Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
10 January 2022
An unseasonably temperate day in Cleethorpes with little wind. The Osmond Stand and temporary seating were completely full of Yorkshire Folk singing their little Yorkshire songs. Sections of the Pontoon sang their own Yorkshire songs back. Apart from the temporary seating near the Pontoon the Town stands were virtually full. At 2.30 the parade of 27 stars started, with each being announced individually. Matt Tees got a small cheer, though Messrs Birtles and (especially) Futcher got sustained warm cheering. This probably reflects the demographics of the Town support – there aren't too many 72ers who regularly attend.
The pre-match entertainment was a 14-year girl singing a power ballad. Just what the world needs – another Celine Dion wannabe.
Town lined up as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Gallimore, Livingstone, Lever, Donovan, Coldicott, Groves, D Smith, Lester and Ashcroft. The subs were Croudson, Butterfield, Allen, Pouton and A Buckley. The referee was from Scarborough and was called Mr Burns. The pitch looked green, but had started to cut up a bit even in the warm up.
Sheffield kicked off towards the Osmond Stand with a rush, as you would expect from a Neil Warnock side. From the start they played very directly with balls whacked down the channels, or over the top. The first five minutes had very little pattern or order with Town, especially, playing poorly. Several players missed attempted flicks and appeared to have trouble standing. The first attack from either team started with a long welly down the Town right touchline by their left-back. Livingstone was beaten for pace and then muscled off the ball by Smith. The ball was worked across the Town penalty area to their right-winger (Hall), about eight yards out near Coyne's left-hand post. Fortunately D Smith nipped in and flipped the ball away for a corner.
The Blades continued their muscular, basic football but without much effect for the next 10 or 15 minutes, during which Town had their most effective spell of the match. Town were most effective down the left with D Smith marauding freely, and often drifting into space. Town had reverted to the old Buckley way of attacking, with Lester and Ashcroft taking it in turns to try be Tony Rees, whilst Smith and Donovan attempted to be Gilbert and Childs. It worked, to a point, the point being about 10 yards from goal. Sheffield were opened up very easily, but not very many shots went in.
In Town's first threatening move of the afternoon McDermott knocked a diagonal ball along the ground to Ashcroft, who dummied, allowing the ball to roll on to Lester. He held the ball up, allowing Ashcroft and Donovan to run across him, and he played the ball in between the right-back and centre-back. The cross was blocked. This move happened two or three times on the right, but ultimately came to nought through Blade blocks. However, on the left D Smith was having a field-day, knocking in three or four dangerous crosses which resulted in corners. After quarter of an hour D Smith, from the Town left, floated a corner to the near post, where it was half stopped. The Town player (I think it was Groves) returned the ball to D Smith outside the penalty area, near the corner of the box. D Smith floated a cross into the centre of the goal, about 10 yards out. Lester was unmarked and nodded the ball down into the keeper's right-hand side netting.
For the next five minutes Town were generally untroubled, though there was one slight panic when the centre-forward Bent was allowed to advance down the Town left into the penalty area and hit a fierce cross shot from a narrow angle. Coyne pushed the ball into the centre of the penalty box and Groves/Livvo cleared.
Town were then caught out by a Blade counter-attack down the right. The ball was fired over the top and Lever struggled to match the centre forward as he surged towards the edge of the box on the right-hand side. As the forward cut in Lever stopped him in a sort of falling rolling tackle, with Lever emerging with the ball at his feet. It did not look elegant, but it was effective. Lever cleared for a throw-in in front of the Findus/Lower Stones, about 25 yards out, which was taken short. The ball was crossed into the centre of the box, about eight yards out, where Bent rose above Livingstone to send a looping header gently over Coyne into the top centre right of the goal. Livingstone barely challenged, nor attempted to head the ball so, in effect, it was a free header. Another soft goal given away through lack of concentration.
