Question of the WeekHow much VAR should there be in football?
Smelling the Coffee
By: Andrew Doherty
THANKS to railway engineering work, bus replacement services, late trains and other transport paraphernalia, the euphoria of last Saturday's excellent result and performance had all but been erased by the time I got home to Cambridge, six and a half hours after leaving Blundell Park.
Before that game, I bought a ticket for today, having decided in advance to devote another Saturday to trains, buses and football. Last week I was rewarded. It was great and to be honest surprising, but one game could never be proof that we've woken up and smelt the proverbial coffee. Speaking of which, my time investment last week wasn't rewarded with actual coffee, when the woman in the café at the Waitrose outside Peterborough station wouldn't sell me any because I didn't bring my own cup. That'll teach me to use Waitrose. Allow me an observation. In Malaysia they just give you a straw and a plastic bag like you used to get to carry a goldfish you'd won at a fair, but I guess that's not the Waitrose way. My wife's take on this is that I need to bring myself up to date, which is undoubtedly true. Town's stewards are great but based on the experience of two weeks ago, the Cambridge stewards would have had apoplexy if I'd tried to walk in with a coffee cup, such is modern day paranoia. At least when I got to Grimsby not only was I able to buy coffee without conditions, but I could also stock up on provisions in preparation for the marathon return journey. A trip to Grimsby now de rigueur comprises the purchase of a Pocklington's meal deal - a haslet bun and sausage roll with a slab of their ultra magnificent Russian cake, all at a very reasonable price. They don't even insist on you having your own bag to put them in. During one of the frequent lulls in a recent home match Andy Humbo and I somehow managed to divert the conversation from the subject of Slimming World, which to be truthful isn't a concept in our real or virtual world, to sausage rolls. Should they be eaten cold or hot? Last week's FA Cup spectacular was so uncommonly absorbing that there was no time to discuss important topics like that. When did that last happen? For the record sausage rolls are in my opinion best eaten cold.
As for the football, we'd got to the stage where we come in deluded hope rather than in any form of positive expectation. Last week's match changed that and raised a whiff of hope. Today's opponents Crawley are in a respectable position but before the break for the cup, had been leaky in defence. We actually proved last week that we are capable of creating and scoring goals. In particular I was impressed with the second one, which was the result of good teamwork and tight control and skill at the end from Thomas. Hopefully the pressure of needing the points wasn't going to paralyse these players today. Doubts still remain.
Town's changed team on this bright and breezy day was: McKeown - Hendrie, Davis, Collins, Fox - Vernam, Clifton, Hessenthaler, Pringle - Cardwell, Thomas. Embleton's enforced absence meant that Town's line-up looked distinctly ordinary. The crowd at least was an improvement on last week: 4,459. If any of the 68 Crawley fans had decided to make the journey by rail, they weren't on mine. "Christ, we've got a carriage each”, commented a fellow passenger commented as we joined the Grimsby-bound train. He wasn't far wrong.
The game was scrappy with neither side exercising any control. Crawley were marginally better in the initial stages. A Collins error went unpunished, while Vernam had a shot and followed this up with a cross to Cardwell whose header was limp and straight at Morris. Town had a trio of mishits on 9 minutes, with the final mishit shot from Cardwell being headed off the line. The guy next to me interrupted eating his pie to praise a good crossfield pass by Crawley, but in reality there was little to comment on. The game was noteworthy for the lack of control or urgency, and a referee who liked to blow his whistle for free-kicks. Neither side posed a threat. On 22 minutes McKeown easily saved a Nathaniel-George after a nicely worked move. Town and in particular Hessenthaler and the rusty Fox were guilty of too many misplaced passes. Crawley continued to be the more accomplished team but neither side was stringing anything together. The game's languid pace was broken on 27 minutes when former Townee Ollie Palmer won a header and Young made space, only to fire his shot wide of the post. Cardwell was then booked for objecting to the constant stream of free-kicks being given against Town. On 33 minutes Town struggled to get the ball out of defence. The crowd took a deep breath as Collins underhit a back pass, but Crawley were too slow to respond. Vernam then raced forward, provoking fleeting excitement, but all that resulted was a throw-in. A Clifton error then let Palmer in but his shot was blocked. Town looked more dangerous on the counter attack but control and incisiveness were as ever lacking. Young then had a curled shot after once again being allowed too much space. On 39 minutes Town had a shout for a penalty when Connolly elbowed Cardwell in the face after a Hendrie cross, but the referee waved play on. Crawley wasted an opportunity just before half time from a free-kick, but all in all this was pedestrian fare. The only action in the first half added time was a Connolly clearance, which went over the Pontoon stand and probably onto the railway line. From Town's point of view, there were nice touches from Hendrie, Vernam and Clifton, and a lot of honest endeavour from Cardwell, but there were also too many mistakes, and a familiar lack of coordination or threat. The defence at least was holding firm against an equally poor Crawley side.
