Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
7 December 2002
Walsall 3 Grimsby Town 1
A gloomy, cold, damp, miserable midland afternoon in a concrete shed by a concrete motorway. Around 150 Town fans sprinkled themselves over the seats like a dusting of pre-Christmas snow. Can you hear what I hear? A song, a song, a song about some fish and long periods of silence. More pertinently, can you see what I see? A brown-striped mudheap on which the players were gingerly warming up, once again in those "lucky" green bibs. It wasn't like an old-style Blundell Park churn but, by today's standards, it was a muddy mess, which was close to how it was being described by the more world-weary away support.
Gazing across the sea of brown, something caught the eye - a brand spanking new stand at the other end. Walsall have built a second tier for the home end and named it the Purple Stand. Will they have to amend its name every time fashions change? Sure, purple is currently the new black, but what about next spring?
Town lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Gavin, Gallimore, Campbell, Coldicott, Pouton, Barnard, Oster and Livingstone. The substitutes were Allaway, Groves, Santos, Soames and Thompson.
After the miniature winger's steaming burger at Selhurst Park, he was espied sitting at the periphery of the Town support, munching his way through a pie. A balti pie, using a wooden chip fork to scoop out each bit of meat individually. He studied each bit before digesting. Have we any amateur psychologists in the house? I bet he straightens towels too. Reports filtered through of Mansaram's Bovril, Rowan's fasting for a night out in Nunsthorpe and the youth team players' bag of nuts. Top athletes, top food. You'd have thought they'd have brought their own packed lunch.
Walsall kicked off towards the Town fans and failed in their attempt to welly the ball out of play without passing 'go'. McDermott intercepted, headed it back to them and then they kicked it out. Poor show, Walsall.
Within the first couple of minutes Walsall had made two pathetic attempts at claiming penalties. A bit of interplay outside the Town box between Junior and Leitao ended with Gavin sliding across to nick the ball back towards Coyne who ran out and smothered it. Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Leitao was struck down by Ming the Merciless's invisible death ray, for alone, with no human within two yards of his fragile frame, he stumbled and fell forward theatrically. Gavin gave him an Irish earful, and the referee, of course, admonished Gavin. Leitao should have been booked for a rubbish, and embarrassingly rubbish, dive.
A minute or so later Junior tried the same trick, falling over the back of Gavin as our loanee headed the ball back to Coyne. That's headed the ball when it was about 18 inches off the ground, after he was shoved in the back by the most unlikely Brazilian. There was much mirth amongst the Town fans at the sight of 'their Brazilian'. Tall, angular, lumpy, uncoordinated, he looked like he'd been discovered in a soft furnishings warehouse in Barnsley. He looked, and played, like Andy Rammell. His strike partner, the goal machine Leitao, was erroneously named, for he looked a bit portly around the waistband, using his strong hips to good effect in nudging and knocking Ford off the ball a couple of times.
Apart from an overhead kick by Junior from about 10 yards out, which looped comfortingly wide, nothing happened. Even that 'attempt' was irrelevant, as the linesman with the lovely grey crimped hair had flagged for offside. Bored as they were, the Walsall fans still "ooh"-ed. The silence in the stadium was rarely punctured by any noise other than the players shouting at each other. Coyne and Coldicott in particular were vocal. "Shall we sing a song for you?" sang 14 Town teenagers. They didn't respond to the deluge of seasonal requests. 'Bright Eyes' seemed to be the number one choice of the terrace, if not the sound of the suburb.
Ah, we're up to the 15-minute mark now. Nothing of any consequence had happened, though Town had got into the Walsall half a couple of times, which was very nice indeed, only for Oster to waste possession with physical, then mental, weakness. He just kept trying to show off with post-Reesian flicks in highly dangerous positions. Dangerous to Town, that is.
