Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
14 September 2002
Coventry City 3 Grimsby Town 2
A surreally grey, slightly hazy day with a chill, easterly breeze whistling menacingly through Birmingham's sullen nephew. Around 150 or so Town fans gathered with carefree abandon in the same stand as last year, towards one of the corner flags, on the side. We gathered without expectation or hope.
The pre-match entertainment was a light blue elephant pratfalling like Dumbo meets Norman Wisdom, to the soundtrack of always to be forgotten Canadian prog rock trio, popular in late 70s sixth forms, Rush. Someone had obviously let their one remaining UK fan free, so please alert the authorities NOW. When Hemispheres had finished (or whichever of their laughable albums it was) the Coventry tannoy announcer, who had the boomiest, bassist voice in football, read out the teams. Think Barry White announcing the following Town team, baby :- Coyne, McDermott, Chettle, Groves, Gallimore, Campbell, Pouton, Coldicott, Barnard, Kabba, Robinson. The substitutes for Grimsby Town were Allaway, Ford, Rowan, Cooke, Mansaram. Of course, it was a 4-4-2 formation, but a curious one, as it transpired that Coldicott sat (no, not literally) in front of the back four, with Campbell playing very centrally. Town just didn't bother playing anyone in front of McDermott. What the heck, he's played a million games so he knows what to do. Coventry lined up in what optimists would call a 3-5-2 formation. As things transpired, the respective formations were best described as "players on the pitch, wearing clothes". Except Coventry's players were much taller and much chunkier.
Town kicked off towards the end where the Town supporters sipped their pre-show cocktails, otherwise known as cups of chlorine free coffee, a Midland first. The first couple of minutes were fine, Town looking lively and relatively confident. Pouton and Coldicott set a hefty marker with some strong tackles and there were even a couple of attacks. Well, attacks by our standards. Both fizzled to nothing on the edge of the Coventry penalty area through poor passes by Barnard and Campbell. Kabba whirled his dervish a couple of times, but his knobbly knees and knobbly chest are offered in mitigation for his frequently terrible ball control.
Another brief moment of hope was created by a Kabba chase down the left to the bye-line, a shimmy, a twist, a roll, a drive into the box, then an attempt to dribble/bundle his way through three massive defenders 8 yards out. Just a typical moment, a glimpse of hope, but... Coventry scored somewhere in the first 10 minutes, but the linesman had already flagged for offside, so who cares. Well, Coventry supporters did, as they chuntered and muntered their way through the first half, getting more and more ratty with the officials. The "goal" was an indicator of the problems Town were going to encounter. The ball was lofted upfield, half cleared then lobbed over the top again, flicked on and Bothroyd placed a shot inside Coyne's right hand post. But time and time again Town were saved by the alert linesman. It felt like every attack was ended with an offside. And then the linesman in front of the Town fans caught the bug, forever flagging, despite the facts.
In between the offsides, things did happen. Even Town things. After 8 minutes there was a Town shot, which almost got a standing ovation, simply for being. A relatively decent move down the left resulted in the ball being passed back to Coldicott, about 20 yards out. He drifted across to his right, being pushed that way by an increasing number of blue shirts running towards him. He spotted a gap and curled a very soft right footed shot towards the 'keeper's left hand post. Hyldgaard (a former Lennie Loanee) ambled across his goal in his disgracefully fluorescent orange and yellow kit. He could wear that when he does his early morning paper round and be sure no milkfloat would run him over. The ball bounced in front of him and skipped gaily into his arms, then out again, and between his legs, rolling gently towards goal. For about 0.68 seconds we Town supporters thought that this was the moment when fortune returned and we'd see the greatest comedy goalkeeping since Paul Reece did an impression of Coco the Clown at Meadow Lane, one monsoon March day. But, a-ha, Morten can hack it, recovering to pick the ball up, spoiling things greatly.
Coventry took about 10 minutes to realise that poor old Galli was having one of those days where they cut him into little pieces. He would have been more use selling plastic windmills in Mablethorpe. Galli didn't so much back track as pre-back track. At no point was hei within 5 yards of Chippo, which led to a tiresome procession of crosses from the unmolested Moroccan through, over, round and about the 6 yard box. Some were missed by all, some were caught by Coyne, others were hacked away by Coldicott, and some were ushered to safety by some fantastic body checks and rolls by, principally, Coldicott. So, a lot of "oohs" from the hosts, and "haaahs" back from the Townites.
