A few good men: Lincoln (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

25 March 2006

Lincoln 5 Russell Slade's Grimsby very 0

You want the truth? Can you handle the truth?

A warming grey afternoon in that swinging town we call Capital City, with over 2,000 Town fans wrapped around a corner flag. What beautiful vistas to behold: the cathedral glowering down upon the meek citizens of the lowlands; the castle tower and the ambulance station shimmering through the haze; the Lincolnshire flag flaccid and limp.

Russell Slade's Grimsby Town lined up in an alleged 4-4-2 formation as follows: Mildenhall, Croft, Futcher, Whittle, Newey, Cohen, Bolland, Woodhouse, Toner, a very large Lump and Reddy. The substitutes were Kalalalalala, Jones the seething Stick, Goodfellow, Parkinson and Mendes. For all the usual sturm und drang about injuries, the only absentee was Soylent Green Downey. Oh yes, and some reserve called Maccadermot. Such height, such sophistication in the team: at least the air raids would be easily repulsed by our barrage balloons and ack-ack gunners.

Lincoln lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with little Jamie Failedforus buzzing around up front with Marvellous Marvin Rubbishontrialforus and Francis Playedforeveryonebutus. They had one tall player. No problemo, eh?

The pre-match festivities were short and decidedly dull, so the two sets of fans amused themselves with acappella disharmonious taunting and some poultry enumeration (with fingers crossed).
Should Russ have worn that shirt on Look North? No wonder Peter Levy took a shine to his shiny bonce.

First half
Town kicked off towards the cathedral, confusing all with a shuffle down the right as all the big men lined up on the left. Ooh, there's clever - thinking of the third division already are we? Forward planning? Cohen was clobbered immediately and Town were given a free kick which was launched long and high, resulting in a corner. The mighty Mariners did roar as Town pressed all the right buttons for Russ. The corner cleared, Town won another free kick. More pressure exerted, with the ball piled in to the middle of the penalty area high and handsome. One of the less tiny Lincoln defenders flicked the ball out of the area, straight to Whittle, who, 20 yards out in the centre, pivoted on his left leg and swaggered a volley straight into Marriott's midriff.

Lincoln's tactics were clear from the outset: hit the channels, win some throw-ins and gnaw around the ankles of the giant deadwoods like eager beavers. And here it is: throw-in number one coming at you low and flat. Futcher failed, Whittle mailed an SOS and somehow, somewhere the ball was squirtled away after panic on the streets of Humberside. Another Lincoln attack with the ball rolled to Robinson inside the area. Green and Forrester peeled away and only Robinson's love of Nestle's Milky Bar averted danger.

The linesman underneath the Town fans needed some lessons in basic biology. Twice Green charged down a Newey clearance by turning his back and stretching his arm out. The linesman smiled and pointed to his chest. The chest is on the other side, matey.

Here we go: normal service has been resumed. Town pummelled forward, booming the ball beyond Reddy, winning some throw-ins. Hurtled long and hard from the right, Marriott punched the ball away at his near post, but straight to Bolland, near the corner of the penalty area, who lampooned a first-time volley straight back into the keeper's midriff.

Five minutes gone and two Town shots. Nice; not easy, but nice.

More Town pressure, corners, throw-ins, Marriott punching, Cohen clashing, the game played out under the noses of the little Impites. Another shot! A cross cleared, Toner leant back and steered a half volley way over the crossbar from the edge of the area. This is going too well, very Mansfield.

Did I tell you Town were in all blue? We weren't feeling blue, yet.

After about ten minutes Lincoln started to pass the ball to each other on the ground. How very cheeky. Their scurrying little midfielders tipped and tapped as Town had a nap, allowing Kerr, on their left, to curl a cross into the centre of the area. Forrester, alone near the penalty spot, grazed the ball goalwards. Mildenhall dived theatrically but the ball was always, always drifting safely wide. Still it made the locals happy; how quaint.

The Impies piled forward, thrusting on their right, thrashing on their left, turning Town's obelisks and winning some more throw-ins. Level with the penalty area, Mayo hurtled the ball towards the near post. A block of blue leapt, but a little Lincoln lad back-headed the ball in a loopy loop towards the far post. Robinson gave Whittle a nudgette and the Hull Heffalump crumpled underneath the flight of the ball as it dropped into the net off the bottom of the post. Sources close to the Lincoln drinks cabinet claim that Foster had scored. What a rubbish goal to concede. Thirteen minutes gone, if you want the minor details of history. It wasn't a total shock, as Town had been clueless in defending these daylight bombing raids.

