Plus ca change

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

6 August 2005

Grimsby Town 1 Oxford United 1

A warming afternoon in the home of the hopeful; another year over, a new one just begun. Let's hope we have some fun this year, eh? Do you feel one of Michael Reddy's turns coming on?

Town lined up in the modish 3-4-0-2 formation as follows: Mildenhall, McDermott, Crane, Ramsden, Jones (R), Newey, Bolland, Croft, (Parkinson), Gritton, Reddy. The substitutes were Cohen, G Jones, Andrew, Barwick and Gliding Glen. Ah, these new-fangled systems, playing an invisible man in the hole. Ah, these new-fangled ideas, playing six defenders at home: Newey at left whatever-you-wish-to-call-it-back and little Gary Croft, the man with the golden bootlaces, in central midfield.

How do you pronounce Barwick? Bar-wick? Barrick? Boowick? Bar-wick has just opened down Meggies, hasn't it? Beer, wine and a fine collection of wickerwork on the wall, their unique selling point. Terry the raffia don.

Oxford sauntered about in the sun, resplendent in vivid yellow, though their socks were a different shade; a bit sartorially schloppy there. Chris Hargreaves found his hair in 1651 at the Battle of Worcester. Ooh, saucy. They seemed to have Bert Weedon on the bench, doing the big beat boogies. The referee and linesmen came out as lime crunches from the pick 'n' mix at Woolies. That'll make them limesmen then.

When you buy a season ticket do you have to take the hypocritic oath?

First half
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon: a throw-in to Oxford, of course, within 3.21 seconds. That's right, a Dusty Bin start to the season. Fishomania suddenly has its attractions down Doncaster way.

They have the ball.

They still have it.

Oh, hang on, nope - Town just walloped it away. Now they have the ball again. Bored already?

A minor Town attack, the ball cleared to Gray underneath the Police Box. Bolland, delayed by roadworks on the A18, stopped all that nonsense with what leading scientists have postulated was the remnant of a comet from the outer rim of the known universe, somewhere near Scunthorpe. Or in footballspeak, he legged him up no messin', like.

Oxford dominant, Town impotent, no passing, no movement, just a series of hoofs and headers back from Hargreaves. Ugly, horrible, crowd dimmed and dulled, it's like last season all over again. Woe is me, woe is us, woeful. PARKINSON!

The ball's up there at the Osmond end, yellow lights flashing. It's ninja football again - the ball bouncing, bouncing, high-stepping, line dancing; the tiller girls are back and Hargreaves even put a feather in his hair. Lovely. Limesman not lovely, indulgent of Oxford, stern on Town. We nudge, they push; different decisions. Annoying. Parky pushed; play on, no penalty.

They still have the ball, push and run, tip and tap, ripple and cripple Town. It's our ball, give it back. Ooh, Town exposed, two Oxfordians free on their left, Macca blocked with his upper thigh/lower neck, definitely not his hand, no sirree, no way whatsoever, shall we take a vote on that? The ball still free, dribble and drivel inside the area, a fantastic Jones smothertackle as Hackett swooped 10 yards out, Corner, cleared, relax.

Reddy hibernating, awoken by the first cuckoo of summer, and wouldn't you be? Bing-bang-wham, a spin, off on a whim, rock 'n' rolling through the centre from the halfway line. Past one, two, Ashton fooled, across the area, right to left, drifting wide, zooming in, flashing a shot at Turley from 12 yards. Exhilarating, breathtaking, brilliant... but not a goal.

Take a snooze. Take a break, take a letter, the letter zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Oxford pressure, Town dreadful, long balls launched towards Hull. Leave that sort of thing to Levy. There were isolated moments of hope when Bolland and Croft brought the ball down, wing-backs winging, momentum briefly with Town. Corners, nothing to report, go back to your lawnmower and prepare for government. We're tired and weary of this season already.

More ref madness when Turley dropped the ball after Reddy was pushed by Ashton. Frustration with Town, frustration with Oxford's 1970s-style professionalism. Talbot's twitchers threw the ball away, 'accidentally' stood over it and stole several miles of Lincolnshire coastline at free kicks. The bit around Saltfleetby was of particular interest to them: good for waddling birds, I understand.

Got it yet? Nothing happened of any interest, the usual barging and larging from fourth division trundlers. Just plain boring, with Town not even having the ball enough to be rubbish. Oxford must have had a shot in the first half, mustn't they? Mildenhall punched a cross and caught a couple of others, but other than that… nope, nothing. Surely they had a shot that got them excited? What? Not even some fake fur shooting?

