On the rebound

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

17 April 2004

Grimsby Town 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

A bright, clear and pleasingly warm afternoon in the sun-dried tomato that is Cleethorpes in April. Around 300 curious Rushdenites (or are they Irthlings?) marvelled at a league football ground. "My, what a big stand you have, but why the frilly curtains?". Yes, why the frilly curtains in the window? We demand answers from Furneaux! And did Fenty put them up himself?

Who says the board aren't forward thinking? The bars and bistros underneath the Pontoon were packed. That cappuccino café culture has really been a hit: the Pontoon was again the most filled part of the stadium. Perhaps the Main Stand will get the Korova Milk Bar next season?

The new Town warm-up is so dull, isn't it. It's like a pub game where, before kick-off, you all kick the ball into one goal, pump in a few crosses and whoever catches the ball is goalie.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, mostly with footballers, as follows: Fettis, Crowe, Edwards, Crane, Barnard, Anderson, Coldicott, Campbell, Jevons, Rankin and Mansaram. The substitutes were Ford, Warhurst, Soames, Rowan and little Davy Crockett, the dribble artist formerly known as Hockless. A new haircut for a new day, but ridic-alic-alic-olously racoonish. D'you think Law keeps mistaking Thorrington for Hockless, so the king of the wild frontier has to make it obvious that he's the young pretender, not the seldom glimpsed Americano? You can glimpse his head on page 17 of the programme if you want, but try convincing an independent panel of experts that it's Thorrington's torso upon which the noddle is perched. Didn't Michael Caine star in that?

Ah, the line up. Crowe at right-back, Barnard finally back at left-back, with Campbell in the centre of midfield. Bunting was strewn across the Pontoon; a marching band stomped up and down the Main Stand: Law had selected a team. The right players in the right places. He'd finally stopped playing Grieg's piano concerto by Grieg.

Rushden ran up and down between cones - well, they're used to that in Northamptonshire: roadworks on the M1 and all that. Some of the more outlandish hair had disappeared, though Bungalow Hanlon was every inch a mullet-headed Saxon mother's son. From afar their keeper's black mopness didn't appear to be worthy of prodding with a sarcastic stick, but up close it was revealed as a greasy straggle kept out of his eyes by a headband. He'd left his sunglasses on his Vespa; ciao, baby. And, as you all expected, Rushden played in their famous yellow away kit.

First half
The Irthlings kicked off towards their own supporters, pumping the ball out towards their left touchline. Crowe stooped and guided a backheader to Fettis, who wellied a drop kick out to the Town right. Anderson sprung above his marker and nodded the ball down the touchline and - wazzoomer! - Rankin is back, with a capital B.A.C.K. The crowd up on their feet within 20 seconds. Our Isaiah sprinted to the ball, rolled and twisted around his nominal marker and was free inside the penalty area, near the bye-line. He advanced a couple of strides, looked up and saw endless possibilities before him. He chose the 3-1 option, Campbell at the near post, who slid and missed the ball about ten yards out. The ball rolled near Mansaram, but he was confused by all these colours, shapes and noise. Ball cleared scruffily.

Another minute, another Town effort. Pressure, pressure, Rankin rousing the rabble, Rushden rubble, Barnard looping a half volley from 25 yards, which clattered into the first row of seats behind the goal. Back again, Town, all Town, just a couple of minutes gone; Diamonds dallying. Rankin again, terrific and terrifying, rumbling around and laying off a short pass to Campbell, 20 yards out, whose shot was blocked by a flying breadstick. A corner; Turley flapped, flopped and phewed as the ball was scurried away. The fans breathless, Town battling, battering these bottom suckers.

That's nice, they've got the ball and they've got inside the Town half. It's only taken 'em five minutes. Oooh dear - Jack crossed from their left; Crane, five yards out at the near post, swung his right leg and shinned his clearance a few feet wide and high. Just like his backside then.

Nah, their corner was rubbish. Town got the ball back and orf they jolly well went: bounding, breaking, bumbling free. Left to right, right to left, the ball was pumped over the Rushden full-backs for the Town wingers. Rushden stretched like a pair of cheap knickers from Woolies. They'll snap soon if you carry on like that dear, unless you pull your frilly nylons right up tight. Mansaram: pestering, posturing, perplexing inside the penalty area on the left and disrobing Roget with ease. [I say! - Ed.] To the bye-line, a quick glance and glory beckons. Mansaram, a-ha, flashed a cross type thing, which sailed several feet above humanity, the ball rolling out for a throw-in three yards infield. He knows his Shakespeare: neither a crosser nor a shooter be.

