Butter before guns: Rotherham (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

23 January 2010

Some things are best "enjoyed" vicariously.

In any case, If you followed the action via the vidiprinter or texts, your view was not so much worse than if you'd stumped up the £18 to get in. Home and away supporters were herded into one side of the ground: the only covered stand, separated from the green, boggy looking pitch by a running track and looking across at empty seating on three sides of the ground. Imagine perhaps a German amateur game, without the sophisticated football and with the joyless January weather, and you have Rotherham versus Grimsby at the Don Valley Stadium.

First half
Town began in a familiar 4-4-2: Colgan; Bore, Atkinson, Linwood, Widdowson; Jarman, Leary, Sweeney, Coulson; Akpa Akpro and Chambers. You want a description of Chambers? Difficult, with Town kicking away from us in the first half; from my vantage point, he looked small and lithe, but mainly blurred. On a firmer pitch, he might get to be quick as well.

The match quickly fell into a pattern. Town would take possession, pass accurately if laboriously, work the ball into areas from which there was the possibility of danger, then thwack in a poor cross, or try and thread a ball to a tightly marked striker. We might win the clearances, but the space between forwards and midfield was too great for the danger to be sustained - it was always back to square one. Rotherham meanwhile had players all over the field who were committed to a simple, risk free game: get the ball forward and wide quickly, and somehow, whenever they were in our third of the field, they looked dangerous.

Just once, five minutes in, they gave something away. Their goalkeeper, the grey haired Warrington, miskicked a clearance straight at Jarman. He took one touch then, slightly off balance, shot straight back at the keeper, chest high, the simplest of saves.

We returned the favour after eight minutes, trying to pass the ball out of defence, only for the ball to bounce off Leary's heel. Two passes, and Le Fondre was free in the penalty area and slipping the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal, like a player who expects chances and expects to score.

Disappointing, but Town were due a goal; we could still take a point. We took control. Bore, an awful header back into our penalty area aside, was accomplished, Macca-like, bringing a fast, knee high cross under control with one touch, facing his own goal, turning to clear with his next; then steering his man and the play away from goal, averting all danger. Sweeney fed Coulson who slid the ball into the penalty area for Chambers to run onto. Warrington blocked Chambers' shot, from just left of goal with his legs. The corner was half cleared for Atkinson to snap a volley on the turn, just too high and wide for the effort to be described as unlucky.

For those ten minutes, we looked good for a goal. The support got behind the team after a fashion. From our distance and with only a high, shallow roof to keep the noise in, I don't support it made a difference on the pitch, and as many of the chants concerned Peter Sutcliffe, it might be just as well, but it was support, and it was more like an atmosphere than anything the home crowd, excited only when appealing for fouls, were likely to drum up.

Then Rotherham found a loose thread in the Town side, and began to work at it. Widdowson had contributed one tenacious run down the very edge of the left touch line, but he looked like a player who had not seen action for some months. He allowed a cross field pass to go by, perhaps assuming it would run out for a Town throw, but then failed also to close down the Rotherham winger.

They started finding space on our left, and won a series of corners. From the third after 37 minutes, a Rotherham player rose on the edge of the six yard box and headed downwards. Colgan dived to scoop the ball off the line but Le Fondre rammed the rebound high into the square goal net from two yards out. Rotherham players, Town players and officials all stood still for a few moments, as though silently debating whether to agree the result there and then and save everyone the tedium of an hour of ineffectual craft towards an end now known by all.

Until half time, the match went through the motions.

Second half
Town changed formation for the second half, with Coulson playing down the middle, but the pattern stayed the same: plenty of Town possession, almost turning into chances, and frequent Rotherham breaks that almost turned into goals.

Coulson and Akpa Akpro won corners through sheer determination, but we never looked like scoring from a set piece. Jarman and Coulson both had runs from half way to the edge of the penalty area; one ended with a half hearted shout for a penalty; the other with a shot, well wide, from Leary, 25 yards out.

At one point we started "ole"-ing Town passes, and indeed it would have been a thing of some beauty had we only been two goals up; the passage of play ended with Bore surging to just outside the Rotherham penalty area before he tumbled, apparently under a fair challenge. At times the overall play deteriorated to the laughable, no player capable of finding another, but it was usually Town who pulled themselves together, got their passes going, moved forward, and maybe won a thrown in.

A third goal would have flattered Rotherham, but it looked much more likely than us pulling one back. Early in the second half, the broad, bald Ellison skipped round Atkinson with some ease but no-one was on hand to take advantage of his cross. Le Fondre might twice have scored a third, first advancing into the Town area only to hook the ball just wide of the right post and then producing a fine looking save from Colgan, diving and stretching to push away a head high shot to his left. He was luckier towards the end when he fumbled a low cross, only for the rebound to be bundled wide.

Akpa Akpro had been one of Town's more impressive performers, bustling away, holding the ball up, making possibilities out of nothings, yet bizarrely a section of the Town support started chanting for his replacement. Chambers, non-existent in the second half had already been replaced by Proudlock, and with a quarter of the match remaining, Fletcher replaced Akpa Akpro to ambiguous applause: a minority welcoming the substitution, another minority making a point of applauding the player's efforts.

The pattern of the game changed; Town were now finding it harder to retain possession, but looked a shade sharper when they did. A long range shot found the goal but play had been stopped, Proudlock forced a save from Warrington and Fletcher was fouled on the corner of the penalty area.

A minute and a half into the three minutes of injury time, Proudlock took possession in the centre of the Rotherham half. He turned and played a ball along the ground for Fletcher to run onto near the right corner of the penalty area. His shot seemed underhit but ran along the ground beyond Warrington's reach, coming to rest just inside the net on the far side of the goal.

Too late, a waste of a goal... but a high clearance looped towards the Rotherham area, and Fletcher chased it. It bounced badly for him, a Rotherham defender half cleared, and there was no Town player far enough forward to get onto the loose ball and maintain the threat.

Rotherham worked the ball to our corner flag and the referee finally pronounced the game dead.