Ready steady go: Cheltenham (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

21 April 2006

Grimsby Town 1 Cheltenham Town 0

A still evening in football's bouncy castle with about 100 Cheltenhamites lollipopping in the Osmond stand. The Town fans crept in like the tide, the hum of expectation rising. The season's alive, at last.

Where's Woody? Town warmed up with only 15 players, with Kalalalalalala-bamba joining the first team puddle, passing the time in passing to each other. Russ 'n' Rodge stood on the touchline, stroking each other's chins as time ticked on. Woodhouse, Woodhouse, where art thou? About ten minutes before kick-off Slade tapped a tracksuited youth on the shoulder, who ran down the tunnel. Is that how he chooses the substitutes - the person nearest? Keep the Mighty Mariner away at all costs: he's lumpier than Lump and slower too; he never tracks back either.

Tonight Cheltenham shall mostly be wearing yellow.

Ah, that's better. Town eventually lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Mildenhall, Cohen, Whittle, Jones the Stick of Rock, Croft, Mendes, Bolland, Woodhouse, Goodfellow, Reddy, and Jones the Lump of Loveliness. The substitutes were Jean-Paul Kamudimba Kalala, Futcher, Parkinson, Toner and everyone's player of the season, Gliding Glen Downey, the footballing teacup. Cohen stood in the right-back position with Mendes in front of him.

Dish of the Day: reveals the secret of Lumpaldinho's success, for the more you move the more your abilities go out the window; I suppose it explains Andy Parkinson too. It's the appliance of science.

The weekend starts here.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon, with Croft tapping the ball to Goodfellow and confusing all by passing the ball. We had to wait minutes for a throw-in. This is not football as we have come to know it.

From the off Town ripped forward turning and gurning their defence. A curious curate's egg of an opening, for Town's central midfield was almost non-existent, but Town were still dominant. Goodfellow and Croft were being naughty, eating cream cakes on the left as they tipped and tapped through Cheltenham. That's nice. A cross deflected, a corner deflated as Town piled forward at pace. Reddy roaming, Town homing in on goal. Jones to Jones, oh so close, as a cross from the left bounced off Lumpy to the Stick, four yards out. He turned, swished his right boot at the ball and Higgs plunged forward to pluck the egg into his wicker basket.

Another Town attack, another moment where something almost happened. A cross, a bundle, a rebound, a scramble: no shot. The crowd were cranking up the volume, the Pontoon a boiling pot of hope. Free kicks to Town with Woodhouse flighting them all towards the Stick, but Odejayi's hair was enough to ruffle the duffel-coated hipsters in the crowd.

The Mighty Mariner lay on his side, resting behind the goal - part-time supporter, get up and roar.

Cheltenham were nifty and shifty in midfield, with Finnigan and McCann lords of all they surveyed. They looked mighty dangerous on the break, but Odejayi was always offside, thankyouverymuchindeedyoungman. He was still offside on the team bus going home, and in the local Happy Shopper in Charlton Kings on Saturday afternoon. He was goal-side of the beans; the spaghetti hoops were not keeping him onside.

Bolland charged down a clearance inside the six-yard box and was hit in his own six-yard box. Oooch and ouch. That may rouse him from his torpor. Cheltenham broke again on their left, but Croft remembered his past to shimmer across the dunes to ease the Robins back into their shrubberies. Cohen was mesmerising as the anti-Macca. He stood in all the wrong places, defending by tackling, dribbling past as many Cheltenhamites as he could from his own area. Well, he knew he could run fast enough to clear up after his own horse.

Have Cheltenham got inside the Town half yet? Have Town had a shot yet? All midfield traction but no goalmouth action, the game poised beautifully.

After 24 minutes Town finally forced a save from Higgs. A deep, deep cross from the left smacked against the Stick's head at the far post, perhaps five yards out. Higgs took the 9X bus, remembered to press that little red button, jumped off, trotted into the ground, put his gloves on and allowed the ball to plump itself into his cushion.

The game became a little becalmed, with Cheltenham having the ball and doing strange and unusual things in the middle of the pitch. They danced around the centre circle, incanting and enchanting in forked tongues, but then kept giving the ball to Brian Wilson, so that was all right then. I just love the colourful clothes they wear and the way the floodlights shine upon their hair. Wilson was a weak link: Croft and Goodfellow dealt with him appropriately, with minimum fuss. Much like Caines was dealing with Reddy, who was clearly not totally fit. Perhaps working on 80 per cent capacity.

Lumpy threw a stick and sent Mendes off for a little run on the beach. He bounded along, happy as Larry, frolicking free, the sea air in his nostrils and sand in his boots. Mendes crossed the ball into row J of the Pontoon.

After half an hour the moment came to make those little Chelties puff their chests out. They had a shot; well, Mildenhall had to touch the ball. Higgs launched a drop-kick downfield and Mildew caught it second bounce, with no yellow peril observed. A couple of minutes later Guinan crossed from their right, near the touchline, with Mildenhall clutching the ball at his near post. Shall we allow them that as a shot? Why not.

