Question of the WeekWho will finish bottom?
|Hats Off to Town!|
By: Andrew Doherty
THE pattern is clear. I may not yet have unravelled the mystery of the universe and life, but the Blue Square Best Premier League is taking a distinct shape. As the season progresses, the wealthier teams surge on while the part-timers with their depleted and injured squads tire in the winter mud.
Town now sit comfortably in 10th place, having won our last four league games. We aspire to the elite but the exams are yet to come. We can beat teams below us but not those above. Today is the first of the end-of-year exams. Appropriately it’s taking place in the university city of Cambridge.
Just as the league is divided, so is Cambridge. As the city is agrarian and intellectual, so Cambridge United play with a mix of skill and physical endeavour. I saw them twice last year. Silky midfielders linked up with lumpen attackers. In the autumn, Cambridge rose to the top but have since declined. As for Town, while we seem capable of despatching teams at the lower end of the BSP, our displays can also exhibit an alarming and inexplicable lack of confidence. Town’s visit to Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium promised to be intriguing.
The Abbey Stadium borders Fen Ditton, East Anglia’s answer to the Frozen Planet if last year’s visit was anything to go by. That was in November. It is now January.
The sight of the Grimsby men coming out onto the pitch put paid to thoughts of impending frostbite. Alongside them were Cambridge, striking in their faded version of the Wulfrunian old gold kit. The announcer sounded full of cold as he presented the examinees. Town’s men in blue tonight were: McKeown - Silk, Garner, Miller, Townsend - Coulson, Disley, Thanoj, Artus - Hearn, Elding.
First Half. Both teams started confidently with good movement and lay-offs. Garner made a couple of clearances, then Disley took responsibility for clearing up a loose ball at the back. On 5 minutes Cambridge won a free-kick outside the penalty box after a Silk foul. Carew curled his right-footed shot over the wall and McKeown did well to tip it away, reacting quickly to narrow the angle as Dunk pounced. Dunk’s shot rebounded off the bottom of the post. Another Cambridge free-kick followed, then on 10 minutes Miller was booked for a robust challenge. My initial disappointment at Pearson not being in the team was allayed as I could see that Miller and Garner were playing with authority and had a good understanding with each other.
The ball was played in the air for a while, then on 15 minutes Town had a rare attack. Elding spotted an understruck pass and was brought down by the advancing Cambridge keeper Nesbitt. The referee pointed to the penalty spot, then following protests from the Cambridge players, consulted with his linesman. After doing so, the referee reversed his decision and awarded a drop ball on the penalty spot, which was cleared with ease.
On 17 minutes, Dunk twisted his way round the Town defence and laid on a chance for Hughes whose curling shot was pushed away by the acrobatic McKeown. Cambridge were getting their shots in, but on 23 minutes Town won a corner. With a packed and approaching defence, Disley’s shot was rushed and flew over the bar. Town were starting to get into the game. A fast a fluid move followed up the right. Hearn pulled the ball back to Elding in the middle. Elding took his time and with great composure slid a low shot past Naisbitt in the Cambridge goal. Cambridge United 0, Grimsby Town 1. The crisp passing movements which Town showed at the beginning were now in evidence again.
Artus won a corner and then on 35 minutes the same player headed onto the bar after another good passing move and cross. Within seconds the ball was down the other end and a cross led to a clear chance for Cambridge, but that man Artus had raced back and cut out the threat, getting to the ball first and conceding a corner. A minute later, a long and accurate clearance from Silk found Hearn who held off two defenders while waiting for support to arrive. A corner resulted. Disley then started another move from his own half, accelerating explosively into space and passing to Elding whose sublime flick sent Hearn away. Hearn’s effort was blocked and Town won another corner. Cambridge’s Hughes had another chance before half time but his shot was poor and so the half ended: Cambridge United 0, Grimsby Town 1.
