Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

11 January 2022

Drizzly, grey, gloomy. A moderate crowd and stolid opponents. No drum, so at least something positive came out of today. The netting is now all white, rather than black and white stripes.

Town team: Coyne, Butterfield, D Smith, Livingstone, R Smith, Donovan, Groves, Coldicott, Black, Allen, Ashcroft. The subs were Croudson, McDermott, Lever, Pouton and Lester. New season and a new formation (only kidding). 4-4-2 as per usual. Butterfield at right-back and D Smith at left-back, everyone else where you'd expect them to be.

1st Half
Town, attacking the Osmond End, started positively, averaging a shot every four minutes for the first 20 minutes. Stockport then suddenly found one of Town's many achilles heels (an inability to defend long throws) and could have scored three goals between the 20th and 25th minute. The final 20 minutes of the half were relatively even, if a little devoid of creativity, threat and general action.

The first attack of the game, in the fourth minute, saw Allen turn and hook a half-volley to the keeper from the left edge of the area following a build up on the Town right involving Coldicott and Ashcroft. The next effort on goal, after about seven minutes, was a long-range drive from Coldicott, again straight to the keeper. After another five minutes Groves drove another long shot over the top of the Osmond Stand, and a couple of minutes later Ashcroft fired in a drive from the right edge of the area which the keeper saved at full stretch.

In between these false dawns Stockport had caused Town some difficulty with a breakaway which resulted in a header straight at Coyne. Stockport had two huge centre-forwards, two huge centre-backs and every other player looked strong and athletic. They played to their strengths and looked to get crosses in, or force opportunities to get the ball into the box (ie throw-ins, corners and free kicks). They looked very well organised, especially in attacking at speed on the break. It was not kick and rush, but it wasn't beautiful. However, it was effective.

The flow of the game turned in the 20th minute just after a daft decision by the linesman and referee. They gave Stockport a free kick for offside after Ashcroft had half charged down the goalkeeper's attempted clearance of a back pass. It had not resulted in a Town chance, but broke up the flow of the game and irritated the Town players and crowd. From the free kick Stockport won a throw-in near the Town left corner flag. The long throw was flicked on and swept on to the left-hand post, and then out for a corner. The corner was cleared, just, but a couple of minutes later Stockport won another throw-in about 10 yards from the left corner flag. Again it was flicked on and Angell scored at the far post. Fortunately, he was a couple of yards off side. Stockport also had a breakaway down the Town left which resulted in R Smith clearing with a spectacular diving header near the penalty spot.

The Town full-backs had great difficulty with their wingers, who often (particularly against D Smith) got behind them. Butterfield was quite hesitant and rarely got forward. R Smith and Livingstone performed well against physically difficult opponents and I cannot remember the centre forwards getting shots in on goal (apart from the disallowed goal, of course).

The game became a midfield battle for the last 15 minutes of the first half with Town having the slight edge in possession. Coldicott actually ran the game for most of the first half, with Groves playing a minor role in the proceedings. Towards the end of the half Town had their best chance after Black and Ashcroft had half charged down clearances, Ashcroft turned near the goal line in the area. He passed to Black, at an angle about 10 yards out near the edge of the six-yard box, who drove across the face of the goal. A little earlier Allen had twisted free on the Town left and shot across the goal. Ashcroft admonished Allen for not passing to him as he felt he was in a better position.

The one sustained period of Town pressure (ie a minute) was after about 40 minutes. Interplay on the Town right involving Coldicott, Ashcroft, Allen and Butterfield resulted in Butterfield swinging over a cross which was headed back by R Smith about two yards beyond the far post. No Town player was near the loose ball.

In all Coyne had to make one routine save in the first half and the Stockport goalkeeper had made at least four. I counted eight Town shots and a couple from Stockport. Statistically this doesn't look too bad at all. However, the few occasions Stockport had attacked they came very close to scoring, whereas Town had shot, mainly, from outside the area.

Stockport had attacked with purpose, at speed, and with a definite plan to which all players adhered. Town played "on the hoof". The two wingers had been largely anonymous, particularly Donovan, who I cannot recall making any positive contribution in the first half. Ashcroft and Allen again looked a promising partnership, though Ashcroft wasn't putting himself around as much as he had in pre-season games. Allen impressed with some tenacity, a very good first touch and some awareness of the positioning of his team mates. He looked to be a player who hangs on the shoulder of the centre-back, though it was Ashcroft who was caught offside at least three times.

The half time consensus was that we were fortunate to be level, and that Town were having both offensive and defensive problems down the wings. The central spine looked fine. We were having problems with our peripherals.

2nd Half
Neither side made any changes in either personnel, formation or tactics at the start of the second half.

For the first five minutes Town were on top, Stockport did not get past the half way line. Then it happened.

