Jumping the shark: Northampton (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

29 October 2005

Northampton Town 0 Grimsby Town 0

A grey day in the grey sheds in the middle of greywhere, with around 500 Town fans continuing their Sainsbury's café tour 2005. You can buy tour merchandise from the club shop, you know. New stadiums are all very well, but decking? The players' and celebrities' entrance didn't have a red carpet but red decking. Is that a pot plant or is John Fenty schmoozing with the Town fans?

The gene pool of stewarding talent is clearly very small in Northamptonshire - isn't that the infamous Rushden rocker, the hairy branflake?

Town lined up in a proper 4-4-2 formation as follows: Mildenhall, McDermott, Whittle, Jones (Stick), Newey, Cohen, Bolland, Mr Kalala, Toner, Andrew, Gritton. The substitutes were Reddy, Barwick, Hegggggarty, Jones (Lump) and Ramsden. Cohen started on the right, Toner the left, though that part of the masterplan didn't last long. Andrew partnered Gritton in a more-or-less proper striking twosome. Finally the public gets what the public wants. Russ has made our bed; will there be need to lie about it?

The pre-match minutes positively flew by with the DJ double act chuntering their way through to three o'clock. Hey, loved the booming bass and faux cod-cool-cockney that sank somewhere off the southern tip of Greenland. No-one bothered to call the coastguard; they were too busy getting the referee's autograph. Now that is one way to stroke his ego, whispering sweet Justins in his ear. Ah yes, the People's Elbow (© pending) given a rousing cheer: his Hull years suddenly forgotten in the flash of a smiling limb.

Northampton lined up in the usual manky maroon with a surfeit of lampreys in their squad. No, not that, a jackanory of Johnsons, three of 'em, but only one today. Disappointingly they hadn't signed anyone called Hot, so they'll never be able to put Hot Cross Bunn on their team sheet. Mindless nonsense? Of course. Hang the DJs; it's their fault my mind turned to mush. The Cobbling people did select a famous player though. Jason Crowe: he used to play for Arsenal, you know; I bet he even tries today. This paragraph is swirling in paisley patterns, incense burning in the background: let's follow Captain Sladeheart's Magic Band down the yellow brick road. C'mon Justin, tread on some toes - it's time to play.

First half
The misty midlanders kicked off towards the Town fans and passed to each other on the ground. Town trotted and watched as Smith wandered in from their left wing. The ball was rolled Smithwards and he simply sauntered forward and catapulted a low shot to Mildenhall's left from about 25 yards. Ten seconds gone and were Town still waiting for the game to start. The clocks go back tonight, lads.

From the punt forward Gritton chested and turned on the right edge of their area, carefully curling a shot to Harper Lee's near post. The keeper mockingly killed the ball with his bare hands. Hey, a minute gone and two shots already! Don't get your hopes up. That's just about as good as it got for Town in the first half.

A few seconds later Town were like a personalised credit card application form, with Northampton a surprisingly cheap shredder bought from Homebase earlier that morning. But you can only put one sheet through at a time, so it appears useful but is rather laborious and ultimately unsatisfactory. A throw-in on the Northampton right saw Toner and Newey distracted by the lack of executive boxes in this luxurious leisure retail outlet. McGleish and Mendes flicked 'n' tricked 'n' crossed to the near post before Toner could finish his fruit pastille. Lowe, six yards out, brushed the ball goalwards and Mildenhall clutched it to his chest at the near post. Town's left was dissected like a very dead frog, the ball gone in 60 microseconds. Northampton were fizzing into gaps, infiltrating the spaces between defenders' ears.

It got worse and worse, so bad we couldn't even groan. Mildenhall was shrieking wildly at his nominal defence, frequently furious with the doziness in front of him, particularly at throw-ins. Town players stood and watched as every single throw was short and played back to the thrower, who crossed with impunity. "Get the thrower!" was a regular Mildenhallian lament. About five minutes in Town lucked out and got a corner, thus causing a 30-second delay in the Cobbling attacking. They broke, Mendes za-zoommed and boomed a shot wide. Cue more Mildenhall bellows.

