the centre, saw Davison off his line and dinked a flighty chip. Davison back-pedalled, arched his back and superbly tipped the ball over from just under the bar. The resulting corner was of no consequence as Davison, as he did all afternoon, pounded off his line and plucked the ball from the sky.

Another Town corner, more danger. To Town. The ball was cleared, Littlejohn raced away down their left. Yes, that Littlejohn, a pain in the backside to Town for at least three decades, normally with Warnock hanging around somewhere. Hamilton again was woeful in his efforts, low, slow and thrashing around like an elephant in a toyshop.

McPhee took possession in front of the Town back four, who backed off, and slid the ball inside to Bridge-Wilkinson, who took one touch and wellied a screamer from 30 yards. The ball wobbled, wibbled, dipped and swerved towards the top left-hand corner. Davison replicated his magnificent save of just a couple of minutes earlier, by leaning back and diverting the ball over the bar. Just.

This was not good. Town had much possession, but kept giving the ball away - either by punting aimlessly, or winning a corner. The organisation in defence was almost non-existent: Ford and Crane looked asleep, especially Ford. [You don't say - cynical Ed.] Cas made a couple of marvellous, manly, oozing tackles to dispossess the left winger, but had no sense of teamwork with Crowe. Whenever Cas went upfield, Crowe did too, leaving a huge hole which Littlejohn kept filling.

More shots rained in on Davison, all from outside the penalty area, though the only alarming moment was when our new/old hero parried a cross to his near post, almost dropping the ball at the feet of a striker.

It began to dawn on many that there was no central midfield. Hamilton didn't do anything of consequence until the 34th minute and Campbell was, apparently, on the pitch. The bloke sat three seats away from me insisted that he had seen the Great Striped Captainbird . Well, he is a twitcher and had his binoculars and book of rare British birds with him. Who can argue with that?

Town had some attacks, winning many corners, but rarely threatening to shoot. Boulding was a bit of a pest to them down the right, with some twisty, pacy turns; and Ten Heuvel did some great shields, lay-offs and turns 30 yards from goal. Hang on, there he is turning inside his marker and having a shot from the right-hand side of the penalty area. It was half blocked and the ball whizzed across towards Anderson on the left, who slipped the ball down the wing for Barnard. The slimline tonic hit a first-time curling cross towards the far post. A bunch of players all arrived together and Crowe, seemingly on the corner of the six-yard box, level with the post, headed across the face of goal. The ball hit the corner flag and Port Vale ran off and had a shot.

At some stage Boulding fell over in the penalty area after a swirling, curling run, but no penalty was given. It looked more like an obstruction and stumble. Actual shots? You want Town shots? Well how's about this then. After a bit of Town foolery down the centre and right, the ball ricocheted away to the left, just inside the Vale penalty area. Barnard thundered in and smackerooned a fabtabulouly hard rising shot, which just managed to crawl over the crossbar, before dislodging some pigeons from the underside of the Osmond Stand roof.

And here it comes - here comes Disco Des's moment. In the 34th minute a corner was half cleared and Desmondo, 20 yards out and right in the centre, mis-controlled the ball, then took a stretching, swiping shot, which flew across the keeper. Delaney rose like a bird in the sky to dive high to his left and catch the ball as it spun towards the top left corner. It was a very old-fashioned moment.

Hamilton went on a mazy, crazy dribble upfield, which consisted entirely of him shinning the ball and stumbling forward. Just think of your average Adam Ant video, but without Diana Dors. Don't worry Des - after nine years of Prince Charming Livvo, ridicule is nothing to be scared of. Yee-ha!

The referee started to irritate the home support, especially when he booked Crowe for rushing out of the wall too soon. As a result the free kick was brought forward 10 yards and the ball was fortuitously cleared after a couple of ricochets and rebounds sent the ball ping-ponging through the Town area. Not to mention those rubbish clearances that Town defenders specialise in.

