I predict a diet: Mansfield (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

14 February 2006

Mansfield Town 2 Grimsby Town 1

Ah, Mansfield; the road to Skegness must start somewhere.

A chilling breeze whispered around the ears of around 737½ Townites in the formerly dark satanic Field Mill, now a contemporary living space in a cutting-edge urban landscape (as Gary Croft would put it). Or stuck between a Comet and the deep blue sea of Sainsbury's to you and me. A three-quarters stadium with a three-quarters-sized team: they are young, they
keep their teeth nice and clean too.

Town lined up in the 4-4-2 formation as follows: Mildenhall, Croft, Futcher, Jones, Newey, Parkinson, Bolland, Woodhouse, Cohen, Mendes, Reddy. The substitutes were Kalalalalala, Barwick, Toner, Jones the Lump and the phantom menace - the Laird Glen of McDowney. Apart from Parkinson on the right and Cohen starting on the left, there was nothing unusual in where the players were standing in relation to each other. Would Mendes finally control the ball today?

There was a traditional mascot challenge between "Stan the Stag and the Mighty... er... man from Grimsby". The Mightyerman was disadvantaged as the Stag had big antlers, taking up half the goal, much like Pressman. The stag hoofed it goalwards and Mightyerman dived over the ball. "Are you Williams in disguise?"

Mansfield are constructing their squad from the vital ingredients for a children's birthday party: Jelleyman, Dairylea and Coke are already in the shopping basket, with hundreds and thousands on top of the icing in the stands. Or is that their chairman's salary?

That unique camaraderie between football supporters was displayed to the full by Town fans: "Haslam in". The question of in where was drowned out by Lionel Ritchie, for the tannoyman had taken his Greatest Love Album Ever This Week II out of its shrink wrapping especially for this day of days. Haslam in chains? Haslam in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia? Haslam in love, blue skies above, can't keep his heart in jail? Press the red button to enter the interactive quiz.

Oh, it's started.

First half
Mansfield kicked off towards the Town fans, taking the easy way out by chip-and-pinning the ball straight out of play on the Town right. Chuck, pass, spin, dribble: Cohen freed on the left for a bit of slap and tickle. He turned infield, twisted outside his marker and surged to the bye-line, pinging a fast, low cross towards the near post. Hjelde leaned to his right and steered the ball out for a corner using the upper part of his torso. Woodhouse managed to arc the corner near to where Jones had been recently and there was some minor mumbling inside their penalty area.

Town were dominant, Woodhouse tapping out a short dissertation on the art of sideways passing, like a Reduced Shakespeare version of Ray Wilkins. The big boot mostly absent, this was mildly pleasing on the eye. The Mansfield cardigan was slowly being pulled apart at the cuffs. Reddy and Mendes made a vow and, for once, stuck together with Mendes inside the area, in space, fleetingly free on the right. He dithered and a defender stepped inside love and showed him the way. A minute later the action was repeated on the left. Mendes wobbled as the ball bobbled, leaving Parkinson to flap and slap a slicing shot slowly, ineffably wide.

Pressure, crosses, corners, more pressure: Town turned up the radiator to one notch above lukewarm. Mansfield had not yet been spotted underneath us arch-wits, dreamers and fellow travelling Townites. Town were gently rubbing at the lamp with Bolland squeezing a shot into Parky territory, Pressman an innocent bystander yet to be caught up in any street brawls.

Has there been a free kick yet?

There has now. Jones swept a little man into his council-supplied lidded dustpan and brush combination cleaning device. The ball was caressed into the middle of the area, with the Town defence deciding this was an appropriate time to try out their salsa routine for the end-of-season party at the Winter Gardens. With Futcher on maracas, Jones on marimba and Newey wearing a large sombrero, the ball was bumped out for a corner. AYIYIYIYIYA! The corner swung to the near post, where Barker, eight yards out, rose before Jones and slapped a firm header safely wide.