Half-time verdict. Town showed every sign of wanting to play. After a period of early Cambridge domination, Town got into their stride. The short crisp passing technique worked. Very few passes went astray, the players supported each other to provide options for their team mate and give Cambridge the run-around. There was great individual skill at all levels, but most importantly Town’s players were working for each other. Whilst Town’s defence stood firm, Cambridge had chances but there was a lack of composure about their finishing. At 1 - 0, everything was still to play for. The 425 Town supporters were in good voice throughout and matching the commitment of the players on the pitch. As we took breath at half-time, all the talk was of that penalty that wasn’t.
Second Half. The signs were good. Straightaway magic from Townsend and Artus troubled Cambridge’s defence. Artus’s cross was too long. On 52 minutes following a Cambridge attack Disley burst out of defence with Hearn on the right and Artus racing up the left. Disley chose Hearn who outpaced the defence and won a corner. Town pressed the Cambridge defence. First Artus came close from a Hearn cross, then Coulson crossed for Disley who couldn’t get good contact with his header. Town’s football was fluid. Cambridge’s goal was under siege. Hearn and Coulson linked once again. This was the first time since the Buckley era that I could recall a 20 + pass move. Well, here it was. At least it was until Disley overstruck his pass and the ball went out for a goal-kick. A bit too intricate, maybe? Ping-pong-ping-pong. It sounds like table tennis, but this was ballet. Was this really Grimsby Town or was it a bunch of ringers from that Spanish team?
As Elding and his fellow ballerinas continued to delight and thrill us with their art, so the Cambridge players played their part with their theatrical dives. Let us not exaggerate here. Watching Town was like beautiful poetry combined with the magic and grace of Swan Lake. Meanwhile the stewards looked back and wondered at the vocal perseverance of the Town faithful behind the goal. Hearn, like a cat on hot bricks, continued to give Cambridge’s Hudson a miserable time. But reality prevailed. As we rejoiced over the performance, a mixture of concern set in over the self-indulgence of those silky passing moves. The supporter behind me echoed my own thoughts: "Cambridge are still in at 1 - 0".
For now it was ok, as we were 75 minutes in, and Cambridge were being reduced to committing fouls, passing back to their goalkeeper and occasional long range shots. The tension increased and Cambridge started to mount attacks. The game now went into a different phase. Town showed signs of tiredness. Even the imperious Artus misplaced a header. Garner and Townsend were booked in quick succession, and Cambridge went close from a free-kick following a foul. It was now time for Town’s defence to do its stuff. Cambridge won a corner on 87 minutes and was cleared, only to come back again. The move only ended when Thorpe sliced his shot into crowd. For Grimsby, Duffy replaced Elding, who went off to rapturous applause. Four minutes of injury time was added, and Cambridge continued to lay siege on the Town goal. But after a tense ending, Town managed to hold firm and the game finished: Cambridge United 0, Grimsby Town 1.
Give us an E, Bob. The ecstasy in this case was of the natural kind, as supplied by GTFC. Town’s short, accurate passing and constant support play was sensational. Cambridge United are a good side and showed the wherewithal to get that elusive equaliser, but Town’s mental fortitude and composure were superior. Moreover, Cambridge were for long periods unable to cope with Town’s skill, pace and determination. My only concern was that we didn’t finish the game, always therefore leaving the door open for that equaliser. Whilst keeping possession does have advantages and Town did have shots on goal, during our golden passing spell there seemed to be a reluctance to get into the box and strike on goal. Goals are always better than aesthetics. This said, the whole team played like heroes, the work rate was high and for prolonged spells on either side of half-time, the level of skill and endeavour was impressive. It’s hard to nominate individuals as every single Town player performed well, but for me Frankie Artus was my Man of the Match for his overall skill and contribution but in particular for his last ditch tackle after running the length of the pitch following a period of attacks. I was especially pleased that as we tired off, the team effort became rugged and doubly determined, ensuring that we held on to that lead.
This was a deserved victory, if less comfortable than it might have been. Nevertheless the performance was outstanding in many ways. We’re successfully through the first exam. I’d give it a B+.
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