The Mooney's a balloon

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

18 December 2004

Grimsby Town 1 Oxford United 1

Once in loyal Blundell Avenue stood a lowly cattle shed in which around 100 Oxfordians hopped and skipped in the cold night air. A swirly wind blew in from the open corner between Pontoon and Main Stand, ruffling the feathers in many a Christmas cap. The club handed out some Christmas balls for da kids, and the rest of that line writes itself.

Town lined up in what qualified architects believe to be a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Williams. McDermott, Whittle, Forbes, Bull, Crowe, Fleming, Pinault, Gordon, Parkinson and Cramb (a professional footballer of no fixed abode). The substitutes were Coldicott, Jones, Reddy, Sestanovich and Mansaram. Some children sobbed when they saw Hockless shuffle through the Norwegian Gate, hands in pocket, new slick hair casually flowing across his forehead like it was Killingholme Beck. Someone should tell him a gentleman never wears brown in Town.

Oh, the team and formation and all that. Self-explanatory: four full-backs, Little and Large at the back, Pinky and Parky upfront. Pinault the pinnacle of possession: all roads lead through gnome.

Oxford looked a bit bigger than Town, and younger. Such a shame Mark E-Bay wasn't in their squad, nor Glen Down-Louthmarket in ours. He doesn't exist, does he. He's a virtual player in someone's computer simulation game.

The partially deaf Town fans were all terribly disappointed that Cameron Diaz couldn't be bothered to get out of that sun-smacked swimming pool chaise longue to come to glorious, glamorous Grimsby. Some people wouldn't know style if it were wrapped up in a Christmas ball and thrown at them by a group of 10-year-olds from the Nunny.

Dish of the day: Paul Fraser's Christmas dinner. Lots of brussels sprouts, which explains his expression.

Ready, steady, go: the weekend starts here.

First half
Town kicked off and managed to lose possession within three touches. Oh, dear, they look pretty tasty. Movement, pace, verve and vim. A marvellous minute, not yet bettered in this division, followed by a pretty good 30 seconds. A kaleidoscope of yellow, twisting and turning, bedazzling Town. But nothing happened to frighten Williams' horses.

It's nice of them to let Thomas be Town's engine. Oxford kept a respectful distance from Le Maestro and allowed him to sweep his seductive baton across the orchestra, spreading magic and mayhem with perfectly weighted passes and flighted fancies. Glissando, vibrato, pizzicato - just three of the strikers Slade has had on trial this season, who would have benefited from the French philosopher.

Cramb, tickled free, on the centre right, turned and thwaddled a shot against the post. Stay in that armchair your niece bought from Shackleton's. He was offside. No, not fair - he wasn't offside; Parkinson was. Is that John Tondeur's most overused phrase this season? "Parkinson offside"? Or is it "Parkinson not offside, butÂ…"? The phone lines are open until midnight and calls are charged at local rates (for Colombia).

Oxford's keeper was very young and very cocky, strutting and strolling around in front of the Pontoon. Huge hands and huge hair. Bradie Clarke with bunches in his hair. He was starting to get some lip and stick from the more excitable Pontoonites when, in the 11th minute, he flew through the air with the greatest of ease, spectacularly pushing aside a Bull shot (be careful!).

Pinault, who else, massaged Town free in midfield, the ball stroked around and across from right to left, with Bull advancing into the centre, unimpeded, as defenders backed away. The pint pot hotshot flannelled a wheezing, dipping drive from about 25 yards out, sailing across Clarke towards the left corner. You know whodunnit, and the denouement. The epilogue was a corner, credits rolled. No further action. Cue the music.

Town seized control, or were handed it on a baguette, depending on the colour of your spectacles. Whatever - Town dominant, Pinault the prince of passing; Town trundling forward, almost here, nearly there, a foot in the way, a bottom blocking. Not quite, but pressure building.

After about 18 minutes something eventually happened. Dibbles and dabbles in the centre lulled many a mulled wine-addled Mariner to sleep. Suddenly Pinault emerged, right of centre, just inside the Oxford half. He curled a perfectly weighted pass around and behind the centre-back for Parkinson to scamper after. The ball teased and weased boozley Woozley, who stretched, got the merest of twinkling toes on the ball, simply controlling it for perky Parky.

