Question of the WeekWho will finish bottom?
By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 26/01/2013 (Last updated: 27/01/2013)
IT seems to be de rigueur that we play Cambridge United away in the middle of winter, when the cold winds blast across the bleak fenlands. Actually, that summarises most of the year in this city of culture. For 40 quid + VAT today, you could buy a "matchday experience package" in which you get to sit in an Executive box.
This pecuniary fact is not without relevance to the subject of cultural interpretation. This week there was a piece in the Cambridge News in which the statement was made that the club needs to change its culture as "we lose £500,000 every year". Personally, I'd have just called this "losing a lot of money" rather than defining it as culture which normally I thought was to do with intellectual development. In fact it seems more to do with solving liquidity problems. But I'll leave that one to the academics. There are plenty here lurking beyond the Newmarket Road and its retail park. Let’s get on with the football.
I'm tempted to suggest that for £50 (plus VAT), you'd get invited to play too, but that would be unfair. While frost prevents growth of vegetables in the surrounding allotments and the liquidity problem remains a worry, Cambridge United have been working their way up the table. I saw them play earlier in the season against Macclesfield and witnessed a patchy but victorious display of skill and muscle. It is to our advantage that Cambridge are a little rusty as the fenland frosts have precluded matchday experiences lately but we still have a game on our hands today. From Grimsby’s point of view, it’s become a pragmatic exercise in desperately hanging onto top place while the modern-day equivalent of cattle rustlers, Luton Town, have been attempting to steal our players. But in yet another coup by our management, Marshall chose Grimsby. That’s Marcus, not just the car group. And who would not choose Grimsby? The half-term report is impressive. Marshall’s return for a second loan spell is part of the team re-building process for the second half of this campaign, outshone only by the morale-boosting signing of Hannah the Great. In McKeown, Cook, Thomas, and our defensive unit, we have players of whom poetry could be written. In Thanoj, Colbeck and on his day Disley, we have players of great flair and potential. A few weeks ago in conversation I was describing my favourite of all Shaun Pearson. I was eulogising about his positional play, his awareness, his vision and heading abilities and concluded that it is amazing that no league team has snapped him up. An opinion came back: "Has he had off-the-field disciplinary problems?" On the contrary, he has spearheaded a charity campaign with other players. I reckon the man must be a saint. He plays for Grimsby, after all. The presence of sainthood or otherwise, the possibilities are always threefold: a glorious win, a dismal draw, or ignominious defeat. None of this would be possible without today’s local heroes, the volunteers who overcame arctic conditions to enable the game to be played today.
Last year in this fixture we gave our own tribute to Spain in our performance. But before we would find out if there was going to be a repeat, I had liquidity problems to deal with. So a visit was paid to the gents and a hot drink was procured. I was set. Town’s line-up today was: McKeown - Hatton, Miller, Saint Shaun, Thomas - Marshall, Disley, Niven, Devitt - Hannah, Cook. In keeping with tradition, Cambridge have a lumping forward in Gash. Sounds nasty. Sadly the player with the most evocative and mellifluous name in football wasn't playing for the U’s today. This is their mercurial winger Harrison Dunk. How many people can claim a name which conjures up the image of a hybrid between a film star and a process for infusing a sugary baked edible substance into tea? Do his team-mates nickname him "Donuts", I wonder? Such important questions have to be left on the side. The sporting experience was due to begin.
The wind swept across Coldhams Common and the R Costings Abbey stadium. The sky was blue. The frozen sun peered through the clouds that were there. Piles of ice were gathered against the edge of the stands. Game on.
First half. Cambridge started with purpose, marking out their intentions by winning two early corners. Haynes-Brown raced out of defence and flew up the left before putting in a dangerous cross which Thomas head away. Then Fletcher had a chance from 6 yards out but with his back to the goal couldn't find the agility and balance to keep the ball down. After the initial onslaught from the home team, Town responded impressively. Marshall switched play to the left. The ball was slotted in for Cook to fire in a header from close range. The ball came back to Cook whose shot was headed off the line and over the bar by Coulson. Devitt probed up the left side, then Hannah broke out of a tight corner after a pass from Niven and almost created a chance. After 12 minutes Haynes-Brown almost decapitated several spectators with a vigorous clearance, but endeared himself to them soon afterwards with another surging run and a dangerous low cross from the left, which McKeown fumbled in the mud. A desperate scramble ensued on the one yard line but Town’s defenders were quicker and cleared the ball. Devitt was then tripped on the edge of the box but Hatton’s curled free-kick went over without threatening Cambridge’s goalkeeper Ross. After a Cambridge corner on 17 minutes, Town broke out and Cook linked up with Devitt and after a clearance the ball landed with Disley who chose to shoot from 25 yards. The shot was well wide. Thomas then cut out the approaching Fletcher and conceded a corner on 21 minutes. As the ball came, Cook and Hatton clashed with their heads. Cook went down.
Town battled on until the 25th minute when the concussed Cook was replaced by Brodie. This was a major blow as Cook had been one of Town’s best players, winning balls and laying the ball off intelligently for team-mates. Town had a scare on 28 minutes when Pugh sent in a floaty cross from the right which evaded everyone and just missed the post. Saint Shaun and McKeown had a frank philosophical discussion about this uncomfortable moment. Cambridge played the ball around and on 33 minutes McAuley had a clear shot from the inside of the penalty box but in swept Saint Shaun to block it with his leg, to universal relief and appreciation at the Town end. All Cambridge’s moves came up the left with Haynes-Brown being the creator. As Town went to shut down the talented Haynes-Brown, who was eluding Hatton and getting balls across, space was being created on the right hand side. On 35 minutes, a cross came in, Cambridge patiently passed the ball around until the ball landed with Fletcher. The trigger was pulled, and from nowhere appeared Town’s saviour Saint Shaun to block the shot. The first foul of note was on 38 minutes, when Niven hacked down Jarvis. This would have been a big deal in the Premier League. The referee had a word with Niven. After a long period of fluid play, a midfield battle took place and both sides closed down their defences. Marshall stood on Haynes-Brown to give away a free-kick but the ball was cleared. Marshall himself had a chance and tried to create space but took too much on, and the ball was retrieved by the Cambridge defence. So the half ended: Cambridge United 0, Grimsby Town 0.
