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It’s All Over Bar The Chanting
By: Andrew Doherty
AS A Valentine’s Day treat, I took Mrs D to the Bury game at Blundell Park. She couldn't understand could why the people round us were getting so agitated and bordering on nervous breakdowns. We were winning at the she mentioned this.
Further training is evidently required for her to appreciate the finer points Of course in the tradition of this season we threw it all away and lost 1 - 2, but she did say she enjoyed it and asked when the next game was. I didn't ask but left it thus as a multiple choice question in my mind: "the next game is on x date and:
- 1. I'd like to come back and sing my heart out for the lads
- 2. I'd like to come back, have great fish and chips and savour the ethereal atmosphere of being at a Town match
- 3. I'd like to come back and engage myself in the experience of having a near heart attack watching Grimsby Town or
- 4. I'd like to know when the next game is so that I can be as far away as possible when it happens"
So I asked if she wanted to come to Luton with me. People like to receive invitations, it is said. The response was that she had found a Buddhist meeting to go to. They chant at Buddhist meetings.
I therefore went on my own to Luton for a different form of chanting ... and I suspected, ranting and mind-enhancing psychological warfare of the football-spectating variety. The signs really weren't good. We were playing a decent, spirited side, we weren't playing Lincoln, and the 11 individuals who constitute our team-free zone were not up for it against Chester according to the Sage Andrew of Humberstone .... and Mike Newell. People refer to the magic of European nights. This was Relegation night.
I walked into the ground 5 minutes before kick-off after successfully orientating myself round the concrete hinterland and overbridges of Luton and risking a dodgy burger with another Grimbarian Andrew. The terraced streets around the Kenilworth Road ground remind me of BP. It’s old fashioned football territory. The ground does not. It is soulless and drab. You couldn't glitz up this place. No leisure, no pleasure. You come here because you have to.
At least it’s sociable at the Grimsby end. Swanny and his mate Mick were there carrying out their statutory duties so I sat down next to them. The turnout from the Town fans was impressive - maybe 300. The mood was mixed. We were up for it but there was an air of resignation too. What really mattered was whether the team was up for it.
Town looked like Denmark, resplendent in red with a white stripe. 4 - 4 - 2 was the formation: Henderson - Stockdale Bennett Atkinson Widdowson - Bore Hunt Llewellyn Hegarty - Forbes Akpro.
The game got off to a lively start, with Town having a chance in the second minute. It was Luton who had most of the play though and Stockdale made a couple of useful blocks. On 11 minutes, Luton won a corner, then a Luton player rose above the Town defence to head over. Luton’s tactic seemed to be heave the ball as high up in the air as possible. Town in the meantime were making no progress. The tactic seemed to be to slot low through balls through to Forbes and Akpro but nothing was leading to anything. Familiar territory here, then. "Do something" shouted someone close by. Gary suggested that this pearl of tactical analysis came from Mike Newell. Mick had a better idea: "Turn off the floodlights and make it interesting".
Nothing was happening on the pitch but there was plenty being said here in the stand. "you're crap", observed someone. It wasn't clear who he was referring to. Everyone, probably. This was a game of quotations. Akpro had a header on 25 but there was o power behind it. The game continued to have no continuity. Luton’s tactics were to fall over, win free kicks and then heave the ball in the air as if aerial domination won games. The referee joined in and as the game went on, revelled in giving free-kicks to Luton. On 35, Akpro went off on a run but his shot was blocked. The ball crossed between Town and Luton players from side to side. Gary commented that for best viewing, this would be better seen on a widescreen TV. I suggested moving goal posts round to the sides.
Town finally won a free kick themselves on 37, which Hegarty blasted in. The ball came back for a throw in. The move broke down when not the first time tonight, the off side flag went up. Two minutes later Town earned another free kick, prompting the chant "Two free kicks, you're having a laugh". Hegarty’s curling kick just missed. Town were having a better spell, and on 42 Akpro went off on another run but was blocked head on by a defender who got booked. Hegarty’s free kick from 30 yards out was a pearl, and Bennett got above the defence, heading into the left corner of the net. Luton 0, Grimsby 1. Luton responded with purpose and won a corner immediately. Then right on half time, after a series of attacks, a Luton attacker was allowed space on the left. He squirted the ball across. The ball squirted off the inside of the post and Luton’s Bower pushed it towards the goal. Bennett couldn't stop it going over the line. Luton 1, Grimsby 1. The half-time whistle blew seconds later.
