Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
16 May 2006
Grimsby Town 2 Lincoln City 1
"Never start with weather."
A greying, temperate, spitty-spotty evening on the banks of the old lagoon with the House of Mirth fair rocking and rolling. All stands were rammed solid with Lincolnshire Pride, but who would fall?
The ground was infested with media, all desperate for that era-defining shot of people walking slowly down Blundell Avenue. Don't make eye contact with the camera: that's so uncool. A sideways glance and knowing harrumph will show your lofty disdain. Oh look - that's Colin Calderwood in the gallows: a rickety plank and canvas summer house open to the elements between Smiths/Stones/Findus and Pontoon stands. Maybe a squall will rush in from the North Sea and soak his tie.
Town lined up in the 4-4-2-type formation as follows: Mildenhall, Croft, Whittle, R Jones, Newey, Parkinson, Bolland, Mudmouse (© Radio Humberside), Cohen, Mendes and the G-man. The substitutes were Reddy, Toner, Futcher, Goodfellow and Kalala. The Pontoon sighed in contentment with the return of the Stick. The return of colossal calmness at centre-back: that's Russ's three Cs, isn't it? Croft for Sir Lord the Prince of McDermott was the only other change from the opening event in the Lincoln book fair. The road is long, with many a winding turn - and that's just the A46.
Lincoln played in their normal shirts with red shorts and white socks. So why did we have to change on Saturday then? Conker-boy Yeo replaced Green; otherwise they were the same set of well-drilled hoofers and loofahs. So they had the three Ms in defence: Marriott, McCombe, Morgan and McAuley. Very Alan Latchley. That's right, Big Keef; that's what football is about. It's all about rotivation. Have you seen their pitch?
There was no Dish of the Day: keep us lean, treat us mean. How do we know which dish is healthier with broccoli now?
Lincoln kicked off towards the Osmond stand. They probably wellied it high and barged into a Town player or two. No, that's unfair. Sometimes they add a little subtlety to their dustpan. They welly it very high and a couple of them barge into a Town player.
Foul, free kick, throw-in. Foul, free kick, throw-in. Town were pressing and Lincoln confessing to crimes against football. Mudmouse tipped this way and that; Parkinson ferreted between Beever's legs. Let's pause a while and picture that, shall we.
Town fizzed, but Lincoln popped the cork with some muscularly compact defending. Plan A: boot it down the side. Plan A+: boot it down the other side. Plan A++: boot it high down the middle. Effectively destructive, effectively destroying any flow, Lincoln were Lincoln. Kerr wasn't looking, but somehow he found Yeo; nobody does it quite the way you do. An Impite throw chucked long, hacked clear, and Lincoln rolled the ball back and back and back to Marriott. Punted long, and the peerless, magnificent Stick cuddled the ball to Mildenhall. All roads lead to Stick's dome.
Town started to tease and please, biting the bitter serial failures with Newey roaming down the left and Mudmouse pinging perfect passes from east to west. Whittle blocked, Bolland rocked and Woodhouse, on the right, floated a 987-yard crossfield pass to Newey, underneath the Archies in the Stones/Smiths/Findus stand. Surging to the bye-line, a cross floated to the far post, the Lump rose, receded and guided the ball into the Pontoon. That's it: football. The massed Mariners rising, the ground gurgling. This is a football match.
Another Town throw-in, nicking and knocking, Cohen juggling and buggling on the Town right. The ball fell to Woodhouse, 20 yards out on the corner of the penalty area. He took one look and whipped a dipping volley across the face of goal. Marriott flung himself to his right, the ball bounced up and good old Lumpy hurled himself forwards, missing by millimetres.
The Imps were frowning as the referee took agin their reckless wrecking: arms akimbo, feet a-flying, mouths a-muttering and free kicks aplenty to Town. McCombe caught the ball 25 yards out just right of centre, then booted the ball away. Out came the yellow card, up went the red-striped arms in disgust. "Let Newey take it!" He did. Marriott flew left as the ball banana-ed over and around the wall, curling a few inches wide.
A ball boy kicked the ball back to Hughes, but his trainer came off. We smiled in reassurance as his sock got wet.
Mendes flowed, for he owes us a goal. Persistently irritating, he forced them back, then forced us back into our seats with tame, timid tooting for shooting. A dinkled ball down the centre and Mendes poked and prodded safely to Marriott. Lincoln still percentaged their way into the Town area, but the Stick stuck to his mission: to save planet football from alien invasion. He was Stickian to the stickieth degree of brilliance. His head ruled the Town penalty area. He cleared again. Mendes peered back and saw the ball coming towards him. The soul survivor from the good ship Disco Volante turned, ran, passed to Parky and Town were breaking wonderfully. It was nice while it lasted. Shake a leg Junior!
