The Commitments: Peterborough (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

28 October 2006

Welcome to the new era: the ancien regime has tumbled, for the long, slow Beagrie years are finally over.

Peterborough United 2 Grimsby Town 2

Five hundred or so merry, manic, mordant, morose and moaning Mariners congregated in huddles inside the Peterborough wind tunnel. It makes the hirsute look like Ken Dodd. Where's my tickling stick? Some were amazed by doors that opened, others by the splashiest tap in football. Honest, it was the pressure in the water tap. As our American newspaper would headline: faucet hell. Or am I thinking of Ben Futcher again?

Town lined up in a vague, fluctuating 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Croft, Fenton, Butler, Newey, Toner, Boshell, Rrrrrrrrrrrricky Rrrrravenhill, James, Lump, Bore. The substitutes were Whittle, Thorpe, McDermott, Rankin and the Napkin. So, Stumpy in goal, Lumpy up front and Grumpy on the bench. Hi-ho, hi-ho, let's wash our shirts and go. Jones acted as a moveable bellows as Bore and James bombed up and down beside him, sometimes 4-3-3, sometimes 4-5-1. Old Lumpy was definitely recreating the strolling acme of his career by wandering into midfield like a mobile bollard. I said bollard: Bolland was nowhere to be seen. No change there, then.

The referee and linesmen were in the mood for dancing, perhaps even a little romancing, with a game of musical kabbadi down by the corner flag. No-one got their sitars out for the lads though. Where are the characters in the modern game? I bet Frank Worthington would've have been banging his tablas, with Rodney Marsh singing along with his tanpura. Isn't that what they do on Talksport? You don't get that on Mariners World, do you.

Are you standing uncomfortably? Then we'll begin.

First half
Peterborough kicked off towards the Town support. Let's get the obvious joke out of the way now; we don't want to have this hanging over us like a humongous bird of prey. Ben Futcher. Doh! No: 'Peter Bore' sounds a little like 'Peterborough'. Wahey! We could have microseconds of fun with that.

Carry on, ponder further, for an actual, factual joke may pop into your head while the footballers are taking it in turns to throw the ball a few yards up and down the touchline. This isn't sport: it's rugby union.

After five minutes Adam Newton threw the ball like Harry Worth, and it landed at his feet with a plop. The referee chuckled and let play go on, for why stop now when you're having so much fun. It was pleasantly half-paced rubbish - old Lumpy was on the top of his game and some little clumps of Grimsby were beginning to find a common voice. Right little clumps they were.

The game? Well, the Poshies pushed the ball from side to side and eventually chucked in a few rather poor crosses. Town were, err, all present and correct at this point. James moved with unusual haste around the pitch - even quicker than Bore when in full flight - but Town were just stringing a lot of beans together. Some player or other wellied the ball onto the roof. It might have been Newey, Hughie, Dewey or Shughie McPhee, the mad Scottish chef in Crossroads. No, it was Newey; the others are former loanees.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Peterborough managed to put the football inside the Grimsby Town penalty area. This caused several local inhabitants to say "ooh!". Or perhaps their souffl├ęs didn't deflate. My, my, 'twas nice and easy for Town. Hang on, I spoke too soon. Crow diddled and widdled through midfield, but the Mighty Bosh swooped and slid across vast acres of Benland to swagger the ball aside for a throw-in.

A taster, a teaser, a little crumb upon which to chew: Bore was sniggled free inside the Posh box, but he delayed shooting until the third boot arrived and danger disappeared into the boggy mists of old Cambridgeshire. A Town throw-in on the right was hurtled into the box. Lump did the bump and the ball bounced twice but Branston's bottom diverted the shot away for a corner. This sounds like something from Sir Henry at Rawlinson's end. Who lives at Branston's Bottom?

One more thing: is there a proper name for the back of the knee?

The game was all huff and puff, without artistry, without shape or form: it existed in time only. Then a funny thing happened on the way to boredom. Town started to piece together passes. One or two to start with, then three, four, even five. Possession was retained, Bore and James started to switch positions, and the Lump acted as a master puppeteer. After 20 minutes Posh were coshed by Lump, with an exquisite pass threaded between centre-backs and right-back. James thundered down the highway, wiggled infield and delayed his shot long enough for Holden to slide across and block for a corner. Don't get excited by a corner. We had loads, but Toner curdled every single one of them, and all the free kicks, in sub-Neweyan naffness.

