Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

27 December 2021

Strange weather. Occasional spots of drizzle, some sunshine, and quite cool.

Town support numbered between 1,000 and 1,200 I would estimate. The support was restrained in the first half, and fervent in the second. The usual "Sing when we're Fishing" and "We p*ss on your Fish" sung with much defiant gusto after we went behind; and "Mariners" and "The Buckley's Aces" during the second half.

Town lined up 4-4-2 as follows: Coyne, Butterfield, Gallimore, R Smith, Livingstone, Donovan, Coldicott, Groves, D Smith, Ashcroft and Allen. Subs were: Croudson, McDermott, Lever, Lester and Pouton.

Forest played a 3-5-2 with two very attacking wing-backs. The Forest keeper, Mr Mark Crossley, was dressed in what looked like a 70's replica kit from an East German team (probably in the Cup Winners Cup). He wore a deep sky blue top with small black shorts.

1st Half
For the first 15 minutes Forest were untouchable. They played with great pace, speed of thought, aggression, and obvious attacking organisation. Town could not cope with them individually or collectively. It was not so much a case of Town playing badly as Forest being too good.

Forest's forwards infiltrated the spaces between our full-backs and centre-backs, the midfielders were skilled enough to pass the ball into those channels, and the wing-backs were organised enough to be "bombing" down the wings to run on to the flick-ons. Forest attacked principally down the Town right, with their most dangerous player being the left wing-back (Alan Rogers).

Donovan was completely invisible in the first half, spending many an idle moment standing alone as Rogers ran past him awaiting a cross field pass. Butterfield seemed perplexed by the action around him and struggled in open play. He never got past the halfway line once, though he saw more of the ball than any Town player. He must have seen some old videos of Dean Crombie as his distribution was based on a hit down the line, mostly for a goal kick.

During the first quarter of an hour Forest nearly/should have scored three times. Some fast breaking and interplay between the incredibly quick Harewood, the right wing-back and Dougie Freedman left Freedman alone, centrally positioned with just Coyne to beat. Fortunately Coyne spread himself low and blocked with his feet, the loose ball being whacked away by a defender.

Butterfield blocked a shot on the line, after a corner fell to a player 12 yards out at the far post. Coyne made a super save from a free header near the edge of the 6-yard box. He clawed the ball, to his left about head high, from the line onto the post.

Forest had numerous other chances, and moments of danger. Town were defending desperately and could not slow the game down. The pace of the game was very high and it seemed to be passing some of our players by. R Smith produced a couple of diving headers to clear crosses, Coldicott and Groves produced a couple of blocks and challenges when Forest players were shooting inside the box.

Forest obtained several corners, all of which produced some anxiety, as Forest always had players reading the play and placing themselves where the clearance/block would drop. It was very fraught. Just as Town seemed to be achieving some kind of parity, in that they were stopping Forest reaching the Town area, Forest scored after 27 minutes.

Harewood received the ball with his back to goal out on the touchline on Town's right, about 20 yards from goal. Livingstone allowed Harewood to turn around. The ball was passed between his legs to the on-rushing Rogers, who neither Donovan nor Butterfield had tracked. Rogers swept a low cross, curling away from goal to Freedman, about eight yards out just to the right of centre. He placed the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. R Smith was motionless, having neither attacked the ball as it came in, not marked Freedman. It was his only mistake of the game, but an important one.

The rest of the half pottered along with mainly Forest pressure, but few actual attempts on goal, Town had organised themselves sufficiently to stop Forest, but were not doing enough to worry them too much. When Town did attack the move always broke down on the edge of the area. There were two or three occasions when Town nearly broke through, only a fine tackle on the edge of the box stopped Allen putting Donovan through, and Ashcroft got to the bye-line once. Thirty seconds before the half time whistle went Town had their first shot. Allen drove three yards wide from just outside the box.

After 37 minutes Pouton replaced D Smith, who had been ineffective. The substitution was missed by many, it was almost as if D Smith was smuggled off when everyone was looking elsewhere. Pouton's arrival meant Town re-arranging the deckchairs. Pouton and Groves appeared to take it in turns to be on the left, really just filling in rather than playing as attacking winger types.

At half time the Town support were relieved that we were only one down, it could and should have been three. Town had been totally outclassed in the first 15 minutes (when the gulf between the teams had been obvious and embarrassing) and scrambled to a sort of negative parity thereafter. We had not threatened Forest at all, though the Forest defence did not look impregnable. There was a feeling that they could be got at, as long as we kept the ball. Or should that be got the ball, we had not had it enough to lose it too often. Without a big change of plan Town were going to be really stuffed in the second half. Sometimes you have to accept the opposition are better, and this looked like it would be one of those days.

2nd Half

When the teams returned we were surprised by the identity of the players running out. Butterfield replaced by McDermott and Lester on for Allen. So all three substitutes used by the second half. Bold changes from a manager usually so conservative. The Town tactics changed too, and right from the kick off it was Town who "got into them", playing with urgency and determination.

