Careless hands: Stockport (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

30 December 2006

If I'd known Nigel Miller was the referee I'd have stayed at home.

Stockport County 3 Grimsby Town 0

Around 350 Townites trudged through the miserable mean streets to the muddy mess on the hill. And the rain beat down, and down, and down upon the earth as thunder clapped overhead. 'Tis the pathetic fallacy. Wasn't that the appointment of Graham Rodger?

Town lined up in the away kit in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Croft, Fenton, Whittle, Newey, Till, Pulis, Rrrrricky Rattyhill, Hegggarty, Rankin, Paterson. The substitutes were Boshell, Murray, Harkins, Bolland and microwave Michael O'Reddy. You don't need to be told anything about that team, you know where they stand. You know their names, you can look up their numbers.

Stockport had a bowler hat as a substitute, and two local lasses called Clare and Rose as their full-backs. I don't think they're taking us seriously.

First half
Town kicked off towards the open end and within 21 seconds Rankin had rocked, rolled and tickled Till free, who slipped Paterson through the Stockport stocking on the centre-right. Paterson sailed into the area and was swiped off the ball. No penalty given. Till retrieved, crossed and Croft mishit the clearance dribblingly wide from 20 yards. Oh, oh, oh what a lovely start.

Town competent, confident and controlling the game, with Stockport just a bunch of big blokes sploshing. Ah, our fine four-fendered friend: it's Buckley's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in full flow. Tipping and tapping, nicking and knocking, rising above the waves of mud to escape the drudgery of a weekend in Stockport; Till and Paterson sneaking freely down the right and crossing gaily, but no shots: just pressure and possession.

Can't pass, can't shoot, what can they do? There must be something they're hiding. After seven long minutes of cruising Town possession the Stockyporters walloped the ball down the right and chased it into the puddles. Newey swiped the ball out for a corner. Rose curled the ball into the near post, where a large blue-shirted bonce nodded and missed. Barnes, on his line, surrounded by nothing but his ego, pushed his arms out. Well, it is nearly new year: let's do the hokey-cokey, knees bent, arms out, aaargh, aaargh, aaargh. Facing east as the ball and the game went west, Barnes dropped the ball into the net. No shots, one goal: it must be their lucky day.

That's nice for them, they've had a shot: Dinning shinning wide from 20 yards out. The pattern of the game remained unchanged, for Town retained possession, skipping the ball around the back four, then the middle four, with short, one-touch passing. From back to front, penalty area to penalty area, Town were dominant and oozing. Till crossed, Rankin rolled, Hegggarty retrieved and crossed, Williams flicked the ball away for a corner. Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, telling us what fools we've been to bother coming to sodden Stockport.

After 15 minutes of clip-clipperty-clopping of Rankin and Paterson, the referee finally gave Town a free kick. Paterson saw the slimline slime green keeper wringing out his neckerchief by the right post and took a quick kick. Casting aside his polka dot tie, Spencer stepped back and clutched the ball in front of his face, then dropped it on the line. The ball stuck in the mud and he picked it up without embarrassment. Still Town this, Town that. Till and Paterson, Hegggarty and Croft, performing triangles and crossing long, crossing short, forcing corners, forcing us to stand up. Paterson jingle-jangled through three challenges on the right and squirtled a shot goalwards. Alas, poor Pato, his shot deflected off a blue chest and arced without deviation or fear into Spencer's midriff.

Stockport kicked the ball into the corners and ran after it: the ball stuck in the mud and they had moments of almostness; just crosses, with no shots, no danger, nothing to cause the horses to neigh. Oh look, they've got inside the Town area. The ball aquaplaned in from their left and a blur of blue surfed into the penalty area on a surfeit of lampreys. No, I mean ricochets, flicks and falls. Some bloke ankled the ball across the face of the penalty area and Fenton followed this flight of fancy. Arms locked, Fenton fell and the Hatter squished onwards. Fenton fell forward onto the ball, spinning around in the muck and rising with the ball at his feet. The referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot, calling Fabulous Fenton over, or possibly a rude name, as Fenton suddenly jumped up and down waving his arms around, walking off towards the tunnel. The referee called him back, Whittle dragged him back, and then they repeated this little dance. On the third stroke the referee will finally send Fenton off.

The rest of the Town team went a bit bonkers at the referee, which matched the mood of the small knot of Marinerdom stuck in a galaxy far, far away. Dickinson ambled forward and plonked the penalty against the right post as Barnes dived left. Stick that in your hat museum.

