Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Pat Bell
18 August 2007
Bury 1 Grimsby Town 1
It was raining, and not many locals were there for Bury's first home league match of the season. The stadium PA was playing the usual selection of middle-of-the-road rock. It felt like anything but the start of the season. Town lined up in a familiar 4-5-1: Barnes; Bennett, Fenton, Whittle, Newey; Till; Hunt, Bolland, Boshell, Toner; and, the one change from the two previous matches, North, replacing Rankin. Hegarty took Bore's place among the substitutes.
Bury kicked off, playing towards the 450 Town supporters, with the usual punt towards touch finally headed out for a throw-in by Whittle. Bury shaped up rather like a side with Keith Alexander as director of football. A brown towel was always on hand for Dave Challinor to dry the ball for long throw-ins. The misunderstood Ben Futcher moved up for set pieces. Times may have moved on, but here is a man who still clearly loves the Grimsby badge. At every dead ball, he would lumber up behind a Town player, drape an arm over his former teammate's shoulder and put his hand over the three fish on his breast. Towards the end of the half, Nick Fenton took exception to this, but the referee understood the good feeling behind the gesture.
Through the first half, Bury would threaten occasionally from set pieces or when Town became over-confident and invited an interception. However, the back four defended with an encouraging mix of resolution and organisation. Tom Newey looked like a left-back. In the first few minutes, he threw himself into the path of a powerful James Dean shot to head it wide.
On the right, Ryan Bennett bears a certain resemblance to Mark Lever but any gawkiness is confined to his physical appearance - his play is assured. Whittle and Fenton did what was asked of them in the first half, but that wasn't too much. The midfield five, James Hunt especially, worked hard to ensure the back four were not exposed when a Town move did break down. No moment was better than the way Fenton slowed and shepherded a run from halfway by a Bury forward, forcing him to check and allowing Hunt to nip the ball away and start another Town attack.
Because attack was what Town did. Our first threat came from Peter Till, gathering the ball on the right and running at the left-back, who backed off in obliging fashion. For a few minutes, we had some 'almost' moments: Till's cross was cleared by Paul Morgan; a Newey free kick went wide. After ten minutes, he took another, this time floating a cross too long. Bury keeper Jim Provett scarcely had to jump to take it beyond the far post, under nominal pressure. Our minds began to drift to the next phase of play, watching with only half an eye as Provett gath... failed to gather and bounced the ball down at the feet of Paul Bolland. A composed first touch took him back infield, beyond Provett's reach; the second rammed the ball into the roof of the goal.
Town started moving the ball around with growing confidence. Hunt, Bolland and Boshell vacuumed up loose balls, depriving Bury of oxygen. They worked the ball to the right, for Till to run at a full-back being turned increasingly Gallimore-esque; to left, for Toner, Newey and Boshell to work elegant triangles.
At the end of everything, and apparently everywhere, was Danny North: after so many mirages, a young striker with pace, increasing strength and a very good touch. His best moment was fouling Ben Futcher to get the ball back to Justin Whittle, who headed in, only for the goal to be disallowed... perhaps not, although as Futcher and North scarcely look like members of the same species, it was an achievement. His best moment was cutting in from the left past two defenders and... shooting weakly, wide of the near post. His best moment, the match's best moment, came when, his back to goal, wide on the right and some 30 yards from goal, he took control of a bouncing ball, flicked it behind himself, turned and ran past three defenders, forcing a half clearance which fell to Toner on the edge of the area. Toner shaped his body and stroked the ball in a shallow parabola destined for the top right corner of the goal until Provett dived to touch the ball over the bar.
The half ended almost where it had begun, with Till running at his marker and sending in a cross that found only a Bury defender. Town had dominated the half - a mixture of passing, teamwork and workrate. Not every pass could be played to feet, and not every pass found its intended target, but there was always a Grimsby player chasing, harrying Bury into errors, ensuring the game was played in their half. We were happy and the home support were silent. It seemed too good to be true.
It was. Bury had a plan B. After so much hoofball, at half time they replaced James Dean with a footballer, Andy Bishop. Within a few minutes, he had tricked his way past Tom Newey, who suddenly began to look a little less like a left-back, and sent over a cross which Glynn Hurst headed badly wide. Town were penned back, no longer being allowed to play their way out of trouble. They showed a last glimpse of the promised land when the ball was worked forward to North, who played the ball into Bolland's path on the edge of the Bury penalty area. Bolland's touch took the ball too far and allowed Provett to gather at his feet.
