Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
24 February 2004
Grimsby Town 3 Luton Town 2
A chill winter's evening in Sleepy Hollow, with around 150 Lutonites clumped in little clusters down Harrington Street Way. Clumps of Lutonite: doesn't that kill Superman? O Simon Ford had better beware then.
The pre-match warm-up was devoid of anything. There was a hint of humanity in the Town stands. Oh look, I can see a supporter next to those three stewards. It was like being in the first division again; well, at Wimbledon anyway. Perhaps Town should have taken a leaf out of their book and not turned the floodlights on until 10 minutes before the kick off? The Mighty Mariner didn't seem enthused enough to gyrate around goalposts or whip up the crowd into a frenzied frenzy of frenziness, which is surely its raison d'etre. Terminal ennui shrinkwrapped itself over Blundell Park. Didn't anyone want to be there?
The Town players jogged lightly, passed the ball around gingerly and generally looked a little bored. Who's under the hat? That must be Armstrong, as he's got Pouton's shorts on. That's Soames, 'cos he's 3 foot 4 inches tall and 3 foot 3 inches wide. So that must be Stacy, Rodger's trusty lunging lurcher, the Harry Hill of association football.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, Ford, Crane, Armstrong, Barnard, Campbell, Daws, Coldicott, Anderson, Rankin and Mansaram. The substitutes were Jevons, Young, Soames, Parker and Thorpe. Ford was again the nominal right-back with Campbell starting at right midfield. Armstrong is sturdy with ginger hair, like a Geordie Willems. His arrival was greeted with apathy.
As were the teams as they sneaked on to the pitch, a few minutes late, probably on police advice to let the hordes of screaming abdabs get to their seats. For those who care about such things, Luton played in a fading-towards-salmon orange shirt. They also wore shorts and socks, again on police advice after due diligence and risk assessments. Molten Fireguard was in goal (remember him as an occasional benchsitter in the Lawrence era?), but Alan Neilson was a substitute (remember him as an occasional bedwetter in the dog days of the Lawrence era?). Brill and Okai weren't in their team - lucky for us, eh?
Luton kicked off towards the Pontoon with two hulks up front, bulkboy Steve Howard and Enoch Showmethemoney. Within a minute Town had imploded. Holes, hesitancy, a real horror show like. Into the centre, on the edge of the penalty area, Showumni chested the ball down as Armstrong stumbled across and then fell. Hand in mouth, if not glove, as Armstrong scrambled along the floor whirling his legs around in a desperate attempt to hack the ball away. He just managed to chest the ball, then toe-poke it sideways across Davison as players converged. Davison just managed to drumble it away to his right.
The two Luton lumps were rocking and rolling around at will, especially around Crane, though fortunately Daws and Coldicott were around to smother danger through sheer weight. And numbers. Away with danger, for Town attacked, with Rankin a busy little bee, chasing down channel balls, almost breaking through on goal after a couple of flicks from Anderson and Daws. The ball was whipped off Rankin's chest, about eight yards out, as he waited for it to drop.
A corner, on the Town left, taken by Barnard. Routine number one came out of the bag. Clipped back to Anderson, 25 yards out on the centre left, who rammed a terrific first-time shot a foot or so wide of the keeper's right post.
Excuse me while I watch the driblets of sleet for a while.
Ah, there we are, something's happening here. As usual Town were defending dreadfully. Just what are they doing? Where are they? Who are they? Why are they? Is that fair? Not to Barnard or Armstrong it isn't, especially Armstrong, who was by far the best Town player in the first half. He tackles! He passes! He tries!
As for the "other two", I am still shuddering at the very thought of them and the ball being in perfect disharmony. Ford was Ford: dilatory, languid, calm, spaced out, man. Crane was incapable of jumping, heading, tackling, moving. Armstrong spent a lot of time covering for the wayward blubbering blabberboy.
I am just avoiding the parting of the Red Sea that set up Luton's first chance, from which they should have scored. Like a particularly well cooked parsnip, Town just melted away down the centre. There was nothing there; the defence zig-zagged across the pitch, creating a huge space 40 yards out into which a Luton midfielder strode.