The midfield four was, in effect, Pouton, Groves and Coldicott relatively central with Donovan sticking to the right wing. If the ball went to the left Pouton, and sometimes Groves, stood out wide. Immediately Lester put himself straight into the action by challenging strongly. Town started to place the ball down the right channel for Lester to hold the ball up for Donovan and McDermott to run off him (like Rees used to do for Childs and McDermott). At last Town playing like Town.

After a couple of minutes interplay involving Pouton, Ashcroft, Coldicott and McDermott resulted in Donovan cutting inside from near the half way line and running directly towards the penalty box. He beat a couple of players, getting into the area about 15 yards out. A sliding tackle blocked his shot and the ball came out to Lester (I think) whose shot was blocked off the line, and then Ashcroft attempted to lift the resulting loose ball over the goalkeeper from a narrow angle. 

From the corner Town players challenged strongly for the loose ball and the ball was played back to Lester, just to the right of the goal, about five yards out. Chettle slid in and Lester fell theatrically over the foot. The referree was about two yards away and pointed very slowly towards the spot. At first it looked like he was giving Forest a free kick for Lester diving. But he didn't. Groves smashed the penalty "straight down the middle". The Town support, who had got very excited by the assertive start to the second half, got even more excited.

And now Town started to show Forest how to play football. "It's just like watching Juve" we sang. And it was.

Forest could not cope with Town's aggressive attacking down the right. The big change to Town was McDermott, who roamed freely and was Town's most effective attacker. Donovan perked up and played well in the second half. A most adequate, and committed performance in the second 45 minutes by Mr Jellyfish. McDermott overlapped on virtually every attack in the first 20 minutes of the half, whipping in some dangerous crosses, or playing in short balls for (principally) Donovan and Lester to turn the defence. Not many clearcut chances were created, though it was constant Town pressure.

Town were not stopping dead at the edge of the penalty area, but were infiltrating the spaces between their defenders and getting to within four or five yards of the goal. Town won many corners through Lester, Ashcroft and Donovan having crosses/shots blocked inside the Forest 6-yard box. Forest were resorting to flying, diving blocks to deny Town opportunities. It was very exciting and heartening.

The nearest Town came to scoring again was after about an hour when interplay down the right involving Donovan and McDermott resulted in a short pass/cross into Ashcroft who passed the ball to Crossley from about 10 yards out. The most noticeable thing about Town's attacking was the passing AND MOVEMENT. The players were making runs into the box and providing options for the receiver, something they haven't done since January.

With about 15 minutes left the balance of the play shifted back to Forest slightly, and they brought Carlton Palmer on. His role was to run up and down the Town left, as Platt had finally realised that Town only had Gallimore on that side. Forest started to switch play to their right and began to infiltrate the Town penalty area again. Forest nearly scored when a shot from the right wing-back was deflected by his own player, the ball looping slightly over Coyne, but just wide of his right post. A cross from the left (after Ashcroft failed to close down a player and allowed a cross to be played in) was headed a yard wide by a midfield player who was unmarked.

In the last 10 minutes Forest again started to attack down the flanks and get crosses in early. Town were by this stage defending stoutly, particularly R Smith and Coldicott, who had performed one superb lunging tackle to stop a Forest player five yards from goal. Of course we believe the referee was right not to give a penalty for this challenge.

With a couple of minutes left, Forest won a throw-in on their right about 10 yards from the half way line. The ball was knocked up to the penalty area and Livingstone challenged for the ball, the ball ran loose and Gallimore (I think) challenged Palmer. The ball again ricocheted forwards towards Livingstone and a Forest player. He continued his run and the ball ran loose to him to the left of Town's goal and at a narrow angle. There appeared to be a bit of hesitency in the Town defence and Palmer wellied the ball into the far corner. As this goal was at the other end I don't know how far out Palmer was, whether the ball passed on the inside or outside of Coyne, and whether he should have stopped it or not. The gut feeling of the Town support was that the ball fell fortunately for Palmer and that Coyne wasn't at fault.

Even in the remaining time Town pressed forward and had a couple of moments of pressure. Firstly Donovan was played into the area, to the left of the Forest goal, by Lester. He was forced wide and his "cross" was blocked. Lester was unable to turn the loose ball back from the bye line. In the last minute of injury time Lester got free in a similar position, but he was forced wide and was unable to get a cross/shot in.

The first half had been a chastening experience for both players and supporters. The first 15 minutes did feel like we were unworthy opponents. Town were very fortunate to be only one down at half time, but showed all those qualities the supporters have yearned for in the second half. It was like watching proper Town in the second half, there was passing and movement, McDermott playing like the McDermott of old and that galvanised Donovan who looked like a footballer again - he looked interested and dangerous. Groves and Coldicott were very solid in the centre, with Groves playing well. He didn't look off the pace this week.
R Smith only made one mistake and Livingstone gradually got to grips with a very, very fast striker (who was eventually substituted as he became ineffective).

Pouton is a player we must buy. He showed great commitment and strength in tackling, allied to some vision in passing.

The reaction of the supporters is one gauge of the worth of the performance, for virtually the whole of the second half we were all stood up roaring them on, as we respondend to their playing. Despite the late Forest winner the players were all applauded and sung off the pitch.

The second half threw up a lot of positives. We will not go down playing like that. In some respects the second half performance was better than anything last season. It was a pity about 3 o'clock to 3.45.