Love's labours drawn

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

4 February 2024

Accrington Stanley 0 Grimsby Town 0

The train rumbled through old mill country, bald moorland pierced by brick chimney towers, monuments to an industry which is gone but not forgotten. The distinct Lancashire accent evolved to make itself understood above the noise of machinery, Saturday afternoons the first breath of freedom. Professional football was born here and it shows in the diverse colours in the carriage. Supporters of Blackburn and Burnley, their visitors QPR and Fulham, and Town fans amicably exchange best wishes for their games ahead.

Accrington have become a symbol of sport's resilience, even as the economy which fostered it dies. The original Accrington were founder members of the Football League, but dissolved. Stanley replaced them and became stalwarts of Division Three (North). They too died, were revived, became the punchline in a crass ad and finally thrived, an examplar that lower-League clubs are not always better with the shareholding devils they know.

Their fans seem to appreciate what they have. Relegated last season, they are a couple of points outside the play-offs but they barely warmed Harvey Cartwright's hands with a few long-range shots and corners cleanly gathered. There was a five-minute spell towards the end of the first half when they closed Grimsby down in midfield and penned us into our own half but after the interval they played as though they would have shaken hands on a draw. Nevertheless, their supporters kept up a drumbeat of chants from behind the goal which Town scarcely needed to defend; Cartwright's double block was rendered academic by an offside flag.

For Grimsby, this was back to basics. Anchoring midfield, Curtis Thompson immediately impressed, positioning himself to gain possession and use it well, sometimes the simple option, now and again something more ambitious which generally he pulled off. He started to tire and was withdrawn but there are good things to come from that stocky pro. Behind him, Harvey Rodgers took advantage of the comfort he was afforded, commanding in the air when he needed to be, composed with the ball at his feet.

If any side was going to win, it was Town. In the first half, Arthur Gnahoua often found space on the right. There was a scramble from which Gavan Holohan might have scored, and shouts for handball when a player on the goal line stretched out a leg and the ball appeared to ricochet up to his arm. In the second, Town turned things up a notch. The new full-backs, Denver Hume and Liam Smith, steady enough at first, began to push forward and Harry Clifton became a ready outlet, playing with purpose sometimes to feed Abo Eisa, once to cut in himself and skew a shot as he lost his balance.

Stanley's defending grew flustered, and Town won a series of corners. From one, Kieran Green, Thompson's replacement, stabbed the ball wide and a few headers looped over the bar. For too much of the afternoon though, Danny Rose had worked hard in a lonely cause, too isolated to turn openings into goals, until in injury time he rose and placed his header almost perfectly, low to the right corner of the goal. It pitched a foot in front of the line and bounced up enough that the goalkeeper was able to scramble and dive and paw the ball around the post.

It was not a day to watch the net bulge. There were days when those millhands got the excitement which their toil had earned, then there were days when their shilling brought only admission to a goalless draw. It was always like that; it wouldn't be worth it any other way.