The gloom gloomified and the eyes started to stray towards the advertising hoardings: Non-Ferrous Metal Stockholders? A warehouse full of metal, you mean (metal that isn't iron, wasn't it? - Ed.). Town strung three passes together down the right, after McDermott had intercepted a fey pass towards Wrack, the Ghost of Grimsby Past. Coldicott, halfway inside the Walsall half and about 15 yards in from the touchline, swung his right boot lazily to arc a high bending pass down an inside right channel. The ball looped behind the lumpy centre back, bounced and spun around him to Oster, near the corner of the penalty area. Oster looked up and caressed a perfectly weighted cross to Livingstone, about 10 yards out at the near post. Livvo side-footed to Walker's left. Walker was making his way back across goal, changed direction, hung out his left hand and magnificently parried the ball away for a corner. Walsall responded by...not doing anything remotely interesting. Coyne had to come off his line a couple of times to smother through balls, but no shots, no moments of danger, no worries.
After about 20 or so minutes something else happened worth describing. And again it was from Town. Oster won a free kick by getting himself scythed down from behind, about 20 yards out, towards the right of the Walsall penalty area. The cognoscenti advised their less experienced colleagues to sit down and relax as Oster was about to curl the ball over the wall and into the crowd. But what do the cognoscenti know? Just because something has happened before, doesn't mean it is going to happen again. Oster was sent away with several fleas in his ears by those nasty boys in the upper sixth, Pouton and Barnard. Pouton had an acid flashback to the heady days of summer, smacking an identical shot to the (non) goal at Brighton. Same position, same aim, same everything, except Walker flew across and superbly tipped the ball away for a corner from the very, very top left hand angle of post and bar. The corner was flung high to the far post, where Gavin's header hit a defender, and dropped back at his feet, but his second attempt, from about six yards out, is still rolling slowly towards the post.
The match was not very good, but Town were the less bad of the two teams. Walsall were all hustle and bustle, with their two Latin loafers up front using all those continental tricks to gain an edge, forever obstructing and pulling behind the teacher's, I mean referee's, back. After 27 minutes Walsall bored us with another chip down the right. Leitao used his big waist to nudge Ford out of the way, but McDermott halted him about 30 yards out. The ball went back to a Walsall player near the touchline and was lobbed down the touchline again. Leitao was free, but Gavin ran across and chested down the weak cross, spun, looked up and from about 15 yards out near the corner of the penalty area, stroked a pass up to Oster near the halfway line.
Oster feebled his way towards the ball and allowed the Walsall defender to clump the ball back down the touchline. Boring. Danger! Panic! Gavin was ambling forward whilst the rest of the defence were 10 yards in front of him, flat-footed and ball watching. Three Walsall players had filled that huge void 'twixt Gavin and the rest, and the ball was now back with Leitao near the corner flag. Gavin trotted over, but no Town defenders bothered to run back, and Leitao simply lobbed the ball into the middle of the penalty area to the horribly unmarked JUNIOR, who, from about eight yards out, tapped the ball past Coyne as both jumped at the ball.
A few Town players harangued the linesman for not giving offside, all of which was a poor attempt at diverting attention away from their extreme collective and individual sloppiness. Town had conceded a third division goal, and what's more that was the first shot on target from the home team. How irritating.
Walsall perked up after this, with an attack which produced a bit of a goalmouth flurry, but again no shot on target. It is possible that the ball went towards the Town goal, as I remember hearing an "ooooh" from the distant home support. But they were kidding themselves, or perhaps were carried away with premature yuletide spirit. Just past the half-hour mark there was a worrying moment, worthy of noise from even the most miserable midlander present. A sustained period of Walsall pressure, with corners, crosses, jokes old and new. Coyne punched away a corner to the edge of the area and Walsall made a couple of attempts at crossing, the second of which saw Junior head towards goal. The ball was chested away by a Town defender with hair (i.e. not Coldicott) to a Town player without hair (i.e. Coldicott), who calmly played the ball away.
