GRIMSBY TOWN 0 CITY 2
Nationwide Division One
1st December 2001
Scorers Huckerby(pen 74), Goater(90)
City Nash, Mettomo, Wiekens, Dunne, Wright-Phillips, Benarbia, Berkovic, Tiatto, Horlock, Huckerby Goater – subs Negouai(3), Toure(unused), Ritchie(unused), Weaver(unused), Killen(unused)
Grimsby Coyne, Butterfield, Groves, Broomes, Gallimore, Pouton, Coldicott, Willems, Rowan, Jevons, Boulding – subs Neilson(77), Jeffrey(45), Raven(unused), Chapman(unused), Croudson(unused)
Patience Pays Off As Dominant Blues Have Mariners All At Sea
POSSESSION is said to be nine-tenths of the law and football is no exception to that rule of thumb. It was a fact perfectly illustrated at Blundell Park as Manchester City’s zealous and accomplished protection of the ball finally strangled the life out of a home side that had opened with no little zest, purpose or intent.
Normally the only way one could link inhospitable, windy Grimsby with matters continental would be the inclination towards Norwegian weather systems but new-look City’s style on was distinctly pan-European. That should hardly be surprising when one considers the international nature of Kevin Keegan’s impressive armoury But the way the Blues l built patiently from the back, before employing rapier thrusts down the flanks, conjured up visions far removed from the usual harum-scarum nature of life in the First Division, It wasn’t as though Grimsby had not known what to expect, for they had visited Maine Road only six weeks earlier and suffered a 4-0 mauling. On that night the Mariners had looked like fish out of water right from the off and found themselves three goals down at half-time.
But back in the tight confines of their own ocean-front residence, they were a deal more difficult to reel in. Perhaps they were buoyed by the thought that they had not lost to City at Blundell Park since the Ancient Mariner was a boy.
They began in feisty fashion, fully testing not only the Blues’ resolve and resilience but also the solidity of their 3-5-2 line-up.
Boss Keegan has been keen to prove that his side can switch successfully between systems and this 90 minutes showed that they may have at last mastered the art. After a successful spell operating with a conventional 4-4-2 shape, the manager used Stuart Pearce’s absence to revert back to a three-man back line and gambled on attack-minded Danny Tiatto and Shaun Wright-Phillips at wing back.
If he had any qualms, Keegan need not have worried. Wright-Phillips was tested time and time again but the youngster came through with flying colours, particularly in the second half, when he dropped deeper and had Ali Benarbia offering additional protection in front of him. The one real surprise in the Blues side was the promotion of Kevin Horlock to the holding midfield role that allowed Benarbia and Eyal Berkovic freedom to roam.
The Northern Ireland international was preferred to Christian Negouai who found himself on the bench watching and learning as Horlock produced a measured and assured performance. It was smattered with the odd stray pass but was still his best of the season.
Berkovic was, however the shining star of the afternoon. The Israeli’s movement and use of the ball was always highly intelligent and, while he has largely had to play second fiddle to Benarbia in the publicity stakes over the past two months, there are signs that he could well be the key to the Blues’ promotion bid. For once, Benarbia’s distribution was not what it might have been, although the inventiveness was there in flashes.
Carlo Nash grabbed his opportunity to shine with both hands as he clutched Jon Rowan’s low effort and then Alan Poulton’s swerving free—kick before punching away a wickedly swerving drive from Michael Boulding. Not that Danny Coyne wasn’t just as busy at the other end, tipping aside Berkovic’s raking 23rd-minute drive and then bravely blocking at Goater’s feet after a pair of rapid one-twos between Benarbia and the Israeli. Coyne’s best effort, though, came three minutes before the break when he saved with his foot after skipper Goater had broken free for a second time. Coyne saved with his legs from Huckerby and Goater had a goal ruled out for off-side. Even Boulding’s drive, thumping against Nash’s left-hand post, failed to deflect City from their mission and the anticipated breakthrough duly arrived in the 74th minute.
Huckerby’s pace on to a Tiatto through ball carried him past defender Danny Butterfield who then chopped the striker down. Amid some rancour from the home defenders and fans, Huckerby picked himself up and coolly slotted home his 12th goal of the season. Grimsby then hit back and where Lucien Mettomo and his side—kicks, Gerard Wiekens and Richard Dunne, had looked comfortable they suddenly appeared vulnerable.
It wasn’t until injury time that the visiting fans could finally laud the collection of three points. Goater who had missed the last two games with a groin problem, resumed normal service and grabbed number 21 for the season with a clinical finish from 16 yards after collecting Benarbia’s pass.
FROM MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS BY CHRIS BAILEY AND PAUL HINCE