Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
29 November 2003
Grimsby Town 0 Tranmere Rovers 1
A grey, windy old day with around 150 Tranmerians nestling nicely within the shack that is the Osmond Stand. The wind, a great return of an old friend, whistling diagonally down the pitch into the open corner between Pontoon and police box, bending that corner flag's ear like a harridan short-changed by the bus driver. The other corner flags occasionally rocked, like Huey Lewis and the News. Nothing too heavy, barely perceptible, and of little consequence. It's hip to be square.
The Town fans huddled behind whatever shelter they could find, avoiding contact with that wind; it plays havoc with carefully constructed hair you know. Was there anybody here? Would anyone turn up? Ladies' Day - not quite like Ascot is it? Ah, here we are, two ladies, diddly-di-di-dee. Two Hinge and Brackets, brave lads, roaming the streets with the Mighty Mariner like a pressgang styled by Hieronymus Bosch. Not too far away from a normal night out in Nunsthorpe, with a greasy chip buttie, really. Still, the club were trying; it brought a few smiles to a few faces, and a lot of goosepimples to Hinge's legs.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Edwards, Barnard, Campbell, Crowe, Hamilton, Anderson, Boulding and Onuora. The substitutes were Young, Groves, Mansaram, Cas and Jevons. Well, don't you know, the same as last week.
The players warmed up gingerly in anoraks (or "training tops", as the style-conscious youth of today like to call them) and their only amusement was, presumably, the same as the crowd's: will the top-heavy Mighty Mariner topple in the breeze, rolling, rolling, rolling like tumbleweed across a comedy desert?
Tranmere looked a pretty hefty side, with 'dour' written across their foreheads in invisible ink, or is that latent anti-Little feeling coming out there? Well, can you forgive him those boring post-match interviews on Radio Humberside? And worst of all, Tranmere ran out in yellow - far too reminiscent of Stockport for my liking. Why don't they wear red? We beat teams in red at home, and have never lost to opponents who play in pink with purple spots, come to think of it.
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon, tapping the ball to Barnard, who let fly from just inside the home half. The ball drifted, nay, loped lazily a couple of yards wide of Achterberg's left post. That rather summed up what was to follow from Town: good intentions poorly executed, Tranmere unfazed.
Achterberg ambled after the ball, creakily plucking it from a damp spot and shuffing even more slowly back towards his goal. Yes, that's right - time-wasting in the first minute, for which the old Friesian cow was roundly heckled. Fortunately, standards in the Pontoon have improved recently and no-one sang songs to him about two world wars and one World Cup. He was, though, warned about his future conduct, with the ghost of Livvo past invoked in an attempt to unnerve him.
The goal kick sailed up, hung in the air and dived out of touch via Crane's head. Town quickly regained possession, with Crane walloping the ball down the Town right. Boulding scampered after it with the Tranmere defenders standing and staring. Achterberg crept out of his area and appeared to be caught betwixt and between. Rather than stepping inside, Boulding decided to slow down and tap the ball at the goalkeeper, allowing him to clear. A minute later Boulding was again released, this time down the left. Sit back down - cross blocked easily.
Another minute, Boulding yet again behind the defence with Achterberg forced to hare out of his area. The ball trickled slowly towards the bye-line just outside the penalty area. Achterberg shielded the ball by holding his arms out wide and doing a little Zorba dance to his left, right, then left again, forcing Boulding to run round Spurn Point lighthouse in an attempt to get to the ball. The referee blew his whistle as the Pontoon raged, and gave Tranmere a free kick, presumably because Boulding had left British waters without notifying the relevant marine authorities.
A few hours later Achterberg had finally retrieved the ball, placed it on the exact spot the referee deemed correct (being five yards upfield), adjusted his shorts, wiped his brow, checked the week's television schedules in case Countdown had been moved to make way for some racing from Chepstow, and finally kicked the ball into the wind for an inevitable throw-in near the managers' dugouts.
Four minutes gone. It seemed like hours after all this prevarication. Some more throw-ins later Town got the ball back, almost passing to each other by accident in the process. Hamilton was spotted roving the grass like a lost sheep, running away as the ball went near him. Another punt over the top, a hustle, a harry and Campbell had a long shot that isn't worth thinking about. Dragged, scuffed, sighsomely mundane.
