|In Keith Hill's programme notes before the game, he chose not to focus on last week's victory over Accrington which had ensured our six months grins had been just that bit wider all week. |
Instead, he harked back to this time last year, and a similar lips to ears moment from when we won away at Wycombe before starting the sort of slump normally associated with those clubs who are apparently battling it out to finish 3rd.
The message was loud and clear. Keep the feet firmly on the ground. Nothing has been won yet. And if we switch off, for just one second, we'll turn round and find ourselves with the collective dentures of the Bee Gees, Esther Rantzen and the cast of a dozen teen Vampire movies attached to our posterior. And the performance from Dale today oozed such a mentality.
This had "potential banana skin" written all over it as the cliché goes. In recent weeks, Grimsby have taken the scalps of promotion rivals Bournemouth and Shrewsbury, and with twenty three years of relegation scraps (with all but two as voyeurs) under our belts, we know all too well that a team at the bottom fighting for their league survival are a very dangerous breed indeed. We didn't want to end up with our severed head on a stick on display outside Ramsdens.
And so it proved to be. Strangely reminiscent of Carlisle back in 2001, Grimsby turned up with over 1000 supporters, aided by free transport laid on by the club, looking to build on last week's Bournemouth win. It was clear from their fans, that confidence was high and they were genuinely looking to take something from this game.
It showed too. From the opening whistle, they were at it as if the game was some sort of footballing 20-20. They knew they had to step up a gear to live with a side that need to be promoted for the benefit of the rest of the division, and they certainly huffed and puffed their way into this game.
But for all their energy, enthusiasm and confidence, it had to be said that there was a distinct lack of quality within their side. Indeed, when it comes to the end of year polls, there will be few rivals to Jude Sterling for the tag of Worst Player of the Season. Imagine Rory Delap if he had the footballing talent of Richard out of Richard n Judy, and you're nearly close. I almost thought he was a plant at one point, sent to ensure the Football League survival of Cheltenham Town.
And with our feet so firmly attached to the floor, there was no way we were going to be taken by surprise, and we stood firm against their energetic stance, and with that threat neutralised, the class shone through to the extent that the game was all over within the first twenty minutes or so.
We'd threatened on a few occasions in the opening stages, and Thompson came close to securing the opener but his header was deflected wide. The confidence within our own ranks was unprecedented, and last week's Accy comeback has reinforced the belief that even if we have to wait till time running out, we'll still score. Then score again.
So enter Ciaran Toner. Regarded as surplus to requirements at Blundell Park, and mocked by many a messageboard Mariner as he responded to that release by joining a side that came within a Beeby of promotion, the jeers that he attracted early in this game came back to haunt the relegation threatened supporters.
Quite simply, Toner was superb and ran the show in the middle of the park as he stepped in for Jason Taylor. But it was his work down the wing which brought us our first goal of the afternoon. The former Northern Ireland international produced one of the crosses of the season with his right foot which was met perfectly by Joey Thompson who kind of floated through the air to direct it home.
Straight from the kick off, we came very close to making it two, as the visitors just went through the motions at the restart only for Thompson again to take advantage, but his terrorising run came short outside of the Grimsby box.
whisper this next bit quietly. We went a bit long ball for our second goal. No footballing to death, no thinking we're Brazil 70, no going for a hundred passes on the way in, just a good old fashioned proper hoof from Fielding. As the ball descended to earth, Sterling again proved to be the game's most influential player by missing it completely, allowing it to bounce, and almost getting in the way of the second defender. A rampaging Chris Dagnall swooped in to take full advantage with a low drive from the edge of the box.
Right now, the question was how many as Dale continued to cause panic every time they pushed forward against the hapless Grimsby defence. O'Grady was turning his marker for fun once again, and it was if we found room wherever and whenever we wanted it.
We also had the odd sight of a Grimsby fan trawling (sorry) up and down the sidelines wagging his finger at his side, before trying to whip them up later in the game. It was as if he genuinely believed he was the manager and it was a most amusing sight. Though knowing Lower League football, he was either one of the free travel newbies, or a regular away trip bore.
