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Tension at the Town
By: Andrew Doherty
IT was a windy day in November 2006 when I went to Sixfields to watch Town play at Northampton in the FA Cup. Ending at 0 - 0, it was a thrill-free experience. The seats were hard and I recall no reason on the pitch to make me want to stand up and exude trickles of passion.
Excitement doesn’t go with Town’s games against Northampton in my experience. Tension would be a better word to describe it. Even in the meteoric 1998 play-off game against the Cobblers the euphoria only came at the end after 90 minutes of hard fought struggle. I expected more of the same in today’s FA Cup second round clash at Blundell Park. Bottom of League 2 and after an unconvincing win against Bishop’s Stortford in the first round, you might think that we had the upper edge. But Northampton have an astute and tactically aware manager, while we can be prone to unconvincing displays. After the disciplined performances against Scunthorpe and a run of good results however, we had to be confident.
It was a windy day. The floods had subsided for now. Plague and pestilence would have to wait until next week. In the meantime there was a football match to be won.
The atmosphere in Blundell Park was subdued and flat after the cauldron of the Scunthorpe game. Just 3,828 were here to witness this potential money spinner. The 259 from Northampton made a little bit of noise. The teams were going to have to generate their own momentum. Town’s line up was much as expected: McKeown - Hatton, McDonald, Pearson, Thomas - Rodman, Disley, Kerr, Neilson - John-Lewis, Hannah. Town attacked the Osmond end for the first half.
First Half. After 4 minutes Hannah appeared to be flattened when running on to a through pass but the penalty appeal was turned down. Town continued to press and Hannah had a couple of further efforts. 20 minutes had passed and it was clear that this was a battle against a physical Northampton side. John-Lewis displayed trickery and Neilson caused trouble as Town looked the more skilful and dangerous side. Northampton had a number of attacks and shots on goal, but persisted in wasting half chances with loose shots. Blyth was particularly guilty. The game became niggly. The pernickety referee struggled to maintain control. Town wasted a corner after the game was stopped for the referee to sort out the players who were jostling each other in the penalty box. Hannah managed to send in a dangerous cross on 24 minutes but John-Lewis was too far back to glide it in. Then Neilson was tripped but not for the first time, Kerr’s dead ball kick from 35 yards was woeful.
After a promising start, Town were losing their way. Pearson set up a better attack but a poor cross from Rodman brought it to an end. Hatton sent in a cross on 30 minutes which wasn’t followed up, then the same player mopped up with good work before Northampton wasted yet another chance. McDonald showed initiative when spotting the Northampton goalkeeper off his line but this was the wrong player to execute a deft 30 yard chip. After a McKeown save at the Town end on 35 minutes, Thomas raced clear up the left and at the second attempt delivered a good cross to Hannah who sliced his shot wide right from 15 yards. A one-two between Hannah and John-Lewis resulted in the latter being controversially adjudged offside. Northampton broke away on 39 minutes but the attacker was stopped in his tracks, resulting in a free-kick from the edge of the Grimsby box. Inevitably, Hackett curled his shot over. Rodman was then tripped but Kerr merely provided the keeper with catching practice. Northampton won a corner just before half time but McDonald cleared and the follow-up attempt was poor. Hannah was then caught offside again, but Town regained possession and Rodman had a good run before Kerr was caught in possession. Thomas then cut out the resultant threat. At half-time, the score was Grimsby Town 0, Northampton Town 0.
Earlier I had seen the Northampton supporters filing by with "University of Northampton" emblazoned on their shirts. There was very little culture in their performance so far. Northampton had had a good share of the play, but showed little ambition or skill, and wasted numerous opportunities. There were signs that Grimsby were being sucked into the physical battle. Between our failure to control movements on the ground, a resolute defence, poor dead ball play and a referee who seemed on the hunt for infringements, the game was becoming scrappy. This suited Northampton, and Town needed to get their passing game going to achieve more consistency and break the game open.
