He stoops to conquer

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

8 October 2004

Northampton Town 0 Grimsby Town 1

An autumnal evening with a hint of a chill in the Home Counties (north), or is it the midlands (south)? One could never tell where that Come Dancing border was. It takes two to tango, but many more to work out where Northampton actually is. It's a larger-than-expected blob in the middle of England.

Around 500 Town fans squeezed themselves noisily into the tiny seats behind a goal. Some were even complaining about DVT. Leg room? To the stewards that's a Frenchman at a wedding. So that's 500 Town fans sitting side-saddle, munching their cooling burgers and marvelling at Colin Cramb's hair, sparkling in the shade, glistening in the gloom and almost roamin' in the gloamin'. With Hockless permanently doubtful, Town have to conform with Football League regulation 23.81 subsection (b) - you know, the one about every team must have at least one unfeasible hairstyle on the team sheet handed to the referee.

Town warmed up with the usual airy-fairy jogs and line dancing, though the sight of Sestanovich cheered up several of the more morose Mariners. Town lined up in a formation as follows: Williams, Crowe, Whittle, Forbes. Gordon, Fleming, Coldicott, Pinault, Parkinson, Cramb and Reddy. The substitutes were McDermott, Bull, Jones, Marcelle and Sestanovich. A formation? Town's formations are in the eye of the beholder these days. It was very difficult to work it out, for there were definitely four defenders, with Crowe at right back, Gordon at left back. Cramb was up front in the centre. The rest floated around. Sometimes there were four midfielders, sometimes five. Town were like a holey bellows, leaking air on the flanks. More later - or, as the GET would say, CONTINUED ON PAGE 42.

Finally, as kick off loomed the old lady programme seller arrived and was pounced upon by the culture vultures. It was, after all, the Division Three runner-up in the Programme of the Year awards. I must have missed that when it was screened live and exclusive on ITV. Flicking through their programme one couldn't help but notice that Northampton provide the day jobs for members of the band Busted. Is Martin Reeves the lead singer? Or do all young people look like that? And they have a recent photograph of Tony Crane (remember him?) who has clearly slimmed down a lot. And shrunk. And had plastic surgery performed to make him look like Mike Edwards.

As we gazed out, the lights of the by-pass dazzled us. It's so very Rushden: a plastic parody of a football ground; the business of entertainment, like it's a cinema. Ah, but so much more comfortable for away fans and away players, the sort of place that's... nice.

Town wore black socks. And other items of clothing too, of course. The usual.

First half
Town kicked off towards the home supporters and immediately gave the ball away. The first five minutes were a little fraught for Town, as possession was not maintained and Northampton ripped into the mouldless jelly that was the 'defence'. Town's left was a vast wilderness inhabited by some dawdling yaks and mangy polecats. Gordon kept tucking into the centre, while Parkinson occupied a limbo land between Heaven and Earth. Cobblers. Too right. Sabin had a splenetic, frenetic, kinetic start, drifting past Gordon, outpacing Forbes. Don't panic, don't panic.

Urgh, a minute gone, Sabin muscled out Forbes down their right and sprinted away in to the area, crossing low, crossing straight to Williams as Marooners lurked. A minute or so later Low, their Sestanovich-lite, trickled his way through a couple of nebulous challenges and crossed, being blocked for a corner. Gordon turned to Parkinson and gesticulated. Parkinson opened his arms and shrugged his shoulders. Another minute, another raid on their right. Forbes pushed aside by Sabin, who trumbled to the bye-line, looked up and rolled the ball across the face of goal. Playing without anyone on the left wasn't really working, was it.

Ah, that's better: two passes, on the ground. That's all it took to win a corner on the right. Floated long, floated high; Whittle, his little wings flapping, roared above the humanity and thumped a header back across goal. Cramb was unmarked, about a dozen yards out on their right. He took one touch, turned and thumped a smacker, which Rachubka parried away at his near post. Town striker shoots, Earth stops spinning. Town striker doesn't score, rotation resumes.

Still, a shot. Could Cramb be the one to remove the stigma of being a Town striker? Could be. He's got a bit more about him than Rosemary the telephone operator, that's for sure. And I don't mean round the waist either. When the ball was played up to him it stuck, and was invariably passed back to someone he'd met before. He acted as a proper focal point, the fulcrum of frenzy, if you will.

What's going on now then? Not much: tackling, cackling as passes went astray. Northampton tried to play a passing game, none of this long ball nonsense like, err, Grimsby. Yep, Town were the more basic of the two teams, with a higher propensity to hoof aimlessly. It all looked mighty pretty, but Northampton produced nothing inside the penalty area. Moments of danger by the dozen, but they couldn't cross, they didn't shoot.

