Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
7 August 2004
Darlington 1 Grimsby Town 0
An airless, broilingly hot afternoon as six or seven hundred Town fans gazed a gazely gaze at the millions who weren't there inside the Safecracker Stadium, a symmetrical ovoid shell made of plastic and concrete. One road in, one road out: a metaphor for the fourth division? Have Town finished riding the snake, and is that the blue bus of the Conference still calling us?
Town warmed up in a routine not dissimilar to last season's, although they have abandoned the cone-running. Slade got the players in a circle and tried to explain what was happening to a clearly confused bundle of manhood. He kicked the ball to Macca, who kicked it back, then everyone stopped and put their hands on their hips. Someone scratched their head and Slade ordered them to do press-ups, which half did as the rest watched. It's early, can we forgive the disorganisation during a pre-match kick-about?
A-ha, this is better - out came the bibs and a game of seven-a-side inside some cones. Why did Pinault have a green bib while everyone else wore blue? Perhaps he's the designated first-aider; it'll be in the FA health & safety regulations. Still disorganised, for they ended up playing with two balls at one point.
Town lined up in the official formation, 3-4-3, as follows: Williams, Whittle, Ramsden, Jones, Crowe, Pinault, Fleming, Bull, Sestanovich, Parkinson, Mansaram. The substitutes were McDermott, Coldicott, Young, Marcelle and Reddy. That's just two players in the starting XI who were employed by Town at any point last season. And neither of them were Macca or Stacy.
Listen very carefully; I shall say this only one for those who haven't being paying attention in pre-season: the defence lined up with Whittle on the right, Jones on the left and Ramsden in the middle. Crowe played as a right wing-ish-back, with Bull the leftish wingish backish. Sestanovich started on the right up front, with Mansaram on the pitch, sorry, I mean the left. And big Andy P was in the middle. Well, at least his ears are big, if not his legs. So there we are: we have Bullet, but not Mullet on the right, with Hockless back in Grimsby with his back, and probably all other parts of his body too.
Mansaram has a whole new set of tannoy announcers to mangle his name. No-one yet has pronounced it as Darren Footballer, but those typewriting monkeys will get there one day. On a confusing day the confusions piled up like discarded alcopop bottles down Meggies after the schools have broken up. Darlington sported their new kit, black and white hoops, while half their few fans sported last season's kit - black and white stripes.
The team we call Town, but don't yet recognise, ambled around in colours hitherto unseen on Mariners. They had bright yellow bellies and white backsides. And "Mariners [sic.] Pie" plastered across their chests. Not literally - that would have perpetuated the stereotype in that hot weather - just the words from our sponsors. A bit of a gift for wags, that one, for isn't mariner's pie made from flaky fish? And Tony Crane isn't even in the team.
You try finding a programme seller who is wearing a black and white striped football shirt in a concourse full of Town fans. For those who want to see the manager and players show some kind of connection with themselves and the fans, Russell Slade walked over and applauded us, while the players gathered in a huddle before the kick-off. Shall we gloss over the fact that the losers, boozers and jacuzzi users at the end of last season did that too?
In boxing style Town fans approached the start of a new era: "Let's get ready to grumble". (It's called irony, for those with sensitive chins.)
Darlington kicked off towards the Town fans. Woah, woah, woah. Steady on, calm down, a false start. Parkinson was so eager that he tackled them before kick-off. We'll try again, shall we. Darlington kicked off towards the Town fans and piddled about so long that Parkinson slid across and knocked the ball out for a throw-in on the halfway line. The difference in class between the divisions is noticeable already. The higher up you go in football, the further upfield the resulting throw-in.
Darlington lined up in a formation with men in identical shirts: darn well organised, you see. Up front they had Craig Russell, who once played an hour for Town on trial (he was guilty of being worse than Livvo). C'mon, you must remember this, a miss is just a miss, and he missed the ball completely in a friendly against 'Ull a couple of seasons ago. Oh, and a very large amalgam of flesh and bones called Matt Clarke, who is really a centre-half. We thoroughly enjoyed him, even down to his headwear - a headband to keep his short hair out of his eyes. One could be cruel and say he'd have been better off playing in a blindfold. Oh, I just have been.
