Waiting for the great leap forward: Bristol Rovers (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

10 December 2005

Grimsby Town 0 Bristol Rovers 1

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome to the house of fun you 100 or so Drizzlers. If you're very, very quiet in the cheese pavilion you may even hear the Town support. Windless, heatless, drab and dull. Is that the weather report or the executive summary? It's another still, grey day in Tottering Towers.

Town lined up in the 4-4-2 type formation as follows: Mildenhall, Croft, Whittle, R Jones, Newey, Parkinson, Bolland, Toner, Cohen, Reddy and the man himself. The substitutes were bored and they were Ramsden, Gritton, Heggggggggarty, Ashton and Downey. Croft played at right back and Cohen started on the right wing; in other words, the same team that finished on Tuesday. It's somehow comforting to see Gliding Glen back on his rightful perch. They should really go down Shackleton's and buy him a reclining chair: they have hundreds to choose from.

Was it so lifeless that straplines from 1980s adverts was all I could remember? "Beacholme Cleethorpes: reet good value."

Dish of the Day: a very special tribute to George Best; you'll be lonely this Christmas with a bottle of gin by your side. Hey kids, just say "no" to that fourth gottle of gear. Don't dink and dive this Christmas either. Yes, Michael Reddy, that includes you. But as the chairman says: what about the orange?

Do we have to go through with this?

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond End and the rest of the joke writes itself.

As the minutes didn't tick by minds wandered: does the scoreboard have a clock, or does the tannoyman's son simply add on a minute manually? Is there more to life than lumping the ball upfield as fast and as far as possible?

Town got a corner and Newey took it. Newey took everything: every free kick, every throw in, even the biscuits in the sponsor's suite. In a very New Labour way, service is all about delivery. Oh, that corner. Nah, nothing.

Bristol broke away down the centre, Jones the Stick clobbered Disley as a shadowy figure ghosted down their left into space. The referee saw no advantage in their invisible man running free on goal, so gave them a free kick. For the avoidance of doubt, this is a highlight, a moment of tension and excitement. The wall was paced out and the stage set for a seasonal treat: a pantomime, but who would be the grand dame? Mmm, shall I have my sandwich now? Who's the ref? How many typos in today's matchday programme. Mmm page 44 - Where's Michael?????? Looks like he's about to enter one of those superportaloo's. And who wouldn't look like that if you'd been photographed about to go to the toilet.

Oh, that free kick. Nothing happened.

In the eighth minute Rovers proceeded along their right in a northerly direction when they came upon two men standing still. Agogo, on the edge of the area, laid of an exquisite cushioned pass behind where Newey wasn't. Walker ran on, unmarked, unimpeded and unhindered into this desert to the left of goal. From a very narrow angle several yards wide of the mouldering Mildenhall, this very private Walker squizzled a weak shot across the face of the goal, way, way in front of any of his chums. The ball ambled through the six-yards box, pursued by Whittle, who caught up with it as it died near the bye-line. Sergeant Rock wallied the ball away in his usual style. This was something that happened.

A couple of minutes later Croft chased after a bouncing ball inside the Town area with two gaseous elements billowing plumes of smoke at his ankles. Rather than tap the ball back to Mildenhall, and thus place him under pressure within a couple of yards of the goal, Croft cleverly twisted the ball away for a corner. The corner? Nothing happened.

Town...Town...Town... ah, yes, I remember now. Jones the Lump nodded a long punt on and a central defender steered the ball back to their keeper, who picked it up. And Newey took a free kick which, well, didn't amount to hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that, Elsa.

At some point the player with the shirt that had "Campbell" written on the back kicked the ball into the Pontoon. Some Statto somewhere will, no doubt, class this as a "shot off target". We prefer to remember it as an echo of a distant time, billowing into the stand. What we were, not what we are. Not much difference is there, except a lower wage bill and a lower division.

Get out the mistletoe and whine: Town have a free kick, something nearly happened. Or was it a corner? Who cares? Newey took some kind of kick from the left, hung high to the back post, aiming for Jones the Stick. For once he won the header, the ball arcing slowly towards the top left hand corner. The ball dropped and a defender swooshed it away. A few minutes later Town got a free kick on the right. I'll skip the introduction, the goalie dropped it as Jones the Stick challenged in the middle of the area. There was a bit of scrambled egg on toast and a Bristolian waitress cleared the plates away before we'd even poured some brown sauce on. Actually, what do you put on scrambled egg on toast? Tomato ketchup? Worcester sauce? Sugar? Or is that just people from Sheffield?

