Thin ice

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

17 January 2004

Port Vale 5 Grimsby Town 1

The following happened on Saturday 17 January 2004. All was not what it seemed.

A chill, clear day in the ceramic bedpan of the Potteries, with 200 or so Town followers and supporters behind the goal (to the left as seen on TV). Nice to see that the multi-storey car park is taking shape, now with added seating. Last century it was just a carcass; now it's half a stand. I suppose that's what a financial crisis does: pickles a club in time, warts and all. You don't get them at Tesco's, though there are speciality shops in London that, for a suitable price, would supply them for that fancy dinner party you are planning.

The brave new world of the Poutonless Town has finally arrived, though the bitterest pill was sweetened by the sight of Daws tumbling around in an extra-large number 7 shirt. The animal farm of the Bouldingless Town was also previewed. Eek, no mercurial Mick. Eek, eek, what's the ghost of misses past doing parked outside the ground, mobile phone pressed to right ear, chuckling merrily? We haven't signed him again have we? Well, it sure looked like Livvo. Must have been - too tight to pay for the car park.

Town lined up in striped shirts, ballooning white shorts and red socks (aka stockings circa 1957) in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Davison, McDermott, Ford, Edwards, Crowe, Anderson, Daws, Groves, Jevons, Onuora and Mansaram. The substitutes were Young, Hockless, Rowan, Hamilton and Soames. As expected, Crowe stood to the left of the centre backs in the vague area that Darren Barnard usually occupies. There was nothing remarkable to report about the warm-up, though attention was diverted by the sight of three plump foam approximations of Bugs Bunny, Tigger the Tiger and a snowman. I have no idea why. The match was sponsored by a 'refrigerated and ambient delivery' company. Ah, yes, refrigerated = snowman. Err, Bugs Bunny? Ambient? Perhaps that's what ambient delivery means: your parcel is handed over by someone in a huge cartoon costume.

And today's programme faux pas? The Town badge was printed throughout with a big orange 'Dixon' underneath it.

First half
Town kicked off away from the clumped Townites with McDermott curling a pass down the wing to Onuora, who promptly fell over and headed the ball out of play. Well, at least it's a variation on the theme. From the off, Vale had a few corners, which didn't trouble. Flung in, headed out. No shots, no chances. Vale buzzed about a bit, with McPhee a little pest and Brooker bruising his way forward. A few little flutters, but nothing serious. The pitch was surprisingly bumpy, the grass seeming a little long too, so the ball kept bobbling about. But nothing to worry about just yet. Having said that, I would like Jason Crowe to tackle.

Ah that's better. Town started to pass to each other, with Anderson and Jevons hugging the wings and flipping in semi-dangerous crosses, knocked out for corners. Interesting goalkeeper they have: he just won't come off his line. After abut five minutes, Groves stooped at the far post, about a dozen yards out and headed firmly towards the bottom right corner. Brain scooped the ball up easily.

A couple of minutes later Town got another corner on the left. Anderson whacked it high to the far post and Onuora, way, way out, leant back and powerfully headed just over the bar. Hey, this ain't too bad. Nothing special, but OK. Daws and Groves were looking relatively solid in the centre, tapping a steady supply of passes out to the wings. Shall we overlook the crazy world of Darren Mansaram up front?

Oh, a shot from Vale. Ahh, that's OK - it's from outside the box, drivelling inoffensively across the thick luscious green, green grass of Burslem and safely into the arms of Mary, I mean Davison. Let 'em shoot from long range. And it seems Town had the same idea. Jevons, jigging, jingling infield past three defenders and looping a half volley towards the top right hand corner from near the corner of the penalty area. Brain sailed into the sun, and the band began to play as he clutched the ball without too much difficulty. It's all going well, so far, isn't it? Quarter of an hour gone and Town having slightly the better of the game. A Vale punt forward, some head tennis in the centre and the ball nodded out of the box.


The ball dropped to Lipa, just outside the box on their centre right. Lipa smacked a right-footed volley through a great big wedge of players and into the bottom left corner. Davison was unsighted, and the shot was perfect. Yet another fine goal scored against Town. Attempts were made within the Town support to attach blame, but these fizzled out, for it was just a darn fine shot.

