Through the looking glass: Stockport (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

15 September 2007

New!!! Hamsters in stock. Diced or sliced?

Grimsby Town 1 Stockport County 1

It's a lazy, late summer day and everyone's gone to the moon. Is there anybody out there? Do they care? Where have all the glowerers gone? Are you lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely... are you on your own? Is this distraction therapy working?

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Bennett, Fenton, Whittle, Newey, Till, Bolland, Boshell, Toner, Taylor and Rankin. The substitutes were Montgomery, The Lump, James Shunt, let's take a Mulligan and the Humber Bore. Well, there we have it: a crowd-pleasing formation and line-up. You can be pleased who isn't in it, as well as who is. It's an open road towards Moansville Arizona. So get on the bus, forget about us and put the blame on...whoever, whatever. Where's the purple people tweeter got to? He's late.

Stockport, formerly the Stick's port before us, of course. What of 'em? Another bunch of big, bruising shaven-headed bouncers masquerading as professional footballers? Observe Logan's run towards the burger bar 'twixt Pontoon and Frozen Beer stand, avoiding the rainbow flag-waving, healthy-eating caravan of love like the plague. Logan is the apprentice Pressman, a goalkeeping rotunda with plenty of room for a double garage and off-road parking. Their Coward of the County was absent, but Proudlock, that podgy Lee Trundle tribute act, was here to play all his old hits: 'I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down', 'Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White', and many, many more!

They're big, they wear blue and it's about time we beat them.

OK ramblers, let's get rambling.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond stand with the usual Newey high punt from left to right, avoiding Till and going out for a throw-in. Hang on, haven't I said that before?

Ramble on.

Ah, it's Town, so it's amble on.

It's going to be one of those games. Stickport had McNeil up front, a junior Jason Lee, at the focal point of all moves; flicking and the hordes flocking forward onto his nudges and nurdles. Ugly but effective. Just a minute gone and a long free kick was flicked into the centre of the area. Barnes hesitated, their Taylor ducked and dived before him and the ball crept over the crossbar for a corner.

Oh dear, the tall men are trespassing in our little copse of seedlings and weedlings. Don't worry, the corner succumbed to the credit crunch and dribbled away into the ether. The Mad Hatters queued outside for hours, but didn't get their money back. Podgy Proudlock hobbled off, then hobbled back on, holding his ego in a non-recyclable bag. Maybe he's a mobile wind farm.

And the wind blew gently down the Town left, lulling the blueberry hillbillies into some straw chewing and gin-soaked bar room queening. Newey suddenly appeared from out of the invisible swirling mists of time and surged into the area, swaying past an attempted push to trash a scrappling shot from a narrow angle high towards the centre left. The ball hit the keeper's raised arms and rebounded away into the no man's land beyond the far post. Nice move, good effort, no goal. Let's leave it at that.

Junior Jason was a right pest, winning every header, every flick, causing Fenton and Whittle to change their dancing partners in this military two-step. Oh look – Proudlock! He's funny, isn't he. Waddling onto a flick, teasing Bennett and Fenton with a cellulite wobble and first-time thwack from the right corner of the Town area. The ball zoomed across the face of goal and over.

Mmm, what an open game. Till raced off down the right, tapping to Taylor, who tipped back. A cross arced through the area to the far post, where Rankin waited, but a defender grazed the ball away for a corner. Toner clipped it to the far post; Fenton furied the ball back across the face of goal and Taylor, a few yards out, swung his pants as it passed behind, but a defender volleyed clear from near the line. Here they come, there we go: back and forth like a thing that goes back and forth. That sounds like an American football expression. Way to go boys! Woo.

Oh Mr Woo, what shall we do?

After eleven minutes Town bumbled and stumbled around like a bedazzled barber. Layered or tapered? Neither. As Till and Bennett were sucked into a maelstrom of Mariners woe, the Stockies clipped a cross into the area from their left. Dicker dipped and whipped a glancing header over and across the flapping Barnes into the top left corner. A-ha, not so fast, our non-Mancunian fiends! The French mustard was between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt: offside. No goal. Go back to square one. Mr Woo's a window cleaner now.