Is there a land beyond boredom? There was excitement as a teenage girl's shoe fell off as she walked in front of the Pontoon. A white trainer isn't the same as a glass slipper, though. She never found her Prince Charming.

Rovers tried the Agogo flick trick again. Newey and Toner were alert and squashed their full-back as he pulled back his foot to shoot. A good old-fashioned thumping, clumping, thudding tackle that awoke the crowd for a micro-second. And in the naked light I saw four thousand people, maybe more; people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening. And remember that the words of the prophets are written on the toilet walls: "Push button to flush".

Ooh, a.. erm, thing. Bolland had a shot, it went over. Or wide. I know it doesn't sound much, and it wasn't. Ooh, a...erm, another thing. Bolland twizzled the ball to Cohen, who stepped in from the left and, from twenty yards out, drumbled a sniveller in a goalwards direction. Parkinson and Cohen had switched flanks, for all the good it did. It gave them a reason to continue breathing, I suppose. It would be nice if they'd also given the crowd a reason to. Agogo had a shot, it was rubbish.

Parkinson and Croft combined down the right , with one of them managing to dinkle a teasing little cross into the centre of the goalmouth. Their keeper stayed on his line and watched as Lescott cushioned the ball back towards him. Of course he picked it up and of course there was no free kick given. Like the players, the referee couldn't be bothered to do anything of any consequence.

Telling out about this game is like describing every stitch in a cardigan. So what if Newey lashed a free kick high into the area, with the ball falling to The Lump, who chested it down and hit a dipping volley onto the top corner of the "F" in the Osmond seats. A bit later Bolland dummied and was crumpled by one of their fair-headed scufflers, who wasn't even booked. About 25 yards out, just to the right of centre, Newey stood over the ball, tried to remember Pythagoras' theorem, and curled the ball a couple of feet over the centre of goal. Yeah, "ooh", if you want, as long as you are being post modern, or doing an impression of Kenneth Williams.

I've missed out something: their shot almost on target. Near the end Agogo spun on the edge of the area and dragged a shot towards Mildenhall's left. For no reason other than terminal ennui was setting in, Mildenhall fell and conned journalists into believing he'd made a save. The ball was going a foot or so wide and had no pace whatsoever. It doesn't count.

There we are. After a minute of time added for punishment, that dire diet of stewed cabbage was thrown in the bin. Absolutely dreadful from both teams. They huffled and puffled to no effect. Two passes from Agogo and a couple of crossfield passes from Bolland is the nearest we got to the sort of football that people expect when they pay money. There were no shots on target, no saves made by the goalkeepers. As always with Town the first half was a contractual obligation only.

Stu's Half Time Toilet talk
"Why do we pay full price when we only get half a game."
"I'll have to reverse into you before every game if it brings us luck."
"Oh that's the film where Will Young keeps his underpants on."
"It's not a tent George."
"Your wife would be better off pretending to be Joyce Grenfell"

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time and the game continued as it left off. No, that's inaccurate: it got worse. As it turned out, the first half was the good half.

A few minutes in Parkinson skewed a shot several thousand centuries wide, though Town got a corner as Campbell decided to play swing-ball, slicing the ball in an imperious crazy arc. Newey's corner was...I dunno, I can't remember. Town got a free kick just outside the area on the centre left. The referee paced out eight small steps then allowed Rovers to rove. Toner and Newey did a shuffly-stepover trick free kick, which they pushed infield for Parkinson to slice towards the singing ringing tree corner of the Pontoon.

The tannoy blew a fuse and kept sending out crackly white noise, messing with Lump's brainwaves. The remote signal failed to get from his head to his feet and nobody seemed to have asked Rob Jones if he knew how to play Go Junior Agogogogo. But we'll come that in a minute. Here they go, off in to the wilderness, dancing around the Town area - a shooting chance. Hunt, in the centre, inside the area, sidestepped one challenge and only Whittle's shins diverted the ball away for a corner. Go back to your chocolate biscuits: nothing happened.

Well, nothing as in anything good, there was movement of humans, in vaguest of vague co-ordination with the ball. What a lovely sky: a purpling pink, much like the faces of the crowd. Newey corner Town. Whatever order you put them in it comes out the same - a big fat zero. One from the right excited the Main Stand when Hunt dived and glanced the ball out past the near post for another corner. It was already going out for a goal-kick, silly boy.

Then they broke from a period of Town "pressure" (ie Town had the ball in their half for a bit), with Walker wafting the ball well over the bar from inside the area, to the right of goal.