On the defentonestration of Town Hegggarty sank to left-back, with Newey in the centre of defence, and Town moved to a 4-3-2 formation. Suddenly a counterattack down the right: Till crossed, Heggarty sneaked into the centre and was felled as he slid towards a redemptive volley. The ball flew high into the area and dropped onto a confused full-back's hands. No penalty given for either. I think we'd worked out already that we weren't going to be lucky in love with the referee.

A couple of minutes later, after further Town pressure had brought naught but tea and a slice with the local vicar, Stockport wellied the ball upfield again. Ravenhill missed a tackle and a couple of little passes later Pilkinton was released on the right wing. He crossed hard, fast and low towards the near post, where Dickinson stretched and toe-poked a volley high into the net from six yards out. Shall we go home now?

At this Heggarty was replaced by Boshell, who went to right-back, with Croft switching to the left.

Leading 2-0 against ten men with a pliant referee gave Stockport the confidence to start passing the ball to each other. Olé indeed. Ah, another shot - Pilkinton scribbling wide from near the penalty spot after a higgledy-piggledy scrap from a hoik and hump. Again… another… possibly… maybe… who cares? I don't. Let's just scuttle on, shall we, and keep the pain down to a minimum.

It's getting wetter all the time. Wetter, wetter, wetter. Me hiding me head in the sand.

How odd, Town still passing, attacking and pressing the stolid Stockportians back towards the void. A Till shot deflected and a Pulis volley charged down were sandwiched between the best chance of the half. Passing, pure passing and movement down the left, started by Newey, ending with Rankin rocking past his marker. He was free, behind the defence, a dozen yards out, but rolled his shot against the keeper. Typical Rankin: for all his rock and roll he's just a pub singer who can't hit the high notes and falls a little flat, all bluster and baubles.

Yah-di-yah-di-yah. Rain… things… referee... yackety-yak, don't look back.

Stockport had corners; they sort of had periods of pressure where their crowd got excited. One shot went into the side netting, one flew over the cuckoo's nest and one of our dinosaurs is missing. Whittle was barged aside in the area and only a super slo-mo slide from Newey stopped Stockport pickling our pickled peppers. In the two minutes of added time, after some one-touch passing, Taylor shot low from inside the D, straight at Barnes, who managed to spurtle the ball back towards the penalty spot; he clutched it back, and that was that.

There is no point in the second half, is there: it's just a case of keeping the score down, and as many players on the pitch as possible.

Second half
Croft was replaced by Bolland and Town went to a 3-4-2 formation. Stockport just kept three strikers upfield all the time. It became a game of kick 'n' rush, defence against attack and three-and-you're-in. It's not fair - they're just goal-scrounging while we do all the running around. Perhaps their mum will call them in for their tea soon?

Town never gave up, but neither did Stockport, like a starving wolf sensing a wounded, three-legged deer in the woods. As the mud deepened the homesters' physical superiority told. It wasn't like they were going to give free kicks away, was it; they could nudge at will.

Five minutes in they should have scored. They didn't. They broke down their left, crossed to the right and Pilkinton side-footed a pass straight to Barnes from eight yards out. A minute later Taylor did a little can-can through the centre of the Town defence and carefully curled a shot past the foot of the left post. Thank you sir. Corner swinging in, sliding through and clattered away. We're just sitting here watching the wheels fly off and off.

And the rain got heavier and heavier, with puddles forming down the touchlines and the ball not rolling at all on the Town right. The Town fans started to count down to 70 minutes, for abandonment was our only hope of pain relief. Come, friendly rain and fall on Stockport, it isn't fit for humans now, there isn't grass to graze a cow.

Clare hit the post after another three-versus-three County break. Ah, a county break at bargain rates, with fine views of the airport: it's cheaper if you book in advance off the internet. I know, I know, my mind is wandering more than a builder's transit van on the A180.

Ah, yes, something here. Reddy replaced Rrrrricky the missman after about 12 or 13 minutes of rainfall. Ravenhill couldn't believe it; Rankin couldn't either, as he kept staring at Buckley and pointing to himself. Yes, we all expected you off too. Town moved to a 3-3-3 formation. If you wait ten minutes I may have nothing to tell you about a Town attack.

Deep in the heart of the Town support someone started a rain dance, for there were but ten minutes left before the tipping point, where the result, like water on the pitch, stands. Woa-wo-oh-woah-oh: it's Woodstockport. Lets go mud-sliding. "One-two-three what are waiting for? Don't ask me 'cos I don't give a damn, next stop is Immingham". Look the football's a waste of a swimming pool, we know what's going to happen, we're just waiting for our train.