Till raided, Taylor shot, Logan saved. Town started to flow, but only down the right, as Toner was having one of his unco-ordinated days: he'd forgotten his socks and turned up for the pre-match meal in a safari suit. Poor old Ciaran – when he did something right it went wrong. A terrible Stockport corner went straight out of play at the near post, where Toner blocked the path and walked off the pitch as the ball struck his chest. The ref gave another corner.

The referee: I'll keep my purple powder dry.

I spoke too soon, for Newey waterskied down the left, swapped conkers with Toner and Boshell was tickled pink inside the area, a dozen yards out. Danny boy played Russ Conway's 'Side-Saddle' on his stylophone, side-stepping a brute and clipping a low, left-footed shot straight at Logan. Another fine move, for between the netball Town were playing football. Just a bit, but enough to keep the customers satisfied.

C'mon Town, don't forget the day job. Defending, you know, doing the dirty washing now and again. Fenton and Bennett dillied and dallied as Proudlock mesmerised with his belly dancing. The bells jingled, the flesh tingled and proud Adam performed some rhythmic gymnastics across the face of the Town area. He knelt down, flung his head back, smiled at the panel of judges in their fur coats and mascara, flicked his right hand out in a cheeky manner and bedraggled a weak shot straight at Barnes from a dozen yards out.

And back Town trotted. A Stockport corner was cleared to Till, who za-zoomed down the right, attracting the three little bears left behind by the Mad Hatters. Taylor supported and exchanged passes; Till crossed; the ball dribbled behind Taylor and Toner, a dozen yards out at the far post, swept a shot goalwards. A big blue bottom blocked his path to glory. Town kept possession, wibbling and dibbling around the edge of the area. It was ooh-some and not gruesome. Nothing tangible though, just moments of almostness.

Stockport had been rare visitors to the Town area, but when they did get near, they looked annoyingly dangerous. They passed quickly, they challenged quicker still and were constant pests. Whittle superbly dispossessed McNeil under the Frozen Beer Stand, sliding the ball back to Bennett, just five yards away, who was surprised by brother Justin's smoothness. The ball slid off Bennett's shins as he turned and Pilkington sashayed on into the area, cracking a shot just over Barnes' right angle of post and bar.

Town, Town, Town, sweeping upfield and making us weep with frustration at every nearly shot and nearly goal. Till ploughed the field down the right and scattered their defence, pushing a little teaser into the unmarked Bolland, on the edge of the area. He leant back and screwed the ball into the gap between the roof of the Osmond and the advertising boards. Off Town roared again, Rankin roistering down the centre, Till haring up in support and crossing low in to the centre of the penalty area. Logan was lost in showbiz and Boshell swept a shot goalwards. As the ball was about to go in, the extravagantly tousled Williams popped up from behind a divot and deflected the shot away with his shins. It looked like he accidentally ran across the flight path, like a startled seagull confronted by a crop sprayer. Feathers flew, there was a gurgling noise, but no-one crashed.

Repeat action vaguely, add in a Bolland shot blocked, a pinch of Boshell almost dribbling through when collecting a return pass, then simmer for a few minutes until the action is reduced to a creamy sauce with a hint of rhubarb. Bennett hurled a long throw into the area from the left, the ball bounced over Logan and on to the roof of the net. A minor moment, but it amused us.

With about five minutes to go to half time Proudlock was allowed to spin a yarn on the right corner of the Town area. As Fenton and Bennett sat at his feet listening to tall tales of mighty wolves on a Big Wednesday, the Podgemeister chipped into a bunker five yards from the green from which he never emerged. Elding came on his place. Whittle headed a corner out from underneath the crossbar. I remember that now. Ah yes, just after Elding arrived to bock Barnes. For a couple of minutes they looked quite dangerous. Then it all went quiet as Town set up base camp in their half.

It all started when the Kraken awoke – old Tam Newey, that mythical beast on the left, decided to investigate the strange goings-on upfield. He stepped forward to intercept a stray Stockport pass, then carried on, and on, and on, before be-thwacking a thumping shot from about 25 yards out on the centre-left. Logan flung himself and parried the shot aside in spectacular fashion. Town continued to attack, attack, attack, attack, attack, with crosses dipping and whipping in. Finally Toner crossed from the left, Rankin coiled himself around his marker and, from six yards out, toe-poked a flick a few inches wide of the far post.

