The grateful gate

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

1 February 2016

Gateshead 1 Grimsby Town 0

Want some whiskey in your water? Sugar in your tea? A thousand Townites trudged up to Tyneside on a three-sock day. Watch out, watch out, watch out – there are morris men about. Far away as if in a trance I can hear the chorus of the floral dance. Time to catch the Metro before the beards shake their hat. And that's not a euphonium; this isn't Carry On Town. We want serious drama, not slapstick innuendo at the International Stadium of Kites.

As we wandered the mean streets of Gateshead, through the beautiful homes of the Elm Lodge housing estate, the wind whipped up, up and away. There's a chill wind blowing in my soul
and I think I'm going cold on the idea of coming back to the improbable International Stadium again. There are more tea shacks than turnstiles, more queues than loos.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 as follows: McKeown, East, Gowling, Nsiala, Tait, Arnold, Nolan, Disley, Monkhouse, Amond and Bogle. The substitutes were Clay, Clifton, Henderson, Marshall and Pittman. And there's no-one left in Town to turn the lights out at Cheapside. Tait was at left-back and we had a red-topped middle with newboy Nolan replacing Clay.

And on the coldest game of the year Omar eschewed his glovery and was going bare-knuckle.

The wind: cold and blowing five ways at once. The pitch: patched up and quilted with splatters of untrustworthy dimples. The game: about to start.

First half: Abattoir clogs

The Heedbangers kicked off towards the empty stand. As opposed to kicking off towards the other empty stand. They headed south towards East and Curtis crunched through Omar. No foul was given as Bogle spinning-topped into the mud. Oh, it's going to be one of those days where they're going to cut him into little pieces.

As the last of the Town crowd tumbled through the turnstiles the ball was in the air, everywhere you look around. The ball was in the air, on the right, not on the ground. Nolan was outjumped and the ball boddled up and around here and there. A chumpy chip was dumped into the right corner of the Town penalty area. No worries, Toto is tootling along like Mr Toad. Toto dawdled, Johnson bumped in front and scrapey-hooked through McKeown's legs akimbo.

Five minutes gone, gone, gone, wo-oah-oah, gone. We've already lost that lovin' feelin' for today. The black and whites had scored. But Town were in blue. We're feeling like our fingers and toes: almost blue.

Welcome to blustery bogball. Townites couldn't stand up for falling down. Dawdling and dithering, Nolan smithered and smothered, Dizzer disappearing into the muddle. Artless and awful. And that's the good bits. Maybe the floodlights will fall over and we can go home early.

A Town corner. Some bumbling and stumbling. Omar arose six hours before the ball arrived and Amond arose to nudge a header onto the roof of the net. The queue for the toilets got longer as the bored and those bereft of big coats sought hot air.

Isolated moments of connectivity between man and ball. We're into the dark infinity between faith and fact

Space. A McLaughlin lofter. Them. A substitution. Us. Bogle was felled, but carried on and woobled way over. Isolated moments of connectivity between man and ball. We're into the dark infinity between faith and fact.

The dirty storm Gertie was a-messin' with minds and feet. A Gater wobbled a cross straight at McKeown. A moment of nothingness that's an eloquent expression of everything. It went down, left, right, up, down, right, left and up again. That's as straight as you'll get today. Jamie Mack flapped and a free kick drifted wide. Jamie Mack plonked upon a free kick that drifted not so wide. Plopping and flopping, flopping and popping.

Head tennis in their area and, well, nothing. Monkhouse! Offside. Omar! Offside. Amond! Offside. The game was being ruined by a disgracefully competent linesman. The occasional tractor tackle livened things up no end. Hey, it's over, at last.

Let us reflect on what stopped Town in their tracks: a big bloke in the middle. It was all about Mafuta: he was just too big.

The highlight of the half? Arnold running back to dispossess a squirming local inside the Town penalty area. That is the sum total of anything. Town were timid, tepid and tortuously turgid.

Second half: Pulp fiction

Amond was replaced by Pittman at half time. Look around and hear the sound of the faces in the crowd. When's the next train south?

A couple of minutes in, Gateshead's lumbering lunk of lard of a defender did a Toto, fancy-danning as the last man. Nolan mugged the foolish flanneller and ran through from the halfway line down the centre-left. As Russell advanced and a defender slid, Nolan crinkled lowly an inch past the far post.

Now that was a moment.

The game became a stretched pant of pummellings and peripheral plonkings. Just occasionally passes were strung together and players moved with the ball under control. On the hour Marshall replaced the utterly uninvolved Monkhouse. There's a fact for you. It may be useful at a pub quiz.

Town gradually started to sometimes pass the ball along the ground. To each other. Don't get too excited. If all roads lead to Rome then all Town's attacks would eventually end up at Pittman's shins, so the local lads ate their crisps in crumbly comfort. The highest pass completion rate in the second half according to Opta statistics? Pittman to Russell. He swept beautifully for them, like a modern-day Mrs Mop.

Ooh, they had some attacks you know. The Guardian-eating yoghurt readers among us called them counter-attacks. CJ Hamilton burned East's toast, Tait or Toto tackled. Hamilton crèmed East's brûlée and Jamie Mack pushed aside any thoughts of dessert. A corner boogied around inside Town's penalty area and a combination of three legs, four toes and McKeown's ego bustled the ball away.

Nolan, Nolan, Nolan. The driving force of Town's attacking, perhaps the only attacking force Town possessed

And the rest is Town flinging themselves against the windy wall of wasted effort. Nolan, Nolan, Nolan. The driving force of Town's attacking, perhaps the only attacking force Town possessed. What did he do? He surged and swept down the middle, rather than passing sideways. Jolly pleasing too. He snickled, and snuck agin white socks; he snuckled and snickled for Pittman to meander off into a world of wonder. I wonder what would have happened if Amond had remained. No need to laugh or cry, it's a wonderful life.

Arnold de-elevated corners as the exhortation to elevate wiffled away in the wind. We're so far away they can't hear the sound of our distant drums. Oh, Pittman. Oh dear.

McLaughlin. Over the bar. Tait tackled them. Toto eventually tackled them. Just occasional moments of Gatesheadery. Nothing to get hung about.

Omar wiggled his waggle on the right, cut in from the bye-line and Russell safely beat the egg aside, causing only a minor scramble. Repeat at the other end as East gave up the ghost that was CJ on the western wing.

The end of days was played out in the Gateshead half as Town exerted what will often be called pressure. Nolan be-thwacked nicely from way outside the penalty area and Russell calmly arced left to parry aside. Nolan shizzled down the centre, drifting past several shimmers and succeeded in poking over Russell and over the bar from over six yards out. Marshall feebled a dribbler wide.

Corners, some crosses, some moments of should-have-been-ness with poor old Pittman, the headless chicken's headless chicken, conspicuously near but always very far from the ball as it gurgled around inside their penalty area. Again and again and then again it's time to go home.

Town had run out of players, run out of ideas, and run out of luck. Behold the dream of champions: now the dream has gone.