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One Hundred and Out.…

By: Ian Townsend
Date: 09/05/2010

TIMELINE: Cheltenham, England, Saturday August 8 2009 3:45 p.m. Half time in the first match of the League 2 2009/10 season. Grimsby Town fans have just witnessed 45 minutes of scintillating attacking football rewarded by a single goal lead at the home of the recently relegated Cheltenham Town.

Fast forward to Saturday May 8 2010 9:30 a.m. Two thousand Town fans, including 100 on the "Battle Buses" prepare to set off to the small town of Burton-on-Trent for a game, which against all the odds gives them an outside chance of preserving their status as a Football League club. People with over 40 years experience of the highs and lows mingling with youngsters who haven't experienced anything other than the steady decline of their heroes sharing one wish....

A phone call from Big Lawrie McMenemy during the journey served only to remind the travellers of the magnitude of the day in front of them.

Manager Neil Woods made only one change for arguably the most important Grimsby game in living memory with the inspirational Lee Peacock replacing Tommy Wright up front as Town lined up with:

Bore, Lancashire, Atkinson, Widdowson
Coulson, Hudson, Sinclair and Devitt
Akpro, Peacock.

On the bench: Sweeney, Leary, Linwood, Wood, Chambers, Wright and Overton.

As the players took to the field for kick off they were met by a wall of noise from the Town fans massed in the standing area behind the goal to leave them in no doubt about how much the game meant to one of the senior clubs of the League.

Facing them were a Burton team happy at the way their season had panned out, but reliant for this game on their 46-year-old goalkeeping coach Kevin Poole to keep the Mariners out.

Many fans had ipods or mobiles tuned into National radio stations to keep an ear on proceedings in North London where all Town’s hopes could fail if Barnet managed a win against already promoted Rochdale.

The game began with Town clearly aware of the huge responsibility on their collective shoulders. Within the first five minutes both Coulson and Hudson fired in efforts that were wide of the mark.

As the game hit the 10 minute mark their came a 10 second period which was a microcosm of Town’s whole season. Firstly Akpro was allowed to run with the ball into the Brewers box. His eventual shot deceived Poole before coming back along the line and into the grateful keeper’s arms. Not one to dwell on his fortunes Poole hit the ball out to the left where Pearson was the grateful recipient. He advanced before hitting a cracking shot from over 20 yards beyond Colgan and into the top corner.

The goal stunned Town and they lost some momentum which, as all too often in this most gut wrenching of seasons, saw them surrender the centre of midfield. The full backs were put under increasing pressure as balls were played out wide and Town began to look ragged.

However, roared on by the fans, Town at last began to make inroads and from a free kick for a nasty looking foul on Devitt, Akpro powered a header goalwards where, Poole, belying his advanced years rose to tip it away for a corner. It was Burton’s turn to look suspect and Peacock had a fine effort blocked before Poole made another decent save from the same player.

The ability of football to kick you in the face when you are on the ground though is legendary and so it proved once again. Burton won the ball in midfield before spraying it wide right. The Burton winger beat Widdowson for pace and with no Town player realising the danger, was allowed to put in a cross which caused some indecision in the Town area. Top scorer Harrod was on the spot to flick home his side’s second goal leaving Town with an absolute mountain to climb.

Town were now all at sea and despite the best efforts of Peacock who had another header just over the bar, Burton were very much in the ascendancy. Town lost their shape as first the ex-Scunthorpe player fired just wide and then Harrod missed his kick when well placed.

The half time whistle couldn't come soon enough but when it did Town left the field to a chorus of frustrated boos.

HALF TIME: Burton Albion 2 Grimsby Town 0

The more optimistic cast their minds back to Easter Monday where, in a similar position at Accrington Town pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.

Indeed as the second half began hopes were raised that a repeat was in the offing. An early corner came to nothing, Coulson again forced the best out of Poole with a shot turned over the bar for another corner, Sinclair hit a 20 yarder and Devitt with the best effort of the lot forced another great save out of Poole.

However the game was effectively ended in the 58th minute when Town once again committed defensive suicide. Sinclair dithered on the ball and fouled his man as he went away from him. The resulting free kick from a central position was dispatched over the wall and past the motionless Colgan for Burton’s third goal.

Sweeney replaced Sinclair for Town as the players tried to salvage some pride but 3-0 nearly became 4-0 as Burton again cut through Town only for the goal to be ruled out by an offside flag.

Town pushed on and from a corner Lancashire had a header cleared off the line as Poole was beaten for once.

Only Akpro still seemed full of running and in its turn only bad luck denied him a goal when he headed the ball over Poole only for it to bounce wide and then a spectacular overhead effort again dropped the wrong side of a post.

Chambers had replaced the clearly struggling Devitt but the young loanee had no real opportunity to shine.

"Grimsby Till I Die" rang defiantly around the Pirelli Stadium but in truth the last 10 minutes were like sitting around the bed of a loved one waiting for them to breathe their last as the season ended not with a bang but an insignificant whimper.

FINAL SCORE: Burton Albion 3 Grimsby Town 0.

Man of the Match: Only one real candidate. Step forward Kevin Poole. For Town the only player who really stood out was once again Akpro. If some of his colleagues had his level of fitness it is doubtful we would be in the mess we are. Too many of the players we were forced to rely on chose the biggest game to have their own particular games to forget.

The statistics which showed Town had an incredible 34 shots at goal tells its own story and those of us nervous about the club's inability to sign a regular goal scorer saw their fears come to a final, startling realisation.

No club loses its league status on the back of one match though. The league tables don't lie and Town have been deservedly consigned to the quicksand that is the Blue Square.

So long the 92. It’s been emotional......

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