Check mate: Torquay (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

22 December 2006

C'mon, it's Christmas: estate agents are allowed to go to the pub too, you know.

Grimsby Town 2 Torquay United 0

Didn't they have a lovely time the day they went to Grimsby; a beautiful day, they had lunch on the way, and 60 Devonians sat in the Osmond stand. Way up at back, they zipped up their macs and opened a bottle of cider, singing a few of their favourite songs.

An unusual Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Boshell, Fenton, Newey, Croft, Till, Pulis, Harkins, Hegggarty, Rankin, Paterson. The substitutes were Murray, Boshell, Toner, Roland Rattyhill and the artist formerly known as Luton's Michael O'Reddy. Right, take a deep breath: Boshell was at right-back, Croft revisited 1994 on the left, Newey was at centre-back and Mighty Mariner sat in his shed, enticing children and the unwary, dispensing sweets. And all for under a pound you know.

Perhaps tomorrow you will recall the thrill of it all. As we sat in the stand the Salvation brass band played Diddlely-Bump-Terrara. Then they joined those estate agents in the pub. You'd have thought they'd have stayed for the game.

Shall we stop shilly-shallying and just go on with it?

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond stand: black and white queen's knight to bishop's pawn three. That's no way to describe Gary Harkins, is it.

Torquay set out to protect their king with the Rubik's cube rotating defence. They stood in their own half and watched Town pass the ball sideways and advance slowly up the pitch. Tip, tap, tip, tap, tic-tock, tic-tock, ying-tong-ying-tong-ying-tong-ying-tong-ying-tong iddle-i-po. Hear that crazy rhythm driving the purple-faced man insane. It was never like this when Russell Slade was president of our disunited state.

This wasn't football so much as an inter-school chess match with real human pieces. Both managers stood on the touchline barking instructions. Hegggarty and Till, two dormant rooks sliding up and down the sides, blocked by the famous Lubos gambit. Paterson, the queen of all our hearts, hemmed in by Devon pawns. What's a good recipe for Devon Pawns? Marinate for 60 minutes then toast quickly under a hot grill. Ah, Reddy isn't fit yet though, is he. Make that a warm oven then, and remember he isn't fan-assisted now. That broke a few months ago.

One, two, three, four, five, six passes... and back to square one; let's start again - one, two three, four, from left to right, to right to left, up, down, flying around, looping the loop and out for a Town corner, on the right. Heggggggarty coiled the ball sexily into the middle of the penalty area and Captain Fenton, unmarked and roaring like an open fire, smurgled a header goalwards. A yellow bishop stood in front of Abbey and swished the ball away. Ooh, that's nice.

They broke, they stopped, they passed, they moved. Lovely, lovely triangles of passing and pretty patterns spinning like a wheel within a wheel. But yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go, for Fenton and Newey slammed the door, chained their melodies and put on a Santa hat with flashing lights. Robertson stood on the edge of Town as his chums spun around, but we've read the book, seen the film and even sat through the Caxton Players' musical Tony Rees - Superstar. We never did know how to love him, did we.

Stop dreaming of electric sheep... a give and go, a flick, a trick and Robertson received the ball on the edge of the Town area, right in the centre. He spun, Newey backed off, and a shot swigged into Barnes' midriff. Mmm, they aren't just a pretty ornament then.

A couple of minutes later a daft free kick was awarded after the diver Jordan burst the banks of our goodwill. Lofted in from their left, Barnes came out and flapped the ball to McPhee, who lofted the ball down the centre; Fenton glided across and cleared. Calm down, it's a commercial for Devonshire clotted cream: Barnes was fouled.

Let's concentrate now, shall we. After ten minutes of fascinating cerebral football we'd had lots to admire, but nothing to cheer. The bottom of the fourth division isn't supposed to be like this, is it. Where are the cauliflower ears? Ah, a Town shot, let's cheer. Town patiently eased the ball upfield, with everyone touching it twice. With Torquay pulled to their right, Town surged down their left, with Boshell freed after a Till/Paterson flick and trick. Boshell nutmegged the full-back and was hauled down on the corner of the penalty area, right on the bye-line. Hegggarty gingerly traipsed over and curled the ball into the centre. Fenton, at the far post, noodled the ball back to Pulis, who shinned a swinging left-footed shot oodles of poodles wide.