Boshell shuffled the ball crossfield, Croft raided, Bore burned down the middle and James began to tickle our ivories with some nimble light cocktail music. Maybe he'll get on to the show tunes a little later, when he knows us better. He's planting the seeds, so maybe everything will come up roses someday.

There's Rrrrricky! No, it's a paper bag. Sorry.

Ah, nice. Peterborough had a shot. Well, I say a shot, but Butcher kicked the ball and it ended up in Barnes' hands. It was probably a terrible through ball to a winger.

Town slowly strangled Posh, the ball sticking to the right white boots, James growing on us, leaping high, sprinting long, causing Futcher and Branston to quiver and quake. Town had several 'nearly' moments, with Boshell having a shot blocked after neat approach play, Newey crossing deep, and Toner squirtling a volley high and ugly. The clues were there: Town had method, a strategy, and some style. The players were moving, they were trying, they were doing what they were told and gradually the monster boiled up from the depths for all to see: football was being played.

Newey started to take the goal kicks, sending the ball back whence it came: the changing rooms in the stand behind Graham Rodger.

After 35 minutes Crow bedraggled a shot wide from the edge of the area. Hey, their first proper shot! Town responded with a fantastic triangle of first-time volleyed passes sending James free, but he was diverted as he was about to shoot. The Lump was at the fulcrum of football, back to being a poor man's inert Teddy Sheringham; this was so good, this is Town as we knew it, this is...

...terrible. The ball squished out from the Peterborough penalty area. Gain and Lumpy lunged, with the laws of physics demanding that for every action there is a reaction. Lumpy lunged horizontally, both feet off the floor and landed near the feet of one of Big Keef's collection of old Imps. The referee was brandishing the red card before Lumpy landed. From 100 yards away it looked like an unarguable decision. Darn it, eh. The referee makes one right decision and it has to be this one. What ill fortune.

Bore was a lone striker, but was rarely alone, as Town midfielders frequently chuntered upfield in support. The Poshites had a couple of more shots. Who cares. They weren't worthy of memorising, so I have conveniently forgotten them. Of course, Poshies had the ball a bit more, but they continued to be useless with their pitty-patty flicks and tricks getting them absolutely nowhere against the brick wall that was Town. Big Keef's teams don't do subtle.

Half time sauntered by and Town clasped its hand like an old friend. Our reduced circumstances were an embarrassment, but Town were still a comfortable victoria sponge cake on a platter of French fancies and badly baked bakewell tarts.

Any more tea, vicar?

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

From the off Town tore into the startled Fenland funsters. James and Bore: pacy, pacy, very, very pacy, they're very pacy and didn't Posh know it. Within a minute a cross was cleared to Toner, 20 yards out in the centre, who laughed a stumbling volley straight down the middle. Tyler arched back and just managed to tip the ball over the crossbar. A minute later James lashed a shot goalwards, which hit Bore's back and ballooned wide. Ah, nearly.

Peterborough started to use their wings more, passing the football only to create space from which to cross. Town harried and hustled, but the lack of Lump finally told, as a man was free to curl and swirl a cross in. The first of many Benjamin headers tobleroned off his head and wide in the 50th minute. This happened every nine minutes, on the dot. A cross from their right into the centre of the penalty area. Benjamin jumped and headed wide. You could set your clock by it, or cook two eggs.

Toner picked up possession on the Town left just inside their half. He looked up and caressed a beautiful pass with the outside of his right boot around Branston and into the penalty area. Bore swung past Guy the gorilla and hit the nitro button. Tyler raced out and, from about a dozen yards way to the left of goal, Bore tried to curl the ball around the keeper, who parried it firmly out into a huge cavernous gap in the centre. Arber swiped the ball away from James, passing directly to Toner, on the right edge of their area. As blue puddles approached Toner placed the ball through three legs, two armpits, half a tyre painted white, some rubber quoits and into the middle of the goal. The rope ladder was elsewhere, Ben.

