Big Wednesday

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

27 September 2003

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Grimsby Town 0

A bright, temperate and clear autumnal afternoon with the Town fans peering down upon the world from the upper tier of the Leppings Lane stand, like a thousand Caesars. The thumbs were ready to twiddle. Oh look - there's that Terry Coke bloke, or is it that Terry Cooke bloke? He's supposed to be good, isn't he. Sorry, my mistake - it's one of the double hernias that is the club mascot, Hootie and the Blowfish. A mixed reception for Cooke from the Town fans, perhaps 60-40 favourable.

Excuse me sir, but what's that! A chubby lad with silver boots and a blue streak down the middle of his hair. Not looking "cool", but more like the Daily Mail's version of "one of those punk rockers". Ostentatious badge kissing is bad enough, but dying club colours into hair goes beyond silly straight through to downright suspicious. Proudlock, proud of his locks? Ah, yes, we remember him well. He rejected Town as he didn't want to get involved in a relegation battle - he has Donovanian ambitions.

As usual the Wednesday keeper was tubby Pressman, resplendent in fluorescent orange, looking less like a footballer than a lifebuoy. The rescue helicopter will be here soon; his family shouldn't worry.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Crane, Edwards, Barnard, Cas, Hamilton, Daws, Campbell, Onuora and Boulding. The substitutes were Young, Mansaram, Crowe, Hockless and someone called Jevons. Campbell, of course, shuffled to the left wing to allow Dynamic Derrick, Disco Des's doppelganger to play in the centre. That shaven-headed skinny lad - who's he? Must be the new player, Jevons. Let's hope it isn't a case of "meet the new flop, same as the old flop".

The match day programme's featured player was Shefki Kuqi. Hmmm - loaned him to Ipswich a couple of days ago, didn't they? It's nice to see that Wednesday are nurturing the beautiful game, abandoning their "hoof it and hope" style. For on page 36 the director of the Owls academy takes a full page to detail a training routine - an "advanced skill": practising long, lofted passing. Hang on...

The musical prequel to the team entrances was Simple Minds. How self-effacing. The music to watch the minutes go by before kick off was Hi Ho Silver Lining. Just for Proudlock, eh? So they are Wolves wannabes? I forgot - they are massive, aren't they. Well, so is elephant dung. And Pressman.

And in today's programme Stuart Campbell was played by Stuart Campbell.

First half
Town kicked off away from the Town support and spent quarter of an hour practicing a training routine from the Grimsby academy - passing the ball to team-mates. It was just like old times: passing, tackling, hassling, moving, shooting, not scoring.

Within the first couple of minutes Wednesday did manage to get inside the Town penalty area, but only as they had been given a free kick when one of their players tripped McLaren. Oh, I mean Crane, yes, Crane; he gets paid by Town, doesn't he. Crane tripped McLaren. Rubbish free kick, Wednesday not seen in Town half for another 20 minutes. Literally.

A couple of minutes in Town should have scored after neat interplay down the right saw Cas flying, flowing and fooling the left-back. Cas crossed from the bye-line and Onuora, at the near post about six yards out, headed a foot wide.

Another minute or two later another sumptuous, contemptuous bit of Town play. Wednesday faffed about just outside their own penalty area as Onuora, Hamilton and Daws harried. Hamilton, about 30 yards out, intercepted a pathetic pass, played a quick one-two with Onuora, then slid a pass to the unmarked Boulding, out near the left corner of the Wednesday area. Boulding zoomed in towards goal, stopped, cut back to his left foot and Mustoe blocked the resulting thing. Shot, pass, cross, whatever, it ended up as a corner.

Barnard stroked the corner back to Campbell, about 30 yards out to the right of centre, who thwacked a first-time running half volley which bent through a thicket of players on the edge of the area. Pressman caught the ball at chest height, but awkwardly, as it curved away from him. He started to shake his hand, hold his side and limp, just to cover all angles. After several minutes the game continued, flowing towards the injured orange beach ball.

Barnard fell beautifully near their penalty area, got up and whacked the free kick straight into the wall, Gallimore-style, though there was a soup├žon of suspicion that the ball was stopped by an errant blue hand.

More comedy non-defending allowed Boulding to scuttle away down the left, twist past a pile of decaying Wednesdayites and flip a cross over to the far post. Cas, completely and utterly unmarked, chested the ball down and, from about 10 yards out, volleyed it towards the rear of the Spion Kop, as Pressman flung himself forward.