A Town free kick? Barnard, 30 yards out on the right, the wind behind, the scene set for a piledriver. Sigh again, sweet Townite, for in trying to curl it into the centre he scuffed it low towards the near post, several miles from any Town boot. The ball drifted along the side netting but wasn't ever going in.
This was tedious. Town had the ball but were incapable of doing anything other than tip it over the top for Boulding, who kept running into some big moveable breeze blocks. Tranmere hadn't even got in the Town half. Nothing, zilchorama, nilsville, whatever way you want to put it, they hadn't bothered to do anything about attacking, being quite content to sit, almost literally, around watching Town players frantically fail.
Ah, spoke too soon. Tranmere were given a daft free kick near the halfway line. The ball was dinked upfield and wobbled around, hanging on thermals. Crane watched, turned, trotted away from the ball and looked aghast that Dadi was unmarked just inside the Town area on the centre right. Eugene Dadi: what a name, what a guy. He gave the ball 40 lashes with his cat-o'-nine-tails hair, looping it up and up and away. Davison had half come out, but back-pedalled, stumbling, tumbling, reaching, clutching the ball one-handed as he fell back onto the goalline. Mop that brow now.
The ground was silent, the crowd filled with inertia. It was a flat pancake of a day with a stodgy porridge game. Tranmere were a big wedge of lumpy concrete that Town didn't have the strength, nor nous, to break up. They tried to frighten the Mariners with some long throws, which in the context of this game meant that some actually reached the edge of the home penalty area.
After about quarter of an hour the Anderson heckler began to find his voice, booming through the Pontoon, unmissable, purely because no-one else made a sound, too busy thinking of a different kind of turkey, probably. Hang on a bit laddie, Anderson hit a superb ball over the left-back's head to Campbell, but nothing came of it to rouse the torpid Townites. A thousand chins on two thousand hands peered out at the players from behind Achterberg. Come on Town - do something!
At last they did. Tranmere fell asleep, or perhaps were stunned by the referee actually giving a foul against them. Barnard curled the free kick over from the left. Hamilton, having a noticeably effective 90 seconds, surged into the box behind the left-back. About eight yards out, beyond the far post, he cushioned a volley over the flapping keeper and just over the bar. Onuora stood alone, head in hands, at the other post.
Forget about desiccated Derrick Hamilton now; he contributed nothing to the rest of the game, except amusement, despair and one good tackle halfway through the second half.
Haworth walked off just before the half hour, which was nice for Town. Little replaced large with little Navarro. And a couple of minutes later Crane snoozed again. A long ball from the Tranmere right, simply hoofed into the box, was allowed to go on, and on, and on. Crane watched hoping that Davison would come out and get it. He didn't, for Dadi had sneaked around the back, stretched out and poked the ball across the goalmouth and just wide of the left post.
Barnard was booked for sliding through a curdling lemon and still Tranmere wasted time. But they were beginning to look a bit dangerous, with midfielders beginning to run forward to support their strikers, while the Town defenders were starting to be turned around and forced to, well, defend. Edwards excelled with a series of timely interceptions, covering up for others, sweeping danger aside with an imperious wave of his hand. He even started a couple of Town attacks by dispossessing inside the Town area and dribbling upfield.
At last, at long, long last, a Town move worthy of that description. Campbell dribbled up the right; stopped by two defenders, he passed back to McDermott, who immediately flipped the ball inside to Crowe. Campbell sprinted past the full-back and Crowe caressed a first-time pass through the defence. Campbell dribbled on, up to the bye-line, flicked the ball between the full-back's legs and wriggled clear.
In the penalty area, on the bye-line, he looked up and crossed low and hard towards the near post. Linwood, a rather rickety-looking centre-back type (but, then again, most of them looked like centre-backs) got himself all of a dither, all of a tangle, flicking the ball off his right heel and between his legs. Achterberg frozen, the Pontoon hopeful, the ball rolled along the side netting and out for a corner.
The rest of the half was Town pressure, Town corners, but no real feeling that they'd score. The ball never seemed to fall for a Town player. The ricochets, the sliced clearances, the tumbles, the missed punches all went to Tranmere. Luck or organisation? Choose your own weapon.
