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Saved Town Again
Saved Town Again

Happy Now?

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 31/10/2010

I KNEW nothing about Eastbourne Borough, their squad, their history or the colours they wear. Other than buying a programme, I hadn't carried out any research. That’s journalism for you. I do know where Eastbourne is, which isn't a lot of use as today’s game was at Grimsby. I did know that they're mid table and had both scored and conceded the most goals of any team in the division this season.

Reading reports of the Tamworth fiasco in mid week, it looked as if Town had continued to play decent football without being able to score, while there seems to be a ray of hope in our defence. The evidence is that teams visiting Blundell Park seem to "rise to the occasion" so once again we needed to be on our guard. This all suggests that today’s game would be what is generally referred to as an "intriguing contest". Or, as Paul, the wise man in Biggleswade station café observed, "what on earth do you want to go there for?" My mate Andy had an alternative plan. He went to Sheffield to see Lord of the Dance. There’s always the danger that he may not get out of the Steel City alive if the natives are restless but at least he has a chance of seeing some footwork. For Michael Coulson, read Michael Flatley.

I ordered my ticket by phone this week. It was a bit like the Carlsberg advert. The incredulous lady seemed to be in shock that anyone should ring, let alone make such an audacious purchase. Well I did, and so at about 1pm Saturday 30th October 2010, my train rolled into Cleethorpes station. The graffiti to which I referred in my last piece is of course still there: "HAPPY NOW?" It has been carefully written in large black capitals on a white painted background. This has been haunting me. Is it intended for people who are arriving or leaving Mecca? Happy with what? It is open to interpretation. Like Facebook, with which I have recently become familiar, I feel like adding a comment. "I am happy until 3.01pm, and then I expect I will be FRUSTRATED". I am impressed with the depth of this multi-coloured piece of Pop Art in Cleethorpes. As it happens, I took my daughter Revis to an abstract art exhibition this week. She decided not to come today. "Shameful" was how she described the experience of watching Grimsby Town. She considers that she has suffered enough.

Perhaps to mitigate against the interminable suffering, I noted that the club shop now sells stress balls. While there, I bumped into my old mate Swanny. His view on "HAPPY NOW?" is that it is football-related and is addressed to away supporters. Swanny had his nephew Tom with him. "Enjoy the game", I said to Tom avuncularly as we went in. "Was that an instruction?" enquired Swanny. Clearly I've been reading too many football managers’ programme notes.

In spite of Tuesday night’s "setback", the Pontoon stand was a throbbing pulse of anticipation. It’s amazing how unjustified optimism can return so quickly, like a clock resetting itself. OK, I exaggerate a little bit. People sat down and chewed their finger nails in anticipation of ... what? The drummer played his monotonous tune. I always think that the erhu would be more appropriate at Blundell Park. The erhu, for those not familiar with it, is the three-stringed Chinese instrument which sounds incredibly melancholic, portraying sad and tragic scenes in fog-bound mystic lands, or in this case the Blundell Park pitch in front of us. At the other end, my son Merlin and I counted a total of 14 Eastbourne supporters, surrounded by 6 stewards. Merlin pointed out there were more people in Eastbourne’s playing squad than there were supporters. The Eastbourne 14 were spread out. I imagine this is the Southern cultural phenomenon of not knowing or wanting to speak to one’s neighbours. The teams warmed up. Eastbourne were resplendent in their all red kit. It was time for the drama to begin. Town’s line-up today was:

O’Donnell - Bore, Garner, Atkinson, Ridley - Coulson, Cummins, Wright, Eagle - Connell, Peacock.

Act 1. Town started by attacking the Osmond end. 20 minutes passed. Town were passing the ball well across the park but time after time balls were floated into the middle for Eastbourne to head clear. Seemingly the only hope was a piece of individual brilliance. Town seemed to have no idea how to break down the defence. Eastbourne were busy and efficient. Atkinson was starring for Town with his neat defensive work and cross-field passing. The performance started to deteriorate in customary fashion. Town now had lost the ability to pass as well as cross. "Do they ever practice dribbling?" commented the man behind me. If they did, it wasn't on show here. Just as he said this, Eagle ballooned a shot over the bar. The ball finished near the corner flag.

Eastbourne meanwhile were looking dangerous. Johnson had a excellent curling shot which O’Donnell did well to tip over. Where Town were lacking in tactical nous, Eastbourne looked like they knew how to create chances. On 37 minutes, Town won a corner. The ball was cleared and came out to Coulson who fizzed in a low shot from outside the box on the right hand side. The ball flew into the left hand corner of the net. Eastbourne 0, Grimsby Town 1.

In response, Eastbourne pressed. The lively Taylor got round the defence and fired in a fierce shot. O’Donnell got down well but could only palm it away. The ball fell loose. Brinkhurst and struck another fierce shot on target but with O’Donnell still recovering, Garner threw himself across and mad a magnificent block. Eastbourne were in the ascendancy but Town hung on.