All of which is just another way of saying not much happened at the start.
I have a vague recollection of some flutterings around the edge of the Town area and a bombly shot that Williams yawned on. Town. Er, yeah, what about them? If you want the condensed version, it's: Parky perked, Sestan the Man was a muscular cameo of teasing promise, and Pinault passed. And Williams kicked, and kicked, and kicked, and kicked. Always toward Parkinson's ears. Ah, Sestanovich, twisting, rolling, rumbling forward from the right touchline, holding off one, two, three defenders before hitting a flat shot from about 20 yards out, very wide.
After about five minutes Town had what was the beginnings of a passing move which, when I opened my eyes, to my surprise, Mansaram was involved in. Crowe crossed and the ball ended going out for a corner. Pinault curled it in dangerously from the left, bodies fell, the goalkeeper flapped, the referee gave a free kick. Still, it kept us awake as we lazed on a sunny afternoon.
The early forays featured our French fancy, Thomas the Town engine, caressing passes like the ball was a beautiful lady. But it was a bitty match, a lot of humping up, up in the air, possession gained through the errors of opponents, with very little attempt to play from the defence or midfield. If anything, Darlington were the passing team, happiest when the ball was played quickly through the centre, exploiting the narrowness of the Town formation. But eventually you knew the ball would end up near Clarke, so why worry. We were particularly impressed with their ability to lamp the ball out of play when trying to "spread " the ball. A huge, huge pitch, yet they still had the ability to miss their mates by yards.
Oh, something happened. Sestanovich, muscling, bustling, flicked free by Parkinson inside the penalty area, way out on the right, smackerooned a spectacular volley safely over the bar. There were even a couple of passes before Parky plopped the ball over the top.
Darlington had a little spell of pressure around the 20-minute mark, with a couple of crosses from their right-back. Town's left was a wibbling wobbler, with Bull unsure of where to stand, Jones not certain of whether to come out towards the ball or stay back. The result was space for Valentine. One or two of these crosses resulted in minor moments of concern, as the ball bounced off backsides, or when Mansaram missed the ball at the far post and allowed a free header for a defender about five yards out, which went a couple of yards wide. Just minor moments.
Then a major moment. Darlington were given a free kick about 20 yards out to the left of centre, when Sestanovich touched the hem of a flapping hooped shirt. The ball was rolled down the side of the wall as a hooperman slipped away in the night. The ball was crossed, went through the bewildered legs of the recently employed (or maybe the recent legs of the bewilderingly employed, you choose) to Convery, unmarked five yards out, to the right of centre. The goal a-gaping, he leant back and thought of his goal bonus awaiting transfer into his current account. He cleverly steered the ball several yards over the bar, soaking in the adoration of the Town fans, or something similar.
The Darlington pressure was all self-induced by Town, for no attempt was made to keep possession. Defenders headed when they could have chested, the goalkeeper wellied the ball up to Parky, possession lost every time. Was it ever gained in such circumstances?
Another welly, a Darlo mistake and the ball at Sestanovich's feet. The Quakers quaked as the colossus strode imperiously forward. Like a collection of dancing Gallimores, they backed off in synchronised unison, allowing Ashley to pass sideways into a huge, huge gap. Fleming awaited the ball. And waited. Some people, tired of waiting, finished off the crossword. Eventually Fleming thwacked a low left-footed shot from the centre, just outside the penalty area. The ball zoomed towards the bottom left corner; Russell zoomed to the same spot and saved well.
A minute or so later Town should have scored. A Darlington player tried to be clever on their left touchline, about 10 yards from the halfway line. Sestanovich blocked out the sun and blocked the panicking pummel upfield. The ball rebounded down the line and Sestan ran after it. You could hear the hoofbeats pound as he raced across the ground, and the clatter of the wheels as his mind spun round and round. The Town fans rose, awaiting glory for the new hero. He awaited the arrival of the goalkeeper and, from about a dozen yards out and wide of goal, drew back his foot and... several hundred Town fans sat down.
