Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
17 September 2002
Sheffield United 2 Grimsby Town 1
A temperate, still evening with around 300 Town supporters shuffling uncomfortably on the steep benches that, like the Beacholme, is "Reet good value." With just five minutes to go before kick off, there were about 2,500 people in the stadium, with the hordes seeping in like dry rot. Town lined up in the sky blue away kit in a 4-4-2 formation, as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Chettle, Groves, Ford, Campbell, Pouton, Coldicott, Barnard, Kabba and Robinson. The substitutes were Allaway, Raven, Rowan, Cooke and Mansaram. Ford played at left back, otherwise it was the same as at Coventry. And today Matthew, Pouton was Poorten according to the tannoy announcer, who also declared that three was the magic number. Three points to go third.
The teams ran out to the theme from Star Wars. Now I wonder, do they see themselves as the evil Empire or the rebel forces? What is their self image? Neil Warnock as the Grand Moff Tarkin?
Sheffield United kicked off towards the Town fans and immediately "launched it", from which they got a throw in on the Town left. That just gave them an opportunity to fling a long throw into the heart of the Town penalty area. This was cleared, just, by Groves, the ball striking Asaba on the arm. Play on, what! They worked the ball out to their right, crossed, and Asaba, eight yards out in the centre, headed a couple yards over the bar. Here we go again, thought the Town fans "up and under" with Town wilting. But no, sir, Town countered down the left with a series of one touch passes. Barnard curled a longish pass down the touchline and Kabba sprinted away, muscled past the defender and crossed to the near post. Robinson knocked the ball back first time to Barnard, 12 yards out to the left of goal, who toe poked a half volley a few feet over the angle of post and bar. One minute gone, two shots. Hmm, interesting.
Back down the other end now. A high ball, a Peschisolido header infield and an Asaba dipping volley from 30 yards. Over the bar, no trouble. From the goal kick a few midfield muddles and McDermott collected the ball inside the Sheffield United half. He surged into a huge gap and kept on going. The defence retreated and he still kept on going and, from the edge of the area, scuffed a low shot wide of the 'keeper's right hand post. Four minutes, four shots. Mmm, very interesting.
And still there's more. A Blade break down their right had Town in a bit of a fluster. A low cross zeroed in on the unmarked Asaba, near the penalty spot, who sent a skimming, diving header comfortably over the bar. Town simply went down the other end and frightened the life out of them. The ball was curled down the right touchline and Kabba frazzled the left back, outpacing, out muscling and out thinking him, with a shimmy, a twist and a burst of pace. Kabba got to the byeline and wellied a low cross through the penalty area, about eight yards out. Robinson was ahead of his marker with the goal a-gaping in front of him, but he made the merest of touches, sending the ball off towards the corner flag, not the corner of the goal.
There's even more, you know. Kabba, then Barnard, down the left, a cross to the near post to Robinson, who turned and had a shot deflected a yard or so wide of the 'keeper's right hand post. This was exciting. Barnard curled the corner deep into the centre of the penalty box and the unmarked Chettle, perhaps eight or nine yards out, headed horribly high. Horribly, horribly high.
It hasn't finished yet. Coldicott dispossessed a feeble, blunt Blade on the Town right, slipped a lovely pass up to Kabba on the edge of the penalty area, who spun across the face of the penalty box towards the Town left. He suckered the right back over, leaving a massive gap into which Barnard was enticed by a very tempting invitation to party. Barnard zipped a fast, low cross into the centre of the goal, about eight yards out and ROBINSON ran in, opened up his body and steered a right footed shot to the 'keeper's left. 300 people went to that party. And all this after just eight minutes.
After this excitement, the game settled down into humping and lumping, occasional moments of danger and many moments of midfield mundanity. Ford was frequently caught out of position against McGovern, who United sought out at the drop of a baseball cap. But Ford's pace and inability to retreat like Galli stopped too much sneaking through. Kabba scared Sheffield witless (not that any Warnock team has much of that anyway) with his bursts of strength, pace and, wait for it, aggression. Town have scary man up front shock. Livvo's not scary, he's more a pantomime villain. Behind you!
