Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
4 January 2022
A clear day with a moderately strong cold wind blowing down the Thames and into the faces of the Town supporters (about 500-600), gathered behind the goal on the right as you see on TV. Town warmed up with a gentle mass jog across the pitch which they soon abandoned. They seem to have abandoned for good the 12-man circle in favour of a four-man fluid rhombus which, as it involved Lever, saw the ball squirt out sideways a lot. Ashcroft was, once again, lethal in his shooting and Coyne, once again, saved only about three shots. Mr Al–Fayed walked across the pitch three times, on each occasion receiving a tumultuous reception from at least eight Fulham supporters. He gave up attempts to milk some adoration after a while.
Fulham's mascot waddled over to us, to some mirth. "Sir Craven" looks like a bad approximation of a Timpo knight (Teenagers ask your dad or elder brother what Timpo was – it's about the same vintage as Harry Worth) waving his magic sword. Town played in the two-tone hooped blue monstrosity with the following line up: Coyne, McDermott, Gallimore, Livingstone, Lever, Donovan, Coldicott, Groves, Black, Ashcroft and Lester. The subs were: Croudson, Butterfield, Pouton, Allen and A Buckley. The formation was, of course, the usual 4-4-2. The pitch looked heavy with three or four squares of re-laid turf, making it look like a pauper's bedspread.
Fulham kicked off towards their own supporters (and hence Town kicked towards us). The first five minutes contained no goalmouth action, which suited the Town supporters just fine. Thoughts and gazes were beginning to wander, principally to the extremely high tide in the Thames. If the game went badly we might be lucky and have a flooded pitch. Fulham lined up with three huge Welsh defenders at the back, three workers in midfield, a couple of wing-backs (one good – Finnan, one indifferent – Goldbaek) and an International Divers convention upfront (Riedle and Peschisolido). Their game plan seemed to be work through the middle, get wide and cross into the near post. I say seemed as in the first half there was very little shape or form to the match.
The first thing of any note that happened was after seven minutes when Donovan blocked a cross near the right corner flag, and the ball went back to the Fulham player, who played a one-two and crossed from the corner of the area. From about 10 yards out, at the near post, Reidle flicked a header across goal and wide of Coyne's left-hand post. Donovan had fallen when blocking and the fact that he was on the ground exposed McDermott to the one-two. One couldn't blame Donovan too much for being slow to get up as a feature of the first half was the number of times Town players lost their footing, especially on the right. It looked like their studs were too short. As no-one fell over in the second half I presume they put longer studs on at half time.
After a further seven or eight minutes of midfield scufflings (during which Lester was momentarily free on goal to the left of the Fulham area, but a defender came across a whacked the ball out for a throw in) Fulham had an excellent opportunity to score. The ball was played through the centre of Town's defence by Clark, from a central position near the halfway line. Livvo turned with the speed of…Livvo and Peschisolido was free, bearing down on goal with just Coyne to beat. From around the edge of the penalty box, to the centre right (as Coyne would view it) Peschisolido carefully placed the ball, with the inside of his right foot, a couple of yards wide of Coyne's left-hand post.
A further 10 minutes of meandering, rather shapeless football then followed, during which Town got into Fulham's half twice. Fulham had a long shot which went high and wide, a header from a deep right-wing cross (by Peschisolido) which went a yard wide, and Town rather aimlessly cleared the ball high up to Lester and Ashcroft. The result was not entertaining, but quite heartening for Town supporters as we had started to look a bit more organised at the back, and certainly more committed in the tackle and challenge. Donovan was seen to run back and tackle, Black to block and track back, and Coldicott was "Der Panzer" in midfield – he obliterated everything near him.
By the half hour Lever had not, as yet, performed "that Lever moment", so Livvo did it for him. From a central position in the middle of the Town half Reidle turned and tried to play a ball to Goldbaek on Town's left. Livvo read the play superbly and intercepted. Unfortunately, he stood on the ball, adjusted his feet, and stood on the ball again, and wobbled across the pitch with the ball underneath his feet for five or six yards. He eventually fell over and the ball was picked up by a Fulham player, played wide and Goldbaek cut in and hit a drive from 25 yards which went directly over Coyne and just over the cross bar.
Town's next shot came from a long punt by Coyne which went straight through to the Fulham keeper. The Town support decided that it counted as a shot as it would have gone in if the keeper wasn't there. Ergo - a save was made. Town's attacking was not high on the Richter scale, barely registering a blip on the monitor. Fulham had another shot which went even higher and wider than before and another moment of danger when a right-wing cross was headed back across the goal to the foot of Coyne's left-hand post, whereupon he made a meal of smothering the ball.
Near half time Town won a free kick about 25 yards out, to the centre right of the goal. Black curled the free kick just over, and wide, of the goal. It counted as an "Ooh" moment, though it never looked like going in. Oh I forgot, Black had a shot (a bit weak, with his right foot) which the keeper saved comfortably at head height. This followed a rare Town breakaway down the left.
And that was the first half. A lot of huffing and puffing, but very little positive attacking play from Town. The first priority was defence and, in the circumstances, a pleasure to watch. Fulham had been restricted to four or five efforts on goal, and only two were inside the box. The defensive line had held well, with only the one instance of a Fulham player getting behind the defence. Fortunately Peschisolido was proving himself to be like Lester, only without the goals. Reidle started to dive very early on. His first dive was on the blind side of the referee when a ball was played from the right down the middle. He grabbed hold of Lever and fell when the referee turned round. For once the referee was competent as he ignored the histrionics and awarded Town a free kick. Reidle's second dive, in a much less dangerous position, was ignored and play went on. Half time and half a point gained already. Was it too good to last?
