The dish ran away with the spoon

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

1 October 2004

Grimsby Town 1 Cheltenham Town 1

A temperate Friday evening rudely interrupted by a football match down Meggies, with around 100 or so confused Cheltenhamites hidden in the Osmond End. The Town stands were nigh on full of free children; would they understand the etiquette in Town watching? They were a bit noisy and smiling, like they were excited. So clearly not. Ninety minutes of Town'll wipe the smile off your faces, laddie-me-boy. There were even people sat in the green seats 'twixt Pontoon and Main Stand.

Town lined up in the 3-4-3 formation as follows: Williams, Whittle, Forbes, Gordon, McDermott, Fleming, Pinault, Crowe, Sestanovich, Parkinson and Reddy. The substitutes were Robinson, Coldicott, Bull, Cramb and Young. Not much to say there, is there, apart from Cramb's hair, which is far too youth-team-trendy for a veteran journeyman bruiser passing by on his way back to the Conference.

Cheltenham lined up in a galaxy far, far away in what looked suspiciously similar to Town's away kit last year: all amorphous greys and maroons. With any luck they'd play like last year's Town: dazed and marooned.

Dish of the Day: Stacy's chicken and pasta. How very, very unexciting. I suppose it'd fill a hole. Food that'd do in lieu of some chips: it's better than nothing.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond end, with Pinault whopping the ball out towards the marauding Macca. One of their big blokes headed it infield and Chelters took possession. We sat down again, excitement over. These maroon menacers walloped the ball towards another big bloke and won a throw-in under the Police Box. Yawn, a long one. Yawn, Williams caught it. Or maybe he didn't. Pfft. Who cares. Nothing happened. Then they got another throw-in underneath the Police Box. We continued yawning.

Distracted by a pigeon, there is a yawning gap in our collective knowledge that needs filling. How did the ball get to Cheltenham's penalty area? Reddy challenged just outside the box, and the ball rolled to Crowe, who hit the floor like Wiley Coyote as a West Country leg of lamb poked at his ankles. Penalty! Indeed it was, sir. Pinault strode forward, bandy legs bandying in the breeze. He plonked the ball on the spot, took two steps back, gracefully rocked upon his left foot and... dribbled a drabbler a foot wide of the keepers right post. I blame the blue tarpaulin that was mysteriously draped across a block of seats behind the goal. Bad karma for Pingu. Dean Gordon raised an eyebrow or three.

Forget the next 10 minutes. I have.

Town had the ball but weren't doing anything with it. There was the occasional pass, and the occasional movement, but these occasionals rarely met in space and time. Cheltenham had a casual acquaintance with the ball. They certainly recognised it when they passed in the street, but couldn't quite remember where from. Best to smile, utter an inanity and walk on. In other words, they kept wellying it towards the big left-back, who headed it on towards the big centre-forward. Not subtle, not effective. Their number 18, Vincent, could run exceedingly quickly though.

Ah, something to write home about. Dear Mum, we had a shot. Near the quarter-hour a corner, or cross, or perhaps something else beginning with 'c', was cleared out to Fleming, about 20 yards out in the centre. The Flemster leapt and lapped a volley across the face of goal, the ball drifting a foot or so wide of the left post. That nearly got the children singing.

A minute or so later we really were a knockout sound. Fleming nicked the ball in midfield on the right somewhere, knocking the ball forward to Pinault who, with his back to goal, hit a marvellous first-time pass over the top. McDermott rumbled along, zapping the full-back with his siren and getting to the bye-line. Macca lobbed a teasing cross into the centre. Reddy was near, the ball travelled behind him, seemingly behind Parkinson, but no, the perkyman swivelled and hooked a volley into the bottom right corner. Perkyman: aren't they cards that children in Hull collect? Wahey, wo-ho, contentment all around.

Cheltenham stepped up the pace of their game, losing possession more quickly.

Town were still strolling around, with a couple of passengers. Sestanovich? Was he on the pitch? He had successfully avoided contact with the ball for 20 minutes. No, hang on, spoke too soon. Transit Stan chugged forward, past one, two, three, four, five, six blades of grass. Twisting, turning, spinning himself into a ball of confusion, it would have been simpler to pass to a team-mate, especially those ones unmarked on the edge of the penalty area. Pinault had a shot. It wasn't very good.

The referee maddened with an arbitrary decision to give them a free kick when Big Bloke number 9 fell over his own feet. From about 25 yards out one of their anonymous players chipped the ball anonymously over the bar. It isn't worth doing a DNA test to work out who did it, but I shall blame McCann, simply because he didn't sign for us two years ago. He seemed to be a sort of Kingsley Black-lite. The heavy one wasn't much cop.

Where are we now? Not half an hour gone and a few things almost happened. At some point Gordon skipped forward, daintily avoiding any nettles as he advanced from the halfway line. About a zillion and one yards out he flabbled a huge dipper just over the bar. Isn't that what fly fishermen do?. Oh, all right; he kicked the ball and it went a foot above the crossbar for a goal kick. I still say he should have flabbled his dipper a little bit more.