Town kicked the ball a long way and Lincoln defenders headed it away. Lincoln midfielders pootled the ball forward, Lincoln strikers moved. Oh what a tangled web they weaved, intricate patterns not found in any of Russ's knitting books.

Boom! A long, long drop-kick downfield. Little Justin Whittle, terrorised by the huge, hulking presence of Jamie Forrester somewhere within the same postal district, waited about ten yards inside the Town half on the right. Whittle stumbled backwards and headed the ball in a big arc over Futcher. Forrester scuttled in front of the wrong Futch and, 20 yards out, lob-volleyed perfectly high, high, high over Mildenhall. The ball bounced once and up in to the roof of the net as the Big M turned to lob-volley advice towards his 'defence'. Ah, that defence, the best in the league! Isn't it grand! Isn't it fine! Look at the cut, the style, the line!

Am I hallucinating? I've just turned on the telly and there are a thousand purple Edna Everages. In Lincoln there were 2,000 purple-faced Mariners; I wasn't imagining that.

Poor Whittle: the circuit's dead, the contact's gone, can you hear him Ben and Tom?

Town's response was to eschew that namby-pamby stuff and, well, hit it even longer and even harder. Reddy and the Lump were innocuous, ineffective and in the pockets of the local aldermen. No fat-free Lumpaldinho stuff today, just pure English lard layered with dripping. At least Town got a few more throw-ins and corners, forcing Marriott to keep punching the ball away. That's just about as good as it got: their keeper had to punch the ball a couple of times. That's the sort of style that got us where we are. We forced them to play netball.

Lincoln's dander was up and Town were a shallow pool of putrid ditchwater. With the wings clipped Town were totally incapable of powered flight. The Impites had three forwards who moved and three midfielders who ran to meet them. Town had Bolland. Woodhouse specialised in underhitting set pieces, simply setting up the homesters for attacks. Croft temporarily saved further embarrassment when he was the only defender against three strikers. For a brief moment he remembered the past, swishing and feigning and twisting and turning to pass the ball clear. Passing: such an alien concept. Like CJ, Town didn't get where they are today by passing.

Does anyone know how Town expected to score? What was the method? Did we have a Plan A?

A magnificent tackle from Cohen crunched Mayo, but he survived. I'd say that was the best thing any Town player did in the first half; it may have been the only thing: a single tackle.

Here they are again, grinding Town into dust. Town were still wobbling at every throw-in. We're a foot taller then them but we can't cope with the ball in the air. Why? Lincoln knew what they were supposed to be doing. The embarrassment, the humiliation: they're even passing it now, through and around the Town skittles inside the area. Whittle was forced to slice the ball away for a throw-in. Aaaaaaaaaaaargh - a throw-in.

With about eight minutes left to half time Town piddled about on the left, letting a little Impite scurry off with the ball and tipple Forrester free near the touchline. A clipped pass towards the penalty area sailed over the wailing wall that was Whittle. The gawky, gangling Robinson miscontrolled the ball off his knee near the penalty spot, sending it away from goal. Mildenhall came out and dived as Robinson toe-poked the ball towards the corner flag. Marvin the paralysed android fell slowly in two simple stages, managing to brush the outside of his boot against Mildenhall's fingertips as he completed his swan dive. Of course, the referee gave a penalty. Mayo clobbered the ball high down the middle, as Mildenhall arched back, an iconic freeze frame of the infantryman felled by an enemy sniper.

How self-aware of the travelling Mariners masses: "You're not fit to wear the shirt". And they are "Grimsby 'til they die" too. Irony, irony, they've all got some irony.

On Lincoln rolled as their quarry was still breathing, just. Forrester, flippin' Forrester, gave a masterclass in macramé as Town were stripped of all dignity. One, two, three, then four first-time passes, just simple trigonometry bamboozling the class dunces. Green flung the ball out to Forrester on the wing, who curled a return pass back into the middle of the area. Green did that thing that strikers do: he moved forward, chesting the ball down past what United Nations peacekeepers claim were Grimsby Town footballers. Inside the six-yard box, to the left of goal, he hammered a hooking shot which bounded off the underside of the crossbar. The ball avoided entering the net in the ensuing scramble, although the extent of Town involvement in this fortunate happenstance is not recorded by diarists of the day. We'll leave that to fiction writers of the future. It was probably a conspiracy involving medieval knights and Liberace.

