Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
8 January 2022
A temperate day with a stiff cold wind blowing across the pitch from the Findus/Stones/Smiths to the Main Stand. Town ran out prior to the game and immediately formed a circle. They then proceeded to perform the circular passing training exercise that has previously brought a 100% rate in awful performances and results. Coyne wore a red ensemble that was far more pleasing on the eye than his usual yellow peril outfit.
The players had run out too early for SKY, so they were made to hang around kicking their heels for a minute before the referee was given the nod to start play.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Butterfield, Lever, Gallimore, D Smith, Donovan, Coldicott, Hamilton, A Buckley, Lester and Ashcroft. As against QPR, Gallimore played at centre-half, with D Smith at left-back. A Buckley played wide left and Hamilton played in centre midfield. The substitutes were Croudson, Black, Allen, Burnett and Livingstone.
Norwich kicked off towards their supporters in the Osmond Stand and within 30 seconds Butterfield showed why he is highly rated (and why no-one has bought him yet). Butterfield tackled Eadie, won the ball and side-stepped two challenges with some twinkle toes. He then looked up and chipped the ball straight to a Norwich defender. I don't recall too much Town play to mention in the first 10 minutes, apart from Hamilton's first touch which was Widdo-esque in its ineptitude. The play was very untidy with some poor control and passing. Not all of this was due to the wind. Norwich were quite direct, in the sense that they played the ball forward quickly and utilised the pace of Eadie and Forbes to get into the Town area. Not to mention Roberts' elbows, studs and backside – all of which made contact with various parts of various Town players' bodies.
After some Norwich pressure Town conceded the obligatory goal from a header. A corner from the Main Stand side was played flatly to an area about 12 yards out just to the left of centre. The centre half (Kenton) rose above Buckley (who didn’t appear to challenge) and headed powerfully into the bottom right hand corner of the goal. For the last 12 years John McDermott has, at corners, stood in the exact spot the ball entered the net. No-one stood on the near post today. Whoops, groan, mutter, moan. It looked like the referee booked the goal scorer for excessive celebrations.
The next 10 minutes were almost a replay of the first 10, except Norwich didn't score. Then Town suddenly raised the tempo of their game and, more importantly, started to pass to each other. Town were no longer in torpor. The catalyst for this appeared to be when Buckley intercepted an attempted pass out of defence, in front of the Lower Stones. He raced on to the loose ball and whipped in a low, swinging cross to the edge of the six-yard box. The ball was hacked out for a corner on the Main Stand side. The corner was played in to the near post area but was headed out by a Norwich defender to A Buckley, about 20 yards out to the left of centre. Buckley hit the ball on the volley and it smacked against the angle of the keeper's left post and bar.
After interplay involving Lester, Coldicott and Ashcroft, the ball was crossed to the right-hand side of the penalty box where Donovan challenged the defender. The ball went behind both and Donovan fell as if he had been pulled back. The fall was a little too theatrical and the referee waved play on. Donovan was also played in behind the defence by Lester with his cross being cut out at the near post.
After 25 minutes Town produced a concerted move down the centre right involving Butterfield and Lester. The ball was flicked on towards the onrushing Donovan, a couple of yards inside the area, who had his legs whisked away from him by a central defender. A penalty so obvious the referee seemed to eschew pointing to the penalty spot. Ashcroft rolled the ball to the keeper's right, as the keeper dived to his left. The ball rolled in off the inside of the post much to the delight and relief of most in Blundell Park. I presume the 200 or so Norwich fans were not delighted or relieved.
The rest of the half seemed to fly by, with occasional danger moments created by both sides. Town's only other chances in the first half was created and missed by Lester. The ball was played into him, right on the bye-line on the Town left in front of the Pontoon. Lester beat two players before clipping a shot to the near top corner. The goalkeeper held it comfortably. Some in the Pontoon observed that three of the five Town players in the area were unmarked and to cross would have been a wiser decision. Apart from that I can only recall one other contribution from Lester in the first half (when he flicked the ball on for Donovan to cross). His first 45 minutes were what one might charitably call subdued, with numerous moments when he either failed to react when the ball was close to him, or he reacted very slowly.
