Going underground

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

10 April 2004

Queen's Park Rangers 3 Grimsby Town 0

A grey, overcast afternoon in the footballing home of the Guardian-eating yoghurt-readers of old London Town with 400 or so Town fans soaking up that sophisticated, swanky aroma of success. Or was it just the hot dog stall? The tannoy squeaked out a selection of bohemian beats, barely audible, barely identifiable. The Hee-Bee-Gee-Bees play Pink Floyd? And lose. Camped-up 'Comfortably Numb' bringing calls for Football Association sanctions for crimes against humanity.

Town warmed up as is now usual, with chaotically heartless games of one-touch shinball, while the gathering groaners tried to work out who was who, and who would play where. Those fortunate southern-based ancient Mariners hadn't a clue, recognising one in three, and no-one winning the weekly prize for correctly placing the individuals in their allotted slots. A bit like Mr and Mrs: the jackpot just keeps on growing. Does that make Law Derek Batey?

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Fettis, Ford, Crane, Edwards, Crowe, Anderson, Armstrong, Lawrence, Jevons, Antoine-Curier and Rowan. The substitutes were Bolder, Warhurst, Hockless, Thorrington and Coldicott. Ah, the same back four as last week, with Edwards and Tubbs Crane still together. But which Simon Ford would turn up? Was it to be the hookah-smokin' caterpillar that was given the call inside his head? Elsewhere, Armstrong for Coldicott brought gasps and incredulous gawps. Or perhaps Law had just given up on today, saving Private Stacy for the big one on Monday?

QPR warmed up down in the distance, the occasional fringe flapping. Padula's Latin loafer straggle mullet and Harper's bizarre scalp-hugging spiky black hat were destined for the substitutes' bench. At least we had Bircham's evil gremlin look in full view. Or perhaps it was a big wig and he's really as bald as a Coldicoot.

But the big question was this: "Who has the biggest backside: Crane or Gallen?" You can phone a premium rate telephone number with your votes, though children should get the permission of their parents first. Now there's Saturday night entertainment: Britain's top 50 footballing backsides, hosted by Jonathan Ross. Another ratings winner.

First half
Rangers kicked off towards the Town fans, passing back, left, right, then upfield down the line for Town to head out for a throw-in. A-ha, you see, that's why they are near the top: they make the opposition knock it out of play within the first 10 seconds. Same outcome, different, more subtle, script.

After a couple of minutes of huffling and scuffling, Crowe underhit a back-pass across the face of goal, forcing Fettis to slap awkwardly downfield as two Rangers hovered menacingly. That was just about the only thing to keep us awake in the first 10 minutes. Men collided with men, Antoine-Curier fell over, Ford and Crowe kept controlling the ball out of play, Rangers kept passing the ball out of play.

Actually, I fib, for Town had an effort on goal - a total and utter shock to everyone inside Loftus Road and totally out of character with the game. Anderson flibbled across the pitch and stroked a perfectly weighted pass over to Jevons on the left, who jinked, shimmied and dinked a loopy cross in to the centre of the penalty area. Rowan managed to outjump a defender and head a bit softly towards goal. Camp Lee, so dapper in powder blue, crumpled and seemed to parry the ball aside from somewhere near his ankles. There was a minor tussly scurry inside the six-yard box and the ball eventually seeped aside and away.

After about 10 minutes Lawrence, who had been a big presence, smashing into Bircham at will, slid to challenge two QPR payers on the halfway line. The second Hoopster missed the ball and made very firm contact with most parts of Lawrence's legs. Even as they slid it looked like one of them was about to get very injured. Unluckily for Town, it was Lawrence who never moved, remaining motionless for three or so minutes and being levered off on a stretcher.

During this long, long pause Coldicott and Bolder were running up and down the touchline, warming up. Law eventually looked toward them and made a gesture unseen by both, as their backs were turned. Lawrence was carted off and still no Town player was ready to come on. Only after the dear departed Jamie was down the tunnel being stitched up did Coldicott rip off his tracksuit. Law displayed little urgency in dealing with the disaster. As Town trundled along with ten men, Furlong curled a low shot from about 20 yards out a few feet wide of Fettis' left post. Hey, why bother - it's not as though Town have anything to play for in the dog days of his dreadful season.

Coldicott's first touch was to rip off the right leg of Bircham in a fantastic swooping, lunging chunky challenge. He's back and he hasn't been fed for days.

