Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
27 March 2000
A miserable spring night full of cold, cold wind, driving rain showers and (before the kick off) hailstones. The Town fans - 200 at the very most - were placed in the old West Stand right next to the press box and the TV cameras. Yep, football in the raw - it isn't often that you have to take an umbrella to the toilet. Oh, and watch out for pigeon droppings too - they like to perch in the rafters of the stand and comment freely.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation, to much grumbling and apprehension. Everyone was where you'd expect them to be on the pitch.
The game started dreadfully. Within two minutes Gallimore had dallied so long that his attempted aimless hoof up the touchline was charged down, starting a Barnsley attack. The resultant cross was horribly sliced away by Groves for a corner. Town's performance never again reached such heights of competence.
The game in its entirety can be summed up thus: Barnsley get the ball, Barnsley kick the ball up towards the penalty area, Town kick the ball back to Barnsley, Barnsley eventually get into the penalty box, Town flap around.
It is much easier for me to describe Town's first half efforts: Clare buzzed around on the Town right, cut in and his shot caught the heel of a defender. The tubby keeper plopped on top of the ball at his near post. Town nicked the ball on the Barnsley left, worked it across the face of the area to the spare man (Groves, what an apt description of his performance) and he eventually, after much creaking of limbs, gently caressed a left-footed shot into the 'keeper's midriff; and Gallimore had a shot low to the keeper's left from 25 yards, again after Town worked the ball across the Barnsley defence.
Now if Barnsley were any good they would have scored three or four in the first half. Town were awful, especially on the left where Gallimore did not manage to pass to a Town player until the 44th minute, whereupon he received an ovation from some of the Town supporters. We admire perseverance.
Before Barnsley eventually did score, they should have had a couple. Loose play down the Town left allowed Hignett to race away and cross deeply. I think this was one of those times when a Gallimore/Livvo hoof was charged down - it is so difficult to remember - there were so many times. The cross was back-headed away by Lever towards the corner flag. Appleby ambled over, turned and crossed. The ball was headed out to Tinkler, about 25 yards out, who volleyed straight into Coyne's hands. The Town players stood around watching as Barnsley took a short corner on the Town left. The ball was rolled to the corner of the area where a player had been stood for five seconds. Nobody moved out to mark him, or close him down. He advanced, played a short pass and that left a player near the edge of the six-yard box, all alone. Coyne came racing out and blocked, the ball rolled across to somewhere near the penalty spot whereupon Gallimore threw himself across and blocked the shot with his legs.
A few minutes later a Barnsley free kick, just inside the Town half, next to the right touchline, was hoofed towards the back post. It was nodded on. Shipperley turned Livvo easily and pulled the ball back to the centre of the goalmouth, about 12 yards out. Coyne came out and blocked the shot with his feet.
On 25 minutes a rather aimless "channel ball" was whacked down the Town left. Livvo strolled over and attempted to clear. For the umpteenth time the ball was charged down, this time by Dyer who galloped on towards the bye-line. He advanced into the area, reached the bye-line and chipped across towards Shipperley who missed it as it was too high. The ball fell to Tinkler, unmarked about 15 yards out. Coyne raced out and threw himself at the ball and Tinkler simply slammed the shot across Coyne high-ish towards the top left hand corner of the goal.
A few minutes later Barnsley took another short corner when Town were sleeping. They worked the ball into the Town six-yard box and across the face of goal. Only Coldicott's bottom stopped a second goal, as he threw himself across the path of the shot. The ball dropped on the six-yard line, Groves cleared hurriedly and badly, straight back to the winger. The ball was dinked high towards the centre. Coyne was impeded by someone - the way Town were playing it was probably one of our players - and the ball eventually fell to a Barnsley player, whose shot was saved low by Coyne, to his left. I may have got these two the wrong way round - Town were so inept I was beginning to lose concentration. The players were, so why can't I?
There were several other moments of danger, which didn't result in shots. Generally Town were indescribably poor, the whole left side was an embarrassment. I can't remember Black touching the ball in the first half, and Gallimore kept either passing to them or getting caught in possession. It was the worst performance I can recall from a Town left-back. I think the only reason he stayed on the pitch was because there just wasn't anyone else. Groves was plainly lacking in pace and spatial awareness. He looked like a centre-half playing in midfield. He was just too slow to react, consequently the game, literally, passed him by. Livvo was very lackadaisical, committing two or three Galli dallies.
In attack Town were non-existent. Clare, as usual, ran around a lot, to no effect. When Town did have the ball in the Barnsley half the lack of movement was painful to observe. The player with the ball never had anyone moving for him to pass to. Hence there were innumerable occasions when Town went backwards or were caught in possession. Donovan was even less of a presence than Black (who at least was moving his legs) and Nicholls won a couple of free kicks by falling over. You'd have thought that Nicholls would have used the stage of a live TV game to show off his talents, or at least overtly try. He didn't.
