Escape to victory: Bristol Rovers (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

10 February 2007

Grimsby Town 4 Bristol Rovers 3

A miserable, mizzling afternoon in the Grand Ole Opera House as the freeloaders munched their Mars bars and Martinis in silence. If they're the 12th man then Ricky Ravenhill's still with us. Oh look, the programme's written him out of history already: he is an unperson; he does not exist.

Town lined up in the star-spangled banner 4-5-1 formation as follows: Barnes, Bloomer, Whittle, Fenton, Newey, Bore, Bolland, Harkins, Boshell, Toner, North. The substitutes were Murray, Rankin, Old Lumpy, Grand and McDermott. Oh, say have you seen, Peter Bore's on the right. The return of Harkins excited the 96.75 Bristolians trapped inside the Osmond, their pleas for help ignored by the world's media. But at least their hair wasn't ruffled by the dirty flag of inconvenience that imploded across the Pontoon.

Danny North as the lone striker: are you experienced?

Bristol warmed up in a snazzy-jazzy training top and with a fashionable game of five-a-side keepball. Oooh, fancy! You're just the latest bunch of Lennie's Losers: believe us, we know; he's been here and sold all our T-shirts. If we could be bothered we'd boo Stuart Campbell. Actually, if we could have seen him we'd have booed: he's taken his Klingon cloaking device with him to Bristol, like some batty boffin.

Someone should creosote the shed soon - it's getting very wet. Maybe Justin can get his old pal Shearer to do it now he's retired.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond and slowly moved up and down and side to side, with Harkins the fumbling fulcrum about which Town swivelled. Hypnotic Harkins sucked away consciousness as he waddled around a small patch of mud halfway inside the Town half.

I thought the pantomime season had ended: it's behind you!

Once, twice, and thrice disrobed in public, Harkins was in need of some balloons, his inadequacies laid bare. In the seventh minute he turned and rumbled away from the Main Stand. The crowd shouted, but he failed to hear as Stuart Campbell emerged from a hole to nick and knock the ball away from our midfield muddler. Campbell za-zipped down their inside right, swaying and praying as Fenton shook his hips and pursed his lips. One last feint and Campbell drifted into the penalty area, about a dozen yards out, and slashed a low shot into the side netting. Barnes dived and fingertipped the ball further wide from way behind the bye-line, but the ref gave a corner and the crowd was mildly agitated. The corner was clipped to the near post and Walker waltzed away from Fenton to glance a header a couple of feet over.

Rovers right-back Ryan Green was stretchered off after falling awkwardly in the build-up to the Campbell sashay. As we waited for the stretcher the Mighty Mariner pretended to take the corner. Just thought you'd like to know. Some people do.

Town had no zing, relying on lofted punts towards dinky Danny North after the sideways passing ended in a cul-de-sac.

A-ha! At last some zang from Town. Argh, those Lennie memories come flooding back like a blocked toilet. Newey roamed, Toner tickled, Bore skimmed the ball back across the face of the penalty area and Harkins leant back, swiped his left leg forward and the ball arced high, wide and extremely ugly in to a vast swathe of emptiness. A shot sometimes is something to be sneered at.

There ain't nothing going on, just thirteen minutes of walking in the rain, knowing things could change.

Rovers' keeper was allowed to wander upfield with the ball and wallied it long, deep and straight down the middle. Whittle stood away from Walker and Fenton retreated to the edge of the penalty area as the ball dropped, 25 yards out. Walker chested the ball aside to Lambert, who'd rolled around into an unmanned gap and stabbed the ball out to Disley. Bolland pursued, but he was free and took a couple of strides before Bloomer stepped forward to challenge. Disley, just inside the penalty area, crashed a low drive under Bloomer, across Barnes and into the bottom left corner.

For some, colour drained from their cheeks; for others the blood vessels started to swell.

