Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
22 April 2000
Despite incessant rain during the morning, the afternoon saw bright sunshine with a little wind blowing across the Park into the Stones/Smiths/Findus. The pre-match atmosphere was non-existent and the mood was generally calm, but indifferent. The only talking points before the game were whether Livingstone would play to add zest, pace and panache to the front line, and Ashcroft's new sub-Beckham haircut.
Town lined up in the requisite 4-4-2 formation. Livingstone played at centre forward, with Groves at centre back.
Town lost the toss (again) and kicked off towards the Pontoon. Blackburn were a very physically solid team and played quite directly, though never long ball. From the start they pressed Town back and we never really got the upper hand, or even periods of control. The first scares started in the fourth minute when Lever fluffed a back pass by slicing it several yards high and wide of Coyne, giving away a needless corner on the Town left (a semi-Lever moment). The corner was swung away from goal to somewhere near the left-hand post. Blake stooped and headed firmly, low slightly to Coyne's right. Coyne caught the ball.
A few minutes later Duff, the right winger, edged into the area as Gallimore backed off, and took on our own Mr G on the outside. The resulting shot, from about 10 yards, hit the side netting, though Coyne had it covered. Town did get near the Blackburn penalty area a couple of times in the first quarter of an hour, but nothing came of them. I recall Livvo winning a challenge, with the ball flying across towards D Smith, who lost out in a very strong sliding tackle from McAteer.
After 15 minutes Blackburn won another corner, this time on their right, which was swung into the centre of the goal mouth, about 12 yards out. Again a Blackburn player headed it firmly towards goal, and again it was straight at Coyne. Blackburn had much the better of the chances in the first half with Coyne having to make a couple of saves, and a few stops. One of his better moments was when he came out and smothered when Blake was racing through. I think this followed an obvious foul by Blake who pushed Groves away to be free. The referee interpreted this as a good old-fashioned shoulder barge. This was one of the few decisions that the referee (R Fernandiz, a rotund man) got wrong. He generally let play go on after strong challenges, though he had a tendency to shoot the messenger (especially Pouton who got a couple of niggles after the ball had gone, which resulted in him being admonished for complaining).
Coyne also had to deal with a couple of slightly mis-hit shots from outside the box, which went straight to him and he raced out to the left-hand side of his goalmouth to punch away after a Butterfield clearance had ricocheted off a Blackburn attacker towards their winger. Most of the action was at the three-quarter filled Osmond End with many crosses being whipped in and defenders' heads and bodies being thrown in the way. Lever and Groves were particularly prominent.
Town did manage to have a couple of shots which sparked a bit of noise from the faithful, though not much. Ashcroft received a throw-in on the (Blackburn) left of the penalty area, about 15 yards out. He allowed the ball to run across him, turned and whipped in a left-foot half-ish volley which went a yard high and wide of the keeper's left-hand post. He had a much better opportunity after about 35 minutes. After another throw, Livingstone, with his back to goal, knocked the ball to Coldicott who, with great presence of mind, stooped low and headed the ball into a large gap right in the centre of the penalty box, which was exactly where Ashcroft was standing. Ashcroft didn't realise how much time and space he had as he swiveled and hit a left-foot volley a couple of yards high and wide of the keeper's right-hand post.
Near the end of the half Town did manage to exert some pressure, mainly as a result of breakaways. Butterfield broke down the right, rolled the ball forward to Ashcroft, who flicked the ball inside the left-back to the on-rushing Coldicott. Coldicott was about 10 yards to the left of the goal and attempted to cross by sliding into the ball. Unfortunately his cross deflected off a defender and rolled into the keeper's hands. A couple of minutes later, from another breakaway and a cross from the right (by Ashcroft, I think), Livingstone, unmarked about 10 yards out, slightly to the right of the goal, headed firmly against the cross bar. The linesman flagged for offside, so it was irrelevant really.
Around the same time Blackburn replaced Blake with Jansen.
The only other moments of interest in the first half were confrontations between various players, all of which promised a bit of a punch up in the second half. It appeared that the Town players took exception to the firmness and occasional lateness of some challenges. At one point Livvo was holding a centre-half by his shirt collars in an attempt to reason with him, no doubt. Ashcroft seemed intent on getting himself sent off. He got away with a late two-footed scissor-tackle on Davidson early on, but got himself booked for a shocking late sliding lunge at McAteer. There was a fascinating moment in the first half when Lever and McAteer had a conversation - clash of brainiacs, or what.
