Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
26 August 2002
Grimsby Town 0 Portsmouth 1
A miserable, cold, grey old bank holiday with a wicked wind swirling around the ground. The Osmond Stand was two thirds full of chiming Portsmouthians, inclusive of annoying bell. The ice cream van never stopped, by the way. Nothing very interesting to note about the pre-match warm up. Except Linvoy Primus' hair which, like the Burnley defence, was all over the place, heading north, west, east and south at the same time. Marvellous floppage and flappage.
But something interesting was about to occur. Town did NOT line up in the usual 4-4-2 formation, but in a sort of 4-1-4-1, as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Chettle, Ford, Gallimore, Cooke, Groves, Coldicott, Campbell, Barnard, Kabba. The substitutes were Hughes, Ward, Bolder, Rowan and Robinson. Coldicott seemed to have a man-marking job on Paul Merson, with Groves in central midfield, playing as a sweeper in front of the back four. Ford and Chettle were the pace and brains at the back, with Kabba the pace and brawn as the lone front man. Campbell seemed to have a more forward central midfield role. It all looked very solid defensively, but as for attack, that may be a different matter.
Ah, Paul Merson, the colonel blimp of Division One. Heckled mercilessly precisely because he is *any good*, he had obviously ignored the coastguard's advice. All weekend they had warned that strong winds were a danger to inflatables, causing them to drift and become lost at sea. But here he was. We could hope, couldn't we?
And today the scoreboard decided Town were playing "tsmouth". As Columbo says "just one more thing", the referee and his linesman were wearing a new kit, vibrant yellow with black shorts. It's not the Tour De France, you know.
Portsmouth kicked off towards the Pontoon, immediately causing our gallant left back to panic. Merson received the ball in the middle of the pitch, drove forward towards the Town left and dinked a curved pass towards their right wing-back, Crowe. The exceedingly quick Crowe. Gallimore stood by him, then ran away, allowing Crowe to receive the ball and dribble forward to the edge of the box. Gallimore just retreated, flapping his arms like a pigeon. The cross was blocked and cleared. Is Gallimore still traumatised by his Prosinecki mauling?
Well, maybe not, for the next 20 minutes were quite pleasant. It was virtually all Town, with the very, very infrequent Pompey break, which petered out on the Ford and Chettle rocks. If they got that far, for Groves was having a total stormer as the protection for the back four. He was everywhere - stopping, blocking, passing, surging. The very first effort on goal, after about 7 minutes, was by the reborn midfielder. Kabba muscled his way past a defender deep down the Town left to receive a simple "channel ball". He turned the ball back to Gallimore who clipped a low cross into the centre of the penalty area. Groves raced in and attempted to steer a volley into Hislop's right hand corner. The ball skidded off the turf but safely into the huge hand of Hislop. Five minutes later another Town effort, after a breakaway induced by Groves; Campbell surged across the area and pinged a right foot shot straight at Hislop from about 20 yards, to the right of centre.
Another five minutes, another decent Town effort. Kabba ran from behind and dispossessed a defender about 25 yards out on the Town right, then turned and slipped a cute little pass down the line for Campbell who managed to cross from near the touchline. The ball swept majestically across the face of goal and Barnard raced in and side footed a few inches wide of Hislop's right hand post. The referee then called play back and awarded Town a free kick for a late foul on Campbell. What excellent refereeing we thought. Leaving aside his tendency to allow free kicks to be taken anywhere within 10 yards of a foul, he'd been "ok". He even booked the Portsmouth number 9, Todorov (who we all agreed was a right Bulgar) for doing a stamp tackle in front of the police box.
Town were playing some lovely possession football, not just tapping the ball back to Gallimore for a lump upfield. There was a purpose, confidence and pace in this passing, with several super crossfield passes to the wingers and full backs. The right hand side was quite lively, with several great one touch passing movements down that flank exposing their full back. The ball was pinged across the area a few times, with perhaps half a dozen corners resulting. Kabba, Macca and Cooka were fabba down the righta.
