Good vibrations: Lincoln (a, play-off)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

13 May 2006

Lincoln City 0 Grimsby Town 1

The play-off's the thing, eh, Lincoln?

A sodden, soggy, miserable misty morning in the old Roman ruin with 1,400 travelling Townites shoved into the farthermost corner on the big Sincil Bank Stand in determinedly non-negative mood. It takes a lot of effort for your average Grimbarian to be non-negative at this time of the day. We're trying, we're really trying to kick the habit, not the team.

There were plenty of empty home seats to be espied in the I.M.P.S. Stand, or should that be the Impless Stand?

Town lined up in all blue in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Mildenhall, McDermott, Futcher, Whittle, Newey, Cohen, Bolland, Woodhouse, Parkinson, Jones the Lump, Mendes. The substitutes were Kalalalalala, Reddy, Goodfellow, Croft and Toner. Do you need to be told where they all stood? You do? Then you haven't been paying attention this year, have you. Parkinson was on the left, Cohen the right, with Mendes up front in the headless chicken role. Remember, you should not count your headless chickens before they're hatched, as the Chinese always say.

We were Stickless and worried, for the wrong Futcher returned to the scene of crime. The pitch had a lot of grass on it, and a lot of water in it. The ball wasn't going to roll out of play much when they launched it into the corners. This was, all agreed, a concern.

The programme was a bumper special issue of multitudinous memories: check out Dennis Booth's beard and trilby on page 15. You know kids, in those days, they played in hats too; just ask your dad. The game has changed so much in the last 30 years, not necessarily for the better. If only Town would bring out a special play-off kit, they could dress real neat from their hats to their feet and surprise with the victory cry. A bit presumptuous to have Big Keef celebrating with champagne on the front cover, don't you think?

Lincoln lined up in their usual 3-4-3 formation, with Green and Forrester, those two busy bees, up front with the heffalump Robinson: a sort of mobile Lump, but without the goals. And they have a Grittonless bench - didn't take them as long as us to tire of his tiresome and wan wanderings.

OK, this is it: let's get ready to rumble, and Lincoln to grumble.

First half
I can confirm, exclusively, that one of the teams kicked off. Them, they did, they kicked towards the cathedral end, the one furthest away from the Town support. If you were watching on telly, it was the one they kicked towards first; if you weren't then, any way the wind blows, it really doesn't matter. Actually, there wasn't much of a wind, so that doesn't matter either.

And by the time you reached the end of that paragraph Town had won a corner. Newey parcelled the ball up in some plain brown paper, tied a neat bow on top and addressed it to Parkinson, down the left touchline. Parky had been standin' there waitin' so patiently, twizzling around his marker and twirling down the touchline. A cross blocked, a corner gained. A corner cleared, a free kick gained, as Town dominated the first minute with a crazy little thing called passing. Nice to see you, to see you nice. The free kick led to a corner, the corner led to a dark room called disappointment as the moment drowned in drizzle. The Town fans drowned out the Lincolnites. Roar!

One of the linesmen was from Lincolnshire, the other from Yorkshire. Now there's turnips and lard for your conspiracy soup. Boil for 90 minutes and season to taste.

Comfortably ascendant, Town were comfortable and in the ascendant. The minutes ticked slowly forward and Town ticked over, moving forward slowly and precisely, retaining possession; keeping calm, keeping cool, keeping control.

Are the Impies going to visit Mildenhall? I visited Mildenhall on Friday: what a strange place; you go through Kenny Hill to get there. It's very big, but nobody stays there long. Ah, yes, here it is, a Lincoln attack. Green turning, spurning the pass, racing at Futcher in the centre, 20 yards out. Ben Futcher, the tallest peak in the Grimgorm mountains, stretched and poked the ball away, but the referee managed to see an imaginary foul. Free kick to them; danger lurked. The wall morphed together from disparate atoms and Forrester gallimored the shot into the ankles of the third sock from the left. The ball squirmed out sideways to one of their centre-backs, who crackled a low cross into the centre, which Futcher steered out for a corner. You can relax: the corner came to naught.

