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Nationwide Division One, 4/11/00
Grimsby Town
Local rivals
By Matt Rowson

Luton. Where? Ha ha ha.

Well, exactly. Lest we forget, it's six years and counting since we last lost to our local rivals, three years since the marvellous October 4th which now feels like when it all began (but wasn't really), and most pertinently, as Don would want me to point out, "no-one's watching Luton Town".

Just a division away, sure. But miles, really. Light years. If the tables finish as they currently stand, we'll be three divisions apart next season. Out of sight and very much out of (my) mind, thank heavens...I've run the gauntlet back to Luton railway station from Kenilworth Road too many times already.

They'll probably remain our "local rivals", though, despite the frequent pub conversations pondering substituting them with someone we actually play, like QPR, Palace or, in this ever-shrinking world, Wolves. Apart from anything else, I've always found that having Luton as local rivals was one of the (many) strokes of good fortune that befalls a Watford fan. They have never, quite frankly, been a difficult team to dislike.

The three Davids - Evans, Pleat and Kohler. The plastic pitch. The disgraceful ban on away fans. The horrible little stadium in an evil little town. Steve Foster. David Preece. Mitchell Thomas. And the cheap gag about not liking orange....

But even now, as circumstances pull the two teams ever further apart, Luton excel themselves and enter our consciousness once more. Keeping a side bubbling under the Division Two play-offs despite a chronic lack of funds, despite every promising player being sold, despite impossible backroom conditions was clearly not enough for the Hatters. Lennie Lawrence was sacked this summer, and so ended up at Grimsby, a division higher but infinitely more respectable. The cherry on the icing on the cake: a Luton fan pops up on a Grimsby message board this week deriding their choice of manager - "the worst manager of the modern era", apparently. Meanwhile Grimsby recover shape, poise and confidence after a poor end to last season and a shaky start to this, and Ricky Hill guides the Hatters mercifully into oblivion. Marvellous.

Though many publicly questioned the ethics of sacking long-term figurehead Alan Buckley a mere two games into the season, there's no denying that the Mariners' form has enjoyed a decisive about-turn since the arrival of Lawrence. A bold 4-3-3 is being employed (although Lawrence has stated a preference for 3-5-2 were the players available), confidence is flooding back and Buckley's conservative attitude to new faces is very much a thing of the past as the new manager brings in an army of largely foreign triallists.

Most eye-catching of those currently at Blundell Park is Lithuanian centre-back Thomas Zvirgzdauskas, who may prove a challenge for Grimsby's songwriters (I can't see "One Thomas Zvirgzdauskas" scanning too well, how ever accurate the sentiment). Other triallists include left-sided Dane Knut Anders Fosterveld and former Rangers midfielder Neil Murray, on-loan from German side Mainz but currently unfit. Hmmm, an unfit ex-Rangers midfielder... why does that sound familiar?

Of the permanent staff, currently catching the headlines (and anything else going) is Welsh keeper Danny Coyne. His early performances are described as "all floppy hair and flailing hands", which is much how I remember his legendary "dodgy keeper" capitulation for Tranmere in our relegation season. Recently, however, he has been earning rave reviews. Backup is provided by highly rated prospect Steve Croudson.

Right-back is the highly experienced and dependable John McDermott, on course to soon break Town's appearance record. On the left is another experienced man Tony Gallimore, whose nickname of "Corporal Jones" doesn't conjure a picture of someone who'll be happy marking Nordin Wooter. Gallimore hits a decent dead ball, however.

In the centre, Peter Handyside missed much of last season through injury, but the ball-playing Scot is now imposing himself on the team again amidst rumours of Craig Brown's interest. Partnering Handyside is captain Paul Groves, often the Hornets' nemesis in the past, who at the age of thirty-four has withdrawn from the frenzy of central midfield.

The enthusiastically cumbersome Paul Raven provides cover in defensive positions with Ben Chapman and Danny Butterfield amongst the younger options. Butterfield, an attacking full-back at the best of times, is probably thankful for resisting Sheffield Wednesday's overtures of two years ago, and has recently been employed in midfield. However, he received a knock in the televised game on Sunday.

Providing much of the energy in the three-man midfield has been the popular Stacey Coldicott, whilst Stuart Campbell, on loan from Leicester City, makes up the current trio. Options on the bench include the right sided Kevin Donovan, nicknamed "Jellyfish" for his reaction to a challenge, reputed to have last put in a decent cross in 1998 (according to "The Electronic Fishcake"). On the left, David Smith is as anonymous as his name.

Not under consideration at the moment are local hero Wayne Burnett, struggling to shake off a long-term groin injury, and the energetic but shot-shy Alan Pouton, also injured. Kingsley Black, meanwhile, is on loan at nearby Lincoln City.

Up front, much of Grimsby's recent form has been put down to the invigorating impact of Dane David Nielsen, but Lawrence is also playing to Bradley Allen's strengths, employing him as the link between the midfield and the front two. Allen chipped West Brom's keeper Brian Jensen to score at the weekend, which if stories of Jensen's size are to be believed takes some doing.

Softening up opposition defences for his partners' subtler skills are the elbows of the brutish Steve Livingstone. Irishman Daryl Clare provides cover, but has yet to fulfil his early promise whilst Jonathan Rowan is another young option.

Heartening as it is to look at the league table and see Grimsby lording it over Wolves and Palace, come Saturday we will have to face an in-form side further motivated by the possibility of being the first to take three points off us this season. This is a situation that we'll have to get used to if we maintain our current position. But let's not greet any goals with references to that lot up the M1. At this moment in time, nobody could be less relevant.