On the hoof

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

19 April 2003

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Grimsby Town 0

A typical Sheffield afternoon, chilly and overcast, with a blustery wind creeping through the hills and causing havoc with toupees and side partings. Around 1,500 Town fans gathered for the wake behind the goal to the left (as seen on television). There was noise, some support but, deep within the bowels, no heart, which is anatomically correct, if nothing else.

Town lined up in the usual away formation, 4-5-1, as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Santos, Chettle, Gallimore, Campbell, Bolder, Groves, Hughes, Keane, Boulding. The substitutes were Allaway, Parker, Livingstone, Mansaram and Cooke. You won't need to be told who stood where, so I won't tell you. If you do, just guess. Galli did. Someone eventually realised that Santos was the youngest man in the back four, at just 31 years and 8 months. Ahh, experience, that'll get us through - err, hopefully. Wednesday lined up with three hulking strikers but, unfortunately, no Sibon, who has provided us with many moments of mirth over the last few years. Such a shame they rid themselves of the lowland loafer. Is it any wonder that crowds are shrinking when clubs eschew the entertainers? Surely Town's decision to put Cooke on the bench, rather than in the crowd, fits snugly into that category. If he isn't going to weave his way around full backs, we'd like to watch him eat savoury snacks in cruel and unusual ways. That's the way the Cookie crumbles his pies, or pasties, depending on your culinary definitions.

First half

Town kicked off away from the Town support. The ball remained in play, for Town attempted to confuse their ailing, failing big-time-johnny opponents by passing it to each other; well, until it got to Bolder, who spent the first 20 minutes passing to the stripes. On the one hand it's nice to see him get the hang of this 'passing to footballers wearing striped shirts' lark; just a shame that Town were wearing the old flashing belisha beacon yellow kit. This week we're in polka dots, the next we'll be in stripes, Chris.

Wednesday's methods, though unsound, were clear. Kick it high and long to the bulky, hulky blokes. You have to acknowledge their foresight in already beginning their preparations for the second division. By practising now, in simulated match conditions, they have a head start for next season. A bit of realism at a club not previously renowned for any self-awareness.

All of which tells you that nothing happened in the first five minutes. Town passed the ball around pleasingly but, as we all know, the ball will, at some stage, go near Bolder or Gallimore, so all good things come to an end. Wednesday wellied; Kuqi, Owusu and Reddy bundled about; and that was about it. The Town defence was four characters in search of an author, as there was no co-ordination, just individuals reacting. Against Wednesday that's normally enough, as long as you don't fall over your own bootlaces, or become mesmerised by the blue paint on those huge metal poles that keep the roof up. Which is an equally apt description of their centre-backs.

A shot, from 'them', after five minutes. I am sure it looked exciting to the locals and may even have been what professional pundits would call a chance. If only the average fans knew enough about the technicalities of the game then we could have identified it as 'an opportunity'. You see, from behind the goal, it looked like rubbish defending and a rubbish shot. There you are - what do we know? A long ball, straight down the middle, was headed on by Owusu about 25 yards out. Kuqi charged forward down an inside right channel, rampaged through the savannah, scaring the meerkats and water buffalo that had somehow strayed onto a little patch of green in South Yorkshire. Kuqi eventually caught up with the ball about eight yards out and a similar distance wide of goal, before hitting a tame dribbler low to Coyne's right. The Welsh one, as opposed to the Welsh One, plopped gently onto the inflatable plastic thing with no discernible difficulties. Opportunity knocked very softly for Kuqi. He got 24 on the clapometer. And I mean that most sincerely.

A few minutes later, our partners in relegation torpor had another shot. Again it was as a result of the ball hurtling through the air and Town defenders being a bit slack, though this time the case for the defence cites certain mitigating factors. A corner taken from their left looped into the six-yard box. Players crashed into each other like frisky teenagers on a dodgem ride and the ball kept bob, bob, bobbing along at head height, at the far post. It finally dropped for Reddy to turn around and thwack a drive from about eight yards out. Local journalists will be very tempted to use football cliche number 38 and describe the ball as "rippling along the side netting", which at least conveys the fact that it went wide. The Wednesday fans leapt up and cheered, while the Town fans reclined in their uncomfortable plastic tubs with a satisfied smirk as the ball went a couple of feet wide of the post. Relax - if we're drowning, then like a spurned lover we're taking them with us.