Reddy and Lump switched and this did the trick, for Reddy had the measure of the unfortunately if appropriately named Duff. Town started to roar and the Pontoon started to pour hot oil upon the alien invaders. After hubbly-bubbly knocking in midfield Croft decided to control the ball. Instead of chipping and pinning Cheltenham in to the corner flag, he passed it to Goodfellow, who had infiltrated the enemy lines. He crafted a harp out of a plank of wood, strumming the ball between two defenders for Reddy, perhaps 25 yards out on the left. Reddy raced, roved, remembered his name and shook his hips as two defenders converged. He rolled his boot over the ball and shivered in, then out, drifting through this thin wedge of yellow. A third defender chuntered across to bar his way, but the Kilkenny cool cat wiped his windows clean and hit the bye-line, pulling a low cross into the middle of the goal. Lumpy turned and Woodhouse appeared from the back of the fancy dress shop. As the Pontoon was rising to acclaim this magnificence, Woodhouse, seven yards out, leant back and churned the ball over the crossbar.

A couple of minutes later Town were back. Reddy forced a corner with the Pontoon booming and it was curled in to the centre. One of the Joneses lurked and headed the ball into a space eight yards out to the right of goal. Reddy backed into the space and levered a first-time volley goalwards. Higgs sprung up, his hands flashing in front of his face and parried the ball up, catching it as it fell.

Russ turned the oven up to 180°C (electric) or gas mark 4: we'd like the pie to have a crispy topping.

More Town pressure, the Pontoon permanently upon its feet, swaying and braying as the stripes pummelled the yellow goalmouth. Caines and Duff headed and wrestled everything. Cohen was persuaded to stumble as he chased a free kick, and it would have been nice to have been given a daft penalty. Alas the referee was unmoved by volume, nor offers of cod suppers. The Lump turned on the edge of the area allowing Woodhouse a sight of goal, but then he tackled Woodhouse; a fleeting moment of almostness.

With a couple of minutes left in the half the Stick launched a long pass forward and Reddy flicked a header infield from the left. Mendes sprung out of his box, leaping through a challenge and attracting the herd of Cheltenham cows, clearly bemused by the travelling Junior Mendes Soul Circus. He flicked the ball sideways to Woodhouse who was in the middle of the D. Curtis stepped back to his left foot as the defence did the Gay Gordons to his right. The clouds parted and a vision of the future was before him, the goal gaping and inviting. Woodhouse curled the ball low towards the bottom right corner and Higgs sprawled down to his right. The shot rolled along the less than lush turf, Higgs hugged the mud, stretched out his right hand and parried the ball aside - straight to Reddy on the corner of the six-yard box, who volleyed the ball left-footed into the ground, Higgs shrugged himself down and fell again as the ball hit the side netting. We said "oooh", we said "ahh".

Let's have a rest, shall we.

Both teams were guilty of football in between the dodgem rides and big dippers. It was fast and frenetic at times, with Town a high-paced whirligig of motion and emotions. It was beginning to look like one of those games, for Cheltenham hadn't yet had a shot and O'Jay was permanently offside. One day they would, and he wouldn't be. But let's take one day at a time.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"He hasn't got style. We've seen his curtain rails."
"Caines has Lump's body, but Reddy's pace."
"Your sister plays the flute? You could be Jethro Tull."
"Woodhouse is playing like he isn't here yet."
"I fell down a rabbit hole in Market Rasen."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.


Cheltenham pressed from the off, with Town rather flapping as they urged and surged. A free kick or a corner? Who knows, who cares; whatever it was, it was half cleared out to Armstrong on their left, via a handball or two. Hmmm... wasn't he one of Law's Levellers? While many pondered, the Robins squandered, for the cross was nudged at the near post, looping up into the path of Finnigan, unmarked five yards out. He nodded the ball back across goal and Guinan bumbled forward. Mildenhall was stuck in traffic and the goal was empty, Guinan was rising, the crowd inhaling in preparation for desolation row. Six yards out and Guinan steered a header towards the left of the goal. Tears were in preparation as the ball floated in, in, in, in and out again as Mildenhall swooped like a beady owl upon the sleeping field mice, blocking brilliantly on the line. The ball bumbled out towards O'Jay, but Cohen slashed it away at the last moment.

OK, take a deep breath. And another. Good, good, everything's fine now: we have the most up-to-date patented Mildenhall defibrillator on site; the obsolete Williams hand-pumped sewing machine was replaced last year.

Watch the fish tank for a few minutes, or listen to some James Last Summer Schmooze music. Just relax, it'll keep you going through the show. C'mon, it's time to go to the next part.

The game rollicked along, Cheltenham beginning to clamp a vice across the Town midfield, but with one leap Town were free. Reddy, flicked free by Mendes, zoomed to the bye-line and crossed to the near post. The Lumpster raised a foot as Higgs caught the ball in front of his chin. Another minute, another Town effort, with the monster Lumpstruckfest felled 20 yards out on the centre-right. Goodfellow and Woodhouse stood over the ball and the former flapped it low through the wall straight at Higgs.

