Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
21 April 2003
Grimsby Town 0 Walsall 1
A gloriously sunny, warm afternoon. Ideal for promenading past the pier, chip butty in one hand, candy floss in the other. What more could one ask for - an Easter parade? Around 350 or so worried Walsallians took a trip far, far away wishin' and hopin' while the Town fans gathered together for the wake. Dave Boylen was absent, which cheered everyone up, and Livingstone managed to whack the Mighty Mariner behind the ear, which sent several teenagers into paroxysms of delight, to quote their own words, almost. In such gloomy Town times we have to make our own entertainment; perhaps an old piano placed strategically at the back of the Pontoon would do the trick? Can you play Flash please? We need a saviour for our universe.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Santos, Chettle, Gallimore, Campbell, Groves, Hughes, Keane, Livingstone and Boulding. The substitutes were Cooke, Parker, Mansaram, Bolder and Thompson. So the pre-match no-defenders-scare was just that, though some of our defenders scare us, of course. The hair police were delighted that Zigor Aranalde, the shaking frizz, was playing for Walsall.
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon, which instantly lowered the excitement levels. The first five minutes were quite turgid hustle and bustle, with Walsall proving to be an organised team, little hasslers in midfield and two big free-roaming buffalo up front. Town looked a bit messy, with Keane all over the place, seemingly playing as both left and right winger, which was useful given that Campbell had decided to spend the afternoon in the amusement arcades in what was Wonderland. The crowd sporadically cheered on the team with the dying embers of enthusiasm as the flickering flame of first division football fizzled and faded. Most fans used a shorter f' word. Groves had a rather distressing first few minutes: clearly desperate to show leadership, he kept giving the ball away, which brought forth some passionless grizzles.
Walsall managed the first shot on goal, when Leitao wriggled free down their left and wellied a surprising shot into the side netting from a very narrow angle. Surprising to Town fans, anyway, as strikers don't shoot from there, let alone with any power. Strikers fall over their own feet, or slice the ball away for a throw-in.
So far, so negative? Well, Town managed to string a few passes together, now and again, and kept winning corners. Or rather Boulding kept being released behind their right-back and failing to outpace their huge, old fashioned centre-half. Worrying, that, as Boulding seemed to be one of the slowest players on the pitch. At one point, when Keane played a pass behind the right back, Boulding and Gallimore moved towards ball, but Boulding, despite being closer, left it for Galli, who was running quicker. Later on in the half something even more shocking. Livvo outpaced Boulding. Either Livvo has been fitted with angels' wings on his new boots (unlikely) or Boulding is nowhere near adequate fitness. It's the only explanation I can find.
Boulding had a shot (rubbish, a Jevons-like dribbler from just outside the penalty area on the centre left) and won some more corners. Keane kept nicking the ball off Walsall players. Town started to attack. Boulding steered a header wide from about 12 yards out, in the centre, which plopped between goal and the advancing Livvo, a fearsome sight close up. After about 15 minutes Town should have scored. A corner from the left was curled into the near post, Livvo glanced the ball on, Boulding leapt in front of Walker and, from a couple of yards out, headed high over the bar.
And still Town attacked, winning more corners, which produced, well, not much really. Walsall were very dangerous on the break, with their Latin lovers up front causing Chettle and Santos great difficulties. Junior and Leitao were hard-running, bustling, aggressive strikers with some ball skills. Town's biggest defensive worry was Coyne, who started to flap at crosses, particularly from the right. He dropped the ball underneath the crossbar almost onto Junior's big right toe, but fortunately a couple of defenders dived across and blocked the shot. Towards the end of the half Coyne did it again, cringing under a dipping cross; the scene was repeated, though not ad finitum.
Leitao tried his luck on their right, twisting past Gallimore and thwacking a terrific shot from a narrow angle which hit the side netting (a journalistic rippler). There were plenty of panic-inducing moments as their front two barged past Town defenders, but there always seemed to be someone there to remind me why they were actually employed as footballers, even Gallimore, who made a couple of excellent last-ditch tackles deep inside the penalty area.
The game was starting to become relatively flowing and enjoyable, with three-quarter chances at either end. Town started to use the wings, with Campbell, after 24 minutes and 12 seconds, making his only contribution to road safety. The ghost in the Town machine dribbled past two defenders and crossed into the centre of the box. The ball was half cleared, a shot blocked and Gallimore raced forward and slightly topped a shot from about 25 yards. The ball zoomed across the goal and Boulding flicked out with the outside of his right boot, sending the ball arcing over the top and into the middle of the Pontoon. Enough to "ooh" about.