A couple of minutes later Vale attacked again, winning a corner. Again there seemed little danger, just a cross lumped into the far post and headed out of the box, clunked back in and... offside!. No, play on. Collins, lurking 20 yards out in the middle, twisted and thavumped a tremendous right-footed volley into the right-hand corner of the net. A more concerted attempt was made to apportion blame, and the conclusion was that Groves must "sort it", though the "it" wasn't defined. Clearly he must stop Port Vale scoring superb goals.

Town started to wobble a bit, with the locals feeling right chipper. Tackles were not made, hesitation crept in and pressure was exerted. Vale should have scored again when Bridge-Wilkinson was allowed to saunter free after Brooker had drifted behind Crowe. The Buckley reject clipped a wonderfully flighted cross into the space between Davison and the defence. Davison came off his line and McPhee raced in and looped a header over Davison. The ball slowly dropped... onto the roof of the net.

A couple of minutes later Jevons and Crowe dawdled and dithered, barely bothering to move their former Premiership-standard legs, allowing a Valiant to cross unimpeded. Paynter, a double barrel-chested striker beyond the far post, rose above McDermott and headed firmly into the side netting. Davison wagged his finger at McDermott.

And then the game settled back into its former pattern, with Town calming matters, or should that be the old heads in the centre, Groves and Daws, controlling the ball and passing it. An unusual concept, one that might catch on one day with the youngsters. Town had a little bit of pressure, with a few almost moments. Mansaram almost free inside the box, but his control was terrible. Corner won. Jevons, almost a free header at the far post. Anderson almost free inside the box. Crosses, almost to Town heads. Not quite.

With about 10 minutes left to half time Vale had a half attack, managing to get about 10 yards inside the Town half. Ford chased the ball out to the right, with McPhee in hot pursuit. Nah, no danger there, go and have a pie. No, don't sink below your seat. Ford entered the twilight zone. Suddenly the ball bounced behind him. Shall we be kind and assume that the ball hit a huge divot? Whatever. It was disaster, for Ford was now heading towards Macclesfield, while McPhee and ball were merrily heading towards the bright lights of the big city.

McPhee was about 40 yards out, but on the touchline. He set off towards goal, sucking Edwards, McDermott and Crowe towards him as he zoomed forwards. As he approached the edge of the penalty area he saw a friendly face unmarked on their right. Mr Bridge-Wilkinson took one touch, looked up and, from the edge of the penalty area, dinked a delicate chip over Davison and into the centre of the goal. Some Town fans exploded with rage, the majority simply expelled what air they had left in their lungs and applauded a quite brilliantly taken goal. Just think Hoddle against Watford all those years ago.

The Town fans were all of a tither, confused, not knowing who to blame for what, and in that confusion quite a few missed the statutory moment of false hope. From the kick off, Town flew at Vale down the left. A dink, a head on, a turn, a one-two and Crowe was free behind the full back, inside the area. He crossed low into the near post, perhaps a dozen yards out, where Jevons superbly steered a volley into the top left corner. Game on!

Well, not quite. Game dulled down more like, drifting towards half time with only the crumbling confidence of Simon Ford to occupy the mind. The poor delicate flower wilted, his knees almost knocking whenever the ball went near him, which was often as the front two were incapable of holding onto the ball. Or in Onuora's case, getting near it. The referee didn't help by deciding that whenever Iffy did get the ball he must have fouled. Can we complain about that? It sounds right, doesn't it?

There wasn't much going on, save another bit of rubbish defending by Anderson, who effectively flicked the ball out to the unmarked Paynter 20 yards out. Fortunately, Paynter completely mis-hit the shot, though Davison still managed to struggle across his line and fingertip the ball away for a corner. And how can I forget Davison's fly kick straight at Brooker, the ball ballooning off the striker's back, Crowe clearing.

Somewhere close to 3:50, with many wondering where all this added time had come from, Davison come off his line and collected a through ball. Ah, surely last kick of the half, just a drop kick forward and time for some serious introspection into some cheap instant coffee. McPhee stood around near Davison as the blue-shirted oldster walked towards the edge of the area. Thump! A fly-kick forward. Why is the linesman waving his flag? A free kick to Vale, right on the edge of the area, right in the centre. Seems Davison had managed to carry the ball out of his area in the process of drop-kicking. Oh yeah, Groves out, sort it Grovesie. It's your fault, Furneaux, for selling Pouton. Or how about Davison was silly, and Town a little unlucky? How often do linesmen flag for those small technical infringements?