Great defending or poor attacking? Depends on the colour of your underpants. Low caused minor earth tremors with his dribbling and mazy meanders, but he kept doing a Transit Stan, roaring up cul-de-sacs and getting tickets for double parking. Oh, if you want some dry technical stuff, Town settled to be more of a 4-5-1 than 4-3-3 so that the spaces on the flanks were closed off more. Happy now?

Yes, you are, and you don't even know it yet. Town started to get a bit more of a grip on the game, with Pinault spinning and grinning his way through the half. Coldicott and Fleming acted as his bodyguards, not letting any of the purple people eaters get to the star. Pingu had plenty of time for his tea and a slice. Ooooooh, Gordon fracked a shot from the A45 (westbound carriageway) which zoomma-zoomed about 10 foot wide. Still, he hit it hard and it was an excuse for those watching in black and white to get excited.

Reddy roving down the right, Crowe hitting the liquid oxygen button, Northampton alarmed. One, two, three passes from Pingu, Parkinson free inside the area on the left. A cross, Cramb unmarked near the penalty spot, Cramb fluffed, linesman's flag raised. Embarrassment avoided.

It's pretty dull.

Northampton... relying upon momentary lapses of reason by Town players for a chance. A ball over the top, Low chased, Williams raced out of his area and shinned the ball out for a throw-in. The height of cobblers, in every sense. Williams flapped a couple of weak punches , but nothing came of these wibbles and wobbles.

Oh, I can't be bothered to keep you in suspense any longer. Here it is, Northampton Town's effort on target. THE one, the one and only. A cross from their left, Sabin, ten yards out, held Forbes down and killed us softly with his song. Plop - into the arms of Williams. No pace, no power, no chance matey.

I'm looking forward to my sandwich.

Woah, what's this, Mr Crowe? As if awoken from a dream Jason Crowe intercepted a clearance on the touchline, just inside their half. He put on his driving gloves, adjusted the rear view mirror, winked to his ladyfriend, selected his favourite CD and put his foot on the accelerator. With his sirens screaming and fires howling he was gone, gone, gone down the wing and infield, leaving cobblers marooned. Crowe reached the edge of the penalty area, the final defender, what a goal to come. The defender lurched, Crowe jerked his body up, then plummeted to the ground.

The only rational act upon seeing this slapstick was to laugh. A dreadful dive. He failed his swimming badge. What a silly billy.

The crowd began to amuse itself with witty banter. Unimpressed by the number of travelling Mariners, they were even less impressed to be reminded of Wembley in 1998: "1-0 to the Mariners" with a coda: "and it was offside". It was nice of them to keep abreast of local matters and express such sympathy for the Birds Eye 600. Haven't they got a funny accent, more tractors than Town.

Pinault flashing and flinging passes hither and thither, Reddy sneaking forward, Reddy clobbered. Yellow card, free kick to Town, 25 yards out on the right. Pinault curled the cross in, Reddy lashed the ball with his quiff, but lacking power the ball arced archly to Rachubka. On the cusp of almost interesting.

Another Town free kick, Gordon glowering at Pinault, no French fancies here. About 25 yards out to the right of centre the Grand Vizard of Gordon rapped a low shot around the wall. Bobbling, bumbling, tumbling, the ball seemed to brush against the outside of the post and along the side netting. Rachubka wasn't fussed by all this bother. It probably looked more interesting to those of us watching our radios, or listening on Ceefax.

Thank goodness for that, it's nearly over, plenty of time to count the number of Town fans on crutches. Is this a new dance craze? Hey, pay attention at the back of the stand, Town are attacking. No sir, make that Mr Jason Crowe has got back in his favourite car and is taking the scenic route. Riding along in his automobile, the ball beside him as he wheeled past a third cobbler, then a fourth. Into the centre, 25 yards out he drew back his left boot and shivered a shot goalwards. The ball took a deflection, leaving Rachubka motionless upon his line. The ground fell silent as the ball spun towards the bottom right corner, then a roar of relief as it went just wide of the post. Somehow the referee managed to award a goal kick. Parkinson and Cramb expressed a contrary view.

At last, half time.

A right mess at times; at others a dour, stale splodge of gruel on the breakfast table. There were flashes of excellence from both sides, but always 30 yards from goal. Whenever Town managed to pass, and someone moved, Northampton trembled.

And you could just about say the same thing the other way round. Town had slightly more of a threat up front, with Cramb more of a goat than a sheep. He looked interesting. Defensively Town were oddly dishevelled on the left; in other words, Gordon was having a bit of a stinker. His positioning was appalling, his tackling rather fey. At the end he simply missed tackles and was unable to run back. Rather concerning, don't you think? Still, the rest of the defence was perfectly fine.