Half-time verdict. Town were lucky to be in the lead. Patient passing replaced a lack of end result. There was no discernible strategy to get through the defence. Eagle looked capable of getting crosses in but for the most part Eastbourne were ready to receive the predictable final ball. Town were winning by virtue of an outstanding strike by Coulson and resolute defending, which was a key positive. Eastbourne were industrious, skilful in all areas and looked capable of scoring. Judging by this performance so far, our sole achievement this season would be to consolidate our position in mid-table.

Act II. Town started by working the ball up the right and then passing it round in circles like a training session. Connell and Peacock waited in vain in the middle. Three times it went round, and then the move inevitably broke down with a poor pass. Eastbourne quickly cleared the ball out and passed it upfield quickly. With the Town defence struggling to get back, the ball was worked perfectly to the unmarked Rooney who fired the ball into the left hand corner from inside the penalty area. Grimsby Town 1, Eastbourne 1.

There was a lesson to be learnt from Eastbourne’s alertness and direct play. Town’s pretty patterns had once again led to nothing. Take note, Mr Woods. On 52 minutes, Cummins had a chance but he seemed to be taken by surprise and shot it straight at the goalkeeper. Town did however appear to be galvanised by Eastbourne’s goal and started to show the determination that they'd been missing. Eastbourne continued to look dangerous and incisive. Wright was booked on 62 minutes for a reactive foul after he'd been pulled back while attempting to surge forward. Seconds later, Town conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box. For a moment, the composure was lost. On 66 minutes, Bore did some good work up the right and pulled the ball back from the goal line, but Eastbourne did what they do well and starting with a pass from Partington, worked the ball up the left quickly. Bore and co once again had to race back to regain their position. The ball came to Taylor who sent in a superb curler from the left. It bent over O’Donnell into the top right hand corner. Grimsby Town 1, Eastbourne 2.

Eastbourne were giving an object lesson in quality, direct but not over-ambitious football. Ademeno came on for Coulson and immediately started to move around and cause problems. Hudson came on for Cummins, who had made no impact. Peacock looked tired out but stayed on. On 75 minutes, Wood came on for Bore, who'd showed some attacking flair but was also vulnerable and mistake-prone. Seconds later, Ademeno battled to keep the ball in Eastbourne’s box and laid it off to Connell who was tripped up as he turned - penalty to Town. Connell got up and slammed the penalty kick low past the goalkeeper’s right. Grimsby Town 2, Eastbourne 2.

There was time for Town to win this one. Wright screwed a shot wide on 81 minutes after a patient build-up. Inspired by Ademeno and the old warhorse Peacock, Town were at last battling for every ball. As the game approached its close, Town started to dither again but the impressive Wood saw an opportunity to provide some impetus from the right and was tripped on the edge of the box as he surged forward. Town gained a corner from the resultant free-kick. The ball came out to Connell, who instead of blasting it low, which would have been the better option, attempted to chip the ball under the crossbar. The ball sailed over the top, and the last chance was gone.

Final score: Grimsby Town 2, Eastbourne Borough 2.

Verdict: Eastbourne more than deserved their point. They played as a team. Their play was crisp and purposeful. Town’s performance, particularly in the first half, was to pass the ball around a bit and then lose with a stray pass or cross. For a long time, the middle section of the Eastbourne half and penalty box was like a "no go" area. Town’s first goal came from an individual effort and there was no way this was going to happen any other way until Ademeno came on, providing support for the ever-battling Peacock and Connell. It should not take 75 minutes to start operating as a team with purpose. As well as Ademeno, Wood was a welcome introduction. His positional play as a defender is far superior to Bore’s. Both are capable of making things happen, but Wood is more reliable. Wright tried to get things going in the middle and deserves credit. In a poor display overall, my Man of the Match was Rob Atkinson for his first half performance. Tactically, we need to develop our range of options and as the man behind me said, we need to start dribbling as we started to do in the last few minutes of the game. Only then did we cause problems. I am coming to realise that unlike League 2 where success is traditionally based on individual skill or mistakes, this league is about strong teamwork. I'm sure Neil Woods realises this. From the way the players passed the ball around in the first half and in other games, he clearly has a philosophy. Juggling with a Kantian Weltanschauung however while others play football does not win matches. The players seemed confused. Good teamwork does not preclude urgency, determination, nor for that matter the individual skill which some of our players undoubtedly have. I fear that it’s getting too late already to save the season and get enough points for promotion, but at least let’s start putting pressure on opposing teams.

HAPPY NOW? Only if I was one of the Eastbourne 14. From my perspective, it was nice to join the people enjoying the sunshine on Cleethorpes sea front, and I'd eaten well as usual but on the football side, it was once again nothing short of disappointing. Does that answer your question, Mr Graffiti Artist?

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