Weary and dreary

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

31 August 2002

Millwall 2 Grimsby Town 0

A warm, slightly humid, clear day in the land of the jellied eel. A surreal atmosphere enveloped the ground. Was there anybody out there? No sounds, no sight of man or beast, just a vista of vast swathes of blue plastic greeting the massed ranks of the Town support, which numbered just over 100. The players warmed up to the booming sound of the Millwall club TV channel. And it echoed -oed-oed-oed around the concrete jungle.

Town players did their jiggy, ziggy-zaggy cone run, with little enthusiasm, before the usual kick-a-bout. Outside in the cold distance, the Millwall goalkeeper was espied dropping every shot that was directed at his body. Aha! A potential weakness. But no-one from Town was watching. Town's new junior 'keeper at least looked the part, tall and able to kick straight. He also managed to catch the ball occasionally, which is always a good thing in a 'keeper. The shooting practise was very promising, all the Town strikers managed to hit the net, with Robinson displaying power and accuracy. Absolutely lethal he was.

Town lined up in a 4-5-1 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Chettle, Gallimore. Pouton, Groves, Coldicott, Campbell, Barnard and Kabba. The substitutes were Allworth, Rowan, Jevons, Robinson and Cooke. The return of Pouton was the source of a brief "huzzah!", the dropping of Cook a short "huh-huh?". Pouton seemed to line up on the right hand side of midfield, with Groves anchoring in front of the back four. This is only a summation, as the players interchanged positions frequently; also known as wandering around aimlessly, I suppose.

First half

Millwall kicked off towards the Town supporters (towards the left as seen on TV) and within a minute had *scored*. The ball was lumped up front, Ford, five yards outside the area in the centre, was fouled by Ifill and so only half cleared. The ball was tipped back over the top to Harris, who slashed a right foot shot right through the dull gold shirted Coyne. "Sit down, sit down, oh sit down", as they played on the tannoy before the game, it was miles off side. We cheered the linesman for his failure to be intimidated by the dozen Millwall fans behind his right shoulder. A minute later another correct offside decision in Town's favour. Excellent, no problems there then.

The next five or six minutes were comfortable, pleasant and mainly Town. Millwall had the ball for several seconds only. There were minor moments of excitement for the travelling Townites. Barnard , about five yards inside the town half just in from the left touchline, bent a lovely pass down the wing and around the centre back. Kabba muscled and massaged his way past the defender, barged infield past another, hopped, skipped and jumped across the face of the area. He then played a perfectly weighted 10 yards pass to his imaginary strike partner, sprinted after the ball and nearly reached it before the goalkeeper. A couple of minutes later McDermott played a one-two down the right wing, then another with Groves, who dinked the ball through a small gap between their centre backs and left back. McDermott got to the bye line and flicked a cross through the penalty area towards a Town player. That's as good as these things get, towards a Town player. The ball was cleared relatively comfortably, but hinted at a way through for Town and the shape of things to come. Wrong. Oh how very wrong. The best laid plans of mice and Paul Groves can turn to so much dust in a drought when people do silly things.

After just seven minutes, during which Millwall had huffed a little, puffed a little, but barely troubled the Town midfield, let alone defence, old Steve Chettle's mind turned to mush. The Town defence were simply knocking the ball about between them, a little lackadaisically, but not under threat. McDermott passed inside to Ford, who tapped it further along the backline to Chettle, about five yards outside the area right on the centre. Chettle nonchalantly wafted his left boot at the ball to pass it back to Coyne. Except ball and boot barely touched and Chettle lost his balance. Claridge suddenly woke up, like a scruffy frog kissed by a princess, and, from 20 yards out, tapped the ball around Coyne into the left hand side of the net.

Did you hear it at home? The sound of a small balloon deflating rapidly. All the Town players stood still, hands on hips, staring at Chettle, who was properly mortified by his error. None offered a consoling thwack on the head, or words of comfort and encouragement. Silence, stunned silence. Apart from the Millwall fans of course. They, and their players, couldn't believe their luck. We could. It just about summed up the rickety-rockety start to this season. We knew that last year we could rely upon the opponents to miss the presents regularly laid before them like offerings to the gods. Not this year.