Back Lincoln hurtled, finding their range with long punts, forcing the ball into the corners and falling over when breathed upon. A free kick, way out on their left and level with the penalty area, was curled low to the near post. Cohen took a nap and one of their taller players looped a fairy liquid header at Mildenhall. I shall arbitrarily award that effort to... number 23, Portsmouth, who will play... no, that's some other ball in some other bag. It may have been Brown. Big bad Brown: yes, he can have that.

Mildenhall then did something strange: he threw the ball out to a Town player, instigating a breakaway. Mendes ran a long way and Town got a throw-in. Mendes was persistent if nothing else, occupying several defenders, causing them to move. Town pressed: pressure, passing, crosses, a Cohen shot was blocked. Bolland battled and barged his way down the high street and Parkinson pressed the right buttons on the pelican crossing; he was a permanent irritant down their right. The green man flashed, but Lincoln drove through, despite Woodhouse crossing the road. Don't dawdle in traffic, Curtis. Three Impites roamed on the Town right; Futcher retreated into the area. Ah, Futcher, the dandy highwayman we're all too scared to mention; he stood, he delivered. A magnificent interception as a bullet-headed Saxon mother's son fiddled.

Typical Lincoln: the ball was replaced as it had died after a severe beating.

Newey raided after Woodhouse teased, but no cross, no effort, just a nice vignette of passing and movement. I wouldn't put any vignette in the conspiracy soup, by the way; it'd taste a bit tart. And Town nearly scored. Mildenhall ba-boombled a huge punt upfield and McAuly grazed the ball back to Marriott, who had to move a foot to his right to stop it sneaking in by the catflap. Well, if it had gone in it would have been a goal. We're having that as a shot on target.

Around the quarter-hour mark Town receded as Lincoln pleaded for fouls. The referee answered this call of the mild, with Bolland lectured for appearing to fail to touch a falling angel. The penalty area was stuffed with humanity and the crosses piled in. The clearances were half, the chances were quarter, the cauldron was starting to simmer. Lift up the lid somebody. A corner on Lincoln's right, curled high and long to the far post. Big men jumped and the red-striped one boomed a header down through Mildenhall and in for a... disallowed goal. Oh yes, quite clear to us. Their player thingy obviously did something or other to our player whatsit. Blatantly.

A couple of minutes later Macca was replaced by Croft.

Woodhouse dithered and dallied in midfield, just outside the Town area, and the Lincoln vampires pounced upon this helpless villager wandering hopelessly in the woods. Bim-bam, a goal... disallowed. Robinson was gazumpteen miles offside and everyone on Earth knew it. Stop feeling hard done by, Impites.

Town blistered away, deciding to revisit the Lincoln half; they'd enjoyed it when they passed through earlier in the day, so why not stop and have a nibble, perhaps in one of those bistros in Bailgate. Pea purée? That's posh mushy peas isn't it? Town scoured the menu and made a decision - let's go in; there's a table free. Stretched down the flanks, Lincoln were undermanned in the centre. Cohen and Mendes flashed their teeth and Lincoln quivered. Don't they make them at the local crisp factory?

Mildenhall wellied the ball. The Imps wobbled and the ball dropped on the edge of the area to Bolland, whose volley cannoned off a lumpy bottom, perhaps even Lumpy's bottom, and back out of the area again. Cohen clipped the ball to Parkinson 20 yards out in the centre. He brought the ball down, swished right, left, right, left, turned and did the tango with his marker. Parky raised an eyebrow and spat out the thorny rose before swirling to the left. Woodhouse sneaked into the space between centre-back and right wing-back while this Latin American jiveathon was being exhibited. Parkinson played a superbly weighted pass through the remnants of Lincoln's defence and Woodhouse was free on the right of the penalty area. A touch or two, a look or two, and he rolled a low cross through the six-yard box. The whole goal gaped and into the crumbling gap marched Jones the Lump, who slid forward to scream the ball into the roof of the net. We screamed too. The home fans screamed, but in a Munchian way.