On the quarter-hour Rowan was sliced in two when Edghill raced up and thwacked him in the gullivers. After a couple of minutes of treatment Rowan continued with a falsetto limp. And a few minutes later Anderson was decapitated by Bircham. The ball bounced and Anderson leapt up to head the ball, meeting a local boot on its way down. Got the drift yet? It was a big fight between two teams who had forgotten what to do with that round plastic thing that was thrown into the ring by the weirdo in green. More on him after the commercial break.

The mind drifts in such times, and the Town fans became fascinated by the QPR substitutes, especially Thorpe, who kept walking on the pitch. And by the perambulating pigeon, who was being chased down the touchline by Thorpe. Like Dick Dastardly, he didn't catch the pigeon. Up in the stands the sombrero man was back, this time wearing a felt half football, half table mat and waggling a Billy the Bass at the Town fans. He'd invented a thingamabob, but he should still lose his job as resident funnyman. You have to feel pity for someone who spends so much time and effort setting up a crazy comedy moment. For us to laugh at, not with. And his little trumpet barped rather than blared, like a cheap Christmas hooter.

Furlong, on bended knee, pleaded with the linesman for a free kick but was dismissed with a finger to the lips and a slow wafting of hand from side to side, like he thought Furlong ponged mightily. It was the best decision by that linesman all afternoon. He was terrible, Muriel.

Back to the pitch, 22 minutes gone, Town attack. Town had a corner on the right, which was lofted beyond the far post. Anderson caught a breeze and rose, rose, rose above all to head firmly into the ground. Camp Lee flapped the ball away from underneath the crossbar in a surprising "ooh" moment. Crane kneed the corner away from the QPR goal, earning Town a throw-in 30 yards out.

Confused? You should be. A few minutes later Crane fell asleep and allowed Furlong to drift free 20 yards out right in the centre as QPR prodded about on their left. Gallen rolled the ball into Furlong, who turned and was forced to veer away from goal as Edwards dropped down a gear, effortlessly gliding across, overtaking those caravaners on their way to Mablethorpe. Furlong took two touches and hooked a shot through Edwards' legs, the ball bouncing twice as it missed the left post by seven and a half inches.

Settle down, you can snooze for another five minutes.

Oi, wake up! Town are attacking. Just like old times, whatever they are. Last week? Last month? November? Anderson, on the right, probed and crossed. QPR half cleared but Coldicott used his personality and charm to persuade the Rangers defenders to return his property. They did. He passed the parcel to Antoine-Curier, who played a little chanson d'amour on his accordion before flicking the ball infield to Jevons, who hit a terrific first-time shot, which stripped away a few hairs from Camp Lee's head as it missed the angle of post and bar by a few centimetres.

Where do we go from here? Nowhere. It wasn't a fantastic day. Town didn't do anything worth mentioning after this.

As the game meandered towards half time the homeboys began to press Town back. Ainsworth began to work off those extra pounds. Furlong was a right pest and managed to shoot on target, twisting and hooking a shot straight at Fettis from around the penalty spot after some flicks and tricks by Ainsworth and Gallen. But to all the world except Town fans, it looked like a stone bonker 0-0. Both sides were degrees of poor, by their own standards, if it be possible to define a Town standard this year. Gallen was booked for diving over Ford and Coldicott, looking for a penalty. He was probably booked for stupidity: not only was he way outside the box but he would have been free in a very dangerous position.

Crowe tried to break the tedium with a comic cut, chesting a long cross back, not to Fettis, as he believed, but right into the path of Furlong, eight yards out. Crowe turned on the turbo boost and rescued himself from ignominy. Something to do, I suppose. Crosses looped through the area, unimpeded by hooped heads. Cureton managed to thigh one wide and high, but apart from that Rangers bodies were absent from the penalty area. QPR fans amused themselves with ref-taunting, baying at his correct decisions and laughing at the compensating rubbishness that followed.

With about three minutes left to half time - ignoring the three hours of additional time required for all the injuries - Crowe challenged Ainsworth way out on the left, about 35 yards out. The ref and linesman managed to persuade themselves that this was a foul, the foul play being, presumably, that Crowe had volleyed the ball clear without touching Ainsworth. As the players prepared the inevitable lump into the box, Ainsworth flung out his left arm, bashing Jevons in the face. Oh, just ignore that, eh? The ball sailed goalwards as Fettis took a couple of steps out of his goal and Ainsworth jumped into, and at, the giant gnome. Fettis dropped the ball as Ainsworth slobbered near him. A couple of QPR players dashed forward and Furlong poked the ball in from somewhere near the penalty spot. Around 14,000 people were happy, with a small knot of fury swamped by the general delirium. The Town players pursued the referee, who didn't give a fig.