Town oompahed a little more, with the trombone sliding a little quicker, but just moments of hope, slithers of almostness. A Bore shimmy here, a cracking Boshell tackle there, and there and, yes, over there too. Ah, but not over there. After 20 minutes Boshell hoiked some yellow peril to the turf and Rovers had a free kick near the managers' dug-outs: walloped high and long to the far post, where Fenton waited with a centre-half. The ball grazed off Fenton and over the dawdling, idling, sleeping Harkins to Walker about eight yards wide of goal. The Scottish slumberer eventually turned and tackled, but Walker crossed low and hard to the near post where Haldane poked his big toe in front of Newey and stabbed the ball in at about shoulder height.

Mr Purple with his sidekicks, Mr Puce and Mr Pink, bellowed in rage, shaking their heads in sorrow asking who that fool can be. They're not always wrong. Ah, they meant Barnes: they are, then. Fortunately, he never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns.

And then came the turning point. As befits Lincolnshire, it was a very slow turning point. Within a couple of minutes of the goal Harkins was taken off, replaced by someone with more pace: the Old Lump himself. Town reverted to the patent 4-4-2 formation, with Lump and North up front, getting upfront and personal with the rather portly centre-backs.

Within another couple of minutes Bore turned sharply in the penalty area and was tripped. The referee waved play on and Boshell was booked for alerting him to his own incompetence.

The crowd was riled, the players angry. It's the return of the old letter-writing catalyst - indignant of Grimsby.

Bloomer and Newey started to penetrate the flanks and Town started to punt crosses into the penalty area. The beginnings, the flickerings of belief and the seeds of defensive doubts were being sown. Bolland swallowed little Bristol pigs whole, North started to pester like a bulky Paterson and the gaspeople sprang a leak.

Bore and Bloomer combined down the right as Town started to tap the ball with a rhythm, with Boshell the screaming heartbeat. Bloomer overlapped, fiddled about and levered a cross from the corner flag. Deflected high into the air, the ball dropped, Bore hovered and bovvered a taller defender to loop the ball cross the face of goal. Defenders stood and stared as North, right in the centre, six yards out, swooped and stooped to steer a header low towards the bottom left corner. The ground fell silent, the keeper fell to his left and the ball slowly dribbled into the side of the goal. And the ground erupted. Town were inflated with Bristol deflating as Town snarled in the tackle, and pleased with the pass.

Ah, but Town are Town. A free kick to Bristol 30 yards out, given because the referee was getting wet, was taken quickly as Barnes lined up his dry stone wall. Hinton curled it hard and low, the ball swishing and swerving off the mud towards the bottom right corner. Barnes plunged in an ungainly way but scoopled the ball away via chest and elbows. Some fans moaned, some fans groaned, some fans need a lotta loving and some fans don't. Barnes did what he should: he stopped the ball going past him. On such moments worlds turn.

Bore was bashed on the head by a stray Disley elbow and for a few minutes young Peter was in disco heaven, discombobulated by the Avon lady ringing his bell. Well, just lay back and relax while Bolland and Boshell put away the dishes. Jaunty Jones jiggled and crossed, Bore smacked the header straight at Phillips. Ah, yes, hunky Pete (19) may bend his runs but he's a straight kinda guy, who drives a Citroen 2CV.

Did you know John Prescott is from Mold? Isn't it funny how people are guilty by association in the public consciousness.

Sorry there - I was bored by the referee's indulgence of Rovers' short corner routine. Town still had occasional wibbles as the gasmen counterattacked. A certain unwillingness to stand near the yellow matter custards was allowing crosses to be crossed, passes to be passed and nerves to be strung up against the corrugated sheeting at the back of the Pontoon. Twang 'em , they're in tune; you could play a little skiffle on them. It wasn't quite a rock island back line, but it'd do until half time. Maybe a little rich tea and unsympathy thrown around at half time will do the trick.

In the time added on for miscellaneous meanderings, Igoe hooked a free kick over the crossbar from ten yards or so and Town won a corner. The brass band played tiddely-um-tum-tum. Toner clipped it into the centre; the ball disappeared towards goal and was bundled away from the line. Those who'd recently been to the opticians claimed that North was the last Townite to touch it. You may think that too, but I couldn't possibly comment.