I can recall seeing the ball fly away like a toupe in a typhoon from attempted long shots by Coventry, with one distinctly Poutonian in its waywardness. Height, width, distance, it was all there, it was only just a goal kick. We were beginning to think this was a certain 0-0 draw, with both sides avoiding goalscoring moments between the offsides. Even Town had shots, well another one, after 30 minutes. Barnard curled a pass down the left touchline and Kabba, cut into the penalty area and the ball was eventually laid back to Pouton, right in the centre, right on the edge of the penalty area. As two Coventry players threw themselves at him, Pouton sliced a shot slowly wide of the 'keeper's left hand post. It feels entirely appropriate to get the high drama and excitements created by Town out of the way now. Do you sense a trace of irony? We had the crowd-pleasing double step over from Pouton following a barnstorming run down the left. He made the Coventry player toss and turn like a neurotic insomniac and crossed deeply to the far post. Shaw, the Floella Benjamin look-a-like, headed out for a Town corner. So no danger there then. Barnard curled it gently into Hyldgaard's clasping, grasping buckets. Just before half time Kabba made us all stand up and roar... with laughter. There was an almighty scramble inside the Coventry penalty area, with McDermott surging, and passing in to Kabba's feet. Kabba rolled, was half stopped, got the ball back, rolled the other way, was half stopped again, then rolled past his marker, so that he was free, on the edge of the 6 yard box a couple of yards from the bye-line. He looked up, the Town fans stood up, he then fell over the ball, shinning it straight into a ballboy's hands. It was so bad the Town fans were rolling around in the aisles, it was beyond anger and frustration and was straight to video parody.
Coventry continued to infiltrate the spaces between the Town defenders and Gallimore, with McAllister and Safri a constant menace with forward runs. There was a problem down the right with Gordon being allowed to wander where he pleased, as Campbell was concentrating on the odd forward break. Thank heavens for McDermott's good sense of positioning, not allowing Gordon space to cross. But chances came, with Coyne making at least three superb saves; three superb wasted saves, as the linesman's right arm was long, long raised for offside. Coyne did make two excellent saves that were needed, and both from that long standing pain in the backside to Town, Lee Mills. Half way through the half, frobut failed completely on both counts. By this time Kabba was on the corner of the penalty area and free. Barely a Town supporter stirred, after all, he had twice fallen over the ball in a similar position during the first half. He carried on into the area and set himself to shoot from about a dozen yards out and probably the same wide of the goal. The ball fizzed across the turf, past the Opal Fruit, and into the bottom right hand corner of what regular attendees at football matches refer to as "the goal". After a brief moment when all 150 Town supporters looked askance, askew and at each other, we leapt like Ben Chapman. KABBA had scored, not only a goal, but a flamin' great one. By our standards. The Town players went bonkers, running and jumping around like they'd just won the FA Cup and, as is traditional, they celebrated long into the night.
Ah, what a lovely feeling. A goal, a goal by a striker, a damn fine goal by a striker and Town leading. Almost straight from the kick off Coventry attacked down the own left. Galli remained in the bar toasting Kabba whilst Chippo lofted a deep cross into the 6 yards box. MILLS rose above Groves and headed firmly down to the bottom right hand corner of the goal. Coyne got a hand to it, but the ball trickled over the line. After a series of Calamity Jane moments down the left, Gallimore was taken off 5 minutes later, replaced by Ford in a direct swap. The effect was immediate, as Chippo no longer had time or space. Ford simply ran up to him when he had the ball and tackled. See Galli, that's all it took. If only you'd though of that. Or even lardy boy Barnard, who Butterfielded his way through the game, stamping his authority on the same 5 yard patch of turf. Never, ever, bothering to track back, or cover for his left back, he was seen looking at the unmarked Chippo a few times, then admiring the resultant cross. Shocking play from an "international". It'd be shocking play in the Conference, wouldn't it.