A minute later Mansfield cleared into the middle of the Town half and started passing. Then they moved, and passed again. Shocking stuff. The ball was flicked up to Barker, 25 yards out with his back to goal. He held off Jones, glided to the left, shimmered into the area and hooked a shot around Town boots and across the face of goal. Mildenhall stood tall, watched very carefully and flew to his left, brilliantly parrying the ball aside at shoulder height. Newey swung the ball away as Dawson lurked.

Mansfield started to be a little troubling. Their wingers hugged the touchline like it was a tree and their midfielders supported the wingers, with the Town full-backs often outnumbered three to one. Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle: Coke and Dairylea played piggy in the middle around Woodhouse and Bolland. The towel was yanked from around his waist and Newey was exposed as Dawson was sumptuously released inside the area. As Newey strained to inhibit the intruder the ball swished off a divot and Dawson sliced his shot directly into the crowd, not passing GO at any point.

Warning lights flashed on our map.

Mansfield were playing on the break with Town at their most vulnerable when about to cross the ball. Little moments, ignored by many, causing concern. The constant yellow swamping on the flanks, the ease with which Coke and Dairylea sauntered through the midfield, Barker's bundling, all adding to a sense of unease. For all the dominance in possession Town had not produced any actual factual chances. Was the sucker about to be punched?

After about 20 minutes a deeply uninteresting Mansfield punt upfield was doodled about with by the Town defence. The ball was clipped to Newey on the edge of the area. No-one was near. He looked up and decided to utilise his spare time, not with a game of snooker but with a quick little sketch of the scene before him, using pastels to achieve that grainy, sub-impressionistic effect that is popular these days in the art bars of North East Lincolnshire. As he completed the outline sketch of the skyline he noticed Dawson running towards him. Newey put down his pad, took off his smock and wandered further to the left, nearer the touchline. He feigned to punt upfield, but stepped back and tried to dribble around this yellow peril. Dawson stuck out his boot, disrobed the Picasso of the Pontoon and headed off towards the bye-line. He looked up, dribbled further and, from about eight yards wide of goal, laid the ball back perfectly to Barker, who carefully clipped the ball high into the left corner.

At that the Struldbrugs came out to play. Newey has not built up a stock of goodwill which can be poured upon his errors.

Town's response was to run around a bit more. And Bolland had some kind of shot after some doodlebugging. Cohen did something: in, out, shaking his full-back about, and a shot pinging goalwards, but straight to the incredible inflating man. Town were losing any control they had of the game, the ball and their own limbs, with Mansfield visibly morphing into a football team. Town looked, well, frightened of the ball.

Ah, the traditional views from lower-league football grounds: as Woodhouse took a corner you could actually see people loading up their shopping. Ah, Futcher: tall, heading, the ball vaguely near goal. Perhaps this was a chance. No-one "ooh"-ed.

Near the half-hour Town had a corner, which was pinged nowhere near a Townite and cleared easily to the halfway line. Newey and Croft were soon outnumbered and Dawson twizzled on their centre-left. The begloved Reet sneaked behind Newey, and Dawson curled the ball between the two Town full-backs. Reet ran on from the halfway line as Mildenhall crept out to the edge of the area and pretended he was in Van Halen. Reet tipped the ball through the Big M's legs; it diverted off the inner thigh towards third man for a corner.

I have the phrase "Parky to Cohen, shot, yawn" etched into my mental notepad. Well, Watson, I deduce from that that young Mr Cohen had a shot.

Mendes should have been free on goal, but wasn't. The ball was knocked over the top, he chased it, the defender rode his luck and Mendes' back, and Mendes strangled a shot towards Pressman. I can't even remember whether it managed to reach the man with the heart of glass. This Town are recidivists, incapable of reforming their nature, going straight up and down as quickly as possible.

With about five minutes to go to half time Mansfield parked themselves in the Town half, again setting up their experiments in trigonometry around the Town midfield. Coke shuffled about in a kind of slow bustle - always busy without getting on - until confronted by Woodhouse. Coke shivered again and wobbled a low shot from the centre, about 25 yards out. Mildenhall stood behind the flight of the ball and played a little air guitar. The ball dipped, Mildenhall dropped his hands, the ball squirtled through and slowly, slowly, slowly trickled towards the bottom right corner, slower and slower still. Mildenhall turned around, realised all was not lost and set off in pursuit, diving and flipping the ball away as Wilson slid in to challenge. Ah, flipping the ball away a microsecond after the ball had rolled over the line. It finally came to be: the Mildster made a mistake. Shall we let Coke have it?