Another Town attack down the right, this time with Hughes skipping free inside the area to cross from the by-line. Walker punched the ball away from Livvo and the ball pinged about before being controlled by Lawrence, with his arm, right on the edge of the penalty area. He passed back to Aranalde, who controlled the ball with his hand before lumping it clear. Ah, handballs - they didn't exist for the referee. I think a player would have had to catch the ball before he'd consider stopping play, which was useful, given that Santos appeared to handle the ball inside the Town area. Junior stopped playing; the Walsall fans jumped up as one; Santos appeared to stop playing; but no penalty was given. And you wouldn't find any Town fan disagreeing with that decision, oh no.
Parts of the Pontoon kept singing for Terry Cooke, every time he ran up the touchline, warming up. It's that messiah complex again, the personification of all gripes and grumbles. Like Barnard, his stock rises with every minute's absence from the pitch. One could almost see Groves' annoyance at the Cookian love calling.
Towards the end of the half, Walsall should have scored. Leitao bundled down the middle and the ball kept bouncing off him, and forward, as Town defenders tackled. Eventually the ball squirmed behind the last man, into a big space behind Gallimore. Junior stepped forward and, from about eight yards out and just wide of goal, lobbed the ball over Coyne. It looped slowly towards goal, and Santos ambled back, stood on the line, controlled the ball with his chest and boomed it upfield with the casualness one associates with style gurus in frock coats and goatees.
The Town fans were beginning to get a little frisky and started to indulge in gallows humour. As the ball dropped 30 yards out someone was heard to shout: "Shoot Gallimore, shoot." It was unclear whether it was an instruction to the wayward waddling left-back or to a sniper on top of the Smiths/Stones/Findus stand. Whatever, as bored teenagers would say. Gallimore sent a woeful shot spinning wildly into the far reaches of the Pontoon. Gallimore spinning wildly, a sight rarely seen in daylight hours.
And that was just about it for the first half. Not bad, not great, but generally all right. Perhaps 1-1 would have been a fair reflection of the balance of play and chances. Livingstone was trying his hardest, but he wasn't able to use his charm on much bigger centre-backs, while Boulding was plainly nowhere near an acceptable level of fitness. Keane was a human dynamo, even managing to pass to team-mates, endearing himself even more to the crowd, for he passed rule one of loanees: "at least look like you're trying". Campbell? Seen once. Far-sighted entrepreneurs are, as you read this, organising specialist safari holidays to search for the great prawn of Corby. Shall we be generous and assume he was injured too? Groves attempted to be as omnipresent as his legs would allow, but they were in very mean mood.
The game had a pitiable inevitability about it, and sort of summed up the season, as rebounds kept going straight to Walsall players and Town just couldn't quite at crucial times.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I bought a black suit for my wedding. I should have worn it today."
"She didn't do pears, but the ratatouille was exquisite."
"Do you get £10 if you spot Chalkie Campbell in the crowd?"
"If you can't tell your Bolders from your Bouldings you must be a professional journalist."
"I don't do perms."
Neither team made any changes at half time and, for those who are interested in such things, the Town players were applauded politely on to the pitch, with a final rousing chant to send them off.
Within two minutes the game was over and relegation confirmed, right in front of the Pontoon, with a goal that was the very epitome of Town's season. Campbell, 30 yards out, right in the centre of the Town half, gave a terrible pass towards Groves. Junior bundled the ball away and charged towards goal. A few collisions, incidents and accidents saw the ball squirm sideways to Leitao, to the left of goal and just inside the area. Three Town defenders tried to block his path, but the ball ricocheted off a hand and onwards towards goal, into the flightpath of the Portuguese pootler. Wide of the goal and about eight yards out, Leitao lashed a shot across Coyne, who parried superbly. The ball trickled across goal into a vacant space behind McDermott. JUNIOR ambled forward and, from six yards out, side-footed the ball into the net off the underside of the crossbar. Walsall celebrated like they thought they were in danger of going down, which only they thought was possible, and the Town crowd fell silent, the players visibly deflating before our very eyes.
There isn't much else to describe. Everyone in the ground knew this was the moment that finally ended the torture. The Pontoon gave a final rendition of "we are Town" before sinking into their seats. Town were quite awful for the remainder of the game. It was painful to watch. Groves again tried to lead from the front, becoming the fulcrum of every Town move. Really only he and McDermott of the old stagers kept going unto the very end, with Keane incapable of standing still. The rest were various degrees of inadequacy, mentally and/or physically. Even Santos was incredibly erratic, mixing stirring surges forward with shrugging when an attacker got past him.