On the other hand Norwich created two chances. Firstly, the ball was played into the box and seemed to bounce around, with no Town defender attacking the ball to clear. Roberts, with his back to goal, about 15 yards out, centrally placed, controlled the ball and turned it behind and between Gallimore and Lever. A Norwich player looked to be free with just Coyne to beat. As if by magic D Smith appeared with a sliding block to clear for a corner. Phew, what a scorching tackle. Late in the half, Eadie was set free inside the Town half and he advanced in to the area with only Coyne betwixt him and net. Coyne closed him down quickly and blocked the shot. The rebound was played back across goal by Eadie and hacked off the line by Lever, but the linesman flagged for a goal kick anyway.
And that was, effectively, that - although this bald description of the chances does not particularly give the full flavour of the game. Town's defence was, generally, individually acceptable, but collectively very loose. Only last-ditch tackling and harrying had stopped more efforts on goal with their pace being the major threat. Towards the end of the half Eadie ran from inside his own half past three or four Town players before being crowded out. Coyne had been sufficiently confident to venture off his line to catch a corner. He even tried this with a huge swinging cross from the Norwich right which went high across the goal. The wind carried the ball further and further way from the goal towards the Main Stand, but Coyne kept following it. Even when it had gone out of the penalty box. He ended up shielding the ball as it went out for a Town throw. When I say shield I actually mean he threw himself between the ball and a Norwich player to ensure the ball went out. Apart from that moment, he had been fine.
Butterfield was laid out flat twice, it looked as though he had been singled out for special treatment. He must be a star then. The second of these tackles resulted in a booking for Roberts as he slid late across Butterfield from 90 degrees. He was lucky it was only a booking, and doubly lucky as a few minutes earlier he'd given away a foul through some rough play and moaned on and on and on at the referee. He probably should have been booked for that as well.
I have not mentioned two Town direct free kicks near the edge of the penalty box (one of which was won by Ashcroft with the most comically mistimed dive I have seen. He started to dive after the referee had blown his whistle). They were awful (Gallimore softly into the wall and Ashcroft dribbled a shot underneath the wall). My money is still on Dave Gilbert, to quote Roly and John. Lever had yet to make his mishit clearance. Well there was still 45 minutes to come. We knew he wouldn't let us down.
No changes were made by Town at half time, though Norwich did swap a centre-half for another (but donkey) centre-half. Town started sloppily and were on the back foot for the first 10 minutes. Again I don't recall any chances for Norwich, but the ball was in the Town penalty box a lot. The most worrying moments were when Town failed to clear a cross from the Norwich left, resulting in some head tennis around the six-yard box. Fortunately the Norwich striker headed feebly into Coyne's arms.
On the hour Town won a free kick a few yards inside the Norwich half, on the right. Butterfield rolled the ball to Lester, on the edge of the area. Lester let the ball run through his legs and ran past the defender, into the area, again on the Town right. His cross shot was half saved by the goalkeeper, low down to his right. The ball spun up, up and away and, like a beautiful balloon, Ashcroft turned and hit a half bicycle kick volley into the centre of the goal. It was an excellent finish as the ball was slightly behind him and spinning. Very Cantonaaaaaaa.
The goal perked Town up no end and Lester/Ashcroft started to work well as a team. For the next five or 10 minutes Town actually created several...moments of danger. Most of Town's attacking came down the right with Butterfield prominent. One excellent move saw Butterfield roll the ball towards Ashcroft, who dummied and spun away. The ball rolled on to Lester, who hit a first time pass inside the left wing-back for Donovan (I think, it may have been Ashcroft) to sprint clear down the right touch-line. Unfortunately the cross went behind Town players and was cleared easily. Another move, and undoubtedly the best of the match, saw Ashcroft allow the ball to go between his legs. He turned and ran past his marker, he then produced a low pacy cross between the goalkeeper and the retreating centre-backs which Lester just missed as he slid in at the far (left) post. Apart from a Lever header from a free kick near the end, Town didn't produce another effort at all.
