Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
22 March 2000
A still, temperate night in Domeland with about 200 or so well-dressed Town fans crammed tightly into a very small corner of a stand behind a goal. The stewards insisted everyone sat in the designated seat, despite a huge swathe of seats remaining empty to our right. Then five minutes before kick off a couple of fans wandered into the unofficial seating area and a mass free-for-all ensued. Everyone had a double seat, and as the seats were small and the leg-room non-existent, we needed the lebensraum. It was the finest passing and movement by Grimsby all night.
Town warmed up with the infamous circular passing routine. It never fails to produce failure in the match itself. There was initial joy for the Town fans when Nicholls appeared in a full track suit, suggesting he would not be starting. We then saw a rare sight, Nicholls shooting, but he never beat Croudson in the warm up. The ground was almost full, with the home support inclusive of a trumpeter who, it emerged, only knew two tunes: When the red, red robin, lost to a Jim, Jim Dobbin shot at home and the theme tune to The Muppet Show (which they played when Lever had the ball). There was an expectant mood in the Town little corner.
Town lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation as follows :- Coyne, McDermott, Lever, Groves, Gallimore, Donovan, Coldicott, Pouton, D Smith, Black and Clare. The substitutes were Croudson, Butterfield, A Buckley, Allen and Nicholls. Groves remained at centre-back with Black in his customary hole. It was pretty obvious Buckley had finally admitted that Nicholls was a mistake and that Town were fearful of Charlton. We would be playing sit and hope football (just like the supporters).
Town kicked off away from the Town support and managed five passes before kicking it out for a throw-in. The first five or so minutes saw Town under pressure, but with no great chances for Charlton. They started at pace and it was noticeable that when they attacked they always had two or three players around the ball. Town were stretched (and looked anxious) but just about kept them out.
After seven minutes a ball was knocked forward from Charlton's left to an inside left position, 20 yards out. Lever came across and headed the ball sideways, away from two on-rushing Charlton forwards, but without sufficient pace for the ball to go out of play. Gallimore failed to move to cover the ball and Svensson ran on to collect it, advance a few yards and whip in a cross to a position about 12 yards out, to the left of the penalty spot. Newton was unmarked as he ran in and headed firmly into Coyne's top left-hand corner. The fingers pointed towards Gallimore for dozing (firstly for not following the ball out of play and secondly failing to get back and over to challenge Svensson). If we have 'Lever Moments', perhaps we should also recognise the 'Galli Dally'?
A couple of minutes later Charlton should have scored again. They were awarded a free kick in the middle of the Town half. The ball was dinked high into the air towards Coyne. The big centre-half, Rufus, ran into Coyne as he attempted to punch the ball away. The result was a half punch that went to the edge of the area, whereupon it was bundled back to Svensson. He controlled the ball on his chest and volleyed the ball over an open goal from eight yards.
A couple of minutes later Gallimore dallied more. A cross from the Town right went towards the back post, about eight yards out. Newton rose above the non-challenging Gallimore and headed high, slightly to the left of Coyne, who tipped the ball over for a corner. Around the same time a quick, direct Charlton attack saw Newton played in slightly behind Gallimore, just inside the penalty area. Only Pouton's bottom prevented a second goal as he flung himself across the path of the resulting cross shot. Again Gallimore was guilty of slackness, failing to follow his winger. Remember this is all within the first 15-20 minutes.
During this period there were also a couple of scrambles, a Rufus flick header from a corner on Town's right, which went a foot wide of Coyne's left-hand post, and further flutters when Svensson ran past three players before being crowded out inside the penalty area. This showed the difference between the two teams – intensity. They played at pace, in packs, and were obviously playing to a plan. Most of their attacking came down the flanks, and especially Town's left. They also attacked the ball in the air – their runs at the ball were different, again at pace and not just towards the ball but at the ball. Town were hanging on in the English way.
After about 20 minutes the game died down and Town got into the Charlton penalty box, though just once when D Smith was released down the left after interplay with Clare. His cross was cut out at the near post for a corner. Town corner? No excitement. Charlton stopped running too quickly and attempted to play through midfield, thus playing into Town's cunning plan to bore the pants off everyone. Nothing particularly frightening or interesting happened for about 10 –15 minutes. Town were able to stop them coming through the middle, as Pouton/Coldicott and Lever/Groves held some kind of negative parity, well at least the ability to stop Charlton players going past them. Town held the ball for whole seconds, advancing towards the half way line and back several times with Charlton, humiliatingly, being unable to get the ball for nearly a minute.