All the Town players came back into the area. A huge wall was stretched in front of Davison, with Lipa left unmarked to the right. Vale tried the subtle approach, tapping the ball sideways and getting someone to whack it as hard as possible. You never know; your luck might be in. It was. The ball hit a Town player in the wall, diverting from left to right, bouncing down, spinning up and over Davison, onto the face of the crossbar, dropping vertically onto the line at the foot of the post - and straight at the feet of Paynter, who bundled it in from a yard out. From our perfect angle behind the goal he appeared to have got in front of Ford before the free kick was struck, but hey, we don't get too many favours from linesmen. All in all, a bit of a freak goal to end a freaky half.

Four-one down, a stuffing, a terrible performance, gutless? Not really. Three brilliantly struck goals and a complete farce of a freak of a fun-filled fourth. Vale were a better team, with a couple of very good forwards, but in a normal game 2-0 would have been ever so slightly kind to them at half time. It was all very strange, but then again, when your luck's out...

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Adding water only makes fish wet."
"I'm fed up of seeing great goals zooming past Davo."
"I'm so excited by Turkish ballet."
"I think I'd even have Buckley back now."
"It's not you who's the away jinx; it's the players."

Second half
Neither side made any changes at half time. The first five minutes or so were not very interesting, at least from a Town point of view. Vale occasionally broke away, but didn't look particularly threatening, though the inevitable fifth was expected after Mansaram turned wonderfully on the Town right and gave the ball straight to a Port Vale midfielder, who wellied it across the pitch. Edwards hared after McPhee, lunged, missed, and the pesky little blighter was free, down the touchline. Into the area, Ford dawdling in the middle, finally advancing towards this danger and McPhee decided to... well, I'm not sure really. A cross? A shot? The ball ended up way into the back of the stand. It was probably that bombly pitch.

There followed a period of total domination by Town, when several goals could, maybe should, have been scored. Daws and Groves reasserted themselves in midfield and possession was retained, short passes were made, Town players moved, that sort of thing. Jevons drifted off his wing to hover between attack and midfield. Vale players started to worry: they began to fall over, to pass out of play, to control the ball out of play. Led by Daws, Town pressed them hard, not giving the home players any time on the ball.

And suddenly Vale began to play like a second division team. Twice within a minute Vale players handled to stop a Town break through the middle. On the second occasion Town were given a free kick right in the centre, about 20 yards out. Jevons and Anderson stood over the ball and it was clear to all that Jevons was going to take it and try and curl it into the top left corner. The free kick deflected off the wall for a corner.

Anderson curled the ball in from the right. Groves flung himself between two defenders and, from about eight yards out in the centre, headed firmly down towards goal. Brain, glued to his line, suddenly became spring-heeled, leaping to his left and excellently parrying the ball off the line for another corner. Another corner, and another, pressure tightening, the ball getting closer and closer. Is this it? No. Onuora at the far post, five or six yards out, headed powerfully towards the bottom right corner. Brain repeated his earlier save, brilliantly tipping the ball aside for another corner.

Still Town poured forward, with Jevons tricking his way through one, two, three tackles, leaving defenders on their backsides and getting supporters off theirs. He crossed to the far post, just too high, head tennis, cross, scrambles, the ball dropping six yards out on the left. Mansaram free, a goal begging, the stand groaning as the ball flashed several yards over the bar.

More, yet more Town attacking, wave after wave, cross after cross, corner after corner. And free kick after free kick as Town players were repeatedly tripped and pushed 35 yards out. Jevons curled a lovely free kick into the box, Groves rose, Groves headed firmly, but straight at Brain. All this pressure, football, obvious commitment, were causing the Town fans to mix frantic support with the occasional boo when they remembered the scoreline.

The period of Town control ended, halfway through the half, just after Daws was felled by Boyd. Daws chased the ball around the pitch, dispossessing Boyd with a manly lunge. The ball fell to Jevons on the touchline, who was immediately upended. Daws remained on the ground, clutching his head, and was taken off down the tunnel, never to re-emerge. Town played for about three minutes with 10 men, as the ball just would not go out of play.