Oh, and then there was that mix-up between Gallimore and Gavin, each hoping the other would chase Leitao, or that the linesman would give an offside. A simple high ball over the top into the Town area, on the left. The two G-men stood and watched as Leitao lolloped forward. Coyne came off his line and star-jumped at the porky Portuguese as Leitao attempted to hook the ball over and in. The ball ran four yards wide of the near post. Fleeting danger only; it probably looked more exciting, and closer, if you were wearing a red and white scarf and a bobble hat.
With seven or eight minutes left to half time, doubters, ne'er-do-wells and professional cynics whose hearts ain't innit were all left to reflect on their negativity. A patient Town build-up on the right was suddenly transformed into a whirling dervish by the emergence of Barnard, who sprinted across from left to right. The ball was curled around the left back and Barnard controlled the ball, spun, dinked, jinked and crossed right-footed into the middle, about a dozen yards out. LIVINGSTONE ran in towards the near post, leaned back, twisted by the pool and headed over Walker into the centre left of the goal. Thank heavens for little girlkeepers (as they say in 'Ull), as anyone above 5 foot 4 would have been able to reach Livvo's looper. Cooke had probably just finished eating his pie by then.
The rest of the half was lost in a haze of non-alcoholic soft middle age. The only really memorable moment was an Oster cross from the right which fizzed through the area and was somewhat desperately hacked over his own crossbar by their right back, as Barnard waited in the shadows beyond. Yeah, that was the half that was. Poor stuff, hardly any shots, but a couple of goals. The Town fans were still trying to work out how Walsall had managed to score, as they looked so average. Town hadn't exactly set the pulses racing with free-flowing one-touch total football, but at least we'd passed it and had some shots on target. The first quarter of an hour was quite appalling, with lots of little casual passes to no-one, slippings and sloppings, thoughtless, wasted whacks and some awful Coyne fly-kicks straight to Walsall players.
One moment summed up the shoddiness - Town were given a free kick 10 yards inside their own half. Gavin looked up, spotted the Walsall keeper near his line and whacked the ball straight down the middle for a goal kick, while every other outfield player was walking back upfield. Was it a shot? Was it a pass? What was the point?
There were three points available to any one who could be bothered. Or, more likely, stay awake.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Why do we bother coming here? We always lose."
"You could do with an inflatable hat in this On came Aranalde and Ainsworth. Aranalde, an old favourite - the hair, the gloves, the boots, a bit of a footballing fop. He replaced their left back and immediately slotted into a left flounce position. Of course, the cerebral Town fans requested clarification as to the whereabouts of his mobile home. For some, all taunting roads lead to Romany.
Ainsworth immediately tore down their right, sailing past Gallimore and Coldicott, and sending in a dangerous dipping cross, which was a precursor to a bit of pressure, but again no shots. After three minutes of Ainsworth darting and dinking, normal service resumed and we all slumped back to the cold comfort of turgid Town and woeful Walsall. Wake me up when it's over, the point in the bag. And out of the blue they scored. Was anyone paying attention in the 'build-up'? There seemed nothing to concern ourselves with, the ball over on the Walsall left, near the touchline, near the halfway line. The ball was flipped up to Leitao, who appeared to miscontrol the ball, which bounced up off one of the more bony parts of his anatomy. He flicked it over his shoulder and forward. Junior did the same, simply helping it on into the Town penalty area. Rather than chasing back, the two Town central defenders appeared to be idly watching developments with unamused detachment. Coyne half came off his line, stopped, dived and LEITAO slid forward and placed the ball under him and into the centre left of the goal.
A firework exploded to our right in celebration at this unexpected event. So, two shots, two goals. And two rather silly goals too. There was a bit of arguing with officials as the Town players claimed an offside. Impossible to tell from 100 yards away. It just looked like typical Town slackness. What was Santos saying about concentration?
