Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
16 October 1999
Bright, dry afternoon with a slight chill wind blowing across the pitch. The Town support numbered about 500ish and a jolly loud noise was made by all, mostly. The Town players warmed up in their kicking-the-ball-in-the-park mode; thankfully they haven't returned to organsied drills. Ewood Park is large, the pitch is wide and they have a large screen TV in one corner, which before the match had a "live" programme previewing the game. During the game the match was transmitted live, inclusive of close ups - which were highly amusing. Actually watching Pouton describe his shots, and R Smith describing the referee, using the same words as the fans, was fun.
The Town team lined up in the usual 4-4-2 as follows: Coyne, Butterfield, Gallimore, R Smith, Groves, Donovan, D Smith, Burnett, Coldicott, Ashcroft, Lester. The subs were: Croudson, Black, Pouton, Allen, Lever. The change at left-midfield was not too popular - Pouton has rapidly established himself as a crowd favourite.
The game started at 2.58. This was not the referee's last mistake. At 2.59 Blackburn (Wilcox) hit the post from a free kick wrongly awarded when Blake fell over. The free kick was on Town's left about 25 yards out and hit Coyne's left post. Blackburn started very quickly and played to their physical strengths - height, power, pace. After four minutes they hit the woodwork again. The ball was whacked forward into the area, on the Town right near the edge of the 18-yard box. Coyne came out to catch it and Wilcox collided with him a split second after he caught it. Coyne was poleaxed and the ball rolled loose. The referee put the whistle to his lips, saw Wilcox get up and then waved play on (as the massed ranks of Mariners, behind Coyne's goal, roared in disapproval). Wilcox rolled the ball to Blake, about 12 yards out, who swivelled and smashed the ball against the top of angle of post and bar. Coyne received a couple of minutes of treatment, and the referee received a couple of minutes of ear bashing from Coldicott and R Smith for his failure to give a free kick
For the first 15 minutes Town were not "in" the game at all, they were only defending, desperately at times. Yet again the front two were not holding on to the ball, Lester in particular was playing weakly. It didn't help that Blackburn were very direct and the referee was willing to give them free kicks whenever they fell over. Wilcox had another free kick from almost the exact position as the one described earlier which was hit low, but straight to Coyne (Town fans would call that good positioning by Coyne). In the first quarter of an hour there were two or three dangerous moments in and around the Town box which did not lead to chances, Groves and R Smith blocked or produced strong tackles.
After about 20 minutes the pattern of the game started to change. Lester and Ashcroft were finding more room, principally because they subtly changed their game. As they had done against Portsmouth and Ipswich one of them started to drop into the space between the opposition's midfield and defence (and the defenders left them alone). This allowed them to turn and play in (mostly) D Smith, or run at the defence. Increasingly Town pressed and caused difficulties on the counter attack. Town didn't actually have a shot until the 34th minute, when Lester, with his back to goal about 25 yards out, allowed the ball to run across him. He passed to Donovan, running into the corner of the area, who hit a firm low drive slightly to Filan's right. In the next five or six minutes Town pressed more and advanced further into the Blackburn area, causing their defenders to throw themselves into last ditch tackles. It was obvious that Town were beginning to expose the spaces in and around the Blackburn central defenders. Blackburn's only response was a long ball over the top which allowed Blake to use his pace and power. Fortunately Coyne timed his rush from his area beautifully to hack clear.
After about 40 minutes Groves hit a long curvy pass from 10 yards inside the Town half, on the right, over the top of the defence on to the right "channel". The ball kept on rolling and Lester got to it before Short. Lester allowed the ball to roll into the area, and he rolled around Short, who hauled him down as he got near the six-yard box. An obvious penalty and we thought the referee would chicken out of sending Short off (as he was the last man, and the referee wasn't to know that for Lester that doesn't really count as a goal scoring opportunity). But the referee did send him off. Hurrah, hurrah cheered the Town 500. Ashcroft waddled up and stroked the penalty low into the goalkeeper's left-hand corner, whilst the goalie leapt to his right. The Blackburn fans fulminated against the referee, but we didn't care - then.