The isolated Blade attacks brought enough to justify "Ooohs" from idle watchers 100 yards away. Crosses, but no-one there, at least no serious footballer. Peschisolido, the diving dwarf, peeled away from Groves and, just beyond the far post, gently headed a deep right wing cross at Coyne. Peschisolido held his head in his hands, sank to his knees and ran his fingers through his hair. But you can't kid us matey, you're rubbish and you look like you're wearing a wig.
After about 25 minutes, there really was a fright for Town. Asaba was sent free in a wide right channel on the edge of the box. From about 10 yards out and the same wide of goal, he hit a low shot across Coyne, who parried firmly into the centre of the box. The ball, fortuitously, went straight to Campbell. Had Town's luck changed? A few minutes later, following a breakaway, a deep cross from their right arced into the centre of the penalty box. Asaba, unmarked, steered the ball towards to goal with his arms next to his head. The ball gently rolled wide of goal but the referee didn't give a free kick. Now, sirs, it was time for Danny's usual moment of brilliance (no. 1). A free kick lumped into the box was headed on by Murphy. Asaba drifted into a big hole right in front of goal, eight yards out, and powered a header low towards the bottom left hand corner. Coyne was a grey haze as he flung himself across and parried spectacularly. All hail the magnificent Mariner.
Town harried and hassled, briefly flirting with attacks which often faded through over indulgence, principally by Kabba, who just kept on trying to dribble through everyone like a manly Donovan. After about half an hour, Kabba received a pass in the middle of the Sheffield half, turned, wiggled and waggled through three defenders, shivered past a fourth and had his shot blocked by a sliding, desperate lunge from the fullback. Sheffield continually attacked down the Town left, occasionally managing to zip in crosses, the most dangerous of which flew into the near post towards Asaba but Coyne carefully dived forward and scooped the ball up into his comforting, grey eiderdown.
Just before half time, Chettle rather ponced about near the half way line, way out on the left following a bit of one touch buck passing between the whole of the defence. Chettle's lackadaisical attempt to chip the ball down the touchline was charged down by Asaba, who surged down the left, cut in and only a brave sliding clutch by Coyne averted catastrophe. The price paid was a lump on his back, with Asaba remaining on the ground rubbing his bruised ego.
And that's all the news that's fit to print about the first half. Very pleasing it was too. A cracking opening 10 minutes and Sheffield United never looked like scoring. The locals were beginning to chunter with very audible groans whenever Asaba had the ball. Most parts of the Town team were functioning well, with the very clear exception of Pouton, who was dreadful. Never in the right place, hardly tackled and ended up being piggy in the middle. Thank heavens for Coldicott, who did the work of two Titans. Ford struggled but was perfectly able to recover by using his sound defensive brain. No panicky retreating, no standing off allowing crosses; he largely nullified their principle source of danger. Robinson and Kabba spent a lot of time running down the channels, which meant that Town were underpopulated in the penalty area, hence a lot of crosses and no-one there. But overall, this was fine. Young Mr Grace popped his head into the dressing room (when Pouton was in the loo) and said "You've all done very well."
Stu's Halftime Toilet Talk
"There's no way they'll not score." "You need a light when you're fumbling around in the dark." "He's even brought his own condiments." "Is that steward alive, he hasn't moved since 7.30." "They predicted he'd be Poorton"
There were no changes made by either side at half time. The Sheffield United goalkeeper should really have made a change at half time as his hair clashed badly with his jersey. Lime green and ginger just do not go together. And he looked like he was action man with real hair. Can he talk too if you pull his cord?
Town, as usual, kicked the ball out of play straight away. The first action of the half was deep down on the Sheffield left, where Kabba charged down an attempted clearance. The defender tried to shield the ball as it rolled out of play but Kabba shrugged him aside and burst infield towards goal. The weak linesman flagged for a free kick, such tosh is the dull reality of First Division officiating.
Well, not much happened for most of this half. They huffed and puffed, but not a straw was blown away from Town's thatched cottage. Crosses, hoofs, more crosses, but chances? No, not with Asaba and Peschisolido on the pitch. It was all pretty calm for Town, not much feather rufflage. There were rare moments when something almost happened, but the story of the first part of this half was the sudden ability of the linesmen to see offsides; some even were. There was a five minute period when Town attacked with a series of corners. The nearest Town got to scoring from these was one from the left which was swung beyond the far post to Robinson, who ghosted in like Todd used to do. From about eight yards out, he carefully volleyed a shot through a chaotic six yard box. A Sheffield United defender sliced the clearance over the bar. Apart from a Kabba shot which went a couple of yards wide of the near post, that's Town's efforts on goal in the second half. Pressure, but no shots.