Millwall were energised by the goal and played a lot more vigorously and positively. Town players received sterner challenges, were surrounded when in possession and watched as midfielders poured forward to join the strikers. The tactics employed by Millwall were not earth shattering, merely "hit it early to two bustling workhorses and something may fall your way". But Town started to lose the flick-ons, to fail to pick up the runners, all of which led to an uncomfortable ten or fifteen minutes. Balls in the box (what an apt phrase), bodies in the box, but not many chances, just a few crosses and "almost" moments. That's apart from the time they should have scored again. Ifill, about 30 yards out on the right, jumped with Ford when the ball was launched long and high. The ball fell into the space between the heavens and the corner of a foreign field (known as the bit between the defence and midfield) for Harris, who had sneaked into the gap. Unmarked, he controlled the ball, dribbled forward a few yards and, from about 25 yards out just to the right of centre, curled a shot high over and around Coyne. The ball rebounded off the post and passed Coyne as he ran off towards South Bermondsey station for the late running 15:15 to London Bridge. The rebound went straight to Claridge, unmarked on the penalty spot, who promptly fell over the ball. That was only their second incursion, and it should have been a second goal. A pretty high danger ratio, I'd say. Town had a shot after 18 minutes, after a decent move down the right. McDermott started it by playing a couple of one-twos, the final one with Groves, who dinked the ball over the top of the defence into the corner. McDermott cut back inside, going across a couple of defenders and the face of the penalty area before hitting a left foot drive a foot or so high and wide of the 'keeper's right hand post. Enough to justify a clap and an "Ooooo".

After 24 minutes Cooke replaced Chettle, with Groves reverting to centre back and Coldicott becoming the Oliver Cromwell of Town. Around this time Coyne was forced to parry a shot from a dozen yards and Groves managed to stamp the ball away from danger after the tricky Ifill had tapped the ball over Gallimore down on the bye line inside the penalty area. And a couple more wayward shots came in from Millwall, not interesting to the casual spectator, nor even their Mums. The middle of the half was very dull, devoid of skill, wit, thought or any other positive words you may wish to ascribe to men receiving cash to play association football. Barnard wasted a couple of free kicks, one, just on the left edge of the Millwall penalty area, where he took it quickly and managed to curl it several feet high and wide of the goal whilst the 'keeper yawned and a young boy dropped his packet of salt and vinegar crisps.

Then the officials began to wind up the supporters of both teams. The referee looked kindly upon firm crunches from Millwall, yet kept penalising Pouton for winning the ball. The Millwall fans only had to ask and they got a free kick, which is something they never quite sussed, as on at least two occasions free kicks were awarded precisely because a few Millwallians moaned. Set against that we had the referee's 10 minute rule - every ten minutes he booked a Millwall player, presumably because he got bored. And then we had the linesman who kept missing incredibly obvious off sides which caused occasional moments of panic in the Town defence. Fortunately, Ford swept danger away, and Millwall players kept running around in circles.

In the last few minutes of the half Town nearly scored, perhaps should have done. The ball was knocked down the Town left into the Millwall half. Kabba chased, harried, hassled and won the ball. He wriggled inside, outside, inside, outside, across the pitch into the penalty area before laying a pass out to his right. Campbell surged forward and lashed a right foot shot from the edge of the area low across the goalkeeper, who plopped gently upon the ball like an eiderdown upon a dozing six year old. And then it was half time.

A dull half, punctuated by fleeting moments of interest. Town were comfortable for seven minutes, which nine out of ten cat owners agree isn't enough really. The goal came from such a stupendous error that it defies analysis and simply can't be attributed to the management, the tactics, the formation or anything but Chettle's brain. The response of the Town players, collectively, was instructive. There wasn't any. For a period Town were woeful, thrashing, lashing and crashing about in defence. Coyne forgot how to kick, fluffing several clearances. Mostly skied, but one dribbled pathetically up the middle, fortunately straight to Groves about 30 yards out. Ford, mostly sound, was a mixture of sublime and silly in the same movement. He created a half chance for Millwall when he wonderfully sidestepped, back heeled and shimmed past a couple of attackers when pressurised on the right edge of the Town box. We stood and applauded, we stood and railed as he then tried a trick too many, losing possession and allowing Millwall to cross. Kabba was doing his best to be the stereotypical Crystal Palace forward. Rarely seeming to actually have control of the ball he occasionally caused havoc simply by running quickly near it. One particularly amusing "run" from Kabba saw him surge around 50 yards with the ball down the left, then into the penalty area. At no time did he have the ball under control.

