Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
9 January 2022
A very bright, warm day in the salubrious surroundings of Shepherds Bush. Around 350 – 400 Town supporters congregated behind the goal to your right, as seen on TV. The pre-match entertainment was the QPR mascot, Jude, a black cat, strolling around waving generally to children of all ages (possibly fun for all the family too). Very entertaining. The referee wore black and Town wore their normal first team kit. A few colour clashes going on with QPR's blue and white hoops.
Immediately prior to kick off the Town players nicked the ball and started their circular, one-touch passing warm up. As usual the ball was lost when Lever knocked it out of the circle. They then kicked the ball off the pitch and the referee had to ask for another one.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Butterfield, Gallimore, Groves, Lever, Donovan, Coldicott, Pouton, D Smith, Nicholls, Clare. The subs were Croudson, Black, Livingstone, A Buckley and Chapman. Groves played at centre-half, with Butterfield at right-back and Pouton centre-midfield.
Coyne wore an all-red ensemble, which would have been fine but for his socks being pillar box red, whereas his shorts and shirt had a deeper, more crimson tint. A small point for the sartorially aware, but nowhere near as bad a Mikkel Beck's hair. As a Town fan remarked – it looks like something has fallen out of a tree onto his head. The sombrero-wearing QPR supporter (last year's entertainment) seems to have traded it in for a smaller, less distinctive cone-shaped hat. A little disappointing on the hat front, I feel.
Town kicked off away towards the QPR end, with Coyne thus defending the goal right in front of us. Town totally dominated the first minute, winning four throw-ins, two of which were foul throws by Gallimore (though none was given by the referee). The game started at a relatively sedate pace with a sedated crowd – the only noise emanating from the QPR fans was from the school-kids to our right. "Where's your woggle gone" sang some cheery Town folk to a troop of boy scouts.
Town started quite well, with Clare (after about five minutes) dribbling into the QPR penalty area, on their left and crossing to D Smith at the far post. The cross was a little too high and D Smith only succeeded in heading it high, backwards and away from goal. A couple of minutes later a Town high ball was half cleared, about 25 yards out. Clare got between QPR defenders and managed to bring a high bouncing ball under control. He turned a defender and ran into the penalty area, on the Town left. He hit his shot a yard over the angle of post and bar. Immediately prior to this Pouton had surged down the left, beating a couple of players on a 30-yard run. He eventually got to the bye-line, just inside the area, but his cross was blocked for a corner.
Up to this point QPR had done absolutely nothing at all. They then should have scored when Wardley, six yards out in the centre and totally unmarked, met a set piece from Town's right with a thumping header straight down into the ground. The ball bounced gently over the bar. Five or so minutes later a QPR corner on Town's left was swung away from goal to a position three yards out, next to the post. The central defender (Ward) got to it before Groves but smashed a free header a couple of feet over the bar. The Town support were debating how we weren’t 1-0 down for several minutes after this. Coyne seemed to be remarkably unconcerned by the event.
QPR only had one other chance in the first half, when, following a break down the Town left, Beck headed a cross against the top of Groves' head past Coyne's left-hand post for a corner. Apart from Coyne catching a Beck cross at his near post (after which Beck gave a wonderful continental gesture of despair at his misfortune. He shouldn't have – his cross was rubbish, not unlucky), I cannot recall Coyne having to do anything else. The Town defence was solid and kept QPR away from shooting or crossing positions. The centre, especially, was impenetrable.
Town produced the best move of the first half when Donovan intercepted a crossfield pass inside the Town half. Clare advanced, drew the last defender and knocked the ball to Donovan on the right. The pass was just a little hard and so forced Donovan a bit wider than he wished. Donovan advanced into the penalty area and hit a cross an inch or two past the keeper's right-hand post.
That was it for the first half. It was devoid of action for long periods. The crowd was very quiet, quieter even than Blundell Park. Even the referee had a decent half, with no obvious mistakes, so neither set of supporters could moan too much. He did, however, miss Lever push a central defender at a QPR corner (it was right in front of us, and the referee) and did not do anything when Lever intimidated a QPR midfielder (Langley) by gently putting his studs in Langleys groin and swearing at him from two inches.
The first half had some moments of interest but resembled an enthusiastic pre-season friendly. Defensively the team was very solid, with Butterfield playing skilfully (even flipping the ball over a winger's head and running off with it a couple of times). In attack Clare was busy, bustling and played as a target man. Nicholls was very poor. He did one good lay off and several bad passes. Most of the time he was second to a challenge, looking disinterested and physically weak. 0-0 was the right score at half time, and both sets of supporters were, frankly, bored.
The Town supporters were most amused when Beck was outpaced by Lever. Now that's something we haven't seen for many a year.