So far this had been a good game in difficult conditions. Both sides had chances and came close. Town needed to stop Haynes-Brown marauding up the left. Town were playing as a unit and could not be accused of lacking effort, but Devitt and in particular Marshall, who both started well, were disappointing and were trying to do too much instead of being creative within the team. I was especially impressed with Thomas who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. The loss of Cook was a major blow. Town were missing his support play and overall contribution, which Brodie could not match. After Cook went off, the performance was a bit flat. Town were going to need to re-group. But with the defence solid, 0 - 0 was about right at half time and with a few adjustments, there was no reason why Town could not improve and score in the second half.
Second half. Peering out in the Cantabridgian gloom, the home side in their luminous amber looked like track workers in a night-time engineering site. Town looked smart in their all-blue away strip. The start of the second half was workmanlike and languid. On 51 minutes Cambridge won a corner which was cleared with ease. Devitt tried to link up with Marshall but it was clumsy. On 53 minutes however Devitt won a corner. Brodie won the ball on the right and with his left foot floated over a cross-come-shot from the edge of the penalty area. It curled like in slow motion, beat the goalkeeper and struck the top of the crossbar. Soon after the game stopped. The referee ran up and down between the linesman and players, and seemed intent on creating a drama. Having set the scene, he called up Brodie and Wassmer. When in Rome, do as the Romans. We were in Cambridge, so the referee delivered a lecture. Whether it was on liquidity, culture or another erudite subject was not clear, but the players walked away from their tutorial unpunished. This moment seemed to galvanise both teams into more positive action, especially Town. Niven was impressive in midfield, winning balls thanks to his competitiveness, and on 57 minutes he laid on Thomas who was fouled on the by line. Devitt laid the ball off for Marshall, who proceeded towards the gap he had seen in the middle and fired in his shot. His fierce took a deflection and beat the goalkeeper, with the ball landing in the bottom left corner. The referee disallowed the goal and pulled play back for offside. Cambridge were under pressure and occasionally got upfield, where they were being confined to long range shots. On 62 minutes the race was on when Town played the ball upfield. Hannah nodded the ball on to the advancing Devitt whose shot from the left rebounded off the inside of the goalkeeper’s heel for a corner.
Town continued to work well with each other. This was our best spell. Marshall, Hatton and Hannah worked up a move, then more interplay between Devitt and Marshall led to a corner. Miller couldn't quite connect with his header from the corner and Cambridge cleared. Saint Shaun started another heavenly move on 72 minutes, shaking off a Cambridge player on the half way line before rolling the ball up to Hannah. The ball was once again laid off for Devitt whose shot trickled agonisingly wide with the goalkeeper helpless. Thomas broke away for Town on 73 minutes, crossing and winning a corner after a desperate clearance. A rare slip by Marshall, whose performance in the second half had been impressive, then led to a Cambridge attack. On 74 minutes Colbeck replaced Devitt. Four minutes later Disley started a move, laying off to Hatton, and racing forward to be on the receiving end. His header had no power. Jarvis had a low shot soon after, but it was Niven in the midfield who was making sure Town won balls and could start up moves as they pressed for that elusive goal. Hatton set up Hannah after a typical Niven intervention on 82 minutes. Hannah was tripped on the edge of the box. Brodie’s free-kick was poor and although Marshall was able to pick up the ball on the left, he was crowded out. Brodie himself was then tripped. Hatton’s free-kick crossed the box and beat the defence. Saint Shaun ran on and attempted an audacious overhead kick, which hit the side netting. This wasn't natural terrain for a saint, let alone a centre half. Colbeck contributed in defence on 88 minutes with an excellent tackle but sliced his clearance. Town looked solid but both teams now looked tired, after putting so much effort on a heavy pitch. Three minutes were added for stoppage time. This was not the time for another long lecture from the referee, but with the 700 strong Town contingent among the 2,764 crowd expressing their impatience, Brodie was on the receiving end of one after flattening Coulson in a bid to break clear. The by now well-informed Brodie was soon in the thick of the action again, controlling the ball well before play switched to the right side. Colbeck raced ahead and put in a low cross which Ross was forced to save. This was the last piece of action. At full-time the score was: Cambridge United 0, Grimsby Town 0.
An away draw was a satisfactory result but it could have been better. During the first half in particular Town gave Cambridge too much space but tightened up in the second half when there were some excellent sections of play. At other times we weren't so well-coordinated. Cambridge were hard-working and looked to be well-coached but Town showed signs of greater skill. There was plenty of invention but I thought a couple of the players were below par today. Devitt showed great potential but having just re-entered the camp didn't fit into the overall team pattern at times. Getting Cook back fit is really important. Our defence was solid, there were some good touches from Thomas, Disley battled hard but most impressive of all was Niven, who was my man of the match for his work rate, determination in winning balls and his distribution. There is some re-grouping to be done but we have a good base product and I sense a strong team ethic. It’s going to get tighter with Wrexham in particular in a position to overtake us at the top, but we're still in good shape.
I wish Cambridge United well with their liquidity problems, which are more serious than simply making sure there are enough tea-bags. Winning games will help them of course. It’s a nice community club, and although the stadium has seen better days, it’s still good to visit. As for Town, we have the possibility of many golden matchday experiences ahead.
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