Here they go again: Town dozing on the left as Torquay played piggy in the middle with Hegggggarty. The ball was swirled high to the far post, where the unmarked Hill, a dozen yards out, flopped a header very wide, very softly. He flopped and plopped, sir, then clip-clipperty-clopped back home in a strop.

This is like a box of continental chocolates: so beautiful to look at that you don't want to eat any. And then when you do, you realise they are just a bunch of chocolates.

After quarter of an hour the ball was cleared down Torquay's right, on the halfway line. Robertson rolled and pushed Newey down the tunnel, forcing tim-tam Tom to collide with Sir Alan of Buckley. Somehow the referee managed to interpret this as deliberate handball and a booking for our makeshift mantelpiece. Newey's displeasure was audible and visible.

The gullible Gulls lumped the ball forward and Town cleared easily to the halfway line. Paterson chased the ball into their half, down the right. The Stevland Angus, a rare bovine breed which you can order with a special sauce from the top restaurants in the English Riviera, lumbered across to cut off our zoomster. Paterson continued, snapping at the heels of the endangered bull, causing the old and infirm animal to moo and maw. Paterson stole the ball away, lost it, won it back and lost it again. Pulis intercepted 25 yards out and played Paterson in behind the defence, on the centre-right. Angus was lowing as their poor baby left-back awoke to find the Stoke Scamp scuttling away. A shrug and tug and the ball squished through a dozen yellow socks to Rankin, six yards out, who swept a low shot into the bottom-right corner, via Abbey's helping hands.

As the whole town celebrated Newey ran to the linesman and started a philosophical discussion about the commercialisation of Christmas, which in its modern form is itself a German import, much like his fridge. Or he could have been complaining about his booking. Buckley manhandled the moaner away before someone started crying.

Normal service was resumed. Just dream of footballers on a chessboard with chin-stroking men in nylon coats staring intently at the battleground below. Kubik advanced a few more of his prawns. McPhee had a shot: nice. Barnes was untroubled: nicer still.

Town retained possession wonderfully, with Fenton a Futchersidian roamer and passer: the starter, the stopper, the fulcrum and leader. Chances? Ah, here's one. A Heggggarty corner from the right flashed over and through the penalty area to Paterson, 15 yards out. He swayed on his right foot and splayed a horrible shot with his left, arcing wide when the goal demanded to be hit, and hit hard.

Then one game you find that ten minutes have gone behind you. They really should sort out that scoreboard.

Around the half-hour Torquay were given a free kick when they fell over a foot that wasn't there. This time Newey's left foot avoided the ball and human tissues, which didn't stop Robertson falling. That's two dives so far: one more and you're sacked, mate. From about 25 yards, on their centre-left, Robertson carefully clipped a curling shot around and over the wall. Barnes watched, waited and winked as he hung his washing on the Fenty line, plucking the ball to his chest as it arced towards the top of the right post. They didn't do anything else, so you can have your Kit Kat now. Dunk it in your tea and wallow in the melting cocoa glow of some sweet, sweet Town movement.

A fun-filled frolic down the right saw Till explode into space and cross low, hard and meaningfully into the centre. As Rankin lurked a Torquay defender slid back and curled a right-footed half-volley around the diving Abbey and a few inches past the left post.

Another skippy-di-doo-dah bowl of banana fritters with hot syrup from Town saw Till freed after, oooh, sixty-three and a half passes. He crossed high and long, with Angus grazing a header across his penalty area . Hegggarty, beyond the far post, chested the ball down and, from a narrow angle, smackered a volley straight at Abbey, who punched it away from his face. Paterson swizzled, twizzled and sizzled a long shot wide. Hegggarty skewered another way, way wide and high from the left corner of their penalty area and before you could say "antidisestablishmentarianism" it was half time.

Culture, sophistication and a hoofless half with Town leading. What more could Santa bring? It was extremely comforting to watch this touring exhibition of Kubik's art, the assemblage of geometric figures was right up our alley. So reassuring to see an unthreatening homage to Buckley past.