The half time entertainment consisted of three people running up to a cone, going round it 10 times and taking a shot from the edge of the penalty area, with the mascot as the goalie. Of course they all fell over after they had done the 10 turns. It was a lot more entertaining than the football.
QPR had obviously changed their tactics at half time. Instead of trying to play themselves through the middle with little flicks and turns, they resorted to getting their wingbacks to sling in deep crosses. Town were a bit soporific at the start of the second half and so had to withstand a period of concerted pressure. This resulted in several corners and scrambles (one of which is indescribable in any detail as the ball bobbled around at speed and was hacked out and cleared eventually from near the left hand post). Coyne was forced to come out to the edge of his six-yard box, on his right, and block a Kiwomya shot with his knees, after the ball was knocked over Lever. You can't blame Lever as Kiwomya is so quick. There was another moment of danger when a deep cross from the QPR right wing-back into the six-yard box was missed by two sets of players. The ball eventually rolled out for a goal kick.
Nicholls contributed less in the second half and was rapidly replaced by Livingstone (after 55ish minutes). As one Town supporter noted, "at least we've got some pace now". He was only half joking.
Within five minutes Town had an attack - Donovan getting to the bye line to the right of goal, being blocked for a corner. A minute or two later, Town got a penalty. The ball was played into Clare, on the QPR left-hand side of the box. He twisted and turned and hit a firm cross which was blocked by a defender. The ball rebounded off the defender, onto Clare, and back off the defender. Clare put his hand in the air and the referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot. The Town supporters stood up, cheered, and turned red in embarrassment. The defender seemed to be stood within a foot or two of Clare and I don't recall the crowd reacting at all – until the referee pointed. D Smith hit the ball a foot or two above ground to the keeper's left. The goalkeeper dived to his left and the ball hit his body, spinning across the right-hand side of the goal and out for a corner.
This spurred the QPR supporters into making some noise and their team attacked with a little more gusto for a while. In other words, they flung in a few more crosses. A cross from the Town right was deflected high into the air. Beck nodded the ball on and Wardley, from a position near the penalty spot, headed it powerfully towards Coyne's top right-hand corner. From nowhere Pouton dived across goal and headed the ball over the bar. This resulted in two or three corners in succession, from one of which the ball was headed off the line, and another was headed gently into Coyne's arms.
With quarter of an hour left Town broke away down the left and the ball was, eventually, played to Clare. He turned and attempted to play a first-time pass inside the wing-back for Donovan. Unfortunately, he played the ball straight to the wing-back, who promptly ran off down the wing. The ball was eventually lobbed over Gallimore, just inside the left-hand corner of the Town penalty area. Gallimore let the ball bounce and Kiwomya (I think) got behind him and was through on goal. Gallimore slid in to clear from behind and to the side. The QPR attacker fell over and the referee gave the penalty. I could not see clearly whether Gallimore got the ball or not, though it was no surprise that the penalty was given. It did not look to be a dive from 120 yards away. Beck placed the ball to Coyne's right as Coyne jumped up and down and waived his hands. There is no way on earth that Beck would have scored in open play.
Town's response was a surging break from midfield by Pouton, who ran past the last line of defenders, on the Town left, and was hacked down two yards outside the area. The referee didn't even book the QPR defender. The free kick was rolled sideways and Clare sliced a shot many, many yards high and wide.
A couple of minutes later Black replaced Gallimore, with D Smith going to left-back. At this time Groves went up front and Town played a 3-4-3 formation. Within a couple of minutes QPR brought on Kevin Gallen and also seemed to go to a 3-4-3. Town did not really threaten to score despite applying more pressure. Pouton hit a right-foot drive about five yards wide of the keeper's right-hand post when he advanced into the left-hand corner of the box. Livvo was near, but did not slide in. D Smith also managed to get near the goal, about eight yards to the left of the goal. His right-foot lob went far wide and high, again with Livvo near. The fourth official showed a minute to go, so the referee played 35 seconds and stopped play when Town were breaking away and about to launch a last attack. Who knows what may have happened in those missing 25 seconds? We may have forced their keeper to make a save.
The game ended meekly. The performance wasn't bad, being better than against Walsall last week. The defence looked organised and confident (excepting the usual occasional difficulties with crosses which are almost de rigeur for Town). Offensively Town looked limited, with little mobility, pace or creativity. The most dangerous moments were produced by Pouton with three determined, pacey dribbles from deep. Clare played almost alone, as neither Nicholls nor Livingstone offered any kind of support. Livvo managed to win one header in 35 minutes and managed to control the ball only two or three times.
It was, generally, a solid, average performance which should have resulted in a draw. Neither side particularly deserved anything more from it and both looked to be mid-table teams playing out the season. There weren't even any fully-fledged "Lever Moments" to thrill the crowd. It was, in a word, boring.