Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
30 November 2002
Grimsby Town 1 Leicester City 2
An overcast, grey, murky afternoon with a bit of a chill and a hint of rain brought the manic midlanders flocking to the seaside, with the entire Osmond Stand full. The news of Boulding's statement of intent to return, and the sight of Gorgeous Georges striding across the pitch in brown shoes (we'll excuse his lack of knowledge of Dr Johnson, for a gentleman never wears brown in Town) raised spirits on a dull, damp day. The future looked fine, the present not so, for there was no Mansaram to be seen. Rowan up front? Soames? What, who, why and when? And how are we going to score?
Well, Town lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Gavin, Groves, Gallimore, Campbell, Pouton, Coldicott, Barnard, Livingstone and Oster. The substitutes were Allaway, Cooke, Rowan, Soames and Ward. Campbell was on the right; Barnard left midfield, with Oster seemingly given firm instructions to rove around Livingstone like a rather shy suitor. Don't worry Oster - there's plenty more fish in the sea.
Before the game McDermott received yet more commemorative glassware to stick on his mantelpiece, to mark his 60First game for Town. Does he have a sideline in retail knick-knacks? Macca's World of Class, opposite Ernie Beckett's fish and chip shop. He'll only retire when he's stocked the shop. The teams ran out to some very odd noise. Even the teenagers were unable to identify the racket dribbling out of the speakers. Or at least they didn't admit to knowing what it was. So it must have been something very embarrassing to the cool kids on the block
Enough, the game.
Leicester kicked off towards the Pontoon and didn't welly it out of play. We knew we were in trouble. They drove forward with pace and purpose, with Dickov (officially called "that little git Dickov" in all authorised Football Association publications) pestering the ankles of most Town defenders like an amorous chihuahua.
After about 30 seconds, the referee awarded them a free kick 30 yards out after two Town players slid across to tackle Dickov. After an interminable delay caused by Davidson feigning a pass to Izzet, attempting to disrupt the wall and designated blocker, he rolled it sideways to Izzet, who performed a free kick right out of the Town book of wasted set pieces, thwacking a firm drive into the ankles of the second defender from the right. The ball went straight back to Davidson, who tried a first-time shot. It hit McDermott, who was standing on the edge of the area in the middle, on the back and looped up, beyond the stars. Slowly, slowly the ball dropped as Coyne adjusted his feet, shuffled across the goal-line to his right and waited. Coyne leapt gently and, instead of catching it, or tipping it over the bar, flapped it back one-handed into the penalty area, like a convalescing dandy waving away his dinner. The ball travelled a couple of yards to SCOWCROFT who, despite a lunge from Coldicott, bundled the ball through Coyne's legs with an unknown part of his anatomy. Silence, embarrassed silence. Wales, Wales number...err, we're still counting. (If it's good enough for Liverpool, it's good enough for us. - Ed.)
Town roared forward, with some style, but nothing tangible to describe. Passes, zipping one-twos down the left, Oster, Barnard, Oster, crosses, corners, Oster, crosses, clearances. Oohs, but not a shot in anger. The scoreboard was showing the time as -2 minutes; obviously Leicester couldn't have scored yet, that would be defying the laws of physics, if not the rules of Association Football. So Leicester simply stepped up the pace and showed why they had been in the Premiership, and also why they aren't now. For a 10-minute spell Leicester overran Town - which is not a criticism of the Town players; the opposition were simply too good. They were very mobile and had a definite game plan, such that their players knew where to run and where to pass to. None of this “look up and see where I am” stuff. No hopeful, hopeless punting a la Palace. They passed with purpose and moved with menace.
Even the long balls were aimed with precision, such that a long pass from Elliott was placed upon Scowcroft's head. He flicked the ball on and Benjamin was momentarily free behind the defence on the centre-left edge of the Town penalty area. Benjamin swung at the ball and missed, continued running, surging past Gavin and bearing down upon Coyne, but going away from goal. From a narrow angle about eight yards wide of goal, Benjamin attempted to lift the ball over Coyne, but the shot stopper stopped the shot at point blank range, conceding a corner. Leicester took the corner quickly and short to Rogers, unmarked just outside the penalty area on their right. He took the ball forward and across and, from the very corner of the penalty area, smacked a left-footed drive at shoulder height towards the inside post. Coyne flew across and did a spectacular double-handed parry to push the ball away for a corner. Great shot, great save. And all this after just five minutes - well, according to the scoreboard, that is. And we thought they'd fixed it. Nope. Stuck it was. Stuck on Grimsby T 0 Leicester 1 - 5 minutes for the whole game. Constancy is comforting, I suppose. We'd be confused by a fully functioning scoreboard
Leicester continued to rip through the midfield with a blur of blue, though the Town defence and midfield had learnt from the past and managed to stop them shooting. Coldicott, especially, managed to delay the shots by his mere presence a couple of times, with Gavin and Groves always seeming to get their body in the way of the incoming enemy missiles. And let's not forget the wayward wanderer, the king of the stepovers, Pouton, who was in a controlled frenzy, flying across the turf with the greatest of ease. He even started to show off with a double-Zidane drag back to ease past Izzet. More magnificently, when Izzet had the ball by the corner flag ‘twixt Pontoon and Main Stand, he twisted this way and that, but couldn't shake off Pouton, who did a hippy hippy shake to ease Izzet off the ball. As Izzet pursued him up the touchline Pouton did not one but two stepovers before surging upfield and infield. He then caressed a perfectly weighted pass down the touchline for Barnard, who looked up and crossed low to Campbell 20 yards out on the centre right. Campbell's first-time drive was blocked by a diving Sinclair. Excitement, but ultimately nothing to write home about.