Town’s general play was very erratic after Sheffield scored. There were short bursts of fluent passing and movement, but only one shot (a 20 yarder from D Smith, from the left, which went straight to the keeper). There were two appeals for penalties, both after fouls on Lester. From 100 yards away, and after years of watching Lester fall, neither looked like a Lester dive. The first was when Lester attacked a loose ball near the left edge of the area and got to the ball before the defender. Both Lester and the ball ended up outside the area. The second was after Lester had turned the defence in the D outside the area and advanced on goal. Again a defender came in from behind (180 degrees) and Lester ended in a heap. The referee gave a corner to Town. From this corner Lever headed narrowly wide.
Town didn’t do too much to harm the Blades apart from those incidents. There were many promising situations which were wasted through poor decisions by Lester, Ashcroft and Donovan. One particularly promising position was after 35 minutes when Lester received a clearance just in front of the manager's bench, turned and whacked a right-foot volleyed crossfield pass to Donovan, unmarked down the right. Donovan advanced to the edge of the area and...stopped. The ball eventually ended back with Lever.
On the other hand Sheffield United became increasingly dangerous as they abandoned any pretence at football and started to play for throw-ins and corners. It took them half an hour to realise that we may be vulnerable to long throws, but when they did decide this it became their goal for 20 minutes – turn the defence and get a throw-in. Unfortunately, Lever and Livingstone were only too willing to knock the ball out about 25 yards from goal. Oddly enough Coyne dealt with these potential hazards quite well, coming out and firmly punching a couple, and actually advancing off his line and catching a couple of crosses. He must have been practising during his Christmas holiday.
There were a few moments of panic and disaster in the centre of the defence. Lever got his traditional mis-clearance out of the way early. He headed a routine, unchallenged clearance in a high loop behind him to set up an attacker right in the centre of the goal, near the penalty spot. The shot was hit straight at Coyne. A cross from their left went between Livingstone and Coyne, with each looking at the other, and a midfielder ran down the Town right, got to McDermott, who forced him across the face of the penalty area, where he miskicked his shot weakly across the face of the goal. This doesn't sound potentially disastrous until I tell you he ran 15 yards across the box, almost all unmarked and his shot was very badly mishit and very weak. The shot dribbled between the legs of three defenders and past two attackers, none of whom moved and neither did Coyne. The ball missed the post by an inch.
On two occasions Gallimore and D Smith allowed Bent to advance 10 yards into the penalty box and glide between them. Fortunately Coyne was quickly off his line to block.
Town were booed off the pitch by a handful of the more miserable. There had been some sustained periods of Town-like attacking and play, interspersed with some inept and timid defending. D Smith was Town's most effective attacker, being a constant menace to Sheffield United. Donovan looked up for it and was even tracking back to help out the struggling McDermott. Coldicott was omnipresent and the Lester/Ashcroft partnership was causing some difficulties for the United defence when the ball was on the ground. The referee declined to book anyone.
On three occasions a Town attacker (usually Lester) was hauled down in rugby fashion after turning a defender, free kicks only were the result. The referee took no action to hurry the Sheffield players as they were blatantly, and without any subtlety, time-wasting from the first minute. On one bizarre occasion the referee stopped the game to allow a Blade to receive treatment even though that player was already off the pitch. Apart from these quibbles the referee had seemed to be quite competent.
D Smith was replaced at half time by A Buckley, which was not met with any appreciation by the crowd. There was a sustained round of booing and chants of "You don’t know what you're doing". It didn't help when the first two things A Buckley did were ineffective.
The first five minutes of the second half contained no excitement, as far as I recall, but then suddenly the game perked up. Coldicott went firmly into one, then two and finally a third crunching tackle as the ball went across the pitch. This got the crowd going on the basic level of "Get into them". Coldicott's determination spread and other Town players started to fly in firmly (but fairly, of course. Town players never foul!). This got the crowd "up", where previously they had been silent and sullen. A cup-tie atmosphere started to prevail. It was not particularly pretty, but at least they were trying. During this period Buckley put in a couple of decent crosses. Ashcroft got down the left and into the area, and Lester started to turn the defenders on the right. However, for all the excitement, Town didn't produce a shot on goal.
