An L of a Game

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

8 January 2022

A bright clear day, with a cold breeze blowing right through the area set aside for the Town 300 (down the side in the old stand, near a corner flag). The players warmed up by meandering across the pitch in formation, followed by kicking the ball about arbitrarily. Prior to the kick off the Norwich mascots skipped over to wave at us – two Tweetie Pie-a-likes (one with a skirt) and a bloke in a yellow and blue outfit called Spay the Cat (or possibly Splat the Cat). Either way it appeared to be an instruction rather than a name.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Lever, Livingstone, D Smith, Donovan, Groves, Coldicott, Pouton, Ashcroft and Allen. The subs were Croudson, Butterfield, Chapman, A Buckley and Clare. D Smith played at left-back, with Pouton at left midfield. Everyone else played in their usual position.

1st Half
Town kicked off away from the end at which the Town fans were sat and within 30 seconds Ashcroft had an opportunity to shoot, following a long channel ball from McDermott. However, Ashcroft tried a fancy step over and cut inside the centre-back. He was easily steered away from the ball leaving him vainly appealing for a free kick. Ashcroft spent the rest of his, mercifully short, afternoon replaying this scene.

The first 10 minutes were played in almost total silence. And we thought the Blundell Park crowd were quiet. There wasn't even a low rumbling noise or the odd chitter of chatter. During this period, in which the football was generally scrappy, Town had the slight edge and looked a little more threatening than Norwich. Town's attacks were concentrated down the left where Pouton received four or five chances to attack the full-back. Pouton seemed to get past him easily, but refused the opportunity to cross with his left foot, cutting back to his right every time. Pouton managed to get a couple of crosses in, one headed clear, another looping towards Allen at the near post. Allen's attempted volley was blocked.

Norwich's only opportunity came after a corner on Town's left, aimed towards the penalty spot. It was missed by everyone and their centre-half (Jackson) hooked a drive straight at Coyne from about 15 yards, to the right of Town's goal. Ashcroft drove a shot swinging five yards wide and high, from about 25 yards. Poutonesque in its execution.

After some pressure from Norwich down their centre left they tried to thread a pass through to a player standing between Smith and Livingstone, about 25 yards out. The pass was intercepted near the Norwich player and half cleared back to them in the middle of the Town half. That Norwich player was two yards offside, but the linesman did not flag. The ball was immediately played between D Smith and Livingstone for the on-rushing Dalglish, about 15 yards from the bye-line, and near the touchline in front of the Town fans. Livvo let Dalglish get to the ball and turn, Dalglish dropped his shoulder and shimmied to go inside, but went outside. Livvo seemed to lose two yards in one (no mean feat) and Dalglish whipped over a low, head-high cross swinging away from the goal. The unmarked McDermott, about eight yards out and facing his own goal, produced an immaculate diving header inside Coyne's left-hand post.

Town's game did not pick up after this calamity, if anything they got worse, with Norwich visibly increasing the pace of their attacks. For the next 10 minutes nothing particular happened, especially from Town. The attacks broke down very easily, either through aimless punting by the defenders, or through Ashcroft poncing about. He spent the whole first half trying little flicks and dummies, none of which worked.

It was clear there is very little understanding between Ashcroft and Allen. Ashcroft also started to play for free kicks in a most pathetic way – whenever he was touched he stumbled and held his arms out wide, pleading for a free kick. When I say touched I mean even the faintest of nudges. Town's attacking was minimal because of this "tactic" as Ashcroft (the focal point of the attacks as the ball was always being rolled up to him) lost the ball every time. He played like he did most of last season, like a dilettante. A spell on the subs bench may concentrate his mind wonderfully. The Town crowd were starting to turn against him when he got injured. Ironically, given his tragically useless attempts to win free kicks by diving (or to satisfy any libel lawyers out there - failing to stop himself falling after the anticipated push which did not happen), he was booked for moaning when he actually was whacked from behind. The referee allowed play to continue for a Norwich breakaway and when the ball went out Ashcroft was shown the yellow card.

Here are Town's other efforts on goal in the first half: D Smith had a shot from somewhere outside the area which went 4 yards wide, and Coldicott tried to volley a throw-in from the right, but it looped gently wide of the near post. Yes, that's it and the first half was Town's "better" half.

Around the 20–23 minute Norwich could have had a couple more. Firstly, Dalglish received a pass about 25 yards out, on Town's left. He turned round and ran at the Town defence, beating four players in a remarkably straight run. His cross was palmed out by Coyne to the centre of the goal and the ball was scrambled away. Some other blond-haired Norwich player did the same on the Town right after a throw-in (the Town players stood around as it was taken quickly) and his low cross was parried out to the centre of the goal by Coyne. Fortunately it hit the shins of an in-rushing Norwich player with bad hair and rolled back into Coyne's arms. A further attack down the Town right saw another Norwich player get to the bye-line and cross to the far post, whereupon Mackay headed against the bar from three yards. In this build up there had been another offside not given.

The referee gave Norwich a free kick about two yards outside the area, right in the centre, after Roberts controlled the ball with his hand whilst attempting to spin past Lever. The ball got stuck between Roberts left hand and Lever’s left hand. So obviously that is a free kick to Norwich, isn’t it. The resultant free kick was rolled sideways for a shot which was slightly deflected, to Coyne’s left, which he parried away for a corner.

