Barcelona It Ain't...
On the other side of the Bay of Biscay and far, far away a team called Barcelona did play. Today. Their football was poetry in motion: they won four-nil to advance to the next stage of the Champions League against a team not unknown for kicking people. Barca has become no less then the Holy Grail of the beautiful game in which the name Messi is increasingly a byword for everything that is good about soccer as it should be played. With the exception of that noisy minority who claim that Barcelona is actually in Catalonia, many pundits say that the reason that the Spanish national side has taken the world by storm is simply that Barca provide the backbone to the team.
Which leads me to thinking...
If Mordor had a national side, I wonder what it would look like?
Send in your opinions, please...
On the other side of the M1 somewhere past Birmingham can be found a team which is not called Barcelona and which does NOT play the Beautiful game. As for poetry - is it a total coincidence that Northampton rhymes with Rampton?
At Sixfields, It's not so much Messi as just… Messy. Providing it works.
No wonder Morecambe old boy Dave Artell is on loan at Wrexham...
I've seen Northampton four times now and on every occasion, I've witnessed a physically big team who are prepared to mix it but who play effectively as a unit. It's Stoke City rather than classic Arsenal; Ron Harris as opposed to Bobby Moore; Leeds Rhinos Rugby League instead of David O'Leary`s Leeds United.
The team which visited the Globe tonight fitted this stereotype to a tee. Front to back - even before the introduction of Man Mountain Adebayo Akinfenwa - the Cobblers must have weighed at least as half as much again as the Shrimps team which faced them. Even suave, articulate and probably perfect role model - or maybe just Model - Clarke Carlisle looked about three zillion times bigger than he does on the telly. In number twelve Ben Tozer, Northampton had their very own Rory Delap: a human being who can throw a football further than most of us can kick one. Yes, it might just as well be Neanderthal Town as Northampton...
Within twenty seconds, Ishmel Demontagnac left his Calling Cards with Kevin Ellison by bringing him down with a crude lunge. The Shrimps` own potentially most aggressive player had been duly warned that the Cobblers had arrived with a Game Plan.
For the first period at least, however, the men in the almost blindingly fluorescent lime green strip played some decent football and were undeniably unlucky not to be winning by half time. For me, the outstanding player was the biggest one on the pitch: Northampton Centre Half Kelvin Langmead. He was hurt early on and played most of the game with his head heavily bandaged. Whether this bang on the bonce made him play differently to usual, I have no way of knowing. But he seemed to have got the idea - through much of the match - that he was actually a Number Nine rather than a Number Five and he gave Morecambe's defence problems all night long particularly when he turned up where he was least expected: right at the front. For a big bloke, this guy could play a bit: he was quick, agile and he read the game well. During the second half, he matched Morecambe's outstanding player Redshaw most of the time without fouling him and constantly either cut off or physically blocked attempts on goal by the smallest player on the pitch. Only to blot his copybook once. And flatten someone else. But before this happened, Langmead headed against Andreas Arestidou's left hand post after twenty minutes with a powerful header after Lewis Allesandra was caught in possession.
This was unlucky. And the visitors were even more unlucky: they hit the other post twice during the first half, firstly three minutes earlier when a free-kick by Chris Hackettt eluded everyone in the penalty area and secondly after forty minutes when Ben Harding's shot bounced harmlessly away. On all these occasions, the Shrimps' reserve goalkeeper Andreas Arestidou was merely a bystander. He earned his corn, however, with an excellent save to his left after twenty-five minutes to deny Demontagnac's attempt to opening the scoring with a wickedly-placed shot from distance.
At the other end, however, Andreas' opposite number Lee Nichols also had to earn his corn to keep the scores level at half time. After just six minutes, Kevin Ellison and Jack Redshaw combined well for the latter to draw a full-length save from Nichols to his right. With a quarter of an hour played, the man in the blue strip performed a similar move possibly even more perfectly to push a header from Ellison away for a corner. Twenty-two minutes were on the clock when Redshaw pounced on poor Cobblers play at the back and sent a shot just past the visitors' goal.
So the game had been quite even up to half time. But what would happen during the second period?
Northampton Manager Aidy Boothroyd had clearly told his charges that the main threats to them were Redshaw and Lewis Allesandra - who had kept his head (and the ball) when others were losing theirs throughout the first half. Consequently, Morecambe's relatively slight number nine was substituted after 76 minutes. Langmead - who probably realised that he simply wasn't quick enough to boot Redshaw off the field from the early stages of the game - couldn't resist the opportunity of flattening Morecambe's number nine after 68 minutes though. He should have been booked. Two minutes later, John Johnson committed an even worse foul on the same player for which many referees would have issued him a straight red card. He got away with a yellow - and a probably literally dazed Allesandra soon left the pitch. By this time, however, Northampton had reverted to type. Jack the Lad had scored for the Shrimps following a typically determined and mazy run after 56 minutes. The visitors might have equalised after 63 minutes when Roy O'Donovan drew a really good save from Arestidou to his left. But once Mr Boothroyd threw on Secret Weapon Akinfenwa, Morecambe seemed to freeze. The Cobblers increasingly dominated the play in the way someone squeezing a bag of icing sugar might when decorating a cake - all it needs is brute force.
Former Manager Sammy McIlroy often lamented that his Morecambe side played like a non-League team in their early years in what was once the Fourth Division: they simply didn't know how to play out a game which was effectively won. And so it proved again tonight: the visitors equalised right at the death after the ball had rebounded from the Morecambe goal-post for a fourth time. Guess who was there to bundle the rebound over the line?
I wonder how much of this Kelvin Langmead actually remembers...
If the match had lasted much more than the extra four minutes allowed by fussy and ineffectual referee Chris Sarginson, Northampton might have pinched it.
In a similar position after 88 minutes, Mr Boothroyd would no doubt have sent on substitutes for whichever player happened to be furthest from the dug-outs right at the death, played the ball into the corner and risked yellow cards at every opportunity to delay things whenever the ball went dead just to waste time.
Theirs isn't the Beautiful Game but the Cobblers' manage to stay in the league season after season playing like this. Tonight, they are actually fourth in the table. Morecambe remain in thirteenth.
You could conclude from this that Northampton's Ugly Game clearly seems to work.
But so would Artexing the Sistine Chapel...
Morecambe: 25 Andreas Arestidou; 2 Nick Fenton; 22 Andy Parrish (3 Robbie Threlfall 42 mins); 15 Chris McCready; 6 Will Haining (C); 8 Andrew Wright; 16 Stewart Drummond (Y); 18 Gary McDonald; 9 Lewis Allesandra (26 Chris Holroyd 53 mins); 11 Kevin Ellison (Y); 27 Jack Redshaw (Y).
Substitutes not used: 42 Lee Jones; 20 Joe Mwasile; 10 Ryan Williams; 17 Andy Fleming; 14 Jordan Burrow
Northampton Town: 21 Lee Nichols; 2 John Johnson (Y) (9 Clive Platt 77 mins); 3 Joe Widdowson; 5 Kelvin Langmead; 6 Lee Collins (C) (10 Adebayo Akinfenwa 69 mins); 7 Ishmel Demontagnac (Y); 8 Ben Harding; 11 Chris Hackettt; 12 Ben Tozer; 28 Roy O'Donovan; 30 Clarke Carlisle.
Substitutes not used: 13 Dean Snedker; 4 Luke Guttridge; 22 Lewis Hornby; 25 Claudio Dias; 17 Jake Robinson.
Ref: Chris Sarginson.