Destination Unknown

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

26 December 1999

A bright, clear day with a wickedly cold wind blowing from the open corner between the Pontoon and Stones/Smiths down towards the Osmond Stand. The ground was very full with even the temporary seating full of happy holiday people. Cleethorpes was full of groups of wandering Tykes looking very cold and very unhappy at closed pubs and unopened fish and chip shops. The pitch looked like it would start to cut up quite quickly, and the sheltered bit in front of the Findus/Stones appeared to be particularly heavy.

Town lined up in their usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermottt, R Smith, Lever, Galllimore, Donovan, Groves, Pouton, A Buckley, Livingstone and Lester. The subs were Croudson, Butterfield, Allen, Ashcroft and Coldicott. Barnsley lined up in a 5-3-2 formation with three big centre-backs, two stocky full-backs, three chunky midfielders and a little and large front two. And their goalkeeper, Miller, was extremely tubby - his backside was (almost) literally hanging out of his shorts.

So, a big crowd with loads of once-a-year merchants dotted around. We know what usually happens in those circumstances.

1st half

Barnsley kicked off towards the Pontoon and the crowd noise was almost audible. The first five or six minutes were very even with no chances, though the referee had already penalised Lester three times for "holding" and Livingstone twice for over-physical challenges. Only one of these decisions appeared correct. It was already clear that Town would not get the rub of the referee. After ten minutes the linesman on the Findus/Stones side joined the referee in the pantheon of hate by failing to notice two Barnsley offsides. The omens were not good.

In the first quarter of an hour Town had one attack of any note, when Livingstone allowed Gallimore’s through ball to run on. Lester collected the ball and spun to the Town right and drifted a cross over to the far post, where it was chested out for a corner. The corner resulted in a bit of a scramble at the near post and a blocked shot. Barnsley had a couple of breakaways which were stopped on the edge of the area and a chip from Hignett which went two yards over the bar.

On the quarter hour Barnsley attacked down the Town centre and right. The first move was half stopped, and the second resulted in a switch of play to Town's left. As usual the Town players had "tucked in" and the Barnsley right-wingback was all alone. He advanced and the first attempt to cross was half stopped. The ball went out of the area to a position about 30 yards out, near the touchline. Adam Buckley was very slow to get back to cover, then slow to react to the ball going near him, then slow to run towards the ball. He missed his challenge, Barnsley advanced and whipped in a cross to Hignett, centrally placed about 15 yards out. Hignett controlled the ball, moved it to his right foot and slammed a shot inside Coyne's left-hand post, about four foot high. The ball hit the inside of the post on the way in.

One minute later Town got their first free kick of the afternoon.

The pattern of the game continued for the next five minutes or so, though I recall Pouton having a shot during this period (a wild swirling drive from the edge of the box, on Town's right. It went 12-15 yards wide).

The next Barnsley attack was a bit of a calamity for Coyne. The Barnsley keeper kicked the ball down the middle of the pitch. Coyne came out of his area to fly-kick the ball away…and got the slightest of edges that ballooned to first slip. Fortunately for him R Smith ran around and booted it out for a throw-in, 20 yards out on the Stones/Findus side. The throw-in was taken short and a cross was floated over to the Town left, near the edge of the six-yard box. As Gallimore was unmarked and right underneath the flight path nothing could go wrong, could it. Gallimore missed his half attempt at a header, the ball fell to a Barnsley attacker who controlled the ball and got to the touchline. The cross was diverted past Coyne at the near post by Hignett, from about six yards out. The Town sections of the crowd were baying for an offside flag as the ball was floated over Gallimore. The people in line with play being the most vociforous. Town never got any decisions from this linesman all afternoon (apart from one offside near half time, when Sheron quite clearly wasn’t offside and Town had the ball anyway).

From this point Town's general play disintegrated. Town did respond, principally through Pouton, who fired in a screaming left-foot half-volley from 20 yards, after a corner was half cleared. Unfortunately for Town it was straight at the keeper, right under the crossbar. His second effort was a curling right foot free kick from about 29 yards out, near the edge of the box on Barnsley's right. Again it was straight at the keeper. The free kick was given after Lester had turned and been brought down. Town had no other efforts on goal in the first half, though we got half a dozen corners, which were all aimed at Lever's considerable head at the near post.

Barnsley, on the other hand, nearly scored twice more, both after one-twos on the edge of the area exposed the full-backs. The first was after a corner when it was played short to a man just outside the box. A centre-forward spun away from Lever and the ball was played inside Gallimore. Coyne came out and blocked superbly at his near, left post. The second instance, near half time, was almost identical, except it was on the Town right and from open play. Again Coyne blocked superbly. Barnsley's only other effort on goal was a Hignett chip from 25 yards which went five yards over the bar.

Town were booed off at half time and (as Glenn Hoddle would say), rightly so. Barnsley were very well organised, played to a simple plan and were generally committed. Barnsley had obviously done some homework on Town. They noted that Donovan doesn’t like cold days, and opponents who say boo. They noted that Lester likes to turn and fall, and that the referee took an instant dislike to Lester. The defenders took it in turns to "work" the referee, politely pointing out what Lester was "doing". Above all they knew how Town are organised defensively, so played into the spaces between and over defenders. Town were defensively stretched all the time. McDermott was just about coping, but appeared to be on the limits of his physical capabilities. Gallimore was day dreaming. R Smith was getting rockier and rockier as the game progressed.

