Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
29 January 2000
A bitingly cold and very strong blustery wind blew the fans down Cleethorpe Road and into Blundell Park. The wind blew, mostly, through the open corner twixt Pontoon and Findus, sometimes straight into the Osmond Stand, but occasionally at pitch level right into the Lower Findus. The pitch had bare spots in the penalty areas and was quite cut up by the time the players ran out for the start of the game (at 2.59). This did not auger well for a fine feast of football - erratic wind, pitch full of divots. Crewe brought around 100 supporters, which is only just more than they have in their squad. The Official Matchday Magazine (aka the proggy) listed their squad right up to No 40. The three Town stands were mostly full, with the temporary seating completely empty.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation, but not the usual players, thus: Coyne, McDermott, Gallimore, Lever, Groves, Donovan, Pouton, Coldicott, Black, Allen and Livingstone. The subs were Croudson, Butterfield, Clare, Chapman and A Buckley (at least it looked like him). Groves played at centre-half with Livvo up front with Allen. Pouton was centre midfield and everyone else where you'd expect them to be. Daryl Clare's hair is shorter, and he looks a bit stockier. It may be an optical illusion caused by his reduced hairstyle.
Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand and started very tentatively. The ball control was poor and the passing generally underhit. Crewe attempted to play to their reputation (i.e. on the ground) but their players seemed a little lethargic. Neither team looked totally up for it, with only Rodney Jack showing any great zest, but that was probably because he is a very fast runner. From the off Jack looked a threat, though overly fond of his right foot, which made life a little easier for Gallimore. Crewe had a tall bloke up front (Tait) but generally eschewed long balls and ignored this potential threat.
The tall bloke had the first, and easiest, chance of the match. After six or seven minutes of terrible, awkward, football Town failed to clear a Crewe attack on the Town left, despite being given three chances to do so. Pouton passed a clearance back to a Crewe player about 25 yards out. The ball was flipped over the top of the defence to an unmarked player, about 10 yards out and 10 yards to the left of Coyne's goal. The ball was pulled back to a midfielder 15 yards out, to the left of goal, who hit a low shot, slightly to Coyne's right. The ball travelled through a couple of legs and Coyne parried the shot out to the edge of the six-yard box, right in the centre of the goal. Tait ambled in past Lever and carefully sidefooted the ball a couple of feet over the bar. Nice.
Town's reply was a couple of raids down the right involving Livingstone, Allen and Donovan. The link play was excellent, but the end product was not even a "moment of danger". The best of these raids ended with Donovan crossing against a Crewe player's backside and the keeper picked the ball up. After about 12 minutes Crewe had their other shot of the first half. Again they pressured Town down the left, with Town failing to clear on a couple of occasions. The ball was eventually laid off to Sorvel, about 20 yards out to the left of centre. He sliced a woeful side-footed effort 15 yards wide. Effort is probably the wrong word as that gives the moment too much dignity.
Between the 18th and 21st minutes Town woke up and had three efforts on goal. Firstly Livingstone was played through the centre by a Crewe defender slipping under his intense presence. His shot was straight at the keeper, but weak. Livvo had another effort from the edge of the area, but it dribbled a yard wide of the keeper's left post. The third effort came from Allen when he tussled and turned on the left of their area and hit a right foot shot, of moderate pace, right into the keeper's midriff.
For the next 20 minutes nothing much happened, except a Groves header from a Donovan cross which was blocked. Livvo kept falling over and getting free kicks. Now who does that remind you of? His spirit lives on even if his body has gone. Livvo got a Crewe defender booked, which brought forth cries of "cheat, cheat" from the invisible Crewe followers. Though as there were so few of them, and the acoustics are quite poor, they may have been calling out in a camp manner "cheek, cheek". The Crewe defender slid through Livvo from behind and Livvo stood over the prostrate defender shaking his fist a couple of inches from his nose. Naturally Livvo was not even spoken to by the referee. A couple of minutes later Gallimore went head to head with Jack, after Jack "fell" theatrically. Both were booked.