Crowe dragged a shot well wide from the edge of the area; Onuora almost turned near goal; Boulding kept running into the third defender; and finally, when all else failed, there was Barnard. Up he waddled after Town had flipped the ball from side to side along the edge of the penalty area and got a free kick. He's an international, you know. Leave it to the German boyo. Thwack! Wibble, wobble, well wide.
Crane cleared for Tranmere from a corner (yes, you read that right) and, erm, that's it. One minute of added time was flashed on that handheld scoreboard, and we played about 20 seconds of that.
A really dreadful first half, with Town completely incapable of creating anything. No passing, no movement. They huffed and they puffed, but they couldn't blow down the house of straw. Tranmere were utterly professional in their method, nothing subtle, just people standing in the right places and closing down Campbell and Anderson. They let Hamilton and Crowe have the ball, safe in the knowledge that neither would do anything startling. Well, to them anyway.
We'd seen this game a thousand times before. We knew what was coming.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Would you like a satsuma?"
"We need them to score for us."
"My dictionary says a derrick is a mobile crane." "Not for Town he isn't."
"Give us a nudge when the real game starts."
"Are Achterberg's shorts shrink-wrapped?"
No changes were made by either team at half time. The game kicked off and then stopped for a couple of minutes as Navarro was squashed by Hamilton.
The second half managed to be worse than the first. Town had the ball just as much, but produced even less. Tranmere also managed to do even less attacking. Somehow they managed to do less than nothing, which was still more than Town. A riddle, wrapped up in an enigma? A bit like a Neil Woods dribble, there was much ado about nothing. The crowd somehow was less animated too. I think we all wanted to go home.
Ooh, hang on. Town attacked, with McDermott sweeping, surging, striking poses down the right. He crossed low into the area and Barnard, on the centre right near the penalty spot (yes, we thought that odd too) curled a right-footed shot towards the top left corner. The ball managed to crawl over the bar, as Barnard's fingers crawled through his newly shorn hair.
This was around the hour mark. Yes, that's right, the hour mark. After 15 minutes of nudging and noodling there was a shot. Town's attacking had been Boulding running into the wall at the end of the yellow brick road. Onuora? Hmmm... on the pitch. Anderson and Campbell barely visible.
Tranmere almost had an attack when Dadi, though offside, was allowed to trot on. He didn't keep the ball in play. Believe me, that was a highlight. Dadi again almost picked Town's pocket when Crane headed carefully and very softly back to Davison. He was about a foot short of the ball although Davison was unperturbed. Dadi, Dadi, look - there's an aeroplane up in the sky. Or was it a shooting star? Two words you could not place near a Town player's name today without fear of ridicule.
After 61 minutes the first "Sort it Grovesie" for a month was heard. A bit like the first cuckoo of spring, isn't it. Mellon wellied wide, Edwards took out his dustpan and brush and a twitcher pointed out that a Crowe was on the pitch.
Look - nothing really happened. I can't avoid it. I can't make things up. Crane missed a free header from a corner. Onuora missed a free header from a cross. In a normal game these would not be worthy of mention, but they suddenly become deeply meaningful in this rotting carcass of a game. Town continued to have the bulk of possession, even playing mainly inside the Tranmere half. But nothing of consequence was happening inside the Tranmere penalty area.
With around 20 minutes left a series of Town corners ended with that old Anderson trick. From 25 yards he thundered a shot goalwards. The ball hit a defender's shins and rebounded back upfield, setting Tranmere up for a counterattack. Onwards and upwards they poured. The ubiquitous and marvellously monikered Mickey Mellon received the ball and several Town defenders respected him as a person, avoiding that social faux pas of invading his personal space.
With room to breathe Mellon looked up and clipped a high, hanging cross from about 25 yards out, underneath the Stones/Smiths/Findus Stand. The ball drifted towards the penalty spot and Davison took a few steps forward as if to come out and catch it. Then he stopped and went back into his six-yard box as Dadi leapt up and headed goalwards. The ball hit Jones somewhere very close to his left arm, so close that it can only be described as his left arm, and dribbled slowly towards the left post. Davison was wrong-footed and Jones ran after the ball, slid and hooked it in from about a foot out.
