Fools rushed in

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

1 November 2003

Rushden & Diamonds 3 Grimsby Town 1

A bright, clear warm and still afternoon in the heart of heritage Britain, knobbly old Northamptonshire. Town fans swarmed over Irthlingborough in search of enlightenment. In fact the only people to be seen in Irthlingborough were Town fans, leaving one to wonder whether they have to bus in the home support. Judging by the fleet of coaches, the answer must be yes. A gleaming grey shed in landscaped surroundings greeted the 686 Town fans who were herded into seats behind a goal by stewards of varying hairstyles. Well, that's not entirely true: only one of the stewards had hair, but he had varying styles, topped (or rather bottomed) by a ponytail.

The pursuit of hirsutical excellence did not stop on the terraces, for the programme revealed the neo-micromullet (Burgess), the slick-back spiv (Hanlon) and toppermost of the croppermost, Underwood, who had clearly modelled himself on Claudio Caniggia after a particularly heavy sleep. Or party. The clothes line round the temple completed the effect perfectly.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Young, Edwards, Crowe, Cas, Hamilton, Campbell, Anderson, Boulding and Onuora. The substitutes were Pettinger, Groves, Wheeler, Soames and Jevons. Young partnered Edwards in the middle of defence, with Crowe at left-back. Everyone else was where you'd expect them to be. The substitutes' bench didn't inspire thoughts of great derring-do to come, unless you're one of the evangelical Jevontists who believe in the second coming of the son of cod. Atheists and aesthetes weren't so impressed.

Rushden warmed up by practising headers, always a bad sign. Lowe, big lumbering Lowe, returned for Rushden to accompany tubby old happy Jack, who has been a constant pest to Town. I wish he'd go and live on the Isle of Man. Rushden seemed to line up in a 4-4-2 formation as well and even though they wore white shirts and blue shorts Town ran out in their usual first-team kit.

The wandering eye was caught by the plastic owl perched on top of the stand to the right, perhaps to ward off evil spirits. A nice, clean, neat, small, silent and entirely characterless sight was spread before the Town support. It felt like a community theatre in the provinces where folk singers rattle their beards and minor radio celebrities do readings of comic verse. It is an excellent non-league ground.

First half
Town kicked off towards the home support and into the sun. Campbell carefully caressed the ball 20 yards in front of Onuora for a throw-in down the Rushden right. Rushden flipped the ball upfield and were offside. They were always offside. That was their first half, being offside. The Town defence simply took one step forward and up went the linesman's flag. It was quite fun to watch.

Within the first minute there was a Town effort on goal. The ball was crossed up to the right, half cleared and Cas thundered infield and headed back to Onuora, just outside the penalty area on the centre right. Iffy turned and flicked the ball over the defence. Boulding surged forward, held off the defender and, from a narrow angle and about eight yards wide of goal, dragged a shot across the face of goal and a few inches wide of the far post. A couple of minutes later Anderson hit a free kick from about 35 yards out, which curled, dipped and zipped into Evans' midriff.

Rushden attacked and, no, hang on, Lowe was offside. Scrub that.

Town passed, Town moved, Town freely roamed down the flanks, exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the Rushden kids. Like bellows, Town squeezed Rushden into the centre, then released Crowe and McDermott down the flanks. In, out, in, out, though perhaps Rushden weren't quite shaken all about. Perhaps a little ruffle of their hair now and again, with a pinch of their rosy cheeks.

Minutes ticked by and ev. Kitson surged on, cut infield and, near the edge of the penalty area, slipped the ball over to Lowe as Young bounced off him and Crowe came across to cover. Lowe tapped the ball across Young, who fell over, and from just inside the area in the middle, dragged the ball to Davison's left. The Rushden supporters taunted the now irate knot of Town fans with "You only sing when you're winning", which, for once, wasn't right, as the Town fans tried to get behind the team.

Straight from the kick off Rushden surged on again, with yet another right-wing cross dipping into the penalty area. Kitson, leaning back slightly and somewhere near the penalty spot, glanced a loopy header towards the top left corner. Davison tip-toed across his line and just managed to stretch up and grasp the ball underneath the crossbar.

And finally, the screaming Jevonophiles got their wish, for with about 15 minutes left pheromone Phil replaced Anderson. Town initially played with Jevons in the Black Hole behind the front two, but after a couple of minutes this ended up as a straight 4-3-3, and the attacking was done mostly by Town. On they came, a higgledy-piggledy Heath Robinson construct held together with thrice used sticky-tape and pins. Width was arbitrarily given by whoever happened to be stood nearest the touchline.

Campbell emerged from a 30-minute snooze to trick and treat his way down the left. Cas crossed into the crowd; Crowe swept a right-footed curler a foot or two over the bar from the left centre edge of the penalty area. Campbell had a shot charged down; Boulding swept into the box; Onoura turned and crossed into the near post, with a defender hacking clear as Boulding sauntered. Onuora, at the far post and six yards out, headed into the keeper's hands while indulging in some Cumberland wrestling with one of the spindly centre-backs.

Handball! As Boulding swept forward with Campbell, Rushden blocked on the centre-right of the their penalty area. The ball reared up and hit Hunter on the knuckles, proving an effective one-two with their Edwards, who cleared.

Into the last minute and Town were turning the screw, but not delivering anything other than the usual false hope. And then, pandemonium. Flicking, tricking, flying then crying. Jevons drifted away from his marker 25 yards out on the right. He turned and dinked a pass over the defence. Cas and McDermott raced forward and bodies collided, the ball ricocheted this way, that way, Rushden defenders falling like dominoes. The ball continued forward and was crossed towards Onoura. It hit his chest and he shielded the ball, in the centre of goal, about 10 yards out.

McDermott sprinted across and past Onuora, taking the ball with him. Everyone lay down in the box, like lambs awaiting transmogrification into cutlets and steaks. Evans was confronted with McDermott, just six or seven yards out, the ball bouncing, no defenders standing. Evans decided to hit the ground early and thus McDermott was left with a wide, gaping, huge, massive and, not to put too fine a point on it, big open goal. The Town fans were up on their feet. Macca couldn't miss. He couldn't. He surely couldn't. He did, thwacking a left-footed volley against the underside of the crossbar. The ball bounced up and Evans punched the ball away as McDermott challenged. Seats were slapped, imaginary cats kicked and heads were held in anguish. In Irthlingborough they called that missing.

But, but, again, again, Town were coming again. The keeper's punch was scuttled away from the area, but straight to Crowe, about 30 yards out on the left. Crowe hit fifth gear and cruised down the strip, window open, shades on, Beach Boys on the stereo. He made the Indie 500 look like a Roman chariot race as he ran straight towards goal. One defender, two defenders, three defenders, four, all drifted past, jinked around and left on their backsides. Into the area, past everyone, alone, with just Evans to beat, the goal of the decade was before us.