Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Pete Green
9 April 2007
Grimsby Town 2 Wycombe Wanderers 2
Grimbarians bringing shame on the Mariners by comprising one of the largest away crowds yet seen at Bastard Franchise Scum FC? Gah. Turning up at Blundell Park in April and seeing a GTFC Sweden flag fluttering from the upper Shit Lager Stand... oh yes.
All was sunny and bright, with Barnes, McDermott, Fenton, Whittle, Newey, Till, Boshell, Hunt, Bolland, Toner and North stepping out for the Town and a sparse smattering of 150 or so Wycombovers gazing silently on as their promotion hopes ebbed and flowed on a fresh estuary breeze. Didn't they bring three times as many last season? I know we were first and second in the league, but c'mon. Maybe they're just not as nice to watch.
Oh, they're not. Town kicked off towards the Pontoon and the game began in perky fashion, with Newey and Toner combining to send North away down the left, and Wycombe jauntily battering North to the ground. With no hint of protection from the referee, young Danny was visibly intimidated by the third time it happened, jumping away to avoid a body-check from Crooks. So, pretty passing Wycombe have gone all nasty. The first three minutes set a pattern, with the ref offering the visitors carte blanche to shove, climb and occasionally bludgeon however they saw fit. Sad to say, but they have clearly reverted to the Lawrie Sanchez model of their third division heyday: Kick 'Em, Wanderers.
While this template of low-level brutality was being drawn up and submitted to Channel 4 as the basis for an exciting new reality TV show, Town lost possession twice in their own half. Easter picked up the ball and put McGleish through. McGleish smacked it wide. Town responded by pressing down the left again and won a couple of corners. Boshell sealed a ball with a loving kiss and sneaked it under the desks to North, out of the sight of teacher. North opened the envelope, blushed coyly, and hoiked an indecisive first-time cross/shot/high pass/keepy-uppy dreamily into the arms of Batista.
What's all this fuss about not putting the ball out to allow injured players to be treated? You should simply leave it to the referee, as it's all part of the superb job done by the Football League's well trained and highly professional teams of match officials. Just like in the ninth minute, when Newey went down with a head injury and was lucky not to incur lasting neurological damage as Wycombe passed the ball from one end of the pitch to the other and back as G Laws (Tyne & Wear) looked on smiling. Well, it's only your head, Tom. You've got another one, right? Nobody was surprised three minutes later, when Easter slammed into Newey's noggin with a dangerous mid-air challenge and the referee gently suggested he might care to refrain from doing it again, if that wasn't too much trouble. You get cards for everything these days, except Easter.
Wycombe should have gone ahead on the quarter-hour when Oakes advanced up the middle unchallenged and released Bloomfield on the left. From 15 yards out Bloomfield lashed it just over. You've got to be working the keeper from that position, as I would say if I were a tedious bastard ex-Premiership star being paid by a large broadcaster to sit in an unnaturally bright TV studio and mumble unenlightening and pointless platitudes. Five minutes later Easter did likewise from 20 yards - lash it just over, I mean, not sit in an unnaturally bright TV studio and mumble unenlightening and pointless platitudes. That would have just been bizarre, and more than a little inconsiderate to his teammates.
I like Danny North, don't you? Look at him, doing his lovely Danny North thing. It's great. There he is, doing it again. With Ciaran Toner. Lovely. Mmmm. Isn't it a nice day? I fancy pizza for tea. Mmmm. I like pizza, don't you? If any spectator at today's game had lost concentration in this sort of way, and looked up at the pitch at a certain point during the 2First minute, they would have seen Phil Barnes rushing back and forth in a sort of left-back position, looking confusedly at Nick Fenton. This entirely hypothetical spectator would then have seen Justin Whittle's head block a shot bound for an otherwise empty goal, and McGleish knocking in the rebound from close range. If they were writing a match report, they'd probably have to ask someone else what happened, and thereby discover that Fenton had put Barnes in trouble with a weak back-pass. Good job it was Fenton who lost concentration and not me, eh? Cuh!
Purple Face Pontoon Bloke was doing his lovely Purple Face Pontoon Bloke thing too, bless his weirdly contorted vowels. He's like the Rolling Stones these days. In his wild younger days we thought he'd just burn himself out, but here he is, still doing it after all these years. Today he brought out the old crowd-pleaser "wakey waaakeeeey!" I wonder if he takes requests. He hasn't done "no shaaaape, no clue!" for ages.
Two minutes later, while Town were still brushing dirt from their lapels, straightening their tie and dithering unforgivably on the ball in their own half, Easter dispossessed poor sleepyhead Fenton - basically just sort of running through him, really, but not in a foul sort of way - and cracked a shot low and hard to the right of Barnes, who got his hands to it but never stood a chance of stopping a goal. Purple Face Pontoon Bloke launched into a crazy impro session around the riff, bringing in a darkly complex counterpoint of "wakey waaeuurghkllllleeeeyfuckinshiiiiiiiite!", then stopped to gargle a fresh can of wasps.