And from the depths the Town fans cried to him: Mildenhall, Mildenhall, hear our voice. He does have a great big boiling stock of goodwill in which we can dip our soup tins.

Town immediately shuffled upfield, forcing Mansfield back; the ball squidged around inside the Mansfield area and Woodhouse controlled it, on the left corner of the box. He shimmy-shammied and dinked a twisting, dipping chip onto the top of the crossbar. Remember that Hoddle goal? Woodhouse was Hoddle and Pressman was Steve Sherwood. Except it wasn't a goal, obviously.

Still Town pressed on; a corner, cleared back, flung into the area, and Jones volleyed over the crossbar from the edge of the area. Don't get excited: the linesman had already flagged for Cohen doing something unseen by anyone with monochrome spectacles.

Oh yes, Cohen: he had a header from a corner which went straight at Pressman. Sometime. In the first half. Have we finished yet? No, there were two minutes of added time which must have been carried over from the ref's previous game. Newey, again, was horse-whipped by Dawson and exacted revenge with a crude leg-up near the bye-line. Trembling Tom was booked and his ears turned green after he caused apoplexy in one of his many disadmirers. The free kick was tapped short with Town asleep and for a brief second Wilson was unmarked 15 yards out. Newey rushed, Jones and Futcher hurled themselves at the ball and, fortunately, one of Mansfield's youth team was scared into a horrible miskick.

That really was it. In every respect. For all Town's initial poise, pressure and passing, nothing much came of it, principally through a lack of decisiveness in the penalty area. Town players kept waiting for the ball to bounce once more, to roll an extra couple of yards before trying to shoot. Town had a lot of 'moments', but no chances. Mansfield, on the other hand, created two excellent chances and scored via two howling werewolves from Newey and Mildenhall.

Now, this is a test, isn't it.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"It's no good signalling in semaphore if you don't know Morse code."
"It may be poor, but it's the best poor Town've been for a month."
"How can anyone be daft enough to get married on a Saturday?"
"They're playing like us, but smaller."
"But crisps are vegetables, just like chocolate spread."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time. Town emerged several minutes later than Mansfield, as is the Slade way. As Pressman wobbled towards us, a skin-tight red shirt stretched across his chest, he was greeted with some modern music by a young group of rockular music fans: "I predict a diet, I predict a diet".

Town upped the tempo, meaning the ball was played more quickly towards Reddy's head. Ah yes, Reddy: would he try a bit more now that he was within earshot and eyeshot of his adoring public. A couple of minutes in, Mendes and Reddy had a tug-of-war inside the area, about 10 yards out. Mendes heaved, Buxton and Hjelde hauled him back, the ball smuggled free. The ball always did smuggle free, always falling to a yellow boot.

Town again, flagging the ball down the left, Mendes pursuing, barging aside one defender, hurdling another, tuning into area, three yellowshirties surrounding him. He turned again, fell, claimed a penalty and got up slowly, as the referee was not interested in such half measures.

There was a long hold-up after a panicky scramble inside the Town area. Newey dallying, beaten by his winger, and the cross half blocked at the near post. Reet and Jones swung at the same time and both remained on the ground as the ball flew out for a goal kick. The few Mansfielders within Legoland demanded a penalty, a red card and the official outbreak of hostilities between the Councils. But not until after an in-depth holistic appraisal of the environmental impact and risk assessment has fed into the existing decision-making process, and after full consultation with all local interest groups. During all this red tape Reet and Jones received treatment and Town had a mid-season break boating on the Norfolk Broads.

Let play begin again. A throw-in. Another throw-in. Another throw-in. Another throw-in. Ad infinitum. Every one the same: Croft launching long, Futcher and Jones outmuscled and outjumped by smaller boys. And another throw-in.