It was a very strange game now, actually watchable, with wave upon wave of attacks, mainly by Coventry, but Town did press too. There were vast acres untouched by human feet, which meant an open game - crosses, shots, songs, laughter, jokes old and new. Town's best move followed soon after Gallimore's removal. Kabba (I think) careered off down the right, got to the bye line and crossed through the centre of the 6 yard box. We oohed, of course. Barnard strolled forward unmarked, controlled the ball and, from 8 yards to the left of goal crossed back to the unmarked Pouton, near the penalty spot. Pouton set himself to steer the ball wide of the citrus stopper. Unfortunately, Pouton steered the ball into the ground and it bounced up nicely for Hyldgaard who plucked it safely from the sky to his left. A few minutes later Barnard stroked a careful corner from the Town right to the unmarked Pouton, 25 yards out, just to the right of centre. Pouton leant back, dreamt of Paul Scholes, and leathered a mighty right foot volley, which cannoned off the back of a desperately tumbling Coventry defender for another corner. A small moment that led to nothing, but an indication that the confidence of a goal was raising the standard of Town's football, and individuals' aspirations. Pouton again almost created something by surging forward down the middle from a searing double crunch tackle by the Pouton/Coldicott double headed monster. Pouton's lovely pass to Kabba, in space on the left edge of the Coventry penalty area briefly offered a glimpse of goal. But Kabba decided to cut inside and dribble past all of the Coventry central defenders, the three stooges. The result was predictably lame, as Kabba made a 6 yard pass sideways for himself, which he got to, spun, and fell over. It would have been simpler to shoot
Coventry were more overtly driven on by McAllister in the second half, which led to quite a few hairy moments, if that be a proper simile for the tonsorially challenged oldster. Coventry tried to exploit their physical superiority by pushing the nine foot giant, Bothroyd, against McDermott, but that didn't work, so they resorted to the old trick of playing football, one-twos around the area, with midfielders sprinting forward to support. Cue panic. Bothroyd spun on the edge of the Town area and, from a central position hit a right footed hooking half volley low to Coyne's left. Coyne saved brilliantly, parrying to the side. Ford was alert and easily blocked Chippo's attempted follow up shot. Konjic hooked a curling chip from 25 yards straight at Coyne, Coyne punch-parried a shot from close range following a scramble and later waved excellently to his right following a shot from near the penalty spot, again following a Keystone Cop farce of a scramble. Twice, a big Coventry player tried to bully his way through the Town defence in the penalty area. A-tissue, a-tissue, they all fell down. Coldicott and Ford, Chettle and Campbell, both acted as human walls to block a battering ram. The ball fell to some blue clad player, he swung his boot, the ball went through a thicket of legs and Coyne made that save.
And still they rolled forward, helped by some increasingly mad refereeing decisions. Chippo launched a Kato style kung-fu tackle on Barnard, a free kick to Town, no booking. Coldicott leapt up vertically to head the ball, with a Coventry player a few feet away. The referee gave Coventry a free kick, I presume because Coldicott's artistic inelegance offended aesthetically. Town never really dealt with the free kick, with Groves and McDermott only half clearing down the right. The ball was returned immediately and hoofed back out to Mills about 5 yards outside the Town penalty area on the right. Mills knocked the ball back over the top towards the byeline and Groves turned slowly and trudged back towards the ball. Mills, like a hyperactive toothbrush salesman on the M45, drove his sky blue Sierra into the back of the OAP's Morris Traveller. He bounced theatrically off Groves' back and appealed, as did some of the more hopeful Coventry supporters. A small whelp of "penalty " could be heard drifting on the breeze. And the referee, stood only 5 yards away, immediately, and with relish, pointed at the penalty spot. The decision was so shocking hardly any of the Town players complained. It truly defied logic. Groves wasn't booked for whatever he was supposed to have done. The Coventry players celebrated the award of a penalty with suspicious enthusiasm, like it had been "won". McALLISTER walked up and placed the ball to Coyne's right as he dived left. Comment not required, I'll let the facts speak for themselves. There were 20 minutes left.