Nothing else happened in the half, except that Antoine-Curier got booked for dissent. Perhaps the black and white knight was talking backwards, making the green knave go off his head?

So there you are: typical Town, eh? Rubbish game, should be 0-0, but something daft happens. Armstrong looked most uncomfortable in midfield, being rarely near the ball - and when he was, he was a ducking stool, lifting this leg up and wafting the ball high and hopelessly long. Coldicott did the work of two, possibly three, men; while the back four were relatively untroubled. Forget about the 'strikers': two little boys, each had a wooden horse. Antoine-Curier needs a couple of seconds for the instructions to be sent from head to legs. Either they get lost in translation or he's not on broadband yet. Rowan started adequately but ran out of steam and strength after he'd been poleaxed. It was like playing with nine men really.

The second half was bound to be an exercise in futility, the only hope being that QPR would get themselves into a nervous tizzy and score a few own goals.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"There's a man with a Kenny's Greatest Hits CD over there."
"Apart from Stace they're all jogging."
"I got more entertainment watching my dad mend the guttering yesterday."
"These are Premiership toilets. Look, they have lagging!"
"Would you say you were egregious?"

Second half
Antoine-Curier was replaced by Thorrington at half time, meaning a bit of shuffling. Jevons played at centre-forward, with Thorrington on the right, Anderson the left. Jevons and Rowan together again. Never fails to satisfy... the opposition.

After a couple of minutes Ainsworth ran across the face of the penalty area from left to right. As he approached the corner of the box Crane lunged and missed. Ford skated across the turf and won the tackle as Ainsworth raised his studs. As Ford ran off with the ball the referee gave QPR a free kick for something unseen by the massed Mariners behind the other goal. Gallen curled the free kick a couple of feet wide of the left hand post.

Town... no. Rowan fell over.

The QPR centre-back, Carlisle, was stretchered off - can't remember why he crumpled, probably caught his studs in a divot. And no, that doesn't refer to any Town player, despite the whispers of the wags in the crowd. Rankin was spotted, sat in the furthest corner of the Two support, cordoned off by a steward with the brightest jacket, which must signify where in the hierarchy of stewardship he comes. No-one had the right backstage pass to join his party. Or perhaps we aren't pretty enough to boogie the night away.

What else happened? Hmm, not much. Some crosses. By them, silly, not Town. Ford hacked away a low cross from just in front of the goal line after some dazzling trickery by Cureton on the Town left. Or was it Gallen? Whatever, who cares anyway. One of them did something, which led to nothing happening. It was just a bit of goalmouth scrambled egg.

Satisfied? Law probably was, as the game was dreadful. Just a wrestling match with a beach ball thrown in to distract the children. Coldicott ruled the centre of midfield, and so a negative stalemate was curdling, like a forgotten half-pint of milk. There was a kerfuffle way off underneath the home supporters, with claims and counterclaims of some elbows and fists. It ended up with Coldicott being told off by the referee, despite him not being involved. Bircham and Rowan seemed to be the protagonists.

Here we go. Jevons racing clear down the left. Sit down again, Town got a throw-in.

Around the hour Rangers flipped over a big droopy cross from their left to beyond the far post to Ainsworth, at a narrow angle. He leant back, had thoughts of Marco Van Basten, but finished like Mark the van driver down the road as the ball arced over west London, causing the wheels of a passing commuter jet to spin. The ball finally dropped and passed out of play a couple of yards from the other corner flag.

But this was just a portent of what was to come, for Rangers visibly lifted and began to pass to each other - began to move, began to believe. Crosses were aimed, rather than aimless. Furlong and Gallen were rocking and rolling around Edwards and Crane and, most of all, Rangers were beginning to slice little strips of skin away from the Town left. Crowe was crumbling as the pressure mounted. Cureton sent free down the touchline, zooming 30 yards, with just Crane to beat. Into the area, the red card waiteth, but Crane completed a clean tackle. Well done, that man; practice makes slightly imperfect.

The tourniquet tightened. Furlong bounding free, falling as two Town defenders made tentative enquiries into the possibility of tackling. Here it is. No! Gallen free, free, free, inside the area, to the left of goal, with just Fettis to beat. But Fettis stood tall and blocked the shot.

Is it now? Furlong, unmarked at the far post, heading down; Fettis sprawling to his left and clawing the ball away from the goal line and rising to block the follow up. Well, is it now then? Ainsworth swaggered through the Town defence on the left, treating Crane with disdain as he washed his feet. Crane lunged, Ainsworth fell. Up went the home fans, up went the ball, popping to Furlong half a dozen yards out at the near post. Down went Fettis, clutching the header on the line. Rage poured down from every little seat. It sure looked like a penalty from 120 yards away.