Second half

Hey, we're back. Toner replaced Hegggarty at half time, though it took five minutes for anyone to realise. It was the hair that gave it away.

Oh dear, I think one of the cross-beams has gone askew on the treadle.

Nobody expected the Torquay inquisition! Town were overwhelmed by the armada of Torquay ships flowing down the Humber. Their chief weapon was surprise... surprise and a lack of fear... their two weapons were surprise and a lack of fear: at least they lacked ruthless efficiency.

Gulls raided and Fenton smothered a drive with his personality. Harkins was clobbered in his holiday regions and a free kick was given to them. They shot, they cleared the crossbar. They came back again and again: no, you can't play with little Phillip. Pressure incessant, passing impressive, their shooting impressively inaccurate. Toner tucked into Town's midfield pants far too tight, leaving Croft exposed with a yellow peril swarming all over him. Torquay got out their protractors and attempted to work out the aphelion. Ha, they failed to take into account the longitude of the ascending node: Murray, on the left edge of the penalty area, curled a shot across Barnes and a foot or so wide of the right post. We've no need to consider the argument of perihelion, for they didn't.

After about ten minutes Town managed to remember what that yellow sphere was. Rankin started to rock 'n' roll, with passes to his feet inducing fouls and howls. A Pulis cross was cleared; Till tickled it back from the right and Rankin, about a dozen yards out, bumbled the ball off his chest and tried a Livvo, bicycle-kicking a shot over and over and onto the roof of the goal. Close, but you're not right.

At this Torquay took off two players and, controversially and possibly in breach of FA regulations, brought on two different ones. One of them was Lee Thorpe, formerly of Cleethorpes.

A Town free kick, way, way out was wellied forward from left to right. Fenton rose on the edge of the area and nodded the ball firmly down into the centre. Paterson sneaked through and miskicked in front of the startled Abbey. Rest easy, the linesman had given offside. Back Town came, with Paterson spinning on the edge of the area and swiping a shot straight at Abbey. Rankin stared intently, as he was unmarked to the right. Back Town came again, with Paterson, again, spinning on the centre/left edge of the area and smatting a shot through two defenders: the ball ping-ponged off them and just over the angle of post and bar. The Pontoon finding voice, the Mighty Mariner standing on his head, waving his arms and jigging like a mad auntie.

Thorpe had a shot, apparently. The mists started to swirl in from the west as the Osmond stand began to fade to grey.

Paterson was roaring, visibly energised by the sight of the Pontoon rising: he roamed, he raided, he revved up, and occasionally he remembered the football. Twenty minutes in to the half Town coolly lobbed the ball around between them, then Newey advanced, taking on one, two and a third yellow shirt. He looked up, saw monochrome movement and dinked a silky smooth chip over Stevland Angus Steak Tartare. Paterson backed away, turned and let the ball roll down his chest. He spun, saw Abbey racing out and, 15 yards out to the right of goal, shinned a shot over the bar.

Torquay just kept hold of the ball, passing to each other again and again and again. They moved, they ran, they looked pretty good together as Ward, the substitute who wasn't Thorpe, swung his pants and smashed a shot wayfully, woewardly wide.

With a quarter of an hour left Town forced Torquay back with the pitter-patter of Paterson tiny feet. A cross was cleared high and dropped inside the area to the unmarked Rankin, eight yards out. The ball hit his shoulder, slid down his body and rolled across goal to Abbey, who threw the ball out and off they jolly well went down their left. Did Town have a defence? Ward scuttled away into the darker, danker areas of Blundell Park and cracked a high drooping cross to the far post. McPhee, unmarked, drifted into the area and, from about eight yards out, carefully side-footed a volley across the stranded, unmoving, but very blinking, Barnes. The ball rolled and rolled, and managed to miss the right post by nine nanometres.

From the goal kick the untamed Paterson roared again, causing Angus to turn his underpants inside out without taking his shorts off. Ah, that old party trick. Town'll be scoring from a corner next. Woods came across and managed to block the cross but only for a corner, on Town's left.

