Main Menu
What's New
00/01: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 14/4/01
Grimsby Town
By Ian Grant

"...And a big BSaD hello to all you Mariners fans, especially the knucklehead who was so offended by Matt's assertion that 'Grimsby are definitely a Good Thing' that he challenged the author to a scrap outside McDonalds. Best of luck with the reading classes, mate...."

So, on the day that Fulham clinched promotion, we took another gigantic step towards mid-table obscurity. It remains extraordinary how much the paths of the two clubs have diverged since November, how far we've fallen since taking advantage of Grimsby's adventurous approach at the Vic all those months ago. Now, that same adventurous approach - worth applauding again, simply because it contrasts so strongly with the lumpen charmlessness of Town's competitors - has proved too much for us.

On Saturday, we completed the set. Of the bottom ten, we've lost to Tranmere, Palace, Huddersfield, Grimsby, Crewe, Wednesday, and Norwich. We've dropped points to QPR, Portsmouth and Stockport. In total, we've taken twenty-eight points from a possible fifty-seven in games against those struggling teams. It's a record that speaks for itself. And, when it speaks, it doesn't say "promotion".

In the blustery wind and, later, the sweeping rain on Cleethorpes seafront, we fell apart again. We threw away another lead, then showed no inkling of a sign of a hope of recovering the situation. We were sporadically splendid, we were sporadically hideous, we were mostly very average. We were never cohesive, never an imposing unit. And, when it came down to it, we were completely bloody spineless. Which makes a change, obviously.

To begin, a few changes to formation and personnel. Like a West End musical that's been running for years, the cast comes and goes and the songs stay the same. On this occasion, GT recalled the thoroughly deserving James Panayi to play alongside Robert Page and Darren Ward in a three-man defence, with Paul Robinson and Paolo Vernazza taking wide roles. Panayi, as broad as he's tall, again put his case well and Vernazza was our main creative influence. The rest, however, failed to combine into a trustworthy defensive force. Jobs in the security industry do not await them when their careers are over.

In the first half, we did okay. No more, no less. Just okay. There were moments when the quality of our football suggested that we might do enough to build a convincing victory, such as when a fine, Vernazza-inspired move on the right let in Tommy Smith, his low cross was hit goalwards by Gifton Noel-Williams and, via a deflection, into Coyne's hands. Equally, there were moments when our defending was so shambolic that one of those defeats seemed inevitable, such as when Robinson's daydreaming allowed McDermott to sneak behind him and send the ball bouncing through the six yard box.

That was the pattern, established in the first five minutes. Somehow, matches at Blundell Park always seem drearier than they actually are, as if such a bleak setting couldn't possibly play host to anything other than equally bleak football. In a brighter place, this probably would've come across as being rather a good and entertaining, if thoroughly erratic, game.

There was Groves' slip as he collected Noel-Williams' mis-directed flick after eight minutes, allowing Tommy Mooney to nip in and thump a half-volley wide from twenty-five yards. There was the complete lack of marking from the Watford defence at a corner after ten, allowing Groves so much space to meet the cross at the near post and divert it towards goal with his toe. A more decisive touch would've given the home side the lead; instead, the ball bounced up and was headed away from the line by Mooney.

As at the Vic, then, this wasn't a contest destined to be dominated by defence. Nevertheless, and with the benefit of hindsight, the signs of our impending doom were visible. While Grimsby managed to supply the ball to their flank players and particularly to the lively Cornwall, we struggled to do the same. Partly because our flank players were usually too deep, mainly because we couldn't get a grip on the midfield.

All very scrappy. All surprisingly inconsequential, bearing in mind the importance of the points for both sides. Mooney headed wide from a Robinson free kick, Campbell headed weakly at Baardsen, Noel-Williams shot at Coyne from a mile away. It started to feel cold. From Livingstone's knock-down, a combination of Page and Cornwall shuffled the ball around the post, missing by a yard. Livingstone drifted a header wide from Gallimore's cross; Baardsen fielded a free kick, curled over the wall by Gallimore.

Two things to bring the thing back into focus. First, Robinson clattered Donovan on the touchline, leaving the Town player grounded and the crowd enraged. Mr Alcock missed it presumably, since he neither gave a free kick nor produced a yellow card. Still, in the process, Robbo kicked the game up the arse as well as the player. Then, as he cleared, Espen Baardsen slipped and pulled a muscle, lying in agony while play continued. Not what we needed, obviously...but the arrival of Alec Chamberlain to save the day brought the away fans to their feet.