For a period in the middle of the half Town players started to fly into tackles recklessly. Lester was booked when he slid in for a sideways block near the touch-line, as a Norwich defender cleared. It was a similar tackle to the Roberts' one in the first half. Except Lester missed. Very It's a Knockout in its execution. I suppose only a Town player could get booked for failing to foul. Lever was booked for a slight push/hold on a player. However, as he'd been let off a minute earlier when he kicked someone in the air from behind, then kicked the ball away, he can't complain too much.
Coldicott was later booked for a sliding tackle where the Norwich player looked as though he made a meal of his fall. This resulted in a series of free kicks to Norwich inside the Town half. As a result the play was pushed closer and closer to the Town goal. The town defence were not clearing the ball very well at all. The clearances were mostly to Norwich players just outside the area. So the ball kept being clipped back into the penalty box. It was all very tense, yet Norwich didn't create many chances, despite the laxity in defence.
In the last 20 minutes Norwich piled forward and should have scored on a couple of occasions. Town failed to clear after a Norwich breakaway and on the third cross Lever finally produced the error we'd all been waiting for. He headed out, from the edge of the six-yard box to an unmarked Norwich player about 12 yards out. The player got to the bye-line and crossed to the near post, where Dalgleish (a substitute) smacked the ball a yard wide from six yards out. A few minutes later a high ball was played into the left of the Town area. D Smith and Eadie challenged and the ball fell off Eadie's arm. He turned and half-volleyed over the bar from a narrow angle.
In order to stiffen up the Town midfield Buckley took off Buckley and replaced him with Black. Black did one pirouette, gave the ball away once, and headed in at a free kick. I can't remember him stiffening anything. In the last couple of minutes Town were under considerable pressure, in one breakaway attack Norwich were stopped only by Butterfield (covering header when Lever was outfoxed by a bouncing ball) and Gallimore (tackling the Norwich striker who ran onto Butterfield's clearing header). In the last minute Dalgleish, on the left edge of the Town area, was played in. He took on the defender and produced a low shot across Coyne, from 10 yards. Coyne pushed the shot aside and Donovan ran in and hacked the ball away for a corner (with three Norwich players around him). After a couple of minutes of injury time the referee finally blew his whistle and Town had three points.
In essence Town played well, as an attacking force, for five minutes in each half. During those periods they scored. The cobbled-together defence just about held together. There was very little organisation and they certainly were not a unit, but then one would hardly expect that given the personnel.
Individually, the full-backs played very well, Gallimore and Lever played as well as could be hoped. Gallimore perhaps more so. Lever did his best - which was enough today. Butterfield was a constant threat to Norwich and was singled out for treatment. Coldicott was omnipresent and had to be – he seemed to be trying to do two jobs at once. Hamilton was largely anonymous, I only remember a couple of tackles and a couple of successful passes. His positional sense was dreadful. He always seemed to be the piggy in the middle. Donovan produced three or four runs at the defence which did cause Norwich anxiety and difficulties. Buckley produced a good cross, a good shot and not much else. His contribution in the second half was largely unseen, as he was tracking back and marking all the time. Which is, at least, a contribution. Lester improved in the second half and was the major contributor to the goal. His turn was exceptional. It was exactly what his supporters claim he does. Ashcroft had probably his best game for Town. His level of commitment was very high. I haven't seen him run around like that before, and his flicks and tricks paid off. He also stayed on his feet more, which meant the ball didn't come back from the forwards as quickly as it usually does. He played rather perki-lee.
And Coyne? Well as he took a goal kick the Norwich fans, displaying the level of wit normally reserved for the Pontoon, sang "You're s***, aaaaaaaaargh". To which someone in the Pontoon replied "We know, aaaaaaaaargh". Credit where it's due, Coyne was fine today.
Considering the players available, and picked, this was a decent performance. It resembled a cup match with Town as the lower division hopefuls. Town's muddling through approach muddled through fine, though long term this will not do. We won't get away with it every week.
Incidentally, Donovan is the pin up poster in today's programme. He looks pregnant. I send my best wishes.