It should have been 0-0 at half time, as both sides were lacking a certain "je ne sais quoi" around the opponents' goal. In such circumstances gifts are welcome by the starving nation of potted ham and the hosts had no reason to fear the geeks in stripes.

Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk

"It was like the Spanish Inquisition, and I'm not a doctor". "When will we be bottom?" "I loved the colour of that shirt". "Pouton doesn't look fit". "Laminate flooring? Livvo eats it without sugar"

Second half

Neither team made any changes at half time.

And Millwall started just as they had in the first half, with a press, a shot and a miss. They immediately surged down the Town left, whipped in a cross, caused much flapping around and a bit of a scramble. Danger, no shot, just a bit of panic. Just. A minute later another surge, this time down their left and a cross into Claridge on the edge of the six yards box. He twisted, turned, spun, flipped, flopped, weedled past Groves and lifted the ball over Coyne. The Millwall crowd rose, then sat down again as Ford ran in behind Coyne and cleared the ball. The Millwall crowd stood up again as it only went as far as their left back who whipped in another cross. It was half cleared to Cahill, who walloped a rising shot just wide of the angle of Coyne's right hand post and bar.

Woah exciting. For them. A precursor to an action-packed second half? No, just more tedium interspersed with moments of false promise for the Town support. Is support the right word? Perhaps we should be reclassified as voyeurs as we are not presently engaged with our representatives. We watch with detachment, fascinated but appalled by the accident happening in front of us. There doesn't seem to be any belief, which manifests itself in long periods of silence, broken only by the lone grumbler grumbling, sotto voce.

After the flurry of activity at the start of the half I can't recall much happening in the next 15 minutes. Millwall had pressure, breakaways, crosses and probably some shots, but they didn't seem like anything of substance. Throughout the second half Millwall regularly had shots from outside the box which sliced, slewed and crawled wide of the goal. Town had pressure too, some lovely links down the right, with McDermott, Cooke and Campbell passing and moving sweetly. All lovely to watch until it came to the final pass, the final cross, the shot. The shot? What's that? Essentially, McDermott and Cooke roasted the Millwall left back over an open fire, slowly turning to ensure an even cook. But what came of this? Nothing really, a series of "moments of danger". Crosses pinged into the crowd, to the 'keeper's arms, over all humanity in the area, to their right back's head, to their right back's feet. Town got three or four corners, but the result of this labour? Inconsequential fragments of football. It was all "not quite" right. Passes were just a bit underhit or slightly behind the intended recipient, crosses overhit by a foot or so. Town almost got it right, but never did.

All of which is merely fine words to butter the parsnip of the second goal. After an hour Town, once again, tore through the Millwall defence, with McDermott and Cooke tip-tapping down the right. McDermott surged towards the bye line and crossed. It was cleared and Town were in trouble. The whole of the right hand side was now available for hire, for Campbell, Cooke and McDermott were on the edge of the Millwall penalty area. Two of the Millwall strikers peeled away into the space and eventually the ball was lofted in their direction. The ball was crossed into the penalty area, headed out and Cahill (I think) raced in and from 20 yards out to the right of centre, smacked a low volley towards Coyne's bottom left hand corner. Coyne watched the ball carefully, lowered himself in two stages and parried the ball out. Claridge hared in and, from about 5 yards out to the left of goal, knocked the ball between Coyne's legs as the sometime Welsh 'keeper got up and leapt at him. Young Mr Coyne forgot the 3rd rule of goalkeeping - never knock the ball back to the opposition striker. Some blamed Gallimore for watching the defective save, rather than being alert to the possibility of a rebound. That may have been a little harsh on the usual butt of terrace wit and rage.

