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Triumph and Disaster: Stockport Report
By: Tony Butcher
A PLEASANT winter evening by the Humber, until 5 minutes before kick off, when a torrential sleet storm appeared from Scunthorpe, blowing down the pitch into the Osmond Stand. The sleet arrived just as Matt Tees and Dave Boylen wandered on to the pitch to get the crowd "up".
Grimsby Town 3 Stockport County 1
26 Feb 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
Boylen was in charge of the cheerleading, calling to each stand for some noise. The kids obliged, for there were many.
Stockport brought some supporters, huddled together in the corner of the Osmond and indulging themselves in some gallows humour. Perhaps they are a month ahead of us there then? The Town fans were unusually confident, expecting a big victory. But surely Stockport canâ€™t be that bad. Weâ€™ll soon find out.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. All the subs were under several layers of wool and man made fibres, so it was difficult to tell which was which and who was who. So the left back conundrum had been solved, old Smithy, brought back from beyond the grave yet again, for a cameo performance. Many a grumble about the lack of Chapman. And no-one mentioned Willems. Who? The grumbles turned to excited whoops when the crowd realised Allen was partnering Pringle.
As Stockport lined up it was difficult to discern a formation. There were 11 blokes in yellow standing around, some grooving with a pict, and they all seemed to be standing in the middle of the pitch. It was also noted that their kit was exactly the same shade of yellow as the ball.
So, it was now or never for Town. How would they start?
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon (to huge groans of disappointment and fear, as Challinor was in the Stockport team and the wind was a-howling and a-raging into Coyneâ€™s face) and tore Stockport apart for the first 10 minutes. Wave upon wave of Town attacks, most set up by rotten passing from Stockport. They were incredibly poor, all of their players seemed to have a rabid fear of the spaces outside the centre of the pitch, they simply ceded the wings to Town. I donâ€™t mean that they didnâ€™t have many players there, they had none at all on the right or left.
All this meant that the entire first 10 minutes was spent in front of the Pontoon. Butterfield and Campbell had almost an entire solar system in which to play, but produced nothing but moments of excitement as they ran towards goal. Butterfield had a penchant for hitting flat crosses to the central defenders, ignoring McDermottâ€™s sprints down the touchline on the "overlap". He was rebuked several times by said McDermott, Allen and Burnett. Campbell simply ran and ran until he ran into a defender. The first effort on goal was a Butterfield header at the far post, from a Smith cross, which looped gently wide. Stockportâ€™s defence, no the whole team, looked totally disorganised and there was a feeling abroad that Town were going to score at will, especially when the crowd caught their first glimpse of Pringle, who was strong, fast and skilful. Pringle and Allen were all movement up front, looking very dangerous. All it needed was someone to pass to them!
And after 7 minutes the pressure finally brought reward, to nobodyâ€™s surprise. Town won a corner on the right, after another lightning quick break initiated by Pringle. Butterfield hit an outswinger beyond the far post. TODD, about 9 yards out and 4 or 5 yards wide of the post, opened his body and placed a right foot volley across the â€˜keeper into the bottom left hand corner of the net. Such a sweet and simple strike, no fuss, just a pass into the net. Todd milked the applause, and he received much. At this point it looked like professionals against a pub team, so awful had Stockport been. They had Carlton Palmer in Mike Lyons mode, playing centre forward, with similar results.
After Town scored they seemed to relax, and relax a bit too much. They allowed Stockport to have the ball and watched as they buzzed around and played the ball across the pitch, and back again. Nothing much came of it, the only effort on goal was a free header at the far post from a corner on their right (which looped way, way wide and high). But it resulted in 15 minutes of poor football, as Town kept giving the ball away to Stockport, who passed it back to Town again (or out of play for a throw in). The referee had already incurred the wrath of the crowd for an over officious, pernickety approach which stopped play for the most minor of matters. Campbell was frustrated when Pouton played a lovely pass over the defence setting him free. The referee stopped play for a Town free kick in their own half, as a Stockport player had caught Pouton as he passed. Allen was frustrated when a Burnett pass down the right touchline induced the â€˜keeper to trundle out of his area and try to fly kick the ball up field. Allen tackled him, the ball rolled up to Burnett, the goal was open, the â€˜keeper stayed on the floor and "writhed" a bit, and the referee gave Stockport a free kick. The most farcical moment came when Allen chased forward to challenge as the ball was chipped over the defence, near the half way line. The Stockport right back waltzed over and cleared the ball against his centre backâ€™s bottom. They both fell over, the ball rebounded towards the Stockport goal, down the left, leaving Campbell alone and free. So the referee gave Stockport a free kick for a "foul" by Allen!