Toner stood over the ball, raised his hands, and curled the ball away from goal to the near post. Rankin stood in front of Abbey, then stepped away, causing his marker to block the keeper's route to the ball. Fenton got on his horse and drank his milk, flying through the air with the greatest of ease, magnificently murdering a header into the top right corner from six yards out, before getting on an open-top bus and touring the old Borough of Great Grimsby. Mind those low trees down Weelsby Road.

Let's put our feet up and enjoy the last ten minutes or so, shall we. Thorpe turned Newey on the Town left and clattered a low shot into the side netting. Nothing to worry about. He's off again, little Martin Patercake, breaking from the halfway line, wiggling once, twice and leaving two Torquayistas on the turf. With Rankin flapping, demanding a pass, Paterson took a final touch and was shoulder-barged away on the edge of the area by the last defender. Rankin reciprocated a minute later, not passing, but spurning and spooning a shot against a yellow thigh.

Hey-hey, he's off again. Paterson chased a punt down the centre-left, rolled his marker and just had Abbey between him and adoration maximus. A dozen yards out, he widened his eyes and widened his legs, but Abbey plunged and pushed the shot aside.

With five minutes left Rankin and Harkins were replaced by Reddy and Ravenhill. A vocal minority audibly booed, of course: they haven't had anything to moan about for over a month now, so they weren't going to look at a gift shop in Louth. Sorry - cliché error code 401 - abort entry, reboot brain - a gift horse in the mouth.

Time is money and money can't buy you love, though it can buy you a lovely new striker in the January sales. Ravenhill kicked someone, Reddy was given offside when he wasn't, Newey was kicked after the ball had been cleared during the three minutes of added time. And then we could all get to the shops before they ran out of maple syrup and novelty sausages.

As the happy shoppers streamed out Paterson ran up to the Pontoon, ripped off his shirt and threw it in to the throng, looking most distressed. Croft put a consoling arm around Patercake's shoulders and led him off as we pondered the meaning of it all. If he leaves us now, he'll take away the biggest part of us. Oo-oo-oo, babyfaced assassin please don't go. Or perhaps he was just so upset at not scoring. Whichever, whatever, someone has a heck of a Christmas present coming their way, if a little sweaty.

Given all the disruption, especially down the centre, Town did fine. Torquay were the right team to play, for they were not big, and they were only clever between the penalty areas, not their ears. Newey wasn't bullied and Boshell was only occasionally found loitering without intent in a nether region between hello and goodbye. A full frontal body check got him out of difficulty. It was easy on the eye and apart from a couple of wibbles, easy on the heart. Town were just that little bit firmer in defence and more ruthless in attack.

Isn't life suddenly very calm now. Merry Christmas everybody: having fun? Look to the future now, it's only just begun.

And we did find out what was in the shed, after all.

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
The plaudits are at the back, for withstanding some intricate knitting from the Devon divas and divers. Newey was much better in the centre than as a snoring left-back, while Boshell was admirable and exuded comfort and calm. You know where this is going, though. He scored, he poured oil on troubles waters and was simply superb throughout with his interceptions, passes and all round leadership. Nick Fenton was peerless.

Official Warning
Mr D Foster should go to Gloucester in a shower of pain. Annoying in small ways and not particularly consistent either. Gains points for providing comic relief when making Pulis take a free kick three times because he hadn't blown the whistle. He stood still and rolled his eyes pointing at his whistle, imploring Pulis to listen: a battle of wills between the cloth-eared and dog-eared where he didn't even book Pulis. You could see him sigh. Tap it, unwrap it: 6.123 golden segments of chocolate orange points.

The Others
A bit flimsy up front and behind, which undermines their aesthetic beauty. They passed Town to pieces at times, which is a feat of sorts. These Gullies can be bullied, and that's their achilles heel. They were hopeless at set pieces, where Fenton won every header. For all their impressive passing and movement they hardly threatened Barnes, and for that they are in danger of being Kubik's rubes.

They were a bit too clinical and robotic. Like a typical mid-European team: if you let them have the ball they run rings around you in midfield. But where's the passionate beating heart of the team?