After 50 minutes, Fenton took too long over a clearance which was charged down by Richie Barker. He was initially forced to the right but managed to cut inside again. His shot deflected down off a defender and bounced up and almost but not quite over Barnes, who stretched back and saved. Two minutes later, a ball was punted forward and broke for Glynn Hurst twelve yards out. Barnes saved - this time low. A pattern was emerging.
Alan Buckley tried to change things with a bold move: bringing on Isaiah Rankin for Boshell in the 6Second minute and switching to a 4-4-2 formation. Rankin first mistimed a diving header, missing the bouncing ball completely, then almost but not quite put through the increasingly weary North (replaced soon after by Gary Jones). The pressure on the Town goal only increased in intensity. Crosses flashed in, and were headed clear, usually by Whittle. Barnes saved from Hurst again, using his feet after spreading himself across the goal.
Town's domination now a faint memory, the officials became the increasing focus of our attention. This was obviously a matter of some distress to the linesman with the chequered flag. I say "linesman" - I mean the man who was given a flag and asked to run up and down one side of the pitch, occasionally pointing the flag in the direction the referee indicated. He'd obviously been told that if he did nothing, no-one would notice him.
Tom Newey was the particular victim of this officiating void. In the first half, he was cut down seconds after clearing, five yards from the man who wasn't there (we wished that man would go away). In the second the deflection that took his free kick a foot wide of the left post was seen by everyone but the referee, who was unsighted, and the unassisting assistant referee.
The referee himself went through a spell of awarding free kicks only to Bury. After 70 minutes, Dave Challinor and Paul Bolland jostled for a ball to the left of the Town penalty area. From a hundred yards away, it seemed as though Challinor had fouled first, before falling, but the free kick went Bury's way. Andy Bishop crossed to the edge of the goal area and Andy Parrish, facing sideways but only six yards out and unmarked, swung his left foot and sent the ball into the bottom right corner of the net. It had been a long time coming.
Fenton was booked for a foul on Nicky Adams, who had started to go past him on the left. A few moments later, Futcher was booked for a similar foul on Rankin. Then the referee ruled that Futcher had fouled Jones, a yard outside the penalty area. Futcher got a stern talking to, but no red card. Town had a couple more 'almost' moments: Newey's deflected free kick and a moment when Provett almost punched the ball into his own net, except that a foul had already been given.
Bury continued to have the better chances: Barnes blocked a Bishop shot from six yards out after Bennett had misjudged a bouncing, spinning ball to let Bury in, and Till was laid out after getting in the way of a Woodthorpe drive in the Town goalmouth. Three minutes into injury time, the ball fell at the feet of a Bury player 12 yards out - luckily it was Futcher and the chance was missed.
And that was that. Grimsby's half-time lead did scant justice to their superiority in the first period; Bury's equaliser was the least they deserved after dominating the second. This naturally means that all the action was actually at the far end from us, so you have a fair indication how reliable this report really is.
Man of the match
In the first half, just about every Town player played well and would have been a worthy of man of the match. In the second, Justin Whittle was at the heart of some determined last-ditch defending, clearing up the one major error he made and generally getting on the end of most Bury crosses. He is overshadowed only by Phil Barnes. In the 83rd minute, he flapped at a cross. It was the first time he'd done it, and he was being fouled. While his distribution was sometimes a bit nervy, he coped assuredly with Bury's fairly muscular approach and made a series of important saves in the second half.
Say it loud, say it clear, and say it especially in the presence of hecklers: Phil Barnes saved Town today.
The influence of Keith Alexander having been all too apparent in the first half, the introduction of Andy Bishop transformed them into a unit that combined physical presence with a bit of craft. Not massively pretty to watch, but perhaps a decent bet to reach the play-offs and lose.
As he blew for what felt like the umpteenth foul by Town in the second half, ignoring the regular presence of Bury arms on Grimsby shoulders, it felt at the time as though this was a referee who loved nothing more than composing Greek verses. The reality is, though, that he was pretty consistent in what he deemed a foul, by either side. Both yellow cards were justified, and although he perhaps bottled out of showing Futcher a second card after the foul on Jones, it wasn't completely clear-cut. He does, however, lose points for guilt by association with his ineffectual linesman: 4.7.