Typical Town eh? A large crowd after a big away win and they're just setting everyone up for disappointment. For half an hour the crowd was flat, the team was flatter, but something had stirred. Put your ear to the ground - there was the sound of distant drums; the Rovers defence wobbled at the slightest hint that a cow was mooing.

The difference? The removal of Harkins liberated Boshell and Town's passing had some crispness. With Boshell the ball is always moving, momentum is never lost. With Jones taking the knees and elbows, North was free to pester with his sheer enthusiasm and even managed to control the ball too. The boy grew into a man before our eyes

Town were starting to nibble at their hedgerow. Let the ancient Buckley tea ceremony begin. Or perhaps he'll wheel out his own version of the Ludovico technique. Players strapped to a chair, forced to watch the Rochdale game with 'Up the Mariners' on a constant loop. "No sir, no, I can't take it anymore. I'm cured."

We'll see.

Second half
Neither side made any changes at half time, and say what you like about Dick Van Dyke but, like Town, he's still alive and kicking.

Within 20 seconds of the restart Town had messed things up. Someone, somewhere gave the ball away in midfield and Igoe flew off and whacked the ball wide from just outside the penalty area.

Now that's the way to keep the crowd behind you.

The half-time roar receded and the ground returned to that Grimsby kind of hush: angry, bitter hope tinged with mournful self-loathing. But lo, behold the light, it shines! They turned the floodlights on.

Town were handed a free kick after Haldane lifted his arms to block a lofted punt. Let's just say he dropped it like an Aussie. Newey, 35 yards out on the right touchline, coiled a beautiful arcing cross deep, deep into the heart of the area. Whittle donned a balaclava and dark turtleneck jumper, collected his Milk Tray and plunged off the rock face. Sneaking around the back of his marker, eight or so yards out at the far post, Whittle rose, twisted with great delicacy and glanced a header firmly in off the right post. Let's not tell the linesman he was offside when the kick was kicked, eh? Doh, too late, but too late for the Brizzlers too. It was two-two, Whittle in a tutu, toodle-do. We're off and running!

Town: exquisite, ruthless, imperious, and magnificent. Twenty minutes of pure ecstasy with wave after wave of attacks, the opposition a mere stage upon which Town tromped and chomped. North, having had his football shave, couldn't stop playing with the razor blade. He cut, he thrust, he ate the crust on the Bristol pie. Lumpy won every header and North chased every rainbow to the bitter end and, don't you know, he kept finding pots of gold.

Here we go.

Bore, North and Boshell flicked once, flicked twice and flicked to Bolland, who stub-chipped the keeper from 20 yards out. The ball sailed nicely near, safely high. The move was a groove, Town's head started to nod, the shoulders to sway. Click your fingers and start to make your way to the dancefloor, ladies and gentlemen. Mmmmm, mmmmm, baby, just let yourself go. Bore spinning, North flipping, Boshell keeping the move alive as Newey and Toner rollerbladed down the left. A corner? Perhaps. A free kick? Should have been. A cross, oh yes. Bristol's jelly was melting in the heat: they shin, they shank, they walk the plank as Town prodded their flabby bottom with a long stick.

Jones harried and hassled after North had turned and gurned in the faces of the centre-backs. The yellowmen panicked, squirtling possession back to Bolland, near Buckley's plastic lair. Bolland lobbed the ball back down the Town right onto North's toe, who rolled his beefy marker, turned infield and in one move flicked a perfect pass with the outside of his boot inside the remaining defenders. Boshell snuffled through the centre and ran beyond the defence into the corner of the penalty area. He let the ball run, the keeper come, and smoothly passed the ball between the keeper's legs and into the centre of the goal. Cue crowd pandemonium that the police couldn't control. Cue Town pandemonium that Bristol couldn't control.

What happened in which order? Who can remember: it's a blur, a heady, dreamy affair. Where's the oxygen? Bristol bizarrely decided to play offside, and North was having a party, pestering Hinton in to miskicks, fouls and haberdashed clearances. Bish-bash, Bosh tossed a carefree flick, Bore and North played triangles with Bloomer hurtling down the wing on his moped, Jones' pizza in the box and getting cold. Bloomer crossed, a yellow sock stretched and the ball sniggled away, but only back to Bolland, the man in the brown overall steadily sweeping up after the kids had had their party.