With less than 10 minutes left Reddy roved and raided down the centre right, tricking the ball away from Ashton with a spot of friendly persuasion in the back. Off he zoomed, 25 yards out. Ashton fell, spun and inelegantly tripped Reddy with a swinging boot. A yellow card for a yellow man. Turley kicked the near post, tapping out his Morse code for Lewis to get a few pints in. Or maybe for the wall to cover that side of the goal. Oxford's keeper hid behind the wall and made an excellent save to push Newey's low curler around his right post. Turley the tambourine man with a past, reminded, with some verve, by the less somnambulant of the Town fans, that the drugs don't work. He steals yards at free kicks to fund his habit these days.

Droning on and on, the half hummed like a Gilbert O'Sullivan song, driving the crowd to the toilet. Then in the breeze we heard a Twix snap: with the scoreboard showing 42 minutes gone we opened our eyes, and to our surprise the half ended. Always something positive to take out of a game, eh?

Analysis? A broad brushsweep of the afternoon so far? It was as fascinating as watching your dad clip his hedge. There was nothing to tell you, not even any distracting moments in the crowd. There were no Norman Wisdom moments from any of the players: they were competently rubbish. Town had no width. Parkinson touched the ball twice, giving it away both times. Crane and Jones whacked it long; Gritton, the lean burning green engine, persevered for at least a few minutes before 'conserving his energy'. There were 3.5 Town passes during the first half.

In short, we started as we ended last season at home.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"You look like a train driver without a hat."
"Have we lost yet?" "Cricket or football?"
"I didn't recognise you with your handkerchief on."
"What's the point of signing Crofty and playing him out of position?"
"This match is flatter than Talbot's nose."

Second half
It started; Oxford decided to attack more. Town dozing, Crane out of position flapping on the right, men free; Macca covering the centre-backs, Macca exposed. Hackett swirled in a cross to the far post and Crane shivered underneath the ball, allowing it to sail unmolested to Basham on the corner of the six-yard box. He leant back and carefully steered the ball between the crossbar and the roof of the Pontoon. No strip lights were harmed in the making of that chance.

Hackett free again, swishing a cross through the six-yard box. Wake up Town.

Wahey, that's better. Bolland and McDermott ignored the call of the wild and played some football, tapping to each other and sipping the ball along the right touchline to Parkinson, like a martini. At last, seen and heard, emerging from his pit of despair into the bright gleaming outlands, he skipped past his marker and clapped a cross to the far post. Gritton zimmerframed up and, from about seven or eight yards out, nodded a loopy header a couple of inches wide. Oxford stirred, not shaken.

Reddy pouncing on the right, twisting, twirling, hurling himself around the edge of the box, past one, two, three O'Reddy, and stubbing a left-footed drive safely over the bar. Something stirs and something tries and starts to climb towards the light: a moth.

The general play remained the same as the first half: bish-bash, a hash of a game, the Town fans watching this low-grade Calamity Jane musical in silence. Whipcrack away, whipcrack away on the deadwood stage that is Blundell Park. Once we had a secret love, it was called passing and movement. O Crofty, Crofty what have we done? Spiralling down to the hole in the ground where we're hiding. Is Crane the third man, the fifth Beatle or the tenth planet of the solar system? We need the Hubble telescope to find him sometimes, so I'd plump for the tenth planet, a lump of ice bigger than Uranus floating on the periphery of Blundell Park.

And they're back, down their right again, flick and trick - Town wobbling. The ball looped into the centre of the penalty area with Ramsden waiting to clear. Bradbury tugged Ramsden's shirt and clambered over the tumbling Townite to plonk a header firmly down and across Mildenhall towards the bottom left corner. The Big M flung himself down and flicked the ball aside for a corner. An alert piece of keeping to be contrasted with last year's custard tart. And again, Oxford flew down their right, winkled a cross through the penalty area and Gray steered the ball across Mildenhall, who held on without any of the amateur dramatics we became almost immune to just a few months ago.

Near the hour another bit of near Town-like play. Two in one match! Bolland, Croft and McDermott ignored instructions, passing to each other down the right. A corner. Newey cracked it low to the near post and the ball kept on going. Crane, beyond the far post (if not the pale), swung his pants and steered the ball goalwards… and in, as Turley ran around in circles with a pocket full of posies, or something similar. You could say we were happy, you should say we were surprised; an undeserved lead after an hour of turgid trash. Still, better than being one down, eh?

At some point Bradbury was booked for persistent fouling. It didn't stop him continuing his one-man petty crime spree. An asbo, ref, that's what you needed. I'm sure he stole a pair of shears from next door's shed while challenging Ramsden for a high ball. It was obvious.

