Hold on to yourself: Morecambe (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

26 February 2008

Morecambe 0 Grimsby Town 1

A swirling gale blew across the pitch, slightly into our faces, behind the goal that Town would defend in the first half, but mainly to the open side, empty apart from a straggle of spectators, a TV gantry and a wall that didn't quite hide the tops of the coaches parked outside the ground. The hoardings on the open side also had a scoreboard: carefully printed black text on a cream background, reading "Morecambe 0 Visitors 0" (I never did check whether and how that was updated).

We lined up in a 3-5-2, with Barnes was in goal, Bennett and Hegarty flanked Newey, Fenton and Atkinson. There was no sign of Hunt or Toner, so Clarke joined Bolland and Boshell in midfield, with Till playing behind North up front. There was an expectant mood among the away support, going through a repertoire of songs and chants half remembered from ten years ago, but restlessly - the support did not feel entirely unconditional, and the first hour would test our patience.

First half
From the start the wind was a factor, and that wind was helping Morecambe. They were happy to play the ball in the air - not aimlessly; they were finding their men - and read the currents better than Town. Michael Twiss took up positions outside the area with his back to goal and directed a lot of traffic, all bearing down on the Grimsby goal. Within a few minutes, they had put together four or five passes, not quite to feet but nearer to Morecambe legs than Grimsby ones and swung over a cross from near the byline, met with a flopping header that Phil Barnes bundled wide at the foot of his left post.

Morecambe found space with alarming ease, Hegarty and Bennett negligible defensive presences, Atkinson and Fenton uncertain of the wheareabouts of any Morecambe forwards. Atkinson was caught in possession bringing the ball out of defence, allowing Matthew Blinkhorn a clear run on goal. Newey slid across to divert his low shot off his knees for a corner.

Moments later, a Blinkhorn header was again blocked by Newey, who then headed a cross clear. He tried shouting at the rest of the defence, but they remained regularly in the wrong places. Where Town players did get to the ball, their clearances were ineffectual. Occasionally an aimless hoof that relieved the pressure for a few seconds, often an attempt to play the ball forwards despite facing the Town goal, the ball falling well short of our midfield into the path of a Morecambe player.

The away support had fallen silent, until reinforcements from a late bus arrived, ten minutes after kick off. Their mood not yet dampened, they gave new life to the chanting, and we had the first flicker of something to chant about. Three times Peter Till got the ball in space near the halfway line and ran at the Morecambe defence. The first time, he tried to play the ball into the path of Boshell, the second time for North. Both times the pass went just astray. The third time, he shot from the edge of the penalty area, the ball heading for the top right hand corner of the goal until, twisting off true at the last, it struck the outside of the post. Morecambe had clearly identified our danger man: a few minutes later Till took a goal bound shot full in the face, referee Nigel Miller stopping play for a dropped ball.

The lull did not last long. Where Newey had been providing the blocks, now the task fell to Phil Barnes, stretching to tip a lobbed header over the bar then, again, just reaching a cross blown back into the Town goal from under the cross bar.

Midway through the half, Blinkhorn burst into our penalty area, stopped a ball with his upper arm, held close by his chest, and then, as the ball bounced beyond him, threw his arms back, a pained expression on his face, and hurled himself to the ground. Nigel Miller had begun to attract our scorn, his liberal interpretation of what constituted shoulder-to-shoulder contact tending to favour the more physical Morecambe players. Miller was clearly told a decade ago that he looked a bit like Pierluigi Collina (you remember, the Italian with the eyes, ubiquitously described as the best referee in the world) and has been modelling himself on him ever since. He had the same run with hunched shoulders, the same concentrated stare at the spot where an incident has just taken place. Now he treated us to that stare. Had he spotted the hand ball? Had he been taken in by the dive? Neither. He swept his hands across his knees, and pointed for a goal kick. Blinkhorn's stiff-backed glance at us, over his shoulder, as he ran back into position contained an essay on the justification of cheating for those who earn a living playing sport.

The match was becoming Barnes's, and now came his finest moment. Another inadequate clearance had found its way to Garry Thompson, wide on the left, a few yards from goal. He shot low and Barnes got down well, parrying the ball wide, but into the path of Blinkhorn. Blinkhorn shot hard and true, above and beyond Barnes. From on his knees, the goalkeeper somehow rose to push the ball onto the bar and away for a corner.