The ball was rolling across the open goal towards an unmarked Town player... to Mansaram, who scuffled a shot goalwards. Russell appeared from nowhere and diverted the ball away for a corner. It was an exceptional piece of goalkeeping, but there is no hiding place for the Donny Dazzler. Sestanovich should know by now not to tempt Mansaram with his treacle tarts.
And, again, another nearly moment. Parkinson almost free, but the ball bounced and Liddle pounced, danger trounced. It's hot, isn't it? Too right, for as a Darlington player received some treatment for a knock the referee and players sprinted over to the touchline and had a drinks break. It's just not cricket, or basketball.
Ooh-la-la, c'est Pinault. He mugged a Darlington midfielder and pinged a perfect pass a full 40 yards right onto Crowe's big toe. Bullet-boy vroomed forward, cut infield by lifting the ball over the full-back and was free inside the box, perhaps 15 yards out. The whole area was denuded of Darlington defenders. Russell was affixed to his line, but Crowe ignored the two free Town strikers and lobbed a left-footed shot straight at Sam Russell, who caught it underneath the crossbar.
Any other action as we dribbled towards siesta time? Williams got himself in a tither when a Darlington player got to the bye-line on their right and chipped across the face of goal, but the ball dipped and bounced a yard beyond the far post. Williams came out and missed a punch, the ball headed back to him by a perplexed hoop. And in added time Sestanovich did the Sestanovich thing of holding off a thousand opponents when cutting in from the right before slapping a low fizzer goalwards. The ball nudged along the side netting as it passed Go without collecting £200.
And then it was time for a chocolate-scented water and hot crusty bakes. Overall not too bad; Town looked very dangerous when they managed to get the ball in the opponents' half, especially through Sestanovich. Parkinson was a pest, Mansaram almost effective, Pinault could pass, and I do recall Fleming being on, or around, the ball at some stage. The defence was generally adequate, with Jones the pick. Whittle spent his time ushering inaccurate Darlington punts out of play for goal kicks. He ushered in falling stages, like the pictures you see on the side of stepladders with a big red cross over them. No need to call the doctor yet.
Town could have been losing, but should have been winning, but weren't. Back to some kind of Town-ness already.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"The steward down there looks like Peter Levy."
"Mansaram is beginning to feel like a bad penny."
"This ground's very nice. It's empty, it's friendly, it's quiet and it has a fine pie stall."
"We're all right as long as they keep that Clarke on."
"Do you think they'll add another urinal if they get promoted?"
No changes were made by either team at half time.
Town came out and blasted Darlington. Wave upon wave of Town attacking, Sestanovich frightening the locals with his bigness and cleverness. They simply seemed in awe of him, and so were we (but we'd like a goal please). Parkinson almost free down the middle, but a defender blocked his run towards the rolling ball. Flicking, tricking, pleasing Town with some neat approach work, forcing Darlo back towards the Town fans.
Whoops. A collective sharp intake of breath as a rather hopeful lump forward bounced behind Jones and into the right corner of the Town area. Williams came out, Jones plodded after it as Russell nipped across and knocked the ball beyond the startled, stranded keeper. They all rolled over and one fell out, Jones stumbling the ball away for a corner before Russell could cover and tap the ball in. Darlington are still here then.
Town poured forward using the simple tactic of passing the ball to Sestanovich and letting history write itself. He bundled along the face of the area, sucking in defenders and flicking Fleming free about 15 yards out, to the left of goal. A defender flew across and blocked the shot. Fleming got up and dragged the rebound across the face of goal but behind Parkinson. Ooh indeed.
And again, more perky Parkiness. Town flibbled away down the right and the ball was crossed to Andy Pandy, about seven yards out at the far post. He flicked the ball over his shoulder, rolled around the defender and poked a half-volley goalwards. Russell stood up and, right next to the post, slapped the ball away from his face for a corner. From one of the corners Town got around this point Jones headed over. It might have been this one, it might not. So what, eh? It didn't go in, whenever it was.
