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Fools Rushed in: Rushden Report
By: Tony Butcher
A bright, clear warm and still afternoon in the heart of heritage Britain, nobbly old Northamptonshire. Town fans swarmed over Irthlingborough in search of enlightenment.
In fact the only people to be seen in Irthlingborough were Town fans, leaving one to wonder whether they have to bus in the home support. Judging by the fleet of coaches, the answer must be yes. A gleaming grey shed in landscaped surroundings greeted the 686 Town fans who were herded into seats behind a goal by stewards of varying hairstyles. Well, thatâ€™s not entirely true, only one of the stewards had hair, but he had varying styles, topped (or rather bottomed) by a pony tail.
The pursuit of hirsutical excellence did not stop on the terraces, for the programme revealed the neo-micromullet (Burgess), the slick back spiv (Hanlon) and toppermost of the croppermost, Underwood, who had clearly modelled himself on Claudio Caniggia after a particularly heavy sleep. Or party. The clothes line round the temple completed the effect perfectly.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows :- Davison, McDermott, Young, Edwards, Crowe, Cas, Hamilton, Campbell, Anderson, Boulding and Onuora. The substitutes were Pettinger, Groves, Wheeler, Soames and Jevons. Young partnered Edwards in the middle of defence, with Crowe at left back. Everyone else was where youâ€™d expect them to be. The substitutes bench didnâ€™t inspire thoughts of great derring do to come, unless youâ€™re one of the evangelical Jevontists who believe in the second coming of the son of cod. Atheists and aesthetes werenâ€™t so impressed.
Rushden warmed up by practicing headers, always a bad sign. Lowe, big lumbering Lowe returned for Rushden to accompany tubby old happy Jack, who has been a constant pest to Town. I wish heâ€™d go and live on the Isle of Man. Rushden seemed to line up in a 4-4-2 formation as well and even though they wore white shirts and blue shorts Town ran out in their usual first team kit.
The wandering eye was caught by the plastic owl perched on top of the stand to the right, perhaps to ward off evil spirits. A nice, clean, neat, small, silent and extremely characterless sight was spread before the Town support. It felt like a community theatre in the provinces where folk singers rattle their beards and minor radio celebrities do readings of comic verse. It is an excellent non-league ground.
Town kicked off towards the home support and into the sun. Campbell carefully caressed the ball 20 yards in front of Onuora for a throw in down the Rushden right. Rushden flipped the ball upfield and were offside. They were always offside. That was their first half, being offside. The Town defence simply took one step forward and up went the linesmanâ€™s flag. It was quite fun to watch.
Within the first minute there was a Town effort on goal. The ball was crossed up to the right, half cleared and Cas thundered infield and headed back to Onuora, just outside the penalty area on the centre right. Iffy turned and flicked the ball over the defence. Boulding surged forward, held off the defender and, from a narrow angle and about 8 yards wide of goal, dragged a shot across the face of goal and a few inches wide of the far post. A couple of minutes later Anderson hit a free kick from about 35 yards out which curled, dipped and zipped into Evansâ€™ midriff.
Rushden attacked and, no, hang on, Lowe was offside. Scrub that.
Town passed, Town moved, Town freely roamed down the flanks, exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the Rushden kids. Like bellows, Town squeezed Rushden into the centre, then released Crowe and McDermott down the flanks. In, out, in, out, though perhaps Rushden werenâ€™t quite shaken all about. Perhaps a little ruffle of their hair now and again, with a pinch of their rosy cheeks. Minutes ticked by and even the most bellicose Town fan was reduced to silence. The ambiance was as flat as the fens. Is this the footballing personification of Neptune - planet football with no atmosphere. Less "Who are you?" but "Where are you?". We could see them, those woolly hatted masses in the home stands. We presumed they were alive, for once or twice movement was discernable, or was it an animatronics experiment on a grand scale. Hello, how are you, are you lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely? Or perhaps it was the acoustics, eh?
Hello Mr Boulding! After about 14 minutes McDermott flicked Cas free down the right. The Dutch Destroyer smacked a low cross in towards the centre of the penalty area and Boulding twisted and steered a first time shot that crawled over the cross bar. Ah, thatâ€™s better Town. This was pleasant, this was as relaxing as a Radox bath - lots of frothiness to sink into with a satisfied smile. Ooh, our toes just touched the cold tap. Jack indulged in some jingly-jugglery on their right hand touchline, about 18 yards out. The ball was tapped through the Town defence and Jack zoomed towards the touchline. He crossed and the unmarked Burgess thumped a header low down towards Davisonâ€™s feet, who parried back towards the edge of the penalty area. Danger cleared.