The general play was awful, especially from Town, who were not playing as a team. The passing was very stilted and the movement often non-existent. Crewe at least passed to each other and seemed to know where their team mates might be.
Around the 40 minute mark Town attacked down the left (one of the few occasions in the game). Pouton picked up a loose bouncing ball, flicked it over his head and hit a drive from 25 yards. The ball was going in……to Harrington Street but the wind kept it in Blundell Park, it only going five yards high and wide. Still, that's accurate for him and he is getting closer. In the second half he had a shot which would have been on target if a Crewe backside had not got in the way.
Just before half time Livingstone fell again near the left edge of the Crewe penalty box, about 10 yards from the bye-line. The resulting free kick was floated to the far post whereupon Groves headed it back across goal. Allen, with his back to goal a few yards out, controlled the ball with his big toe, swivelled and hit the ball on to the roof of the Osmond Stand. Whoops.
The referee blew for half time as soon as 45 minutes were up. He too was bored and cold. A few people booed Town off, but it was only two or three. The game was bad, principally being destroyed by the erratic, swirling wind. Several Crewe clearances ended up going backwards. Parts of the pitch seemed very hard, with the ball bouncing absurdly high, and others a little soft. The players on both sides were reacting to the conditions, though Crewe were reacting quicker and more positively. In short, Town were a little timid physically and mentally. Only Pouton was having a personal stinker – the ball stuck to him like glue when Town had possession (thus negating momentum) and flew off his shins when they defended. He certainly did not look comfortable in the centre.
Defensively Town were back to their old ways of standing and watching, merely reacting to the opposition. They were not helped by Coyne's refusal to leave his line. Crewe played intelligently when they did attack – dinking balls over the top of the defence that in normal conditions would run out for goal kicks. Coyne failed to take this into account and on a couple of occasion the centre-backs were forced into desperate lunging clearances. Chances were not created through this, more like "moments of danger". However, this did not assist in building confidence through the team.
Nothing of great consequence happened in the first five minutes of the second half, it was very like the first. Pouton did have a shot on target, after he stepped over the ball giving himself space about 20 yards out. His shot was extremely weak and barely reached the keeper. It would be more accurate to describe it as an attempted shot. Crewe had made a subtle tactical change by switching Rodney Jack to their left, putting him against McDermott. Jack had failed to better Gallimore.
In the 50th minute Town attacked (always our most vulnerable moment at home) down the left. Black was half set free on the edge of the area but dallied too long before pirouetting. He eventually played the ball back to Gallimore on the touchline under the Findus. Gallimore's cross went behind the Town players straight to a Crewe player on the edge of their area, a bit to the left of centre. This bloke ran forward five yards and rolled a pass to Jack, who was on the Town right of the centre circle facing his own goal. Jack let the ball go past him and spun past McDermott. Macca had read this and simply stood his ground, ready to intercept the ball. Unfortunately, the ball squirted past his shin (it look like the ball hit a divot just before it got to McDermott) and Jack was free. He ran forward 10 yards and slipped a ball inside Lever to an onrushing midfielder. Lunt took the ball in to the right-hand corner of Coyne’s area and clipped the ball under him and into the centre left of the goal.
Town then disintegrated for five minutes, during which Black was replaced by Clare and Town went to a 4-3-3 with Clare on the left side of the forwards. Clare's appearance was greeted warmly, as was his limbering up near the Pontoon. The first thing that happened after Clare's re-introduction to Grimsby Life was a Lever header from 30 yards which went out for a Crewe corner. The corner, from Town's right, was hit to the far post and headed back across goal. Livingstone headed away from the line. A couple of minutes later a Crewe corner from the other side was pushed on to the face of the bar by Coyne and scrambled away haphazardly for another corner. I don't recall Crewe having another chance after this, though they did, sporadically, attack on the break.