Onwards he ran, back came the cavalry, and he rolled the ball out to their left, where some little bloke (who was probably Robinson) sneaked in behind where Ford would have been if he'd been McDermott. Robinson took the ball on and from about a dozen yards out and wide of goal he thwacked a shot at shoulder height, which Davison parried aside for a corner. The corner wasn't so much dealt with as accidented away.
I can't keep away from it any longer. After 19 minutes, in other words the usual length of time it takes for Town to crumple, Town crumpled. Head tennis down the Luton right, Armstrong beaten, the ball flicked on, another flick and Nicholls sent free behind Barnard. He looked up and saw whole sheets of orange spread out before him inside the penalty area. Nicholls passed to Howard, near the penalty spot and totally unmarked, who leathered a shot via Ford's shins and Davison's knees into the bottom left corner.
Cue the remnants of the disaffected venting as much of their spleen as they had left in the direction of the directors' box. Even the fury was lacking in passion, being just a Pavlovian response. Someone tutted, another curled a lip, others sought solace in their Mars bars.
The rest of the half was abysmal, in all respects. Luton should have scored more, Town may even have had shots that almost went close to being near to approaching a goal. Not the one that Morten Harket was standing in, mind, but the ones down Sussex Rec.
Sometime, in the great splodge of nothingness that sandwiched the goal and half time, Howard had another shot well saved by Davison. Roaming the savannah, the wildebeest Howard trundled past Crane as Nicholls, on the edge of the area, tipped the ball between Barnard and Armstrong. Drifting to the left of goal, from a narrow angle, Howard blatted the ball at the ailing Aidan from perhaps six yards out.
Just before half time Town were in a pickling tizz when Crane and Davison stood and stared at each other as the ball bloppity-blopped into the area, down the centre. Harry left it to Sally, Sally left it to Harry and then the vicar arrived in the form of Enoch Longlegs. Panic, collisions, flapping, arguing, another fine mess, Olly, with Ford finally making a fantastic last-ditch tackle to whip the ball away from Showumni, totally and utterly unmarked around the penalty spot. The build-up had seen Town shredded, a huge gaping hole down the centre into which Nicholls caressed the ball.
Town did have efforts, you know. No, really, they did.
Let me delve into the very back of the echoing cave that contains memories of sweet, sweet Town moments. Ah, yes, I remember: a hazelnut in every bite! No, that's something else. Coldicott hit a shot way over the bar from the left edge of the penalty area. Hardly worth mentioning, was it? Later, he surged to the left bye-line, racing on to a flick and trick by Rankin, and slammed a low shot towards the near post, which Hyldgaard plopped onto without much fuss.
Anything else? Jevons blasted a free kick way, way over the bar from about 25 yards. Jevons? What? Oh yes, he replaced the limping Anderson after 22 minutes in a straight swap, which pleased the Jevonista fan club. And finally, Cyril, towards the end of the half, a Town player crossed from the right; Jevons, at the far post, headed firmly down in to the six-yard box; and a defender wellied clear. Mansaram was motionless, watching events from a yard or two away.
That's the first half, filleted for bones, wiped down with disinfectant to save you from disease. Awful. Lacking any creativity going forward, lacking gumption in defence. Daws and Coldicott were forced to run around like madmen to try and plug the gaps. Campbell was again invisible, hiding in the middle of the muddle, leaving Ford to stew in his own juices. Crane seems to be getting worse, regressing to the point where he physically shrinks during a game. And it must be reported, with great sadness, that Darren Mansaram failed in his trial for the Tap and Spile Sunday Second XI. He just got in the way and Town would have been better off with 10 men.
But at least Armstrong looked any good, passing to people in the same coloured shirts. What has it come to - adequacy lauded as excellence. Is this the nadir? Or just the next nadir?
The team was booed off by those few who scoured their intestines and found the last dregs of interest. Losing to a limited Luton, Town lying in the wreckage, the ambulance approaching. Is it too late?
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Why is it that only goalkeepers are rent boys and not right-backs?"
"I see the Burberry apes are back."
"I could have been listening to my Dad sing about trawlers instead of watching this."
"One day Jevons will score with his backside."
"She used to sit with the boy who had his ear in the radiator."
No changes were made by either team at half time.