Sheffield United had produced a moment of danger when, from a cross from the Town left, a forward was allowed a free header eight yards out, which he nodded gently straight at Coyne. After an hour their best player, Bobby Ford (No 11) surged forward from just inside his own half, on the Town right. He advanced past two or three challenges as he went diagonally towards the centre of the goal. He was a little fortunate as the ball rebounded to him after the last challenge. When he was centrally placed about 25 yards out he passed the ball inside A Buckley (who was in the left-back position) to Hall, about 15 yards out to the left of the Town goal. He advanced five yards and his shot was saved by Coyne. The ball rebounded off Coyne onto Hall, and bounced off his chest past Coyne towards the goal. A bit of a scramble ensued, but Hall placed a shot, from five or six yards into the right corner with two or three defenders around the line. The goal had two huge elements of fortune to it, together with a couple of bad pieces of defending. A Buckley looked a little timid in his challenge.
The crowd immediately called for Bradley Allen but had to wait another 15 minutes for his arrival, during which time Town did create some more moments of danger, especially down the right where Donovan was finding good position and Lester sometimes passed to him. Town put in loads of crosses, but they were either behind players, or Blade defenders proved too bulky. Perhaps Town's best opportunity during this 15-minute spell was when Lester wriggled free on the right, near the corner flag. His cross went 10 foot over everyone and out for a throw-in. A Buckley cross was dropped by the keeper and no foul was given by the referee. Luckily for the keeper it fell by his toes and he was able to fall on the ball. The keeper lay down as if shot and spent an interminable amount of time recovering. This was another example of their time wasting, as was when they substituted Hall. He took at least a minute to get off, during which time he stopped twice and applauded his supporters.
Sheffield United threatened on the break, especially through the surging runs of Ford, but I don't recall any particular chances. Coyne even came out and caught another couple of crosses and punched another two or three long throws away. In the 69th minute the referee finally booked a player for hauling down Ashcroft as he turned near the half way line.
With about 15 minutes or so left Allen came on for Lever. Town changed to a 3-4-3 formation (Livvo, McDermott and Gallimore at the back, Allen somewhere between and behind Lester and Ashcroft). At first Town played a bit more directly, but after five or so minutes they went back to the style that had been so promising in the first half – the old Town way. Once again Lester acted as a wall for players to run and play off. This started to open up the flanks more and, eventually, produced an equaliser. With less than 10 minutes left Coldicott (I think) played the ball across the face of the area from Town's left to right. The ball went to Donovan, who played a short ball behind the full-back as Allen ran between the full-back and centre-back. Allen controlled the ball near the touchline, looked up and hit a firm low cross to Ashcroft, who flicked the ball into the roof of the net from a central position, about seven yards out.
Town continued to press forward, with a cup-tie zeal. More pressure was exerted but, unfortunately, no shots. The nearest to a winner was a defensive header which drifted a few inches wide. Sheffield United caused a bit of panic when, with a minute left, a deep cross from their right was allowed to go across goal and McDermott had to hook it away for a throw-in near the corner flag.
After about three minutes of extra time the referee blew his whistle and Town got the point they deserved for their perseverance. In truth there should have been six or seven minutes of extra time for all the time they wasted rolling around pretending to be injured and, especially, the antics of their keeper. He seemed to take an age over every goal kick, he made a point of replacing every divot in the penalty box before kicking the ball.
For the first time for a while there were some positives to take from the game. Coldicott's immense commitment, D Smith (when he was on), Allen's enthusiasm and positional play, Donovan trying. But most of all Town tried to play the Town way, their worst spells were when they played balls up the channels. Passing and movement is returning, gradually. A pity about the defence, though, which occasionally had the grace and shape of a pregnant camel.