Well, we would have got another throw-in if Woodhouse hadn't been so slow, with Mansfield staggering upfield in a sort of attack. Credit where credit is due: Woodhouse the Woodlouse hustled the little yellow boys into an error.

Reddy was suddenly free inside the Mansfield half, but as he hurtled the ref scuttled his ship, bringing play back because a Mansfielder was head-clutching. Barker was sent off the pitch to change shirt, and came back with a big bandage around his bonce. Before he came back on he had to swap shirts again. During this game of doctors and nurses the transfer window opened and then shut again. Russ missed out on a utility wide-ish sort of striker maybe winger type, and Hull bought eleven more strikers, as they hadn't scored for a few minutes.

Play resumed with an uncontested drop ball, which Reet gittishly curled out for a Town throw-in virtually at the corner flag on Town's right. He ushered his mates forward to do a full court press as well.

So play began again. A throw-in. Another throw-in. Another throw-in. Another throw-in. Ad infinitum. And another throw-in. No, that's unfair to Town: there were some corners too. Woodhouse failed to find Town heads each time. He made us pine for the long-gone days of Tom Newey's droopers.

"Top of the league, you're having a laugh." Yes, we keep saying so. Do pay attention, Mansfield.

Cohen sliced a shot into the Town fans. It was just like every shot so far.

On the hour some chilli powder was thrown in to the wok. Cohen was scissored down by Jelleyman, falling with great style. The Town fans roared and the referee obliged with a yellow card, inducing those faraway homesters to bemoan and bewail the travesties of life. The free kick was dumped into the middle of the penalty area, where it glided off the head of a home player and Pressman plumped to his right, bouncing onto the ball and sucking all life from the airbag.

On the game trundled, Town hoping for a Reddy moment, Mansfield content to stand around and boot the ball away. Coke managed to get himself booked for moaning and a minute later Croft followed into the little book of horrors. A Town corner was cleared and Croft, rather superbly, read that Reet was going to flick the ball to the onrushing winger. Croft, rather superbly, forgot that his legs don't move anymore, arrived late and sawed off Wilson's feet, like any self-respecting member of the Armenian mafia would. It sends a message.

And a minute after that The Lump replaced Parkinson, to a huge ovation. This is cult fiction. Mendes retreated to the right wing, with The Lump up front, where he belongs. Now Town had a bit more bulk up front and the ball stuck up there a bit better. It was not subtle stuff.

With about 20 minutes left Mansfield fiddled about on the Town right. A pass here, a pass there, Wilson drifted in to the penalty area, right on the corner, and suddenly thwanged a screaming abdab across Mildenhall and against the foot of the far post. You may well "ooh", fair maidens of Mansfield.

And Mildenhall didn't see them again, except for the odd back-pass which attracted the attentions of the forwards.

In the seventy-third minute of the footballing hour, Michael Reddy chased the ball down the left, noddling it on behind the full-back. Reddy burst, Jelleyman touched the golden fleece and the fleece fell from the tree. Out came the Hydra from its cave: a yellow card, then a red; Reddy was pleased with his evening's work. Does he have figures of full-backs painted on his driver's side door, a sign of conquests, like fighter pilots used to?

Play was held up further as Hjelde tried to box with Jones the Stick. The free kick, way out near the touchline, was again dumped into the centre. Futcher and Jones rose with a solid wedge of Mansfield manhood and one of them grazed the ball goalwards. Pressman, on his goal line, sank to his right and scooped the ball away from the foot of the post, straight at the onrushing Lump. The ball cannoned off the Lumpaphant's shins a foot out and rolled along the side netting.

Mansfield simply stood on the edge of their area waiting for the big balls forward. Wave after wave of air raids, bombs raining down upon them. There was no such thing as tactics, no formations; Town threw everyone forward all the time. Croft was replaced with Kalala, and Town seemed to generally have three men standing near the halfway line: that's the defence. Reddy, Lumpy, Cohen and Mendes stood on the edge of the Mansfield area, arms aloft, calling for more and more punishment.