There was a solitary, single minute of added time. Ah, Town were ending so well, so pleasingly fluent and dangerous. A semi-satisfied clap was awaiting them, and who could ask for anything more these days?

Town attacked again. Toner slipped as the ball fell at his feet, and then fell into the feet of a defender near the corner of their penalty area. Mr fussy-wussy fusspot decided to give Stockport a free kick, which Logan wellied upfield as far and as high as he could. McNeil stood in the middle of the pitch, 30 yards out, waiting and wrestling with Fenton and Boshell. Junior Jason pushed and nudged, whirled and rolled as the ball dropped over this little ménage à trois. Elding held off Whittle and flicked a dink over his head into a huge expanse of uncultivated farmland near the penalty spot. McNeil strode on unmolested, right down the middle. Bennett came across, but McNeil drolly rolled over the flailing, wailing boot of youth and placed the ball low across Barnes into the bottom right corner from about eight yards out.

Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good. When that levee of frustration breaks, you got to move towards the toilet. It's half time.

Town hadn't been that bad against difficult opponents. One moment of slackness cost them dear. A careless walk costs lives, Mr Fenton. Neither side looked particularly strong in defence, and there always looked likely to be a goal. But, hey, it's Town: we know the glum reality of misfortune and missed chances. Town didn't deserve to be losing, but the Human Rights Act is not applicable to football, where all's fair in kick and rush.

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

They kicked off to utter silence, the crowd dulled and brooding in disheartened melancholy. Hang on, Mr Purple's not yet bellowed to this audience below; what's going on?

Within a minute they'd scored again. Elding sprinted free down the centre, rolled his foot over the ball as Barnes dived to the left, and calmly strolled into the area to stroke into an empty net. He almost got down on his knees and headed the ball in on the goal line. Sit down Stockportians, you've got your pepper pots in a twist. There were less than two bottles of tomato ketchup between the sugarbowl and the teaspoons, and you did order mushy refereeing with your battered cod.

They had a long shot of some sort. Barnes didn't have to move, which, given the uncertainty in the world economy and the impact locally on the house prices, is a good thing. And only last week you knew nothing about the sub-prime lending market in America. Just think of them as Leeds United, it's the same concept: dodgy lending to dodgy dealers. But the innocent always get hurt too, don't they.

All this money worry hit confidence in the Stockport market. With about five minutes gone Barnes, for once, eschewed a drop kick in favour of an old-fashioned roll-out to Fenton. As the rumbles started at this 'negativity' Fenton swapped passes with Whittle, then brilliantly curled a pass down the left touchline to Rankin with the outside of his right boot. Precision passing and log rolling by Rankin let Town thunder forward. Toner slipped by and the ball was slipped out to him, near the corner flag. Newey scootered upfield, called for the ball and caressed a devilishly sumptuous first-time cross from the bye-line, level-ish with the edge of the penalty area. Bolland drifted into the area with a late run and, unmarked, behind two defenders, he glided on some thermals and glanced a perfect header across the leaping Logan and into the top left corner of the net. Suddenly there's a whole lotta love in the Pontoon.

The boy Bennett was immediately replaced by the hair Mulligan. Bennett was walking very carefully with a hint of a limp. Within a couple of minutes Mulligan was booked as Town lost possession on the halfway line and McNeil was upended by the temporary Townite when last man. The ball rolled on and a Hatter went mad when the referee, as he had all game, refused to play advantage. Bad refereeing sometimes works in our favour.

With this Town were under pressure as crosses were hurled, corners were curled and Stockport gave Town a little bit of Chinese water torture. But Barnes caught everything; he's an anti-Samson, who has grown in strength and confidence with each follicle removed.