The half time entertainment was mainly provided by a man dressed as a mummy. I thought this was some kind of homage to their owner but turned out to be a publicity stunt for a video.
Town made a change at half time with Ashcroft being replaced by Pouton. Town then lined up, to start with, in a 4-5-1 formation with Lester alone up front. It was not possible to discern if Black was playing behind Lester as Town didn't have the ball for the first five minutes and the defending and organisation was a little awry. Within the first couple of minutes Fulham had a couple of half chances, the major one being a cross shot from just inside the penalty area on Town's left, which went a yard wide of Coyne's right-hand post.
Fulham had started to dictate the play, with Clark sitting in front of the Town midfield and lobbing balls over the full-backs. Town sat back too much in the first few minutes of the second half and allowed Fulham to initiate wave upon wave of attacks, with clearances only going straight back to the Fulham defensive players. The Town midfield sat about five yards further back than they had in the first half, just in front of the back four, and the players seemed to leave responsibility to others too often. Fulham got a couple of corners out of this, neither of which resulted in chances. Town initiated a subtle tactical change with Groves sweeping up in front of the back four (thus pushing the midfield four a few yards further up the pitch). This change coincided with a brief five minute period during which the match was played around the halfway line (rather than Town's 18-yard line) and occasionally in the Fulham half.
After about 10 minutes Lever, about 10 yards inside the Town half, to the right, intercepted an aimless punt by heading the ball (miraculously) straight to Groves, near the halfway line, again to the right of centre. Groves turned and played the ball into space down the Town right with Donovan running through unmarked. Donovan got to near the right corner of the penalty box, drawing Coleman to him, and hit a sideways pass to Lester, unmarked on the centre right edge of the box. Lester nonchalantly stroked a first-time shot across the keeper, with the inside of his right boot. The ball hit the keeper's right-hand post and rolled in. Just like a natural goalscorer! Yes it really was Lester. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes.
The rest of the half was a siege with incessant pressure from Fulham resulting in Groves sinking back to be a third centre-back/sweeper for the last 30 minutes. Town didn't create any (more) chances after the goal, not that they had created any before it either. Lester did dribble into the area and hit a weak cross shot straight at the keeper, and likewise in the last 10 minutes Kingsley Black did the same after a Town breakaway. These two chances were welcome oases in a second half attacking desert. Except Town would have had a shot if the linesman had not waved his flag when Pouton was through on goal – Lester was offside but was nowhere near play, and was walking back too. It was probably the only bad decision by the referee.
Fulham huffed and puffed and should, really, have blown Town's house down. Early on in the half Peschisolido wriggled clear of Livvo after a ball was dinked over the his (Livvo's) head. From a position about 15 yards out, level with Coyne's left hand post, the diving dwarf shinned a shot across the face of goal and wide by about two yards. A shocking miss and how pleasing too. With the ball lobbed up and bouncing high, and from a position on the six-yard box, Reidle attempted a sort of backwards hook shot with the outside of his right boot which went a yard over and wide. Groves headed a short corner from the Fulham left about an inch wide of the angle of post and bar, just in front of Coyne.
I seem to recall another couple of cross shots from the Fulham right which went a yard wide of Coyne's right-hand post, together with a deep cross from their right to the back post, which McDermott hooked away from a Fulham player. All three came from Fulham playing across the front of the Town defence, from our right to left, and them releasing a player into the spaces between Gallimore and Livvo. During this period (about 20 minutes to go) Town's defence had started to lose a little concentration as Fulham players were being left unmarked on the edge of the area.
Fulham eventually forced Coyne to make a save in the last 15 minute when Peschisolido turned near the Town left bye line, about 15 yards out and hit a hard curling shot with the outside of his right boot. Coyne had expected a cross and it was going into the top left of his goal. Coyne leapt to his left and produced a good one-handed diving punch up in the air and the ball landed on the roof of the net. For a second it looked like it was dropping into the goal, which caused some alarm on the terrace, followed by much relief. A scramble about six yards out, near Coyne's left-hand post resulted in a last-ditch block by Gallimore as a Fulham player was about to shoot. The Town support were starting to make some noise and plucked up the mental courage to issue a chant or two. A rather mournful rendition of Mariners, Mariners and a slightly worried Sing when we're fishing.
And then came the wonderful Reidle miss. A Fulham break resulted in a cross from their right to the near post, about three yards out. With Coyne riveted to his line, Reidle came ambling in and headed firmly but wide of the near post. Truly Nogan-esque in its execution.
With about 10 or so minutes left Lester was replaced by Allen, who did little except run around and harry the Fulham defenders when Town cleared danger. But it was an important little as it occupied precious seconds. Committed and determined defending saw Town keep Fulham away from the goal, despite a few balls flung in. Reidle was causing difficulties with his movement and intelligent chesting down to onrushing players but Town players mostly went with the runners and blocked effectively. After playing three minutes of added time (when the board said two) the referee ended Fulham's pain and allowed the Town support to let rip with some hearty singing.
Town won despite only having a couple of shots. Fulham should have scored three – but didn't. It was a reward for the organisation, spirit and commitment displayed by the team. That is something we haven't been able to say too often this season. The heart of the side is now Coldicott, who was the man of the match by far. Omnipotent and omnipresent. Groves played very well when he dropped back into defence and Lever was fine. No Lever moments from him. Even Donovan was getting stuck in. The last time he tried so much away from home was against Portsmouth – which just happens to be the last time we won an away game.
This was even more pleasing than the Forest game – an away win, with all the things that were missing from Town in 1999. They seem bothered again and had some luck.