However, this indicated the subtle change in the pattern of the game. Town slowly began to exert some (not much, but some) control and were starting to tap out a passing rhythm, which unusually for Town was a quick step, not a dilatory military march. The ultimate destination was always Oster, who had a very free role playing as a second striker, with Livingstone the rock-solid wall off which things bounced, including the ball. Unfortunately for Town, Oster was playing in the first half like he did at Palace, all show and no substance. He kept trying to make the impossible possible, attempting to chip Walker when Walker was already on his line, to beat the fifth defender, or that incredible reverse pass to send lightning Livvo free.
Despite Oster's ostentatiousness, Town pressed and found many ‘almost' positions. Barnard tried to do what Campbell had done at Stoke, taking a free kick from 20 yards very quickly. Walker was waiting and easily pooper-scooped the ball up from near his right post. Barnard swung in a cross from the right following a short corner high to beyond the far post. Groves outjumped his marker but headed straight at Walker. What else: a few more crosses and a few more headed clearances by Elliott. It was a curious strategy - crossing to Elliott. He doesn't score that many own goals. Sinclair is their Calamity Jane, isn't he?
Leicester surged back around the fifth minute, or was it later? A quick break down their right, with Dickov scampering away down the touchline and into the penalty area, caused massed panic in the massed ranks of the Town defence and support. With Benjamin screaming away at the far post, unmarked, Dickov crossed to the near post, where three Town defenders congregated. McDermott managed to block, somewhat clumsily, with the ball getting trapped under his feet, rolling back and straight to Coldicott. Or was this an example of Town's belief in total football? Taggart headed a corner wide, well and gently wide. Leicester got a series of corners, which were rather worrisome, for Dickov kept impeding Coyne and the corners kept being floated to where Coyne wanted to be, but couldn't get to, as there were dozens of bodies all converging on the same spot. Some flapping, flipping and catching resulted. But crucially, no chances.
The game flowed back down the other end for a bit, with Town having some more ‘almost' moments. Barnard crossed to an unmarked Campbell, who, apparently unmarked 10 yards out, didn't head the ball. He seemed surprised by the ball reaching him, and it just bounced off him and out towards the corner flag. Oster tried to jink through the penalty area on the right, but Sinclair swiped the ball away. Oster, again, tried to dribble through the middle of the Leicester defence, driving forward from the halfway line, swaying right, spinning left, before scruffling a shot a yard or two wide of Walker's post.
Groves knocked Scowcroft when jumping for a high clearance and the referee indicated that Groves had used his forearm. But no card was shown. Gavin handled the ball when trying to tackle Benjamin near the police box. The referee gave Leicester a free kick for a foul on Benjamin. Right decision, wrong reason. Ah, the referee. I've been teasing you, as you just knew there'd be something wicked in yellow. He looked benignly upon Leicester challenges, and especially ‘falls', whereas Town were in his eyes cynical grabbers, trippers and hackers. Needless to say he riled the Town players and roused the crowd. Always what Town need to get going.
Anything else happen in the first half? Well, yes. Towards the end Leicester should have scored a couple more. Benjamin sprinted away down their left, cut into the penalty area and crossed low into the near post. Dickov drifted across Groves and steered a first-time side-footed volley straight at Coyne's ankles. Saved without fuss. Right on half time Groves dallied about 25 yards from goal and Dickov nicked the ball away as Groggy Groves fell like a dead oak (he'd been whacked in the chest/neck by Coyne after a collision a few minutes earlier). The ball was slipped out to Benjamin, who got very excited and wildly smacked a shot a yard or so wide of the near post.
And then it happened. The referee gave Town a second free kick of the half, right in the middle, 20 yards out. Prime time to score, prime location, prime suspect Mr Oster. Little Johnnie set himself and decided to fix the scoreboard the old fashioned way by giving it a huge whack on the side. He lifted his shot over the wall, over the bar, over the crowd, over the hills and far, far away.