It was cold and bleak. The weather wasn't so good now either. People went in search of hot drinks. The second half started in bizarre fashion when the ball was passed back to McKeown from the centre circle and Crawley's Palmer was booked for a less than obvious offence. Normal service then resumed. The game stopped on 49 minutes when Cardwell committed a bad tackle on Connolly, which the referee missed. Crawley's players remonstrated with the referee. This was the most animated moment of the game so far. On 52 minutes, Nathaniel-George broke for Crawley but calm play from Hessenthaler averted the danger and set up a Town counter attack. Clifton burst forward and won a corner, but Pringle's cross came to nothing. Four minutes later Collins saved the day when cutting out a pass from Nathaniel-George to the advancing Palmer. Town again proved that their main opportunity was from the counter attack. Good work by Fox won a corner. Then Pringle, who had largely been ineffective, sent a long ball out of defence to Thomas whose attempt on goal was only foiled by a last ditch tackle by Connolly. The improving Fox then set up a good Town move but Hendrie's final shot was rammed above the bar and into the Pontoon stand. Mistakes followed by Pringle, who was dispossessed, and Clifton who let Crawley in with a poor pass, but Town's opponents were no more capable of converting their opportunities than we were. A woeful short back pass by Collins on 72 minutes then looked like a certain goal but luckily Crawley dithered and Francomb was adjudged offside. Good work again by Fox found Clifton who surged forward, decided not to shoot as is his way, fell over and got booked. McKeown was then forced into making a good save from Grego-Cox at the other end. Akheem Rose replaced the tiring Vernam on 79 minutes. Town had stepped up the energy in the second half, and Pringle was tripped on 80 minutes just outside the box. The same player fired the free-kick against the wall, and so another opportunity was wasted. Clifton then found Thomas with a good though ball. Thomas held the ball up well to keep possession. As Thomas took his place in the box and the ball came through, he and the defender went down. Penalty? No, a free-kick went Crawley's way and Thomas was booked after arguing with the referee. On 85 minutes Town attacked again. An accurate cross came in from the left to the head of Woolford, who surrounded by defenders, got up high and headed the ball down to Rose. Showing great composure, Rose brought the ball under control and slammed the ball home from about 12 yards. Town 1, Crawley 0. After the preceding non event, Town's fans exploded in relief. It was a great cross, great header and then a brilliant finish by Rose. Welsh replaced Pringle with three minutes to go. Four minutes were added on. Crawley had a half chance when Palmer headed wide from a Young cross, but Town saw the remaining time out without any difficulty and so it remained at the end: Grimsby Town 1, Crawley 0.
So using the coffee analogy was the Blundell Park experience a rich brew, insipid slop or Peterborian deprivation? I'm not sure we're much the wiser, but I do commend Town's players for their perseverance. Overhearing the comments of the crowd as I left Blundell Park today, no-one was under any illusion that this isn't a great side and this hadn't been a great performance. Excitement was mostly lacking, but there was more energy and fluidity in the second half. I thought Fox added a dimension after an error-strewn first half, and Hendrie looked very dangerous on the right flank. It's also encouraging that we can win without Embleton in the team. Thomas's hold up play is good, and finally Akheem Rose got the chance to show what he can do, and did it in style. I think it's fair to say that Mr Jolley and the players were already smelling the coffee, and maybe it's starting to dribble through the filter machine at last. Time will tell. I set off back on my extended return journey feeling satisfied, and for the second week running looking forward to the next instalment of the Mariner adventure.
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