The long, lingering death of hope: Fleetwood (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

19 February 2011

Fleetwood Town 3 Grimsby Town 0

Five minutes: the announcement of injury time only protracted events from which all hope, for some 300 Grimsby supporters, had been extinguished.

For the last quarter of an hour, Fleetwood had been reading the intentions of the Grimsby side better than Grimsby did themselves, picking up passes from out of defence while the intended recipients stood or even ran away from the ball, found the open spaces in our corners of the pitch and advanced on an almost unprotected goal. Shots soared over the bar as Fleetwood, in all but their finishing, gave an object lesson in exploiting a man advantage. Grimsby, as a team, had disintegrated; we were watching nine individuals in the same clothes.

Any fond hope of a dramatic turnaround faded as a free kick taken by Peacock just inside the Fleetwood half came to nothing, and the team in the old-fashioned-looking Arsenal kit advanced once more. A pass to Keigan Parker on the left found him unmarked and in space. Peter Bore's understanding of effective positioning had been questionable when he'd been a right-back, but now, as a wing-back in a vague 3-4-2 formation he was nowhere to be seen. Too late, Peacock spotted the danger; if Peacock is 20 yards from a point of danger, he needs a lot of notice to react in timely fashion, nowadays. He darted towards Parker, but Parker had ample time to take a touch and send a shot soaring above and across Arthur to dip home at the far post.

"Another magnificent goal at Highbury," the tannoy pronounced. It made no difference to anything but to send the home support home even happier.

Once this game had felt unmissable. Now, for us, it was almost unwatchable, the ambitions invested in it killed slowly but inexorably.

First there was the tedium of the first half. Fleetwood were a bit sharper to begin, and only a couple of Kempson blocks kept them at bay. One fell to Antony Barry, whose shot from outside the penalty area curved just high and wide to the left of the Grimsby goal. Fitfully, we got Makofo and Coulson into the game. Coulson wriggled free of a challenge or two to set up Connell, but his shot was comfortably saved. Good work between Makofo and Duffy again set up Connell, who juggled the space to chip scarcely wide of Fleetwood's right post.

Before that, the sight of a flock of starlings, unfurling themselves from a V into a W, into a loosely knotted strand and finally into the shape of a bow as they travelled from right to left above and well beyond beyond the Fleetwood goal, eclipsed the Mariners' first serious attack. Neither side were hoofing carelessly, but neither was any player on either side showing much inclination to dwell on the ball and make things happen.

Then, the modified hopes of a goalless first half were taken off us. Three minutes from half time, Jamie Mullan picked up a half cleared ball on our left on the edge of the penalty area. Play stopped, as Mullan stood, taunting and trying to tease Ridley into making a challenge, and Ridley watched. No Town player moved to help Ridley, or to stand in the way of the ball that Mullan finally threaded gently past Ridley into the six-yard box. It dragged against Magno Vieira's heel and rolled slowly into the inside of the side netting.

Perhaps, in the parlance of the professionally neutral, it was a goal the game needed. For the first quarter-hour of the second half, we edged midfield and showed signs of maintaining pressure around the Fleetwood goal. Connell, his default tactic of trying to hook the ball over his shoulder and turn to goal having failed, showed persistence to win the ball back and feed Bore on the right wing. His cross was perfect. It found Coulson unmarked on the six-yard line, scraped off his forehead and bounced well wide.

The miss did not dishearten us, but we were never to get a clearer chance. Connell was one moment the intelligent fulcrum of our efforts, the next an unwitting obstacle, hopelessly miscontrolling a good Duffy pass, the ball bouncing off his shins for a goal kick when he had a clear run on goal. It wasn't a great spell. The Fleetwood goalkeeper scarcely had a save to make, and even when we were on top, some dopeyness in the Grimsby defence allowed Vieira time and space to shape a shot onto the Mariners' crossbar, but it held the likelihood of a grandstand finish and some moments that would live in the mind.

Then the game started to die for us, almost when we weren't looking, the ball far from any danger area, as Cummins and Gareth Seddon collided in a tackle. Our eyes followed the ball, which had run towards the Town goal and a Fleetwood foot, so it was almost a relief to hear the referee's whistle. Then the moment replayed itself in our minds; Cummins, lunging, two-footed, the reckless challenge of a midfielder too high on adrenaline, chasing a game we were losing. The referee was holding the red card high even as he walked towards the scene of the incident.

For a few more minutes, we could carry on hoping. The surging Serge Makofo, good and bad, had done more than anyone to enliven proceedings in the first half. Surging back to effortlessly outstrip the Fleetwood right winger and put an end to a threatening attack, but then tripping over his own feet to concede a corner. Surging past his opposing full-back, who was complacently jogging after a ball running out of play, pulling the ball back, turning and advancing on goal, but ignoring the unmarked Duffy to see his shot from a tight angle blocked and bounce to safety.

Now Makofo had one last surge, bringing the ball clear from a tangle of close passing and tackling in Fleetwood's right corner of the pitch, striding across the face of the penalty area, beating one man and drawing a foul from a second. Before the free kick was taken, he was replaced by Peacock, whose free kick fell to Coulson close to the touchline on our left, his cross spinning across goal, seeming to clip the face of the post before it ran out of play for a goal kick.

Then, finally, Town lost all cohesion in a series of substitutions - Watt for Hudson, Leary for Ridley - which left the Mariners shapeless. The puncher's chance we still had at a goal down was finally removed when a cross from Fleetwood's right found Jamie Milligan unmarked on the edge of the penalty area. Kempson flung himself to parry the shot, and the rebound looped up temptingly for Arthur to chase after it, but Seddon was there first, firing home on the half volley from a few yards out.

After that, the only hope left was that Fleetwood would not inflict too much damage on our goal difference.

And somewhere, in the gradual dwindling of the hopes invested in the match, the question, "Why had this seemed like a game I was not prepared to miss?" Fleetwood supporters must have enjoyed the last quarter of an hour. Grimsby supporters never could: each diminishing promise of possible fulfilment dashed away. Easy to say it was not worth coming... but if it had been? One day it will be worth coming, and in part it will be worthwhile precisely because, as well as being there, one ideal day in the future, we were here, now. Today, we were rubbish, and it was not worth the time and money. But if we had known we were going to be great, it would not have been worth the time and money either. That's sport. That's Grimsby. Find another way to spend your Saturday afternoons if you can't stand it.