More squeezing, pleasing, teasing Town. Panic in the streets of Rushden with Mansaram inside the box, in the centre, surrounded by yellow, but a huge gap in front of him. The ball stuck under his feet, arms and legs akimbo, the crowd imploring the man in the mask to shoot. Shoot, please shoot, but a yellow foot appeared, the ball squirming sideways, flustered away to Rankin, a dozen yards out on the left. He swivelled, he shot, the ball bounced off a defender's boot for a corner. In from the left, half cleared, an Anderson shot. Blocked! To Jevons, a shot blocked near the line; out to Barnard, slapped across the face of goal; Edwards diving towards the exocet, missing by millimetres; the ball sailing a couple of feet wide. Give me oxygen. Another 75 minutes to go.

Town are slaughtering them 0-0.

Now and again Rushden got the ball and kept hold of it for a few seconds. During one of these brief moments in the history of time their left-back, Burgess, advanced a dozen yards and droozled a shot towards Fettis from about 30 yards, way out west. The ball bounced in front of the snoozing sentinel and safely into his smothering gloves. It's nice to know you're here.

Normal service has been resumed. Rankin put on a white sheet and scared the children in the rotting carcass that was Hunter's heroes. They could look but they better not touch this poison ivy. Passing, movement, fervour, verve, we've got them rockin' and a-rollin' Barbara-Ann. Jevons crossing, Mansaram flicking, Rankin swishing a shot goalwards, deflected past the left post. Barnard clipped it high beyond the far post and Crane looped a gentle header back towards goal. Turley, set in concrete, watched as the ball drifted over his alice band and towards the centre of the goal. Hunter headed off the line as Mansaram challenged, the ball ricocheted around awhile, with Rankin and then Jevons having goalbound shots diverted by Rushden knees and Diamond dogs on the line.

Hang on a second, I'll just have to have a lie down. We Town fans aren't used to excitement.

Around the 20th minute (oh yes, only 20 minutes of English time had elapsed, my friend) Rushden had another shot. Duffy flicked the ball over Crane and, from the middle about 20 yards out, hit a dipping volley straight at Fettis. The action stopped for a few minutes as Rushden players took their time in taking throw-ins, went down injured and generally Town ran out of a bit of steam.

We had a relatively dull couple of minutes and back Town came. Usual thing: Rankin doing Rankin-like things, and Coldicott slamming a shot from 20 yards that went at least five yards wide. Town had done very well to avoid scoring against the flabbiest, flimsiest team we've seen at Blundell Park this season. And that includes the various alleged Grimsby teams.

Anderson, Mansaram, a cross, Jevons' shot blocked. Play permanently inside the Rushden half. Eleven yellow men inside a confined space, but such massive gaps for Town to play in. Tardis Town defying the laws of physics, surely? Mansaram again shape-shifting past Roget, crossing to the near post, Anderson poking his right leg in front of a defender eight yards out. The ball missing the angle of post and bar by inches. Anderson's boot clattering Sambrook's knee. Tears before bedtime, angst, anguish, and a lot of prevarication. "Get 'im off the pitch."

I'm exhausted, aren't you?

So were the players; they had a little rest for five minutes. They simply let Rushden have the ball, which isn't a bad thing to do. Nothing would happen. Would it? C'mon, this is Town - they should be several up, but they're bound to concede a stupid goal.

Yeah, and here it is. Barnard back-heading to... Jack, who'd snuck around the back while the international playboy was contemplating his plans for his back garden. Begonias are so not 2004, Darren. But Town could prevent Jack from feeling happy, for he raced off away from goal, turned and was smothered by the seventh cavalry. Barnard walked the ball away with a song in his heart and a smile on our faces.

They didn't get in Town's half again, despite the continuing inability of Crane to win any headers - or mark any players. He did make one decent tackle on Jack though, on the right just inside the Town half, as Rodernee was about to hare off down the wing. And let's not forget when Crane had visions of Cruyff: collecting a clearance just outside their penalty area, he backed off, did a mini-stepover and tried to nutmeg the defender. Somehow I don't see him as a flying trickster winger.

Town started to have 'nearly' moments, nice moves, not quite. Mansaram almost through the centre; little dinkers just too hard, or a Rushden boot crazily careering the ball away. With five minutes left Rankin received near the left corner of the Irthlings' area. He turned left, twisted right and swizzed past the defender, who flicked a leg out and an arm across. Rankin was free, behind the floozie, but decided to fall over those protruding limbs. Unfortunately he was a little too dramatic in his falling, arms flung high in unison, body twisting with a half pike, feet leaping off turf together. He'd have got his silver badge but he didn't get his penalty. On play went, up went the Pontoon roof.

In added time Town murdered them again. Rankin - isn't it always, won't it always be - twisting on a rebound and, eight yards out at the far post, slithering a shot a foot wide via the seam of Hunter's shirt. A corner swung away from goal and Crane thundered a header against the face of the crossbar from about a dozen yards out. Turley dropped the next corner, cleared and that was it.