Town had been a little outplayed in the first half, having difficulty with Blackburn's power game. They didn't help themselves with their insistence on playing long balls to Livvo's head. He did cause Blackburn problems with his challenges, winning many. However, his inability to move negated any benefits his "presence" brought. In truth it was quite painful to watch Livvo, who tried really, really hard, but just can't hack it as an attacker in the first division. There was much discussion in the Pontoon on which is slower - his feet or his brain. At least three opportunities to shoot were squandered because Livvo was unable to react, or move, when free and/or unmarked 30 yards out.
Town were a bit lucky to be level at half time, as the defence had had to work very hard. The centre midfielders were unable to do much in attack as the ball was often pinged over their heads to the front two. There had been no opportunities for the Pouton surge, and it was difficult to see how Town would break them down. After all, they were all taller, stronger and faster - so how would whacking it up to Livvo's head, or over the top for Livvo's pace, bring a goal?
There wasn't even any half time entertainment to be embarrassed by.
No changes were made by either team at half time. Town started quite ponderously and nearly conceded a goal within a couple of minutes. Lever, about 35 yards out, near the centre, received a short pass (after a flowing five-man Town move had made the ball go forward by five yards). He hesitated and a Blackburn player harried him. Lever passed straight to another Blackburn player and they were off on a quick break, as Lever complained to the referee that he had been held. The ball was worked up to Ward who beat Groves and hit a shot to Coyne's right, from about 15 yard out on the (Town) right. Coyne pushed it away for a corner.
I don't particularly remember anything happening for the next 25 minutes, with the exception of McDermott replacing Butterfield (who had fallen awkwardly after 50 minutes, holding his bottom and limping). Town got in a couple of crosses which were headed away, with D Smith being a bit more gung ho on the left, actually taking on and beating the right-back, even if it was only Jason McAteer. Blackburn had most of the possession, with Town being quite woeful up front. Livvo and Ashcroft spent the first part of the second half missing the ball a lot and, when they did get it, controlling it badly. The best Town moment came when Pouton picked up a loose ball just outside the Town area, did a step over, advanced five yards and hit an inch-perfect 50-yard crossfield pass to the unmarked Ashcroft. If I recall correctly, Town got a throw-in at the end of it.
After a bit of a move down the Town left the ball was crossed to Ashcroft, near the centre on the edge of the area. He flicked the ball on to Donovan, who was totally unmarked. No Town supporter rose in anticipation as they knew nothing would come of it. It didn't, as Donovan volleyed very high and wide.
Town had a lucky escape with about 15-20 minutes left when, after a bit of pressure and a scramble, a Blackburn player tried a shot from the Town right about eight yards out, near the edge of the six-yard box. The ball took a deflection and looped over Coyne towards the far post. The Blackburn left winger (Dunn) stood next to the post and cleared the ball over the bar. It was a fantastic goal line clearance, almost impossible to achieve. It defied the laws of geometry, and thank goodness for that.
The last 20 minutes contained most of the action, though most of it was at the Pontoon end. Coyne was forced to make three or four brilliant saves, which surely cemented his position as one of Wales foremost goalkeepers called Danny. With about 20 minutes left, after a breakaway on Blackburn's left, Coyne dived low to his left at full stretch and pushed away a hard shot from about 10 yards out. It was a very good save, but what made it great was that Ward and Groves were running towards him (and were about a yard away when he saved it) and that he punched the ball up and over the bar from about a foot above the ground. He also had to block another shot that came through a thicket of players a little later, which he did comfortably. It was comfortable principally because of his positioning and reactions, which were excellent.
His next contribution to the fun and excitement was not so clever. Groves, near the left edge of the penalty area, about eight yards from the bye-line, rolled the ball back to Coyne. A Blackburn player had sneaked up the blindside and was almost on Coyne as he fly-kicked. His kick was low and weak, reaching Ward about 16 yards out, just to the left of centre. Fortunately the ball was eventually cleared after some pretty desperate lunges and blocks by Groves and Lever. Phew. Within a couple of minutes Coyne had committed another blooper with his kicking. He hit one of his drop kicks straight to the left winger, about 30 yards out. Gallimore was right next to where the ball landed but was so startled he simply stared vacantly at Coyne. So no change there then. The winger advanced and had a shot from about 25 yards. It was weakly mis-hit, but Coyne had a Crichton moment as he allowed the ball to squirm underneath him. He had to spring back and hold the ball as it trickled towards goal.
