Even less than formless

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Sarah Barber

26 October 2022

Barrow 1 Grimsby Town 0

The welcome revival of fan interest in Town has resulted in a number of firsts for me this season. The Swindon home game was the first time I'd ever been relegated to the Main Stand (bike shed anyone?). With the 30th anniversary of my 'local' games, since being based in the north-west fast approaching, for the away game at Barrow, I had to ask a Bluebird friend (no, he didn't know why, either: the only thing that sits on your shoulder in Barrow is rain) to get us tickets.

So while, in a good late-October Tuesday-night gate of 3301 (Holker Street record attendance 3307), there were officially 462 travelling Mariners, seated at the corner of the Holker Street end and standing in the corner of the main Brian Arrowsmith Stand, there were in fact 462 + 2. We get to go to matches from Crewe to Carlisle: there's a plethora of fourth division football within easy reach.

So, hats off to the 462, because they travelled a long way, on a mild, but ultimately wet and breezy night in late October, to one of the few places in the region (it's the Lake District!) that's grim and gritty, to bear witness to a really poor Town performance.

Like a number of grounds in the north-west (see Rochdale, Salford), Barrow has a low-rise ground (they're just not stadia). It also has an artificial pitch (it's not the continuous rainfall that makes it that green). Imagine, if you will, that you're inside a super-sized table-football frame. To add to the effect, much of the Barrow team is big and square. Mr Bluebird gave us the low-down on attacking-midfielder Josh Kay (a lot of speculation around us; not about if he would be sent off, but when), who wears a bandana to try to keep a cool head but which merely exacerbated the impression of sharp-angled brickness. There were several other players of imposing stature in their 4-2-4 line-up (with the impressive David Moyo pushing forward).

Town entered the fray with a similar format. For Moyo, read Taylor, pushing out of a four-man line with Harry on the left and Otis on the right wing and Holohan and Morris between. Efete, Smith, Waterfall and Cropper were lined up at the back. Kieran Green was on his own in the centre of midfield.

So, I've got a sheet recording the action* during the match [*all terms that imply some form of dynamism should be interpreted loosely], but this match report will, of necessity, remain quite discursive because you can go to any commentary and see the endless list of Barrow corners, and Crocombe punches/tips/palms/smothers/catches/shouting at people.

My note after two minutes and the first Barrow attack, was "Town left open and static", and then I could have folded up my paper ticket and gone home.

The first half was all Barrow, except for signs of Town recovery in the one minute of added time. Still, at 0-0 after the first half, this did give one hope that Town were doing that thing they do: take a good half a game to warm up, because they like to give themselves an uphill challenge.

When Holohan took the T-role they looked more able to counter Barrow attacks, and this week's bizarre refereeing decisions that usually don't seem to go Town's way, looked likely to have the bonus effect of winding up Kay enough that he might explode again. "He took a shockingly weak penalty against Gillingham", said Mr Bluebird after 38 minutes: "he shouldn't be allowed to take them again". And sure enough, Town were fortunate to go in at half time with a clean sheet, because Crocombe smothered this one too.

Town were lucky not to be 3-0 down. Taylor had a good chance after 20 minutes but managed to play the man rather than the ball; Town had a weak shot from Morris on target (33'); Efete finally got an opportunity to play the ball forward, but hand-balled instead. 0-0 at half time.

There were no changes as the teams came out for the second half. Signs of hope: Town were attacking; Town were blocking. Barrow players were getting booked for dissent. Morris was showing signs of play-making and control (I was going to write "good control", but lack of control of the ball was one of the themes of the night).

Then there was a period of like-for-like substitutions that Barrow initiated, but Town followed, by replacing the entire midfield (Khan, Green, Morris and Taylor off / Richardson, Simmons, Pepple, Hunt on). My companions and I had spent the entire game riffing on the idea that Town seems devoid of ideas and shape. "Even less than formless" they said and I thought "there's my strapline", but as I noted it down in the middle of this period of substitutions, the crowd around me erupted.

Left-back Brough had taken the ball unchallenged down that side, Waterfall was caught between Kay, who let the ball pass him, and No. 9, Billy Waters (sponsored by Master Joseph Hornby) on his blind side who turned the ball past Crocombe, whose far post was guarded* by equally blindsided Smith and Green.

The table football analogy can be pushed a little further. Albeit without anyone turning the handles, ball-control seemed to consist of waiting till the ball hit a body part and then being surprised when it ricocheted somewhere unexpected. Town gave the opposition lots of space and did not tackle. The Barrow manager Pete Wild had paid tribute to Town before the game, saying that Barrow would need to take the game to Town and not let them settle. And this they did, like a table football game in which only one side is fixed to the table.

We know Town is so much better than this, but Paul Hurst was right – this was Town's worst showing of the season: they stood off and lacked confidence and self-belief. Sorry, Mr Bluebird: it manifested itself with a vengeance this rainy night.