A couple of minutes later Crowe dribbled past Macca and collided with Whittle, about 20 yards out, just wide of the penalty area, and Smith teasled the ball into the near post. Mildenhall tried to punch the ball away at chest height, but McGleish and Whittle arrived at the same time as the ball. With Mildew grounded and the goal a-gaping, Mendes, from about five yards out, managed to avoid scoring, beautifully volleying the ball over the bar as Jones the Stick lunged. It takes great skill to miss from there; you or I couldn't possibly have done that. In mirth we call that missing.

Ah, that's nice. Bolland had a shot. Well high, well wide.

Town were shapeless dross, barely reaching a standard we could call inept. Not a team but a bunch of grapes, waiting to be plucked and eaten. Do spit out the pips. Northampton obliterated Town with passing and movement; it was exceedingly embarrassing. It was like watching Town last April: uninterested strolling in a field, waiting for the sun. Here we go again: a long punt forward by Northampton sailed towards the right corner of the Town area. Mildenhall came out to collect the ball; Whittle back-pedalled and headed the ball directly to Smith. The Mildster was stranded in sector 7G and Smith precisely side-footed the ball towards the vacant net. Mildenhall raced back, chasing the ball as it rolled away from him, like he was chasing a paper bag on a breezy day in Mablethorpe. The ball tumbled a foot wide of the left post. Mildenhall verbally decapitated Whittle and McDermott.

Only 15 minutes have gone and Northampton should be three up. Lucky Town. Hey, a Town corner. How did that happen? Newey curled it to the far post and Whittle firmly nodded the ball downwards, straight at Harper. We're a set piece team, remember.

Normality returned: Whittle absent, McGleish scuttling through towards goal, chasing a pass down their centre-left. Mildenhall raced out, slid like an octopus, and managed to put McGleish off as he stretched forward to poke the ball goalwards. Northampton folded over Town like an immense duvet, crushing with feathers and co-ordinated pillows. Low fell in the area when Whittled, the referee almost laughing at the cheek of it.

Town were a mess. But every so often their long punts didn't boing off Bojic and his deputy, Doig. Andrew fliggled himself free down the right, cut back and crossed perfectly for Gritton at the far post. The ambling sushifreak chested the ball down and fell over. Pfft, that's all.

About 20 minutes in Northampton replaced big bruiser Dyche with one of their Johnsons. Dyche had twisted by the pool when challenging Gritton and never recovered from his embarrassing addiction to Dire Straits. Crowe switched from left-back to right-back and faced the fearsome froth that was Cohen and Newey. Cohen was visiting Planet Simonfordus: living in a parallel universe where there were no Northampton players, nor a ball, or Town players, or grass; just magic mushrooms. At one Cobbling corner he stood motionless in a no man's land; he didn't move until the Town fans ordered him to. Hello… is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear us.

A Northampton cross bisected, dissected, trisected, quadrisected; they didn't connect with it, OK? Mendes, sent free down their left, drifted to the bye-line and dinked a sultry cross into the centre, about head height. Mildenhall came out; Whittle stooped and glanced the ball over the Big M and about an inch over the crossbar. The corner curled in from their right and dropped a couple of yards out, with Mildenhall blocked by Mendes. Scrabbling and dabbling around on the floor, the keeper was freed from his subterranean hell by a combination of Jones the Stick and McDermott. Is that five or six they should have had by now? And we have the best defence in the division? How?

A Town attack? Surely not, I must be dreaming. McDermott and Toner combined down the right, with Toner bulldozing forward and clipping a terrific cross through the area. Andrew slid forward at the far post and missed the ball by whatever he missed by; let's call it 28.7 centimetres. What's a fact between friends? I was dreaming, wasn't I. Not only an attack but three passes. The empirical evidence does not support such a hypothesis.

My local paper says a blue Yamaha motorcyclist was stolen last week. Do you think his mum misses him? And what was blue about him? His language, his feet or his trousers? What's that got to do with football? Nothing. I just thought I'd lighten the load.