As we, the faithful few, slumped down and muttered about the referee, something wonderful happened. The Town players were roused to respond. The ball was lobbed down the Town right and Robinson realised that the defender had misjudged the flight of the ball, with it skipping of the defender's head and back towards the bye line. Robinson ran on, cut back and crossed to the far post. POUTON ran in unmarked and, from about 10 yards out and level with the post, stooped and headed the ball down into the ground. The ball looped up and over a defender, and continued up and over the mortified Morten, rolling down the back of the net on his right hand side. Pouton did a magnificent cartwheel and sprinted down the touchline to the Town fans waving his arms around in exuberant exhortation.
The next 10 minutes were not too worrying, except when they were. Coventry pressed forward, with much crossing but little concern for Town. It was the counter attacks which were the problem. The referee ignored a handball by Mills (I think) and allowed Coventry to continue attacking. Safri surged forward down the middle and, from just to the right of centre, smacked a hard, fast, low shot across Coyne towards his bottom right hand corner. Coyne magnificently smothered the turf and tipped the ball a few inches wide of the post. A couple of minutes later, the little shaven headed substitute, Pipe, scuttled free down the centre, again following the break up of a Town attack. The Town defence ran back, he shot from the edge of the area, but dragged it a few feet wide of Coyne's left hand post.
The time ticked away and it was beginning to feel like a good away point being carefully folded into the envelope, the stamp being prepared for stickage. Just a minute Mr Postman, it isn't time for collection just yet. With about three minutes left, Barnard tackled Safri right in front of the Town supporters, winning the ball and knocking it out for a throw in as Safri squealed and leapt in the air. The referee gave Coventry a free kick, in a dangerous position, on the touchline, about 25 yards out. McAllister trotted over, waited for the big Coventry players to line up all in a row. He curled in a superb pacy cross which skidded off BOTHROYD'S head and arced over Coyne into the top right hand corner. Unstoppable, though Coyne almost got a finger tip to it.
Town immediately prepared two substitutions, which these days take ages to arrange through the good offices of the 4th official, such that Mansaram and Rowan came on for Barnard and Robinson in the 89th minute. Rowan took up a left wing position, which was more than Barnard did. Town lumped the ball forward, which was true desperation as Coventry's defenders were just bigger than any player Town had on the pitch. There were a few moments which got the Town fans off their seats, with the very last kick of the game being the nearest. Chettle lobbed the ball back into the area, Rowan shielded the ball about 12 yards out in the centre, knocking it on to Mansaram, about 8 yards out, who stretched out a leg and diverted the ball slowly, slowly past the 'keeper and a few inches wide of the right hand post. But the linesman had, as usual, raised his flag. Offside, game over.
Pfft, the manner of the defeat does rather stick in the throat. A bad first half was certainly cast into canyons of the mind by a thoroughly entertaining second half. Really neither side deserved to win, or lose. A draw would not have caused too many heartaches, even though Coventry had the bulk of possession and the better chances. They didn't need the referee to help them, and help them he did. Flicking through the programme before the game the statistics showed that Coventry score most of their goals with headers in the last 15 minutes, whilst Town concede most of their goals through headers. And that's what happened.
Once Gallimore was taken off, Town were much better defensively. In essence, Ford must play somewhere in defence if he is fit. The centre of midfield was fine, such that Coventry supporters were overheard in the streets after the game praising our two "cloggers". The forwards started to look like forwards after a goal had been scored, and Town began to look like a team. I stress the word began, as there are still problems in the wide midfield positions. The reaction of the Town fans at the end says it all - as one they applauded the team, and supported them... no boos, no moans, no calling for sackings or droppings. We recognised what we saw. This time, defeat was courtesy of matters without our control.
Nick0's Man of the Match
Coyne? Maybe, for some good saves. Pouton? Maybe, through his more obvious contributions. No, today it's Stacy Coldicott, who ran his little heart out, flinging himself here, there and everywhere doing lots of little, but very important, things in defence, and covering for the defence. Every dog has his day.
I won't bother analysing him, it's all above. He was, as far as Town were concerned, fine for 60 minutes. His debatable decisions were mainly against Coventry. But he spent the last 30 minutes annoying everyone, and particularly us. The penalty decision was just wrong on every level. Careless whistling costs jobs. He gets 2.01