After 15 minutes, Gallimore took a series of throw-ins so slowly that the referee eventually penalised him for time-wasting. A little unfair, as Galli's brain works in a different dimension to other footballers. We all know Gallimore lives in the fifth dimension.

You can go and make a cup of tea now, as the game was devoid of action for another quarter of an hour. Make a sandwich - you have time before the next incident. Put some pickle in it. Go and buy some if you haven't any; there's plenty of time Somewhere within this shopping break, Santos was injured when making a fruity challenge in midfield. He looked very injured and spent the next ten minutes hopping after Kuqi, which doesn't say a lot for the Albanian Finnish finisher, does it.

Anyway, back to the story of Bert's blanket. After 25 minutes a funny thing happened. Town won a free kick (no, that's not the punchline) about 30 yards out, somewhere on the right. The ball was gently swung into the very centre of the Wednesday penalty area. Helpfully the Owls were nowhere to be seen and Groves, near the penalty spot, attempted to steer a volley wide of Pressman. The pneumatic tyre bounced to his right and just managed to claw the ball behind, with Hughes lurking at the far post.

The resulting corner, from the Town left, was swung...hang on, I'll get this useless piece of information out of the way first. Keane did what he has done at every single corner since his arrival: he ran quickly from the near post to the corner taker. The ball was swung in to the near post, half cleared and eventually looped away to Bolder, 30 yards out. As the cynics groaned, Bolder hit a fantastic, dipping left-footed volley which looped over the onrushing defenders and towards the top right-hand corner. Pressman bounced once on the ground and boinged up magnificently, punching the ball over the bar for another corner. I can't be bothered to stress how superb the save was - it was annoyingly effective. And that was the punch on the line. I suppose the joke's on us both, in the end.

You can go back to your snack now, for the rest of the half was, again, devoid of goalmouth incidents. In isolated moments it appeared that there was a distinct possibility that an event was likely to occur in the future, but these fizzled out. Town were playing neatly, with some effective promptings through the midfield, where Hughes was an increasingly influential figure. Annoyingly, the ball kept being played to Bolder, who hasn't quite grasped the finer subtleties of association football. He can do the running around and kicking people bit. He often accurately passes opponents to Groves. It's just the ball that's the tricky thing. If only FIFA would pass one of those innovative rule changes and ban the ball from the pitch.

Boulding twice managed to scuttle away down the right flank, isolated against Danny Maddix. The first opportunity was wasted when Boulding did a Donovan and tried to dribble through the antique centre-back. The second brought the Town fans to their feet as our baseline basher scampered into the area with Maddix retreating like Gallimore on rollerblades. Unfortunately Boulding, when near the six-yard box, decided to drift outside Maddix, and onto the right foot, and his cross-shot was blocked for a corner. For Town that was it, just a couple of breakaways and crosses to, well, no-one. I will admit that I did see Stuart Campbell on the pitch during the first half. He took a throw-in.

Just before half time Chettle fell to the ground and clutched his back, but after a few moments of grimacing and stretching he returned to the pitch. Around the same time Wednesday had another chance, again created through hoofs and chasing. Town backed off the Wednesday wide players on the left and allowed them to loop in a cross to the far post. The ball bounced once and a small dark-haired player raced in, jumped up and, from about eight yards out, cleared the ball over the bar for a goal kick. It is difficult to identify the Wednesday players; they have the same public profile as junior cabinet ministers, and their numbers and names were in black writing, with no panels on the back of their striped shirts. If forced to guess who missed this chance, I'd plump for Bromby.

