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Altogether Now: Stoke Report
By: Tony Butcher
A MILD, bright day with an unexceptional wind staggering off the Humber greeted the less than massed ranks of Stokies, perhaps 300 at most, scattered around Blundell Park like confetti from last weekâ€™s weddings. The Town fans gathered in little clumps bemoaning the dwindling forwards.
Grimsby Town 2 Stoke City 0
08 Feb 2003, Nationwide League Division 1
Who would play upfront today? And against Handyside too who, all agreed, "should come home". So thatâ€™s official policy then, we wonâ€™t need a UN resolution. The Town team trotted around rather aimlessly in the pre-match warm up, though the return of the Magnificent Seven perked up the sentient. But which Pouton had turned up? The rabblerousing roaming roisterer or the accidental tourist?
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, as shown. Santos, literally, filled the huge gap at centre back, with Groves acting as Poutonâ€™s brain in centre midfield. Everyone else was where youâ€™d expect them to be. The two strikers looked, well, not even lightweight. Two spindly twigs who were not going to appreciate aimless punts forward. And neither would we.
Glances cast towards the Stoke players morphed into raised eyebrows and grimaces. They were huge, with a starting XI containing one midget (though he wasnâ€™t a gem), nine great big skittles and a Coyne-sized â€˜keeper. So route one itâ€™d be then.
Stoke, in a royal blue ensemble, kicked off towards the Pontoon. They tried to kick it out for a throw in but failed, as McDermott took pity and did it for them. The resulting throw in (a foul throw and a half, he might as well have rolled it) was eventually cleared from the edge of the Town box by a most spectacular overhead bicycle kick from Pouton. Heâ€™s back! And the crowd roared.
The opening couple of minutes set the pattern of the first half in stone. Stoke hit high balls to their two monoliths, Mills and Iwelumo, who barely troubled our man mountain and his trusty shepherd; for Santos was impassable and Ford the very study of concentration and application. Most excellent dudes!
The Town attacks were the polar opposite. Quick, ground based and a blur of motion. Cooke and Thompson were a constant thorn in the (left) side of the Stoke defence. Thompson played like he always thinks he does, but hadnâ€™t before. Flicks, feints, falls and full of fun. As early as the second minute, heâ€™d riled the Stokies with a cushioned twist and shout for a foul on the left edge of their penalty area. They couldnâ€™t work him out at all. The free kick brought a corner, on the Town left, which was delayed for ages by the referee, who lectured Groves and Hall and anyone else who knew them, about their tussling. Pouton flipped the corner to the near post, where a wedge of big blue converged and headed the ball back towards him. Pouton ambled forward and, from just inside the penalty area and about 8 yards out, hit a flat first time half volleyed cross. The ball sailed over half a dozen frozen blue heads and into the 6 yard box. Banks raced off his line to punch clear, but BOULDING, just 5 yards out, leapt and nodded the ball high into the centre left of the goal. A loud noise was made, which signified joy and no little relief.
Still Stoke persisted in whacking the ball up to gangly Mills, the perennial scorer against Town, and the equally angular and awkward Iwelumo. This time, more than any other time, this time, Town got it right, for Stoke were nothing of any consequence in the first half. Stoke did not have a chance, Coyne touched the ball a couple of times from weak, uninteresting long shots which dribbled apologetically through the area and straight to our guardianâ€™s ankles. Coyne was conscious, so there was not even the hint of a possibility of a chance of a suspicion of anxiety amongst the Townites present. One of their players crossed the ball into the back of the Pontoon, which, for Stoke, was a first half highlight. Get it yet? Stoke were beautifully poor, we couldnâ€™t have scripted it better. I would, however, back them to maintain their second division status. What Stoke lacked in basic footballing skills (Handyside excepted) they made up for in pure thuggery (Handyside excepted). An extension of their managerâ€™s personality? Whack, thwack, crack and hack. Every time a Town player received the ball a boot, an elbow, a knee and any other bony body part that came in useful was deployed to stop Town. The Stoke fans were most irritated by the referee for his persistent free kick awards to Town. Perhaps on the long dayâ€™s journey into night theyâ€™d analyse the origins of the gameâ€™s name. Foot and ball, not foot-in-back, or elbow-in-head. In return, Town had Pouton, who simply swept these blue meanies aside whenever they broke away. Legally, of course. Mostly, but magnificently.