Have you noticed? Neither goalkeeper had yet made a save. Ah, I wrote too soon, for just before the hour the only save of the game was made. Town strung four passes together, zipping the ball from right to left, via Toner to the overlapping Newey, who crossed to the far post. Cohen sauntered in, unmarked and, from about ten yards out guided a soft header straight at Shearer.

Then Gritton replaced the Lump.

I'm sorry, are you expecting the heroes to triumph? Dear reader, such things only happen in fiction. The minutes are ticking by and there's nothing to say. Town were disjointed, without fluency, without much hope. Long balls wasting possession, short passes mis-controlled; a static exhibition stand for an outdated product. How can we sell this?

Like a Romanian electricity supply there were isolated moments of connectivity when the lights came on for just a few seconds then... darkness again. Town pressure with Toner fiddling on the roof, crossing from the right to the far post. Reddy, unmarked half a dozen yards out, nodded softly straight at the goalkeeper. If only we had a rich man in charge we could have a long staircase leading nowhere, just for show. On second thoughts maybe we have one after all.

Town were trying, but failing. The Micawberish opponents were time-wasting all through the second half; content to stop, hoping for something to turn up. Can we criticise? Isn't that our tactic away from home? Another almost moment; Parky, Toner, Croft and Gritton triangulating their co-ordinates up the right with Gritton squeezing infield and... stretching forward to horribly slice well wide from way outside the area. As Town flannelled, Rovers seemed to get worse, passing out of play, mis-controlling for throw ins, slicing hacks, bundling, barging, playing rugby.

In the last twenty minutes, as Town pushed forward more and more, the spaces appeared for Agogo to diddle about in. Whittle and Jones started to flap, with the Stickman wobbling, mis-controlling the ball when last man a few times. Agogo broke but nothing much happened, just a few seconds of concern. Still no shots from them on target.

With about ten minutes to go Parkinson lost possession on the left and Rovers drove forward in numbers, switching play to the left then back to the right. Parkinson tracked back and, just outside the area about eight yards in from the bye-line, lunged at the attacker, who fell over the tiny leg. Parkinson was booked and danger lurked. Town put up a couple of players as a wall and Carruthers crossed low towards goal with his left foot. TONER, at the near post, swung his left foot, slipped, fell backwards, and deflected the ball in to the net in the style of Max Wall. The Bristol players seemed happy enough, which is nice for them; though it isn't as though beating Town at Blundell Park would be something exceptional.

Town hit the nuclear button, first sending Parky up front, then adding Rob Jones, with what ended up a 3:3:5 formation. How come? Well, you wait till the end to find out who the fifth man was. Town murdered the ball forward at every opportunity, with several Town players all jumping together. Toner stepped forward to a dropping missile and thundered a volley goalwards from thirty five yards, the ball beheading a centre back and shimmering aside for a throw in. A couple of minutes later a long ball dropped behind everyone, thirty yards out in the centre Parkinson burst through, nudged the ball on to his right and had a clear sight of goal. The ball dropped, Parkisnon's boot drew back....and he turned back upfield, ran around in a circle and the ball ended up with Whittle on the half way line. The crowd were a little frustrated at this point. In the last minute of normal time Reddy turned on the left, ran past a defender towards the bye-line, nudged the ball inside the area and...out of play. There was about a minute of added time, during which Town got a free kick when Cohen, near the Police Box, hauled his marker on top of himself, like he was pulling a sack over his head. Mildenhall raced upfield and awaited Newey's clip to the far post. Newey clipped, Hinton hopped, the ball was cleared and the party was over.

Well, Tuesday was such an easy game for Town to play but let's face it things where supposed to be much easier today. Guess we need some bringing down to get our feet back on the ground. Let's hope so. This was the team we wanted, in the formation we wanted and they, the players, were collectively awful. Too much dreaming, not enough scheming. We do live in a blame culture and it's your fault. Remember that next time you pull into Tesco's for your petrol and papers.

How many minutes of good football is that so far at Blundell Park?

NickO's Man of the Match
Should there be one today? No. Bolland, if anyone, would get some kudos for his first half efforts. More were closer to the Unman of the Match award, but no-one was so bad they deserve that.

Official Warning
Mr P Walton. Overly fussy in the extreme, never allowing advantage to be played, but allowing some free kicks to be taken quickly, from the wrong place and when the ball was still moving. He set the tone for the game, refusing to allow any flow to the football. He was just rubbish generally. He gets 5.012, as he wasn't so rubbish he sent anyone off or gave a penalty because someone sneezed.