And then there was the foul on Campbell by one of the centre-backs, about 20 yards out near the right corner of the penalty area. It looked two-footed and a right scyther, sending Campbell spinning up, up and away like a beautiful balloon. Only a yellow card was wafted. The crowd grumbled, rather than rumbled. A little itch, rather than a horrendous rash.

The free kick saw a marvellous new way for Town to kick the ball over the bar. Several players ran up to pretend to take it, with Ten Heuvel making his way ostentatiously from the wall to the ball and feigning a long run-up to do a blaster. As this charade progressed, Barnard stood next to the ball with his back to goal, then suddenly turned and curled the ball way over the bar. That's international class rubbish free kicking.

With about five minutes left, Town built steadily down the right, even passing the ball to each other, which really flummoxed Port Vale. Cas received the ball about 30 yards out and suddenly sprinted forward down the touchline. He hit a brilliant, fast, fizzing, dipping cross towards the centre, where Boulding, on the edge of the six-yard box, placed his head in the flightpath, sending the ball over the goalkeeper and into the centre of the goal.

One-two-three-goal, simple as that. It was so quick, and so very un-Town like that it took a second or two for the crowd to react. And then it did, with some pleasure.

And for the rest of the half Town dominated, visibly stepping up the pace and levels of skill. Confidence, clear to see, that's all they needed. The ball was hit around at speed, with players moving, supporting and generally causing Port Vale to fall on their backsides. Some flickery and trickery from Ten Heuvel released Crowe behind the defence. Unfortunately Crowe blasted a cross-shot into the side netting from a narrow angle.

Port Vale rocked and rolled on the Town attacks and, in added time, won a corner themselves. The ball was half cleared and returned before Barnard wellied the ball high upfield towards the halfway line. There was just one defender back, with three Town players converging on him. The ball bounced; Walsh jumped up; Anderson sprinted in and jumped forward, with an arm in the air. They collided and Walsh fell, clutching his head. Anderson was sent off. Cue much howling and raging against the machine. Then the half was over.

Town were a bit fortunate not to have conceded a goal; only the supreme wondrousness of Davison had kept the ball out of the goal. However, the danger Port Vale posed was only on the break and their shots were all from outside the penalty area.

Except one. I haven't told you about Davison's Bill and Ted moment, when he was most excellent. Just before half time as Town attacked, the ball was lost on the left side of midfield. Cas had sprinted up the right and Crowe was, well, somewhere else in body and mind. Thus Littlejohn was alone down the Town right. He advanced, he advanced, he bore down, he waited for the ball to fall. About a dozen yards out and wide of the right hand post Littlejohn tried to hit a spinning volley, which Davison brilliantly blocked.

The ball rebounded up, back towards Littlejohn on the edge of the six-yard box. Crane and Davison flew at Littlejohn, who stretched forward and mis-hit the ball out for a goal kick. And then Anderson was sent off. What a Boomer.

Overall, a fitful, shambolic first-half performance, good in very small parts, shockingly dishevelled in others. But Town were ahead, and Port Vale weren't thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening, just OK. You can't fear a team that keeps passing the ball out of play. Or at least, you shouldn't.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Can you stand still please, I'm reading your jumper."
"Hamilton will still be controlling that pass tomorrow."
"He's called Ten Heuvel 'cos he was Warnock's 10th choice striker."
"All these new players, the only one I recognise out there is Butterfield."
"Have you got that '98 feeling yet?" "Well, I feel 98 watching them."

Second half
Groves replaced Ten Heuvel at half time and Town moved to a 4-4-1
formation. Groves and Hamilton anchored the midfield, with Crowe and Campbell whizzing up and down the wings in support of Boulding.

And jolly good it was for 20 minutes. Town passed their way through a static, confused and outclassed Port Vale. For a few fleeting minutes the Town fans were smugly purring at the gulf in class. We really shouldn't be smug, should we. Do we never learn?