After about 10 minutes Hunt replaced Taylor and Town moved to a 4-5-1 formation. Thus the crowd booed, and they were happy in their unhappiness. The change was made at a Stockport corner, as they were tightening an unsubtle tourniquet around Town's neck. There was a scramble and Hunt ran off with the ball. Hunt was Hunt, he did the Hunt thing. Nobody does it better and Town started to gain a little control. Not a lot, but a bit. Hunt just placed the tourniquet in his pocket and got on with the job in hand.

For the next fifteen minutes or so you can forget about those sticky Stockyporters: they were a background hiss, potentially annoying but only if you let it annoy you. The game was without prettiness, but you have to fight for your right to party. Rankin was beginning to roll around effectively, with support from his midfield partners in grime. A corner! Boshell drilled it in low from the right but a big bald blue bonce bashed it back upfield. That sentence was brought to you by the letter B, defined in Dr Baldrick's dictionary as a buzzing thing.

Newey collected the ball on the halfway line and tapped it to Mulligan, who hit a superb crossfield pass back to the unmarked Boshell, standing alone under the Police Box. Boshell chested the ball down, stroked his black and white cat, then stroked a pass to Rankin, the muscular moustacheless Tony Rees standing on the edge of the area. Rankin rolled and backed into his marker, tishing a pass to Boshell who ran on a la Childs and dinked a lofted cross into the centre of the area. Logan crept off his line and Fenton roared forward. Ten yards out two worlds collided, with Fenton rising above the waves to noodle a header an inch or two wide of the left post.

That was the moment to win it. Mere fractions of moments are between success and implied failure. An inch here, an inch there.

A couple of minutes later Bolland harried a defender, nicking the ball away through sheer persistence. The ball arrived at Rankin's feet on the halfway line and he just went straight for goal, sucking three defenders into his web of deceit. He dragged, he rolled, he cajoled and he's still out on parole for his crimes against striking. Magnificently bamboozling and boombling through the defence, he drew Logan off his line and... and... rather limply tapped the ball against the keeper with his right foot, rather than use his left. The ball ricocheted out and Rankin still held off the entire defence before embarking on a Benny Hill run around the penalty area, pursued by three statuesque brunettes, an old man with a stethoscope and a policeman waving his truncheon menacingly.

Old Ranks, he's never going to score, is he.

Still Town pressed on, with Newey more prominent and the secret weapon that lurked on the left. After another flowing move Newey crossed and Boshell dived forward at the near post, with his header diverting off a defender's head. A goal kick was given. The crowd was displeased.

The game sank into a morass of molasses, molluscs and Mariner meandering. Toner had a fightette with their Taylor over the question 'who has the sexiest man bag?', then Newey gave away a free kick for being run into. Bore replaced Till with less than 20 minutes left, providing the agitated ankle-poopers an opportunity to boo for the sake of booing. Old Lumpy is never more popular than when he isn't on the pitch. He's our conceptual crutch in a crisis.

Town were suddenly under pressure after a slight mistake in midfield saw the ball fly forward. Mulligan tackled on the touchline and the winger flamboyantly flew through the air with the greatest of ease to win a free kick. Crosses, corner, shots and throw-ins. They pressed, they flexed their muscles, but Town held firm, with Barnes mightily impressive with his calm catching in the centre of this mini-tornado. McNeil tried a shot from 25 yards which hit Whittle and ballooned away for a corner and Stockport carried on camping inside the Town half. They stood in front of their supporters beating their breasts and pulling faces. Ooh, matron, take them away.

At this Buckley made another change, sending Bore up to partner Rankin and Boshell to the right wing. The game subtly changed, with Bore's pace and Rankin's strength (let's ignore things like vision and shooting, shall we) causing Stockport to turn towards the Pontoon and chase our shadows. Passes were passed, players occasionally moved. It was stodgy, it was geriatric passing and movement, but Town kept possession and eventually started to cross the ball, to have half chances, and finally to shoot.

Ah, Mr Toner, that's better. Bore chased Stockport's lumpen defender Owen into burger bar corner. What a cute tactic that was, tempting the burly bruiser with the sweet smell of rotting flesh. Bore retained possession and turned towards his upcoming teammates. There was a trick and pass and Hunt was free inside the area. Defenders raced towards him; he slid the ball aside to Toner, 25 yards out, who swished a shot a foot over the bar.

