Safe as houses: Rochdale (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

9 August 2008

Grimsby Town 0 Rochdale 0

'League Two' football, here we go again. My, my - how could we resist you?

Town lined up in an old cardigan and slippers 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Stickdale, Heywood, Hope, Newey, Till, Hunt, Heslop, Lulullewellyn, Butler, Taylor. The substitutes were Monty, Bennett, Heggggarty, Bore and North. You know their names, now look up their numbers. Young Mr Heslop is a chunky tank, all shoulders and thighs; he also read a book once, green it was.

Heywood, Hope, Hunt and Heslop: Town had built an H-block down the centre.

Rochdale turned up in an all-yellow ensemble and warmed up with some schoolyard gymnastics with bean bags and poles. Whither Ciaran Toner? We've been cheated by you since I don't know when, so Buckley made up his mind, it must come to an end. Look at him now, will he ever learn? A substitute for some other guy, in some other town.

It's raining, it's pouring, an old man is snoring down in the depths of the Pontoon. The long weekend of the soul begins here.

First half
Rochdale kicked off towards the Pontoon, and Heywood stopped and oozed Le Fondre away from the ball by the sheer weight of his argument. And weight. Hope bonked a header, Hunt swept up like a mad curler and Heslop did amazing things for a fourth division footballer - he controlled the ball in an instant and just passed to his team mates. Rochdale probed, Town prodded back. The centre was firm, nothing passed by, but Town did pass to each other.

A cross, a drop by the'keeper. Their keeper. Barnes was just an interested observer, watching his merry men dance around the Rochdale maypoles. He may as well have joined us in the Pontoon for a bunless burger.

Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, telling Newey just what a fool he's been. Or was it stereo 'Neweying', that rippling echo along the stands as Timeless Tom wafted and lofted vaguely as only he can? Town were neat, but nowhere.

The Dalers perked up with slinky breaks. Crosses and dinks dipped, but Hope and Heywood ducked and sucked the life out of the attacks. They stand still and men do not pass by; the ball just passes through to Barnes, who even came off his line to swoop and scoop. A corner swirled, Heywood leant back and grazed away from near the line to Jones who scrivvelled a shot goalwards. Heywood walked tall and thighed away for another corner. Repeat defensive wonderfulness.

Hope and Heywood are more Haile and Bull than Hale and Pace.

LuluLlewellyn tricked and treated down the touchline, shimmering forward, drawing the centre-backs. The crowd roared, Town poured forward, and the ball went left, then right, zipping and whipping through the penalty area. Town broke again, Butler was freed inside the area. Wide and right, his shot badoomed off Russell and off a defender for a corner. That was nice.

Then they broke. Newey beaten, a cross lapped into the centre; Dagnall awaited, steered the ball from eight yards. As if by magic Sticky Robdale appeared to block. Ahhhhh, good old-fashioned full-backing: he stands in the right places, he does the right things. It's all about the defence: no-one panicked, everyone was cool; there was no robbery, honey-bunny.

Heywood spoke and the world moved. He stretched out his arms and the black and white sea did not part, but moved forward in a crushing wave to roll over and drown any Lancastrian bobbing along on his lilo.

Was Nathan Stanton born with a smile on his face, born with the need to embrace? The whole of his life's been a pantomime; well, he did play for Scunnythorpey. He just couldn't stop smooching Butler. Taylor continued to be small as the tremendously tanned Till tickled on the right. Lulu was a sensible positioner, drifting in to spaces and providing cover when Newey's mind went AWOL. Have I mentioned the solid centre? I will again: the centre was solid. Heslop and Hunt had a cracking arm-wrestle with Jones and Keltie and the bar billiards and skittles will follow in part two. I'll see thee.

You can be happy whilst we take this commercial break.

Second half
No changes were made by either side at half time. And both teams set off at a fair old lick.

The game went end to end, eye to eye, and broke on through to the other side. Rochdale pinned their colours to the mast and the wingers to the wings as the game stretched vertically and horizontally. Le Fondre spun on to a ricochet, but slabbered a shot against Hope's knees with the ball slippering and wibbling into Barnes's midriff. Taylor turbocharged after lobs and terrorised briefly, Till turned, Lulu squirmed passes and Newey raided. Crosses dipped and Dale heads pipped Butler to the ball. Corners and more corners to Town. Lulu fell, Rochdale broke away and one-two-three flicks later Rundle was alone inside the area. He steadied as monochrome boots slid and slashed the ball nicely into the side netting.