Lincoln threw themselves forward relentlessly. A cross was huckled away, a dribble diverted, a corner headed wide. Passion peaked with a Woodhouse push on Kerr. What a silly billy. Whittle fouled again, in the centre, 25 yards out. The weak air raid siren groaned again as the referee slowly measured out his version of ten yards. Mildenhall mixed the mortar himself this time and the bricks in the wall stood still. Three Imps consulted and Hughes curled the ball around the wall. The ball dipped and skipped as Mildenhall brilliantly flipped it from the foot of his left post; only a temporary reprieve as the ball was kept in play and crossed back. Town were coshed around the head and Mildenhall raced out to catch a cross. Buffetted and barged, Mildenhall dropped the ball and held his head. Robinson was booked. Quite rightly too: he really was awful against Brigg Town two years ago. Unforgivable.

At some point Woodhouse sauntered in the Town area and was dispossessed by Forrester, with someone like Croft or Whittle taking out the dustpan and brush to sweep his mess into the dark green wheelie-bin. Mildenhall had ants in his pants, lurching and leaping around to punch and parry as crosses rained in. Long throws were hurled, corners were curled, free kicks were licked and Town were under a small siegette. Another great Futcher tackle! Have we got the right Futcher today? It's his dad in a wig, isn't it.

Town got a throw-in, which Croft chucked towards the near post, and Cohen headed safely wide and high. That's that as far as Town attacks go.

The game crawled to half time, with Lincoln peeling away the thin strips of protective plastic Town had placed over the goal. Woodhouse stupidly pushed over some little Lincolnite on their left, just outside the area. The free kick was curled into the middle and the usual argy-bargy game of British bulldog saw the ball trundle out towards Beevers, 25 yards out on their centre-right. The ball dropped and Beevers bazookered a dipping volley goalwards. Their crowd rose as Mildenhall rose and arched his back, fingertipping the ball over the crossbar. Flowing freely down their right, Town were exposed, Forrester free, on the penalty spot and... Whittle and Futcher wrapped a duvet around him. There, there. Have a cup of tea.

The end is nigh for this half, but still Lincoln pressed. Cohen was bamboozled then tripped an Imp on their left in the usual position, about level with the penalty area. The ball was curled into the centre and missed every Town head. One of their Mac-defenders rose inside the six-yard box and glanced the ball a few inches wide. Well done. It took great care and immense skill to avoid scoring. We appreciate the effort.

Phew. Got there. Half time arrived as Lumpy and Mendes bore down on Marriott as he attempted to fly-kick away. Phewsomely, handsomely Town were leading. Lincoln had been stereotypically Lincoln: all guts and garters, fast and furious; their method acting was a little stodgy though. Who are you calling a mook? Town had a lot of possession, which was neat and tidy, with many moments where Lincoln were rocking, if not reeling, in anticipation of a shot. Parkinson was a rip-roaring thorn in Beever's side, for every time he thought of him he shivered to the bone, and Futcher was the lighthouse maintaining maritime safety with a broad sweep of light every 12 seconds.

Town went into the dressing room this time. Maybe the paint had dried then. Now let's queue for that pie.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"It was nice, but I was surprised by the banana."
"Well, they do use their feet sometimes, so it must count as football of some sort."
"You're never stopped by the police when you're holding an M&S carrier bag."
"Mrs Jones better have had the twiglet before Tuesday."
"See, we pass the ball and we score. It's simple."

The half-time entertainment was a crossbar challenge between two random fans. Roared on by the massed Mariners army, Big Tarby the Town fan stylishly clipped his first go against the bar after the scrawny Imp had failed. Scrawny Impy succeeded with his second and Tarby missed with his. An exciting final round was set up, the ground was rocking and ready. Impyboy hit the bar again...and the tannoy announced Lincoln had won. Pandemonium in the Town end as our hero retreated in a stumbling state of bemusement: "Two goes, he only had two goes". Same old Lincoln, always cheating.

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

By a process of elimination Town kicked off the second half. Within a couple of minutes perky Parky had pickled his marker, dribbling down the left, infield, outfield, between two large sycamore trees and dreaming a little dream of Wembley. But it's Cardiffy this year, and a defender managed to scrubble the ball against Parky's shins as he hit the bye-line. A goal kick given.