With half time on its way, we got our third and it all stemmed from Toner again. He passed the ball something like thirty yards to O'Grady who was lurking outside the Grimsby box with intent. A quick trademark turn, and the ball was passed through to Dagnall who was away and clear. Almost nonchalantly, he nudged it past Coglan. Game over!
Or so many of the Grimsby supporters thought as they vacated the away end in their droves. Free coach travel to Rochdale it may have been but at this stage, they'd have gladly paid out substantial funds for a swift return to the East Coast seaside. There were possibly up to a couple of hundred of them who missed out on their goal just before half time.
A free kick was headed towards the back post, and there were two Mariners moving in for the kill. It was Ashley Chambers who got the final touch to give just a glimmer of hope for the visitors watching, and those who raced back after hearing the noise just in time to see Rory McArdle doing some fancy footwork to prevent Grimsby getting the ball back straight away.
The second half was certainly a more even affair, and the visitors even suggested at times that they had the making of half a decent side with some of their players. They looked far from being the worst side to visit Spotland this year, and against lesser opposition, they'd have had no problem getting some from the game.
Clear cut chances were at a premium for ourselves, and whilst we hinted at chances, Grimsby equally hinted at being able to grab a second and change the whole complexion of the game. Fortunately, it never progressed beyond being a hint.
Jason Kennedy was given the chance to remind us all yet again that he has still not scored for Dale. Good work by Dale saw Kennedy receive the ball smack bang in the centre of the penalty box, but his effort didn't trouble Colgan between the Grimsby posts. But being top of the table and scoring goals for fun has allowed not one scrap of frustration to be attached to Kennedy in the eyes of the supporters. Perhaps he's saving his goalscoring for THAT goal which is on the way.
We then had the rare sight of a Chris O'Grady booking, and you couldn't really argue with it. In one of his moves into the box, he got nudged in the back, before deciding about three seconds later that it was a penalty worthy challenge. The referee was rightfully far from convinced by O'Grady's lunge forward, and he immediately awarded Town a free kick, cautioning O'Grady in the process.
A stern talking to from the referee for a nothing tackle a couple of minutes later was enough for Keith Hill to withdraw O'Grady from the proceedings. This game was over, and it was pointless to risk future games on a potential second yellow.
But whilst we may have seen the end of O'Grady, we hadn't seen the end of the scoring, and with time ticking away, Chris Dagnall popped up to do what he'd threatened to do all afternoon and get his third.
He was fed through by sub Higginbotham, resisting the instructions to shoot every time he got the ball, and he had no problem finishing past Colgan to complete his hat trick. And in true Dagnall style, the match ball was symbolically placed under his shirt.
We've seen the celebration before. What does it say about us that we know recognise what a striker's hat trick celebration consists of? That's four hat tricks to his name since joining the club for Dagnall - something only matched by Reg Jenkins and Albert Whitehurst. Though, the popular scouser needs to score another seven if he wants to take Albert's title off him.
There wasn't much time left after that, so for the eight time this season, we were limited to just the four goals. But the three points were enough to maintain our ten point lead at the top, and extend the gap between ourselves and fourth place to thirteen points, with just eight games left for them to catch us with. You couldn't make this up.
There's previous little you can say about Dale that hasn't been said already about a million times over this season. It's superlatives all the way, and as remarked today, we're probably ruining any future promotion campaigns as being in third place will no doubt be interpreted as being not good enough. For those of us younger than Jimmy Saville who can't remember the last promotion, our only experience of a successful promotion campaign will be leading from the front and intending to lap everyone else. Anything less will no doubt be viewed as a disappointment.
But as for now, this is proving to be the campaign to end all campaigns, and forget all the what / if stuff. Conversations are now about which Dale player will be the one to grab the goal to end thirty six years of basement football.
And people want us to keep our feet on the floor.........