Parkinson, 20 or so yards out, just right of centre, promptly fell over the ball, stumbled, tumbled, fumbled and was as surprised as the rest of us. Cramb arrived on the late running Transpennine Express and swept a low shot across Clarke and into the bottom right corner. He sprinted off towards the manager, bringing sunshine, arms raised, hopping like Eric and Ernie. Makes a change from him and Parkinson playing like Bert and Ernie.

Red socks at night, Town delight?

Town continued to tighten that tourniquet, the game played almost exclusively in Oxford's half. Gordon crossing, Parkinson spinning, Crowe crowing, balls in, balls out. No shots, just dangerous, if not magic, moments. If Perry Como were still alive he'd be old. If Perry Groves were still playing football he'd still be rubbish. What's this got to do with the match? You have to keep warm somehow, to keep your brain moving.

At some point Oxford had a shot. Hesitancy and dilatory dibbling by Forbes saw him easily manoeuvred away from a bouncing ball just outside the Town area. The ball was laid back to Mooney, who stroked it to the right winger, free behind the floundering Bull. Hackett, near the corner of the penalty area, took one stride and lampooned a low shot across Williams and a bit wide of the post. A bit? How long is a piece of string? It didn't go in; that's all you need to know.

More Town embroidery. A Pinault free kick glanced exceedingly wide by Whittle. Ooh, a shot. Parkinson sent free, thwizzing a shot a couple of feet high and wide from 20 yards. Ooh-worthy. Doesn't he play for Norwich?. Cramb crossing from the right. Where's the ball? Behind you! Scrambled eggs for tea, no shot. A Pinault free kick, lovely panic, cleared from inside the six-yards box. Noise heard from Main Stand, brandy and babycham spilt in the Press Box.

Just after the half-hour Cramb collided with Crowe inside the Oxford area and hobbled off for treatment. Back on, then off again, replaced by the white-booted saviour of the universe, Flash Mansaram, in the 35th minute. Mansaram received an ovation, for absence has made our hearts grow fonder. Or we've forgotten everything. Dazzler moved with perkiness, controlled the ball inside Blundell Park and was generally adequate. He had a shot too. Rising, rising, no danger.

Another Oxford shot. Two, in one half. Amazing. Bradbury, who kept tripping over his own ego in the penalty area, slipped again on their left, on the edge of the box. A free kick was given, the wall was cranked back the full 9.71 metres, and some bloke wellied it straight at Williams, who tipped it over for a corner. The bulk of the kicker suggested that it was Bradbury himself who shot.

Is your life more fulfilled for knowing that? Thought not. Oxford looked capable of sublime football... between the penalty areas. Just like Town. We were watching the North and South Fourth Division Underachievers Challenge Cup final (first leg).

Still Town piled forward. Still Oxford ignored the snake charmer in the middle. Was there a total exclusion zone around Pinault? Clarke started to wobble, throwing straight out of play, miskicking, wading out of his area at bizarre times. All it needed was one more goal and the game would be won. Oxford didn't seem that interested in getting the ball, but were quite prepared to do some soft-shoe shuffling for the crowd when it fell to them by accident.

Now! Sumptuous, sensuous, seamless movement, Parkinson free inside the area on the left. Parkinson confused his fellow professionals by looking up and crossing low through the six-yard box. The ball trickled and tempted, trundling along, waiting for a divot to divert it goalwards. Robinson and Fleming raced towards the far post and the full-back just managed to get there before the pretty Flemingo, sweeping the ball away from a foot or so out. Both collided with the post, Robinson kissing into the pocket off the post and Fleming a full backside whack. Ouch.

That's the first half that's fit to print.

Shoulda, coulda, didnae. Sums the season up. So we know what's going to happen in the second half, don't we.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I'll meet you by the vegetables - are Town's defence going to Tescos too?"
"Forbes is playing like a Town player now that we've signed him."
"Is Mooney playing?" "He will be."
"He rang to give some feedback from Vicky's cascade." "Is that a dream or a new film?"
"You've still got all your own eyebrows. What kind of student are you?"

Second half
Oxford replaced the unseen Brookes with Morgan, not that anyone seemed to care, or notice.