Slowly Town returned to ascendancy, the pressure piling up on the Cheltenham defence. Throw-ins, more throw-ins, yet more throw-ins, all hurled in by Cohen, some even reaching the penalty area. Lumpy battled, corners were won. The Stick hurtled forward, but no chances, just collisions; Brownian motion made flesh within their penalty area. A corner fell to the Stick and he slathered a shot: the ball zithered wide. A free kick was given anyway but it didn't stop us "oooh"-ing. The whole ground was bopping expectantly; perhaps it was that little chill in the air.

Cheltenham had a minor breakette, but Cohen got on his Harley to sweep the ball away out into the vast empty nothingness between the Stones/Smiths/Findus stand and Pontoon. The toilet door opened and the ball entered as a man exited. Good clearance, sir!

Did I tell you they took off the impotent Guinan, replacing him with the far more scary Spencer; unfortunately not Frank but Damian. Well, I have now.

Another corner to Town, Whittle shoved at the far post, the ball slithering wide. Croft dribbled forward and Reddy, in the centre on the edge of the area, flicked the ball aside to Bolland. The Bradford battler brushed aside two little buttercups and swung to the right, leant back and sliced a shot laterally, perhaps ten yards, setting Cheltenham up for a counterattack.

Ah, yellow is in trouble, the Lump fouled 25 yards out on the centre-right. Woodhouse prepared to waste it but heard the crowd 's instruction to vary the routine by hitting it to Jones. He did - to the other Jones. Curled craftily into the middle of the area, the ball was met by Jones the Lump, rising near the penalty spot, lifting a header over the advancing Higgs and into the centre of the goal. Twenty minutes to go.

The Robins rattled. Reddy rampaged after a Lumpy flick, into the box on the right, but drivelled low, without power straight at Higgs. This is all going wonderfully well: they haven't said hello to the Pontoon for ages.


With about quarter of an hour left Spencer barundled his way through several challenges on Cheltenham's centre-right. He tried a shot, which hit something - perhaps a rodent; that's so fashionable these days. The ball squished sideways and Finnigan, on the right edge of the area, stepped forward and boomed a shot goalwards. Mildenhall was slightly unsighted and slightly unhinged by a small deflection, which made the ball divert to his left. Up came those big bad gloves to parry-punch away. Cheltenham retrieved the ball and flung in a couple of crosses, which Whittle headed away spectacularly, and eventually peace and tranquillity was restored to the land of Grimsby.

This calls for defensive reinforcements. Parkinson replaced Reddy with just over ten minutes left. Mendes moved up front with Jones the Lump, with Parkinson on the right wing. Cheltenham sent Caines up front and flung the ball forward as quickly as possible. They fought and fought, but they did not have enough thought to outthink and outwink the Dukes of Defending. Jones the Stick was furious when O'Jay ran after him and tried to mud-wrestle him five yards from the ball, especially when the referee gave a free kick to them. But that just gave them an opportunity to be disappointed in a different way.

With about five minutes left Toner replaced Goodfellow, which added a bit of height and bulk at least. Goodfellow had been as invisible in the second half as he had been prominent in the first. Still Cheltenham hurtled forward, leaving spaces behind and between. What did we do to fill those empty spaces? Bolland ran 50 yards with the ball and skewered a shot onto the roof of the Osmond rather than pass to the unmarked Parkinson.

I've ignored Cohen's repetitive strain injury - the one he caused to every living Grimbarian inside Blundell Park by continually trying to dribble upfield when he was the last Town defender, surrounded by yellow. He's an exciting full-back, for neutrals. Macca will be back for Macc, won't he?

There were four minutes of added time, which got the crowd shrieking, for we did not appreciate adding on the unused minutes from previous games. No worries: most of these minutes were taken up in the corner between Osmond and Stones/Smiths/Findus. Lump and Parkinson kept winning, losing, then winning back throw-ins. In the last minute Spencer pursued a long punt down their left but Whittle huddled around the ball, shepherding it along. Spencer wrapped himself around the man-mountain and kicked the ball against Whittle's ankles for a goal kick. And that was that.
Cheltenham can go back to their ladies' college and prepare for the play-offs.

Some dared to consider enumerating their poultry; most revelled in the moment, for Town were back to winning, back to playing (some) football, back to playing with passion. Cheltenham were not bad at all, but Town were relentless and confident of success. The behemoth is back. Vidi well, brothers; it is impossible for anyone to kill a behemoth except the person who created it.

It's back to being Town again.

Nicko's man of the match
Nobody kept up with the Joneses today.

For a masterclass in maximum reward for minimum effort, and the sheer joy of seeing a Town player finally succeed in wasting time by the corner flags, Jones the Lump gets a laurel leaf. But there's only one man, a man for all this season, the talismanic heartbeat of Russ Slade's Grimsby Town. Where would we be without Jones the Stick of Rock: impassable, impossibly magnificent.

Official warning
Nothing to say either way. No big decisions to make, no madness, no sadness, so no bad score for Mr G Laws. When he opens his pillowcase he'll find an apple, an orange and 7.987 nestling together in the corner.