That's the first half; interesting, frightening, exciting, but with very few goalmouth incidents, especially from Town. Leicester were clearly a better team and better individually. No-one was complaining too much at only being 1-0 down at half time. It could have been a lot worse and Town weren't playing badly either.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"That's not music - it's a car crash."
"They don't need Coyne or the ref to help them."
"You won't be complaining about Coldicott when he hits the winner from 25 yards."
"Did I ever tell you I share the same dentist as Ian Walker. Is he in the main stand?"
"I've never seen an octagonal one before."
"Galli's on fire today - it's a good job the strike's over then."
No changes were made by either team at half time, though the weather had changed; it was bucketing down with rain. Town started at a higher pace and were zipping the ball about well, always seeking to use the wings. Some momentarily interesting thrusts by Town were repulsed after indiscriminate crosses and some well timed tackles by Elliott and Taggart.
After about four minutes Town broke down the right through Oster, who looked up and pinged a pass out to Barnard's toe on the left wing. Barnard, the Welsh wizard of the wing according to the 2003 Town calendar, for once lived up to that soubriquet, twisting by the pool and sending Sinclair several different ways at once. Approaching the edge of the penalty area, Barnard knocked the ball past Sinclair and ran around the lumbering Leicesterman. Sinclair raised his left arm, rubbed it around Barnard's nose, and hauled Barnard to the sodden turf. Yes, he used his charm to stop Barnard. Free kick to Town; booking for Sinclair, who went bonkers, leaping around and gesticulating at the referee. The free kick came to nought and Leicester set up an attack, but wasted the opportunity as they crossed to the unmarked Dickov, who slid across the grass but couldn't reach the ball.
While Coyne was ambling about, waiting to take the goal kick, there was a hubbub from the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. The referee turned around, looked at his linesman, walked up to Sinclair and thrust a gleaming red card in his face. Sinclair went even more bonkers, aggressively remonstrating with the referee, looking like he was about to physically assault him. Loads of players from both sides ran up and tried to form a barrier between furious Frank and the Lemon Meringue. Sinclair was literally dragged away by men of peace like Pouton and Barnard. You never thought they'd be seen in blue helmets, did you.
Eventually Sinclair walked off and the game continued. Within 30 seconds Rogers was booked for sliding through the back of Campbell right on the halfway line, next to the tunnel. By this stage the whole ground was bouncing in righteous fury. The Town fans for the tackling by Leicester, the Leicester fans because the worm had turned on them. Funny how it took them 50 minutes to realise the ref didn't know what he was doing.
The Rogers tackle merely created the conditions for Town happiness, as it allowed Town to mount some serious, concerted pressure, with corner after corner, perhaps four or five in a row. From the last one, hit by Pouton to the near post, the mirror cracked. The initial corner was poor, being too low, and it was headed back out and eventually back to Pouton, who hit a first time dipping, volleyed cross towards the near post. OSTER ran across from the centre and, from about six yards out, leant back and steered a careful header across Walker and into the bottom left corner. A rather excellent finish, especially as he appeared to have been given a gentle nudge as he was about to head the ball.
Sit back for 20 minutes of Town dominance. The passing and movement from Town was exquisite at times, with Oster the fulcrum, the band leader conducting some gentle bossa nova rhythms. Aye-aye-aye-aye moossy, to help us through the night. The rain poured down, as did the Town attacks - wave upon wave, mainly down the right with Oster, Campbell and McDermott ranging freely. Just after the goal Town could and maybe should have had a penalty when an old-style bit of wall passing resulted in Oster being briefly behind the defence near the by-line. He crossed firmly and the ball hit Davidson on the hand and went out for a corner. If your luck's in, the referee gives a penalty. Davidson was only a couple of yards away from Oster and had put his hand next to his thigh. Perhaps the referee heard the same slap as us and thought "thigh!". It wasn't. A couple of minutes later the Town supporters tried again for a handball when a defender controlled the ball with his shoulder. Well, there's no harm in trying, is there. All in the Pontoon agreed we'd have given it.
There's more. Further jinking and jiving down the right shredded the Leicester defence. Oster moved across the face of the penalty area, slipping a pass back to Coldicott, 20 yards out to the right of centre. He hit a first-time swinging dipper of a shot, which forced Walker to lean back and tip the ball over for a corner.
The next effort was Town's too. A great breakaway down the centre and right saw Oster drift into space behind Livingstone and receive a short pass. He zoomed down the centre, attracting the defenders to the middle. Campbell sprinted down the right and Oster waited for the appropriate moment to make the appropriate pass. Campbell was free inside the area about 12 yards out and wide of goal. He dragged a first-time shot across the face of goal, missing the far post by a couple of yards and Barnard by a similar distance. Yet more crosses and attacks by Town foundered upon the giants in the centre of their defence. The Town football was beautiful, but wasn't quite good enough to produce a cascade of shots. It'd be a bit hard to blame it on the bossa nova, as Oster was much more effective in the second half.