They kicked off, they kept the ball, immediately switching it out to Morgan on their right wing. He hopped, skipped and jumped over an awful Bull lunge just inside the penalty area. Bull missed the ball, clipped Morgan and the crowd made a gurgling sound, expecting a fall, a foul and a penalty. Morgan, bizarrely, decided to remain upright as the ball rolled out of play. Jolly well played, sir, spirit of the game and all that. Sepp Blatter would be proud of you, if he knew who you, or Oxford, were or cared about the paupers.

There then followed two minutes of football from Grimsby Town. Treasure the memory, for that was all we got for all our minced pies and baubles. Parkinson received the ball 20 yards out in the centre with his back to goal. He swizzled around and hooked a volley straight at Clarke. Nice.

Mansaram rampaging along the backline, down the right, twisting and swivelling, suddenly spinning and cracking a low cross through the penalty area. Defenders frozen, poor southern belles with their fancy frocks and superfluous parasols, as the ball trickled along. Gordon, unmarked, a yard or so out at the far post, stretched and calfed the ball straight to the surprised goalkeeper. Hey, Flash to Gordon! But Clarke didn't have to save with a mighty hand.

A bundle of seconds later Town again, Parkinson scurrying behind the walking talking thesaurus of the fourth, and from a narrow angle poking the ball into the side netting. Roget's adventures in Grimsby were uneventful from now on.

And Fleming the lemming had some kind of shot which safely curled away from goal.

Those of a delicate disposition should get up an make a cup of tea now, or maybe go for a stiff winter walk. FIFA regulation 321(4)(a)(iii) is about to be invoked. Yep, Dusty Bin is about to wallop us on the backside, when we thought we'd won a brown Vauxhall Viva with leather-effect trim and a digital clock.

About seven or eight minutes into the half Oxford had possession somewhere out on their left, somewhere around the halfway line. No danger, no worries, let's keep in cruise mode. A trick, a flick, the ball tapped across to the centre and curled inside Bull at hip height. Bull, in a terrible position, balanced on one leg and tried to intercept the ball by ducking forward like a nodding donkey. Out came his back leg, over the ball it went, and Morgan was free.

A cross to the far post, Hackett headed back towards Mooney, who squeezed the ball back to Bradbury, on the edge of the area, in the centre. Bang, twang, clang. The shot slammed onto the crossbar, bounced down onto the line and straight back to Mooney, who controlled the ball on his chest and slapped it into the net from about 10 yards out. No Town players moved after Bradbury's shot. You could hear the hiss in Wellowgate, which is probably why we don't go there at night.

Ready, steady, gone: the weekend ended here.

A minute later Bull again transfixed by fear, alone again, naturally, with Gordon watching from afar and Morgan with all the time in the world to play his dad's Louis Armstrong collection on his I-Pod. Crossing, no chances. Repeat three times and hold your breath; the hiccoughs might go, or at least Slade might have the gumption to react to the Oxford changes and remove the failing full-back. Town crumpled in to a soggy rhubarb tart.

Oxford, meanwhile, simply decided to stand near to Pinault and tackle him if he got the ball. He rarely did, for Town settled back into the crowd-infuriating wallop-and-welly approach: Fleming kept getting the ball and passing to their goalkeeper; Whittle lamped it long toward Parkinson's head. Oxford encamped in the Town half, pressurising, weaving pretty patterns 20 yards out. Fortunately Williams decided to have a good day, coming out and catching - yes, catching - five crosses. He didn't even drop one. How unlucky can Oxford be, eh?

Fifty-nine minutes: Bull made a tackle.

Sixty-one minutes: first "Sort it Sladey" of the night.

The crowd started to grizzle and growl; Town got worse and worse; clearances began to go up, then backwards, like a kickabout after a night out, incapable of basic foot and ball co-ordination. Forbes casual and flimsy, barged away, rolled away, perturbed by Bradbury, dishevelled by Davies. Danger lurked, danger averted when Town's twelfth man arrived. Don't look, Ethel.

