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Grimsby v Middlesbrough Report
By: Tony Butcher
ONLY if you promise not to tell as it was, after all, a "behind a very open back door" friendly with Middlesbrough's reserves. The scoreboard briefly flickered into life, but didn't reel off the two teams, so it was guesswork for the Boroboys.
Or a quick scan of their official site, to reveal their squad as :- Crossley, Russell, Davies, Gulliver, Queudrue, Morrison, Smith, Downing, Johnston, Marinelli, Cade, Close and Wilson. But their official site didn't reveal the hair, for there is clearly a hirsutical hierarchy. Those who haven't been in the first team - shaven headed. Those who have sat on the 1st team coach - bearded. Those who have actually factually played in the premiership - the tip a plate of spaghetti over my head look. Highlights-a-go-go. Mmm, the two beards looked like they should be sat in a glass booth in the Hague. And I haven't got to describing the big centre back. At first, as the scintillatingly sizzling sun sparkled off his locks, it seemed he'd stolen Colin Hendry's hair from 1989. Then it struck, like an arrow through the forehead. It was a cross between the famous Futcher feathercut circa 1976 and a Midwich cuckoo. Magnificent, and the season hasn't even started yet.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows :- Pettinger, Crowe, Crane, Ford, Barnard, Campbell, Hamilton, Bolder, Anderson, Ten Heuvel and Boulding. The substitutes were Hughes, Ward, Hildred, Wheeler (all unused) Mansaram, Young, Rowan, Edwards and Hockless. Paul Groves spent the first half sat alone in the middle of the Main Stand with a little piece of paper and a pen, making gnomic notes, or perhaps a series of questions to be answered. "Can Crowe defend?". "Is Boulding getting fitter?". "Who is that young man sat to my right wearing a Town kit?". The answer to that final question, my fine feathered friend, is Phil Jevons, who was slumped next to Davison and McDermott in the Press Box.
A couple of the Middlesbrough reserves were confused by a mobile phone. It rang, they stared at it, they held it, they continued to stare at it until an old geezer walked up and pointed to the big button on the top.
Middlesbrough kicked off towards the Pontoon, and Town got the ball occasionally. For the first 20 minutes a footballing lesson was conducted, free of charge, by the visiting emeritus professors of pomp. Tip, tap, tip, tap, pass, move, spin, twist, flick and shoot. They may be reserves, but they had organisation and speed of foot and thought. They were simply two leagues better than the Town players and it was reminiscent of when English teams get flushed down the UEFA Cup toilet in September. We huff and puff gallantly, but they slickly make us sick with a blur of one-twos.
Within the first 10 minutes Town should have been at least 3 down. Firstly the goal though, after a just a few minutes. Anderson, on the Town left, was dispossessed just inside the 'Boro half and they broke forward in numbers, driving towards the centre, exchanging passes and tapping the ball through the centre backs for a striker to run on to. He controlled the ball and, as Pettinger half came out, rolled it sideways to another UNKNOWN FOOTSOLDIER on their left, who calmly stroked the ball into the empty goal from just inside the penalty area. The Town defence was shredded, with Crowe perhaps the most out of position of the lot, not knowing whether to come across to cover the centre backs or mark his winger. In the end he was just standing around looking lost. Another couple of minutes of Middlesbrough possession ended up with another shot, this time Marinelli, just outside the penalty area on the centre left, thwacked a thumping great drive against the underside of the crossbar. Phew, what a scorcher! And again, a few minutes later, a quick break, some exquisite one touch flicks and tricks and suddenly a striker was inside the area alone, with just Pettinger to beat. Out came the blue clad youngster and the ball ricocheted away off his shins. A good block from the previously startled rabbit.
Take as read that Middlesbrough had more shots which went close, after marvellous interchanging. Most went wide, just. A few were on target but Pettinger began to grow, literally. It must have been all that fertilizer in the goalmouth. Doesn't the pitch look good! Where previously he seemed to shrivel up as they approached, he began to fill the goal with his superwide arms. He made a couple of excellent plunging, plucking saves and was well positioned at free kicks such that the ball came straight to him.
Bolder and Hamilton were very cumbersome in the centre, for Middlesbrough just played around and between them. Neither was capable of running as quickly as the red menacers, and so the defence faced waves of Boroboys flowing towards them like rain into a paper cup, straight down the centre. Every Middlesbrough player moved when they attacked. Now that's something Town won't face in the second division. Hamilton looked very sluggish to start with, having one pace and a need to wind himself up, like a tuppenny toy, before he moved. But when he does move he's a bit like an oil tanker, mayhem ensues when he collides with rocks and smaller shipping. Anderson was almost invisible, spending his time betwixt and between defence and attack, he seemed more concerned in covering for Barnard when our slimline tonic at left back stormed down the wing, overlapping at will. A sight not seen at Blundell Park for decades, a free roaming, rampaging left back.
Town had sporadic attacks, with the best move being a surge down the right and a Campbell rolling pass into Ten Heuvel's feet, about 10 yards out wide of goal. He held the ball up, the defender off, and caressed it inside to the unmarked Boulding, who miss-hit the shot into the side netting. Campbell, again conspicuous by his attendance, smacked a shot wide from 20 yards, dribbled one straight to Crossley and was generally a busy little bee, prompting, probing and pulling some finely made strings. Now Ten Heuvel had a harder time than against Boston, but still managed to produce moments of hope with post Woodsian rolling flicks and intelligent use of his chest. There is the merest hint of the Island of Dr Moreau about him with his long neck and De Boer brothers forehead. But so what, it's not a beauty pageant, it's football, but not as we know it, for two strikers striking make five gold rings. Boulding/Ten Heuvel is certainly a work in progress, with an understanding starting to emerge.
And the half ended, but not before some excitement. Middlesbrough had long since started a continental drift towards a cup of tea, with Town grinding forward, finding little holes in the 'Boro fence. Groves suddenly shouted "C'mon Barney - clock", which must be a contender for first toilet talk of the season. And Barnard duly obliged by running down the touchline. His first cross was blocked but the ball rebounded to him. He spun and clipped a lovely low curling cross into the very heart of the 6 yard box. Crossly flapped on his line, BOULDING threw himself at the ball and produced a flicking, rolling, tumbling header into the centre left of the goal. Groves leapt up, punched the air and exclaimed "Yes!". Yes indeed.
From the restart, Middlesbrough rolled the ball back and a centre back knocked a slow pass across the face of the penalty area, between Crossley and the left back. Campbell ran on and miss-hit a cross shot from 8 yards out.
And that was the first half. A salutary lesson for 20 minutes, and then gradually Town got the ball and were able to create a few moments of danger. The defence looked very vulnerable to fast breaks and especially players carrying the ball towards them. Ford seemed to have woken up half an hour after everyone else, for Simon the Somnambulist dreamed his way through the first 30 minutes, then he woke up, the sun was shining, he was amongst friends. Crowe has no idea where to stand, nor how to tackle, his method being to collide with the nearest opponent. He'd be the 5th best right back at Town if he was signed. He did make a couple of decent forays upfield and produced two very dangerous crosses, dipping low in to the near post.
The report continues in the second half.
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