During all this Town had... no shots. Thorrington occasionally received the ball as he bear-hugged the touchline, but he didn't manage to get past his full-back. Crosses came in but without any thoughts of joy. Rowan was barely alive when inside the penalty area, seemingly shocked and stunned that the ball might go near him Actually, that's what we thought too, sat just a dozen yards away.

Town did do a fleetingly interesting move [That's a Grimbarian double performative if ever I saw one - Ed.] with Coldicott at the hub. Some one-touch flicks between Anderson, Rowan, Jevons and Crowe saw the ball returned to Coldicott in the centre, 30 yards out. He curled a pass up the centre; it was laid off in the air to the touchline where Crowe outjumped Bignot and sent Jevons free into the penalty area. Jevons got to the bye-line and his cross was blocked out for a corner.

That was it. You didn't expect a shot did you? How innocent you are in adult matters. Town had several moments where things could have happened, crosses ready to go in, streets full of people, no-one there. All hope gone to the moon.

With about 10 minutes left Armstrong fell, clutching his left hip and signalling to be taken off. Despite this clue no-one stripped off to replace him and Town again played for a minute or two with 10 men. Eventually, Warhurst trotted on, going to centre-back with Crane moving up to an indefinable position upfield, something akin to left wing. It is not possible to describe the formation thereafter. Defence-Coldicott-everyone else is the best I can come up with.

A couple of minutes after Warhurst came on, he flipped the ball out for a corner, on their left. It was swung in, cleared back out and crossed back beyond the far post towards the unmarked Furlong and Gnohere (who has no hair, but they don't care). Furlong headed the ball into the ground, turned, retrieved the ball and laid it back to the gremlin, just outside the area about 20 yards out and to the right of centre. Bircham took one touch forward and hit a swirling half volley into the top left corner of Fettis's goal.

At this point the homeboys and girls felt confident enough to start taunting us, and their players were finally confident enough to play like a team destined for promotion. A couple of minutes later... here's the statutory third. How did they score the third? Well, QPR hit it and it went in. The ball was bibbling about in the middle, there was some head tennis, Cureton flicked the ball on as Edwards challenged, and the unmarked Furlong ran in from the centre left and passed the ball across Fettis and into the bottom right corner.

The Rangers players began to delve into their party trick bag, showing off and having a whale of a time, which is no way to treat Tony Crane, our very own beached whale. Someone please lever him back into the water. Almost from the kick-off Cureton let fly from about 30 yards with a hugely dipping volley, which Fettis superbly tipped over the bar.

There were four minutes of added time, during which Coldicott smacked a shot just over the crossbar from about 25 yards out. Fortunately it didn't go in and spoil our day. If the Stacemeister is going to score, make it Monday, not a wasted goal in a lost game.

The game ended, allowing the home support to go home to their canap├ęs and raspberry coulis. The Town players walked over to the remaining Mariners and acknowledged us. They weren't booed, or jeered, for it hadn't been a terrible performance. The scoreline flattered QPR, but don't kid yourself that Town deserved to draw. QPR were better. Not great, just better. Raising their individual and collective game to the level of occasionally good and doing enough. There was no threat from Town; the defence was mostly adequate, undone (initially) by some ropey refereeing and then by some added pace and purpose.

This was an utterly mundane game. For large parts it was very boring. I suppose that's the future, isn't it.

You can forget about Lawrence for several games, and probably Armstrong too. You'd like to forget about Antoine-Curier and Rowan, but you can't, not with Rankin gingerly hobbling stiff-legged down the steps at the end of the game. It doesn't look good, does it? No players, no goals, no points. The players? Well, they may find themselves in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife and a beautiful car. But, they have to ask themselves: "How did we get here?" As the games go by, the points are flowing underground.

Nicko's man of the match
Three Town players to choose from. Coldicott was a dynamic and deceptively effective cruncher. He tamed Bircham: no mean feat. Fettis made some excellent saves, though the suspicion is that he should have caught the ball for the first goal. So, as ever, and just to ram home the message, Mike Edwards. He did what he always does, in his usual way.

Official warning
Untrustworthy. For every good decision, some may even say brave decision, M Thorpe gave three wilfully poor ones. He appeared to play to the crowd after refusing the home fans free kicks and a penalty. His bookings were arbitrary too: the wilder the challenge, the less likely he was to book. He didn't have control. The abacus of life says 3.784.