Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Pat Bell
30 December 2023
Salford City 0 (Nil) Grimsby Town 3
Don't ask too much about the first half. The Peninsula Stadium was almost certainly at its best during Covid, so what happened at the far end stays at the far end. At half-time I checked my social media feed and learnt that we had hit the bar.
Salford also hit the bar, a shot by the silver-haired Lund from just outside the area which dipped and scraped the top of the woodwork on its way out for a goalkick. That was it as far as the hosts were concerned. Within ten minutes Town had stamped their authority on the game and it was only nerves which left us doubting the destination of the three points.
We saw a lot of Cartwright, Waterfall and Maher working neat triangles in or around their own box. We might have been worried, but they were entirely composed. Nothing directly came from it, but it added to Salford's sense of their own inferiority, their half-hearted press energy-sapping and futile. When Mullarkey and Glennon got the ball they were happy to work in the space available to them, Glennon once dragging the ball back from a challenge, jinking around his marker and then unfurling an ambitious crossfield pass.
Further up the pitch, we had the sense of perpetual motion, forwards and midfielders merging in a collective effort to stop Salford developing anything, win the ball and then use it wisely. Eisa was finding room to work on the left and he provided the final pass from which Town took the lead: a move started in midfield by two members of the collective, allowing Eisa to cut in along the byline and release the ball only when he had drawn the cover away from Clifton, who swept the ball confidently into the bottom corner of the net.
In the second half, we got more of a sense of how it was being done. Rose was everywhere, and full of intensity: he stayed on for 89 minutes; that's 289 minutes in human terms. Dogged in his appetite for goals, he was frustrated when a Salford leg just cut out a ball as he lurked with intent.
We always had options, down the middle, or on either wing, and either the options we chose were always the right ones, or we made them the right ones. We had what was scientifically measured as "a load" of corners. Most were cut out at the near post, but Glennon was whipping them in so fiercely that if they had got past the first man they'd have caused chaos. Others were ballooned to the back post and from one of those Maher had his shirt pulled by Lund. The ref gave nothing, Lund countersuing Maher's allegations with a suggestion that he himself had had his sleeve tugged.
Mullarkey was so far advanced he might have been Stanley Matthews, or perhaps Johann Cruyff. The score was still 1-0 when he took the ball to the edge of the area, performed an ungainly pirouette to evade a challenge and finding the ball somehow glued to his feet essayed a shot to the top corner which Salford's keeper just palmed over. A few minutes later he got into the same position at the corner of the box and delivered a low shot which curled exactly to hit the net just inside the far post.
2-0 is a dangerous lead. A few minutes later, Rose broke, Clifton racing up alongside him, unmarked and unheeded. Rose shaped to chip, but the ball scarcely rose waist high, the goalkeeper gathering with relief. Rose was a picture of appalled dismay at what he had done, and what he had not done. For the first time, Town started to drop back and for five minutes it looked like Salford might get back into the game, until Cartwright stretched across the mud to save a cross shot, gathering it cleanly to frustrate the man waiting for a rebound. That was that. A few minutes later, Holohan fed Rose who checked inside his man, shot precisely into the top corner and then stood, arms raised to soak up our acclaim.
Throughout the second half, the Town end had been a sea of faces shining with happy excitement. Nights like this, supporting is easy.