Cue panic-stricken change by Wednesday, for off came their left-back, Beswetherick, a man with hair longer than his name and talent shorter than his socks. Such a shame - we were really enjoying his contribution to world peace. Such generosity of spirit, such determination to please guests.

On in his place came the be-bandaged Haslam. Growls reverberated; the other Wednesday substitutes trotted up and down the touchline; and a chant of "you're not fit to wear the shirt" were flung towards one of them. It looked like Owusu was the brunt of this outpouring of Yorkshire angst, brewed with Yorkshire water, no doubt. Still, nice to hear, though if they were being literal they should have sung it at chubby Proudlock.

Pressman held play up again after a corner, holding his hands and grimacing. Two - count them - two stretchers made their way up the touchline. We know he's wide, but really, two stretchers for Mr Pressman? No, the stretcher bearers suddenly turned right and ran up the side of the Spion Kop. Heading for the hills already? Had enough? Wednesday's child is full of woe?

Ah, that's nice for them. After 23 English minutes they had a shot. Wednesday got so close to Davison they could actually see that his shirt was red, not the usual blue. That close! Wednesday broke away with Proudlock turning Crane and the ball was eventually clipped out to the skipping Cooke, who, on the left edge of the Town area, stepped inside Barnard and flashed a low shot across Davison and a foot or two wide of the right post. Sounds more interesting than it was, for it never, ever looked likely to cause Davison any concern.

However, we shouldn't be too hard on Wednesday, for they had managed a shot, which is a positive for them to take from the game. Cooke had another shot some time later, which Davison saved low to his right, the ball squirming away with Edwards calmly sweeping up, with brown overall and flat cap at a jaunty angle.

Stand up, Cas is away! Huh! Davison threw the ball to Cas, who headed the ball forward, over the defender and into the Wednesday half. He was away down the touchline, free as a bird, but the linesman, bizarrely, managed to flag for offside. If you can work that one out you deserve a blue plaque on your wall. I promise to visit too.

Around the half-hour mark Pressman walked off and was replaced by Nixon. Impeach him now! Sorry - wrong Nixon, wrong decade. Old Eric, the annoyingly competent ex-Tranmere keeper came on. He's 41 you know, and still has all his own black hair.

Within a minute another long, long stoppage. Boulding, on the edge of the Wednesday area in the centre, flicked the ball over the top of the mesmerised defenders. Cas muscled through and only Wreckless Eric stood between him and goal. Out came Nixon, and the ground shuddered as they collided. Cas never got up and was stretchered off, being replaced by Hockless.

Campbell moved to the right, with Hockless playing as the left midfielder. Such a big shame, as Cas was thoroughly enjoying his day out and from this moment until half time, whenever that would be, the howling Owls managed to gain some control. Well, in comparison to the jerry-built crazy paving that had been their way until then.

One of their nondescript midfielders wellied a shot comfortably over the bar from way, way out. A small child stirred in the third row. Everyone else continued their conversations.

With about 10 minutes left Crane was very fortunate when Ndumbu-Nsungu knocked the ball forward about 40 yards out down the centre and fell as Crane lunged from behind. Now if young N-N had simply fallen naturally and not tried to re-enact the final scene from Platoon, then a free kick would have been awarded and a red card produced. I haven't mentioned Ndumbu-Nsungu before, and with a name like that how could I. He was their version of Mansaram - his arms are wicked and his legs are long.

More long balls, sorry, "advanced skills" - flew forward and eventually a chance was created. Or happened. Mustoe burst forward and, from about 25 yards out, flicked a header forward down the middle. Crane, believably to those with a doctorate in Cranewatching, decided to wander to his left, leaving a nice big space in the centre. And who was pounding through this space? Why none other than Proudlock, who Crane had been marking three seconds earlier.

Proudlock bumbled forward, waited for Davison, and then, from about a dozen yards out in the very centre of goal, tried to lift the ball over the red duster. Davison held a hand high and parried the ball away to the right. Marvellous save, miserable shot. Fine by us.

N-N was sent free but dragged a shot from the left side of the Town area so wide it never went out of play. Cooke shot wide from outside the penalty area; no tourists were injured in the incident; and the game meandered towards four o'clock, the now traditional time for first halves to end.

Suddenly we awoke, as McDermott and Campbell, teased, pleased and twizzled down the right. McDermott cut infield and dinked a swinging cross in towards the near post. Boulding sneaked in front of his marker and, from just outside the six-yard box, headed firmly, but inaccurately. The ball missed the angle of post and bar by a foot or so.