Town huffed and puffed for another 15 minutes or so and they did look a bit more threatening, especially through Clare and Donovan. Clare seemed more aware of colleagues and passed to them. He didn't do one of his trademark head down puppy-like runs with the ball into blind alleys. One particular link between them was quite sublime, with Clare back heeling a return pass through the legs of a Crewe defender, releasing Donovan down the right for one of many dangerous moments. There were, though, no chances created in this period. The nearest Town got was a couple of crosses that were scrambled clear at the near post.
It was getting very frustrating – all the 50-50 tackles, blocks and rebounds seemed to go straight to a Crewe player. Some of it was luck, some of it down to poor reactions and positioning by Town players. Town basically abandoned the left-hand side after Crewe scored and everything was coming through Donovan and McDermott, with Donovan looking the most likely source of a Town goal. Some concerted pressure from Town was ended after a Clare cross went to Donovan about eight yards out, 10 yards wide of goal, with a clear view of the goal. He shinned it five yards wide, or it could have come off his ankle. Maybe he shankled it wide.
After 70 minutes Pouton was replaced by Butterfield. This necessitated a big reshuffle. Groves went to centre midfield, Coldicott went to left of the midfield, Gallimore to centre-back, Butterfield to left-back (yes, I know Ben Chapman was on the bench, but Butterfield did play very well in the 20 minutes he had), and Clare and Allen switched sides. Within a minute Groves had glanced a free header, from near the penalty spot, a yard wide of the keeper's right-hand post. This followed a Town build up down the right which released Donovan. Town pressed more and more and more, with Crewe retreating to the edge of their penalty area, rarely getting into the Town half. It was beginning to get like a siege.
With about 10 minutes left the wind died down and Town really stoked up the pressure. Livingstone hit a shot a yard wide after a superb piece of control near the edge of the six-yard box, though he was flagged offside anyway. After 87 minutes Town should have been given a penalty - a cross from Clare was clearly handled by a Crewe defender. The referee was only three or four yards away, with a clear view. It just did not seem like Town's day, and more "supporters" started to walk off to the exits (to sotto voce strains of "you support us when we win").
In the 88th minute Clare crossed to Allen, about 12 yards out in the centre of the box. Allen turned one way, then the other, then turned back. He had three or four Crewe defenders around him and his pass/shot was blocked. Allen was on the ground, slightly to the left of centre, near the penalty spot and the ball was loose. Like a footballing Inspector Gadget Allen swung an extendable leg and the ball rolled gently into the goal to the keeper's left, with the keeper motionless. Allen ran up to the Pontoon and held his arms wide, milking the applause of his people. I am still trying to work out how he managed it, it looked impossible.
From the kick off, in the 89th minute Town got the ball back and won a free kick on the left edge of Crewe's penalty area. The ball was clipped to the far post where Livvo, from six yards, headed across goal and a couple of inches wide of the keeper's left-hand post. In the 90th minute Donovan got to the bye line and crossed to the far post. Livvo was about six yards out, just to the left of the post and headed firmly down to the keeper's right. The ball was going inside the post but the keeper flung himself across and produced a great one-handed save at the foot of his post. But wait, as a bad comedian once said, there's more. In the 91st minute Donovan collected a clearance about 20 yards out, just to the right of centre and hit a dipping half volley a couple of millimetres over the bar. And then it ended.
So a point won in the end and, bizarrely, nearly a win. In the words of an English cricket coach "We flippin' murdered 'em, for four minutes". On the whole a draw was a fair result, as Town had been woeful for huge chunks of the game. However the longer the game went on the better Town got, and the more opportunities were created. There definitely seemed to be a spirit there as they battled back. It was the same spirit shown last week at Fulham, but an offensive rather than defensive one. Clare looked better than when he went so, hopefully, the loan has worked. He played as a team player. Allen scored, what more could one ask. They are battling and fighting now. New Year, New Town.