A minute later Lincoln repeated the trick. A break on their right saw the ball chipped to Forrester, about 30 yards out. Futcher stayed back and watched as the ball was hooked first time into the utterly vacant left-back area. Futcher took a couple of steps across and watched as Beevers crossed low and slow in to the six-yard box. Whittle, at the near post, made as if to thwack clear, died like a wildebeest and Robinson, four yards out, hit the ball against Mildenhall and high into the net.

We're so very lonely, we're 2,000 Town fans away from home.

Town had an attack, some passing even. Lovely, it was: three of them, all in a row, and Toner stepped inside his marker to twiddle a powerful shot across the face of goal. It may have been close. It's irrelevant.

Is it half time already? Didn't the time fly by?

All the crowd's positioned at the intermission, His Majesty is wide open to ridicule and scorn. What to do? Let's have a game of Pictionary. Is it an aubergine? Is it Fermat's last theorem? No, it's Russell Slade's half-time team-talk. In the centre circle, with flip chart blowing in the wind and Rodger the human blu-tac, the players were forced to share the public humiliation. As Russ drew little circles the groundsmen slowly put the divots back in place. Or was that Slade?
Or maybe Russ is Rolf: can you tell what it is yet? It isn't a football team; it isn't football; it isn't our Grimsby. But, unhappily for him, it is his.

Detailed analysis is superfluous: look at the score, read the basic facts. Apart from Bolland, Cohen and Mildenhall (and to a degree the appallingly misplaced Toner) there was little to defend, as there was little defending. Futcher and Whittle were disastrous, inelegant, unathletic and just plain dim. They looked, and played, like the back row of a rugby club's second eleven. There was nothing at all going on upfield.

We looked like unenthusiastic amateurs on a beer crawl tour of the Scilly Isles. What time is the helicopter back to port?

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Does that make you the George Martin of Sleaford?"
"Futcher should be their sponsors' man of the match."
"I missed plum crumble for this. It's my favourite."
"They'll be bringing Gritton on next to really rub it in."
"Whatever happened to Jackie Trent?"

Second half
Rob the Stick replaced Whittle, and Kalala replaced the unfortunate Toner, who had done his best in an alien environment. Of all teams, you'd expect Lincoln to know how to nullify him when he's in the gulag on the left. Town played three-ish up front, with Cohen pushed forward to occupy the dreamers and schemers in the Lincoln back four.

Throw-ins. Some substitutions. Crowd daftness. They scored. It rained. The end. There you are: the second half.

It was a complete waste of everyone's time. Lincoln stopped strangling the poor beast, which allowed Town some possession. Kalala kept falling over, which didn't help anyone, especially his boot sponsors. And Reddy was just not in the mood for dancing, or romancing; he certainly wasn't giving his all tonight.

Cohen did a great run and cross, which was slid out of play by McCombe at the near post. A bit like their fourth goal, but with some proper defending thrown in for a laugh. One of the Town strikers was sort of near; who cares which one couldn't be bothered to get there in time.

Ah, some more throw-ins. You miss them when they've been absent for a few seconds. If I wanted to watch rugby I'd put on a tweed jacket and talk about "the guys in the office".

Cometh the hour, cometh the Newey mistake. Like all good public servants he does it in triplicate. Wahey, a shinned pass straight out of play. Wo-ho, a missed tackle and pass to Foster. Oh dear, a long, long clearance, bouncing behind with just Green and Croft for company. Easy as a Sunday morning he totally mis-hit the back-pass, allowing Green to storm free into the area, alone, with just Mildenhall to beat. The Big M stood tall and chested the shot away. Thirty seconds of scrambled egging saw Newey mess up again down the left. Oh, that's four, four things you need to know in the Newey inquisition.

Many individuals in the area allocated to Grimsby supporters milled around the exit, seemingly wanting to leave, at the same time as local cap wearers decided to do the same thing. With their exit blocked, the minorest of minor pitch invasions was attempted. They succeeded in scaring a little girl, and the man with the largest nose was arrested. All of which distracted from nothing in particular on the pitch. Lincoln were attacking: they had corners; Mildenhall made some sort of save; the swans on Brayford Pool remained calm.