Owen headed a corner wide or high, or both; so what. Some kind of cross was deflected onto the roof of the net and a few more crosses zippadidooda-ed through the area. Newey shinned a clearance from a yard out, while Whittle sang the whole of West Side Story in the style of Joe Cocker, with a little help from his friends at the back. The minutes seem like hours, the hours go so slowly tonight.

Reddy was sent free by Paterson, but shot straight at the keeper from the insid.. oh forget it, he was offside. Here we are: five minutes of Stockport pressure - a great Newey block, a punch, a graze, a Boshell shovel, a Bolland crack, perhaps a shot or two too and a tutu, but frankly the lights of the aeroplanes mesmerise and stupefy. Perhaps I dreamed it all, or was it hypnosis? What year is it? Where are we? One, two, three, I'm back in the room.

Stockport brought on Michael Malcolm, or was it Malcolm Michael? And he scored, of course. Bolland misplaced his contact lenses and someone else didn't so something and then it was all just a ball of confusion with Mickey Malcky bibbling, bobbling and generally not controlling the ball but getting close to the edge of the Town area. On the centre-right he cut back infield and was faced by Whittle, Boshell and finally Bolland. M 'n' M, in the centre, right on the edge of the area, shot and an audible click was heard a microsecond later. The ball snicked off Bolland, dropped and skidded off the slagheap of a pitch and into the bottom left corner. Only another 12 minutes of this Chinese water torture to go.

Well, it's a marvellous night for a rain dance, a fantabulous night to make romance. But not to watch Town. A couple of minutes later Stockport crossed from the left and Mickey Malc, about six yards out, banged a header low to Barnes' left. Big Phil flung himself aside and parry-punched the ball away. And then, with seven of our Earth minutes left, Town had a shot. Mr Paul Bolland, on the edge of the area, hit a small boy in row F after 423 passes down the right.

Bored and wet trivia corner: Stockport ended up with Spencer, Williams, Owen, Clare, Rose, Taylor, Griffin, Allen, Ellis, Malcolm and Gleeson on the pitch. So nearly 11 first names as surnames, but then again these days what isn't a first name. Whatever happened to sensible child naming? Freedom is a bad thing to have sometimes, you know.

I've had enough of this: the motto for the rest of this report is CBA, or if you were Stockport this section of the report has been sponsored by CBA for all your slothful needs. They'd sponsor the ref if they could. Perhaps they did? Anyway, Barnes did a brilliant one-handed save from Clare, saved low from a scramble and flap-punched a corner away. Then it stopped raining and the game ended.

You want a summary? Wait six months, it's wintery now.

Oh all right, Town never gave up, but never really threatened. They lost to a team who suited the conditions better and made the most of all their advantages. This score was par for the course a month or two ago, but it wasn't a return to that recent shameful past. The whole team were cheered off the pitch with a rousing chorus of "Mariners, Mariners". We recognised it was just one of those days. So should you.

2006 is footballingly over. Good riddance, you were rubbish.

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
Till was a prominent presence on the right, but for all his flibbering nothing resulted from it. Of the two defenders left standing, please stand and applaud, but stay up just that little bit longer for Tom Newey. Go on, give a little cheer too, especially for him depositing two Stockyporters into the advertising boards with slippering swooshes.

Official Warning
We should be making plans for Nigel, we only want what's best for him. A vat of boiling acid? Mr N Miller, as much as the rain, defined the game: we were never going to get anything out of this with him in charge. He didn't drop the ball in his own net but he did make decisions that were not favourable to Town. He blocked Town players, he stopped play at our disadvantage and in his world of lather Stockport never handled the ball and never fouled within their own penalty area. He ignored a full frontal two-footed lunge at Rankin and counted out 11 steps when forcing Town's wall back. Normally refs can't count past eight. He applied the rules of the game strictly one way, and in that way he can be described as partial. If you are a mad Hatter you'd wonder what the fuss was about. He's a recidivist: 0.00000001. He didn't even have the decency to abandon the game.

The Others
A bunch of big bertha Tiller girls, like Shrewsbury but without the skill and joie de vivre. A confident team who like to chase and chivvy. Subtle they ain't, and they had great difficulty when they had time to think, with Dinning pinging passes out of play with gay abandon. They know what they are supposed to do and do it: basic things done well. No better or worse than anyone else, that's all. Could get into the play-offs if they are lucky, but then so could 90 per cent of this division.