In about the fifth minute of added time a Cooke cross from their left was half bundled clear from the centre of the goalmouth, but N-N acrobatically scissor-kicked from eight yards out. Davison plunged rather too theatrically to his left to save, allowing the Wednesday fans to believe they'd almost scored. Perhaps Davison was bored.

In the last minute Boulding should have scored after being sent free down the right. He scuttled into the area and dragged a weak right-footed shot low across Nixon, who plumped onto the ball.

That was it, the full 51 minutes, with our hosts dominating several seconds of play, forcing Davison to make, oooooh, a couple of saves. For them, that was it: the occasional breakaways and an opportunist, speculative overhead kick. Town were just better, looking like a team full of pros, tidily, cleverly controlling the game and, when Cas was on the pitch, with danger lurking in every crevasse.

Hamilton and Daws had commanded the centre of the pitch; Edwards was totally solid; and there were no problems at all for Town. Until Crane butted in, stupidly fouling (exhibit A being his push on Proudlock when the ball was going out of play, giving Wednesday a free kick on the edge of the Town penalty area), meandering about and generally getting in the way.

It was all going very well. Bring on the empty horses.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"She'd rather sleep in Morrisons car park than come to Hillsborough."
"They've got Mumbo-Jumbo up front?" "No, that's Turner's team talk."
"Proudlock is a utility player - he can clean ovens and boots."
"We're doing our best to avoid victory."
"Crane's the only Town player who'd get in the Wednesday team."

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time - and why should Town change? Everything was going swimmingly.

Within a couple of minutes Hamilton tried a surprising snapshot from about 25 yards out, on the centre left. The ball skidded through and thudded against the advertising boards a foot or two wide of the keeper's right hand post. Ooh, nice Des, that's any good.

Wednesday huffed a bit, then Town came back again, with Daws and Hamilton closing down their midfielders. The ball was tapped back and across the Wednesday defence and eventually Hockless nipped in and stole the ball away, flipping it over the top for the unmarked Onuora on the left, inside the penalty area. Iffy Livvo-ed his way forward and dragged a low shot across goal, between Nixon and the onrushing Boulding. The ball bombled through the six-yard box and several yards wide. If only Iffy was 10 years younger he would have missed quicker.

Any more? Why yes. Boulding almost through, then wasn't, the ball being sent back to Daws, about 25 yards out, who hit a loopy dipper that bounced at Nixon's feet. For a brief moment it looked like it might nutmeg Nixon, but it didn't, so go back to your petunias; I won't disturb you again.

Hoof, tackle, lump, block. Minutes upon minutes of such "action", as Wednesday tried the subtle approach. They whacked it sometimes, rather than hoofing. Town simply stood firm, heading the ball back upfield, or standing in the way of ridiculously underhit passes. It was all very comfortable. I may have missed out some tremendously worrying Wednesday attacks, for I distinctly recall on at least one occasion Davison came off his line and picked the ball up. There was even a blue and white shirt within hoofing distance of him.

After about 10 or so minutes of the second half Boulding should have scored. Crane (credit where it's due, eh?) hit a sand iron down the right. The ball pitched within a couple of feet of Boulding's pins and he was off, inside the area, wrenching his way forward as a big lumpy man chased after him. Nixon came off his line, starting to dive, and Boulding tried to lift the ball over the falling orange peel. Nixon parried the ball sideways and a defender scrumpled the ball away as Onuora watched at the far post. As good a save as Davison's from Proudlock, and as bad a miss too.

You know, Boulding's new tousled look gives him the air of the rhythm guitarist with The Byrds. All he really wants to do-oo-oo, is baby score goals for you. Except then, of course.

Oooh, a Wednesday attack! No, sit down again, it was just an illusion. The ball was certainly in the Town half, so, I suppose, in the context of this game, that was heavy Wednesday pressure, domination and a goal-bound effort. It's always pleasing to see an opposition team pass the ball out of play. When they do it regularly it becomes a joy, and when it's Wednesday the moment is to be cherished, nurtured and handed down in folklore to the generations of little Mariners to come. You don't need to exaggerate - let the facts speak for themselves.

Halfway through the half Hockless won a free kick with a cheeky little fall as Mustoe pinched him in the stomach, 30 yards out to the left of goal. Barnard and Hamilton stood over the ball; Onuora melted into the wall; Nixon stood behind the wall, unsighted and flapping like bunting. Hamilton curled a shot over the wall and the ball sniffed the side netting as it passed the post.