After just a couple of minutes of the second half Town should have been 2-0 up. The ball was dinked over the top from somewhere on the left inside the Town half. Boulding was unmarked and he controlled the ball on his thigh, spinning out to the left and surging into the penalty box. About 10 yards out and 6 yards wide of the goal he let fly and smashed the ball straight onto the goalkeeper's knees.

The ball flew out of the area, straight to Campbell about 30 yards out, with the goal briefly open and a-gaping. Campbell hit a first-time shot, which drifted several yards wide.

Well, nice. And nicer, as Town probed away, exposing every weakness, however carefully hidden by the Vale kids. Crowe and Campbell were causing minor moments of panic in the PV defence as they drifted behind the full-backs and centre-backs. Boulding harried and chased everything; and, essentially, in a very small nutshell, Town kept the ball. Groves was having a stormer, starting us and stopping them, a cameo of calm and class.

After 52 minutes another Town surge down the left. Free roaming and free running, Barnard, Campbell and Boulding all linked up and supported each other. Campbell received the ball near the corner flag, ran around in a few circles, made his way back towards Town's goal and suddenly cut back inside. From about 25 yards out, on the centre left, Campbell hit a blistering drive which scraped several millimetres of paint off the crossbar. The ball thudded down into the middle of the goal and was bundled away. Bloomin' marvellous. Town were in the ascendancy and deserved to be further ahead.

But they weren't. All this pressure produced a smile on the face of many a Mariner, but that was all. Nothing that you'd see in pretty colours on Ceefax. Twenty minutes of whirling dervish football and still only 1-0.

A Port Vale defender hoofed a clearance, or it may have been a pass - who can tell? The ball sailed aimlessly, harmlessly towards Barnard, about 10 yards outside the Town area. A Port Vale striker was sort of near, out towards the touchline. No danger, relax, another attack beckons. Oh dear. We were seized by the spirit of number threes past, as Barnard headed back far too softly. The ball rolled slowly towards Davison, who came out, then stopped. Then came again. Just enough hesitation for McPhee to nick the ball away, drift wide of the flailing Davison and clip the ball into the empty net from a narrow angle.

A couple of Town players sank to the ground. Most of the ground sank with them. A (by then) undeserved goal for the valiant visitors.

Port Vale were encouraged by this. Who wouldn't be? They too could see the Town players' fragility. Two or three minutes later their bruiser of a number 9, Brooker, won a free kick by suckering Crane into a needless collision way out on the Town left, about 30 yards from goal. It was so way out left, it was almost out of play. The free kick was pumped deep into the heart of the Town penalty area and Paynter stooped and headed the ball down into the ground and watched it bounce up into the top left-hand corner of the goal.

The Port Vale players and fans went wild, presumably they couldn't believe their luck. We could. Two daft goals, clickety-click. Yeah, you know, I know, thrown away, no way back. That was it. Town did press, they did try, they did occasionally pass. But there was never, ever the feeling that Town would score again.

Boulding was replaced by Mansaram just after their second goal. This was greeted without joy. How Hamilton remained on is a mystery that only Arthur C Clarke could answer. Mansaram ran around in the way only he can. Arms out, legs wide, the Len Ganley stance in motion.

The events blur into a slow-motion Hell on Earth. What came first: the chicken or the dog? Sometime before 5 o'clock Port Vale had a couple of shots, which, given that they were leading and had a man more, was the least they could have done. One was a clear shot at goal from outside the area, straight to Davison, with the other being of so little consequence I only remember the Cliff Richard-like sneer from my neighbour as it failed to frighten.

Vale started to time-waste. Started? The goalie was time wasting when they were one-nil down! So annoyed did Campbell become that when one Valiant claimed injury after a minor collision he picked up the physio's bag and chucked it off the pitch. Near the end the Pontoon counted to 11 as Delaney delayed his punt upfield. The result was a change of balls, vicar, as the ball had deflated. How fitting; it matched the mood of the massed ranks of Marinerdom.