Around the 24th minute Town had a bit of pressure, a cross from the left, half cleared and Pouton raced in to smack a drive into the top corner from 30 yards out, on the centre left. A Stockport player raced forward and just managed to poke the ball away from Pouton, and so caught the full force of a Pouton boot. Both went down, though Pouton hobbled back to his feet pretty quickly. The Stockport player stayed down and didnâ€™t get up again. There was a 4 minute delay as he was stretchered off. The referee made Pouton stand on the half way line, in front of the Smiths/Stones/Findus and delayed the start of the game until Stockport brought on a substitute. Then he let Pouton come back on again.
This break woke Town up a bit, and they started to pass and move again. Just after the half hour Smith, who had been a potent attacking force down the left, received a pass out on the wing, ran forward, exchanged passes with Campbell and got to the bye-line. His cross was blocked for a corner. Pouton swung the corner in high, into the middle of the 6 yard box. GROVES leapt up, unmarked, and headed down past the â€˜keeper, who was standing on his line, flapping like a confused ostrich. Tidings of comfort and joy spread round most of Blundell Park. The scoreboard immediately packed up, being completely fazed by "Grimsby 2". It then returned with some Egyptian hieroglyphics. As I forgot to bring the Rosetta Stone with me, I couldnâ€™t decipher the messages flashed up.
And after this Town started to do some "showboating". There werenâ€™t many chances, or efforts on goal, but a lot of pressure and fine build up play, principally from Allen and Pringle, who kept dispossessing the Stockport defenders and setting up Butterfield and Campbell for crosses. The crosses were generally rubbish. Ah, Pringle and Allen, they terrorised the Stockport defence and each almost scored crackers. Allen twisted and turned on the lefthand side of the penalty area, swivelled, then wellied a right foot shot straight at the â€˜keeper from a dozen yards out. Then there was the "Pringle moment". A short pass was played up to him on the edge of the Stockport area, on the left. He had his back to goal but controlled the ball, then swivelled past his first marker, shaking him off by making use of a Swedish bottom. Pringle then "nut-megged" the second defender, swayed past him to the left, opened his body and curled a right foot shot a couple of inches past the â€˜keeperâ€™s left hand post. The crowd stood up and applauded some wonderful skill. I have a vague recollection of Todd having another effort, or at least being near the ball, near the Stockport goal, possibly from a cross from the Town right. A small matter in the great scheme of things, I know, but evidence of his danger near the opposition goal.
So far virtually no mention has been made of the Town defence, thatâ€™s because they had so little to do, but of course did it so well. Until the 42nd minute that is. McDermott controlled a high ball about 25 yards out, on the right. He then knocked a short pass up the Butterfield, who turned slower than a sleeping sloth, allowing Palmer to nip the ball off his toes and stride forward into a big gap. PALMER surged into the penalty area, near the right hand corner, and smacked a swirling left foot shot over Coyne and into the top left hand corner of the goal. The Town fans did not appreciate the excellence of the finish, preferring to ponder the rank rubbish served up by Butterfield. This goal rather summed up Butterfieldâ€™s contribution to the game thus far. Slow, dim-witted, lethargic, he was Stockportâ€™s most effective player in the first half.
There were four minutes of added time, four minutes for the Town fans to fret and groan. Four minutes for Town to score again sir! Burnett played a pass between the Stockport left back and centre half, down the "channel" towards the corner of the penalty area. The goalkeeper started to wander off towards it, then stopped. The Town fans gnarled and gnashed their teeth at Butterfield for not chasing it. The gnarling turned to cheers as Pringle sprinted across from the centre right and caught up with the ball. He turned inside, then out, throwing two defenders the wrong way, before whipping in a low cross into the centre of the 6 yard box. ALLEN steamed forward and toe poked the ball past the â€˜keeper, who had again stuck to his line and moved his arms around in a circular motion, like a tai chi trainee.
Half time: Grimsby Town 3 Stockport County 1
And that was the first half. Incident packed, and long moments of tedium. As Stockport had only had two efforts on goal, and barely got in the Town penalty area, the "1" rather flattered them, but the "3" didnâ€™t flatter Town. Stockport were appalling, but were being cut apart, which one would not expect from Town. The main reason for this was the Pringle-Allen partnership which delivered all that it promised. They moved, they linked, they had an understanding. It was a partnership, not two men standing near each other. It brought happiness to Blundell Park, and hope of survival. Despite the shortcomings (the wingers, who were quite poor), Town looked a solid team, capable of beating most in the division. However, there was one other poor performer - Pouton. Sure, he got stuck in, but his positioning was dreadful and his passing beyond description. He probably made two successful passes in the whole half. He kept passing to Stockport 30 yards out from the Town goal.
But who can complain at a half time score like that? I didnâ€™t hear anyone complaining, and thatâ€™s a first.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"That Pringleâ€™s really sharp".
The report continues in the second half.
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