Bonfire of Woods' vanities: Altrincham (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

25 September 2010

Altrincham 2 Grimsby Town 2

At twelve minutes to five, Grimsby had a small handful of straws to hold onto. They had come out of a lethargic first half a goal to the good, started playing with greater urgency and overcame the wobble caused by an equaliser against the run of play to once more impose themselves on the opposition. A powerful strike by Connell looked like being enough for three points, and from the moment he scored, Town had grown in poise, keeping possession, keeping Altrincham at a safe distance. They might indeed have increased their lead: a Bradley Wood shot from a rebound was spearing towards the top right corner of the goal until Altrincham goalkeeper James Coates flung himself across goal to divert it over and past the post. Altrincham looked spent.

Two minutes of injury time having been announced, Peter Bore, in possession at right back, assessed his options. Town's most assured looking player for most of the previous 90 minutes, he eschewed the ball up the wing that, even had it conceded possession, would have allowed the Mariners to move the action away from their goal. He attempted an ambitious pass to the centre circle that wrongfooted Connell, conceded possession, and exposed the space down Town's left. Town fell back, allowing the Robins time to move the ball around, and advance, unpressured, on the Grimsby penalty area. Finally, James Smith, with time and space on the left corner of the Town area, crossed to the far corner of the goal area. Shaun Densmore ran unmarked and dived to meet the ball, his head planting it firmly, finally, into the bottom corner of the goal.

One of England's World Cup winners recalls how Alf Ramsay restored their morale and prepared them for extra time after a late equaliser: "You've won this game once. Now win it again". His opposite had whispered in the ears of the Grimsby XI: "You've thrown this game away once. Now throw it away again."

First half
In the early Autumn sunshine, it was not hard to imagine it was a pre-season friendly: no tempo, no pressure, no intensity, passing moves, at half pace, breaking down long before the final third. Hudson and Cummins were anonymous, but Town worked some decent positions, mainly down the right, through Bore, at right back, and Wood, occasionally through Gobern on the left. The crossing was awful. Defensively, Town were comfortable, Kempson and Watt blocking or heading away anything that came close to the Grimsby penalty area. Once, the Town keeper was called into action, a rebound being returned close to the penalty spot, Welch turning to shoot as he was tumbling, the ball a comfortable waist height for O'Donnell.

By then, Grimsby were 1-0 up. Wood won a free kick some 30 yards from the Altrincham goal. Connell's shot was blocked by the wall, but the rebound fell to Gobern on the left. His cross was close to the relatively short Robins' keeper, but his punch under pressure was weak, and Bore, inside the penalty area, slammed the ball high into the net. Celebrations were muted among the Town support, as though a goal here was not worth a fuss, or perhaps because we were waiting to check the goal would stand. A couple of Altrincham players did that flightless bird wing-flapping, foot stamp-striding thing in the general direction of the referee, a gesture that seemed more for the gallery than for any serious dissent.

The game stodged on. Neither side looked like scoring again, but that Grimsby would lose concentration looked inevitable.

Second half
Town came out for the second half two minutes before the Robins and suddenly, briefly, were a constant menace. Wood and Gobern had switched wings and it was working. A couple of one-two down the right produced threatening crosses, Connell heading over from one, and forced some corners. From one, Town almost went two up, Carlton's powerful header spectacularly half parried by Coates, the ball curving and spinning in front of and finally beyond the post. From another Grimsby corner, Altrincham equalised.

Then, Ridley dithered over claiming a half clearance, and allowed Denham and McCarthy to sweep the length of the field. He recovered and defended it well, ushering the forward away from goal, the angle becoming more acute, but Bore allowed Denham to cut inside and ram the ball past O'Donnell into the bottom left corner of the goal. O'Donnell jumped back to his feet to wave an angry arm at Ridley.

For the next ten minutes, Altrincham were buoyant, Town shaky under the first sustained pressure they had endured. The Town support's muted grumbling became... less muted. Corners and crosses came to nothing, the one further moment when Altrincham got the ball in the net coming from offside, or a foul on O'Donnell, or both.

For those ten minutes, a side as weak and ill-managed as our mutterings implied might have lost the game, but Town, despite all, scrambled their way back into ascendency, building back to the intensity with which they had begun the second half. Optimistic first time shots from wide on the left by Wood and Connell grew into a header onto the roof of the goal by Kempson and a shot wide by Hudson, with which he might have done better after being set up by the intelligent and industrious Carlton.

It grew through the replacement of Gobern by Peacock, Grimsby playing in something of a 4-3-3, Connell dropping deeper. And it was from that deeper position that Connell put the seal on Town's revival, picking up a loose ball, his back to goal, 25 yards out, turning, and firing the ball into the top right corner of the goal, Coates helpless.

And how did Town's wonderful support react? I am almost sure that, as Connell shot, I heard someone groan "What the fuck is that?", not the astonished exclamation of someone who has seen something out of the ordinary, but an "I'm long suffering, me" "I pay to watch this shit" moan, and moments after the ball had hit the net, someone was muttering "He's too good for us. He'll be off soon" for as Town have slid down the divisions, we now have some Premier class whiners.

Why did the Mariners not win? The dropping back too deep to defend a one goal lead is the classic sign of a nervous team: we've seen it often enough the last two seasons. Why the nerves? Perhaps because perfectly good bits of play by Town players went uncelebrated, while, after Altrincham's first equaliser, every error was howled down. There is a tendency, when things are going wrong, to make out that if a manager is not infallible, he is worthless. Playing Wood on the wing felt needlessly cautious, yet Neil Woods's introduction of Peacock, and the change in formation ought to have won the game. This was not a great game and not a great performance, but it was not as bad as some moans you may have heard or read suggest.