In one particular phase which will bring a glow of satisfaction to football purists everywhere, Coyne rolled the ball to Groves, who passed to Gallimore, who passed to Groves, who passed to Clare, who passed to Gallimore, who passed to Black, who passed to Groves, who passed to Lever, who passed to Coyne, who mis-kicked to a Charlton player 30 yards out.
In the last five or so minutes of the half Charlton picked up the pace again. A quick break down the Town right resulted in a cross being sent to the far post. Newton rose above Gallimore and headed high back across Coyne. The ball glanced off the angle of post and bar and went out for a goal kick. Then Town had a shot. Clare fell well about 25 yard out, near the angle of the penalty box. Black curled the free kick low over the wall and Powell headed the ball away from near the line, at the goalkeeper's left-hand post. After a couple of minutes of extra time the half ended.
This was the worst case scenario for the Town fans – only 1-0 down, a hatful of chances missed by Charlton, raising false hope of a fortunate draw. Why were they doing this to us? It would have been much easier if they'd conceded a couple in the first 15 minutes, then we could sit back without hope. Town were obviously, man for man, inferior, with some more inferior than others. With the exception of Gallimore and Donovan no-one was having a bad game. Clare had a thankless task up front, effectively him against three big defenders. He was not helped by the Town penchant for knocking high, or channel, balls for him to chase. Unfortunately for Clare, not only is Rufus about a foot taller than him, but also one of the fastest players in the division. Black tried hard but is, as we know, just too lightweight. His first touch was also very poor, taking several yards to nearly control some passes. And of course he tended to pirouette at the most inappropriate moments. Town did have one chance to break away, when they outnumbered the Charlton defence and had three against one on the right. Black pirouetted back towards the Town half, turned slowly, drifted forward a couple of yards and finally played it to Donovan. By this time seven Charlton players were behind the ball.
The second half was not anticipated with much enthusiasm by the Town supporters, and by the demeanour of the players, not by them either.
Town kept the same side, though Charlton took off one big defender (Brown) and replaced him with an even bigger defender (Tiler).
The second half started exactly like the first. Town passed it around a few times in defence and midfield and eventually the ball was played too high or long for Clare, thus initiating periods of Charlton pressure. This time Town managed to stop Charlton scoring for an extra two minutes of the half as it took them nine minutes to get the second. Yet again Newton was involved, with Gallimore not entirely blameless. An attack down the Town left was half cleared by Gallimore. He half passed, half controlled an attempted ball inside him for Newton but, rather than passing to D Smith, he passed/controlled the ball directly to a Charlton player. The ball was immediately played back behind him for Newton, who ran on and crossed to a position about 12 yards out, just to the right of the penalty spot. Svensson, unmarked, headed firmly past Coyne.
Town's response, in the 58th minute, was to take off D Smith (the usual scapegoat) and Allen came on to a good ovation from both sets of supporters. Tactically Town reverted to 4-4-2 with Black at left-wing, Allen partnering Clare up front. Town immediately looked sharper and almost dangerous. There were several moments of promise, with Clare/Allen linking well and causing difficulties for the Charlton defence.
Unfortunately, within a couple of minutes of the substitution, Charlton scored again. The build up was similar to the first two goals, Town failing to clear adequately and Charlton returning the ball quickly. McDermott half stopped them on the right, but his clearance was immediately returned towards him. Svensson got to the ball first, shielded, turned and (using his greater strength and size) rolled around McDermott as he challenged. Svensson was free on the Town right and crossed towards the far post, where Hunt, unmarked, headed firmly past Coyne. There was a sense of déjà vu, (..unmarked, headed firmly past Coyne). Charlton were certainly punishing Town for any errors made, just like the game at Blundell Park. They sought a weakness and exploited any opportunity.
From this moment Charlton players reduced the level of intensity and individuals started to try to show off. There were three attempts at bicycle kicks from 20 yards. This helped Town keep the score down, as Charlton were more easily repelled, especially as they again attempted to play football down the middle of the park.
Strangely, given Town’s problems this season, our strength was down the centre of the park. The middle period of the half saw Town totally dominate whole seconds of the game, even getting into their penalty area. Around the 63rd minute Town actually applied what can only be described as concerted pressure. Allen and Clare linked well (with Allen releasing Clare with an overhead flick) to send Clare towards goal. The ball was worked over to Donovan, who messed up an attempted cross, but Town retained possession around the edge of the box. Pouton dribbled in to the box, on the Charlton right, cut in and dragged a shot a foot wide of the keeper's right-hand post. A shot! From open play!