As usual, Town had a great 20 minutes, but hadn't scored. The club's solution? In a stroke of genius they froze the scoreboard clock at 21 minutes, where it remained for the entire first half. It didn't work for, despite the territorial dominance, Town's attacking receded as the game wended its way towards half time. Portsmouth had looked very dangerous on the break, with Merson playing a series of very clever passes with the outside of his boot, curling, swirling, bending, dipping and wobbling through and over the Town defence. Fortunately, Coyne was alert, Ford quick of foot, Chettle quick of mind and the wind arbitrarily puffing the ball away from the very fast Portsmouth strikers. There were moments of potential danger, rather than dangerous moments. The most worrisome moment came when Town had a corner, which was half cleared to Coldicott. He simply passed the ball back into the area, straight to a Portsmouth defender. The ball was zipped up the touchline to Burton. Never fear, Galli was there. He slid majestically across the turf, missing ball and man. Burton was free, free as a bird down the Town left, racing up the infield. Coldicott sprinted back and was the last man, about 25 yards out. He simply stood in Burton's way, inflated his chest like an amorous peacock, and blocked. The ball remained at his feet as Burton spun away towards Scunthorpe. Not a place to spin towards.
It took Portsmouth 39 minutes to have a shot, and they probably should have scored from it. The ball was teased over the Town defence, over and between Ford and McDermott. Burton tugged Ford's shirt, momentarily causing Ford to lose balance, and then Burton was around him and free. With just Coyne to beat and 12 yards out, about 8 yards wide of goal, Burton dragged a shot a foot wide of the left hand post, via Ford's studs. The remainder of the half was, essentially, Portsmouth attacks. Town were a little unfortunate at times, with "50-50" challenges seeing the ball rebound to the men in blue. From a series of such challenges the ball kept popping up to Pompey 25 yards from the Town goal, travelling from left to right. They had two players free on their left, but fortunately the cross fizzed though the box in front of everyone. Just after Burton's shot, Foxe, near the penalty spot, back flicked a low cross from the Pompey left a foot or two wide of Coyne's left hand post. Ooooh, cheeky!
Just about the last thing of note that happened in the first half was a further Pompey surge. They had not really attacked much down the Town left (which is always helpful), but towards half time they realised that for Gallimore the day was not a moment of clarity. Crowe received a pass on the Pompey right just inside the Town half, and ran forward, and forward, and forward. Galli did his soft shoe shuffle, retreating like fearful aardvark. Crowe was, by this time, at the corner of the penalty area. With Barnard and another defender around, providing cover towards the centre, Galli decided to turn his back on Crowe and run towards the penalty spot, thus leaving a massive space for Crowe to run into. He did, he crossed. It flew low through the 6 yard box and out for a goal kick. Coyne went barmy at Galli, who studiously avoided turning his head towards the irate 'keeper and ran off like a schoolboy caught scrumping apples.
That was the action, doesn't sound much, but it was a very interesting half. Portsmouth were by far the best Pompey team seen at Blundell Park since colour televisions were first sold in Freeman Street. And Town matched them, physically and tactically. The switch in formation had worked a treat, with Town looking a very decent unit for most of the half, even attacking with intent. Campbell was liberated from defensive duties, benefiting from the Coldicott/Groves shield and was beginning to carry the ball forward dangerously. Kabba was all muscle and pace upfront, which worried the opposition greatly. There were many fine flowing football moments from Town, principally down the right, which was occasionally wondrous to behold. The crowd was pleased with the performance, if not the blank scoreline. But Portsmouth were very threatening, they just looked likely to score at any moment, which wasn't a reflection on any deficiencies in Town. Portsmouth had pace, they had strength, they had organisation, they had a method and they had Merson. Town weren't being outclassed, but Pompey had a little something extra available to them. It's called millions of pounds, isn't it.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"That'll teach you to wear sandals". "You can't argue with Grovesie's tactics today". "I prefer oysters to mussels". "Will Jevons ever play for Town again?. I hope not!". "I wish someone would shoot Quasimodo". "I took the ref's exam with Messias. I beat him too"
No changes were made by either team at half time and with Town attacking the Pontoon things could only get better, couldn't they?
