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Phoenix Nights: Stoke Report
By: Tony Butcher
A CLEAR windless day with the slight suspicion of a chill in the air as about 500 Town fans gathered far away, on a hill, through a field, down a track, behind a farm, over the canal.
Stoke City 1 Grimsby Town 2
09 Nov 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
A big new shiny stadium that is the last thing in town, it was impressive in a bland, non-threatening, superficial way. Especially as the ground was sparsely populated, a sea of red seats greeted us, as did a John Smiths Stands, not the. We have that. The Town fans were situated behind the goal to the right (as seen on tv), next to the playersâ€™ entrance, which was a hole in a brick wall covered by some tarpaulin. It resembled nothing less than the back door at the local working menâ€™s club. I half expected Colin Crompton to introduce the teams (our younger readers should substitute Brian Potter for Colin Crompton).
Ah, whoâ€™s this emerging form the tent? A familiar gait, a familiar hairstyle, itâ€™s Mr Peter Handyside! A warm reception from both sets of supporters, and as the teams lined up the Town fans gave him a standing ovation which he made a point of acknowledging for a longer time than absolutely necessary. We were sending those thoughts "Come home Peter, come home". Or as the wags shouted "Youâ€™re in the wrong stripes". Interesting to read his interview in the "Official Matchday Programme Issue #9" Was it all a dream? "..I was in and out of the side under Lennie Lawrence and when youâ€™re not playing.. you realise that youâ€™re not wanted and look elsewhere". But youâ€™re wanted now.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as show. A pretty strong Reserve team on the bench, I am sure youâ€™d agree. No Macca, no Cooke and a striking Kabbastrophe thanks to Trevor Francis, the paranoid adenoid of South London.
Town played in blue, the ball was yellow and Stokeâ€™s mascots are a hisâ€™nâ€™her set of foam cows. No, I didnâ€™t get it either. Some Columbo-style investigations revealed the cows to be the punning Pottermuses, as in hippopotamus. It makes you pine for the Might Mariner who, I am assured, doesnâ€™t rub himself against lampposts when heâ€™s not "in character".
The teams ran out to some bland rock music, there was a bit of Status Quo, a bit of ELP and some other loud nonsense which firmly placed Stoke in the musical sheep section of Our Price. "Rocking all over the World". Tush, and pfft. At least they didnâ€™t play "Tush" I suppose, just tosh. And they have Brian Wilson in their squad, god only knows what he was doing there.
Stoke kicked off away from the Town support and were a little too eager to prove themselves to their new manager, Tony "I donâ€™t beat up all my players" Pulis. It took 1.89 seconds for them to kick the ball into a John Smiths Stand, approximately 9.7 yards behind the left winger and 12.6 yards in front of the left back. The home fans groaned, we laughed heartily. The first few minutes were lively in a "both teams canâ€™t defend" sort of way. It was immediately apparent that Stoke were a schizophrenic team, half of them wanted to pass it around on the ground, the other half wanted to whack and chase. Their two centre backs, the man on a sabbatical from Grimsby and the appropriately named Shtaniuk (thus giving us the opportunity to sing "youâ€™re Shtaniuk, and you know you are" when he miscued) kept trying to dictate the game, but as soon as their full backs got it - "welly", though sometimes they refined it to a "whack"
Enough general observations, what actually happened? Well, letâ€™s see, in the first couple of minutes a tiny tot midfielder from Stoke received a chest back from Tommy Mooney and hit a right foot shot extremely wide from outside the box. Town nearly broke through following a bit of passing and movement through midfield involving Groves, Livingstone and finally a late run between the centre backs by Oster. The Stoke â€˜keeper rushed off his line and scooped the ball away from Osterâ€™s toes, right on the edge of the penalty area. A minute later a Town corner was cleared to Groves, right in the middle, just outside the penalty area and his right footed half volley almost landed in the section reserved for Town fans.
There are vague memories of another Stoke attack leading to another poor long shot, well wide, and a header three yards wide following a bit of "triangles" around Ward. The huge Dutch winger, Hoekstra (wasnâ€™t that a Chasâ€™nâ€™Dave song?) easily drifted, barged and tricked his way through a feeble Ward challenge to clip a cross into the middle of the area, perhaps seven or eight yards out. Greenacre (I think) made the home fans "oooh", when it should have been a "grrr". Free header, well wide. Good for us. And even better for us after about eight or nine minutes. A quick Town break , instigated by Oster of course, who drifted infield and carried the ball down the centre, rolled a pass towards Mansaram, who left it, Livvo, who turned and allowed the ball to continue on into the area. Campbell was alone, free, free as a bird, near the corner of the box. He opened up his body and, from about 12 yards out, and 10 wide of the goal, attempted to place a right footed shot around big Neil "Ivor" Cutler, who spectacularly plucked the ball out of the cold November air to his left. Invention, passing, movement, phoar!
After anther wild shot from Mooney, sliced wide, skewed high, only concerning the season ticket holders in row 23, Town did something wonderful. Again a quick Town break instigated by Oster, who, following a Stoke corner, received the ball 30 yards out from the Town goal and proceeded to drive down the touchline. As Stoke had been attacking, their defence was depleted. Oster simply drew the residual defence towards him, using Mansaram as a dummy further down the right and rolled a perfect pass into the vast space where a right back would have been. The Town fans stood up in anticipation, then almost sat right back down again, for the unmarked man was Livingstone, roaming the plains like the last buffalo. Would the hunters appear over the hill? From almost exactly the same spot as Campbell just a few minutes earlier, Livvo prepared to shoot. His brain turned even quicker than his feet, for he saw Cutler race towards him. The ball was bouncing, LIVINGSTONEâ€™S right foot went back. Up, up and away like a beautiful balloon, the ball rose high over Cutler, and slowly drifted on the thermals, floating as if in a dream. Or was it a Livvo style nightmare? The Town fans were preparing to scoff at a Livvo shocker, for the ball was seemingly drifting high and wide, but NO! The ball loped into the bottom left hand corner, perfectly placed, perfectly weighted, just perfect. We could have danced all night, and so could Livvo, vindication for his continued selection eh?