Now, back to the old routine, with Hamiltonâ€™s determination to avoid controlling the ball being the only entertainment. Tick, tick, tick, the minutes passed, unlike Rushden. There was a kind of hush all over the ground, broken only the heavy metal thunder of a motorbike heading down the highway, heading for adventure. If only the players would make things happen. Rushden surged forward and..., nope, offside. A man in a short grey coat, maybe entering his second childhood, stood up in the stand to our right, remonstrating wildly with a clenched fist. Passion, at last! Town had some half chances to cross, but big boots and even bigger bottoms got in the way, with just a couple of corners resulting. And from them, like the ITV winter schedules, nothing of any consequence emerged. Even Rushden joined in with this orgy of almostness, having a shot blocked at a corner, a cross plucked off Loweâ€™s head by Davison, McDermottâ€™s knee kneeing the ball away, that sort of humdrum nothingness that is the stuff of lower division football.
Town were slowly, slowly imposing their will upon the rather feeble Rushden midfield, and Cas was beginning to flex his shoulders and tweak his throttle cables. All of which meant Townâ€™s next foray was a bit of a surprise as Crowe bazoomed down the left wing, overlapping like a frightened elk and heading off towards the West Country without a by your leave. Into the area, a left footed cross and the Rushden defence had a little game of pinball. Off Edwards, onto Hunterâ€™s back, lights flashing, bells ringing. Ding, ding, ding, ding. Tilt. Rushden disturbed many a slumbering Mariner with another dink over the top...arghhhh, offside again. Half an hour had simply flown by.
Casâ€™s cockiness almost gifted Rushden a goal, as he controlled the ball over a Hamiltonian distance, straight to an opponent, about 40 yards out. One pass later and the ball was launched over the top from left to right, with Jack sprinting away . Young hassled, harried and harangued Jack wider and wider, with the resulting shot, from about 10 yards out and to the left of goal, skewing high, wide and very ugly. Oh, I just realised, he wasnâ€™t flagged for offside. Now thereâ€™s a first. Town responded by retaining possession, McDermott to Cas, to Campbell, to Hamilton, across, down, up, back across the pitch and back to McDermott, whose cross was cleared for a corner on the left. Surely we wouldnâ€™t try it again? Surely the opposition wouldnâ€™t fall for it again? Campbell passed the ball out to the unmarked ANDERSON, 25 yards out, who shimmied right and thwacked a low drive which went underneath the goalkeeper in the centre of the goal. Yes, they fell for it and, fortunately for Town, the goalkeeper didnâ€™t. We cheered, we laughed, at last dominance and superiority rewarded.
Straight from the kick off Town regained possession and attacked down the right. Boulding was fouled on the edge of the penalty area and Hamilton rolled the free kick along the 18 yard line to the unmarked Anderson, who hit a twisting, turning first time shot towards the top left hand corner of the goal. Evans, brilliantly, sailed on hitherto hidden thermals to parry the ball away for a corner. I have a vague recollection that somewhere around this time Edwards glanced a header just wide of Evansâ€™ right hand post from a cross by Cas. Some of the names and dates may have been changed to protect the identity of our source.
So there we are, an easy-peasy lemon squeezy half. Purringly easy. Far too easy. Lowe was a lumbering lump of leaden footed lignite, all arms and, well, thatâ€™s it - arms. Jack was peripheral, and the rest of â€˜em scurried around to no great effect. Rushden had barely got into the Town penalty area, and Davison made one save and a couple of collections at feet. One got the feeling the Town players realised they could do anything they liked with this game, for a few party tricks started to creep into their play. Did I tell you Rushden were caught offside a few times? The Town fans roused themselves into one of those rolling, rocking chants that starts with Grovesâ€™ clapping on request.
It was just so very, very easy.
Stuâ€™s Half Time Toilet Talk
"Can someone turn the sun off please, itâ€™s blocking my view".
"It depends which side of the River Nene youâ€™re from".
"This is far too easy, Townâ€™ll sleepwalk this away".
"Mm, Furneaux looks like heâ€™s in the Ant Hill Mob".
"It was only last Saturday that Ross played the trombone."
The report continues in the Second Half
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