The half-time entertainment was much better. Two fans were plucked from the terraces to take penalties against each other. Grimsby John, against Cobblers Kev. Yes! Big John saved the first, scored his first, scored his second and was on the threshold of greatness, his name to be plastered across the back of the GET, songs to be sung for evermore. Come on John, score and you win, the pride of Grimsby... Noooooooooo. Over the bar and into the stand. Sudden death: Kev scored, John missed, game over. Typical Town, hopes raised, victory assured and nerves fail. John, you truly are Grimsby Man.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Now we've stopped Sabin running, they're nothing."
"Do you think they've taken the one-size-fits-all approach to Cramb's shirt?"
"No-one from Grimsby eats cod."
"They only let us bring it in if it was hot."
"If we win you'll have to come to every game on crutches. Forever."

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time.

They kicked off, some spectators nodded off. After a couple of minutes or so something happened down at the other end which made their fans say "Oooh". A header of some kind, bombling long for a while near goal, kicked away without fuss. It really wasn't worth it.

Minutes ticked by. The ball was still stuck in the middle with Pingu, jokers to the left of him, clowns to the right, no-one to pass to. Twisting, twirling, if someone would bother moving something might happen. Perhaps I should take up reading books again, to give me something to do while Town piddle.

Northampton strung three passes together. Their fans remained silent.

Wahey! That's marvellous. They added a fourth pass, just to vary the comic routine and Rowson finished off with the coup de grace. The ball laid back to him, 25 yards out, he did some teenage trigonometry, applied some basic ballistics and carefully placed a shot somewhere to the east of Irthlingborough. Perhaps he hasn't heard that the prize for the first privately manned space flight has been won. No need to continue your experiments, sonny. Try some football, it's easier.

Five minutes later his experimenting continued, this time the ball remained within the town boundaries, being sliced away beyond the thunderdome, or at least into the bowling alley behind the ground. No strike there, laddie. Roll another one.

Hang on, comedy, football, Grimsby... it's not Stuart Rowson is it? Can't be; no ambulances involved.

Town have the ball! Town passing! Town moving! Had to be Pinault, didn't it. Spreading play, Gordon raring up the wing, crossing to Cramb, briefy unmarked, ten yards out, level with the corner of the six-yard box. He swivelled and had his shot blocked by Fred MacMurray. Pinault pinged the corner beyond the far post and Whittle rose above his marker and headed three yards wide.

Town started to go beyond just stopping them and began to create little moments of danger. Reddy racing up the wings, turning defence into attack; Cramb intelligently turning and playing Parkinson free. Parkinson was rubbish today, so nothing happened. Rachubka parried a corner straight out to Fleming, who flibbled a hooking volley goalwards, but straight back to the flapper. Nearly, but not. Reddy again, running from the edge of the Town area up to theirs. What pace! What power! What support? Corner won, Reddy empty, Reddy off and replaced by Sestanovich.

Oh, I missed something really important. Northampton had a corner. It travelled through the air and reached one of their players, whose 'shot' hit Gordon's shins. It was that close. Phew, just imagine what would have happened if no Town players had been on the pitch. Ever...

I dismiss them too soon, for some neat, incisive approach work down the centre and right cut Town to pieces. A striker was unmarked on the right of Town's area. The ball rolled to him. He prepared for glory. Sestanovich slid across, causing a partial lunar eclipse, blocking the shot with his backside. What danger?

In the last 20 minutes the game suddenly became a bit more open. Low amused himself by running into a mantrap consisting of Gordon, Forbes and Fleming. It got the home crowd going a bit, I suppose. Was Sabin still on the pitch? Hah, Town. Breaking quickly, Cramb the catalyst, Pinault the hub around which the wheel turned. One-twos, a wiggle, and Sestanovich gliding across the turf down the right. Three defenders shuffled like umpa-lumpas in front of him, while Sestan got out his theodolite, which he'd secreted in his back pocket, and surveyed the scene. He looked up, wiggled his bottom just one more time and, from about 20 yards out, wide of the penalty area, curled a dipping fizzer over the goalkeeper and against the top of the crossbar.

A few minutes later Sestanovich played an audacious, waist-high, back-heeled volley to Pinault, who immediately flicked and tricked the ball out to Parkinson. Sit down: he kicked it against a defender while others raced up in support. Parkinson again, drivelling a low shot straight at Rachubka from 25 yards. He should have passed to one of the hordes of Mariners racing across the Northamptonshire Steppes.