Stoke gradually cottoned on to the weakness on Townâ€™s right and the combined inability to deal with crosses. Hoekstra swept past Ward and, from the bye-line, drilled a low cross into the near post. Greenacre got in front of his marker and, from six yards wide of the goal, stabbed a right footed shot seven yards wide of the goal. That took skill. Another deep cross from the Stoke left looped into the area and an unmarked little Stokey (probably Greenacre, but could have been Gudjonsson, they seemed to share a hairstyle) headed a couple of yards wide of Coyneâ€™s left hand post as Coyne did a star jump at him. Oh yes, and Mooney whacked a shot into the crowd again. Coyne was forced to make a super save around this time. A deep corner from their right was swung high towards the far post. One of their big players (they had quite a few, their players were either huge or tiny, nothing normal in between) headed powerfully towards the top right hand corner. Coyne sailed across his goal like a cartoon â€˜keeper and parried the ball away as it was about to sneak in.
The Stoke players continued their odd miss-mash tactics, which was quite amusing to watch, especially at corners. From one, clearly perfected after hours on the muddy fields of Staffordshire, they tried a short one, knocked back to the taker and then clipped to a waiting midfielder, 30 yards out. Only they clipped it directly to our waiting midfielder, Oster, 25 yards out to the right of the Town area. He controlled the ball, surged forward and passed it to Mansaram, about 30 yards out, just to the right of centre who spun around a couple of times, shimmied to his right, then to his left, before whacking a superb shot from about 25 yards, from the centre, which gave the angle of post and bar the merest, glancing kiss. Stokeâ€™s defence was given a rather torrid time by Mansaram and the intelligent runs and passes of Oster. No higher praise for Mansaram - he was being marked by Handyside and he still caused them problems.
After about 22 minutes Mansaram received the ball with his back to goal, about 20 yards out. He shielded it, and, with two defenders hustling his backside, still managed to retain possession and turn towards goal. Finally they stopped him with a combination of shirt pull, knee in the thigh and push. The referee gave Town a free kick and the usual deliberation by goalkeeper and wall began. Cutler stood next to his right hand post, making fine adjustments to the wall, using a micrometer, sextant, and an old map of the area dating from 1862. Whilst he whipped out his pocket calculator to find the angle of the ball from the moon CAMPBELL took one step and carefully curled the ball around the shuffling wall and towards the bottom left hand corner. Cutler took fright, yelled "Yoikes" and scuttled across his line, just failing to reach the bobbling lemon as it travelled towards its destination, the corner of the net. It just made Cutler look like a bumbling melon, he turned strawberry red in embarrassment. The Stoke fans grizzled and moaned, and some Town fans chanted the traditional "Pulis out". The Stokeys will get there sooner or later, we thought weâ€™d break them in.
The rest of the half was pretty much Stoke attacks, with isolated Town breakaways. But at no stage did Stoke look like scoring, principally because every chance seemed to fall to Mooney, who had a personal vendetta against every single seat in the stand at the far end. A clipped cross from the Stoke right drifted over Ward to Mooney, beyond the far post, about eight yards out. He chested it down and thwacked a low drive across Coyne and past the far post. A cross from Hoekstra caused confusion and panic at the near post. Mooney side stepped Gavin and, as he was about to shoot, Ford raced over and pummelled the ball to freedom. Unfortunately he pummelled it against Gavinâ€™s chest and the ball fell perfectly for Mooney, eight yards out, just to the right of goal. He turned and smacked a right foot drive onto the forehead of a small boy in the town of Stone, several miles south of the ground. Oh, and another Mooney mess up, slicing wide when given some space to the right of the Town area. There were probably more Mooney miss-hits, but they all blend into one after a year or two.
The only other moment worth describing in the first half was after a short period of Town pressure which contained a lovely sliced clearance by Gudjonnson, 20 yards out on their right. He sent it high and backwards towards goal. Mansaram slipped into the gap, controlled the ball first time, spun towards goal, sashayed along the bye-line past one defender, stopped when Handyside approached, wiggled a la Keith Alexander and tricked Handyside into attempting a block. Mansaram rolled the ball infield and, from just five yards out hit a right foot drive which was blocked by a combination of Cutler and Shtaniuk at the near post.
There were two minutes of added time, of which around three was played. The referee prepared to blow his whistle, then put it back in his pocket as Stoke launched the ball forward, only ending play as Livvo collected a clearance on the half way line.
Half time: Stoke City 0 Grimsby Town 2
So there we are, a comfortable lead, though not a totally comfortable game. The standard was mainly very poor, especially from Stoke, who just looked like a dangerous 2nd division team. Half their team looked "any good", the rest a division above their level. Town were fortunate that Handyside hadnâ€™t told them that "Town donâ€™t like it up â€˜em Capâ€™n Mainwaring". Speaking of which, Gallimore was playing very solidly indeed. As for Town; defensively frail, but hot on the counter-attack. Mansaram was a pain to them, being strong, pacy and tricky. Oster was beginning to take the mickey after about five minutes, doing as he pleased, when he felt like it. Though that didnâ€™t include tracking back and helping out the drowning Ward. Town could have been 4 up by half time. It was all a bit too easy. Something had to go wrong sometime.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Theyâ€™ll score three this half if we defend like that".
The report continues in the second half.
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