This was a real 4th division affair, lacking in quality. From Town’s point of view, we were trying but there was no pattern. Attempts to push up were stifled by an effective off side trap. Forbes and Akpro were putting in loads of effort. Stockdale and Bennett looked resilient at the back, and Hunt was getting involved in the middle, but generally the midfield wasn't creating anything and the players weren't creating space or options for each other to develop anything. Luton meanwhile were poor, relying on free-kicks, high balls and headers.
The struggle continued in the second half. Akpro turned deftly on 50 on the edge of the box but his shot didn't challenge the goalkeeper. On 52, Hegarty surged up the left, beat the defender and put in a good cross but Akpro couldn't get power behind the header. If he'd left it, Forbes would have been better placed. "Talk to each other" came the advice from the crowd. All I saw over the next few minutes was a lot of bustle by both sides and along with it a lot of misplaced passes. Hunt and Llewellyn were guilty for Town. Luton were starting to dominate, mainly due to Town’s absent midfield. Akpro and Hegarty showed endeavour and were Town’s main hope on the left side. Nothing was coming from the right side. After the umpteenth offside against Town, Akpro kicked the ball away on 66 and got booked. The game was degenerating into a succession of free kick decisions and off sides. Akpro burst through the middle on 67 but although appearing to be physically blocked by two defenders, no foul was given. The defender ran down the wing with the ball, but Hegarty couldn't catch him up, and ended being booked for a mistimed tackle. Surely this was the trigger to take the tiring Hegarty off and change things around, but Mr Newell apparently didn't see it this way.
On 71, the battling Forbes got pushed in the back but the free kick came to nothing. Forbes again got on the ball moments later but with no-one to pass to and surrounded by three defenders, he had no chance. On 77, Luton had a chance which curled just wide. Luton were now dominant. Bore then got booked for a foul on 82 - this was the first thing I could remember him doing - and conceded a free kick. Luton had moved on from their earlier kick and rush style and had stepped up their game with a series of sweeping passes. Let’s not get carried away though, this wasn't Brazil we were playing. On 84 Luton won a corner. Henderson saved comfortably. Forbes still battled up front for Town but the defence was tightening. Luton continued to attack. On 89, Town at last made a substitution Heywood came on for Llewellyn. A defender for a midfield player. Luton attacked again. Before the defence had a chance to get properly organised, the ball came in from the right to the unmarked Hall, who drilled a low shot under Henderson from inside the box. Luton 2, Grimsby 1. we'd thrown it away again .... but had we? 5 minutes stoppage time was added on. Town hustled but Luton were intent on holding the ball and running down time. At one point, Town won a free kick and the Luton player wouldn't release the ball, causing Henderson to race out from his goal to the touchline to remonstrate with the player. The makings of a mass punch-up developed but the officials calmed the players down, and the game continued, with Henderson and the Luton player booked for their troubles. Town desperately shot at goal, but the ball rebounded off the defenders’ legs, and eventually Akpro hit the side netting. North came on for Hunt in a last, pointless substitution, but the game was over. Final score: Luton Town 2, Grimsby Town 1.
The Verdict. Once again we threw the points away at the end of the game. It’s easy to see why this happens. OK, Luton started to pass the ball around a bit towards the end of the game, and showed skill in defence, but what were Grimsby doing? Early on in the second half Akpro had a shot and then Hegarty got round the defence but after that there was no way through. The midfield kept losing the ball, and even Hunt, whose strength once upon a time lay in winning balls and then coming up with a well-chosen short pass, seemed to be panicked into giving the ball away. With no backbone in midfield and woeful passing, Town just kept putting themselves under continued pressure. Bennett, after a solid first half and a great headed goal, started to balloon the ball out of defence - the new Tom Newey, as the guy behind me observed. So with a non-existent midfield, everything hinged on Akpro’s pace and Forbes’s determination. It was 11 individuals again without an on-field leader putting themselves under pressure against a reasonable, but not exceptional Luton side. The substitutions were bizarre. With Town under pressure, a defender came on and without properly having the chance to settle, Luton score from an unmarked position. Hmm... Luton looked like scoring but you didn't do us any favours there, Mr. Newell. Bringing North on with seconds to go was utterly pointless. It would have made sense earlier. As for Town’s plus points, well Stockdale had a good first half but tired off, Hegarty had a good 60 minutes and tired off (notice a theme here?), while Akpro ran and ran and showed skill and pace, but needs to be more aware of players around him. My Man of the Match was Forbes - totally committed, he battled heroically to create something but was given no chance with two or three defenders on him allowing him no space.
The agony continues. Mathematically we can stay up of course but on this showing I can't see us winning any games. we're in a mess. What to do? I think I'll take up chanting.
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