Fleming sent Parkinson free with an arcing swipe down the right. There were no Town players in the box, so, from a very narrow angle, Parkinson cracked a shot into the side netting. Pingu probably had another shot, trying so very hard to make up for his bloopeur. Poor old Professor Pinault: he was so obviously restricted by his injury, with none of those lady-pleasing, extravagant, shrugging turns. You see, that's the trouble with Frenchies: they just can't perform when they have a problem with their groin.

Ooh, look: they've got Brian Wilson in their team, enough to make anyone smile. He got around a bit, even being flagged offside and almost collapsing in faux disgust. He was only four yards offside, so it was close.

Erm, hang on - there must be more to this half than that? Reddy, ah yes, Reddy. He ran around a lot and once almost got behind the defence, knocking the ball over the last defender, but the goalie came out and caught it, Fascinating and vital information there. Ooh, didn't Macca do a cross? Yes! He did. He crossed it and it was cleared. Edge-of-the-seat stuff this, with so many people on the edge of their seat deciding when exactly to go and get a balti pie. Too late, they sold out.

I am almost certain that a Cheltenham player kicked the ball towards Williams, and that it rolled eight yards wide to the left of goal. Perhaps I was hallucinating. Parkinson was sliced in two by a fair-haired Cheltenhamite, as the pesky scamp scuttled down the left and cut inside near the corner of the penalty area. A booking and a terrible Pinault shot followed.

In added time Town got a corner. There was a scramble, another scramble, a half shot and then it was over. Is that it? Yes, that is it, everything you wanted to know about Town but were too afraid to ask. It was dull, one-sided, but there was a rumble in the Town stomach. It was too one-sided; they hadn't had a shot really, but something daft was going to happen. You could just tell.

It started to rain.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I was in Sheffield two hours ago." "Sestanovich still is."
"He's either caught a fish or offside."
"How many times do I have to rip up this paper before it gets to the moon?"
"I'm uncomfortable with happiness. That's why I sit in the Pontoon."
"I was caught by the Tesco jam. Did anyone get here before kick-off?"

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time.

We had four minutes of flapping and paddling as the ball skidded off the turf and off various coloured boots. Oooo Reddy down the right wing, Reddy twinkling his little toes, crossing to the far post. Crowe, rising from the depths of a dark, dark pit, headed across goal, the ball thudding into a blancmange of footballers. A defender and Fleming tussled on the edge of the six-yard box, and Town's troubadour poked out a leg and flicked the ball goalwards. Higgs was trembling upon his goal-line and reacted by flapping his hands at the ball as it passed his nostrils. He managed to claw the ball away to his left and one of his mates swept it further away as Parkinson and Pontoon watched and wondered.

As usual in a second half, it was Town piling forward towards the Pontoon, creating countless moments of potential interest. Reddy roving on the right, smooching past his rather rotund marker, his cross deflected up and just beyond Parkinson at the near post. Sestanovich (remember him?), released from the halfway line by Pinault, did his usual bulldozing rampage down the middle, attracting all 12 defenders. He stopped, cut back left, cut back right, Reddy and Parkinson to his right, Crowe to his left, all unmarked, all awaiting a pass. Sestanovich decided to drag a low shot goalwards. Higgs saved comfortably, but at full stretch, low down by his right post.

Sestanovich again, doing exactly the same, in exactly the same position, this time hitting a shot against a defender's ankles. Oh Sestan, you're always window shopping, but never stopping to buy, shake those downy feathers and try - a little bit. Sestan again, oh, this is getting annoying - pass it next time. The gullible newcomers seemed to be excited by Transit Stan's meanderings. But then again some people are impressed by bright balloons and hairy hats. Substance rather than image. He shoots when he should pass and passes when he should shoot. He frightens opponents, but rarely produces. He's capable of so much, but has so little to show for it.

Cheltenham strung three passes together. Gordon got the ball back. We're having none of that nonsense round here thankyouverymuch.

Town rolled across the plains towards the Pontoon, attack after attack after attack, though rarely getting a glimpse of Higgs' underwear. Leave it to Dean: charming his way past Guinan, he advanced from the halfway line, shimmied and shook a stonker from 25 yards. Higgs flew to his right and just managed to paw the ball away from his right-hand corner at about head height. And again, Gordon angered by the shilly-shallying in front of him, pushed the throng aside to stride forward, this time dragging his shot a couple of yards wide.

In the 57th minute a Cheltenham player swung his right foot forward. It touched the football and that football went in a straight line towards the Town goal. Williams caught the ball in his midriff. Congratulations to our visitors. A shot. There you are: basic facts, no thrills, no Stan-like window-dressing. It was as dull as that.

After an hour the children were bored and started to do a Mexican wave. How embarrassing. It's the sort of thing Pimms-drinking showjumpers would do. Real fans don't wear plaid, or do Mexican waves. They may be local but we obviously can't help them; there's nothing here for them. Town won a couple of corners and the younger unpaying newcomers stood on their seats, getting excited. "We never score from a corner." Hah, that'll teach you to come along and be happy - I've given away the ending.