Around the 70-minute mark Leicester had a shot, which cheered up their supporters no end. A Town attack had been half cleared to the edge of the Leicester penalty area, and their substitute Stewart let the ball bounce over his shoulder and simply sprinted away down their left wing. Coldicott pursued valiantly but vainly. Stewart was held up by McDermott; he backtracked and was then scythed down near the touchline about 30 yards out, by Coldicott. The free kick was lumped up to the penalty area, dropping almost vertically onto Elliott's right boot just inside the box, level with the near post. He hung out his leg and steered a volley towards the bottom right corner. Coyne appeared from behind a thicket of players to tip the ball away for a corner. It seemed to be an important, and magnificent, save.
A few minutes later, another Leicester attack. Again Stewart was the catalyst with a surge down their left, and a cut in and across field. Town repulsed rather than cleared and the ball eventually made its way to Impey (who had been brought on immediately after Sinclair had been sent off) on the touchline, in front of the last supporter in the Stones/Smiths/Findus stand. Barnard harried, then attempted a sliding, hooking swipe. Impey managed to tip the ball down the line, and the fix exited pursued by a bear. From virtually the corner flag Impey twizzled and arced a huge, high cross towards the edge of the penalty area. IZZET, about 16 yards out and nearly level with the near post with his back to goal, leapt up and, from head height, smacked a bicycle kick into the top left corner of the goal. A brilliant strike which even had Town fans clapping. We all just sat silently, looking around at each other, shrugging. What have we done to deserve this?
The goal, not the fact but the manner, seemed to deflate the Town players for a while. Leicester had more of the play and Town struggled to recreate the momentum of just a few minutes earlier. About 5 minutes after that goal Soames replaced Groves, with Town seemingly going to a 3-4 3 formation. Soames caused a few problems for Leicester with his close control and strength - he's small and stocky - but chances were not clearly created. McDermott, after some one-touch play down the Town right, fizzed a 25-yard shot across the face of goal with Barnard sliding in near the penalty spot, just missing the ball. Oooh! Pouton, receiving a pass form the left about 25 yards out slipped as he shot, sending the ball a couple of feet over the bar. Soames received a little dinked pass with his back to goal on the edge of the six-yard area, to the left of goal, and had his shirt violently heaved about, just enough to halt his progress, but he didn't fall down. Only a corner resulted. Near the end, following a free kick out on Town's right, Gavin had a header from about six yards at the far post which hit a Leicester player on the line, bounced back out and his shot was charged down for another corner. Pressure, pressure, pressure; but no absolutely clear-cut chances, just scraps.
Leicester utilised the space afforded them by Town's all-out attack, especially through Stewart, who was a real handful. He probably should have scored late on when he was free inside the penalty area after a mazy dribble, firing a low shot a foot or so wide of Coyne's right post. There were also a couple of shots from the right of the Town area, which flew into the crowd, one close, one exceedingly not. As the murkiness descended, it became harder and harder to see what was happening down at the Osmond end; not that we particularly wanted to see another Leicester goal.
As the minutes rolled on it was Leicester who were more likely to score than Town. Town huffed and puffed but didn't look like blowing the house down. Three minutes of added time produced, err, nothing much. Except more bookings, including Walker for time-wasting. The opportunity for the teenagers to should the obligatory "wwwwwwwwwwww-alker" at goal kicks doesn't come around often, and they did not miss that trick, though "ppppporker" would have been just as accurate, for podginess is fast creeping up on Walker's stomach.
And then it was over. Unusually, given that the opponents had 10 men for 40 minutes, the crowd didn't boo or complain, recognising that Leicester were ‘any good'. Sometimes it isn't just down to what Town can, or can't do. Two freak goals did for Town, and in the second half Town were doing enough to justify parity at least. No one played badly - there was just the isolated error here and there - but Leicester had the gumption to seize upon those errors. And in the end that's what separates the Premiership from the boys.
Nick0's man of the batch
Special mentions must be made of Gallimore and Barnard, who played very well indeed. But Nick0 casts a beady eye towards the sponsors and recognises that they aren't always wrong. ALAN POUTON, back to what the crowd loves - tricks, flicks, manic tackles and moans.
And warning it be. He spent the entire first half backing Leicester and he flipped in the second. Clearly he worked on the theory that if both sets of supporters are calling for your head in a bucket, you must be impartial. He was not capable of applying the laws consistently. Or was that wilful? Whenever he blew the whistle one waited with apprehension - it wasn't possible to guess which way he'd point. Or why. Curiously, he had one linesman who never gave offside, and one who always did. The Norwegian jury has decided the score on the door, Isla, is 4.479. And he should be grateful for the final 0.009