Oh, Nick. He's normally quite good, isn't he? Is that knee playing him up? Haven't we got very little riding on today's game and two young and willing centre-halves itching for a game? And isn't one of them supposed to be dead good and everything?
After 26 minutes the referee awarded Town a free kick. It was quite a solemn moment. Actually, it was quite an angry moment as well, because after Hunt was shoved over, the ball was lifted to North, in a good position on the edge of the Wycombe box, and the referee should've played the advantage. Hey ho. The mighty Lump came on to replace Hunt and thundered through the box like a Sherman tank to reach the free kick. Batista held the ball but was manifestly vexed by the sheer presence of Jones.
The crowd, too, responded to the appearance of the Lump but with noisy waves of warmth and adoration. Absence has, again, made the Pontoon's hearts grow fonder. Just a few short months ago, the name of last season's top goalscorer was being booed as the line-ups were read out before kick-off, but we seem to have fallen in love with Gary Jones all over again.
As Terry Cooke, Graham Hockless and Thomas Pinault proved before him, nothing does more for the popularity of a Town player than his not playing.
"I'm watching you, Till!" gurgled Purple Face Pontoon Bloke. To the exclusion of all else, like that playercam option thing that they used to do on satellite telly?
Barnes got down well to save from Bloomfield, and Town threaded the ball to Toner, who evaded three defenders in cutting across the edge of the Chairheads' box from left to right, only to blast wide of the right post. Town's persistent probing down the left was met by old-skool Wycombe violence. In exasperation, as Grant challenged foully, North eventually fluttered ostentatiously to the ground like a particularly vain conifer being felled, or Michael Reddy. Grant was booked and the crowd whooped in ecstasy. You're not pretty, you're not pretty, you're not pretty any more!
And that was it for the first half. On balance yon Mariners had matched their opponents for ability but were hamstrung by a touch of the nothing-to-play-for languor and had been punished for two Simon Ford moments from a normally pretty good defender. But this is the trouble with the languid sunny days of April: you just don't feel like doing anything, do you?
Oh, the timer on the scoreboard has stopped working. The scoreboard and the official website have their knockers, but you can't fault the carbon reduction potential of electronic devices that run off nothing more than used tea bags and potato peelings. I hear they're considering an upgrade to clockwork.
At 4:07 Boshell tackled Bloomfield from behind, whereupon Bloomfield crumpled like a scarecrow in close proximity to a major thermonuclear detonation, Boshell was booked and 4,000 spectators howled in outrage at the referee's double standards or credulity or some combination thereof. Toner was spoken to at length for another fairly harmless challenge but escaped a booking. Which was nice.
With the clock at 4:16 Toner released Jones with an intelligent, cultured and entirely charming ball down the inside left channel, and a couple of corners were the result. Not at the same time, mind. There'd be time for that later. The Mariners kept the ball well for five minutes or so, delivering a succession of quite good crosses. One was cleared to Boshell, around 25 yards out and in a good position to shoot. He chose to beat a defender first but, being unmarked, had to wait for one to arrive, which kind of defeated the object, really, and the moment was lost.
Ryan Bennett came on at about 4:21 and 39 seconds, bringing a premature end to the 750th career appearance of His Eminence the Right Rev Sir John of McMaccmott, esq., MBEs, CBEs, dirty knees, what are these? Town seemed to shift to a back three, with Newey pushing up on to the left of midfield and Toner tucking inside like a little tucky thing. That's part of the job description in his new contract offer, you know. Tucking inside like a little tucky thing, and fulfilling any such further duties as may be required from time to time, with three months' notice required of any intention to... oooh, the timer's back! Milk with no sugar, please. It's an hour in to the game and Batista in the Wycombe goal is picking up a back-pass. With his hands. Yes, didn't you know? Keepers are allowed to pick up back-passes if they jiggle the ball about between their feet for a bit first. Backpass, ref!
When Nick goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep.
Bennett seemed solid on the right of the back three, standing in all the right places, passing the ball quite well and suggesting a handy line in power throw-ins. We like him, and with Till dropping back well to offer cover in the wide positions the strange possibility emerged of a Mariners future featuring three central defenders and wing-backs. Don't do it, Al! That way lies madness, and Steve McClaren in Croatia. It was from just such an exercise of his defensive duties that Till launched a magnificent diagonal pass 50 or 60 yards, from the right of his own six-yard box out to Jones, on the left, just inside the Wycombe half. As Newey darted outside him Sir Lumpalot gave whereof he had received, or something, and Town won a corner. As regular readers of this website will know, we never score from a corner.
