The day of the adder

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

18 December 2021

Stockport County 4 Grimsby Town 0

It was a fine day for a game of football, crisp and clear, the old pull cutting through Covid and Christmas shopping and whatever quibbles you have about a cup we have qualified for on demerit. But it is the bright day that brings forth the adder. The feeling lasted about five minutes after kick-off, if even that long. 

The teams ran out in a basic Subbuteo starter set, Stockport all in blue and Grimsby in red, in a 3-4-1-2: Crocombe; Longe-King, Towler, Crookes; Sears, Hunt, Fox, Revan; Scannell; Bell and John-Lewis. Only four subs survived a plague of injuries, suspensions and positive Covid tests: McKeown, Grant, Wright and Braithwaite. There was no need to have been a spy in the Town hotel to suspect that fielding a team might prove the summit of our achievement. In the moral kudos cup, we knocked Chesterfield for six. In the FA Trophy, we'd be hit for four.

First half

From the start, County found spaces where Town players weren't. We chased for the ball after it had arrived; a Stockport player was there already. They won a corner and a free header, over the bar. Crocombe wagged his finger at the defence. They tipped and tapped to close range and tee-ed up a player running onto the ball six yards out but Crocombe blocked his shot with his legs.

There were three isolated flickers of the faintest hope. 1. Longe-King brought the ball out of defence and arced a long pass to the right. Sears took it and passed inside when he might have shot. It was intercepted for a corner, which Hunt underhit.

Only the worst defeatist gives up when the scores are still level, but already Town looked like a beaten side. And then they were: Crocombe rolled the ball to Hunt, on the edge of the penalty area. His first touch was loose, he was brushed off the ball and Collar checked past one one man before shooting into the net. Not so much a goal as a ritual suicide.

2. At some point, in a game played almost exclusively in the Grimsby half, Scannell got the ball wide on the left, cut past his man and passed. Someone should have erected a blue plaque to commemorate the moment Town put three passes together within 40 yards of the Stockport goal. The move ended in a blocked shot.

Once again Stockport tripped their way through the Town penalty area. Madden dragged the ball across goal but the trailing leg of Crocombe averted a score. Then Sears cleared a ball which was trickling towards the line. Still only 1-0. Maybe, just maybe, as they used to promote the 14 million to one shot of the National Lottery. Then once again County found themselves yards from goal, the chance to clear was lost and a pass to the unmarked Croasdale gave him an unmissable chance.

They played a minute of injury time. It was far too long: if it had been chess we'd have knocked down the king and shaken hands on a defeat.

Second half

3. Town came out early from their half time talk: perhaps Hurst and Doig were just sick of the sight of them, or perhaps they fired them up with redemptive zeal. Revan won some challenges in the Stockport half. There was a wayward, way-wide header and two corners, both underhit by Hunt. There was a time his dead-ball deliveries were the seventh wonder of the National League. Deeply unfunny what draining confidence does to a man. And that was the last we saw of hope.

It had not been any Town player's kind of match but more than anyone it had not been John-Lewis's: he, like Bell and Scannell had been living off opportunities as nutritious as foraged gnats, beaten in the air, beaten on the ground. Then he won a header and burst down the middle. The ball bounced and reared and in trying to regather control he half rose and the ball struck his shoulder. The ref gestured for what everyone thought was a slightly harsh handball to a sigh of disappointment from the Town fans but otherwise to indifference, Stockport preparing to take the kick quickly. Then the referee waved a red card at Lennie. There was much head clutching, much theatrical bewilderment. We are so used to footballers faking astonishment we've run out of reactions for decisions which genuinely make no sense. Un-Lennie like, he left the pitch and ran straight down the tunnel. Perhaps the ref had been fazed by a 20-man argy bargy after a Towler foul a few minutes before, a moment out of all context to the afternoon, like a game of ice hockey breaking out in the middle of some sedate crown green bowls.

Not long later an unmarked Palmer powered a close-range header past Crocombe and then from another corner Collar, also unmarked, thrashed a rebound from just inside the area into the bottom corner of the net.

The game over, we had the most meagre of silver linings. Bell had run around a lot and was replaced by Grant, who became the focal point the attack had never known. He fed a couple of lungy runs from Revan which came to nothing more interesting than an optimistic cross. Scannell had played well enough to be the Town player least likely to urge the tapes of this game be stored in a locked lead vault. He was replaced by Wright, who beat a man once and won a couple of deflection headers that at least Grant had half a hope of latching onto. To Wright fell the honour of Town's shot on target, a mishit and underpowered effort from the edge of the area.

The rest was silence. The full-time whistle, a wary exchange of applause, only Wright getting in hailing distance although gallows humour had long since overwhelmed the single boo mustered at half-time. Then we all left, the stewards all wishing us a happy christmas, the players to record another half dozen positive Covid tests no doubt. It was a fine day for a game of football, but this was no meaningful match at all.