Here they go again: Cohen, Bolland and Newey standing like empty milk bottles on the doorstep, watching Crowe glide past silently on his electric milk float. Crowe crossed; McGleish peeled away at the far post and, from a few yards out and a narrow angle, spectacularly volleyed towards the unmanned pie stall. The Cobblers continued to cobble, Mariners still marinated in their own juices. Crosses, corners, fighting, barging, flapping, hacking, crying, howling, hacking from Newey: the Town fans were hiding underneath their seats.

In the last couple of minutes of the half Low was booked for stopping Andrew from getting away down the right: he fell over and pushed the ball out for a throw with his hand. Then the homesters managed to rouse themselves into some semblance of anger and succeeded in getting Pope Jean-Paul booked for tripping Jess. The half ended with a barely credible, but hugely hilarious, paucity of parity. Town should have been at least four down.

There isn't much to say: Bolland ran around and Mildenhall shouted a lot. They're the positives. Toner was incredibly one-paced and very uncomfortable when away from the centre of the pitch. The defence had much less trouble last Wednesday. Here they couldn't cope with all these little men buzzing around their ankles. Northampton were a blur of movement, spinning cobwebs around our clunky flies. They played football, while we hoofed it to a barely bothered Gritton. The front two were as close as Doris Day and Rock Hudson - up there on the screen, playing partners, but not being partners.

Oh dear, the lion tamer's whip doesn't crack anymore; our lion won't fight and our tiger won't roar. October's been rubbish.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Newey looks like he shops at Meadowhall."
"I'm going to a fancy dress party as Morrissey." "What difference does it make?"
"You look like an action man with real hair."
"Whenever I see you we win, if we ignore Stockport."
"And we missed the Brassica Open Day at Kirton for this."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time, though the Town players went into a huddle, led by Jones, to get some of that old male bonding going on.

Town gave the ball away from the kick off and nothing had changed: Northampton still dictated, tapping out their own rhythm, less Latin this time and more Bavarian. A bit oompah-oompah. When the Crowe came calling Kalala stuck the ball up his jumper: we'd eventually found the safety latch.

The second half was a faded photocopy of the first. You could just about see the same things, but there were far fewer of them. The Northampton court jesters buzzed and sawed away at the Town tree trunk, but they didn't have the technique to fell the giant deadwood. Every so often they had a go at one of the smaller branches, but a bit of twig-snapping was all they achieved.

About ten minutes in they had an attack. Of course it was them; you didn't think it would be Town, did you? One of them flew down the right, or left, and crossed for Mendes to head over. There you are, the basic details; please feel free to embellish as you wish. Perhaps adding in a reference to Level 42, or maybe an allusion to Lionel Blair. Oh, the Wildean wit possible from the thinnest of threads.

After 57 minutes and 42 seconds Reddy replaced Andrew, which pleased the Reddy lovers no end. Nice to see Wallace and Gromit back together upfront: perhaps Gritton will uncurl from his rocking chair now. Oh, what a great tackle: Cohen, tracking back with Low, scraped the ball away with a huge, hooking, sliding wheelie-bin of a tackle, just inside the area. Marvellous.

I knew I should have brought a newspaper in. The game was dulling down into a supermarket own-brand-value-range shepherd's pie that is Town's breakfast, dinner and tea. Just think of the artificial flavouring. We know it isn't good for us, but we still buy them. Johnson burst down their left wing, and piddled a cross into the centre. Mendes headed over again. or McGleish headed over; one of them anyway. It wasn't me, I know that for sure. A corner swung from their right in to the near post and McGleish leant back and stroked a glancing header across the face of goal. Ah, yes, I know this one - it was McGleish that time.

They aren't going to score, are they. We aren't either. Shall we go home now and call it quits?

Northampton kept piling on the pillows, swamping Town's bed, but for what purpose? Jones headed everything away while Town just blocked everything on the ground with as many parts of their body as they could find at such short notice. Oops. Mendes broke away from McDermott after a Town corner was cleared, swivelling infield from the right corner of the Town area and slapping a low shot across Mildenhall, who clutched the ball as Jones and a striker lunged across him.