After about an hour, Warnock, Britain's leading whine merchant, substituted his sloppy, soppy strikers with a big, clumsy Dutchman and Ndlovu. The big, clumsy Dutchman lumped a couple of Town players before the referee finally booked him for a knee high, studs up late block. It barely made up for the booking Kabba got for "scoring" after an offside decision or for not booking Barnard and Robinson for turning, stamping fouls.
Sheffield United in shot shocker. McGovern flung in a cross from the right and Tonge ran across from the left to the hear post, sending a free header high, wide and ugly, but somehow beautiful to us. Town fans were increasingly emboldened and began asking "who are yer?" when the locals made a noise. Most often when they got a throw in. Are they that desperate? Given the sparse crowd, "where are you?" would have been more appropriate. The Yorkists lost in a sea of plastic.
Cooke replaced Barnard with about 20 minutes left, which surprised no-one as Barnard had been Campbell-like in his presence and Butterfieldian in his activity. A decent first half but a liability in the second. Still nothing much was happening. A few flurries as the Blades swept forward but rarely anything going near Coyne. A period of pressure built up after Pouton needlessly tripped up a midfielder, for which he was booked. It's not just Gallimore who can hit free kicks into the wall, as theirs rebounded up and across the area, followed by some head tennis. Finally, Tonge volleyed a yard or so wide of Coyne's right hand post from 20 yards. They oohed, we pffted.
With less than 15 minutes to go, it was still so far, so good. Easy, peasy, central defence squeezy. Warnock tired of the nonsense and brought on his big gun, Wayne Allison. Big, brutish and snorting. Another in a long line of players who always score against Town. Within a couple of minutes of coming on, Allison had drifted away from Chettle into space, 10 yards out, to the left of centre. The ball was chipped over to him and he thumped a header low across Coyne, but our man plunged perpendicularly and parried. Most exquisite and satisfying. The hope continued, but the game was retreating towards Coyne as United abandoned their stylish, one touch, subtle skills (by the way, that's irony for all you first time readers). They whacked and hacked around to simply lift the ball as high and as long as possible. Their goalkeeper was even drop-kicking it right into the Town penalty area. With eight minutes left, something wicked Town's way came. A corner from their right was smacked to the far post, Chettle allowed Allison to drift away and also failed to anticipate the flight of the ball. ALLISON rose unhindered and headed down into the ground, across Coyne and into the centre left of the goal. Cue music: the theme from The Professionals. I don't think there is anything worse than that. Cheesy and risible and enough to make the mildest, meekest Mariner seethe.
So a draw plucked from the chicken of victory, no it got worse. Much, much worse. With a minute left, Robinson challenged on the right edge of the Sheffield area. He fell backwards and tripped the defender. The 'keeper hammered the free kick straight down the field, Allison and Chettle jumped. Both missed the ball and it bounced up just outside the Town area on the left. A gaggle of flapping footballers converged. The ball continued on into the area and TONGE sprinted in and hit a perfect, thundering, looping volley over Coyne. More annoying music, Town players and fans distraught.
Mansaram and Rowan immediately replaced Kabba and Campbell. The tannoy announced three minutes of added time. About a minute later the referee blew his whistle and it was over. Don't you just hate the 80s. Town deserved victory, if not for the chances created in the first 10 minutes, then for the way they had easily repelled the Blades. But, there's always a but, isn't there. Occasional sloppiness cost points again. Sheffield United were what they always are, but less effective. It rankles to such mediocrity, especially as Town had played with confidence, cohesion and no little skill.
Make of this what you will, but Town are improving. Town are seemingly this year's Stockport, but they are actually much better than that. There's always next time.
Nicko's Man of the Match
There are only two candidates. Coldicott did a double workload, but today there's only one Danny Coyne. Two fantastic saves and some speed and bravery in coming off his line with boots flying around his chest.
Mark's UnMan of the Match
Embarrassing in his ineptitude, a waste of a shirt, unable to contribute anything to road safety, Mr Alan Pouton. It hurts, but it's true.
Mr Clattenburg. A bit fussy, not great, not awful. His decisions when to book were rather strange, but overall he was average. And so gets 6.32.