Portsmouth started at a much higher tempo than the first half, which seemed to surprise Town. Portsmouth also seemed to concentrate a bit more on the Town left where Barnard was one-paced and a little slow in reacting to events and Gallimore was having one of his less aware afternoon. Perhaps he'd being having a siesta. Within a couple of minutes Galli had been roasted, toasted and posted first class to Knutsford by Crowe, who ran at him at high speed. Galli retreated, stumbled and watched as Crowe cut across the face of the penalty area and whacked a left foot shot a few feet wide of Coyne's right hand post. Phew, was this the shape of things to come?
Yeah, it was, but not quite yet. Town exerted pressure, but somehow never quite managed to create a chance, or even a half chance. Crosses came in, possession was maintained, but Hislop remained untroubled by the ball, and especially by the terrace wits. "Who's the Shaka in the grey?" Around the 50th minute Town had some great pressure, crosses from the left, crosses from the right. An attempted Groves overhead kick which skewed off to the right touchline, was kept in by Cooke, crossed and headed away at the far post for a corner. More of the same to followâ¦â¦, but no shots. Kabba spent a lot of the second half spinning around on the periphery of the Portsmouth penalty area, he simply wasn't in the box when crosses came in. I suppose he couldn't be expected to work the opening for a cross and then convert it. He can't do everything (though he tried). The best Town move of the second half came within the first quarter of an hour. McDermott and Cooke combined down the right with Kabba, a series of one-twos and McDermott (I think, or it may have been Cooke) crossed into the centre. Campbell had, unfortunately, been a bit too aggressive in his forward run, and the ball went just behind him in the centre of the goal. Another in a long line of nearly moments.
About 10 minutes into the second half Gallimore redeemed himself with a fantastic tackle. Todorov received the ball just outside the Town penalty area on the right with his back to goal. He twisted right, left, then right again, past a couple of Town defenders. He got to the bye-line and crossed to the near post. One striker let the ball run and another (probably Burton) had his shot blocked by the Flying Mickey Finn. A few minutes later Gallimore's bottom came in handy when he placed his derriere in the way of a shot from the edge of the area. You could probably feel the aftershocks in Sydney.
The moment the game seemed to turn was right on the hour. A bit of Town pressure, with crosses in, clearances and more crosses, saw the ball fall to Kabba, who turned on the centre right of the Pompey area. Kabba took on Festa for pace. Festa, wisely eschewed a sprint and slid across to clear. He got the faintest of touches on the ball, sending it towards the bye-line. Festa then made the faintest of touches on Kabba's ankles. Kabba declined the opportunity to remain upright deciding, after a few micro-seconds, to allow himself to fall in the most theatrical fashion. Festa and his (experienced) team-mates immediately jumped around claiming a dive. Their management of the referee (which had gone on all game, you have to hand it to them) worked. The sensible decision (and correct one) would have been a Town corner, and nothing else. Instead, he booked Kabba for diving and awarded a free kick to Portsmouth. Of course, this got the home crowd baying for blood, with every decision hoarsely contested. The ref turned at this moment, seemingly now looking more kindly upon the blue shirted ones.
Kabba went down well again a few minutes later, but only a corner resulted. This was a correct decision, despite the full frontal wailing from the Pontoon, for Festa clearly swiped the ball away cleanly. More Town crosses, more Town corners, still no more efforts on goal. Always, always a Pompey head or foot diverted danger. Portsmouth attacked vigorously and kept having half chances. One of their bojangled players cut in from their left saw a shot fizz through the area and a foot or so wide of Coyne's left hand post. The substitute, Burchill, turned and hit a shot off Ford's ankles a foot wide of Coyne's right hand post. Can't argue with the referee here â" he gave a goalkick! Coyne flapped at a corner, rabbit punching thin air as the ball flew through to the far post and out for a goalkick, and a couple more Pompey corners caused a bit of difficulty, but no effort on goal.
