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Square Trek: Humbled
By: Ian Townsend
I HAVE a firm belief that in order to be a Grimsby Town fan during any time over the last few years you have to approach away matches with no great expectations from a footballing perspective.
It might seem strange to the uninitiated seeing as normally one’s travels wouldn't take them anywhere near a former pit village sandwiched between Cannock and the lovely city of Lichfield but it has served the regulars well over time.
I knew the experience was going to be different from the moment we arrived in the school car park which had been opened to accommodate the expected influx of vehicles from "The East". On enquiring as to the price of parking (fully expecting to be asked to help support the purchase of a new school gym) we did a decent impression of people that have just heard they've won the lottery as the car park attendant uttered those rarely heard words...."It’s free"
A quick walk across half a mile of school football pitch saw us arrive at the rear gate to the neat little ground that was home to Chasetown T.C. - The Scholars.
Eight pounds to get in was another recent first - it seems like ages ago when paying single figures in pounds got you into a football match. Fair play to the club for not capitalising on what was their biggest game since their cup run of 1997 which took them all the way to Round 3 of the F.A. Cup where they eventually lost to Cardiff. So taken by their hosts they were that day that Cardiff fans still come to watch Chasetown on a regular basis and the Cardiff City flag was well in evidence at the back of the goal.
Having got inside the ground there appeared to be something missing. It took a while but eventually the penny dropped. There were no barriers preventing access to all areas of the ground. As we made our way round to the clubhouse to meet our Chasetown supporting friend the lack of any negative vibes was palpable. Stewards greeted you with a smile-not a glare, and several officers of the Staffordshire Constabulary shuffled from foot to foot looking like unnecessary additions to the crowd. You could just imagine them having had to go through rigorous crowd control training including one-to-one instruction from serving Paratroopers on how to deal with the hoards of trouble causers from Grimsby attending a ground only 20 miles from the infamous Burton game in May.
As we took our places leaning over the pitchside barrier it was obvious that fans were entirely mingled in what would have been the "Away End". I cannot, in 40 years of watching Town remember that ever happening (pre-season friendlies apart).
The tannoy system announced three changes to the side which began the game at York 4 days previously.
Kempson and Sinclair were rested with Garner and Hudson coming into the team and youngster Tom Corner getting the nod to partner Alan Connell up front in place of Eagle.
The game began slowly with both sides trying to get to grips with a boggy, flat pitch but all the early signs were that Chasetown saw no reason not to add Grimsby to their lengthening list of bigger "scalps" as they gave it 100% effort. Their football was effectively direct with both Town central defenders having plenty to do in the air. In midfield they had on loan from Telford Richard Davies.
As the half moved on Chasetown’s hard graft against somewhat less than committed defending from Town began to pay dividends and the home side thought they'd taken a deserved lead on 23 minutes when a free kick was bundled home by Chasetown’s rather rotund striker Gary Birch only for the referee to rule it out for either a foul or hand ball as the ball came in.
Regrettably the Mariners didn't heed the warning and the rest of the half saw Birch hit the bar after curling a shot just wide. Davies was allowed safe passage through the midfield on a 20 yard run before a rush of blood saw his shot high and wide. Kenny Arthur was called upon to make a fabulous reflex stop after another shot cannoned off the bar-somehow getting to the point blank rebound.
Anyone watching as a neutral with no idea of the status of the teams taking part would certainly have been hard pressed to know which team were the supposed giants. Town’s only worthwhile effort of the entire half arrived at the 43 minute mark when Connell’s wickedly dipping half volley was tipped over the bar by scholars keeper Price.
HALF TIME: Chasetown 0 Grimsby Town 0.
The second half started with two changes in the Mariners ranks. Peacock replaced Corner who in all honesty had been AWOL for the entire first period and Eagle replacing Coulson who'd been caught early by a somewhat agricultural tackle.
Although Town had more purpose with Peacock leading from the front their play still lacked the cutting edge which had deserted them in the away games at York and Wrexham..
The game should have turned on 53 minutes. Bore having had a shot charged down was out of position as Chasetown broke quickly down their left. As winger Smith broke into the box at pace he was upended by Eagle back covering with the referee having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
The Chasetown fan stood next to me advised me "Not to worry, we've missed our last five" and so it turned out as Egan’s spot kick was well saved by Arthur.
Surely this "let off" would wake Town from their stupor? Not on your life!! The corner conceded by Arthur with his penalty save came into the box where the whole defence in switched off mode watched as Birch nipped in to score unchallenged.
Before Town could regroup the deficit was doubled. This time a clear foul on Ridley was missed by the referee but, instead of getting on with it the Town defence to a man stood and appealed leaving the lively Davies with the relatively simple task of rounding Arthur and tapping home.
Once again the boos rang out from the 600+ Town fans in the crowd.
There is nothing a giant killing team like more than the challenge of defending a two goal lead. As the game reached the three quarters mark Town’s superior fitness began to tell but Chasetown threw themselves into every challenge, blocking and kicking the ball away at every opportunity.
At last though, prompted by the excellent Peacock Town were beginning to find space with Peter Bore and Eagle putting several dangerous looking balls into the area. Connell had a shot tipped round the post as Town went for broke. On 70 minutes it was Connell who looked to have brought the Mariners back into it. A through ball saw Town’s top striker on his own versus the keeper but Price, clearly inspired by his colleagues spread himself and the ball was deflected for a corner.
Chasetown’s relief was short lived however and on 78 minutes Alan Connell was on hand in the six yard box to knock in his 20th goal of a very productive season so far.
Neil Woods made his final substitution of the game when Watt replaced Ridley.
For the last six minutes of normal time and the six minutes added on Town battered their opponents but a mixture of desperate defending, brave blocks and liberal good fortune prevented them from getting a thoroughly undeserved replay. The final irony being Connell’s last seconds header hitting the post and rolling before being hacked clear.
The final whistle sounded to ecstatic scenes from the Chasetown players and their fans. The team from the strangely named Evo Stick league thoroughly deserved their win. The measure of the gulf between the teams off the pitch was measured by the news that Chasetown were hoping to use the money to put seats on top of the club house. Unfortunately for Grimsby Town football matches are decided on the field of play and Town were given a lesson in commitment, effort and togetherness which they would do well to learn from.
FULL TIME: Chasetown 2 Grimsby Town 1.
Man of the Match. Only two possible candidates. Alan Connell did just about everything which could reasonably be expected of him but perhaps bizarrely I'm giving it to Lee Peacock who quietened his critics with an excellent 45 minutes of commitment, mobility and animation.
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