Issue Something to cheer

As told by Jason Mckeown

Football, least we forget, is all about goals.

A miserable afternoon of failed effort and frustration can be wiped away by the sight of the ball crossing the white line. The result that appears in the following day’s newspaper is all that matters and all of us would gladly swap a good performance for a good result.

So when City equalised with the final kick of the ball at Blundell Park on Saturday, the disappointment of what had gone on before was eclipsed by wild celebrations and a pitch invasion so enthusiastic City manager Stuart McCall had to run over to the away stand and appeal for calm.

Were such celebrations justified? The build up to this fixture included whispers of ‘six pointer’ and ‘must win’ for two sides desperately short on form. Imagining the game would end as 1-1 draw before kick off would have certainly felt disappointing to the 1,000+ City fans who journeyed to Cleethorpes. On Saturday evening I met with friends, plus received text messages from others, who supported different teams and all seemed to be of the opinion that ‘only’ drawing with Grimsby was a poor result. “Can Bradford sink any lower?” was one text message I received. Well yes and no was my reply. Of course it can get worse than this, but it probably won’t.

From the moment former City striker Isaiah Rankin’s outstretched foot collided into City goalkeeper Rhys Evans’ shoulder, as the two players contested a low cross, it was easy to imagine a sixth defeat in seven was on the cards. Evans was left in a lot of pain and, although he tried to play on, had to come off shortly afterwards. With Donovan Ricketts sat in the stands rather than sat on the bench, City had to see out the remaining 70 minutes without a recognised goalkeeper.

Mark Bower was elected back up keeper and swapped centre back duties with Matt Clarke, who made an impressive first league appearance of the season, replacing the injured Evans. It was easy to be fearful of conceding every time Grimsby poured forward but, curiously, City actually began defending better, as though they knew they had to protect Mark Bower’s goal at all costs.

The half time mutterings from some fans were of disapproval at Stuart’s decision not to include a keeper on the bench, although no one knew at the time that Ricketts was in fact injured, which was why Stuart didn’t include him in the 16. To be fair to Bower, he didn’t put a foot wrong in goal and even produced an excellent tip over from a second half free kick.

The goal that he did concede was easily preventable though. Matt Clarke picked up a loose ball in the area and appeared to ignore the calls of Bower charging up behind to leave it for him to collect. Even then this would have been okay had Clarke’s clearance not been so woeful. The ball went straight to Grimsby’s Shaleum Logan and the on-loan Man City full back produced a delicate lob over the back peddling Bower which flew into the net.

The dreaded moment had happened, although in some ways it felt like a positive. I’d personally felt sick to the stomach every time Grimsby poured forward for fear of our non-keeper conceding a soft goal. Now that had happened and it was up to City to come back.

The next fifteen minutes saw heavy pressure from City with Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu looking a real threat and twice going close. Kyle Nix and Paul Heckingbottom also had chances, before City seemed to run out of ideas and Grimsby got on top again. It appeared as though the game was lost with City’s season-long difficulty of finding the back of the net continuing.

Two substitutions changed that tide with Alex Rhodes impressing after replacing Nix. He whipped in some of the best crosses of the game, although no one was able to get on the end. Barry Conlon, with two previous brilliant performances, was a major disappointment. He failed to hold up the ball adequately and couldn’t seem to get in the game. Conlon was hauled off to a mixture of jeers from some fans and cheers from others. Supporters’ views of our big number nine clearly remain mixed and those who don’t rate him were given more ammunition after this performance. It’s becoming clear that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency.

Conlon was replaced with Luke Medley who, like Clarke and Rhodes, proved an effective substitute. He was a handful and soon had the ball in the back of the net after a Grimsby defender and goalkeeper Barnes collision left him with a tap in, only for the referee Dave Foster to controversially rule it out. It was the latest in a string of decisions City failed to get from Foster but then, perhaps conscious he was wrong to disallow the goal; he appeared to start favouring City.

As the game moved towards stoppage time and City looked beaten Medley chased a through ball which Barnes came out to collect in his hands, but just stepped over the penalty box line in doing so. A free kick and, after a pause, a red card; neither team were going to end the day with the keeper they started with.

The free kick was well saved by sub keeper Gary Montgomery before Wetherall headed the rebound over and it appeared the game was lost. Then Medley chased another lost cause, managed to win the ball and ran through to the penalty area. He was blocked by Justin Whittle and the referee blew for a penalty. Fans were already running on the pitch in celebration. The tension was huge, but Ndumbu-Nsungu kept his cool to fire home the spot and cue the wild celebrations which again spilled onto the pitch.

Unlike others I didn’t really believe this game to be a six pointer. City might be low down the league at present, but I believe we’ll soon be climbing up regardless of if we had have lost on Saturday. With the backdrop of no goalkeeper, a point was something we would all have probably settled for after 25 minutes and it was just a relief to see that the efforts of the players, most of who played below their best, was rewarded with something. Defeat would have left us back to square one after the promising Darlington draw last week.

So while wild celebrations for a point at Grimsby might seem unusual to some, it was perfectly understandable to every one of us present who had suffered a tortuous 92 minutes where every time the home side came forward you felt they would score, where you wished Ricketts had been available, where it looked like City were going to fall short yet again and where we were facing a long journey home debating and pondering what’s gone wrong.

Before that, six games of nothing to cheer. The performance against Darlington felt good, but it wasn’t a cause for celebration. The only thing good since Bower’s winner against Peterborough, our last win, was when Bower again scored against Morecambe and we thought we were heading for a win. That feeling lasted less than half an hour and soon after we were feeling even more pain.

So while I can’t speak for everyone there, I personally celebrated wildly because every time I’ve been to watch City lately there’s been little to cheer and I was at last able to let out some of that frustration. This was for getting stuffed by Accrington, for losing late on against MK Dons and Morecambe, for watching City slump from play offs to relegation candidates and, in the process, become something of a laughing stock.

This season has seen a magnificent level of support from City fans and the huge numbers at Valley Parade and on the road is far more deserving of the performances and results we’ve been watching of late. We’ve been desperate for something to cheer and we deserve something to cheer.

Football is about goals and, while a 93rd minute equaliser against Grimsby Town might not sound much, it felt fantastic just to be celebrating something.