Ah, thatâ€™s the general stuff, now the specifics. Just after Town scored, Thompson was flattened by Hall, requiring some immediate treatment for a head injury. The free kick, about 20 yards out to the right of centre, was curled low around the wall by Gallimore. There wasnâ€™t much power, nor danger really, as it went straight to their â€˜keeper in the centre, but the ball took a crazy path, hitting every little divot in the box and bouncing off his chest, being gathered at the second attempt as Groves slid in. Some fine flowing football down the right, with one touch passing and movement by Groves and Cooke released McDermott behind the full back. Maccaâ€™s cross flew straight into the goalkeeperâ€™s chest at the near post, but as itâ€™s McD, weâ€™ll call it a shot. Still, lovely move, it was like watching the real Town again, not a bunch of blokes stumbling towards their next pay packet. Oh it were grand, lad, as Town surged forward passing to each other, twisting, flicking and shooting. After about quarter of an hour it was like the ghost of Tony Rees had risen from its footballing grave, with a McDermott surge, wall pass, and a Groves flick to release Boulding who had spun around the back. Bouldingâ€™s cross from the bye-line rolled behind Groves, across the penalty area and was sliced away by a concerned Stoke defender.
Have you got it yet? Town, Town, Town, all Town and all along the ground. Thompson kept dropping off the defenders, swaying his hips and twisting away from the lunges. He formed a very effective little double act with Cooke, who just kept on running at the defence. Cooke brought the crowd to its feet with a dribble that began just outside the Town penalty area with a little dummy and twist to glide past Gunnarsson, a very large Icelandic glacier which is creeping southeastwards at the rate of 4 feet a year. Cooke just kept on going as the blue sea parted in front of him. About 25 yards out he let fly, with his shot being deflected by a large defenderâ€™s large boot - Shtaniuk, I think. Shtaniuk, I must confirm, is his name not a description. Still more Town attacks, the quality as well as the frequency increasing, and all inside the first 25 minutes too. McDermott, inside the Stoke half, underneath the Stones/Smiths/Findus stand, chipped a careful pass up to Boulding, about 20 yards out in the centre. Boulding laid a first time cushioned volley pass into a big space out on the Town right. Cooke came steaming in and hit a slicing, swinging right foot volley a yard wide of the â€˜keeperâ€™s near post.
We havenâ€™t finished yet, you know. A free kick on Townâ€™s left, near the half way line, was punted into the right hand corner of the Stoke penalty area. Thompson controlled the ball on his chest, swivelled and hooked a volley straight to a slightly startled goalkeeper. You can hardly blame him for being surprised. Town strikers donâ€™t do shots, let alone first time, hooking volleys, and on target too. Weâ€™d entered the world of the strange. A couple of minutes later Thompson was at it again, you know, that shooting thing. On the left side of the Stoke area he chased a hard, driven pass from Cooke, controlled it a la Mendonca on the his right toe and in an instant hooked a volley from a narrow angle across the face of goal. People were starting to sit up, poised on the edge of their seats, actually expecting something to happen, rather than hoping for something to turn up. You know the world is right when Pouton does his step over, and after 36 minutes 42 seconds it arrived. His public acknowledged him appropriately. He had rather teased us with a couple of new tricks, being double drag backs, where he rolls his foot over the ball a couple of times, whilst performing a three point turn (always aware of oncoming traffic before beginning the procedure). We can confirm that Pouton passed his driving test.
A couple of minutes after Poutonâ€™s posing the afternoon took a wholly expected turn. As the ball was simply chipped up the left touchline, the Stoke right back, Thomas, jumped above Thompson, and smashed his right forearm into the back of Thompsonâ€™s neck. Thompson was flattened, Rodger and Wilkinson, who were perhaps 5 yards away, went ballistic, running on the pitch gesticulating wildly with their elbows. Stoke players snarled, Wilkinson and their substitute â€˜keeper had a shoving match, Rodger and Pulis disappeared into a ruck which included stewards and police officers, and the rest is guesswork, as players converged, with Pouton and Gallimore prominent. The referee indicated that Thomas had used an elbow and...booked him. The fourth official minced onto the pitch and had a little chat with the referee, the upshot being the removal of Rodger. The crowd were in uproar, a seething mass of indignant anger. As the crowd were still rumbling about the rumble, Gallimore lumped the free kick towards the penalty area. Thompson ran behind the defence, way out to the right of the Stoke penalty area. THOMPSON controlled the ball, glided inside one challenge and, as a second arrived, flicked a firm shot with the outside of his right boot low past the â€˜keeper into the bottom left hand corner. Outstanding shooting, get that man a crate of beer. The goalkeeper hadnâ€™t moved by the time the ball was past him and before the Town crowd were up celebrating. And a righteous joy it was too, Tony Gallimore was not the only person to indicate to Pulis what the score was, but only the Town score, no nought required. Coyne stood facing the Pontoon roaring and roaring with arms raised.
Half time: Grimsby Town 2 Stoke City 0
Caught your breathe yet? Well, have a rest, itâ€™s half time and Town were walking all over their woeful opponents, the bores in blue. Whoâ€™d have thought that eh? Further analysis not required, domination in every respect. The passion, the organisation, the flair was all there in black and white. Pouton back, Pontoon purring. You bet your sweet bippy it was, for he was in that mood where he has decided none shall pass. And they didnâ€™t.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Is Santos one of the Ents?".
The report continues in the second half.
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