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Square Trek Episode 1: Crawley Town.
By: Ian Townsend
Square Trek......to Boldly go Where no Mariner Has Gone Before
Timeline: August 14th, 1971: Grimsby Town hammer local rivals Scunthorpe United at Blundell Park 4-1 at the start of a season in which the football club regained its place in the hearts of the people of the town after several years of slow, but inexorable decline.
Fast forward exactly 39 years: Could Neil Woods "class of 2010" arrest an even steeper decline as Grimsby Town looked forward with some trepidation to their first season of non-league football in exactly 100 years?
That, and many other thoughts may well have been in the heads of the faithful as they made the M25 induced, long journey to the small dormitory town of Crawley in West Sussex.
Despite the arrogance of some present about the state of Crawley’s facilities the fact remains that there are far, far worse grounds in the Football League than the Broadfield Stadium: A neat mix of standing and seating with three sides fully developed, a bar which made away fans very welcome and some of the happiest stewards outside of Christmas World. Rather bizarrely the club shop was inside the ground at the Home End and you were given your own escort for a visit.
The club may however wish to reconsider their decision not to allow "Pay on the Gate" as queues of some length were still present at both kiosks as the game got underway.
Clearly mindful of the need to get off to a good start Neil Woods put his faith in the players available who made significant contributions to a satisfactory pre-season.
Town lined up with:
Wood, Kempson, Watt, Ridley
Bore, Leary, Hudson, Coulson,
Subs: Eagle, Dixon, Cummins, Garner, Samuels
The early exchanges were, as might have been expected, heavily in favour of Crawley for whom new signings Tubbs and Torres were prominent. Within the first twenty minutes both could have got on the score sheet but were thwarted by poor decision making (in the case of Torres, who when he'd created a bit of space chose to pass instead of testing Arthur) and poor finishing in the case of Tubbs who pulled a shot wide when handily placed and couldn't keep his header down from 8 yards when unmarked.
For their part Town were struggling to keep the ball and seemed fazed by the way Crawley closed down the space in front of them. Tempers became slightly frayed and Watt had the dubious honour of Town’s first yellow card of the season after a spat saw him forehead to forehead Tubbs.
A foul on Wood which saw the young defender on the floor with his opponent’s studs in his chest area resulted in a booking for the Crawley player.
Gradually as the half wore on Town began to come out of their shell. They began to get the ball out wide, particularly to Coulson and he put in some good crosses which somehow evaded the incoming Peacock and Connell. Free kicks were plentiful and from one, Coulson delivered a fine ball onto the head of Watt who could only direct a header wide.
In a moment of humour keeper Arthur endeared himself to the Town faithful by suggesting to a ball boy that he might actually like to get the ball. A quick "high fives" after suggested that the youngster hadn't indeed "taken his ball home".
On the 35 minute mark came the event which undoubtedly changed the game. Ridley getting forward from left back hoisted a deep cross towards Connell. Ex Brighton keeper Kuipers in the Crawley goal although alive to the danger came rushing out of his goal, misjudged the flight and, in an attempt to avoid the ball going over his head punched it clear of Connell. The linesman flagged to indicate the keeper was outside of his box and referee Berry had no option but to send him off.
Crawley sacrificed Tubbs striking partner McAllister to get the replacement keeper on.
The punishment for Kuiper’s misdemeanour although devastating got 100% worse as from the resulting free kick Peacock put the Mariners ahead. Town’s captain stepped up and, as the Crawley wall jumped to a man, he side-footed the ball into the net beyond the reach of Jordan who’s first contribution to the game was to pick the ball out of his goal.
For the remainder of the half Town had Crawley on the back foot, and although no further chances were created the Mariners looked comfortable against their reduced opponents.
Half Time: Crawley Town 0 Grimsby Town 1
The second half began with an increase in urgency shown by the hosts, clearly benefiting from an "up and at ‘em" team talk from their controversial manager Evans (who had been the subject of sustained chanting about his er "fitness to run a football club" and the brandishing of several brown envelopes containing forged £20.00 notes! Tut, tut Northern humour eh??)
Gradually Town were pushed back to the point where a latecomer might have wondered who was the team with 10 men. The fans were becoming (understandably) nervous as the passage of the game brought back uncomfortable memories of far too many games last season. Town defended deep, gave the ball away far too often and decided to join their opponents in hopeful punting of the ball in the vague direction of the opposition goal.
The fans rallied, and when the clearly injured Wood was replaced by Eagle (allowing Bore to take up the right back position) the team followed suit. There was still time however for Torres to blow the chance of a (deserved) equaliser as he could only find the side netting with just Arthur to beat.
Town entered the last five minutes with probably their best two moves of the match. Some fine, crisp passing moved the ball from left to right where Coulson’s cross seemed to get a slight nick by Leary away from the on-rushing Connell. Within a minute a fine Eagle cross was laid back to Coulson by Connell but he couldn't keep his shot down.
Town successfully negotiated four minutes of added time and the whistle blew to much relief from the officially noted 768 Town fans as Town recorded their first opening day win away from home since Preston in the 1990/91 promotion season.
Final Score: Crawley Town 0 Grimsby Town 1
Verdict: As the old cliché goes, "A win is a win". Town will need to play far better than this as a team if they are to progress in this league. There were some very good individual performances from Watt and Kempson who share my "Man of the Match" award. Both look like they are prepared to die for the cause and got a head or boot to just about everything.
Neil Woods has a decision to make about Peter Bore. On today’s showing he is not a right winger and seems to lose the impact he had last season from coming from deep.
The game was crying out for someone to control midfield. Quite simply Town had no-one who stepped up to the mark in that department. It looks like Woods has realised that this is still an area of weakness for him as illustrated by his decision to play Peacock deeper. Whether he will live to regret not adding such a player (if one could be found at the rate Town can afford to pay) is something that will be discussed in minute detail as the season progresses.
Home at 11:00 after a 17 hour day.....Now where is Forest Green??
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