Pouton hit a long-range half-volley well wide, before Coyne produced the game's first save. Nondescript attacking and defending finally resulted in the ball bouncing through to Mooney on the left. His acrobatic volley brought an equally athletic block from Coyne, who'd advanced decisively from his line to deal with the situation. Then Cornwall cut in enthusiastically from the right wing, past Robinson and towards the area, ending with a rising drive that cleared the bar. Whatever else Grimsby might lack, they have a certain likeable flair in their approach. Chamberlain collected Livingstone's weak curler, before Vernazza was harshly booked for his minimal involvement in Campbell's theatrical tumble.

Plenty of chances, then. It took Tommy Mooney, the in-form striker, to make the difference. Just before half-time, and Steve Palmer emerged victorious from a midfield scrap. Crucially, he kept his head as the defence backed off in front of him, waiting for the moment to pick out Mooney's run. From the left of the area, the finish was clinical, low past Coyne into the bottom corner. Celebrations, mixed with disbelief at something so decisive and out of keeping.

By the time that the teams emerged for the second half, spring had departed Cleethorpes. Rain swept sideways across the ground, powered by fierce, gusting wind. From the rest of our performance, you could be forgiven for thinking that we didn't fancy it. Whatever, Grimsby won the game simply by applying themselves with more urgency, more purpose.

That said, they were fortunate to survive our best spell of the match. Immediately after the break, we appeared enlivened by Mooney's earlier example and sought the second goal that would surely end the contest. Although Livingstone's deflection of Pouton's drive nearly ended in disaster and was bravely claimed by Chamberlain from the striker's lunging boots as it squirmed into the six yard box, we were to become the dominant side.

From Vernazza's swaying run, Smith's shot was blocked. Noel-Williams recovered possession on the edge of the box, arguably with the aid of a foul, and turned to flash a drive just past the post. Then, one of those pivotal moments. Terrible defending allowed Robinson's corner to bounce through the area to Mooney, inevitably stationed at the far post. He met it with a firm downward header, we rose to rejoice, Coyne's arm darted out through reflex and pushed it away. Brilliant, brilliant save.

It was crucial, simply because something so similar happened at the other end within minutes. After Donovan's darting run from the right played in Livingstone, Alec Chamberlain made an equally outstanding save to deflect the striker's angled shot around the post with his fingertips. The difference is that we didn't build from there. Two corners later and nobody took charge of marking and clearing, allowing Handyside to level the scores with a header from close range and render Chamberlain's magnificence irrelevant.

Downhill from there. Within a minute, we might've regained the lead as Vernazza managed to keep Noel-Williams' cross in play with a superb, stretching volley that caught Coyne by surprise. The ball bounced out to Allan Nielsen, who skied the chance onto the roof of the stand as the keeper flung himself out to compensate for his error. The ball was returned to ground level by a gust of wind about twenty minutes later. By that time, we'd disintegrated entirely.

As a team, we don't have an Achilles heel. We have a glass jaw. We can't take punches. When setbacks are encountered, the response is on an individual level - the pulsating rebellion of Tommy Mooney, the skill of Paolo Vernazza. There is no collective response, no re-grouping of the troops. Not so very long ago, a Watford side conceded a goal in the first five minutes of a playoff semi-final at St Andrews, when the roar of the crowd felt like a punch in the guts. That side held out, taking the game to extra time and penalties. It would've been impossible as a set of individuals, as people with selfish thoughts. I see none of that collective strength now. None at all.

So, without retaining any dignity, we left Gifton Noel-Williams and Tommy Smith to inevitable capture. We relied on Vernazza and Mooney to make something happen for us. We handed Grimsby the opportunity to win the game, which they deservedly took. And we went home, defeated.

Forget everything else. Campbell's well-struck shot at Chamberlain, Vernazza's attempted curler at Coyne, Livingstone's weak header after Chamberlain's poor clearance had given Donovan possession, Ward's near post touch wide from Nielsen's cross. Forget them all. As previously noted, it's about decisive moments. It's about things like Gallimore's run down the left, long of stride and full of purpose. It's about things like the bundle at the near post from the resulting cross...or, more particularly, winning the bundle at the near post, leaving Coldicott to prod home. It's about the stuff that wins points, and it doesn't include the kind of pathetic navel-contemplating that we're so prone to.

Again, we lost a football match in our heads, apparently admitting defeat long before it appeared on the BBC's vidiprinter. From the moment that Grimsby equalised, we were very visibly going through the motions. Where is the responsibility to each other? Where is that collective will? Where is the leadership on the pitch? Where is the team?

A long journey home, delayed by a broken rail and surrounded by jubilant Fulham fans. As before, I very much hope that Grimsby stay up, not least because it'd be at the expense of Crystal Palace. But that's no consolation, no reason to feel contented. This was pathetic. F***ing spineless. The work of people for whom mid-table failure would offer welcome anonymity, comfortable safety.

Any complaints, lads? Go on, then. Prove me wrong.

(The chips were nice, though.)