Another minute, another Town attack. Bolland and Parkinson exchanged passes in midfield and the Bradford battler was unmarked 30 yards out on the centre-right. He took one touch and swerged a dipping shot high towards goal. Marriott back-tracked and the ball suddenly descended and bumped against the face of the crossbar, straight out to Cohen, in the centre, on the edge of the area. The shot blocked, the ball rolled out to Parkinson, 25 yards out, who curved a boomerang around the defender. It circled around the flying Marriott and dropped just wide of the left post. Hands on head time. Oooooooooh. Let me hear you say ooooooooooooooh.

When did Mendes roll the ball to Lump, who back-heeled it to Mendes, who clipped a pass infield? Was it then? Was it later? It happened, sometime, and it was lovely. Just thought I'd mention it.

Lincoln continued to pummel the ball and pommel horse Town. Robinson turned Futcher on the right and clipped a cross through the middle of the penalty area. Newey stretched and shinned the ball out for a throw-in. The pressure ratcheted up another notch. Hurled long: minor panic inside the area. Futcher noodled the ball out for a corner. The corner curdled in, the ball dropped, Mildenhall plunged, plucked and mucked in as best he could, with much Hinge and Bracketing inside the area. At least the referee has an intolerance for dragged-up piano-based pastiches of the genteel inter-war world of cucumber sandwiches and church fêtes. It may have worked for Graham Taylor but it has no place in the modern game.

They're off again, Lincoln pounding the same old furrow, with Town swaying in the non-existent breeze. A long ball hoiked upfield and bodies bumped inside the Town area. Green flailed about on the edge of the area, drifting across from right to left, crumpling a shot four yards wide. Corner given. Panic, panic and panic again as the petrified Forrester was blocked by Whittle. The ball bumbled and stumbled near several red socks, but always, always a blue shirt barred the way. Remember Forrester's lob from some other game, sometime possibly against a team alleged to be Grimsby Town? He tried it again, but the ball was way too high, landing on one of the few Lincolnites seated behind the goal. They dropped their aitches in surprise.

On the hour they made a couple of changes. Yeo's the Dude normally, but he looked a bit podgy: too many cakes and not enough carrot juice during his injury, eh? They also put on Frecklington. Isn't that a small village near Wragby? You know, it's all very well having a vista of the Wolds, but there is no mains gas supply.

For the next ten minutes Town were a sorry ship of mules. Lincoln's more obvious and direct play, allied to their personnel change, meant Town were overrun. Huge gaps started to appear between midfield and defence, with the Impite midfielders picking up all the rebounds, ricochets and rococo-style fittings in the local DIY store. Hughes dribbled eight miles through the Town team to the edge of the area; only some kind of impromptu roadblock involving garden chairs and wardrobes stopped his progress. Another bit of barging and barundling from some bloke or other caused similar carnage. Town's defence was virtually standing on Mildenhall's toes and he was almost sat in the first row of the Impless Stand.

Agitated as Town were flagellated, the massed Mariners resorted to their Towntric mantra "Reddy, Reddy", and on came the man Oldham want to buy from Luton, replacing the ineffective stroller, Cohen. Mendes went out to the right wing. Town were immediately energised. Not in a Star Trek way, you understand, or the referee may have booked somebody for leaving the field of play without permission.

Reddy's arrival allowed Town to launch the ball with confidence, and Lincoln were pegged back a while. Newey exchanged passes with our charming prince of pace, raiding and terrorising three defenders, swinging his pants into the penalty area and hitting the bye-line, six yards wide of goal. Silk or leather, or maybe a feather, but whatever, the referee gave a goal-kick.

Still Lincoln railed at the world: Parkinson was strangled by Brown but play continued; Bolland was belted in the chest by a rising Lincoln boot, but play continued. Impite wing-backs were encamped on the outer fringes of the Town area with crosses dinkled, dimpled and wimpled. But always some part of some Town body managed to get in the way at some point. Hughes, free on the edge of the area, bedraggled a shot wide, bedunked another in a Town shin. The pressure just increased and increased. Corners were curled through the area, over the area, under the area, everywhere but to a Lincoln head or boot.