Are you interested in some kind of Stockport breakaway where they could have scored, but didn't? The motion speaks for itself, with Elding the name to pin to the tail of the donkey of disappointment.

As the multitudes melted down the Pontoon steps, Town haphazardly attacked in added time. The ball was curdled into the general vicinity of the goal, with a quasi-siege of the Stockport goal. Boshell? Didn't shoot, he passed to Hunt. Didn't shoot, he passed to Bolland. Didn't shoot, he... just add in any name you wish; the same thing happened, and finally someone crossed sweetly to the unmarked Toner, six yards beyond the far post. He passed, she passed, it passed, we passed, they all passed. Mulligan shot! Softly and the ball dimpled a yard wide. He was bound to shoot, he's not one of us.

In the third minute of added time Barnes walloped a free kick from deep inside the Town half. The ball disappeared into the area, where bodies collided, like yaks fighting over a yoghurt. Where's the ball? There's the ball. Mulligan lofted it back; Logan raced off his line and dropped the ball. Rankin. An open goal. Five defenders and a clutching, grasping goalkeeper. Add in a teaspoon of milk and an egg white, beat furiously and allow to settle. Surrounded by blue, Isaiah twisted and turned, once, twice and thrice to find a smidgeon of hope for us all. A small gap emerged into which he could leather the ball. Thwang! Rankin swiped a shot goalwards. The ball went under an arm, over a boot, kissed a knee and... and... hit Williams on his knee, rearing up and possibly, maybe, hopefully striking his wandering hand.

Oh, that's it, another 1-1 draw.

The facts say no wins, but also no home defeats, and 'just' two defeats in six league games. Inches and micro-seconds have been between Town being fourth from top, rather than fourth from bottom. You see what you want to see.

Stockport were the strongest of the sides seen at Blundell Park so far, and the most difficult to play against. Town were not consistently fluent, but had patches of passing and movement, periods of ascendancy and were still creating good opportunities. And at the end, in the dying moments of the game, Williams was stood on the line, falling backwards into the net as the ball hit him. A brilliant clearance or a bit of luck? Both. A shocking miss or misfortune? It depends on what you want to believe.

Alan Buckley's been a long time in a-rock-and-roll. Let him call the tune, he'll get to the greatest hits section soon and then we can all happily bop along in the aisles. He's just looking for a new lead guitarist.

Nicko's Unsponsored Man of the Match
No-one was fantastic, though Toner was edging towards an un-man of the match. For all round Whittleness it has to be Justin Whittle. I'll forgive him a couple of Whittleish moments of comedy control. For he's Whittle, what can one expect. Big, strong and a leader. It's Whittle. I'm not being too obscure am I? It's Justin Whittle.

Official Warning
Mr G Ward was the sort of pedant who gives pedantry a bad name. He was picky and tedious, with sub-divisions of abstruse and inconvenient sophistry. Except when he decided to let Stockport take a few quick free kicks from the wrong place. He didn't let the game flow and seemed to think that when small men win possession from big men it must be because they fouled. Sizeist fool! He's got a self-loathing Napoleon complex, according to my made up book of cod psychology. He gets 5.001, simply because he managed to stop at least two Stockport breakaways with daft decisions in their favour, so gaining bonus points for acting as our defender of last resort. And boy, Cleethorpes is the last resort these days.

The Others
Big, blue, bullet-headed: bog-standard fourth division bruisers. They played quick, direct, aggressive football which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. They relied on Podgy Proudlock for subtlety, and he's doing self-indulgent nonsense these days. And a surfeit of lampreys too. McNeil was a right pain but they didn't have much else for us to worry about. Their defence is, well, big, though Williams looked like a footballer wrapped in Jim Gannon's clothing. If it weren't for him Boshell and Rankin would have scored. They owe him a lot for his positional sense, especially Owen, who had the delicacy of a rusty bulldozer stuck in reverse.

On this showing they're mid-table challengers for the page one/page two split of Ceefax. But this division is full of teams who sometimes look good and sometimes look bad. Some are lucky, some ain't. That's just the way promotion and relegation goes down here among the dead men. They don't look as cohesive as last year's version.