I was there: Bury (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

15 November 2008

Bury 0 Grimsby Town 2

There are experiences that defy chronology.

For a full 45 minutes, a drum had beaten time to The Great Escape, its unending repetition a source of pride, not irritation, to Mike Newell's Black and White Army, and backing to the Great Escape. What had started as a beat of hope had become a beat of faith. When the electronic scoreboard flicked to 90 minutes, below the orange dots that spelt out "Bury 0 Grimsby Town 2", it became a victory march. Throughout the match, there had been conviction in every sliding block, in every header, in the continual organisation and harassment that forced Bury away from the Grimsby goal, but there had also been the fear that one Bury goal might prick the mood, one goal would become two or three.

And now, it no longer mattered. The tangible signs that Bury had stopped believing in their victory were there in the shot hopelessly wide, the overhit pass allowed to run into touch, the cross soaring into the almost empty seats behind the Town goal. Danny North, brought on as a substitute for Adam Proudlock three minutes from the end, was tickled free just inside the Bury half. Two touches took him into the Bury penalty area but slightly wide and his shot dragged along the ground into goalkeeper Wayne Brown's midriff.

A third goal would have been nice, but it no longer mattered. For once, a Bury striker, Glynn Hurst, found space in the Town area, but his shot from 12 yards out was yards wide, across goal. It would not have mattered. There was time for some disputation near the dug-outs while a Town player received treatment for an injury but it was only delaying the moment. Already, Town fans were starting to dance in the broad walkway between the seats and the Bury goal. No-one was sitting. For the first time since March, Town were going to win and we didn't even have to be nervous any more. We felt rather than heard the final whistle - it was almost an anti-climax. On 15 November 2008, Grimsby Town won a football game - and that did matter.

First half
From the start, Town, playing in a 4-4-2, set about Bury with a conviction that defied their league position. Ahead of Phil Barnes, Ryan Bennett and Rob Atkinson were to keep the Bury strikers on a very tight leash all afternoon, always first to the succession of dangerous crosses that Bury's able wingers, testing full-backs Robbie Stockdale and Tom Newey, supplied, almost to the last, Bennett putting his head in the way of a 100mph shot early on to set the tone.

Bury were forced wide as Jean-Paul Kalala and Liam Trotter, poise personified in midfield, took command of half clearances in close quarters on the edge of the Town area and calmly worked them forwards and wide, never once playing us into trouble, but regularly making the space and the opportunity for Nick Hegarty and Jamie Clarke on the wings, or Nathan Jarman, here, there and everywhere. Adam Proudlock offered a continual presence, keeping the Bury defence honest.

After absorbing a few minutes of pressure, the first clear chance fell to Hegarty, who tried to side-foot home a cross from Clarke, but saw his first effort blocked by Brown and the rebound cleared by Efetobore Sodje, sporting a white stripe down the centre of a black headscarf.

On ten minutes, Proudlock tumbled in the Bury area, to no reaction, and then Kalala fouled in the centre circle. Both were booked, apparently for dissent, and even then it felt like a blemish in an otherwise satisfactory opening. There were other blemishes - Newey almost played us into danger with an over-casual pass and a Hegarty clearance contrived to loop and land closer to the Town goal than his original kick, but the force was with Grimsby, as Kalala buzzed and harried and shielded the ball to keep an attack alive.

Bury were getting the crosses, but we were getting the chances, Clarke hooking wide a half cleared corner from the edge of the penalty area. After 16 minutes, Hegarty might have been caught in possession, receiving the ball well inside the Town half, but battled and worked the ball to Jarman. His high, deep cross, from near the left corner flag was met by a Proudlock header, headed off the line and high into the air. The ball hung tantalisingly - the sort that Town players never get on the end of - but there was Trotter, throwing his head at the ball, almost on the line, both he and the Bury player tumbling into the netting, putting the Mariners in front.

Before we had too long to reflect on the tenuous nature of a 1-0 lead, and count back the times we've led but not won, again Town broke down the left. A cross came to nothing but as Bury began to clear, Stockdale slid in and clipped the ball to Clarke, wide on the right. He advanced to the corner of the penalty area before a waist-high cross was met by Jarman, running past Sodje, flicking the sole of his boot to divert the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal. Now we celebrated.

Before we had too long to reflect on the proverbial danger of a 2-0 lead, Newey lofted a free kick into a Bury void by their penalty spot, Atkinson running to meet and flick it perfectlyÂ… into the hands of the Bury keeper.