This was all the action in the first half. After Town conceded the goal there was not much fight, most of the players seemed to be going through the motions. They played like they had just got out of a particularly cramped minibus. Ashcroft was carried off the field at half time by Coyne and the physio – so the Town fans had something to look forward to – Clare, a player who tries. The Town defence had looked very, very wobbly, especially down the left where D Smith was exposed. His positioning was poor, as was his concentration. He stood off players, allowing them to turn and pass (ie he never got tight). Livvo was constantly drawn out to the left by Dalglish, yet Livvo was always five yards behind him. In general too much time was given to Norwich and Town failed to deal with anyone running towards them. In attack Allen was invisible (as the ball never seemed to go near him), as was Donovan. Pouton was a potential threat at first, but never received a pass for the last half hour of the half.

The respective supporters taunted each other with the most obvious and basic songs, which was really boring. Tractors, fish, trawlers and ploughs. Not very inspired, just like the players.

2nd Half
Clare replaced Ashcroft to general pleasure. Within two minutes of the restart Town had cracked open the Norwich defence. Some sustained short passing and movement down the right involving McDermott, Clare, Allen and Coldicott saw the ball knocked over the defence behind their left-back. Donovan was free on the left edge of the Norwich area with just one defender in the centre and Pouton unmarked about 15 yards out. Donovan looked up and decided to volley across the face of the goal. It went 10 yards wide, and heads dropped, not just in the crowd.

Not much happened for the next 15 minutes, except that Town were being forced to defend a lot, especially from deep crosses. It was noticeable that Norwich changed their style in the second half, they attempted to sling crosses to the far post. Fortunately most went into the crowd or Coyne's hands (yes, he came out and caught a few). After about 55ish minutes Coyne produced a brilliant save. A free kick was half cleared to a Norwich player about 25 yards out just to the right of centre. He connected perfectly with a half-volley that flew towards the top left-hand corner of Coyne's goal. Coyne flipped the ball over the bar with his left hand. It was a fantastic save. He then came out and caught the corner.

After 60 minutes D Smith was replaced by Butterfield, who took over at left-back. Livvo went to centre-forward, Groves to centre-back and Pouton to left centre midfield as Town changed to a 4-3-3 formation. We had four minutes of excitement as Town launched one sustained attack and won a corner. Norwich promptly broke away and scored. The ball was played down the left touch-line, behind Butterfield, to Dalglish who turned Groves and crossed low towards the near post. Russell, about six yards out to the left with his back to goal, flicked the ball with his right foot back towards the penalty spot. He turned and unleashed a powerful cross shot with his left foot across Coyne into the right-hand side of the net.

A couple of minutes later another Norwich attack down the Town left saw the ball played into almost the same spot. Coyne came out and blocked the shot with his feet. By this time the Town players looked as though they had settled for 2-0 and were prepared to play out time. Unfortunately for them Norwich wanted to score more goals and they again visibly raised their pace. So Town had to work hard to keep the score down. They weren't up to it.

There were tremendously large spaces opening up all over the Town midfield and defence. The major problem seemed to be lack of width. Whenever Town attacked the play stopped to walking pace as there was little movement and no width. At times there was literally no-one available to pass to. This resulted in Town players being caught in possession and passing to Norwich players. All the Town players started to resemble a colony of rabbits caught in a car headlamp – just waiting to be run over.

Town had their first shot on target after about 72 minutes. Butterfield cut in from the left and shot straight at the keeper from 25 yards. A couple of minutes later Norwich scored again. Another cross from the left, about 8 yards out from the bye-line, curled slightly away from Coyne and went beyond the far post. The ball went over McDermott to Llewellyn who headed over Coyne into the left of the goal. The whole ground seemed surprised that it had gone in as it did not appear to be a dangerous position or cross.

After this Town's performance deteriorated even more, if that was possible. Donovan saw a lot of the ball, but did nothing with it. Pouton became Mr Shins, incapable of passing or controlling the ball. One embarrassing, but comedic, moment occurred when Town laboriously manoeuvred the ball from left, to right and back again, going forward about minus 10 yards in the process. As Norwich players pressurised Coldicott, near the half way line, he played a short pass against Pouton's shins. The ball rebounded towards the Town goal to a Norwich player. The danger was cleared by Lever eventually, but it did rather highlight the ineptitude displayed by Town.

Norwich had a few more efforts on goal, Roberts had a couple of headers near the edge of the six-yard box which went very high and wide, and they had a couple more long shots which didn't go near the goal (despite an Ooh from their supporters). In the last minute Clare and McDermott managed to get inside the Norwich penalty area after a short free kick routine. All Town got was a corner, but it was one of the few signs of passing and movement all afternoon. After a, thankfully, short period of added time the game ended with Town losing not quite as heavily as they should to a team slightly better than them but who wanted to play more.

Of all the Town players who played or, to be more accurate, were on the pitch for 90 minutes, only Coldicott, Lever and Coyne can have any satisfaction in their performance. It was the sort of performance regular attendees would recognise from Town in April after safety had been reached. They are resting too soon. Town were lacklustre, listless, limpid, lethargic, leaden, leaderless and made the fans livid. Legumes or lemons?