After 20 minutes or so Cheltenham made a substitution, taking off lumbering Guinan and replacing him with Spencer, who was equally big, but also a bit nippy. Why worry about them? This is easy? The weekend starts here.

Sestanovich... cut and paste from above.

There were glimpses of team play, hints of a collective purpose rather than individual endeavour, mainly started by Gordon, who seemed to spend most of his life rampaging down the left. Oh yes - where was Mr Crowe then? A five-man passing move from left to right ended when Reddy laid the ball back to Pinault, who steered the ball against the underside of the Pontoon roof. Around the same time Sestanovich thwacked a half-volley from the right, about 20 yards out, the ball brushing against the back of the side netting. It probably made the Smiths/Stones/Findus rise in hope, but no-one else.

Perhaps this is it: more Gordon raiding, some interplay, interweaving, and Reddy zooming a right-footed drive from the edge of the penalty area. Higgs flew horizontally and clutched the ball low to his left as Macca followed up, nibbling at his gloves. Any more? Some more passing and moving down the right, two Cheltenham players colliding as Sestan's hips wiggled; Sestanovich barundling along the touchline, hitting the bye-line and crossing to the near post. Parkinson flopped rather than stretched as the ball was picked up by Higgs a couple of yards out.

With just about 15 minutes left the referee infuriated the Town crowd by awarding a series of free kicks to Chelters on their left, 20 yards out near the corner of the penalty area. Reddy was booked for encroaching, the ball was brought to the edge of the area and McCann thwacked the ball through the area and several yards wide of the left post. That was their fifth free kick from that position and none of them were any good.

Drifting, drifting into unconsciousness: sleepwalking to midnight, awoken from slumbers by a Town attack. Gordon, again, overlapped down the left, whipped in a superb first-time cross along the edge of the penalty area. Fleming flashed forward, twisted and volleyed the ball goalwards. The ball skipped off the turf and Higgs just managed to flap the ball aside, just wide of Macca and Parkinson.

How long left now? Five or six minutes. Plenty of time to mess up. A long ball, a header, a shot, a save, a goal. Simple. Wellied from left to right, Spencer won a header, knocking the ball back to Vincent somewhere near the edge of the area in the middle. Vincent seemed to be falling to his left, but still slashed a shot towards Williams. The ball slipped off the grass as Williams dived low to his left, only parrying the ball back out. Spencer hared in, slid forward and steered the ball high to right of the goal. Slipshod Town, for the visitors hadn't even hinted at shooting before the goal. At this, dozens of Town 'fans' got up and stormed out. Ah, yes: Grimsby 'til they cry.

From the restart Cheltenham revved up and pressed Town back again. Long balls work. They got a corner, Williams flapped and just managed to fingertip it out for another one. Panic, ricochets and bundlings inside the box. Cleared. Sestan the hero? Go on my son, keep going, past a third, a fourth defender. Town players screaming for the ball either side. Up to the edge of the box, unstoppable, irrepressible, a wonder goal to behold, to cherish, to get those three points back. A final shimmy and Sestanovich was past the last defender and inside the area, but he was viciously felled by his own feet, then rolled between Crowe and ball. The chance had gone, and Sestan's evening of ineptitude was complete.

There were three minutes of added time, but about two were played. Town attacked, Town did nothing, Town trudged off to a silent reception. They turned to look but we were gone into the night. We had better things to do.

Town have no-one to blame but themselves. Utterly dominant but bereft of cohesion, the over-reliance upon Pinault and Sestanovich was horribly apparent. Neither had a good game, one injured, the other yet to land on Earth. Reddy and Parkinson ran around a lot, with Reddy generally more effective. Crowe was Campbellian in his invisibility while McDermott was rarely given the ball despite a stream of steaming runs down the right. The defence was unfussed, untroubled by any little fly, apart from the goal. It would have been nice if Williams had saved it properly, wouldn't it, though that should have a mere detail of history with Town way over the hills by then. If Cheltenham were still in Cleethorpes, Town should have been somewhere near Spilsby. If only they'd put the right petrol in the team transit van.

Carelessness again. That jigsaw still has a piece missing, and Russ never thought to try the nobbly corner piece he found under the sofa.

Nicko's man of the match
Really only one candidate, Mr Dean Gordon, for outstanding achievement on the field of excellence. He defends, he attacks, he glowers at the penalty missers. He's our best player and we all know it.

Markie's un-man of the match
Ashley Sestanovich, for getting in the way. For once Pinault underperformed, but Setstanovich was a right pain, for raising hope and then trampling our hopes in the dirt with his personal mission to do everything. If he was playing on Bradley Pitches they'd still call him greedy.

Official warning
An rather irritating custardian of the whistle, perhaps G Lewis has seen the three moons of Uranus, for he saw what no others did. We fouled, they didn't. Not helped by a daft linesman who, in the second half, managed to give an offside when the ball was played back by Cheltenham. That probably stopped Town scoring the killer second. Well, maybe, if you can stretch your credulity as far as Doncaster. Oh I forgot, you want a number: 5.000001.