After two minutes of added time the referee ended this rather prosaic doodling of a game. Wednesday were a stereotype of a team near the bottom - all big blokes hustling and hoofing. My, they hoofed. Town were calm, small and pretty (not literally, of course), with occasional bouts of defensive narcolepsy. Wednesday were very fortunate to have got to half time with no bookings, especially their centre-backs, who, on one occasion, executed a double hack 'n' trip on Boulding as he turned past them on the halfway line. Both Maddix and Smith should have been booked, but only received a little lecture from the man in black. Yes, the ref was Johnny Cash today.

There were a couple of penalty appeals, within 30 seconds of each other. Kuqi bounced off Santos and Boulding was shoulder-barged by Maddix. Or was it the other way round? Depends on the stripes in your specs, really. If you're looking for laughs, then we have Groves' unique take on the Pouton stepover - the Groves jump-over. He literally leapt up and performed an extravagant, elaborate jump over the bouncing ball, twisting in mid-air. Or perhaps Gallimore, the chugging cherub. Fortune smiled on Town as Wednesday never really prodded at the stuffed toy on the left. Only once did they try and Galli was lost, if not in France, then in the Channel Islands. Pity poor Galli, it's so very lonely when you're 200 light years from home.

So there we are, a scoreline that did no-one but the pitiably poor Potters any good. Town were comfortable, but hardly threatening. Was it time to stick or bust?

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"He looks like he'd be called Colin."
"This has 0-0 written all over."
"That's two motorcycle combinations in two weeks. What are the odds on that?"
"I think I shall wear black on Monday - it may be fitting."
"What kind of genius would predict Town staying up?"

Second half

In the first minute after the restart, Wednesday had a shot, which Coyne dived towards unnecessarily. A midfielder dragged a bumbling, bombling shot through Santos' legs from outside the area, the ball going a yard or so wide. The home fans "oooh"-ed, perhaps to keep warm.

And then we had the controversy. In the 47th minute Maddix, 40 yards out in the centre, received a pass from the right touchline. Boulding chased after him and Maddix decided that this was the perfect opportunity to show off all those skills he learned when ambling around in the Premiership. Look, this man has marked Cantona, Shearer, and Bergkamp; why would a little tennis player bother him? The self-confessed two-legged former schoolboy tried to flick the ball over Boulding and, well, didn't. Boulding charged it down and hared off towards goal, right down the middle. Smith ran over and legged up Boulding as he approached the penalty area, with Maddix somewhere close and to the side.

The Town fans and players beseeched the referee to send off Smith, but only the yellow card was flourished. Very fortunate was the ginger-haired lump, for he should have been booked in the first half, which rendered the question of whether he was the last man irrelevant. Campbell tried to take the free kick very quickly, but the referee wouldn't let him. Eventually Campbell curled the ball a foot over the bar, to Pressman's left.

The next quarter of an hour was taken up with Wednesday hoofing it higher and longer. They didn't create anything worth telling you about, unless you are entranced by descriptions of Steve Chettle heading the ball. Thought not. Gallimore? On the pitch, just about standing in the way of Wednesday players. He hardly tackled, and was alarmingly absent at times, but Wednesday just weren't savvy enough to take the opportunities afforded them down the Town left. They were preoccupied with lumping it up to Kuqi, or attacking McDermott, presumably on the basis that he's small. Huh, very subtle tactics - let's kick it in the air towards their smallest player. Size-ist nonsense, and very dim. Town continued to tippy-tap through midfield, which was aesthetically pleasing for a while, if not particularly effective. If we are going to get relegated, we'll do it prettily. What was the point of using the word if there?

After about 55 minutes, Wednesday did cause a flutter when they whacked a long, high diagonal ball towards the centre left of the penalty area. Coyne half came out, stopped, and then carried on as Reddy hurtled across and jumped in front of him. Both missed the ball and it bounced through the area, with Chettle walking back to pass the ball away. Worrying in a farcically freaky sort of way. It was nothing more than pub football, hoof 'n' chase.