If you wish to bemoan ill fortune we could contrast this moment with the so-called handball by McDermott last week. If you want to deconstruct Town's defending, we would raise at least three of our eyebrows towards Hamilton and Crane, who were closest to Jones as he ran up to support Dadi. Whatever - they'd scored, that was it.
Those mighty Mariners supporters really got behind the team, calling for Cas and Jevons with the hint of a boo. Within a couple of minutes Jevons came on for Anderson, which only half pleased the Anderson baiter at the very back of the Pontoon.
Now what formation Town were playing wasn't clear, as Jevons popped up here, there and everywhere. The ball also popped up here, there and everywhere, but not at the same time. Jevons did flick Boulding through on the left. Boulding just ran into three defenders. He was having one of his 'headless chicken without a head' days.
With 12 minutes left Cas replaced Hamilton to a huge cheer - equal parts for Cas coming on and for Hamilton finally being taken off. Still the Town formation was indescribable other than to say blokes were up at the other end in pretty Bridget Riley op art patterns. There was a half chance for Jevons when he stooped at the near post and headed way over the bar after Town took a quick free kick on the left.
Ah, Jevons' moment had come. A free kick to Town, 25 yards out. Expectations high, the Town fans stood ready to acclaim this fallen star. But would it be Barnard, would it be Des, we'd just have to wait and see. Jevons curled it against the shins of the last man in the wall for a corner. Corner wasted. Sit down again, apart from you fickle fans who'd given up and started to walk out with over five minutes left.
Another substitution, Mansaram for Onuora, and who knows what they were up to down at the Osmond End. Crane was permanently up front, challenging Jevons and Mansaram for every cross. Crosses came in, no headers were won. Passes were flicked on, but Tranmere stood in a row along the edge of the their penalty area, scooping up danger in their yellow plastic bin bags.
Ooh! No. A through ball towards the corner of the penalty area, Achterberg out, Achterberg fly-kicking, Achterberg missing. The ball squirmed out sideways straight to a defender as Boulding lurked.
Despite all the time wasting, all the substitutions and a two-minute delay caused by an injury, just three minutes of added time were allowed. During the first of these, Tranmere broke away down their right, got in behind the Town defence and crossed over Davison to the far post. Dadi, unmarked, stretched and toe-ended the ball over the bar from about six yards out.
With the last kick of the game Town were given a free kick, 25 yards out, in the centre. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Would Jevons justify his white boots? He carefully took aim and curled the ball around the wall towards the bottom left corner. The ball arrowed, curled, zoomed, dipped towards the empty net. Suddenly a hand appeared, Achterberg flying solo across the Atlantic, spectacularly, magnificently to punch the ball away.
And then the game ended. Truly a dreadful game, and not just down to the weather. The wind subsided in the second half, to be replaced by thin drizzling rain, so the conditions weren't that bad in the end. Tranmere strangled the game, and who can blame them for that? Denying Town space near goal, they forced Town to be cute, to be clever, or be strong. Town were none of these. A badly misfiring midfield engine didn't help (are Crowe and Hamilton the Wankel rotary engine of professional football?), but a bone-headed reliance on Boulding's pace was the main culprit. On the three occasions Town passed and moved they carved Tranmere apart.
Neither side deserved victory, but Tranmere deserved a draw more than Town. Maybe Town need a season of mid-table nothingness to make them angry enough to succeed, or maybe they just need that old Pouton drive in the middle. In the meantime, perhaps Town should play his two rottweilers.
So one step back again on the crazy path towards mediocrity.
Nicko's man of the match
Only two candidates for that fictitious laurel wreath. McDermott tried his best to get the players going, making many a surge down the wing. However, the man of the moment for Town was Michael Edwards, sometimes doing two jobs at once. Without him Tranmere would have scored more. Proactive rather than reactive, what a lucky dip he's been.
K A Friend... no, his surname is far too easy a fish to fry, and that's what most Town fans would want to do with him. Went out of his way to annoy the homesters with his indulgence of Achterberg's time-wasting from the off. He was unnecessarily fussy and very quick to blow his whistle. He didn't ruin a bad game, but didn't give it a chance to be any better. Why is it that referees in this division make a point of not being homers? They doth protest too much, eh? Score? Well, 4.684 would be an approximation of appropriateness.