Walsall should have had more goals, for they had several one-on-ones with Coyne. O'Connor missed the easiest. After a Town corner was cleared, Walsall broke quickly down their right, with Town having only McDermott and, nominally, Gallimore back to defend (as the ball was played forward Gallimore ran away from the player he should have been marking). Leitao rolled the ball infield and out to the unmarked O'Connor, eight yards out and level with the far post. Coyne hurtled out of goal and O'Connor tapped the ball against Danny Boy's chest. Leitao was sent free behind the Town defence on the centre right of the area. As Coyne star-jumped at him Leitao tipped the ball over him and three yards wide of goal.
The substitute, Matias, wasted two more easy chances when, in virtually the same position as O'Connor and Leitao, he blasted high, and then wide, when unmarked. All the Walsall chances were on the break, when Town had thrown players forward. In the end Town were playing with just two defenders.
After about 65 minutes, Mansaram replaced Hughes, which got the restless natives a-booing. It looked like Hughes had signalled that he was injured, for he had spent the previous couple of minutes on the left wing, in front of the manager's dug-out. Or perhaps he had tired of the ineffectual thrashings he had allowed himself to be associated with. With Mansaram on, Town reverted to 4-3-3, which didn't improve things. Boulding disappeared completely, and Livvo didn't, unfortunately.
Town did, at some point, have a shot, or rather a double shot, after being awarded a free kick about 25 yards out. Gallimore took an age to adjust his run-up, pick his spot and whack it into the ankles of the second person from the left. The ball rebounded straight to him and he smashed a superb shot that hit the o in the optician's advert at the top of the Osmond Stand. He won a goldfish for that, so at least he didn't leave Blundell Park empty-handed.
At some stage Keane had a shot from the edge of the area which went low and straight to Walker, his first and only save of the afternoon. No-one could be bother to ironically cheer, but then, no-one could be bothered to taunt Walsall's "Grimsby reject" or "Lincoln reject".
But people could be bothered to cheer Terry Cooke, again, and again, and again; and eventually they got their hearts' desire for, with 15 minutes left, on bounded the bouncy right winger. His first pass went straight to a Walsall player. As did his second - but his third didn't, which was a much higher success rate than the man he replaced, Campbell. Why some Town fans booed him being taken off, and chanted "There's only one Stuart Campbell" mystified many of the more sentient among the Pontoon. There's one Stuart Campbell? Where?
Cooke produced two or three decent crosses, which was a waste of everyone's time as none of the three Town strikers had a clue as to what to do when they entered the penalty area. Town did nearly score though - or rather Walsall nearly scored a comedy own goal. A cross from the Town left was glanced goalwards by one of their centre-backs and the ball skipped off the face of the crossbar, back to a defender. No-one even "ooh"-ed at that - just a raised eyebrow and a chuckle or two. Groves marched on, taking three pot shots from the edge of the area, all of which deflected away for corners, and Mansaram finally found time and space to do what he does best, turning and flashing a cross-shot out for a throw-in. So that's why they call him Flash.
With a couple of minutes left Thompson replaced Boulding, and there isn't anything to report after that: no seagulls dive-bombing the referee, nor kittens playfully biting Graham Rodger's ankles. No big ships a-sailing by, interesting cloud formations or amusing tannoy messages. No one fell over in comical fashion. The soufflé had collapsed long ago. The crazy odyssey that was Town's return to the first division ended more in sorrow than anger. Groves went straight down the tunnel, tearing his shirt off and chucking it away, while the rest of the team gathered meekly in the centre circle. The crowd didn't boo, just applauded quietly, and trudged off home.
That's it, literally. Only two more car crashes to go and we're off on another mission to seek out strange new worlds and civilisations. Have you been to Hartlepool? It makes Grimsby look glamorous. To follow the advice of the New Christie Minstrels at the back of the Pontoon, look on the bright side of life.
Nicko's man of the match
Or least worst man of the match. The sole criterion here is who ran around most. Groves and McDermott really, really tried, and even Gallimore was finally joining the attack as an overlapping full-back. Times were desperate, eh? But in recognition of his running a complete marathon during the game, Michael Keane, who was an effective pest to Walsall, though not much more than that.
Whatever his performance, he gets a low score by default, for being rubbish in 1998 against Port Vale. The sins of the past will always catch up with you. Not particularly obtrusive, though he did have a blind spot for handballs. He gets 5.172, as this time I cannot bring myself to give him a better than average score.