Wake me up at half past four

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

26 March 2017

Accrington Stanley 1 Grimsby Town 1

In the space of 48 hours, we had gone from cold, wet winter to high, dry summer. In our shirtsleeves, we stood on the open concrete bank behind the goal for a minute's remembrance - stillness accentuated by the yapping of a distant dog, the clicking of a camera shutter.

Town lined up in the now-familiar, unfamiliar formation: McKeown, Mills, Boyce, Gunning, Andrew, Disley, Clements, Osborne, Sam Jones, Vose, and Vernon. Call it 4-2-3-1, like a badly pruned Christmas tree. Town wore black and white stripes with black shorts. Accrington wore red and white stripes with red shorts. For those of you watching in black and white, Accrington had red socks, Town white.

First half

We ticked off the landmarks. After three minutes, we were doing better than we had at Crewe and Morecambe. By 15 minutes, it was better than Portsmouth. There wasn't much to distract us from checking our watches.

Town initated all the attacks. Sometimes it was by working some careful triangles wide on the left, deep in our own half. Sometimes it was by just lumping the ball forward in the hope Jones or Vernon could make something of it. When it worked, it ended with the ball at Vose's feet, running at the Accrington right back. Twice he went round him on the outside, but then ambled into the penalty area, hugging the by-line, no clearer end in view than to draw a penalty. Once he cut inside and shot from outside the area. Vernon ducked under it and Accrington's goalie, the portly Chapman, had to dive late to parry it out for a corner.

Forget corners. Not one moment of danger, to either side, materialised out of a corner.

Town initiated all the attacks, but most of them were Accrington ones. Our third ploy was to try and work the ball through central midfield. Too often, it ended with Disley, Clements or Osborne getting the ball, tightly marked, facing their own goal. Accrington were living for those moments. They'd pick off the ball and scamper forwards. It could have been dangerous, but it never was. Boyce and Gunning stopped them getting too close and we were entertained by long shots of all shapes and sizes except accurate. One curled and hit the outside of the post. That was as good as it got. 

You could make quite an exciting highlights reel from it, but it would be a lie. Its not that no one was trying, but where there was method, the execution was ponderous or inaccurate. Mistakes were winning; maybe that's what mid-table, fourth flight football is about.

Second half

For the first 25 minutes, the second half carried on as the first had left off. True, Accrington hit the post again, but even that was an accident: a long-shot that ballooned over McKeown after deflecting off a defender. Accrington's McConville collected the rebound and shot into the side netting from an angle that wasn't as tight as he'd like you to think. But Town had men on the line in any case.

When something happened, it came out of the mundane - a player rushing to prevent a throw-in, in a position of no particular danger - and very nasty it was too. Not far inside the the Accrington half, Vernon ran directly towards the touchline, an Accrington player nipping at his heels. Vernon fell and in falling his head must have hit the top edge of the advertising hoardings. There was the immediate swarm of concerned players and paramedics that has you looking on anxiously, and a long time to wait. When Vernon emerged, it was to hobble slowly down the touch line, applauded by Accrington and Town fans alike, blood showing above the bandage wrapped around his forehead.

Asante came on and the game changed, eventually. He'd been on the pitch 13 minutes when a football match broke out.

Town had the ball inside the Accrington half. Osborne and Jones, at a guess, exchanged passes before freeing Asante on the edge of the penalty area. He dragged the ball back with his right foot then shot low with his left, the ball beating Chapman at his near post. It wasn't exactly greased lightning - the move or the shot - but it did the job.

As much as the goal maybe, the match was opened up by the substitutions soon after. Bolarinwa replaced Osborne - who had had a quiet game on the right - and, with Asante, looked a good bet to exploit any spaces Accrington left at the back. For a quarter of an hour, it looked like we had the measure of Accrington.

But. The referee had developed a dislike for Town. At first, it was just Gunning, penalised for first one, then two perfectly-timed and perfectly-controlled tackles. After the second, with two minutes to play, he was booked and replaced by Pearson; Gunning had been feeling his hamstring for a few minutes. From the ensuing attack, the Town defence combined to keep Accrington at bay and Clements released Bolarinwa, ready to launch a counter-attack. Then the whistle blew and the referee gestured he had been playing an advantage, awarding Accrington a free-kick two yards outside the penalty area, just to our right.

Grimsby put five men in the wall, with Vose behind them, looking back at McKeown to confirm the placement, anxiety on his face. The whistle blew, McCarten ran up and chipped the ball over the wall. McKeown hopped to his right, then stopped. The ball clipped the inside of the post and then hit the net. A thrown, crumpled, plastic bottle landed on the grass just on the line.

The scapegoating began. The lack of a player on the post was a popular culprit, but he'd have to have been a very tall one. When a few moments after, McKeown punched a cross clear, the mutterings went round that he should have caught it.

The six minutes of injury time were breathless. There were a couple of scrambles in the Town box but we were always favourites to get bodies in the way of any shots. Edwards, the Accrington sub picked his way around two players on our left before shooting off-balance, wildly above goal. At the other end, Asante advanced on goal, using Bolarinwa's run as a dummy before shooting and drawing a good save from Chapman, who gathered in the rebound before Bolarinwa could get to it.

Either side might have won it. Neither side would have deserved it. Town had the better players but they still don't quite know what they are doing. Accrington, within their limitations, know exactly what they are about.