With about ten minutes left Toner replaced Mendes.

The last air raid was about to begin. Boom! Bang! Thwoosh! Ker-pow. Holy water Reddyman! A cross was headed vaguely in the Town area, near a Lincoln boot, but straight at Mildenhall, who clung on to the ball as he misread the googly off the divots in the area. A cross from their left soared and swerved through the area. No-one touched it. The ball bounced off Whittle, a red sock lunged and the shot was blocked. Another rebound, another block, repeat, repeat, repeat: Bolland was omnipresent. Repeat that.

Reddy roved and raced down the right, crossing just in front of Lumpy. When I say just, I mean five yards, but that's closer than Prestwick Airport. It's all relative, isn't it, as we say to Bostonians.

On the break Futcher fouled someone really daftly, right underneath the Town support. Yet another chance for them to fling in a free-kick from their favourite position. Just think of a dozen drunken uncles at a wedding pretending to be Mick Jagger: you'll get the drift of the hackery and dackery inside the area as the ball played Ker-Plunk and fell through the hole marked 'goal kick'.

With a couple of minutes left Town broke away. Toner launched a tackle straight through a homester and the ball shimmered to Parkinson, 25 yards out on the centre-left. He drifted infield and curled a right-footed shot around his defender, boomeranging around the flying Marriott and dropping a few inches wide of the left post. Hands on head time. Oooooooooh. Let me hear you say ooooooooooooooh. Haven't we been here before?

There were three minutes of added time.

One last surge from Lincoln would destroy the mood. Remember last week? The ball was flung forward, hung high, the tension strung out for a few more seconds. The ball dropped on a Town head and shivered out of the area. Kerr shot and it was mildly deflected out for a corner. Curled in, slivered away for another corner, the whining was audible only to the local canines on Canwick Road.

One last corner, one last effort, one last chance... from their left the corner was curled into the near post area. A head headed and the ball zoomed down and across the face of goal, towards the bottom corner. Woodhouse, standing next to the post, volleyed the ball off the line and against the face of a fellow defender, just a few yards out. Back it bounced towards goal. Silence descended as air was sucked in by eight thousand lungs: a defining moment was upon us. MaCauley, a couple of yards out, swung his boot as Mildenhall and a blue shirt hurled themselves at him. The ball crackled against the very outside of the left post. Goal kick. Good night, that's it, it's over. See you on Tuesday.

One Lincoln fan ran on the pitch. A few horses trotted on and the Town players and management ran over to acknowledge the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the Town crowd. Or something similar.

A bit different from last time, wasn't it. They probably had just as many chances, in similar positions, but the ball didn't go in today. Poor shooting or just one of those days when they weren't lucky? Do we care? A team that plays by the percentages loses by the percentages. There were moments of football during the game, and they came from Town. A few passes here, a few passes there; yet again the tantalising glimpse of an attractive team wanting to peek out from behind the straggly, unkempt bush of functional football. See - we can do it, and it worked.

Don't book your rooms in the Cardiff Hubris hotel just yet. But at least it's in our own hands to blow it this time.

Nicko's man of the match
The elusive butterfly of adjudication pondered upon the merits of Mr Parkinson and Mr Futcher. He was impressed and wishes them to be mentioned in despatches for their positive contribution. They were worthy of their places in the team today. Everyone did what they were supposed to do, but Bolland did it more so. He held the quaking, leaking boot together in the middle of the second half and he alone is the Man. Sirs, I give you Paul Bolland: man of many matches, but particularly this one.

Official warning
Mr L Mason was oddly erratic in awarding free-kicks. Early discipline gave way to a hotch-potch of occasional anarchy and some ludicricious decisions. He did disallow a couple of Lincoln 'goals' so some bonus points fly westwards, especially for the first one (cf. Shrewsbury, eh?). He gets 5.876 because that's what my fingers happened to hit two seconds ago.