During this period there was the sublime: a Jevons dribble past a coterie of flailing defenders which ended with his cross being blocked at the near post, and the ridiculous: Ford falling asleep and letting Brooker have a free header a dozen yards out at the far post. Luckily Vale don't do easy goals and the header went a yard or two wide. Eventually Town were allowed to bring Young on for Daws, with Crowe moving up to central midfield. I am sure Crowe was delighted, for he had played like he didn't want to be a full-back, like it was beneath him.

Around this time Town had another chance when Anderson broke away inside the box after a pleasing series of one-twos down the right. He crossed low to the far post. Onuora didn't so much control the ball as attempt to smother it as it rebounded off his far too muscular chest and back across goal. The ball was free and rolling into a huge inviting hole into which Groves strode, just six yards out. Brain remained on his line, Groves drew back his foot and Onuora threw himself across the penalty area, making a brave clearance, averting a certain goal. Well done, that man! That's the sort of commitment the fans demand!

With about a quarter of an hour left, and the game just petering out, Vale had a second wind, pinning Town back a bit, but not actually creating any memorable chances. The ball was knocked forward and Ford, on the right edge of the penalty area headed back out. Crowe and a Vale midfielder challenged and the ball flew out sideways. Bridge-Wilkinson picked the ball up, took a couple of strides, and from about 25 yards out leant back and with minimal backlift smacked a left-footed drive towards the top right corner. Davison managed to palm the ball against the post, but it rolled in.

Cue another outburst from a minority of the Town support, and some people left. Just like in the first half, they couldn't decide who to blame. The most vocal, about 20 or so, wanted the head of Groves (they had brought along a banner specially), about half a dozen berated the chairman, and a couple blamed the players for not trying.

And the Town players continued to 'not try' by almost scoring a couple more times. Straight after the surprising fifth, Town burst down the right, with Anderson flicking a low cross to the near post. Crowe, with his back to goal and about five yards out, backheeled the ball goalwards, Brain saving superbly at the very foot of the near post. Another Town corner, another bit of pressure. A few minutes later Jevons drifted down the left and crossed into the centre, Mansaram managed to miss the ball in the centre of goal, a defender using his buttocks to lever Flash away from the ball. A minute after that Anderson crossed into the centre. Mansaram missed again.

With about five minutes left Rowan replaced the walking obstacle course, Mr Onuora, while Groves was replaced by Hamilton shortly afterwards. The Town players had a little joke among themselves as they played a game of one-touch keep ball, always sending it back to Hamilton. It took four goes for him to fall over the ball. He's getting better.

And that was that. I have probably forgotten a few Vale attacks that resulted in shots blocked, or crosses wasted. There were certainly a few hairy moments when Town attacks were halted, leaving just Ford and Edwards against McPhee and Brooker, but Davison didn't have much to do all game. Except pick the ball out of his net five times. My, weren't they four mighty spectacular goals from outside the penalty area. You just don't expect that quality in the second division. Once in a while maybe, but not four times in one game! Who could have stopped them? Not our ageing goalkeeper, that's for sure.

Did the players try? Yes. Did Town play some decent football? Yes, sometimes. Was the scoreline an accurate reflection of the game? No. But there aren't many people out there who care about those minor matters. Points make prizes, don't they. Town were much, much worse the last time we played here.

Perhaps Groves' greatest crime is that he isn't a lucky manager. The game ended with the tannoy playing "Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye". Are they trying to tell us something?

Nicko's man of the match
Mr Twinkleboots shone again, for Phil Jevons was a beautiful butterfly, fluttering away on the wing. Defensively just about adequate, an attacking dream for all those lovers of flicks and tricks. And goals.

Markie's unman of the match (not)
Mansaram was appalling, totally incapable of doing anything right. But he tried so, so hard. He is, therefore, saved from ignominy because he was rubbish for all the right reasons.

Official warning
Well, at least Mr A Kaye spotted handballs, even if he didn't book them for it. Can't complain about the fourth goal, for that was the linesman's call. Erm, no, can't think of any reason to moan about him, so he gets 6.892. It wasn't a game where the ref was a factor.