Town's principal problems were down the wings. Neither Buckley nor Donovan did anything offensively or defensively. They were always in the wrong position. Much of Town's attacking momentum was lost through Pouton being unable to play the pass he wanted as there was no width. And as for movement - you must be joking. Town had a short period of pressure after the second goal went in (during which they had the two free kicks mentioned earlier). Three times within 30 seconds Pouton had the ball in space and looked to play someone in behind the defence. On all three occasions he was forced to pass back to Lever as there were five Town players stood still in the middle of the pitch.

The second half was not anticipated by the Town sections of the crowd with anything other than apathy.

2nd Half

Neither side made any changes for the second half. Town should have, as they played the same as they did in the first. Within five minutes Barnsley had hit the post. A break down the Town right saw their number 7 curl a right-footed shot against Coyne's left-hand post from the edge of the area. I seem to recall this move started when one of the Town defenders gave the ball away. Forgive my inexactitude on this matter, but such were the number of times that Gallimore and R Smith fell over the ball, or passed it to directly to Barnsley within 30 yards of the goal, that they all seemed to blur into one. I'll get the Gallimore and R Smith performances out of the way first. Absolutely shocking. Smith in particular played like a startled rabbit. Gallimore was little better at times. His positional sense, in particular, was absent from the field of play.

After 10-15 minutes Town put Barnsley under some pressure, though no shots directly on goal. Town nearly pulled a goal back when Lester was brought down 20 yards out, on Town’s right. Adam Buckley took a curling left-foot free kick which bent around the wall and missed the keeper's right-hand post by six inches. The goalkeeper didn't wobble much so it was a what if moment, but wasn't. The referee's strangeness continued at this free kick as he was adamant that the wall should go back 10 yards. He started to pace the yards out (with the Pontoon counting his steps). He took eight little steps at an angle of 30 degrees and pronounced himself happy. The Pontoon bayed in righteous indignation, but to little effect.

From the resulting goal kick Barnsley scored again, through Appleby. R Smith failed to get much distance on a headed clearance, about 30 yards out on the Town left. He simply headed it gently over Groves to a Barnsley player, who controlled the ball and passed it forward, as Groves was stumbling back after trying to head the ball. I think the same player ran on, collected a wall pass and shot under Coyne, to his right, from just inside the area. It is so hard to tell their Barnsley midfielders apart when they are at the Osmond end – only one had a bad haircut. There was definitely a shortage of Town players on the right, leaving McDermott exposed.

Curiously, Barnsley did not force Coyne into any more saves until the last five minutes, though they broke dangerously, especially from Town corners. That is probably the moment of most danger for Town - one of their own corners! Shortly after the third goal A Buckley and Donovan were replaced by Allen and Coldicott and Town re-organised to a 4-3-3, with Allen and Lester buzzing around Livingstone. Unfortunately, Lester's "buzzing" was to run around leaving his foot high. He eventually got booked for a sliding tackle that resulted in Appleby getting stretchered off. It took ages for him to be taken off, and of course he got up again when the stretcher was off the pitch.

Lester's other contribution to the afternoon's "entertainment" was to be suckered twice by their tubby keeper. As the ball was rolled back to Windy Miller, Lester ran on to harry him. Twice Miller dummied Lester, leaving young Jack looking rather silly. Lester was taken off with a few minutes left, allowing Ashcroft 5-10 minutes during which time he got the ball twice, producing one weak cross.

In between the 60th and 80th minutes Town had the only two efforts on goal. Coldicott drove a right-foot shot from 20 yards a few inches wide of the keeper's right-hand post after a move down the Town right. And Pouton curled a cross with the outside of his right foot, from the Town right, which was a foot in front of Livingstone at the far post and went a couple of inches wide of the same post.

Barnsley made a few substitutions in the last quarter of an hour and their substitutes nearly scored in injury time. Firstly Dyer was played in on the Town left, Gallimore backed off and backed off, and for good measure backed off again, allowing Dyer to get into the area at a narrow angle. The shot was driven in extremely hard and fast, but close to Coyne, who reacted well enough to tip it over. A free header from a corner bounced into Coyne's hands and, as in the first half, Coyne had to race off his line at his near post to block after a one-two on Town's left.

After a couple of minutes of injury time the referee ended our misery and boredom. By this time most of the Town crowd had left (quite a few left after the third goal) and Town got the reaction they deserved – apathetic booing.

Apart from Pouton's attempts at creativity (let's ignore his corner which dribbled into the near side netting and his cross from the right a minute later which nearly hit me in the back row of the Pontoon), there is nothing positive to say about Town collectively or individually. Two of the back four played like they were in a different time zone, the first choice wingers were quite dreadful, and the front two were immobile and clumsy. I am sure Lester did break sweat today, somewhere near the 67th minute when the keeper dummied him for the second time. Livvo played very poorly, he was very slow even by his own standards of swiftness. Groves was in midfield somewhere and, oddly, Lever was quite acceptable. That shows you how poor the others were.

Town's performance was a gift for lazy journalists, but not for the fans. Absolutely shocking. I hope this is the nadir of the season, but it probably won't be. Man City – double figures?