"We only need ten men!" Indeed; that's four more than we've usually had this season.

Peterboring continued their eternal pursuit of happiness with some sugary, slow off-centre machinations, which is a bit like Top of the Pops in 1974. I feel like making a lame duck joke about Ben Futcher leaving us for a reason, throwing in a gratuitous and somewhat idle reference to the Osmond stand, but we'll just skip on to... oh, that was a shot, wasn't it? It didn't go in so we'll draw a discreet veil over that and pretend it didn't happen.

Big Keef had seen enough. It was now time for plan A - the one that has been so successful for him in avoiding promotion for four years running. Now that's a proven track record if ever there was one. Off came their left-back and on came a tall gangly striker, Opara. Or the phantom, for he didn't do anything but wave his arms about occasionally: he may have been singing to Gary Croft. For the student scientists of molecular biology in the audience, Peterboring played in a 3-4-3 system. The upshot of all this was that they had even more space on the flanks, so more crosses came in. Run that Trevor Benjamin thing again, six yards to the right this time.

A couple of minutes later the blues bonked the ball down the pitch as high as could possibly be. Butler chased after the ball, pursued by little Danny Crow. Butler jumped; Crow barged into the leaping Bunnyboy; and the header back was thus denied the full power of the Iron head, falling a little short. Barnes hobbled out and fly-kicked the ball against Crow. It ricocheted back towards goal. Butler chased back and, a yard from the line, tapped the ball away for a corner. Phew, fortune's with us today. Shut up fate-tempter. The corner was clobbered high to the back post where Banjo Ben Futcher, a dozen yards out, leaned over a Town player and headed firmly down into the bottom left corner. No-one was on the post, no-one was surprised that the immutable law of the crap-for-us-ex struck again.

That's it, it's over. No, it ain't: there is fight and spirit there after all. This was a game of evens, not odds as Town matched Peterboing. Town sat in two banks of four 30 yards out and simply waited for the blue sea to lap against their sleepy shores. The Poshites carried on tapping the ball from side to side, diligently pulling Town's cardigan thread by thread until a hole big enough to bash a cross through appeared. Then Benjamin headed wide again. When a Poshie attack collapsed Town sprung forward like gazelles, with James a fantastic dribbler and Bore dangerous with the ball to chase. Town started to gently blow against the Peterbleugh fence and it began to sway.

With just less than 20 minutes left Boshell hoofed a clearance way upfield, into the no man's land between defence and keeper. Branston bundled back with Bore surging past, just missing the ball as it dropped. On the edge of the D, Branston hopped and headed towards Tyler, but Bore anticipated and was waiting as the ball dropped. Tyler rushed out, the ball bounced, and, from the penalty spot, Bore lifted it over the keeper and high into the net. To say there was a degree of satisfaction in the Town five hundred would be to materially misjudge the mood.

"We only need ten men!" Just think what we'd do with eleven.

Back Peterbooing came with a marked change of tactics. They simply bashed it to Benjamin, who pushed, shoved, hipped, hoofed and mowed Town players out of his path. With three Town players strewn across the battlefield he was free, in the centre, with Barnes hopping and hoping on the goal line. Newey, somehow, stretched out one of his auxiliary legs and plonked the ball over the crossbar for a corner. What happened next? A red squirrel emerged from underneath Danny Crow's shirt and headed the ball over, of course. Or maybe only part of that was true - the bit where they didn't score after something happened deep inside the Town area. Huke hoiked a long shot way over. Huke? A substitute, not a description.

The minutes ticked down, with Town beating a retreat. The goal was constantly under pressure, but there was always a Town head, foot or backside to nibble at danger's mangy paw. There were Town attacks, foundering mainly upon a fickle linesman, but they offered hints at hope for the future as well as the now.

With about 10 minutes left Peterborough started to shave Town's hairy, more exposed limbs with a sharpened cut-throat razor. The ball was suddenly threaded through to Crow, on the left edge of the Town area. Newey backed off and Crow hit the bye-line, dinking a cross beyond the far post. Day nudged James aside and levered the ball back into the centre. Benjamin trod on the ball, seemingly falling over and swiping it into the bottom right corner all in one movement. Ah, we sad sweet dreamers. It's one of those things you put down to experience.