Marriott boomed a big bopping kick down the centre and Robinson shoved Whittle aside. Jones the Stick thunderballed forward and headed Robinson, leaving both players face down in the dirt. Jones was led off down the tunnel, blood pouring from a wound; Robinson had a tub of lard rubbed into his head and came back on.
A minute later Lincoln attacked down the Town right and Mendes collided with Robinson as a pass infield cannoned off the referee's shins. Perhaps in embarrassment, he gave them a free kick, right on the corner of the penalty area. Danger, danger, the klaxon klaxed. Town were down to ten men, the peerless pinnacle of perfection still absent. Kerr curled the kick into the middle of the penalty area and big bad Robinson stooped; the ball hit his head and boombled down into the right corner of the goal. The Grimsby Groan was stifled, but the soft pfffft of the deflating balloon was audible above the distant sound of happiness.
Futcher replaced the Stick at the restart. Wasn't this a bit like putting in a fourth slip after Robinson had edged the bouncer through there?
Town wobbled while Lincoln upped their pace, upped their intensity, and upped their 'vigorous challenging'. Could the ball go higher, could their feet get any higher? Cohen scissor-fouled some Impite on the far left, giving them yet another chance to curl a cross in from their favourite position. Whittle cleared. Or was it Croft? Or was it Mendes? A procession of set pieces deep inside the Town half were dropped into the box, and the Town defence took it in turns to hack and thwack clear. The Universe was imploding, the Imps were scavenging and the hope was being sucked from every Townite as the game inched closer and closer to Mildenhall.
Lincoln were a 13th-century baron's army, with Robinson their hulking siege engine. They battered against the same rampart time and time again, the little infantryman waiting to pour through the breach. Pour some boiling oil over them Justin. A Town break, Parkinson the dribbler, Mendes the hinderer, a corner won. Biffed clear to Woodhouse, his shot was charged down and Lincoln flew away again to tickle the Town toes.
Handball! McAuley caught the ball, the crowd roared, the referee ignored, play continued.
Yeo fell in the area under a challenge from Futcher. Gasp, hold your breath, wait for it, it's it's a booking for diving. Another moment, another fall. They're trying all their tricks, right under the noses of their raucous support.
With six minutes left to half time Lincoln pummelled Town again on their left. Yeo fluttered free on the corner of the area and crackled a shot straight at Mildenhall at the near post. The Big M parried the shot aside, down the bye-line, and Hughes stepped forward. Minor peril with Town all of a tither. Hughes rolled the ball to the middle of the penalty area, whereupon Brown slashed the shot against the bottom right corner of the scoreboard. With half of Humberside Police inside Blundell Park you'd have thought one of them would have arrested him for criminal damage. He should get a fine at least.
Back Town roared, Bolland incisively infiltrating the area on the right, drifting past one, rolling past two, his low cross pinballing through several socks and out. No bonus ball today. Parky ran again; Mendes supported, received a pass infield and drivelled a slow shot from 25 yards through a thicket of thick hicks, but straight at Marriott.
Right on half time Lincoln 'won' another free kick when Croft tackled out on the right. For the umpteenth time they curled in a cross from about 20 yards out. The field was full of Lincoln Reds and, after bumblage and stumblage, the ball fell to Yeo on the right corner of the area. Newey stood back and Yeo curled the ball over and around and through and under and a few feet past the far post as Mildenhall dived theatrically to raise the level of false hope a few notches in the bleating heart of every little Impite behind him.
That's your lot. They've already gone in for a cup of tea and some cucumber sandwiches. It's half time.
Battling, bruising, boisterous and eighteen other words beginning with 'b', it was a roistering evening. Lincoln shrugged aside the image of dainty dilettantes that they don't have, being fearsomely frugal in passing, pscientifically psychotic in tackling. Town had the better of the first 20 minutes, Lincoln the last 20. The five in between were a boxing match during which Stick was retired through a head wound, and with him went Town's serenity. Neither keeper had much to touch, but the defences were frantic and frenetic in front of them.
A non-stop whirligig of human emotion. Take a moment to catch your breath: you need it.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"No, I never saw the flying trampoline."
"He doesn't wear a cravat when I cut his lawn."