One-nil at half time was a travesty. Barnsley should have scored more, even though they are an inherently average team, nowhere near the same class a Charlton. Several of their players were incapable of controlling the ball. They were just big. Like Wolves without the finesse. Much like the respective Towns themselves. "Come to Barnsley - it's Wolverhampton without the chic".
Apparently Barnsley made a change at half time. I don't know who and I don't care either. The second half in general was a washout. After about ten or so minutes of the half, Hignett cut through the Town left, cut inside and attempted to curl a shot into Coyne's right-hand corner. He reckoned without Lever's elbow which knocked it away, setting up a Town counter-attack at such speed that the crowd gasped in awe at the audacity of the movements and ball skills (that last may be a flight of rhetorical fancy).
At this stage, a certain section of the Town support started to count down Nicholls' Grimsby "career". "Eight minutes and counting Mr Nicholls". At this stage he perked up and fell over, winning a free kick. Perked up is a relative term and I merely mean that he moved more than five yards in one go. After 63 minutes Nicholls was taken off (thus equalling his record for minutes on the pitch) to great relief and cheers, Bradley Allen sprinting on to a genuine ovation. Nicholls appeared to make some kind of gesture when entering the dug out. He didn't look happy. We were, now that he was off. Never mind lad, it's all over now. You can wake up in your big Chelsea bed and never have to think about working again. Perhaps it is grim up north.
Just like last week, the introduction of Allen coincided with a goal (and, obviously, not one of ours). Barnsley retained possession and attacked down the Town left. The ball was eventually chipped into the edge of the six-yard box, floating over the covering man Coldicott. Shipperley controlled the ball, rolled around to his left, easily turned Livvo and hit a low drive through Coyne's legs, the ball going in off his bottom. Town gave far too much time and space to the full-back, allowing him time to pick out his man, and Livvo was turned far too easily by a relatively slow player.
That was it, we couldn't even hope for a lucky equaliser now. Almost immediately the hobbling Livvo was replaced by Bloomer. And this was the one thing to cling on to as we slunk away from Oakwell - a small glimmer of hope for the future. About five or so minutes after coming on Bloomer did a wonderful sliding tackle to dispossess Dyer near the half way line, on Town's right. He recovered and sprinted 40 yards down the right touchline and swung in a cross to the foot of the near post. That was the fastest a Town player had run for several months and showed a positive footballing mind and great awareness.
Similarly, about five minutes from the end he intercepted a Barnsley through ball on the half way line, on Town's left. He immediately ran forward 10 yards at pace, rolled the ball up to Bradley Allen and ran on into a space between the right-back and centre-back. Unfortunately, Allen turned the wrong way and passed out towards Donovan. It appears we have a ball-playing centre-back in reserve should Handyside never recover/be sold.
At this point Town had their shot: Gallimore, Allen and Donovan linked somewhat unconvincingly down the left and centre, resulting in a Donovan cross being knocked back to Gallimore by Allen. Gallimore's 20 yarder went about two foot wide of the 'keeper's right hand post.
On 77 minutes Butterfield and Coldicott rather piddled about on the touchline, near the half way line. The ball was lost and played up to Shipperley, who was kicked in the air by Lever. The referee allowed "advantage" to Barnsley as Hignett had the ball right in the middle of the Town half. He advanced towards goal, drifting slightly to Town's left, with Bloomer retreating in front of him. Hignett got to the edge of the area and slipped a precise pass just outside Gallimore towards the replacement wing-back, Eaden. Gallimore, in extremely slow motion, stretched and missed the ball, allowing Eaden to get to the touchline, near the six-yard box, totally free. Eaden pulled the ball back to the unmarked Hignett, about 10 yards out in the centre who calmly placed his shot low to Coyne's right.
I have a vague recollection of Coyne making a save low to his right during the latter part of the half, and Shipperley turning Lever on the edge of the box after chasing a high punt. Butterfield and Bloomer crowded Shipperley out and stopped Lever looking silly. And that was it, as far as "action" goes. There were a couple of minor Lever moments, with sliced clearances and cushioned volleyed lay offs to Barnsley, but that would be to quibble over his general level of performance. He was quite stoic, as were Coyne and Coldicott - omnipresent, if not omnipotent. The rest of the team was either OK (Butterfield, Clare), invisible (Groves, Black and Donovan) or shocking (Nicholls and Gallimore). Livvo has a special role - called "Being Livvo". Allen was poor when he came on, failing to galvanise the team like he did at Charlton.
It is quite clear that we have two players who are past it (Groves in midfield, and Black just generally), and one who is not bothered (Donovan). Gallimore should be dropped for his own good (and ours, as we pay to watch him) on the basis of his last two performances. There was no creativity in midfield and no movement up front. A change of personnel is due in important areas, members of the old guard are failing over an extended period. The Charlton performance was largely acceptable, both individually and collectively. Last night's was not. It wasn't as though they were playing anyone any good. The players looked like they had come to keep the score down. They didn't. At least we've seen the back of Nicholls (which is more than any centre-back has).
Words to describe Town collectively? Pusillanimous, dim-witted, timid, panicked, fearful, fey, indifferent. They had losers written across their foreheads from the first minute.