Oh yes, credit where credit was due: Croft did another bit of exceptional defending by silkily turning inside a Lincolnite and doing a military two-step upfield, passing to a team-mate. In the meantime, Woodhouse wasted several free kicks near the area and Newey lobbed those from further afield straight out of play. We're a set piece side who don't do set pieces very well. We're taller than them, remember. Town didn't have one attacking header all day.

Boring, isn't it.

Ah, 20 minutes left and some Town shots. Two, too, tutu, Hutu, Mutu, Lesotho. Is that the right answer? After a long ball was knocked down by Cohen, the Lump turned eventually and shot weakly against a Lincoln shin. The ball rebounded to Kalala, whose shot bedraggled weakly wide. A minute later Bolland tha-dumped a shot straight in to Marriott's midriff. Where have we heard that before?

How the heck are we second?

Lincoln pressure, corners, et cetera... you know the drill: things, like a walk in the park; things like a missing spark; things that we don't do now. Thinkin' 'bout the things we used to do. Ah, that ate ten minutes up. It's probably going to rain soon. Water, not goals. Someone had a shot, which hit Kalala's hand and swung into the side netting and Mildenhall hopped around a lot to catch and punch.

Their drum reminds me of the rain dance at Woodstock. Oh-woa-oh-woah-woah.

With about seven or eight minutes left Croft intercepted a through ball and confidently strode forward, caressing a pass infield. Straight to an Impite. The ball was returned inside Croft, and Beevers, on the corner of the penalty area, stepped back across the ailing estate agent and hit a low shot goalwards. Futcher stretched out his leg and diverted the ball to the near post, where it spun and dipped around Mildenhall and into the bottom right corner. Cue a few hundred more Town ticket holders trying to leave.

Is that five goals or six? To tell you the truth I kind of lost count, for it was all so laughable. We laughed when we won badly, so why not laugh when we lose like lime cheesecakes? You're not going to cry, are you? That's so Premiership.

At this Croft was immediately replaced with Hockless, who has certainly lost that puppy fat. Oh, no - it's Goodfellow. Town now had a formation that involved men standing in various positions. Goodfellow played somewhere on the left. He had one run which resulted in him being tapped on the shoulder and asked to leave the party. He also had a terribly weak shot which apologised against a defender's bootlaces. There were a couple of times when Reddy almost broke free but, hey, why bother. I'm not going to bother any more, for they didn't. Four minutes of added time were just four minutes more drizzle on life's overcoat.

As the team left the pitch only four players walked over to acknowledge the remaining fans. Jones the Stick, Bolland, Mildenhall and Cohen: these are the very four who tried the most and won't get ten minutes on the ducking stool in Freshney Place next Tuesday, for there were a few good men. The rest skulked off to collect their salaries.

Are we surprised? The clues have been there all year, haven't they. This was one day when the opposition did not contrive to miss and mess. It was like Notts County, but with competent foes. Throughout the game Town had been watchers, reacting to events, dazzled by the energy and desire of their opponents. A conservative approach, steeped in fear, which brought disaster. This game felt like a watershed: either our outrageous fortune has finally run its course, or the errant knights will finally be stirred. Now we'll find out if they know what resilient means.

That safety cushion to fourth has all but disappeared. Perhaps it was a whoopee cushion.

Markie's un-men of the match
For level one, grade A+ rubbishness: Futcher, Whittle, Newey, Woodhouse, Lump and Reddy. The unmentioned ones hovered precariously in the discomfort zone above these rancid potato peelings.

Nicko's man of the match
You must be joking. Bolland, Cohen, Mildenhall and Jones the Stick are absolved from opprobrium, but that's all. They tried, they cared, they were merely chemical toilets at an oversubscribed music festival. They'll do in an emergency, but close your eyes and hold your nose.

Official warning
Considering Mr S Bennett is supposed to be off to the World Cup, he wasn't that good. He was better than most, but still a little erratic. The penalty was just annoying, but that would be to quibble, for he was not responsible for this debacle, though I'm sure those continentals will be slathering at the thought of such easy penalty pickings come June. It would have been nice if he'd seen Robinson slap a prostrate Cohen. Ah, what the heck: 6.387.