It was too late. Here he comes, boogie-dy, boogie-dy. Out of the Main Stand, over the picket fence, the fastest thing on two feet. Davies about to enter the penalty area, confronted by a naked man. Davies went bananas, naked man hopped around and, eventually, two stewards walked after him. You know, if a man likes to show off his physique, invitin' public critique on an exceptionally cold December night in Cleethorpes is unlikely to realise your full potential. The thought crossed many a mind that it was a confused Cramb, out of the showers, back on the pitch in the hour of need. This was no way for Slade to sort it.

Football? Town? Actually there were one or two moments. Fleeting false hope on a frozen night of passionless football. Town strung three passes together, with Fleming bursting forward a couple of yards outside the Oxford area. He collided with two defenders, they sneezed, they all fell down and the ball rolled to Mansaram, free inside the area.

The referee gave a free kick to Town, who went for the subtle approach, Gordon annihilating the ball against the crossbar. The ball bounced eight miles high, players waiting, some laughing, some just shapeless forms. Warning for Oxford children: this scene contains minor peril. They panicked, everyone jumped up and down for a while like a tiny tot disco, and Oxford cleared it.

This Town, known for its sound of moanin' and groanin', finally had its fill of nonsense. Slade duly "sorted it" by taking off Bull and bringing on Sestanovich with about 20 minutes left. Of course, Town went to a 3-4-3 formation and looked far better defensively for several minutes.

But the jitters jangled and Whittle took ages to clear a rolling ball by the foot of the left post. He ended up slicing the ball against Mooney's head, a dozen yards out. Up in the air went the ball, and over came Whittle, who used his Mighty Boots to swish a clearance... up in the air, the ball bouncing a dozen yards out. This was merely the most elegant of the seven ages of man Whittle went through.

Town made infrequent visits to the Osmond End, barely enough time to have a cup of coffee and a chat. And everything fell to Fleming. Poked wide, shinned wide, hooked over. Great moves, all, but wasted when the ball ended up at Fleming's feet. His efforts got further and further away from goal. Practice makes even less perfect with Tezza.

Sestanovich touched the ball three times. Nothing to report.

Oxford pressure. Nothing to report. Ah, yes there is. When Town hauled off Bull Oxford also made a substitution. So confident were they that they gave their coach driver 20 minutes in professional football. A Christmas present we'd all love. He bore the name Wanless and I'm sure he'll have great memories to tell his grandchildren. Boy, was he "thick set".

A few dribbles from either side, not even memorable as they were happening, were the sum total of the last 15 minutes of play. Sometime during the second half Crowe knocked the ball away from near the Town line, but it was a rolling ball going well wide, not a goal-saver. That was just about their best effort on goal, Mooney's legal requirement excepted. No efforts by them but they looked the better side and far more likely to score than Town. We just wanted it to end.

With a couple of minutes left Reddy replaced Parkinson. Parky had been his usual self in the second half, running around without achieving. Reddy's first touch was a pass out wide to the marauding Macca, his second to finish off the flowing move he'd started, volleying straight at the keeper from the edge of the area. If it'd had gone in it would have been a goal. But it didn't, so it wasn't. There were three minutes of added time during which Town held on, with much desperate hacking.

Urgh. First-half adequacy dissolved into a second-half shocker. No-one emerged from the second half with an enhanced reputation. Pinault was nullified by numbers and a subtle tactical switch. Town couldn't and didn't respond. The players were incapable and the (eventual) management changes to personnel and tactics did not inspire any perceptible change in the pattern of the game. Oxford and Town are two sides of the same coin, individuals capable of playing beautiful football, but collectively incapable of doing it very often. Both sides are better than most, but their problem is they believe that too. Belief isn't the same as being. Mr Slade should beware. Too much hacking equals sacking.

We're condemning ourselves to another season in this boulevard of broken teams. Say it isn't so, Ethel. Ethel?

Nicko's man of the match
A simple task in a simple land. For the first-half puppetry it has to be Professor Pinault. All other beers were off tonight, only one pump worked for a while.

Official warning
Mr R Booth booked Mansaram for a slightly late tackle, which was plain daft really. He also gave Town a couple of goal kicks when the ball had clearly clipped monochrome boots. There was an air of fusspottiness about him which wasn't too tested by the teams, for it wasn't a particularly physical game. He did make it clear early on that he wasn't going to fall for falling, so bonus points there. If numbers have to be plucked from thin air, here are some: 6.673.