It was all rather boring after this, the creative tension dissipated. We knew Town weren't going to score again, and were going to lose to a very, very ordinary team. Like Bradford, but without the stripes. Thoughts turned to Aranalde's hair, which shimmered down his neck like tadpoles in a drain. And his gloves, which were probably a present from his auntie Juanita last Christmas. And his boots, which were Santa red. He got himself booked for lunging and lumping Campbell on the touchline, which should have been his second yellow card of course. The first being for lack of taste.
Even Aranalde's personal grooming couldn't sustain the interest levels. There were just a couple of more Walsall attacks, a deep cross from their left to the far post went straight on to Junior's big fat head. Unmarked, perhaps five yards out, he tamely nodded the ball back to Coyne, the perfect backpass. And there was a very dangerous cross , again from their left, which fizzed through the six-yard box, missing all humanity and Santos, as it careered crazily towards a damp photographer.
The Town fans were far too busy moaning at Walker when he took his goalkicks, slowly, slowly, wasting time. His routine was to carefully place the ball next to a divot, stamp the divot down, walk back, move the ball to another divot, stamp that down, apologise to the referee, adjust his shorts (for they kept riding up his backside, allowing certain observations to be made regarding his post-match activities to supplement his income) and eventually hack it upfield.
With about 15 minutes left, or so it felt like, Soames replaced Barnard, who had earlier received some treatment for a whack on the back. Soames twisted, turned and was a gentle pest for a while, like a stockier Daryl Clare. His major contribution to the entertainment was a chase down the right to reach a chip towards the corner, a turn and cross from the by-line which rolled slowly to the near post. As Livvo was 'sprinting' forward towards it, hopes were not raised. Town did have a few efforts towards goal, a few mis-hits from the edge of the area, and, near the end, a careful twisting chip from the left edge of the penalty area by Oster, which missed by a few inches.
So do you really want to know about Oster's shot from the left, 20 yards out, which sliced so far wide it went out for a throw in? Thought you didn't. Or Pouton's first-time drive from almost exactly the same position which slammed in to the empty seats 15 yards to the left of goal? Thought you didn't. Too late, you've read it already.
Dribbling away to another silly defeat. And now it was confirmed. With a couple of minutes left Walsall got a throw-in on the Town right, just inside the Town half. Lobbed down the touchline into space, Leitao chased it. Gavin was on the ground, Leitao running free. Santos sauntered over, backed off, allowed Leitao to turn. The ball was played back to WRACK, about 12 yards out, and well wide of goal, who shot with the outside of his boot, the ball swinging away from Coyne and high into the top left corner of the goal. What was Santos saying about concentration? A third stupid, sloppy, dopey, lazy goal conceded and all three points presented to Walsall on a rather cheap plastic tray.
Who cares how long was left - nothing happened; nothing would happen, of course. The performance was infinitely superior to the supine death throes of the Lawrence era that were served up a year ago. But the result was the same. Some of the Town players need a good clip round the ear for the cavalier way they treated this game. Walsall may have been poor, but you still have to do something about winning. The defence, almost to a man, has a tendency to raise the hand rather than chase back. Relying on the benevolence of linesmen is not a wise defensive strategy. Legs, as well as the right arm, have to move occasionally.
What's a clean sheet?
Nicko's man of the match
Two candidates have been proposed: Alan Pouton, for his work rate, determination and a 20-minute spell of dynamism, but Nicko has opened the box and revealed TONY GALLIMORE as his choice. Pouton can't pass or shoot; Gallimore, apart from a three-minute spell when Ainsworth first touched earth, was clam, sober, and solid.
Mark's un-man of the match
John Oster for, frankly, mincing around in self-indulgent fashion for the entire game. He has the skills to kill with simple passing. It's Grimsby, not Hollywood.
Mr R Pearson
The only quibble is minor really: he booked a couple of players (Gallimore and possibly Gavin) for slightly mistimed sliding tackles. In the conditions, he could have merely waggled his finger rather than his pencil. Unassuming, average: 6.108 for not falling over.