Maybe we really do need eleven men after all.

Town didn't die, they didn't lie, they didn't cry, but they did spy a chink of light between the big blue bedspread. They carried on pressing forward. Bore burned down the right, chasing a lost cause, retrieving and panicking the Poshies with a surge into the penalty area. He waited for help and rolled the ball back to Boshell, a dozen yards out, who leaned back and swished a first-time shot comfortably over the crossbar. Next Bore, or was it James, crossed a little high, then shot a little wide as Town counterattacked swiftly.

With five minutes to go, after a little passing and movement, Bore floozied Futcher on the left, zipping in the area and doing a handbrake turn as Futcher continued towards the garden centre for his bag of compost. Tyler flew off his line and charged down the shot from the edge of the six-yard box; the ball rebounded onto Branston's shins and dribbled across the face of goal towards the bottom left corner. On the ball rolled, the Town fans leaping, whooping, hollering and willing it to creep inside the post. It missed by an inch.

Yoikes, Newey's left it again and it hasn't gone out... Fenton lifted the carpet. Cripes. Butler back-headed across the six-yard box. Fenton sprinkled some Shake 'n' Vac over the top, so no-one would notice.

I've missed out a few Peterborough attacks, but you don't need to know. Trust me, I'm a fact doctor.

There were four minutes of added time, most of which were taken up with a prolonged bit of primadonna posturing by the referee over a free kick he shouldn't have given against Newey down by the left corner flag. Newey was eventually replaced by Whittle, who just about managed to get into the penalty area before the kick was taken. It was half cleared to James 20 yards out, who bizarrely tried a cushion-header across the face of the Town area. Boshell squashed the first shot but some blond-haired Poshie thwacked a firm drive goalwards from 25 yards out. Barnes plunged and pushed the shot aside and Whittle got out of his foxhole to scurry the ball out for a corner.

The rest of the added time was taken up with the referee deciding that Trevor Benjamin was a dirty, foully cheat-cheat, so whenever clever Trevor went near the ball he gave Town a free kick.

Have the worms finally turned? All things considered, a superb performance from the whole team, for with eleven on the pitch Town were starting to exert some control. When the Lump was terminated the ten stood tall, kept the ball and never, ever gave up hope of victory. The addition of James, who's like a lower-division Aaron Lennon but without the comedy Groucho Marx eyebrows, makes Town look genuinely frightening going forward - to opponents and not us band of brothers following Fenty Python's Crying Circus. Above all, there was a clear strategy, which the players adhered to. For just about the first time this season you felt everyone knew what they were doing. It was a hugely enjoyable match from our stand.

So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and white and I'm proud.

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
All except Rrrricky the miss-man can place those laurel leaves around their necks, though even he stood around in the right places to stop Poshites going by. Fenton seemed to be a human ball-magnet and Croft made innumerable interceptions through excellent positional sense. Bore and James just frightened the life out of the tin men at the heart of the Peterborough defence but, to finely calibrate a litany of honour, one would ask Mr Danny Boshell to step forward and stand upon the rostrum. You, sir, were here, there and everywhere.

Official Warning
You can tell how poor Mr M Thorpe was: he didn't book Ravenhill. That's one of the laws of association football. How come whenever Futcher played for us he gave free kicks away just for breathing, yet today he was allowed to ruffle and kerfuffle at will with his clod-hopping and clown impressions? The referee got very little right, and took unkindly to many perfectly fair challenges, predominantly by Town players. He was probably right about the sending off though, so 5.239. Why so high? My dinner's ready, so I'm feeling happy.

The Others
A curious mixture of passing and plopping. They are in a state of limbo between Alexanderian vigour and the studious appliance of science. So they are a right bunch of fluxors. In the first half they looked nice until they had to plunge the knife; in the second they mixed a composed build-up with agricultural crossing. In short, they don't know what they are, with glaring weaknesses at the back (no pace or idea), and in midfield (playing slowly in straight lines).

They've got half the Lincoln players, but not the better half. If they want to fail in the play-offs they may as well get rid of their decent players now: there's no room for all this namby-pamby passing. See you next year! Hopefully.