Darlington cleared, Town got it back. The ball at Sestanovich's feet, the home knees knocking as he shambled forward from the halfway line, attracting those little flies to his honeypot. When about 20 yards out, just to the right of centre, he stabbed a left-foot floaty dinker which drifted past the angle of bar and right post. And then someone flicked a switch and it was Darlington's turn to cut open Town's defence. Town couldn't keep possession, for Parkinson was unable to outjump someone three foot taller than him. What a waste of money!
Bull lost possession out on the left touchline, Darlo advanced, and one of their players hit a flat, volleyed pass in to Craig Russell just outside the penalty area. He flicked the ball over a Town defender into the space between Williams and Ramsden. A Darlington striker ran across and Williams came out and blocked somewhere near the penalty spot. The same thing happened a few minutes later, different players, same outcome: Williams bravely blocked.
Darlington then got a bit frisky, their right-back having a couple of long-range efforts. One comedy, one close, a dipping thumper which arced beautifully over the bar and into the advertising boards behind the goal.
And then the moment the Town fans had waited for: their first sight of Reddy, who replaced Mansaram after an hour. Reddy went into the centre, with Parkinson moving to the left. His first few touches brought forth some unflattering comments comparing him to Adam Proudlock. I thing we should wait a few games before we hang him for that crime. He may be innocent. We hope he is.
Hang on, Town again, Sestanovich again, this time winging his way into the area, hitting the bye-line and rolling the ball back, slowly, slowly into a massive unpopulated area a dozen yards out. Fleming steadied himself, opened up his body and tried to place the ball into the left of the goal. The ball hit a defender and scrumbled a yard or so wide of the post. Perhaps it was from this corner that Whittle headed safely over the bar? Crowe, repeating his barnstorming run from the first half, latched on to a through ball, cut in and softly lobbed the ball to Russell from about a dozen yards out.
Darlington immediately replaced our favourite Darlington player, the monstrously immobile Matt Clarke, with Wainwright. This was the turning point of the game. Wainwright gave Bull and Jones a rather torrid time with his pacey twisting turns and direct running. Town could cope with long balls to a plank of wood, but small men running onto passes made them quiver.
Five minutes passed, with most of the players catching some rays, man. Then Darlington made another substitution, bringing on Ian Clark for the bloke who missed the sitter in the first half. Now Clark had young footballer's hair - all straggly mini haystack with highlights. Around this time Williams did a rather strange, but probably superb, stop. A free kick from the Darlington right was wellied over to the far post. The Town players were still snoozing under their sombreros, allowing an unmarked striker to control the ball and volley across goal.
The ball seemed to career off a defender and fly low towards the bottom right corner. Williams was falling to his left, but lifted his right boot and managed to hook the ball across the face of goal, with Crowe walloping clear from inside the six-yard box. It all looked pretty weird from 120 yards away. Williams also made another fine save when he parried away a cross-shot from the left. He seems to be a pretty decent shot stopper.
I can't really remember much happening for the next 10 minutes, apart from Sestanovich limping a bit after a tackle and stretch. With about eight minutes left Marcelle replaced Sestanovich, much to the amusement of the Darlington supporters. Or at least it sounded like amusement; there were so few of them buried inside the cavernous wasted land that it was hard to tell.
The substitution was made when Town were about to take a goal kick. Williams kicked it upfield and Darlington won the header, knocking it out to their right. Wainwright turned up the touchline and then infield as Jones hung out his right leg behind him. Onwards went the winger towards goal, as Town defenders lumbered back, wilting in the heat. Clark stood alone on the left edge of the Town area, awaiting developments. Wainwright drew a final Town defender to him and laid a simple pass out to Clark, who took one touch and wellied the ball high over Williams from about a dozen yards out and into the net.
