Avoid the 70-minute void

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Peter Hopgood

12 March 2019

Crawley Town 2 Grimsby Town 1

We are back at Crawley a year on from Russ’s last stand. We have emerged from Slade’s Valley of Despair into Jolley’s Sunlit Uplands, their verdant pastures concealing the odd rabbit hole to trip us up. Surely this isn’t one of those?

Seated in the wedding marquee stand, our pre-match teas are interrupted by a note of concern as McKeown stays down in a heap after stretching for a save in the keepers’ warm-up. He eventually gets up and gingerly walks off. Out before we start? The rest of the players I actually recognise after attending the re-enactment of the Alamo at Selhurst Park. I even recognise one of the Crawley players. Hi Ollie.

First half

Well, this looks good. Purposeful, quick slick passing and two chances for Thomas in the first five minutes. Those are only him getting his eye in. A cross deep to the far side of the area, Öhman just about managing to head it back into the danger area and Thomas hook volleyed the ball into the net. What could possibly go wrong now?

As Palmer trundles past a wag among us shouts "Go on Ollie!" How we chuckled.

Hang on, what's this from the restart? A few Crawley passes end with a shot from outside the area, and the ball cannons off the left-hand end of the Town bar. Blimey, you don't want that to happen too often.

Ooops, within seconds another shot and the ball cannons off the right-hand side of the Town bar. Shell-shocked Town proceed to lose the plot.

Ten minutes gone and we have gone to pot. Any sort of organisation that was evident in the first seven or eight minutes has evaporated. Crawley apply mounting pressure. Only McKeown, Collins, Öhman and Thomas appear to be in control of their own destiny.

Woolford is the first to buy a ticket for the 'who will get sent off' lottery after a clumsy challenge on the halfway line. The first signs of the referee's ineptitude are showing. Luckily for Ring he is sharing the pitch with somebody having a worse game than him: the referee. It is Ring and Davis who fail to shut down Young on the right, he manages to dink a cross into Palmer, who then nods past McKeown. We all look accusingly for the wag who had shouted "Come on Ollie".

As the herd of Crawley wildebeests gallop upfield, Öhman and Palmer tangle in the centre circle. Of course it's a Crawley free kick and the referee waves a yellow card vaguely at Öhman. Then has a long chat with Palmer, probably about Bake Off or Masterchef. This all has relevance later.

As the half plods on, it's Crawley who make all the progress and it is no surprise when just before half time Palmer is played in again and fires low through Davis’s legs (and possibly McKeown’s too) for his second.

Second half

No repeat of Town’s first-half opening minutes as Crawley carry on from where they left off. McKeown makes a blank point save from McNerney. As he scrambles to his feet the ball is swung back in and Jimmy confidently lets it go over his head and out for a goal kick. But it doesn’t and somebody nods it back to Palmer, who very kindly misses an open goal.

There really does not seem to be any game plan from Town, just individuals running around rather aimlessly. In a rare excursion upfield Embleton latches on to the ball, cuts into the area from the right and aims a curling shot into the top corner. It bounces off the fascia of the stand behind the goal. He's not the messiah, etc, etc. Well, not at the moment he isn't.

Öhman upends somebody and the ref pulls out his yellow card. Oh well, we usually play better with ten men. Öhman trots off but only into the area. Has the ref forgotten something? Let's not remind him. I wish those vague chants of "off, off, off" would stop.

(Later, checking the match report, it turns out he had booked Palmer in the first half but given the free kick Crawley’s way. As the officials are now linked by that new-fangled wireless thing, why can't the referee tell the fourth official who has been booked and their number? This can then be shown on the electronic board. If the stadium announcer is in on it too, they then give out the name and number as they do added time announcements.)

At the hour mark Woolford is replaced by Clifton. Hmmm, called up for the Welsh under-21s, but kept out of the Town starting line-up by the aging Woolford? Dennis? Blimey, was he playing? I hadn't noticed until he was replaced by Cook.

Even these changes could not wake Town up and our suffering continues. The only bright point is a free kick finally awarded Town’s way. The ref gets a standing ovation for that from the Town faithful.

With five minutes left Collins is replaced by Vernam, who apparently brings with him Michael’s words of wisdom: "The goal is that way, lads." Town are transformed. Not in an organised, game-plan way. More a charge of the Light Brigade way. The last five minutes of normal time and six minutes of injury time are spent in the Crawley half and most of it in the Crawley area. Hessenthaler has a shot from blank point range bounce off their keeper. Successions of corners are flung in. Even McKeown comes up for the last minute. All to no avail.

Full time brings a deflated 400-odd Town supporters giving the players a brief half-hearted clap, as the players return it in kind. It's that sort of day. If we could fill in the middle 70 minutes with what we do in the first and last ten minutes it might have been a different story.