The game lurched from port to stern, buffeted by the storms of ambition. Lulu flicked on a long punt and Butler nickled a header past Russell but the ball skipped out of play. Heywood noodled a corner goalwards, Taylor flicked and Ramsden swiped it clear from near the goalline. They broke, Town repelled, Town broke, Rochdale repelled. En garde!

Town were exposed as Rochdale infiltrated between midfield and defence. Patient possession and a spin left Rundle alone, 20 or so yards out. The ball rose and fell, swerved left, veered right and Barnes flew left to parry aside. Heywood nodded the corner clear and Barnes caught the cross. And then Barnes flung the ball out to the marauding Lulu, who gracefully glided underneath the Frozen Beer Stand. Newey pelted up in support and the ball was duly flicked behind the full-back. Newey crossed, the ball zipping to Butler, on the edge of the area, who steered a first time volley straight at Russell.

Oh yes, they're here to help your leisure, give you pleasure, and they practise to please you and just end up teasing you. La la-la la-la-la-la. 'Twas ever Town thus.

On the hour North replaced Butler and gave a 30-minute trotting cameo; there was displeasure at his lack of sprinting. Heywood brilliantly blocked, Stickdale intercepted and Hope murdered headers clear. Town were rocking, Rochdale groping, but the Town fans not yet griping. Rundle poked wide after wiggling around Till and Sticky. Another shot wide, another high. Hope and Heywood blocking for Britain, throwing their manhood in front of everything.

'Ello, 'ello, what's this then? Butler and North stood near Dale defenders, and a back-pass was passed back to Butler. He knocked the ball away from the last defender, drifted left and swished a drive towards the top right corner but Russell flew and fingertipped away.

At this Rochdale brought on a substitute, replacing Wiseman with, according to the tannoyman, Iggy Pop. Or did he say Ink Blot? Who is this strange yellow bird up high in banana tree? It is Higginbotham, the little legless pounder, with shorts below his ankles and socks above knees.

And Town wilted, with Dale banging loudly upon the front door demanding another pint, for it wasn't closing time yet. A Rundle cross looped off a Town boot, slipped off a Dale thigh and Dagnall was free, 10 yards out. A goal was certain, the 500 or so roaming Rochdale cowboys and cowgirls rose to acclaim the winner, as Dagnall carefully placed a shot high, across and around Barnes. But the Barnes door was closed. He reached up and tipped the shot aside, magnificently, marvellously and mellifluously. The corner dipped and who else but Heywood commanded the seas around the mouth of the Humber?

Heywood, our rock of Gibraltar, pointed the way as Heslop started to tire, and Rochdale swarmed like voracious wasps.

A Newey free kick flibbled off a yellow thigh and looped over the bar, Butler poked a shot high and wide, but Town were occasional visitors to Russell's domain: the game was played exclusively down Osmond stand way. Stockdale slaughtered a last-ditch tackle, Hope rose like a colossus, Barnes came out and caught a corner. What is going on? Defenders defending? Rochdale powering, but the H-bombs towering. Thorpe arrived to do his silky twirls and swirled a shot wide. Rundle had another shot, Dagnall twinkled, and one moment of looseness saw a cross drop onto Dagnall's headed, a dozen yards out. He loopy-drooped it straight at Barnes. Phew.

Here they come again: Rundle was free again. Inside, outside, we left him alone, was anyone at home? Into the box, at a narrow angle and close, real close, Junior, he decided to slice a slasher into the side netting, again.

Bore replaced Butler and then that was that. A point gained, for blunting the flashing blades of Rochdale is no mean feat. Town were mostly staunch and solid. It began to feel a surprise when Rochdale had a shot, rather than being a surprise when the opposition didn't score. There were several moments where, last season, Town would have conceded, but the sensible positioning and all-round commitment of the new players left the moment as a fading memory of a dull daytrip.

A new dawn and the house hasn't burned down. Let's spend the new day sprucing up the paintwork.