"Shut up Dad, you're from Yorkshire."
"It's your fault - you didn't bring the sausage rolls."
"Futcher's doing fine, but he isn't Rob Jones."
Dear Lincoln fans: do not seek the treasure!
It only ends in misery.
Neither team made any changes in personnel, though Russell Slade had a cunning plan: Mendes and Cohen swapped around. Oh yes, forgot to tell you: Rip Van Cohen was the evening's somnambulist.
Town were at the Impies from the start, their passing pre-eminence restored and again. Perky Parky piddled about, and Town won a corner, or something; it was some kind of set pieceness down the Osmond end. It all fizzled into a bucket of ditchwater with Cohen penalised for pushing or handball or having his hair cut too short. I dunno, it was so far away, so insignificant that there's no point in continui... oooooooooooooh. That's better.
Croft swept forward majestically, releasing Mendes down the touchline. The Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus rippled as he crossed deeply. Cohen retrieved and was hackled to the ground. Let Newey take it! He did. Curled beyond the far post, the free kick was met by Futcher, who rose above Marriott and smiled a header on to the roof of the net. The game was being played out in front of the audibly wilting visitors.
Whittle headed down and no-one pounced. Another cross, another corner and Town were pressing their foot upon the straggly turkey's neck. Blundell Park was simmering nicely, the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus even leading the singing. We live in interesting times, Grasshopper. Rise again boys, for Mendes is in full flow. Released by Bolland down the right, McAuley and McCombe munching lard cakes on the halfway line; only the surprising bullet train that was Morgan relieved their pain.
The rafters rattled as Town roared on again. Mudmouse brushed a brilliant pass from right to left, onto Newey's big toe. Dazzled by the diligence of Mudmouse's passing, Newey fell over his own feet trying a Poutonian stepover of extravagance and eccentricity. A goal kick to Lincoln, plus a Chuckle Brothers moment for their fans. It is the seaside in summer; Newey just gave them an end of the pier show. Fun for all the family.
After about ten minutes of the second half a defining moment: Lincoln broke the siege of their own castle and flummoxed Town into conceding a corner. Half cleared, back in, back out, to the left, to the right, Yeo alone, inside the area: such a panic. The ball was smuggled through and, about ten yards out level with Mildenhall's left post, Yeo swivvered a low shot goalwards. A Town defender's studs scudded the ball down into the turf, spinning and gliding across the transfixed Mildenhall towards the far corner. The ground hushed as the ball pushed on through the area like a carousel that's turning, running rings around the moon. Croft stepped back, stooped down and carefully noodled the ball off the line. Now that's what experience is: knowing where to stand and remaining calm.
A couple of minutes later Reddy replaced Cohen. The return of the prodigal son of Kilkenny pleased a great many people. Let's hope Granny's holy water works today. Lincoln quaked and quacked, and Town broke the duck. Croft galumphed down the right, cleverly clipping the ball against a defender for a corner. Newey rolled it short to Bolland, who returned the ball invitingly slowly. Tiptoe Tom caressed a tempting, teasing cross beyond the far post, the ball arcing, dipping and slipping beyond any Lincolnite. The Lump rose from the depths of despair and pinged a firm header back across goal. Marriott was lost in translation, his defence lost in confusion. Futcher walked tall and snickled the ball into the net from six yards out.
Ill-fitting windows rattled in Taylors Avenue and the residents of Caistor made polite enquiries of the emergency services. No sirs, it wasn't a badly maintained factory in South Killingholme but the sound of Grimsby exploding with relief, joy and other things. Futcher ran through some imaginary tyres in front of his former supporters and down in front of his former detractors. The Main Stand loved him now. Don't we all.
Lincoln roused themselves into a fury and flew at Town. All hands to the pump. Whittle sliced Robinson in two 20 yards out, The wall was purchased from Ikea and assembled using instructions written in Swedish. Parky pushed Newey left, Newey walked right and Mildenhall told them both to stand still. What's all the fuss about? One of their little midfielders crackled the ball nicely over and out.
A minute later another free kick, then another, their nine pins fell within five yards of the penalty area. Forrester plunged to earth near Whittle, Yeo tripped over his own nose, Futcher and Bolland slid towards Brown who dived before they arrived. Pressure mounting, terrible, terrible pressure; so many free kicks, so many chances, so little talent. Kerr splashed lovely-ly over the bar; Brown crinkled a booming drive very pleasantly at the face of the heckler in seat L71. Yeo, freed on the right, sputtered a crashing bore towards Mildenhall's left. It was going wide, but Mildo parried aside for a corner anyway, just to be safe, not sorry. Stop giving away free kicks!