Town suddenly ratcheted up the pressure, sending players forward, leaving gaps which Darlington nearly, but didn't, exploit, in a furious, frenetic finale. Pinault delicately iced a cake, dippling the ball over the top down the right for Marcelle and Reddy to run on to. Reddy barged Marcelle away and advanced on goal. The ball dropped, Russell waited and Reddy thwacked a drive straight at Russell's head from about 10 yards out and wide of goal. Parkinson screamed in frustration, as he was unmarked in the centre.
Jones allowed the ball to flick off his head from the resulting corner, no danger. Still Town pressed, with Jones a permanent fixture upfront. Town had resorted to an almost 4-2-4 formation. The ball was flicked out towards Marcelle, who was a-hugging the right touchline. A giant defender crawled over and did a massive sliding, whacking challenge which took out Marcelle and the linesman. Defender and useless linesman were left in a heap; Marcelle was away.
He reached the ball, looked up and from near the corner flag curled a perfect cross into the centre of the penalty area. Jones, near the penalty spot, dived forward and steered a powerful header towards goal. Russell, who had been shuffling back across to his right, suddenly changed direction and launched himself horizontally, flipping the ball aside with his fingertips at the fullest of full stretches down by the bottom of his left post. A rather magnificent save.
Still Town poured forward. A corner, a scramble as the goalkeeper went in search of El Dorado. The ball fell to Marcelle, eight yards out. He leant back and placed the ball two yards over the bar. Still Town pressed. The ball was played up to Reddy, who held off two defenders and tapped it to Parkinson, who had run around the back. Parkinson tried to slap a first-time shot goalwards. It went eight yards wide. Parkinson twisting, turning, bodies blocking, Reddy stumbling, rampaging, retrieving lost causes. Crosses, clearances, roared on: Town could do it! Town could do it? Reddy, bursting through, the goalkeeper raced out and... Reddy performed a pathetic dive several seconds before he reached the ball, or anyone else got near him.
One more chance, one more effort - launch it, Whittle. Ah, the time has gone, the game is over, thought I'd something more to say? Ah yes, home, home again on Tuesday. Let's hope Town like to be there this season.
How did Town manage to lose? A bit of slackness at the back, a lot of slackness up front. Town should have scored loads, could have conceded a few. The standard of football was, at best, patchy. Occasional moments of magic amid a sometimes turgid pinball game, where possession was gained through the inconsistent competence of others. Town's tactics seem to be to launch it upfield as quickly as possible, for the ball might just end up with a Town player. From there we can do some business. Yes, Town looked fine in the last third of the pitch, like an old-style Town team, but getting it there was not pretty, and not that effective.
Individually no-one was dreadful. Mansaram gave one of the better Mansaramium performances, Bull was a bit weak really, flying into no-hope tackles and letting opponents roam down the flanks. He tries though. Fleming? Hmm. He was on the pitch, and now and again popped up to make contact with ball or ankle. The three amigos at the back looked capable of fending off the dinosaurs but, like the elephants who used to be in Cleethorpes Zoo, were a bit confused by little mice twittering around their feet. We have to remember our reduced circumstances; our expectation of players must match the surroundings, mustn't it? There were some very good things among the imperfections.
But in the end it's typical Town: different team, different kit, different manager, different formation, same outcome. Smack an opponent's bottom and lose.
Nicko's man of the match
Pinault passed well, except for a couple of French flourishes too far when he was caught in possession in dangerous places. Parkinson never stopped trying, and Jones was the best of the defenders. However it has to be between Williams and Sestanovich. Sestan the Man has many number one fans for his shimmy-shammy muscular daintiness, but Nicko amazes himself by being deliberately contrary and selecting Anthony Williams for some fine saves.
Oh, the linesmen were rotten, never making a decision spontaneously. They needed prompting from Tinyman Ray Olivier, and even from the players (we all chuckled when Whittle demanded an offside decision from 55 yards away and got it; that the man was at least two yards onside is an historical irrelevance). Olivier is a Jonah, but he is a competent Jonah. It isn't his fault Town keep losing when he officiates. Sensible, non-controversial, and worthy of a high score of 7.763. If there's nothing to complain about, why complain?