Later on Clare played Donovan free, with a pass inside the full-back. Being Donovan, free, near the bye line just inside the area he managed to cross directly to the instep of the sole defender in the area. A few minutes later Black did the same with a rather aimless, weightless kick into the area after Clare and Allen had nicked the ball away from the Charlton centre-backs. Two rare chances to break away were wasted by poor delivery and lack of bodies in the box. The exact opposite of Charlton's approach. After 70 minutes Donovan did something, producing a superb 50-yard crossfield pass with pace straight to Black's foot.
Coyne came out and caught three crosses and looked very confident and safe, he also advanced off his line a couple of times to dive at on-rushing forwards' feet. From one such (very near the end) he had to receive some treatment as he'd been kicked by Kitson, who came on for the last 20 minutes. Charlton's only efforts on goal were the aforementioned showboating bicycle kicks, a couple of long range efforts that went nowhere near goal, a couple of breaks into the box (one of which saw Lever slide in brilliantly just as someone was about to shoot), and a scorching 25 yarder from the other substitute, Scott Parker. His shot, milady, was saved superbly by Coyne diving away to his left. It was a replica of the save he made from Gudjohnsen on Saturday. From the resulting corner, which was pumped high to the back post, Tiler steamed in, rose above several players and headed back across Coyne and into the left-hand corner. There did not appear to be anyone on the near post, for if there had been it would have been headed away easily.
This was the cue for 50 or 60 Town fans to leave – like they could see Town coming back from three down, but not four?
With one minute left Clare had Town's third shot of the game. I am not counting a drop kick from Coyne which would have gone in had their keeper fallen over. Possibly. Clare side stepped the defenders on the edge of the area, centrally placed, and drove a low shot a couple of inches wide of the keeper's left-hand post. Town nearly had an effort in the last 10 minutes when Pouton burst forward and attempted to go through a small defensive gap on the left edge of the penalty area. He was cynically blocked by….Clare, and they fell down together in a heap, looking rather embarrassed. As were we, the paying supporters.
A couple of minutes of extra time passed with no action, though Charlton did keep on running until the final whistle. They certainly did not look like they switched off for an easy ride, they made the Town players work very hard to the end.
At last it was over and the potential humiliation was merely a thrashing. The game didn't tell us anything we didn't know already, though in some respects it was encouraging (bizarre though that sounds). Coyne looked confident and positive, it didn't look like he was at fault for any of the goals (though as three were 100 yards away I cannot be totally certain about how close the crosses were to him). Lever and Groves did well, generally. They were both caught out by Charlton's movement and pace at attacks where it had looked like town had cleared their lines. Pouton and Coldicott formed an effective defensive wedge in the centre, and Pouton again looked dangerous when breaking from midfield. Clare received much sympathy from the supporters for he ran his socks off right to the end, even when 4-0 down in added time. He perked up considerably when Allen came on and they looked like a potential partnership. Town were much less supine when Allen replaced D Smith and caused a little concern to the Charlton defence. McDermott had a super battle with Robinson, mostly repelling him. Black was ephemeral, though he was committed. Which leaves Messrs Donovan and Gallimore. Our chubby left-back did not appear to be awake most of the time, the game passing him by and, if he reacted at all, he reacted too late. It was a very, very poor performance both physically and mentally. He only made one good tackle/interception, he was generally flayed by Newton who was stronger, faster and more alive to the play then Gallimore. Newton also had the beating of him in the air, despite a three or four inch height advantage for the Grumbling Grosvenor Guzzler.
Ah, Donovan, the great enigma. The programme had a Fan's Eye feature from Martin Williams, a Town fan in South London. Mr Williams' favourite player is Donovan who is "The main man in our midfield…he can dribble, pass and score and, if we ever win promotion, I think he's one of the few who could hack it". Apart from the word hack, it will be impossible for that paean to be justified this morning. Disinterested, ambling, shuffling jellyfish would be more apt. He did embark on a couple of runs at the defence which fizzled out when he got near a defender. He even treated us to his amazing boneless man impression near the end when he crumpled as a defender looked at him.
The Town support was mostly silent, Charlton's had a party, though we were puzzled by their chant of "we want Tony Rees, we want Tony Rees". We eventually worked out that they did not want the moustachioed maestro of the back flick but were singing "We are top of the league, we are top of the league". Nice stadium, bad acoustics and not enough leg room.
How can I sum up this match? We're not very tall.