Town rolled on, the metronomic centre ensuring control. Newey surged, Toner urged and the ball broke. Let's start again. Let's go back down the right shall we? Tick-tock, tick-tock, the Town clock counting down. Bristol brows sweating, collars loosening, eyes darting left to right. Where's the next shot coming from? Up there in the hills? From the left? From the right? We're here, we're there, we're everywhere. We have you surrounded, please come out with your hands up.

Bore trampled along the wing, cut infield and crossed low, the ball was cleared, Boshell retrieved and kissed the ball infield, into the perfect path of Toner. Twenty yards out, steadied and readied for glory, Toner sweetly curved the ball around a defender towards the bottom left corner. Phillips brilliantly flew across and parried aside. Or perhaps he flew across and brilliantly parried aside. One of the two, whichever, it was festival football and we had the firecrackers.

Wait, there's more.

Bloomer, no, it was Bore, twinkletoed through two defenders and crossed low to the near post. A yellow boot appeared and sliced the ball vertically. Phillips wobbled, and Jones waited underneath, being hauled away by the keeper in his flappage. Panic in the streets of Bristol, not Humberside. The crowd, oh the crowd was delirious, unable to sit in this perpetual emotion. Ah, Bore again, rolling through the left, dipping his shoulders and whipping a cross through the six-yard box. North waited at the far post, but a defender dragged the ball up, up and away with a slidey swish.

Oh yeah, Rovers nearly scored around the hour. They slickly and swiftly broke upfield and someone had a shot which Newey diverted at the last moment. Hinton headed the corner over. Unmarked and unable. Blah-blah, that's for them to write poems about. Let's get this straight - this is all about us.

Oh Town, oh beautiful for spacious play, for inflicting amber waves of pain. Playing keepy-uppy on the right, North to Bore, who turned and flicked the ball with a nonchalant air over a defender in one move, rolling the ball across the six-yard box. Toner, with his back to goal, took a touch and dragged a shot back across the keeper and into the bottom right corner. Everybody was dancin' with the captain. Well, we all had fun the whole night long. And the ship sailed on.

Walker nearly scored for them. Then Lambert headed over. Mere details, don't concern yourself too much, just look at the score in black and white, or yellow and green if you're a Ceefaxian.

Ah, they nearly scored again. Hmm, and again. We'll need a killer fifth to claim a draw. C'mon Town, we're pleading for a fifth. For ten minutes Rovers roved and Town were a little clownish at times. A free kick in the centre of the pitch was rolled forward into the area. The ball just skipped through three Town legs and Nicholson, a substitute, was free inside the area, a dozen yards out. He waited for Barnes and carefully placed the ball wide of the keeper, wide of the post, and wide of his onrushing mate sliding inside the six-yard box. He did very well to miss everything. Well done. We appreciated that greatly.

Ah, another shot, and another. We're waiting them to mishit a third. Let's clutch at something, shall we: Barnes caught a corner. Ah, nice clutch.

Phew, that's better, we're back. With ten minutes left Town resumed their masterclass in effervescent ram-raiding. North was hilariously chopped down by the left-back after nuzzling him into losing possession by the corner flag. Newey prepared his omelette well and whisked in some cream with his eggs, adding a sprig of parsley and a rub of cayenne pepper. The gas-guzzlers choked on their own exhaust fumes as North peeled away from his marker and back-flipped a hooky bicycle-kick over the bar from eight yards. Phillips fly-hacked a clearance as Jones the Stegosaurus rumbled towards him. The kick bumped against Hinton's backside, ricocheting into the centre and Town swarmed forward. With Bore to the right, Toner free on the left, North stuck his head into his underpants and wildly slammed a shot swirling over and away from goal.

Just wait a few moments, there'll be another bus along soon. Wahey - Jonesy the cat slipped free after shrugging off some milkmaid. Such grace, such gentleness, such a beautifully caressed flick to the unmarked North, eight yards out, who stretched and sluiced the ball across the face of goal.