With ten minutes left Town got a free kick on the halfway line. Newey pumped the ball up and Big Bertha'd it towards Paris. Futcher, level with left post, rose several inches and steered the ball across the penalty area. On the ball bounced, into a huge space where no man had gone before. Woodhouse, near corner of the penalty area, stepped forward and volleyed the ball down, across Pressman and into the bottom left corner.

Town sent more men up to the front line and sent the ball higher, longer, and faster towards Pressman. Town were disorganised, merely men standing near each other, three men going for the same clump, no-one waiting for the flick-ons or rebounds. We play route one, but don't know where to stand. Cohen chased a long punt that sailed from right to left. He retrieved the ball near the touchline, held off two defenders, performed a step-over, a drag-back, another step-over and curled a superb swirling cross to the far post. The ball drifted in and dropped inside the six-yard box a yard from goal. No Town player was within five yards; they'd all massed in the centre.

With about five minutes left Toner replaced Mendes. Had anyone noticed Mendes in the last half an hour? What is his function? Junior Mendes - why?

Toner played a bit away from the front, slightly on the left. Still Town boomed on: banging, barging, attempting to bully their way to a point or three. Suddenly the ball dropped inside the six-yard box. Hubble and bubble, toil and trouble for the Mansfielders. The ball bounced off a defender, two yards out; Reddy flung himself in the air and tried a hooking, swivelling volley. The ball made the merest of touches with the knobbly bit of his ankles and spooned slowly towards goal. Pressman, too old to move, was motionless in the flightpath of this paraglider. Up he sprang, his safety bag exploded, and the ball was clawed away from underneath the crossbar for a corner.

Onwards Town marched: Futcher and Jones permanently inside the Mansfield area; Kalala hanging high, the ball grazed away; Toner flinging back, the ball nodded aside; Newey pinged long and often, Mansfield heads rising. Bolland jinked past two on the right-hand side of their penalty area and, from about 15 yards out, decided to swipe across the ball, sending it swerving away from goal, desperately high and dejectedly wide.

There were only four minutes of added time, despite all the time-wasting, the delays, the delayed delays and five substitutions. I didn't tell you about their substitutions: you care less than the Field Mill fieldmice about that. With the home fans screeching for the whistle to be blown and the Town fans imploring the clocks to stop, Town wasted their own time with a series of dreadful back-passes to Mildenhall. Just one chance, one more chance... a free kick! Pummelled upwards by Newey, shingled back to him off two Mansfield boots, he tried again. As the whole Town team waited on the edge of the penalty area he curled the ball to the far post. Jones the Stick, a dozen yards out, thundered across and murdered a curving header back across goal. The ball dipped, swung and managed to do a three-point turn an inch past Pressman's left post with everyone motionless waiting for the wind to blow. It blew Mansfield's way.

As the players walked off the song of Steve was sung again: Mildenhall was forgiven.

It started so well then melted away as soon as Mansfield scored, like there was no belief in the chosen path. The rest of the game was a series of long balls piling pressure upon Mansfield. Town didn't create chances; chances occurred, but no-one managed a clean shot; the ball slipped off toes or skimmed off shins. There was more to shout about than normal, but two outrageous errors did for the game.

Futcher and Jones together created mayhem in the stomach of 700 Grimbarians: there was no solidity at the heart of the defence and the full-backs kept getting dragged across to cover, leaving space for the Mansfield wingers. The centre of midfield wasn't cohesive, despite the return of battler Bolland, and up front there was zilcho to reporto.

This was just one of those days we didn't get away with it.

Nicko's man of the match
Only really one candidate in this election: Mr Gary Cohen, for his dynamism and being the only Town player to threaten to do anything at all.

Official warning
Mr C Webster annoyed the homesters intensely for unfathomable slights way before Jelleyman was chucked off the pitch. He was a little indulgent of young Mansfielders doing some Greco-Roman wrestling with Jones and Futcher, but generally wasn't too bad. Of course he should have given Town two penalties - I don't know what for, but they were blatant, whatever they were. Clearly, everybody could see! One of his linespersons was rubbish, which didn't help him. Overall, taking as much the coefficient of fourth division rubbishness into account and applying George Kerr's law of diminishing consonants, the number 6.543 suddenly, like Heathcliffe, appears at the window.