Some Town fans started chucking a stuffed monkey around, so bored were they by the on-field inactivities. Spinning and twisting along the massed Mariners, the cheeky monkey threatened Harper more than Town.

With 20 minutes left Cohen and Gritton were replaced by Jones the Lump and Barwick. Town changed formation to one where Kalala stayed in front of the back four, with Bolland, Barwick and Toner wedged in front of him. The Lump was closer to Reddy than ever seen before. In fact one sometimes wonders if Lumpy has ever seen Reddy before. How would you describe that: 4-1-3-2? Or was that the winning Cobblers' lottery number?

Town's change momentarily flummoxed Northampton. Reddy, on the right, eyebrowed a long ball and the Lump charged in to the penalty area. I'm surprised you didn't feel the tremors back home in Freshney Place. Bojic quivered as the Lumposaurus roared. Up went a foot and the ball was toe-ended to the unmarked Toner, near the penalty spot. When I say unmarked, I mean there wasn't anyone in the same restaurant. Toner picked up the menu, considered the chef's special on the blackboard above the fireplace, ordered a little aperitif with a glass of chilled chardonnay, and shinned a half volley two feet wide of the left post. A shockingly shocking miss of great shockiness. Ironically, Toner played quite well in the second half. Irony doesn't get three points though.

That was it, that was Town's effort of the day, singular. The monkey spinning resumed.

Northampton brought on Kirk for Johnson, Yes, they substituted the substitute, presumably because they realised Town were not attacking, so why have any defenders. The metronome continued to tap out the beat, incessant, the pressure constant, but yielding little. Sure, sure kid, McGleish rose above Macca and steered a header just over the bar from quite close in, but Town could have gone home yesterday and they still wouldn't have scored. Are you sure the Town players hadn't stayed in Grimsby?

Crowe continued his one-man mission to go boldly where he'd never been before, but Bolland, then Newey, then Jones the Stick showed him the door. Crosses hurtled in, headers flicked the ball back out of the area. Repeat action three more times, then sigh. You've just recreated that Cobblers fan feeling at quarter to five on Saturday 29 October 2005.

I missed out a Town corner where there was a scramble and a couple of blocked shots. It happened sometime, it seemed important, but as the hours pass you realise it has even less significance than a Grimsby Telegraph editorial. Though with better grammar.

Right at the end, as the fans prepared for the Wacky Races rush for the car parks, they cobbled together one last attack. Twisting, turning, gripping, gurning: Kirk rolled around Jones on the centre-edge of the penalty area and scruffed a low shot back across Mildenhall. The ball trundled along, a low rumble was heard in the distance… then silence. Breaths were held as the ball rolled past Mildenhall's outstretched right hand and… inches past the post.

There were three minutes of added time during which they made another substitution and the monkey twisted one final time.

The whistle blew and the Town fans ran to the hills. We didn't want to get stuck in the usual nine-hour traffic jam: some of us had cat litter to buy, others exclusive dinner parties to attend. Town were just awful again, lacking in everything but fortune. I won't dignify it with anything approaching analysis or summary. Please, please erase this day from your mind. It's for your own good.

Nicko's man of the match
The bar is set at ankle level here, for there was little to cheer. It's either Mildenhall's tonsils or Bolland's heart. For just about welding the cage together before the shark attacked it's Paul Bolland, the happy, scrappy hero pup.

Rob's rant of the day
The Northampton supporters were a strange lot, thinking chanting "Shearer, Shearer" at us would send us to the nearest poultry farm. Can anyone work this out? "You couldn't tell your chickens." Dear Cobblers, we wouldn't want to. Some things are best left unsaid.

Official warning
Mr P Miller annoyed the homeys a bit with his non-rubbishness, and annoyed us when he gave in to their moaning and booked Kalala. On the whole, at the end of the day, when the boat comes in, when you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, don't be afraid of the larch, he was all right and by fourth division standards he was good. And though it's just a line to you, for me it's true, it never seemed so right before - 7.989. Did you ever get the feeling he'd do something stupid?