There was a nagging feeling at the back of every Town supporter's mind that something was going to happen. It just felt like a game where the opposition would sneak a goal. And they did, but in very controversial circumstances, or rather the lead up to the goal was controversial. It all started in the Pompey half, about 5 minutes from full time. The ball was lobbed down the Town left. Barnard chased the ball towards the open corner betwixt Pontoon and Findus/Stones/Smiths Stand. He cleverly stopped and tricked the Portsmouth defender into continuing his chase, clattering into the ball and knocking it out for a Town throw, about 10 yards from the bye-line. Utterly amazingly, the referee awarded a free kick to Portsmouth! Bizarre, just plain wrong, totally illogical too. Compounding this refereeing error he allowed Hislop to take the free kick a couple of yards to the right of the penalty area. That's around 9 yards infield from where the so called foul occurred. The Town fans were as one, railing at the moon, a seething cauldron calling for the referee's head. Hislop whacked it up field, Todorov flicked the ball on and Burchill ran into space, turned and, from the edge of the area, just the left centre steered a volley around Coyne and into the bottom left hand corner of the net. Three-quarters of the ground erupted in anger, neatly avoiding any complaint at the Town players for not cutting out the danger from a simple punt upfield. The conditions were laid by the referee, but Town should still have dealt with this most basic of plays. After all, they had dealt with all the silky skills and wonderfully creative flicks and tricks from Merson. The goal was simple third division stuff â" hoof, flick, whack. How ironic.
The last few minutes (it is very difficult to work out how many minutes were actually played as they were taken up with some peripheral nonsense) were a desperate attempt by Town to reclaim their lost point, leaving massive holes for Pompey, which they failed to exploit. Robinson and Rowan came on for Coldicott and Barnard with 3 or 4 minutes left. Town started to hoof more, but nothing actually came of all the huffing and puffing. A few corners, a few free kicks. Some crosses, but lots of Portsmouth clearances and breakaways. There were moments to savour for the footballing purist, but nothing for those hard nosed realists who look for goals. Kabba, Campbell, Cooke and McDermott had a fantastic one touch passing movement down the right, at high speed, which ended up with a cross being deflected for a corner. Exciting for those who were there, but just another manic Monday for the absent ones.
In total, Town had one shot in the second half (I am ignoring a Cooke cross which went just over the bar, a Gallimore cross which was deflected into Hislop's arms very slowly) and that is being generous. McDermott surged forward, exchanged passes with Cooke and had a shot charged down. The ball spun slowly to Hislop. That was it. As against Bradford, the game seemed to revolve around the referee. In the last few minutes he seemed to be totally incapable of exerting control over the game, responding to the players and crowd in turn. There was a two minute hold up to play whilst the referee discussed an off the ball incident with the linesman down at the Town end. The word on the street was that Groves had *delicately* placed his hand upon the face of a Portsmouth player. The result was a booking for Groves and Harper. Immediately after this Hislop picked up the ball and belted it down field towards the managers' dug-out, despite the referee wanting the ball on the left edge of the Town penalty area. The crowd, already in a high state of agitation, bellowed and brayed. Hislop was then booked. It didn't feel as though the correct amount of time was added, whatever it should have been. But Town wouldn't have equalised anyway, it just had "slightly unfortunate 1-0 defeat to a good team" written all over it.
Another defeat, but nothing that should cause too much despair; that team, playing that formation will win some games away from Blundell Park this year. We should not forget that Portsmouth were by some distance the best team played so far this season, and Town matched them for great swathes of this game. It was noticeable that the Town players were beginning to struggle physically from about the 70th minute, but they were never outclassed. Ford, Chettle and Groves were superb, with Kabba really enthusiastic and on the cusp of creating something. He just needs a partner.
The tactical bravery of Groves is to be applauded, as is the way the players enacted his plan. It didn't quite work, but you could see a method, and some intelligence from the management. That was interesting, that is positive.
We have to have straws to clutch at, don't we?
Nicko's Man of the Match
Chettle and Ford were very good, and against some of the better strikers they'll face this season, but Nicko has thought long and hard about this. The performance of Mr Paul Groves in midfield was awe inspiring at times. He actually ran the game for most of the first half. Top man, top marks.
Got along very well with all those famous Portsmouth players. The main complaint was his erratic implementation of some basic rules, like where free kicks could be taken from (it did work both ways, by the way, Town benefited too, but didn't take advantage). He wasn't the reason why Town lost, but his inconsistency reduces his score from the acceptable to the frankly worrying 4.89 out of 10. Not to be trusted.