Still Northampton, errr, had the ball occasionally. Chuckle if you must, but they had another shot. Wide, high, distinctly dreadful. Williams was dying of boredom. Not now though. The referee took pity upon the locals, perhaps feeling a little guilty that he hadn't awarded them any free kicks. Whittle was booked for winning the ball against two strikers. They fouled each other, Whittle headed the ball, they got a free kick and it was marched forward ten yards. He probably got booked for kicking the ball away rather than the supposed foul. What happened at this free kick? Nothing. Ooh, and another one... nope, no danger.

We noticed that their left-back had his name spelt oddly. Jaszczun. Hmmm, maybe the registrar was drunk. With about 10 minutes left they took off Smith and brought on JK Galbraith, perhaps attempting to nullify Pinault through the concept of countervailing power. Whatever, he didn't do anything. For Northampton it was the bland leaving the bland.

Northampton continued to pass with little purpose, and cross with little accuracy. A Gordon flick header averted danger and one of their midfielders flipped a free kick from about 20 yards just over the bar, the ball riffling the top of the net as it stopped. Has Williams touched the ball with his hands in this half?

Another Town attack, that's nice. Quick flicks, neat feet, Parkinson sent free, Gordon overlapping, Cramb unmarked... Parkinson managed to cross onto just about the only defender's head. There were other defenders, but they were headless at this point. It's a nil-niller isn't it, or one of those daft late defeats that are part of our genetic make-up.

La-di-dah, Northampton trundling off down the other end. Here it is? No, another rubbish cross. How long left, then? Five minutes, plenty of time to... oh, a free kick to Town about 30 yards out on the right. Err, why? Who cares? Let's see action. Pinault stood alone over the ball, waving away the rosbifs. He curled the ball low into the area. It skidded off the grass and no-one seemed to be moving. What a waste, typical Town. Gordon, about a dozen yards out at the far post, threw himself forward, wrestling a crocodile at the same time, and thundered a diving header goalwards. Rachubka only managed to parry the ball against the underside of the crossbar and there it was, in the net. It's what is known in 'the game' as 'a goal'. It's the sort of thing that makes you take the world in a love embrace.

And the Cobblers stopped being so cobblers. They threw the ball forward, upped the pace, upped the intensity. Sabin flicked a header a yard wide. Coldicott gave away a free kick by diving across, feet first, just 20 yards out in the centre to stop Low after he drifted past four Town players. The free kick hit the wall; the rebound was looped very wide, very weakly.

Another free kick, another weak effort. Three minutes of added time were added, but Northampton needed three years. They never looked like scoring. To score you have to shoot, and on target. If all movement is accomplished in six stages, they were on number one: get up, get out of bed, drag a comb across your head. The last kick of the game summed it all up: a pumped-up cross and Whittle majestically flying above the molten earth to scream a header away.

Another win on Russ's magical mystery tour, where satisfaction is sometimes guaranteed. By Jove, I think we've found the elixir of youth. Don't bother playing well - that's the road to perdition. Play rubbish and win. That's the secret formula.

You want to know about the players? Great performance, was it? I have rather glossed over some terrible mistakes by Dean Gordon: he welched out of two tackles, was frequently awfully positioned and turned upside down by Low, but he did score so he's let off being un-man of the match. Parkinson was not worth the paper his name is written on. He tried - he always tries - but succeeded with nothing. The rest were versions of adequate, ranging from all right (Coldicott and Fleming) to really quite good (Crowe and Pinault). Yes, even the bandageless Reddy did what he was supposed to do.

Don't bother trying to buy the video of this game. The result's the thing. If any team deserved the victory then it was Town, but only in the sense that we deserved to draw more than they deserved not to lose. It's nice to creep up the league unnoticed, waiting in the shadows, observing the alley cats fighting among themselves. Let 'em tear their hair out, but let's not stroke our new fur coat too much. We don't want to be the cats who licked themselves to death. We did that last year.

Not bad so far.

Nicko's man of the match
Jason Crowe was a human dynamo up and down, up and down, up and down the wing, but he loses points for style, or lack of it. What a rubbish dive at the end of the first half. No, no, no, thrice I say no. I'll have no truck with Transit vans and people carriers, it's the 12-wheel articulated lorry for me: Mr Justin Whittle, faultless in defence and only a couple of 'Hull balls' whacked down the pitch towards the Ferrensway flyover.

Official warning
Mr L Mason was unusually Town-friendly for most of the game; his little errors were merely irritating, like the free kick where Whittle got booked, but overall a perfectly acceptable non-homer. What other score-dooring than 6.263 will do? Well, none.