Bygone futures

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

1 April 2013

Stockport County 1 Grimsby Town 2

Edgeley Park is host mainly to the memory of more vibrant occasions nowadays. The stand down one side is almost unused, the others half empty, the exposed blue of the plastic seating reminiscent of a bygone future. The match – between two sides alternating unnecessarily hasty and ineffective clearances, with the tendency to take too many touches in attack – was at first subdued in its surroundings.

First half
Town made the brighter start, the first shots at goal coming from Ross Hannah and Joe Colbeck, although the main moment of excitement was self-inflicted, goalkeeper Richard O'Donnell thwacking a clearance against his own full-back. The ball rebounded back towards his own goal but he recovered before Marcus Marshall could capitalise.

However, Stockport almost immediately went to the far end from the Town support and Jon Macken forced James McKeown into the first of several saves, diving low to his left. A murmur of excitement ran around the home stands, and the Hatters grew into the match.

For the rest of the first half, Colbeck remained an occasional threat, intercepting in defence then breaking forward energetically. His fine cross after a deft Marshall pass was deflected away from Hannah and Andy Cook but almost into the Stockport goal. Generally, though, Town waned as Stockport pressed, the blond Mark Cullen a particular pest taking up positions between the Grimsby back four and midfield. Twice he forced McKeown into saves and five minutes before half time he hit a shot onto the face of the post, the ball running to safety. Town were unable to clear, inviting danger. One scramble ended with the ball in the net but with the linesman's flag raised.

A first goal, for either side, felt likely to puncture the self-belief of the other. McKeown did most to keep the match on level terms at half time. When Cullen rose, unmarked, and headed the ball down and back to the left, Town hearts instinctively quailed, anticipating the goal. McKeown scrambled and dived and extended an arm to push the ball round the post.

Second half
Within three minutes of the restart, the Mariners showed how easy it could be. Bradley Wood, it might have been, or Craig Disley, dwelt on the ball long enough to draw a man, ensuring that when the ball was laid wide, Marshall was in space. Hannah met his cross first time on the turn, near the edge of the penalty area, sending the ball arcing over the goalkeeper into the top right corner of the goal. Hannah hesitated in his stride, then ran to celebrate with the Town bench, thronged by his team-mates.

Nine minutes later, Town led 2-0. Colbeck's legs buckled and arms went flailing after Jordan Fagbola pushed him, not far outside the penalty area, straight in front of goal. Both Colbeck and Sam Hatton stood over the free-kick, but then Colbeck loped away and Hatton struck a low shot to the right which evaded the wall, bobbled off O'Donnell's hand and came to rest in the net.

For a few minutes, we relaxed and the Mariners briefly looked like a side in the play-off places. An authentic passing move found Colbeck in space but O'Donnell gathered his low shot. At the other end, Macken tried to wrestle the ball off Wood as he carried it back to goal, delaying the corner. It all ended in smiles.

We might have anticipated an amble in the sun for the rest of the game, but still Town could not clear their lines. Having missed two chances to clear the corner, the ball bounced off Alex Kenyon's hand near the corner of the Town penalty area and he whacked a shot across McKeown into the left-hand side of the net, the referee signalling the goal and retreating.

He was at least consistent in his interpretation of ball-to-hand. A few moments later he rejected Stockport appeals for a penalty after Hatton was hit on the hand, and other, more anatomically unlikely appeals were also waved away.

For the last half hour, the Mariners occasionally threatened. Marshall initiated a swift counter-attack, after slipping past a man he had drawn close, in anticipation of a hoofed clearance up the byline. A diving header from Hannah was tipped by O'Donnell onto the roof of the goal. But most of the play was around the edge of the Town penalty area. Our breaks, indeed, were dangerous to ourselves, increasing the space between midfield and defence. Countless times Cullen or Macken gathered the ball outside the Grimsby penalty area and exchanged passes only to find the Town back four had got legs between them and the goal, the ball bumbling harmlessly through to McKeown. Twice, early balls whisked past our right post.

The temperature rose. Wood side-footed delicately to concede a throw-in: less delicate was the follow-through which left the Stockport winger in need of prolonged treatment. Separate substitutions, introducing Cleveland Taylor and Dayle Southwell for Marshall and Hannah, were made a few seconds apart as Grimsby tried to run down the clock. It just added to the sense that there was still too much time left for us to hang on.

Four minutes of injury time were announced. There was an immediate cessation as Cook made way for Lenell John-Lewis, to faint whistlings from the home crowd. Once more Stockport tried to thread a ball through the eight legs of the Mariners' back four and one last time McKeown flopped down on the ball. Apparently, he did not quite gather cleanly, giving Jon Nolan the excuse to try and kick the ball out of his hands. Ian Miller took exception and players from each side started a pushing match above and around McKeown. Andy Halls rushed to join in, putting his studs into the back of someone's knee. Injury time at the end of injury time began as he was shown a red card. The match extended as Town refused the opportunities to get the ball far enough away from the goal to give the referee a decent excuse to blow full time. But that late melee had exhausted Stockport's remaining aggression. The game was won.