Just after he scored, Crane clattered a striker. Incredibly, he wasn't booked. The lime crunch had gone soft. Crane's raison d'être is to be booked. Has the whole world gone mad?

I'm wasting time, wasting space, just to give you a flavour of the afternoon. I remember football, do you? What's happened to Martin Gritton's hair? Has Reddy used all the gel in Grimsby? He looks like a surrey with a fringe on top. We've had the jigsaw, so what's the next managerial metaphor? Are we into the gel stage? Does gel only set through liberal application of the work ethic? And does it come with metallic paint and alloy wheels? What do you mean "this is nonsense"? It's a metaphor. Smile at the silly similes.

Reddy… did his thing, on his own, past another four defenders; it took five to stop him on the edge of the penalty area. Could have passed, didn't. Minor excitement. The end of Town, twenty minutes left.

They had the ball. Town lapsed into their crime-ridden past: crimes against association football. Pressure building, a free kick to them on their right floated to the far post. The Town defence stood off, a free header looped over Mildenhall. Crane and Bradbury waited under the crossbar; Crane headed clear, Bradbury headed Crane. Fill in the gaps yourself: the ball was in the air and when it came down Oxford got possession.

Gritton was replaced by G Jones with just over 10 minutes left. Nothing to report other than a couple of good flicks going nowhere. A bit like Hal Hartley.

Ticking down, waiting for the end; Town sitting back, hoping Oxford continued their wastrel ways. Closer, closer the play sank, closer to Mildenhall. The referee remembered his lines and kept giving free kicks to them. Pressure slowly building; the imperceptible tourniquet tightening. Newey controlled the ball on his chest near the halfway line. Whoops, tiredness told: he chested it far too far away, setting up an Oxfordian. Newey pursued the Hofmeister bear and tripped him up 35 yards out. A yellow card followed.

Hackett swung the ball into the centre of the area, perhaps 15 yards out. Crane missed the ball, whereupon Hargreaves stooped and thunderclapped a header into the top left corner, with Mildenhall standing with the Pontoon in disadmiration. The crowd reaction? Resigned shrugs; we've been programmed to expect and accept.

From the kick-off Crane nearly caused more internal bleeding with a terrible back-pass which Bradbury nearly charged down. The scoreboard showed 84 minutes gone. The tannoy announced two added minutes. The game ended. We went home, expectation already reduced like a cook-in sauce left on 20 minutes too long.

Is Russ the new Lennie Lawrence? Wedded to an unworkable system, determined to make a certain player the indispensable hub of the team? Newey and Croft were clearly spent forces physically with quarter of an hour left, but no change. Where are Town going? Round in circles? This was like watching any Town game from 1 March onwards. Shapeless, grinding drudgery; a joyless, artless and hopeless mess. What entertainment? What little something special to excite? Where are the goals? You need to shoot to score, you need to cross to create. Where's the beef?

Bolland battled, improving as the game went on; Jones headed well; Reddy was a flickering flame, not yet extinguished by a cold draught down the Humber. The rest were degrees of adequate. Apart from poor Parky, the pitiful, poor lad. A square peg in a triangular hole. Oh, and if you've got the best full-backs in the division, play them at full-back. It's a simple theory, I know, but one that seems to have a semblance of logic to it. Run a Google seach for "Croft and McDermott" and see what it says, Russ.

Town didn't deserve victory. Oxford earned a draw more than us. What's changed over the summer? The faces are different, the spaces are the same. But let's be positive: it wasn't Town's first-choice team was it. Kamudimba to the rescue?

NickO's man of the match
Andrew Flintoff, of course. But the best Town player was Chris Hargreaves, with his best performance at Blundell Park since 1989: omnipotent. No Town player was much better than all right, so no-one.

Markie's un-man of the match
Crane managed to avoid this by scoring, so the imaginary 11th Town player, Andy Parkinson, rises to the plinth of poorness. He may as well have sat in a deckchair and eaten some chips from that chippie that serves fish and chips… on plates! Do you think he's the pink rabbit of Town: Russ's Harvey?

Rob's rant of the day
The Greek chorus at the back of the Pontoon trilling "PARKINSON!" every couple of minutes, some with a tut, some with a cluck, some with a… look.

Official warning
Nobody likes lime crunches. Mr A Bates was extremely lenient to Oxford for about an hour, then he tired of their moans, groans, gurns and lack of perms. All in all he's another brick in the wall of dead-eyed suburban housewifery. He wasn't going to give a 'big' decision and he was ropey on the bog-standard ones too. 5.555 - I don't know why, 'scuse me whilst I squash this fly.