There we are, Town completely dominating, but no goal. Inferior opponents just packing their own penalty area with bodies and hoping for a breakaway goal, a bit of fortune. That was us last week, so we shouldn't sniff at them too much, should we? Well, yes - they did look particularly poor and clueless defensively, as bad as Wycombe and Chesterfield were. Oh, and not forgetting our South Yorkshire charity teams.

It wasn't all wonderful, for Town had a worrying tactic of trying to hit big booming balls over the top from one side to the other. No one could kick it hard enough really, and possession was lost. In with the good there was some long-ball nonsense.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Their defence is looser than my trousers."
"Law's run out of people not to play."
"What is Rankin doing slumming it with us?"
"He's either going to a funeral or delivering some chocolates."
"Do you think Rodger's had them in for some secret training after Law has gone home?"

Second half
Neither team made any change at half time. Rushden emerged several minutes after Town. Perhaps they couldn't be bothered.

Town started at the same pace as they had done in the first half and immediately had the midlanders pinned back with their ears against the Osmond Stand. Barnard, Jevons and Mansaram combined down the left, with a cross zipping towards the near post. From behind a strategically placed bush, Rankin appeared and poked the ball just past the near post.

A couple of minutes later Town mangled them again down the left. Someone got behind their defence, and the ball was crossed and half cleared back to Campbell, about a dozen yards out near the edge of the penalty area, who hit a shot goalwards. The ball kissed the backside of a defender and rolled across the face of goal. Near the penalty spot Rankin surged towards the ball, and just as he was about to swipe it in a defender hurled himself across and twiddled the ball clear.

It all felt a little flat, fewer things happening, but hey, weren't we spoiled by the first half? And for the Pontoon it all seems less exciting when play is down the Osmond End. The crowd had been provoked into caring; the silent, sullen sadness of the last few weeks was replaced with the odd Grimsby groan, that harbinger of hope returning to the morose Mariner fan. That cruel, cruel hope. The fingertips are just about clinging to the cliff. I can hear a noise. Is it help? Someone with a rope? Or just the wind?

Penalty! No. A corner driven beyond the far post, Anderson chased and, near the bye-line, tried to clip the cross back. The ball hit a blond-haired defender somewhere near his arm. Blatant and obvious to all, of course. The further away you are from an incident, the better you see it, don't you think? Distance lends perspective, so those listening in Australia will have had the best view of all.

A couple of minutes later Crowe zippadedoodaahed down the wing, taking on several of the amorphous yellow blobs and being obstructed as he made for the bye-line. He stopped, demanded a free kick and looked aghast when play continued. Frustration building, moaning mounting. We just couldn't finish these pesky kids off. A Jevons glider, hovering above the defence like a UFO, evaded all but Anderson near the penalty spot, who headed firmly but a yard or so over the bar. Grrr! C'mon Town - their funeral should be over by now. Where are those cucumber sandwiches?

In the 56th minute Crane won his first defensive header of the day. Huzzah!

On the hour Mansaram piddled about after a fine flowing footballing confection down the Town right. Several Town players combined with sweet one-touch passes, the defence using the space given up by the Irthlings to advance. Anderson surged forward and Rankin rolled the ball forward to Crowe inside the area, who flipped it sideways to Mansaram, unmarked near the penalty spot. A defender cleared as Mansaram decided not to shoot.

That's Mansaram, the striker who will only shoot from outside the penalty area. And what do you know, within a minute he proved the theory. Town refused to give up possession, passing left, right, all along the watchtower, finally to Anderson on the left, who curled the ball down the touchline for Mansaram to run on to. He held off three defenders, cut infield and levered the ball over the stand far, far away down Neville Street as Rankin stood unmarked inside the area. A couple of seconds later a small yelp was heard as an old dog was felled by Mansaram's shot descending from the sky with fiery menace. The mutt, like Rushden, continued breathing for a little while longer.

Around this time the strange creatures from an unknown town got inside the Town half. A breakaway when a corner was cleared saw little Jack racing down their right. He headed the ball over Coldicott, his momentum taking him on the track next to the pitch. Stacy ignored the ball, always his strong point, and ran parallel with Jack, simply blocking off the quick little tic. Both had a little game of rollerball off the pitch, with the ball trickling slowly goalwards. Eventually a Rushdenite appeared, and so Stacy, the human JCB, gobbled him up with a huge sliding excavation. No Roman ruins were unearthed, but we did find a shallow grave in which Antoine-Curier's contract had been placed, alongside a picture of Des Hamilton.

They also got a corner too, midway through the second half. Burgess prepared to take it and fell over the raised edge. We laughed. He went crimson and curled the ball to Fettis. They won't be back for ages, so relax a little.

What happened next? Oh yes, Town pouring forward, as Rushden camped inside their own penalty area. Every man Jack of them. Except Jack, so every man except Jack of 'em, I suppose. Town spent a few minutes doing daft things like lumping high balls in, but eventually they realised that there were vast acres of savannah into which the Town lions could roam to kill off these wildebeest.

