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Question of the Week

Will you attend any Checkatrade Trophy games next season?

All of them
All home games
The odd game
Knock out games
Final only
Total boycott


JPK: MOM
JPK: MOM

A Game of Two Halves

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 02/11/2008

QUESTIONS were being asked as Merlin, Revis and I were being blown along Cleethorpes seafront in arctic conditions. "Whose idea was it to come here?" I heard. Well, here we were again, on our way again to another mind-blowing footballing adventure at Blundell Park.

We were at least prepared for it, having equipped ourselves with coats, hats, gloves and anything to guard against the Humberian wind chill which now threatened us. Some people would regard this natural state as paradise. Others would see it as freezing grimness. We had already had a foretaste during our half an hour wait at Newark station on the way here. "Does it have a shopping centre?" asked Revis, hoping to blunt out the experience with some retail therapy and warmth. No. Newark is uninviting, cold, bleak and desolate. Doncaster, where we normally change trains, suddenly became a hip place to be. Dire warnings were to be found on the doorways of Newark Northgate station: "You are now entering a non-public area". This did not concern us as we did not want to pass through doors. We only wanted to go to Grimsby. There we would be entering a non-footballing area, judging by recent experiences.

We bumped into Grim Rob in Freshney Place. Still traumatised by the ghastly defeat at Dagenham and Redbridge, he was apparently still delirious. "Today will be a day to tell your grandchildren about" he predicted. To be fair, he did not say in what sense. I guess the Peterloo Massacre fell into this category.

The signs were not good. We conceded four goals at Dagenham and Redbridge and some say we were lucky to contain them to that. We haven't won all season and haven't beaten Darlington for some 30 years, let alone recently. The indications were that we might struggle. On a personal level, going to watch Town v Darlington has become a family tradition. So has not seeing Town manage to score against them.

These were my reflections as we took our bus journey through the increasingly ravaged and dilapidated streets of Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Depression was everywhere ... the closure of pubs, boarded up shops. The Darleys Hotel a.k.a. The Leaking Boot is no more. Instead all that remains are tanning shops and hairdressers. Even Loftus’s the model shop is now a "hair studio". Red and white tape, attached to the scaffolding on Riby Square corner, fluttered violently in the wind. You won't walk into the scaffolding but the tape will lash you. At least, as Revis observed, the fish shops are thriving still ... much needed warmth in a bleak, cold scene.

I revealed to Revis that we were going in the Pontoon stand today. "I won't be able to see the ships", she mused. We met up with Andy Humbo, who rang his partner Ruth to announce his position "We’re at the match, it’s cold and We’re bottom of the league". Strangely, she did not rise to the occasion and respond with envious longings. Had he mentioned that we'd got Rob Atkinson and Jean-Paul Kalala back on loan, she might have been impressed. He failed to mention the evacuation of the Carlsberg Lower stand "for safety reasons", potentially the highlight of the afternoon. It’s all about presentation.

"Fresh Air" announced Andy euphemistically, as if it were a selling point. The game started.

Town lined up in 4 - 5 - 1 formation: Barnes, Stockdale - Bennett - Heywood - Newey, Till - Clarke - Kalala - Trotter - Hegarty, North.

On 5 minutes after an uninspiring opening, Bennett slipped for no apparent reason on the edge of Town’s penalty area. Darlington took advantage. There was a chance from a tight angle but the ball was crossed low to Purdie, whose shot ran through the legs of the Town defence and found the unmarked Clarke who clipped it in from 6 yards. Town 0, Darlington 1.

Newey then wasted a corner. I then noticed the ironic display on the score board above the Osmond stand: "Stuck in a rut? Want to change?"

After Jamie Clarke got a good shot in for Town, Darlington had two corners on 14 minutes. Both gave cause for concern that the Town defence weren't quick enough to react and sure enough, the second one was cleared hurriedly by Heywood but only to ex Town man Ravenhill on the edge of the box. With plenty of time and space Ravenhill controlled the ball and sent a thunderous looping left footed shot into the corner of the net. Town 0, Darlington 2.

On 28 minutes, Jamie Clarke was booked for a clumsy tackle. Town were all at sea. It seemed as if they were all desperate to get rid of the ball. If any passes were put together, moves were fizzling out on the edge of the box. The Darlington goalkeeper had nothing to do. On top of this, Town were losing out on one-on-one balls, weren't chasing for possession and all in all were putting in a performance which exuded zero confidence.

Then, on 33 minutes, something happened, at least in a psychological sense. Heywood came off and was replaced by Atkinson. Manager Newell’s move had three positive effects: the under-performing Heywood came off, a good defender came on, and Bennett got the captain’s armband.

The effect on Bennett, who had slipped up to lead to Darlington’s first goal, was noticeable. Bravo to Mr Newell for giving Bennett a much needed vote of confidence. If Town’s defence tightened up, the overall performance remained lacklustre. Jamie Clarke had a good run up the left on 41 minutes and put in a dangerous cross, but that was it apart from Trotter’s booking on 44 minutes for tripping a

Darlington player. The half ended at 0 - 2.

Half-time verdict. Town had no pattern and didn't look like scoring. The commitment and determination wasn't there, and when they did get the ball, there were no options as the players bunched up or the ball was punted into no man’s land. The board above the Osmond Stand referred to "Inspiring Enterprise". There wasn't any from Town, and whilst there was an improvement in the defence after the substitution, it was easy to see why this disorganised rabble hadn't won a league game.

The report continues in the Second Half.

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