An hour gone, we might have well have gone too, there and then. Five minutes after the goal, Robinson replaced Barnard, who some had forgotten had come out for the second half. Other, more spiteful observers, asserted that it was not (and never will be) necessary to have two Gallimore's in the same team. Town reverted to 4-4-2, with Pouton on the left mostly and Campbell in the centre. Pouton looked whacked out all through the second half, he didn't treat us to a step over until the 75th minute, though we did get two or three super surges, which ended in the usual disappointment. Momentum was lost when Pouton reached the edge of the penalty area and started to think. One could almost see the wheels a-turning in his mind. With options to his left and right, Pouton chose to run into the thick blue wall right in front of him. Kabba, in particular, was furious with all his wasted physical effort. Why make a run if no-one passes to you?

As you can tell, I haven't described a Town shot yet. There weren't any until Robinson appeared, but there had been much pressure and promising breaks. Robinson at least shot. For the umpteenth time Cooke and McDermott swept majestically past the wildebeest at left back, McDermott (I think) got to the bye line, cut a cross back and Robinson swept a right foot volley low to the 'keeper's left. If the 'keeper had been helpful, and gone home early for the day, it would have been a cracking goal. But Warner stepped across his goal line and flopped on top of the ball. A little later Robinson attempted to place a curler into the top left hand corner, but lacked power, following a break instigated by a Campbell spin and surge down the middle. Now that, sir, was an interesting thing to emerge from the second half - the ability of Campbell to spin through midfield and carry the ball forward dangerously. Town just need to work on phase two, where Doris gets her oats. Towards the end there were a couple of shots from the edge of the area straight at the goalkeeper, who failed to catch them cleanly, allowing them to bobble and bumble away back towards the on-rushing Town strikers. Perhaps those last five words were a flight of fancy. Town strikers don't follow up, they stand and grimace. The more active throw their heads back in frustration or smack their thighs like a egocentric thespian entering stage left.

Now Millwall were more direct and had chances. Towards the end, Claridge should have completed his hat-trick. A long throw from the Millwall left was headed on in the box, bouncing off a defender to Iffill. Groves stood back and allowed Iffill, about eight yards out at the near post, to twist around and thwack a volley across goal. The ball hit Claridge in the middle of the six yard box, bounced across goal to Groves, who half cleared to Cahill, who sliced Poutonianly wide and high from 20 yards. Almost in injury time Millwall attacked down the Town centre right, with the ball being knocked into the penalty area to Claridge, about 10 yards out levellish with the post. He wriggled around like maggott, easily throwing Groves off the scent before placing a low right footed shot across Coyne and a couple of inches wide of the left hand post. They had other shot, other crosses, other scary monster moments, but none that looked, from 150 yards away, like they were that interesting. And that includes a header from about eight yards out which went straight to Coyne, following a cross from their right.

With about eight or nine minutes left, Jevons replaced someone, Pouton probably. Frankly, if he'd just run on and no-one was taken off it wouldn't have made any difference. Jevons played just behind Robinson and Kabba, which produced three or four threatening moves, but no end product. Kabba and Jevons kept running into the same areas of the pitch, almost marking each other, which was infuriating to watch, and to both of them too. Two minutes of added time, and that was a waste of everyone's time.

A certain inevitability about the afternoon's events. Town were not good, but not awful. They were almost succeeding in what they were attempting, but consistently failing by just a little bit. It all added up to a depressingly familiar result. Few shots, a few mistakes, a simple defeat. Some areas of the team look fine - the right hand side for instance, but others look as wonky as a clown's car. The Town players haven't learned how to use Kabba yet, he confuses them by being the opposite of what we have. For some, inexplicable reason, they think he can control the ball regularly. Pouton certainly looked like a striped fish out of a 4-4-2 water today, his return disrupted the team, which didn't play as fluidly as in the first half against Portsmouth. There was much confusion over who stood where, all involving the King of the Step-overs.

Strangely Town aren't playing any better, or any worse, than this time last year. It's just that the opponents are not assisting us by consistently missing open goals.

One day we'll score a goal. You heard it here first.

NickO's Man of the Match

John McDermott was peerless today. Magnificent in defence, omnipresent in attack. Nothing else need be said.

Official Warning

Grant Hegley

Very peculiar. He seemed to have spells of disfavouring one of the teams. It didn't seem as though he was for either team, rather occasionally annoyed by individuals, which coloured his interpretation of minor events for five minutes at a time. I think the only fair mark is 5.8328. Nothing awful, just lots of oddities. I think he was intimidated by the space. Expecting an aural explosion, he got a verbal void.