Bury threatened on the fringes - more neat and quick triangles down the sides, more crosses, more clearances from Atkinson, Bennett, Newey, Barnes, Trotter - his reached only 20 yards but the header back from Stephen Dawson floated over the goal, as threatening as a fluffy white cloud on a summer's day. Once Stephen Morrell made contact with a cross from our right, but he was straining to reach the ball that glanced off his balding head, high and wide. Finally, a Ryan Cresswell header was allowed to roll to the foot of the post, where Stockdale cleared.

Then the arithmetic of the game changed. There were two banging challenges in the centre circle, the second by Kalala, who had started with foot high but was doing his best to avoid contact before he met Bury's Paul Scott, who went down and stayed down. The referee, Graham Laws, ushered several players away, beckoned Kalala towards him and showed him first a yellow card, and then the red one. Kalala had been half of Town's fulcrum, soaking up pressure that might have gone straight onto the back four and giving the wings and forwards real leverage.

Town wobbled. For the first time a low cross sped to safety not because a Town player got there first but because no-one got there. Chris O'Grady turned and shot from the right corner of the penalty area - Barnes may have touched it over or it might have clipped the angle of post and bar; the ref gave a goal kick.

Respite - Trotter was fouled 25 yards from the Bury goal, and Clarke sent a shot dipping over the wall and rippling the roof of the net - was temporary. David Buchanan tired of sending over crosses for his forwards to waste and assumed responsibility for shooting, Barnes arching his back to tip the ball over the crossbar. Bury won a few more corners and Town players made a few more blocks, before half time - Town with the goals to show for their early authority but the momentum swinging Bury's way.

Second half
Last year at Gigg Lane, Town had been much the better side until half time, when Bury remembered they had Andy Bishop in their ranks. Now our hearts sank as he replaced Morrell, and Bury began where they had left off, a teasing cross from the left that deserved better and a corner that Barnes caught.

For 15 minutes, it was Town who were shaking, their three-man midfield outnumbered, Bury crosses from either side cutting through the penalty area, shots miskicked or blocked or saved. We had an optimistic shout for a penalty when a Bury defender fell on top of Proudlock to prevent him challenging the goalkeeper for a bouncing ball, but he began to look isolated. However, for all Bury's possession, they were being met with organisation and resolution - Newey picking himself up from a first tackle to repeat and repeat again, repelling boarders, the threat of a cross from the edge of the area transformed into a harmless throw-in near the halfway line.

The Great Escape was still being drummed and clapped and hummed behind the Bury goal. It had felt like the most tenuous strand to traverse a cavernous 45 minutes, but now it was something sturdier, and there were glimpses of a happy ending. Just half an hour left, now, and Danny Boshell replaced Hegarty. He took a more central role and Town once more had an attack worth the name as Boshell fed Jarman, who almost freed Proudlock. Town were still now and again forced to sit back and defend their penalty area but increasingly they came forward as a unit, harrying defenders, forcing hasty balls, the bridge beneath Town's feet becoming more secure. Trotter shot from 30 yards and Brown in the Bury goal fumbled, but was able to gather. Boshell received a throw in the right-hand corner, held it up and turned a well-timed pass to Jarman, who overhit his cross. Bury broke quickly, Town for once short of numbers at the back but Stockdale cut across to tackle.

Peter Bore replaced Jarman, who left to a standing ovation, and now Bury enjoyed their last, best chances to get back into the game. Chris O'Grady turned past Stockdale and shot low to the near post, Barnes saving with his feet. Moments later, Barnes was flying across to the top right, turning a shot by Stephen Dawson around the post.

Boshell and Bore worked Town forward down our left, but allowed Bury to wriggle free from their own corner flag and sweep upfield. Dawson shot hard from distance, Bennett only half blocking it to leave Barnes wrong-footed as the ball just cleared the right post. Finally, when it was almost but not quite yet too late for Bury, Glynn Hurst had to score, finding his way clear to run down the middle into the penalty area and nonchalantly flick the ball with the outside of his right foot, wide of the post, Barnes for once exposed. For Bury, the game died then: the last ten minutes were the countdown to the Grimsby teatime party - eyes were shining now.

The defining moment that would have brought the increasingly assured Town side and the increasingly confident Town support together in celebration behind the Bury goal did not quite arrive: Bore won a corner which went just too high for Atkinson; North was worked into space and crossed low and just too hard for Bore; the ball retrieved, Clarke weaved into the penalty area and crossed low and just too hard for North. It didn't matter. Our players had relocated the pride, organisation and confidence to go with the talent they showed in glimpses, and the hundreds behind the Bury goal had rediscovered the joy of support. We weren't just there: we were part of it. And it was beautiful.