With 10 minutes left Town got a free kick when the evil emperor Ming's death ray penetrated the Earth's atmosphere and hit Barnard in the lower back, just in front of the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. Barnard recovered from this unearthly transmission and curled the free kick in. Crowe ran from the right and, about eight yards out right in the centre, collided with a defender, who headed the ball back across goal. Mansaram - yes, it must be, here it is - Mansaram, six yards out, eight yards wide of goal, closed his eyes, thought of Doncaster and leathered the ball wide of the near post. It didn't even touch the side netting.

Crowe stayed down, and some Town fans pleaded for a penalty, presumably on the basis we needed one and a Town player was on the floor. When Crowe got up he was substituted for Rowan, with Town changing to a 4-3-2 formation. The 'Christmas tree without a fairy' formation.

Again the continuing presence of bungling Des puzzled, perplexed and, well, you choose the next alliteration. Cas's long throws promised much but delivered little. Crane kept flicking the ball on to no-one. The most interesting one was when a low, flat, fast throw skimmed off Crane's head and zipped straight into the surprised goalkeeper's hands on the line. The worst was when Cas threw directly
out of play. Crane, a bit dimly, caught the ball and threw it over the goalkeeper and into the empty net, thus wasting our time.

And still Town pressed. Barnard's curling free kick from the left went beyond the last Vale defender, Crane and Groves ran back, leant back, arms out and stumbled. Penalty, cried the Pontoon. Free kick to Vale. Ah well, the referee won't be charmed, will he. Another Barnard curling cross. Groves, eight yards out at the far post, headed goalwards. It hit a Vale defender, but the referee awarded a goal kick.

With just a couple of minutes left Mansaram, 25 yards out on the centre right, collected a clearance, used Rowan as a decoy and thrashed a thumper of a shot a yard wide of the keeper's left post. And finally another scramble, bodies bumping into each other, the ball falling to Cas, at the far post, just six yards out. Was this the deserved equaliser? Of course not. A Vale defender appeared from behind an imaginary bush to block as Cas's boot swung. That tackle, more than any other tackle, that tackle won the game.

In the four minutes of added time there was just one moment to report. Town attacked; a Vale defender made a hash of a clearance near the left corner flag; but the ball rolled directly to Littlejohn, unmarked and about 30 yards from his own goal. He ran forward and pinged a long pass out to their right. The remaining Town defenders walked up, claiming offside (hey, it looked miles offside from the Pontoon), and the player ran on. And on. And on. Must score, surely. No, he decided to pass rather than shoot, rolling the ball sideways to his mate, who was flagged for offside.

And then it was officially over, 20 minutes after we knew it was. The rafters resounded with the sound of booing. Again the referee was providing a convenient fig leaf. Individuals made terrible errors, not just for the goals, but all the way through. When Town click they look sweet, but that sound you hear is tutting.

The problem is down the middle: two somnambulists in defence and two non-entities in midfield. Even with ten men - no, especially with ten men - Town were a bit better. With 11 men Town would have won easily; with 10 they still should have won comfortably.

Are we playing all the right notes, and are they in the right order?

Nicko's man of the match
Only two candidates: Cas, for his ample defending and rampaging runs, and Mr Aidan Davison, for a string of top-class blocks and saves. Not forgetting his control of the penalty area. So it's him then, Wales' number 1, Wales' Wales' number 1, I mean Northern Ireland's former number 4 goalkeeper. He did what the Leicester bench-sitter never did - command the penalty area.

Official warning
Dressed in yellow, was Mr Prosser a lemon or a melon? Superficially there was much for the average Mariner to seethe about; but, really, he didn't get much wrong. The two-footed lunge at Campbell could probably have brought forth a red card for a Port Vale defender, and if he'd been extra extra indulgent towards Town perhaps he could have awarded a penalty towards the end. Look deep into your hearts, fellow monochromers: can you honestly say that if a Port Vale player had leapt at, say, Barnard, with an arm raised, you wouldn't have bayed for blood? A surprisingly high figure of 6.0104 flies off towards rhyming man, tall and tanned.