And off with an oomph. Within a minute Town nearly, then should, have scored. A corner from the left, half cleared to Campbell in the centre on the edge of the area. The ball dropped, Campbell took a step back and thwacked a drive through a big bundle of players. Hilda saw the ball late and took off to his right, brilliantly parrying it out towards Mansaram. Gangling, dawdling, otherworldly, Dazzler was starstruck, perhaps transfixed by fear, as the ball bounded twice straight to him. He didn't move a muscle until the ball was almost at his feet, then his nose twitched as he bemoaned his ill-fortune: those pesky Lutonites wouldn't let him score from just six yards out.
Luton went down the other end and sort of nearly got close to Davison, enough to get their own supporters up off their cold backsides. But what's this? Barnard taking the goal kicks? Davison hobbling around his area, immobile, a duck waiting to be shot. Gulp. It's going to be a long half.
How curious. Town were all over Luton, hassling, harrying, snarling at every little orangina. Daws and Coldicott clamped the middle of the pitch; Luton pressed back and back and back. Rankin sprinting in bursts, causing minor peril, major mayhem. Luton passing the ball out of play, or directly to Town players. And Mansaram.
Get up on your feet! Rankin sent down the middle by Jevons, barging past two defenders. Into the area, in the centre, his foot pulled back and... a marvellous tackle by Coyne, whisking the ball away as a goal was imminent. Rankin again, nearly, almost, getting closer, closer. Luton began to twang.
More, more, more, how do we like it? Town tightened the noose, a clearance, back to Armstrong near the halfway line. He chested the ball down, fending off Showumni, looked up and hit an exquisite pass over to Jevons on the left wing. The ball drifted over the full-back onto Jevons' big toe, near the corner of the penalty area. The Phil-o-philes cooed as he lifted the ball over the defender, sending him out to Ramsdens to collect some cream buns. Jevons drifted into the area, across the area, wrong-footing a further defender, before neatly curling the ball into the bottom left corner. A stunning goal that sat embarrassingly in the footballing quicksand that is Division Two.
Still Town surged on, and on, the passion that was missing in the first half arriving at last, Coldicott dumping Showumni down the players' tunnel, Daws chasing, chasing, chasing the ball, hounding the persecuted hat-people. Rankin, again, muscular, magnificent, bursting past and through, into the area, across the area, drifting to the right and zooming a shot to the near post from about eight yards out. The ball ballooned off Hyldgaard's shins and out for a throw-in under the police box. To Luton! The ball must have brushed Rankin's ego on the way out.
Have Luton had an attack? Oh, yes. No idea who it was, so far, far in the distance, but he drifted around a couple of Town 'tackles' on the centre and right before rolling infield and curling a shot a foot or so wide. It may have been close, it may not. It didn't go in, that's a fact, Jack.
It didn't bother Town too unduly. Back they came, with another breakaway sending Rankin fizzing through, collecting defenders like green shield stamps. Off to the right he went, round and round in circles, grinding to halt under the police box as Mansaram became involved. The ball was played back to Daws, who tippled the ball forward to Ranking, just outside the area.
Rankin turned and realised there was a massive space into which he could run. So he did, hurtling into the area with several defenders converging. The ball dribbled away so Rankin decided to have a little lie down, to rest after his exertions. Penalty! Wahey! I suppose Rankin is only a loanee, so he doesn't count as a Town player. That's why we got it!
Who would take it? Barnard? No. Rosemary the telephone operator? No... he's stepping out, he's Phil Jevons. The referee took an age to sort out some non-existent encroaching, standing in Jevons' way. Up he strolled and Jevons rolled the ball into the very right of the goal, as Greenock Morten plunged to the right. Twenty minutes left, plenty of time to throw a collective wobbler.
With this, Town decided to put their feet up a bit, the switch was turned off and Luton began to get the ball, began to pass it, began to threaten. Uuuurgh. Two men free inside the area as Enoch rumbled his way down the left. Thanks, lad, for shooting straight at Davison. Uuuuuuurrrgghh, again. Two more players totally unmarked in the middle of the area. Phew, crossed into Crane's big bad boots.
