Not drowning but waving

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

1 October 2022

Salford City 1 Grimsby Town 1

Getting there is like a refresher course in A Level Geography, passing through the gradations of urban development: the concrete and chrome of Manchester city centre; the peeling paint and the rusted shutters of the transitional zone; the sterile edge-of-town retail outlets; and finally the stone walls and the trees of an old village now swallowed but not consumed by the spread of the city. And that is where we find the home of Salford City.

They play Dirty old town on the tannoy before the teams come out, but it sounds incongruous. The Peninsula Stadium is the other side of the River Irwell from old Salford, a couple of miles in distance, but another place altogether from anywhere Ewan MacColl had in mind.

If money was no object and you had the inclination to build your own Football League presence, wouldn't you want to do it with a bit of glamour, a bit of imagination, to try something different? Not apparently if you have invested in Salford City. It's as though they want to hide their celebrity in Gradgrindian functionality. They have built an identikit stadium - four stands of equal height, accommodating six rows of red plastic seats on the sides, terraces at the end - and an identikit team who come out in the standard red from your starter- pack Subbuteo set. The song they are really living is Common people.

First half

We kicked off by banging the ball straight out for a goal kick. They broke down our left and a cross was deflected over the goal for a corner. It was taken to the near post, no Town player moved and Vassell headed the ball down into the ground and up into the net. The Mariners had given the definitive demonstration of how not to start a football match.

Then it began to dawn on us that actually Salford weren't that good: it was probably the moment a defender failed to cut out an ambitious pass from Alex Hunt and left Harry Clifton free to zoom in on their penalty area. Within a few minutes, they were living off our scraps.

Admittedly there were a lot of scraps. We were playing a 3-5-2 formation, and the safety net of the three central defenders gave everyone the confidence to try and work the ball forward, to make the intricate exchange of passes which if it came off could set up an attack but if it failed gave them possession well inside our own half. The next noteworthy chance fell to Salford when a move of ours broke down: a shot from outside the area, chest high and to Max Crocombe's left which he dived for to fist out for a throw-in. Once a ball fell loose in the penalty area and one of their forwards twisted his leg round and shot over the bar, but generally our back three were able to shepherd them away from anywhere dangerous.

The game's dominant personality was Otis Khan, and another advantage of the formation was that he had plenty of the ball. He's a throw-back of a footballer, short and stocky, and he plays without fear. He can pass, and Town have re-discovered the crossfield pass, none of which the wing-backs Harry Clifton and Anthony Glennon could take advantage of. Khan can also run. He got the ball tight on the touchline, not more than 30 yards out from our goal-line. An impish touch took it past his marker and up to halfway. Then he was in a lung-busting race with a defender a good six inches taller than him. It should have been no contest but the defender was panting and pushing to keep in contention before he finally stopped Khan close to their penalty area. The moment Khan tried to tackle back, the defender tumbled and won a free-kick. If Khan had fallen when he was being barged off his course, the free-kick might have been his, but it did the heart good to see him stay on his feet.

It was mainly Town, but we didn't have much to show for it except a couple of balls into the middle that Aribim Pepple could not untangle his legs for, and a handful of corners, some taken by Glennon, some by Hunt. After 29 minutes, Hunt took one from the left. The ball swerved close in on the far post so that from 120 yards away it looked like he might have scored direct from the corner. Their yellow-clad keeper backpedalled furiously, flapped the ball down and it stuck in the goalmouth. After an aeon of waiting, which was probably half a second, Lewis Richardson got round it and fired an equaliser into the net.

At that point, if any team was going to win, it was us. Khan took a long shot which their goalkeeper touched round the post. There were more corners. But no more goals.

Second half

Town were attacking our end in the second half. It was something to look forward to with relish and within moments we'd worked a move down the right and the neat Gavan Holohan was converging on goal, Pepple gesticulating unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box. Holohan dragged his shot against the goalkeeper's legs and in any case the linesperson had raised his flag.

The game lost some of its colour when Khan was withdrawn for Kieran Green. After an hour of never being quite in the right place Pepple was replaced by Danilo Orsi and immediately our midfield had a more reliable outlet for their efforts. Richardson pulled up clutching his calf. He limped on but when he was unable to change direction to get onto a through ball it was evident his game was over. Brendan Kiernan replaced him in a straight swap.

At the far end Andy Smith especially was a wonder for not just snuffing out Salford attacks but bringing the ball away effectively. The defence were beaten a couple of times but Crocombe was out quickly to shrink the target and their shots bounced off him. The game was ours to win, if we could just find a match-winning moment.

There were three possibles. Clifton broke free on the right and delivered a low cross just beyond the six-yard box. The goalkeeper parried it and the ball landed in a knot of limbs. Kiernan managed to hook it back to Orsi who curved a shot wide of the scrimmage but also wide of the goal. Then we had two shouts for handball, one optimistic, the other more convincing as a defender deflected a header bound for just inside the post with a part of his body which was certainly adjacent to his arm.

How close were we to winning? After four minutes of injury time, when the ref blew for full time, while the Town players went into the routine of handshakes and the exchange of applause, half the Salford side slumped to the pitch, exhausted by the effort of keeping us out. A slightly sharper cutting edge and we'd have done it, but after two defeats it was a heartening point, a heartening display.