At last someone opened the window and let in some fresh air. A Town excursion to the seaside, with Parkinson lopping a loopy volley over Marriott, over the bar, and into the second row of the Osmond.
A quarter of an hour left and Town were teetering across the greasy pole with Lincoln chucking bean bags at them. Would we fall off? On came Toner for Mendes, and Alexander almost threw on Frecklington Green. A couple of miles from Potterhanworth Booths, it has a quaint thatched roofed pub that sells thirteen brands of unreal ale. Ah, no - Frecklington and Green. If a joke's not worth doing, it's not worth doing twice. Some people have built a career out of that.
The whole ground was standing: a cauldron spitting with wit and emotion. The Osmond stand was a wriggling mass of imploring Impites; even the Main Stand had some people peering through their pince-nez, waving their fans, and slurping their complimentary sherry.
Minutes ticked away and Croft exponentially grew in magnificence. Gliding, glowering, mugging and hugging these inferiors away from danger, he was as he used to be. You know you can trust your estate agent. Ah, there he is again, shimmying down the wing, playing chase the lady with the remnants of the Lincoln defence. Hoiked down a few yards outside the penalty area, Town had a free kick in what should be called 'the Lincoln position', which sounds like a News of the World euphemism. Politicians have resigned for worse. The police chose that moment to line the pitch, ratcheting up the tension another notch. Was this to be Northampton in reverse?
Mudmouse strolled across and made his secret sign to his secret friends. He delicately stroked an in-swinging kick towards the near post. Men moved. The Lump moved quickest, skipping and flipping a cheeky header across and over Marriott from six yards. He is more than a man, more than a feeling, he is much, much more than money can buy: he is the Lumpaldinho.
Cue the music. How many play-offs is that now in which you have not succeeded in your aims of promotion? The recorded version of the song was a little pithier though.
Lincoln went wild, with a bit of argy-bargy when Frecklington and Mudmouse performed two-footed lunges at each other, like rotting stags. Two Lincolnites were booked and the ground kept on dancing. Futcher collided with Marriott and another long stoppage followed. A minute later another Impie fell in the Town area, and another long stoppage. Lincoln belted Town, battering the door, but Jones slid to save, Croft graced the ground with his presence and Futcher managed to keep himself to himself, like all good serial killers. A cross through the area, missed by all, with Newey dummying. Or was that earlier? Does it matter?
Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, we're going to Cardiffy. And you're not. Ah, the dream is going going Hughes sliced horribly wide. No, it was wonderfully wide, wasn't it. Green swirled across the face of the Town penalty area and poutoned the ball for a goal kick, via the corner flag. The added time yawning away, their dream has gone. Again.
All singing, all dancing, three quarters of Blundell Park partying, all hail the conquering heroes. Hail the Lump. Howl. With seconds left the ball was chipped down the left and the Lump waited, jumped and McAuley held his head. The referee thrust out the red card. Depressed elation drenched the massed Mariners.
More than this - there is nothing. It was fun for a while.
The throbbing hubbub of Lincolnshire venom ended with vindication. Football beat rugby. For all their pressure, for all their thrusting and busting, Lincoln didn't create anything, The ball occasionally fell into their path. They were unable to cope when Town passed and pressed. Town's full-backs roamed and Lincoln moaned as they exposed and outnumbered on the flanks. Three at the back can't cope with a 4-4-2. We knew that last year, and fortunately we changed it this year.
Football is a cruel mistress. She's more than a mistress. She's a wife, she's a mother, she's a daughter, she's an errant child. She can bring the kettle to the boil. Perhaps Lincoln might think about playing football. After all, others seem to succeed doing it. Go on Impites, give it a try. You may enjoy it.
Soak in the glory, wear your Town shirt with pride. It feels good, doesn't it.
Nicko's man of the match
The Joneses were immense figures, the cornerstone of the Town house. But even they were overshadowed by one man: he shone like the sun, he hovered above the fray with a beatific smile and his knees worked. He was Gary Croft, he still is Gary Croft; he was Gary Croft when we needed him most. It's Gary Croft. Got that?
Mr M Dean missed a few small things but was intent on being firm on madness. Kept control throughout, but, but, but he sent off Our Hero. Ignoring that, he'd get 8.765. What did Jones the Lump do? Don't know: I came over all Arsene then. I was too busy smiling; it blinded me.