I'm ignoring a few of their efforts. You don't mind, do you? I am, after all, ignoring the half dozen times North was free but the linesman managed to flag him offside. And that time when he went through on the keeper, one-on-one, and refused to dive. Can we have a penalty now?

Bore bullied off the ball, but persistent, wangled his way around Carruthers inside the area. The burly Bristolian continued to fight and the referee gave a free kick to them. Bloomer crossed, Toner lurked, the ball was shankled away.

There were three minutes of added time and Rankin replaced North, who got the standing ovation he deserved. Town turned off and Bristol continued to attack, attack, attack, attack, attack. Newey tackled to save another moment of danger, but a corner resulted. Swung in high from their left, the ball dropped in the middle of the area. No-one moved. Not one Town player, and there were at least 26 stood there. The ball squished through to Disley, five or six yards out, who waited for the ball to drop and volleyed high across Barnes. Still no Town player moved.

"Listen, lads - we can still draw this!"

No you can't, it's over.

A long, long time ago I can still remember how Town used to make us smile. My, my, they remembered how to do it at home too. It's February and we're making others shiver. How bizarre, how bizarre. Oh what a circus we are. Elephants and acrobats, lions, snakes and monkeys; watching Town's quite funky.

From disaster to delirium and all it took was one simple move. Or, more accurately, one removal. Jones and North filled no-one with hope, but they made a difference. Jones was rejuvenated and North found himself. At the start North's feathers were all stubby and brown, and the Purpleman said in so many words "get out of Town". But just look in the lake now. What do you see? A very fine swan indeed.

The switch to 4-4-2 gave Bristol's defenders something to do, and they weren't up to it, and it also gave Town's midfield a shape and balance. Boshell and Bolland clamped down on any illegal movement and just controlled the game. Toner and Bore worked hard going forward and back, and there was a solidity to the flanks.

And wasn't it nice to have three local lads playing their hearts out.

Something's clicked and Town look a little like Town should, for the 20 minutes after half time were just majestic. The crowd and team as one and the old ground throbbed again. It was Fortress Blundell Park: a place to fear. Bristol were engulfed by an avalanche and they forgot to pack their St Bernard dogs. Oh yes, we were cured alright.

Nicko's unofficial man of the match
If we ignore the first 23 minutes everyone was fine. Danny North was a slightly stronger Paterson, constantly buzzing and blustering through. Tirelessly tremendous, he at last looked like a professional footballer. Well done that man. But, as last week, the most important ukulele in Buckely's incredible string band was Danny Boshell. Why can Town's cat purr? Because Boshell's in the centre stroking it under the chin, feeding when required and cleaning up afterwards. Lovely goal, wasn't it. Like old times.

Markie's un-man of the match
Oh dear Gary Harkins, will you ever play again? Should you? Not in midfield, that's for sure. He's a full stop in Town's life sentence. Every time he's given a game he's at fault for a goal, and just acts as a brake on Town's three-geared Chopper. Too slow in thought and foot, he's just not up to it, like a modern-day Bobby Mitchell. Sorry, there you are, he's probably a very nice man.

Official Warning
Mr S Bratt pouted and preened like Larry Grayson, refusing a couple of good penalty claims from Town and generally being an inconsistent fiddlebucket. Why do they arbitrarily insist on free kicks and throw-ins being from exactly the wrong place? We won: so, using the karmatic scale he sent us into the lilac zone: 5.001.

The Others
Looked hefty down the middle and tricky down the wings, but were a house of straw. Town huffed and puffed and easily blew down their house. Without time they panicked and it did help that they kept missing in the second half. In short, they missed when they created a chance, but scored when Town gifted them an opportunity. How strange.

Walker was static, Lambert largely anonymous, and their defence quite liked heading the ball against small boys but were not enamoured with opponents running at, through and around them. Their danger lurked in their little ones: Campbell was annoyingly present for a few minutes and Disley habitually sneaked into space. Disley was their man, and when he was snuffed they didn't even puff.

Perennial play off hopefuls is tattooed across their collective forehead. They can't afford the surgery to rid themselves of that tattoo. They were of similar standard to Shrewsbury and Hereford: West Country irritants who are good if you let them be.