Second Half. A Rodman run led to a corner on 46 minutes, before Northampton countered, only for play to stop for offside. Northampton continued to hassle and harry Town’s players. They were not pleasant to watch. Another skirmish followed after Neilson was deemed to have put in a late tackle. Neilson came out of it limping. Northampton’s Morris broke away but his shot was cut out easily. On 55 minutes, McDonald was guilty of a sloppy clearance, but retrieved the ball and found Hannah who wriggled clear of the defender and curled a shot which the keeper had to save. Soon after a Hatton throw was headed on and Hannah’s shot from the left centre of the penalty box rebounded off a defender for a corner. Hackett then provided a dangerous cross ball for Northampton but it was beyond the reach of his team mates. Thomas’s determination won a corner on 60 minutes. Then on 64 minutes John-Lewis was tripped 25 yards out after a good passing move. Kerr sent over a curling left-footed cross to the far edge of the penalty box. Pearson rose above the defence and sent a looping header over the goalkeeper into the right hand corner of the net. Town 1, Northampton 0.
Northampton responded immediately by attacking and trying to catch Town’s defence off guard. There was panic, McKeown collided with Rodman, and Town struggled to clear the ball. Ex Town player Widdowson took the ball up the left but was foiled by a superbly timed tackle by Hatton. Colbeck replaced Neilson after 68 minutes, shortly before Hatton put in another saving tackle. Northampton were hurrying while Town were now harrying. It was to Town’s advantage that Northampton seemed deficient in the skills department. Northampton won a corner on 73 minutes. The game was becoming more physical and nasty. Disley was felled by a blow to the head and came off the field. Northampton’s Platt had an altercation with the crowd in the Lower Findus. Thomas responded with a good run but his cross went straight to the keeper Duke who sent a wind-assisted kick to the other end of the field. Hatton struggled but McDonald supported his colleague as each of the defenders had done all afternoon and distracted the Northampton attacker whose shot went wide. Rodman turned skilfully on 78 minutes but his shot went wide. The action was going from one end to the other. After good work from Thomas, Kerr’s corner on 79 minutes was punched away. McDonald then cleared the ball at the Town end before a quick throw from Hatton supplied Hannah who miscued his shot. On 84 minutes McKeown made a good save from a shot by Morris outside the box. A minute later, McDonald fell on the ball, but McKeown took charge of Hackett‘s cross into the crowded box. Northampton were applying the pressure but Town’s defence stood firm.
McLaughlin replaced Hannah on 88 minutes, shortly after Northampton made a double substitution to try and save the game. Seconds later Platt had a good chance for Northampton but although his turn on the penalty spot was impressive, his piledriving shot wasn’t and the ball went safely over the bar. The game had now been scrappy for some time with Town battling and struggling to clear their lines, and Northampton unable to create good chances. There was no place for silky skills here. As if to prove it, Blyth fired high over the bar and over the top of the Osmond stand. Four minutes time was added as the tension mounted. After a minute or two of footballing ping-pong, Kerr and Hatton took charge and bundled the ball into the Northampton corner. The ball was released and McLaughlin picked up the ball on the left side. Controlling the ball superbly, Mclaughlin dribbled the ball into the box and drilled an unstoppable low shot past Duke and into the bottom right corner of the net. The crowd went wild. This was the last act. The final score: Grimsby Town 2, Northampton Town 0.
Town’s performance was full of character. As expected the tension level was high, and it is to the players’ and the manager’s credit that Town were patient in dealing with obdurate, physical and frankly one-dimensional opposition. Northampton had counter attacks but failed to trouble McKeown thanks to their own ineptitude and to Town’s resolute defence. It was particularly pleasing to see Town’s defenders backing each other up so well. I was particularly impressed with Pearson and Hatton, who made telling contributions at both ends of the field. So as in 1998, tension became euphoria, and we can now dream of drawing one of the glitterati in FA Cup Round 3.
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