Blackburn's response was to launch a few more long balls and roll over to win free kicks. A couple of minutes before the referee finally blew for half time, he made up for awarding us a penalty by making a disgraceful decision that embarrassed the Blackburn players (the TV close ups showed that). A cross was flung in from the Blackburn right and half cleared to the edge of the Town area, on the left about 20 yards out. It was immediately swung back in across goal. Frandsen, about eight yards out, dived in to head the equaliser, but missed. The referee immediately pointed to the spot to the disgust of the Town fans, players and any other sentient beings in the ground. No Town player appeared to be near Frandsen, his face was a picture of embarrassment. I don't recall seeing anyone appeal for a penalty either. The referee did not book any Town player for the "challenge" presumably because he couldn't identify who "pushed" Frandsen. Perhaps that's because no one did. Carsley whacked the penalty highish to Coyne's right, and Coyne nearly got to it too.
Town still had time to have a flowing move down the right resulting in Coldicott curling a shot from the edge of the area. The goalkeeper saved at his right-hand post, though it would have gone a foot wide.
The half finished about 3.50 and the reception given to the referee by both sets of supporters was "hot".
The standard of play had not been high, and the half had three distinct phases - Blackburn power dominating, Town organising a dull stand-off, and finally Town starting to take over. A draw at half time was not unsatisfactory, and possibly a little flattering to Town on "chances made". But for the ref Town would have been leading. He managed to book Lester (rightly for landing on a defender's calf) and R Smith (incorrectly as he had got a half boot on a challenge on the half way line, but Blake "rolled"), but failed to book a couple of Blackburn players who took out D Smith and Ashcroft from behind - he even spoke to one of them after he left D Smith in a heap a minute after he had booked R Smith for a far less cynical or bad challenge. He also managed to play advantage to Town a couple of times when Blackburn had the ball and were attacking.
At half time the talk of the supporters was of how many players would remain on the pitch. We were certain the ref wouldn't let Town keep 11 on.
No changes made at half time.
Town started the second half brightly with Donovan and Gallimore attacking well down the right and left. Blackburn defended "narrowly" leaving the wings relatively free. Unfortunately, the crossing was not very good, especially from Butterfield (who unerringly crossed on to the head of Jeff Kenna, no matter where he was). Town started to pepper Filan with shots, however they were Town shots, which meant they had no power at all and were generally straight to him.
The half was, as you'd expect with a numerical advantage, mostly Town. However Blackburn were still very dangerous on the break away, and always dangerous at set pieces (as they were so big). Blackburn's efforts in the second half were :-
a) A volley 20 yards high, from 20 yards out;
b) Blake picked up a loose ball half way inside the Town half and hit a drive a couple of inches over the bar (This was another occasion when the referee played advantage to Town after Burnett had been felled);
c) Blake headed high over the bar from a free kick;
d) Someone had a cross shot from the left of the Town area which Coyne saved low; and
e) A few crosses and long throws which produced no shots or chances.
Despite their ever-reducing numbers one always felt that they would run off and score, most likely from a corner. Fortunately they were so intent on defence they didn’t really press at set pieces, and Groves and R Smith were solid under any pressure.
Lester caused increasing difficulties for the remaining Blackburn defenders with his rolling turns, winning numerous free kicks. He also opened up the centre of the defence with his new-found willingness to let the ball move across him (the defenders are obviously instructed that he holds and rolls all the time). After a flowing Town move involving Coldicott and Ashcroft, Lester turned on the edge of the box, in a central position, giving him a free run at goal. Seeing the vastness in front of him he hit a first time shot very weakly, straight at Filan.
After about 15ish minutes of the second half Lester gathered a long pass and rolled around the substitute centre-half (he had come on just after the first sending off to bolster the defence), right on the edge of the area. Lester eventually fell over, into the box. The ref gave a free kick, right on the edge and sent off the sub. Filan was most fortunate not to be booked as he threw the ball at Lester in anger (well Lester did dive this time). The free kick was charged down and eventually Burnett hit a drive from 20 yards straight at the keeper.