Some scrappy play just inside the Town half, near the opposition dug out, saw Stockport retain possession, lose, get it back and finally play a chipped through ball over the back line towards the bye-line near the edge of the penalty box. A midfielder had made a 25-yard run and was not picked up by anyone. He controlled the ball, turned and was faced by a Town defender (either R Smith or Butterfield, I think). His cross deflected off the bottom of the defender's boot, onto the turf and skidded over several players right in to the path of another midfielder making a late run into the box, about 10 yards out, just to the right of the penalty spot. He headed it in, unmarked.

This did not galvanise the Town players at all. They played poorly for another 10 minutes, hardly stringing more than a couple of passes together. During this period Stockport should have scored a second. From a long throw on the Town right the ball was flicked on at the near post across the face of the goal. A Stockport player was unmarked, less than 10 yards out with an open goal. He headed it a yard over.

Throughout the remainder of the game Stockport threatened on the break and only fine tackles by R Smith, Butterfield, and Livingstone saved Town from further goals.

The crowd started chanting for Jack Lester and they were rewarded after 62 minutes when he replaced Allen. The crowd reaction was a prolonged boooooooooooooo, as they felt that Allen was not the man to go. Lester made an impact as after a half challenge from him the ball broke to Black, who played the ball out to Ashcroft, who was just to the left edge of the area. Ashcroft hit the ball towards goal and it was blocked by the midriff and hand of a defender. A little earlier a snap shot out of a melee of players was blocked by the up and outstretched hand of a Stockport full-back.

Some determined play involving Groves and Coldicott on the Town right saw Coldicott free in the area, his short cross was met by Lester with a diving header. The ball hit the top of the bar and went high over for a goal kick.

With about 15 to 20 minutes left Pouton and McDermott replaced Butterfield and the ineffective Black. McDermott was a straight replacement. Pouton played in the central position of a sort of diamond formation. Coldicott out left, Donovan tucked in right and Groves behind the centre forwards, though he was so far forward this was, in effect, a 4-3-3.

Pouton looked a fine footballer, tall, strong and a good passer. He stroked the ball around first time keeping up the momentum of any move. He looked to have some vision as he made several simple passes that opened up the flanks.

McDermott attacked more than Butterfield did and finally Town had some width from which to build moves.
Lester turned his marker and went through on goal and fell under pressure. The linesman flagged for a Town free kick, just outside the area but the referee gave a free kick to Stockport for shirt pulling. It's that reputation again.

A Pouton lob over the back line of Stockport saw the keeper rush off his line to head clear. It went as far as Donovan who, from 40 yards, lobbed it back. A centre back headed away from goal, from about 5 yards out. The ball fell to Ashcroft about 15 yards out to the left of the goal. He drove the ball about 3 yards over. Some pressure down the Town left saw a shot blocked from a central position, the ball fell to the unmarked Lester who shot a couple of yards over when the goalkeeper was out of position.

With about five minutes left some short passing on the edge of the Stockport area saw Donovan chest the ball down and drive six yards wide, very weakly. A cross from the Town left saw Groves head towards the goal from seven yards out, with little power. Ashcroft failed to advance to intercept the ball and it lolloped into the goalkeeper's arms.

And finally, deep into injury time with Town finally pressing with some effort and commitment, the ball broke to Ashcroft and Groves centrally, about 12 yards out with just the goalkeeper to beat. Groves hit it towards the bottom right corner. The goalkeeper leapt to his right and made a superb one-handed stop. Although we would say it was a miss.

Again, statistically, it appears Town had loads of pressure and may have been a little unfortunate. In reality Town looked like a bunch of individuals rather than a team. They never really looked like scoring, nor deserved to. There was very little creativity and the wingers were very poor.

Donovan looked even less interested than he did last season. D Smith played fine when he attacked, but was not able to perform to Gallimore's usual standard in defence. Butterfield was very inconsistent, and only put two crosses in all day (and one of those into seat H63 of the Pontoon). He is not ready to take over from McDermott yet. Coyne was hardly tested, though he did not advance too far off his line. He did eschew the Davison thwack up field for a more intelligent distribution of the ball from both his feet and hands. He was always looking to find a Town player to PASS the ball to and thereby allow moves to be built. As soon as Allen left the field Ashcroft's level of determination visibly lowered and he looked to be shirking some challenges. He did not appear to be as up for it as he has in recent "important" games (like York and Lincoln).

Groves looked a little behind the game today, and the midfield mastery was left to Coldicott. We should buy Pouton now. He looks like a player for our future. Groves may be near to being part of our past. I hope this impression of Groves is wrong and that he rapidly reaches his usual standard.

It was a dispiriting start to the season, not so much for the result but the collective and (some) individual performances. As far as last season goes: plus ca change.