More ironic cheers for the referee as Boshell won a free kick after skipping through a series of challenges. This sudden outbreak of competence from the official left Boshell too shocked to continue, in fact, and he was replaced by Bore, who skipped gaily off up front to give Town a sort of 3-4-3 look reminiscent of early, blue-period Slade. Wycombe replaced Palmer with Sergio Torres, a talented Argentinian who got the local blood boiling in the same fixture last season by exceeding the maximum male hair length regulations set out by North East Lincolnshire Council. This has always been rank hypocrisy, what with Jesus being a Town fan and that.
North's was the next name to be taken by the ref, for attempting a tackle with his foot angled at more than 30 degrees from the horizontal. The International Cricket Council will be working closely to correct North's action, and banning Wycombe fans from taking their drum into matches without submitting quadriplicate planning application forms to the local authority 40 years in advance and drinking the right kind of water.
Seventy minutes gone and it's all a bit hazy from here on in. To make it all worse, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is on the telly and I fancy Kate Winslet even more with blue hair. A still greater beauty began as Gary Jones picked up the ball in a seemingly harmless position, 20 yards out or so on the centre-right. Bodies flickered numerously between him and the goal. It mattered not. The ball orbiting tightly round his feet, Jones loomed forward, rolling back the, er, year, as defenders rolled this way, that way, unable to prise it off him. He twinkled, he sparkled; he teased and appeased. With the skill of a man half his size and the joy of a boy half his age, Jones finally planted the ball past Batista to complete perhaps the finest individual goal seen at Blundell Park since Andy Parkinson sliced through Yeovil two years back. Smashing!
From a game that had long seemed to offer only one outcome, a million possibilities suddenly burst forth. Town's blood was up, as that familiar second-half fightback vibe throbbed through the Park, and another goal loomed. The only issue was which team would score it. North fought his way on to a through pass for a great chance, but shot too close to Batista's body. Torres surged down the centre and Barnes saved splendidly to his right. Town, again; Wycombe once more, peppering the box with crosses and corners.
Then the visitors pushed their time-wasting slider to the maximum setting, with Batista starting to delay his goal kicks by making small alterations to the position of the ball, pulling his socks up, and reciting Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Two Wycombe substitutions stretched out into eternity. Yet Torres continued to menace: here, rampaging through the middle again as Town's tired centre subsided, finally thwarted by a hard, fearless tackle from Bennett; there, chasing a missed cross out to the touchline, thrashing it back into the centre. Barnes, plucking the ball strongly and courageously from the air under challenge. Good lad.
With ten minutes left, as both sides continued to beat out chances, Town won something like their eighth corner of the day, which Till zipped across from the left like an angler casting for the last time before packing up his tackle and cycling home. With ten men packing their box and one in the centre circle, Wycombe had nobody to challenge Bolland when he received the clearance 20 yards out on the centre-right. Bolland made full use of the space, as his volley thundered into the far corner like a Japanese bullet train. If, y'know, Japanese bullet trains were round and the size of footballs and stopped in goals instead of stations. Four goals over Easter and all of 'em a bit special. Anyway, we never score from a corner. Except when we do.
It's the red hair bit now. Oh, Kate!
Right at the end the ball got stuck in that cage thing with a shed in it that they use to separate the fiercely warring rival fans of the Pontoon and um, the Crap Lager Stand, and somebody chucked another one on after the old one had come back. Added time multiball! Do you trust a club that can't even work a scoreboard to operate the multiball system? It's a disallowed last-minute winner waiting to happen.
"We're gonna win 3-2!" And we nearly did when, in the last minute of added time, Till broke through down the centre, riding the tackles like good ol' Gary Jones, only to sweep the ball weakly wide. The historical record is unable to specify whether Purple Face Pontoon Bloke was still watching Till, was receiving emergency oesophagus surgery at Dead Princess Hospital, or had simply left at half time, as he seemed to go all quiet when Town started playing really well.
To the spotless mind, though, what matters is not whether Town now seem to offer eternal or even 90-minute sunshine but whether the signs are good for next season. Between this season's two draws against Wycombe, Buckley's side lost 12 and won 12. Turn a few of those defeats into draws, as Buckley suggested on Mariners World the other day, and you're looking at a formidable run of form. Anyone with two eyes and an unerased memory can tell that this is not a team moving backwards. And Bennett looks good.
"This is it, Joel. It's going to be gone soon."
"What do we do?"
Pete's man of the match, brought to you in association with, er, well, just watching the football really, y'know
There's a pixie on one shoulder saying Danny Boshell and a pixie on the other shoulder saying Gary Jones, but in between them both there's a heart beating the name of Justin Whittle, because when he comes over to applaud the Pontoon at the end it makes everything feel alright.