Finally, when Newey couldn't get a block in, and Barnes couldn't make a save, we fell back on the inadequacies of Morecambe's finishing. Twiss had five square yards all around him as he stood on the penalty spot, the ball arriving slightly behind him. He swung his boot and the ball bounced off his standing leg to safety. In the last chance of the first half, a corner from the left cleared everyone and fell into the path of Carl Baker, sliding to the edge of the six-yard box, and shooting over the goal by a few yards, the ball lodged itself in the safety netting hanging from the roof of the away stand.

The referee blew for half time just after a foul on North, and the Town fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. Morecambe could have netted two, three, maybe four times without complaint. It had been a half that belonged to Phil Barnes, neccessitated by a combination of some neat Morecambe play and some slack defending from Town. Still there was parity in the score, and there was hope Buckley would wake the team up. There was also some dread that Morecambe would make up for their missed opportunities...

Second half
Grimsby appeared to improve in the second half. It may have been that they had used half time to sort out who was going to mark whom. It may have been that the wind was slightly behind us now, making clearing our lines easier, and forcing Morecambe to attack along the ground. It may simply have been that we were further from the action, and could no longer make out the chaos.

Certainly, it was an improvement by small degrees. Twice, a Morecambe player eased past the weak challenges of both Bennett and Atkinson, sending over crosses, but we appeared to be defending our penalty area far better. Dangerous cross followed dangerous cross, but now most were finding no-one, or a Town defender. Morecambe were being forced to shoot from distance, one shot bouncing off the roof of the stand, another bouncing feebly a few times before hitting the hoardings, four yards wide of goal.

We inched into the game as an attacking force, North trying but rarely succeeding in holding off to await support, once linking with Till only for Till to be brushed off the ball.

On the hour, Gary Jones replaced North, and now the inches became feet. Town's attempts at attacks had previously looked like a youth team up against men. We had not managed composed possession football at any point in the first hour, but Boshell had now and again suggested it might be possible. Till's runs had largely dribbled away, but now both had the additional presence they needed. Jones afforded Till the space to get a cross over, which Hegarty could not control.

Within a few minutes of Jones's entry, Hegarty tried to play a ball into his path but it ran beyond Jones towards the Morecambe centre-half Henry McStay. Jones did that ungainly turn and stamp he does when he is trying to shield a ball not quite under his control; McStay collapsed and the referee blew his whistle. A few Morecambe players looked quite annoyed, Miller making "keep calm, I'll deal with it" gestures as Morecambe's portly physio panted onto the pitch and Jones walked away, as though from the scene of a crime. We fell silent. Then Jones walked back to where McStay and the Morecambe players were clustered, and the gestures he was making were of an accidental clash of heads rather than an apology for a late challenge. McStay was shepherded off the pitch, and play restarted with a dropped ball.

Just as we were allowing the thought we might hold on, or better, take root, Morecambe got the ball in our net. Garry Thompson crossed a free kick awarded some 40 yards out on the left into the penalty area. The ball bobbled around before the net bulged. The home supporters behind the goal began to swell and three or four players wheeled away in celebration, but Nigel Miller's arm rose, apparently for hand ball. David Artell, who had put the ball in the net, was booked for dissent.

From the free kick, after 69 minutes, Town played the ball down our left, through Hegarty, finding its way to Till. Till teased the defence, before trying to pass into Jones's path. The ball broke past Jones and two defenders, finding Bolland arriving at the penalty spot to sweep the ball low and unanswerably through Davies's legs, as the goalkeeper fell backwards, and into the back of the net. We rejoiced. Supporters bounced and danced on the terraces and the walkway, and a knot of Town players leapt on to Bolland, his fist raised, running first to the left of the goal then to the right. At least one supporter was led away by the police, but he left happy.

Briefly, Town looked the more likely side to score, as Morecambe tried to get the goal back: Till and Jones enjoyed the space they were allowed. Till set up Clarke, who miskicked, the ball falling to Bolland, who forced a low save from Davies. Till again ran at the Morecambe defence. He ignored Boshell to his right to play in Jones, whose placed shot from a tight angle was blocked for a corner.

As the match drew towards a close, Morecambe once again began to dominate possession. To a shot from the edge of the area, through a crowded penalty area, Barnes dived to his left to push the ball past the post. Another had him scrambling across goal but the ball bounced wide. There was not the same sense of impending danger, however, even as we conceded territory.

The Morecambe side looked less of a threat, now and again miscontrolling as the match ran away from them. Injury time saw a final flurry of crosses into the Town area, but we held out.

The celebrations were muted when full time was blown. The Town side acknowledged our support, but from the distance of the halfway line. Their body language spoke of a job half done and a tricky encounter still to come.