Wibble - Showumni wriggled past a couple of challenges and only Crane's sliding manliness hoofed the ball out of the six-yard box. Wobble - Ford dragged across to the centre after a Crane mistake, the ball played out to Robinson, on the edge of the area, unmarked, free as a bird, alone with his thoughts. Here it comes, here comes the fright. Robinson carefully placed a shot three yards wide of Davison's right post. It was far easier to score; in fact, it takes great skill to miss by that much from so close with Hopalong Cassidy in goal.
Rock and roll, Luton camped out on the Town land trying to set their soul free. With Town's defence that's a given. Oooh, a header at the far post, Davison tipping the ball over the bar as it threatened to crawl over his hop, skip and jump. It's coming, it's coming. We knew it, they knew, everybody knew it.
And here it is. With 10 minutes left Town had a throw-in on the right, deep inside their own half. Mansaram and a defender had a bit of a shoving match, the referee had words. Luton very slowly made their final two substitutions, which confused the tannoy announcer, who never did work out who the third man was. The referee appeared to bring the throw-in forward a few yards. It was flung up, headed back by Luton as Howard turned his marker on the right edge of the penalty area, and... thad-dump! Howard hit an instant half-volley which dipped at Davison's feet at the near post and went in off some part of the injured, immobile keeper's body. Down to injury, that one.
I forgot to tell you one vital bit of information here. Coldicott, the awesome pumping powerhouse, was replaced by Soames after 75 minutes. Soames scurried around ineffectively on the right wing as Campbell moved to the centre. Apparently. I think I require video evidence before I am prepared to believe that Campbell played the last 15 minutes in the middle of the pitch. Or even on the pitch. Luton were able to swarm around the Town nest at will; only their own incompetences stopped them scoring. They could be relied upon to make the wrong decision.
And with five minutes left Thorpe replaced the court jester, Mansaram. Deep into the three minutes of added time, Thorpe won two headers and was fouled 25 or so yards out, on the centre left: a perfect position for a right-footed curler. Jevons hovered (for he doesn't merely walk upon turf) while Barnard waddled. Jevons ran over the ball. Barnard curled the free kick into the tantalising space between goalkeeper and defenders. Hilda came off his line. A big bunch of players jumped at him. Bounce, bounce, bounce, and onto his space hopper leapt the startled Ford, who just managed to glance the ball over the goalkeeper and into the top right corner of the goal. Ford soaked up the adoration of his long-standing admirers in the Pontoon; the crowd couldn't stop laughing; and ten seconds later the game ended.
So this is where all that luck went, hiding away ready for us in the last few weeks of the season. A win is a win. Let's look at the package, not the contents, eh? Jevons, the novelty toy, may keep you amused for a few moments, but the goods are stale, almost inedible. The good news was that Daws and Coldicott managed to exert some control for about half an hour before their legs turned to mush.
Rankin, in little bursts, is a handful and Armstrong looked a very assured playmaking defender (well, against Luton, anyway). And of course Jevons applied that little bit of magic needed to blind the evil goblins. But the rest of it was appalling really. What got Town through were good fortune and some determination by over half the team. That wallpaper is still very thin though. You can still see the cracks.
Who'd have thought Pacy Stacy would be Town's talisman, the most important cog in the wheel.
Nicko's man of the match
Jevons gave a little masterclass in conjuring, but overall Craig Armstrong was invaluable at the back. He was surprisingly good.
Markie's un-man of the match
Several contenders: the official missing person that is Stuart Campbell for one; the chuckle brothers, Ford and Crane, for two. But the Donny Dreamer, Darren Mansaram, just couldn't do anything right. How he lasted for 85 minutes is the eighth wonder of the ancient world.
Ah, payback time for the Doncaster disaster. What a penalty decision! Can we have Mr C Boyeson for every home game, for a homester he is. A little pedantic with a strong desire to confuse. He managed to book just one player all night, for kicking the ball away at a throw-in. Most incredibly, the booked player wasn't Tony Crane. He gets a disgracefully high score of 7.863, purely because Town finally got a rubbish decision in our favour.
Two fascinating linesmen: one always gave offside, but never flagged for the ball being out of play. He missed at least three clear dribbles out of play by Town players, infuriating the Bedfordshire battlers. Strange days indeed.