With about 15 or so minutes left Buckley made a couple of substitutions. As Allen rose to his feet, so did Blundell Park (there were sporadic chants for him all afternoon). These turned to boos when the number 26 was held aloft. Pouton trudged off whilst the Pontoon booed and sang "there's only one Allen Pouton". D Smith was taken off at the same time to be replaced by a Mr K Black. There was a reshuffle with Groves going to centre-midfield, Livingstone to centre-half. Within five minutes Town went to a 4-3-3, with Livingstone joining Allen and Ashcroft up front, and Groves going to centre-half, leaving a muscular, all-action midfield of Black, Donovan and Coldicott. Within a further five minutes Town went back to 4-4-2, with everyone going to where they were originally.
In the lastfive5 minutes it is difficult to say who was where as the game stretched so much with holes everywhere, mainly in the Town defence. Confused? You soon will be. All these tactical changes were presumably to counter Blackburn's 3-4-3 formation in the last 20 minutes.
Before I get on to Coyne's heroics, I should get the Town opportunities out of the way. Half way through the half, after super one-touch passing and movement down the Town left (there was some), Ashcroft passed across to Livvo, about 25 yards out, in the centre. Livvo side-stepped the centre-back to leave him about 20 yards out with a sight on goal. He dragged a low left foot shot across the keeper, which was held. A few minutes later, after a slick move down the Town right, Ashcroft dummied a pass across the face of the penalty box, allowing the ball to run to Pouton. He was in a similar position to Livvo, but decided to place a first-time right-foot shot into the top left-hand corner, but it curled a yard over the bar.
There were two or three other dangerous moments, which only resulted in crosses. They followed some fine one-touch passing and movement, but as usual the final cross was poor. Yet again Donovan specialised in looking up and choosing which opposition forehead to hit. Town, or rather loveable lumpen Livvo, wasted an opportunity very close to the end of the game. Livvo had the ball in the Blackburn half with only two defenders back, with Allen and Ashcroft in the inside left and right positions. The defenders were neither marking Allen/Ashcroft, nor closing Livvo down, leaving a huge gap down the centre for him to gallop into. About 30 yards out he decide to pass out to the right, hitting the shins of the defender and thus throwing away a chance of a one on one. It rather summed up Livvo's day, good followed immediately by bad (I won't mention the ugly).
In injury time Coyne (literally) saved Town from a big defeat. His best saves were when Blackburn broke away down the Town left and the ball was passed to Jansen, who was unmarked about 15 yards out. Jansen attempted to place a precise low shot inside Coyne's right-hand post. Coyne flew across the goal and just got his fingertips to the ball and pushed it a few inches wide. Brilliant. A minute later (after Town had gone up the other end and forced a bit of a scramble in their area) Blackburn won the ball in midfield and knocked a 30 yard pass over the top of the defence. Gallimore sprinted back with Jansen, but Jansen eased Gallimore away from the ball, turned and smacked in a shot from the edge of the penalty area. Gallimore attempted to block, but the ball deflected up off his boot. It looked like the ball was going to loop over Coyne, but he arched his back and leapt backwards to push the balk over for a corner. Another brilliant save from the salmon-like elf in yellow.
I am sure I have forgotten a couple of other saves Coyne made, as well as two or three other shots from Blackburn which went wide (I distinctly remember Flitcroft and Ward slicing shots into the Pontoon from the Town left). But the main plus of today was Coyne's shot stopping which was unsurpassed by a Town custodian for many years. His kicking is still a bit iffy though, but if it wasn't for him Town would have lost by three or four. Blackburn were much better than most teams seen at Blundell Park this year; they looked like a team from a higher division (though not a very good one). It was reminiscent of this year's game against Leicester, with Town largely coping with a bigger, faster, stronger team, though not being able to create much.
Individually, the honours go to the defence and, especially, Coyne. His performance was so good that the Blackburn players made a point of coming over and shaking his hand at the end of the game. In addition to Coyne's super stopping, Groves was very tenacious and intelligent in his marking of Ward (who is colossal) and Lever was not bettered by Blake or Jansen. The full-backs kept a bit closer to their wingers than usual and only once did Gallimore back away. Butterfield even indulged in a fancy stepover flick to set up an attack shortly before his substitution. Not much came from the wings, especially the right, though that says more about them than us.
All in all it was definitely a point gained, as it is difficult to make out a case for anything other than a Blackburn win. And there was a Lever moment too.