When Rickie Lambert came off the bench to score the winning goal for England against Scotland with his first touch, I was pleased for him – and I didn’t think that would’ve been possible eight years ago when I saw him score directly from a corner in the fourth minute of injury time for Rochdale to deny Grimsby three points at Spotland.
It was a cold Tuesday night in March 2005. The Mariners were winning an energy sapping match 2-1 on a pitch that featured more sand than Cleethorpes beach. The visiting fans were in good voice. Since victory would’ve put us top of the fourth division that night, everything was going well. The black and white army were even singing complimentary songs about manager Russell Slade.
Then, with 93 minutes on the clock and Rochdale desperately throwing everyone forward in an attempt to rescue a point they deserved, the home team won a corner from the left. Lambert ran to the advertising hoardings, collected the ball and sprinted to the corner flag and placed the ball on the quadrant.
One swing of the right foot and the ball drifted over the heads of a crowded penalty box, past the flailing arms of Grimsby keeper Steve Mildenhall and caressed the inside of the net, before it rolled back round to settle in the corner of the goal.
The Mariners kicked off. And then the referee blew for full time.
So then, two points dropped and top spot denied. It’s always difficult to tell what sort of effect a last minute goal has on the team that conceded it – at least until they play their next game.
Grimsby’s next game ended in a 5-0 defeat at local rivals Lincoln City. It was a game in which Slade kept the Town team out on the pitch at half time to deliver his team talk – way before the day when Phil Brown did similar with his Hull City side.
The Mariners lost form and won just two of their remaining eight league games, dropping out of the automatic promotion places and ending in the play-offs – which they lost 1-0 to Cheltenham in the final at the Millennium Stadium.
I’ve often thought that that 94th minute equaliser at Rochdale cost us automatic promotion in the 2005/6 season. And given the way the club fell apart both on and off the field in the weeks, months and years that followed, I sometimes consider the notion that Rickie Lambert ruined Grimsby Town.
But that would probably be a bit unfair.