Report by Ian Grant
Let's face it, only a complete sadist would plonk a stadium about two hundred yards from
the vast expanse of pure cold that is the North Sea and then not bother to fill the
corners in. The bitter wind howls unhindered through Blundell Park on its way inland,
leaving numbness and ice and shivering in its wake. If any Grimsby fans want to start
a campaign to install giant wind-breaks between the stands, they can count on my support.
But there was much to distract us from the sub-zero wind-chill factor. Or there was until the game
started, anyhow. Much like "the days before television", we made our own entertainment in place of
the head-crushing pre-match soundtrack that's become standard at glitzy Vicarage Road. Our hosts
were kind enough to help out, donating bucketloads of sweets which were soon raining down on our
heads like shrapnel. And the eternally bizarre Rupe didn't disappoint either, getting all
excited at the presence of an Elton John look-a-like (well, he had hair and glasses, if that
counts) in the row in front. Comedy conversation ensued: "Does everyone tell you that you look like Elton John?", "Erm, no."
So all was contentment at kickoff, another day of putting off the Christmas shopping in
favour of more pleasurable pursuits. And all was very nearly exploding brilliance within
fifteen seconds of kickoff, as Richard Johnson advanced while Grimsby were still counting to
a hundred and shot with customary brutality. The ball smacked off the foot of the post as Davison
Two minutes later, Peter Kennedy appeared to be ready to pounce on a right wing cross,
only for Davison to advance and claim. For a short spell, we had a sharp, purposeful game
between two sharp, purposeful teams. The home side decided to contribute too, plenty
of the neat passing and attractive play that was always associated with Alan Buckley's
name (before his hideous period at West Brom, when his name was associated with losing). Black
shot a yard wide from the edge of the area; Groves sent in a long-range effort that was comfortably
fielded by Alec Chamberlain; Nogan laid on a chance for Black, who scuffed wide from eight
But, just as things were warming up nicely, it all went cold. Literally. For the remainder
of the half, Grimsby were the better side without ever looking like they'd make that
superiority count. Unable to clear the ball from defence with any composure, the Hornets
couldn't bring the creative players into the action often enough. Only Gifton Noel-Williams was anything
but anonymous, making the most of indifferent service and twice shooting within Davison's
On a pleasant summer's day, it would've been an intriguing, absorbing contest. On a freezing
afternoon in December, it takes rather more than "intriguing" to distract the mind from
frostbite. So, after Richard Smith had headed over from a corner and Ashcroft had shot at
Chamberlain from the edge of the box, half-time arrived as a welcome milestone on the
road to somewhere warmer.
The substitution of Nick Wright for Johann Gudmundsson was presumably meant to give
Watford more of an attacking edge as the second half began. Nice idea, shame that it was
Grimsby who took the initiative, David Smith curling a shot into the bottom corner from
twenty yards to put the home side into the lead.
Unable to penetrate Grimsby's rearguard, either with short passing or the more direct approach,
it didn't look good. It's at times like this when the endless list of injuries becomes
apparent - although the starting line-up has proved itself to be formidable, we just don't
have the options to make significant changes when it's not working.
So we did all we could, hanging in there, plugging away, and other phrases to describe
some rather ponderous, awkward attacking play. "It's like constipation" said Rupe, and
he was right. We've seen a lot worse over the years, of course - only this season's
sky-high standards, memories of rampaging victories and out-classed opponents, make this
much of a disappointment. We were nothing special, one match in a season of frequently being
something very special.
The game should've been beyond us. After Kennedy had volleyed a tricky chance wide, Grimsby came
so close to adding the decisive second as Richard Smith's diving header from a right wing
cross hit the underside of the bar and bounced down for the grateful Chamberlain to collect.
They were to curse that misfortune. In a rare spell of cohesive play, and a rare period
without falling foul of Grimsby's offside trap, up popped an unexpected equaliser. Micah Hyde's
drifting shot had brought the best save of the day from Davison, stumbling back to tip over, as the pressure
mounted. Then Kennedy was released down the left to drive in a low cross, Smart somehow contrived to make
no contact at the near post and Noel-Williams was waiting to crash the ball into the roof
of the net. For thirty seconds, we weren't cold.
In the circumstances, a draw would've been more than acceptable. And it seemed as if
that was what we were going to get, particularly after Groves glanced a free header wastefully
wide from six yards and David Smith dragged a shot from a good position. For all the
huff-and-puff effort from both teams, it didn't look much like a game that would yield
another goal. Substitute Clare shot straight at Chamberlain, while Gudmundsson screwed one wide
from Smart's lay-off at the other end. And we all travelled back south quite happy and Friday's Watford Observer report says "Both sides
content with a point from energetic encounter".
Except that, with five minutes to go, Richard Johnson got caught horribly in possession and was
left trailing as Grimsby broke. Neat passing took the ball out to the right, it was crossed back
in to Clare and knocked on to Groves, who side-footed home to bring despair to the away end. You have to
applaud the execution of the move, mind - swift, incisive punishment of a lapse and indicative of the fact
that Grimsby, much like four or five years ago, are waiting to ambush the unwary and the
over-confident. They look useful - others have and will trip up here.
The late arrival of Tommy Mooney brought more hope than expectation. It was difficult to
argue that Grimsby didn't deserve the result, a point that was emphasised late on when defensive hesitancy allowed
Ashcroft in and Chamberlain saved well at his near post from an angled shot.
We weren't bad, but the other team were better. It's not the defeat that counts, it's
how we react to it. Insert you own clichés here, while I do some work....
See also: Bristol City On-line Experience