The home fans began to build up a wall of sound behind their team, with a steady drum beat and rhythmic clapping, and the Town fans sank back into silence. Curiously, Wednesday throw-ins in the Town half seemed to spark a couple of Town fans into "come on Town". How strange. Ah yes, throw-ins. They had a few long throw-ins. The ball went into the area, the ball was headed away, you need to know nothing else.

Wednesday probably had a couple of long shots during this period. Coyne was untroubled, we were untroubled. It was untroubling. Town could have hopped on the bus at any time after 3 o'clock and Wednesday still wouldn't have scored. And the same goes for Town too.

Somewhere after the hour Chris Turner made three changes, all at the same time. He took off Kuqi, Owusu and Barry-Murphy and they were replaced by...I can't be bothered: three other blokes. Oh, go on then. One of them was tiny tot Leon Knight, who played as an out-and-out left winger. So Macca's old and therefore slow? Grow up Turner. Macca had a gourmet dinner for one, with Knight as the dessert. Do these people know nothing?

Time, ticking away the moments that made up a dull game. Two teams walking towards Colchester in their own offhand ways. Groves lost his temper at one point, after a Wednesday player kicked him from behind, but that's just about as much passion as was seen. There was a half-hearted appeal for a penalty down at the Spion Kop end, presumably because a Wednesday player fell over his own feet. You never know - it might just work, for the referee did give them a free kick near the Town penalty area for just that. Desperate measures in desperate times, eh?

Are you twiddling your mental thumbs waiting for something to happen? Well so were we. With a quarter of an hour left, as Livvo limbered up as a diversionary tactic. Mansaram replaced Bolder, with Town reverting to 4-4-2. Mansaram was effective for a couple of minutes, charging down a Maddix clearance on the right touchline and crossing to the near post, and a little later he received the ball with his back to goal, on the left of the Wednesday box. Instead of laying the ball sideways to Keane or McDermott, or Groves, or Hughes...or anyone, Mansaram decided to twist, spin and shoot all in one go. And the ball flew 10 yards wide and high, all in one go.

Still Wednesday pumped the ball forward, running around a lot, which at least shows willing, I suppose. What can I say - they just didn't cause any problems, with Coyne only touching the ball to collect overhit clearances or crosses. The one time that he did drop the ball the referee gave Town a free kick for a foul on him. How very tiresome, Mrs Minniver.

In the last 10 minutes Town had another attempt at goal. The ball was played through midfield and up to Boulding, about 25 yards out on the Town centre left. Boulding spun around and flicked a pass inside the full back for Keane, who clipped a low, swinging cross in towards the near post. Hughes glided in, stooped and looped a glancing, flicking header that went over Pressman and a few inches over the bar.

And for Town, it was over. It had long been over for our hosts with the posts. A few more long throws, corners, crosses and indeterminate meanderings, but not much to write home about. They appealed for a penalty when a striker missed a header at the far post. Well, Town should have three a game on that basis. One of the substitutes sliced a shot from the edge of the penalty area so badly it was going out for a throw-in, but McDermott managed to catch up with the ball and whack it downfield.

There were two minutes of added time, which passed away peacefully in our sleep, which is a fitting epitaph for these two teams' seasons. In the context of this match, Town were more than adequate. It was easy, very easy defensively, and the midfield four (Campbell was again the Invisible Man) exerted control. In the context of the predicament, though, it was not quite enough. Maybe that should be the epitaph for Town. It sure sums them up in every respect.

Just a few more days and we can officially look forward to Hartlepool, and the return of Tommy Widdrington. There's positives in everything, if only you look for them. Next season may be a bit of a laugh after all.

Nicko's man of the match

His passing flowed like his hair - it's Richard Hughes. Full of calm, intelligent play, he was what neutrals would call 'good'. Special mentions will be made of Steve Chettle and McDermott J, for their supreme adequacy.

Official warning
P Dowd

Definitely the starman, in his own blown mind. Incredibly fussy, quite erratic and determined to make no big decisions. It's always easier to say no. I find it very easy to say no to awarding a mark over 5.197. He gets extra marks for his fussiness, which assisted Town. He should have sent Smith off though, for persistent fouls, if nothing else.