As against Crystal Palace last season, many of the Town players took the opportunity to stop working when the opposition went down to nine men. Suddenly there was no movement, play became very static and the ball started to be given away, or lost, in midfield. The constant refrain of "Move, Move, Move" was heard from various parts of the stand, and it was not a surprise when D Smith (a supreme occupier of space) was replaced by Pouton with about 20-25 minutes left. This change gave Town impetus and, in quick succession, three chances were created. Firstly Town broke quickly with Donovan, Ashcroft and Lester, who rolled the ball to the unmarked Pouton, on the right edge of the penalty area. Pouton scooped a right foot shot 15 yards over the bar. The close-up on TV showed him describing the effort in similar style to those around me. Secondly, an almost exact replica of the move saw Pouton alone inside the area, in the same position. He advanced and tried a low right-footed drive from 12 yards. It went straight at Filan. In the third instance Pouton, from the same position, tried a cross which went straight on the head of Kenna. Did someone once say Pouton can't shoot ?
With about 10 minutes left Allen (who received appreciative chants when he warmed up – which he overtly appreciated) replaced Burnett and Town went to a 4-3-3 formation. After a bit of a scramble Allen laid the ball back to Donovan, about 15 yards out. His first-time drive was hit firmly through a thicket of players, but went straight at Filan who parried it out. With a couple of minutes left a cross from the right was dropped by Filan, Gallimore whacked the loose ball with his trusty right foot across goal, with Lester missing the ball as it fizzed a foot wide and high.
In the last minute of injury/sending off time a cross shot from the left was diverted into the right-hand corner by Allen. For about 0.09 seconds the Town fans were ecstatic, but the linesman was flagging for offside. From behind the goal it was impossible to test the accuracy of this decision (but that linesman had been useless all game, making a couple of decisions that were impossible to understand).
I seem to have missed out an important fact – R Smith's sending off. The feeling was that Town would not end with 11 men and about 15 minutes after the second Blackburn player was sent off the referee was given an opportunity to send off R Smith. Jansen (I think) advanced from the half way line and R Smith tackled head on. Jansen fell theatrically and R Smith didn't bother waiting for the referee to get the card out, he knew the ref was waiting to do it. R Smith had played superbly again, he will leave a massive hole.
The noise in the ground was quite something. After the second Blackburn dismissal the Blackburn supporters chanted "You're not fit to referee". When Smith went we sang the same, plus "Stand up if you hate the ref". The whole ground stood, and the last minutes were a unanimous chorus of "The referee's a w……" – bonding between the supporters is so nice to see.
As for the Town players, it is difficult to criticise too much. The game was completely wrecked by the referee and it had a rather surreal atmosphere. Butterfield defended very well, but his distribution (especially his crossing) was poor. Groves and R Smith were rock like, Gallimore was relatively untroubled too. Coldicott worked tirelessly to destroy Blackburn (and cancel out Carsley, his Blackburn clone). After an awful start Lester and Ashcroft got better as the first half progressed, but were a little lazy when it was 11 against nine. Coyne didn't make any mistakes, except one. He nearly produced a comedy goal when he came out to collect a loopy cross and let it go between his legs. Fortunately no Blackburn player was around.
As they played most of the game with more players, Town should have gone on to win. They did create opportunities but the chances fell to the worst shooters (Pouton, Lester and Coldicott – who had three shots, none of which were too close). In some ways a point was acceptable as it was such a weird game anything could have happened.
Oh yes – the referee. His name was K Lynch (despite his performance he wasn't Kenny Lynch), but he did look like Captain Mainwaring. His pompous, strutting, officious style was in keeping with his lookalike. His over-emphasised mannerisms were amusing at first, but any smiles were wiped away by his incompetence. In the end he made my head hurt with rage.
Just look upon this as a game we have gotten out of the way – the way it started it could have been a tonking.