Edwards, then Campbell, strode on and on, with the now visible man drifting through a couple of nebulous tackles to dapple a shot a yard over the bar from maybe 25 yards out. Then the old Town one-two, in-out, flicking, tricking, by Jevons, then Mansaram, and a shot by Anderson blocked. If the boot was on the other foot then one might be eulogising the Rushdenians for their backs-against-the-wall bravery. Well, playing against the statistically worst defence in the whole wide world of football, they were just plain daft. Even Town might score against them; all it would take would be a bit of (mis)fortune.

With 17 minutes left Soames replaced Mansaram and did what he always does - buzz around the ankles like a carpet mite. Within a minute he'd caused them to scratch at the itch. Crowe zoomed, Soames found room and crossed to the near post, where Rankin jumped at the ball. The ref gave a goal kick, but it looked like a yellow thigh that flipped the ball away. Town were getting closer, closer to the goal.

After 78 minutes Campbell, tired of this passing stuff, ran towards the penalty area from just inside their half. Past one statue, past another and, near the left corner of their penalty area, little Stu saw an immobile object and ran into it, rebounding like a ball bearing from a rubber band. Third time lucky for Town: a penalty was given. Rushden went bananas, as did some of their supporters, a couple of whom were ejected. Come, come; this is the Football League, not the Conference. A little more decorum please.

After an age Jevons strode forward, and then was made to wait further as the ball was not on its spot and the opponents wandered across his view. Jevons languidly glided across the mud and caressed the ball to the left as Turley flew to his right. The Town fans made some noise and generally appeared pleased, as were the players.

From the kick off Town regained possession, with Campbell curling a superb ball down the left touchline with the outside of his right boot. Rankin powered on to the ball, cut infield and drivelled a shot into the side netting.

Rushden must have tried to attack, as gaps started to appear all through their defence and midfield. I can't be certain, mind, as they didn't actually do any concerted attacking. At some stage between the goal and the end Rankin took a machete to the right-hand side of their team, hacking his way past the dead wood and Underwood and bearing down upon Turley, who blocked with his chest. Should have been two.

With six minutes left Barnard halted the tiny Rushden substitute by standing in his way, just inside the Town half. The ref gave a free kick to them, as Barnard lay prostrate, having been felled by a forearm. Ford immediately replaced Barnard and played at left-back. There was a bit of confusion at the back as Crowe and Ford exchanged empty looks, but Ford stayed on the left. A couple of minutes later Anderson was booked for lunging through the back of a defender, underneath the Stones/Findus/Smiths stand. The free kick was lobbed high and mighty, falling at the far post to Hunter, who mis-hit an attempted curler. The ball slowly looped to Fettis. No danger.

Right, so what else happened? Duffy got sent off for jumping at Crane with elbow high. Crane crumpled, Duffy mumbled and off he went in a flounce, exchanging telephone numbers with Law as he truckled off down the tunnel. That was the second time Crane had been face-felled by Duffy.

At the start of the three minutes of added time Rushden pumped a long ball down the middle and someone fell to the ground. The ref gave a free kick against Ford, about 25 yards out on the centre left. Hanlon waddled forward and kicked the ball into the wall. It bounced behind Hanlon and three Town players ran off. Soames collected the ball 10 yards inside the Town half and just went off in a straight line down the inside right, with no opponents anywhere to be seen. He carried on into their penalty area, cut in past one challenge and had just Turley to beat, but hit the shot against Turley's left boot.

A minute later Rankin raced off and should have scored, but didn't. And then it ended.

Oh joy of joys: Town win - and by playing recognisable association football. This really should have been a right tonking, with Town winning at least five-nil. But Town didn't shoot very well and Rushden placed umpteen thousand bodies inside the penalty area. They were not subtle at all in their defensive tactics. On this showing Rushden should go down, as they are worse than Town, but probably won't if they play some lardy-attitude team who are bumbling around in mid-table.

But so what about them? Town, eh? Passing, even some movement. The right players in the right places, doing just about the right thing. The result is important, but the way they did it matters. At the back of all minds was that thought that it was the last dying kick, the death rattle. We'll find out next week, won't we. Men or mice?

Nicko's man of the match
Now, this is a little tricky. Rankin was awesomely awesome for the first half, and the last few minutes, and Anderson was a willing worker and cuddling creator throughout. So who is it? I'll get a coin out. Isaiah Rankin, by three heads to two.

Official warning
Town can't complain about Mr D Pugh (but the linesman with the yellow flag was pathetically inept), as he eventually succumbed to the penalty pressure. He was unwilling to book, which isn't a bad thing, and did deal with a flying elbow. So from a Town perspective he was reet good value, and gets a very commendable 7.211.