It would be nice if Town actually bothered to score. But you can sleep for another five minutes, as nothing happened. Edwards then made a mistake, when he chested the ball forward about 10 yards. The ball was nicked off him, whipped out to Cooke, whose cross was easily cleared. The resulting corner from their right was curled out towards the penalty spot and Lee thumped a header off the top of the crossbar. Davison was right underneath it. It cheered the home fans though.

The referee collapsed and received a big cold wet sponge rub-around, like mothers do when clearing the chocolate spread from around the baby's lips. And around this time there was a small stoppage during which Nixon and the referee had a conversation - it's the blue and white pills at 4:30, Eric. Minds drifted as time passed; amusement was found in strange and unusual ways. It took 17 policeman to eject one irate Wednesdayite, and when his mate complained, he went too. Ah, that was just an excuse to leave early and beat the traffic.

Cooke was having a fine game, linking up well with McDermott, pinging inch-perfect passes out to Macca, starting off some Town counterattacks. Marvellous. That's why Groves signed him. With about 10 minutes left Owusu came on and Wednesday moved to a 4-3-3 formation, or 4-3-4 including Crane.

Crane almost scored when he tussled for a knock at a throw-in, heading directly at Nixon from seven yards out. A little later Campbell, to the left of goal, mis-hit an attempted left-footed, curling piledriver. The ball sailed nicely into Nixon's arms; it may have gone in if Eric had taken his afternoon nap like nurse told him to.

Hey, another Wednesday attack - Owusu heading from centre to left wing as McDermott oozed him away from danger. Suddenly play stopped. Proudlock was face down in the dirt, like his friends from 'Nam. Some home fans stirred and tried to get a Town player sent off. They weren't sure who, they weren't sure why, but there's no harm in trying, is there. Eventually the referee booked Crane. And why not, it's as good a guess as any.

Crane's next entry in 100 great comedy sporting moments was to challenge Davison as the untroubled keeper came out to catch an aimless cross. No danger, Wednesday players already turning around to run back upfield. Except Crane decided to barge into Davison, nearly causing an oil spillage. Barnard kept his cool this time, even if several Town supporters didn't.

As the game sauntered into three minutes of added time Proudlock saw glory, dribbling across the face of the Town penalty area from left to right, before cutting back and dragging a pathetic shot nine yards wide of the left post. Davison put his hands on his hips and raised a disdainful eyebrow.

Not to be outdone, Hockless jinked his way through one, two three, four and, back again, five tackles, before running into two defenders about 25 yards out. Good practice, I suppose, for those half-time cone dribbling competitions to win a night out in Nunsthorpe.

That was all the news that's fit to print, and make up too. Interested in Campbell getting to the bye-line and chipping a cross just over the far post? Thought not. How about a Cooke shot from outside the area which went straight to Davison? No? N-N kicking Crane in the chest? Sorry, but that's it.

In the circumstances, two points dropped through very slapdash shooting. Cas should have scored two, Boulding perhaps two, Onuora certainly one. For vast swathes of time Wednesday weren't able to get within 30 yards of Davison; they barely had any shots and certainly had no ideas. Knock it long and get Cooke to put in a few indeterminate crosses. Hardly the recipe for success is it. To state it was easy for Town would be to overlook the tremendous organisation and effort, particularly of the midfield. It was easy because Town made it easy.

And what of our "massive" friends from South Yorkshire? Probably better than Wycombe. Not much of an epitaph, is it, but something that is already being chiselled into their tombstone. The Owls are what they seem.

Nicko's man of the match
Who is the starman? Could be any of 10 players. None was totally outstanding, with Daws as effective as last week, Hamilton close to the man he's supposed to be, with some flashy, showy surges and flicks, and Onuora a pain to them, but a useful brick wall to us. Edwards was again quietly effective, while the full backs didn't have difficulties with their wingers. So who, yes, who gets the vote from the woolly-jumpered one? Will it be Barnard, will it be Cas, you'll have to wait and see. Que sera, sera, it got to be Daws, you see. Now, let all the children boogie.

Official warning
Historically Mr Ryan should be shot (perhaps it was the ghost of Robert Taylor who hit him in the second half) but, overall, he was very kind to Town. He should have sent off Crane, perhaps should have given Town a free kick, and was ultra-lenient towards the Wednesday handball machines in midfield. He's clearly not a raving homer, as he doesn't seem to favour the providers of his half-time tea and biscuits. Partially redeemed himself for the sins of the past (for which one should always deduct 10 points from any score given) and on today's performance he gets a Town-philic 6.412.