Push button, pull Lever down

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

18 January 2022

A bright day with a steady breeze blowing down the pitch into the open end. The Town fans were placed at the side, right in the corner next to the open end (on the opposite side to the TV cameras). The Town players warmed up with a gentle jog up and down the pitch, a few stretches and then lined up in a 3-4-4-2-2-1 formation to knock the ball around.

The pre-match entertainment was the usual dozen 14-year old girls dancing with pom-poms. Although I noticed that they had changed their name from the (Provisional) Rockin' Robins to the (Continuity) Robinettes. They were still embarrassing and they all kept their coats on. It wasn't that cold! And then the mascots waddled out. Oh sorry, that was Jimmy Quinn waddling out, the mascots came out later. The teams were announced and Quinn had named himself in the substitutes – we all grumbled that "we can see what's going to happen". And then the mascots did waddle out. The principal mascot looked, from a distance, like a Mutant Ninja Turtle. When it got closer it looked like a duck. The other one looked like a crow.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, D Smith, Lever, Livingstone, Donovan, Groves, Coldicott, Black, Ashcroft and Allen. The subs were Croudson, Butterfield, Clare, A Buckley and Pouton. D Smith was at left-back, with Lever and Livvo back together – at last! No worries there then. The matchday magazine claimed in its head to head factfile that Lever "…effectively makes progress when …dribbles with the ball". Mmmm.

As the game was about to start the players stood around the centre circle for a minute's silence. It was never announced who this was for and the crowd were all mighty puzzled by this request to stand. We all assumed it was a minute's silence for Swindon Town FC. Or perhaps it was a chance for the players to contemplate life in general and meditate on spiritual matters.

The stadium announcer then rather feebly attempted to whip up some enthusiasm by asking the crowd to get behind "The Town". No, no, no sir - Swindon are "A" Town, Grimsby are "The" Town.

1st half
Swindon kicked off towards the open end. The big clock at that end showed the time as 2.56. Swindon's method became apparent within a few seconds as they lumped it down the channels for the big man. Fortunately their big man, McCammon, was useless. He had the co-ordination and agility of a broken stick, making Lever look almost balletic by comparison. Lever won every header against this bloke and generally had him in his pocket.

I might as well get Swindon's contribution to the first half out of the way. They had a couple of breakaways and crosses that were not dealt with very effectively by Town, but as Swindon were just so bad, there was little danger. On one occasion the centre-forward helpfully bumped into his own player at the far post when only McDermott was around. Lever still managed to panic by hacking the ball away when Coyne was about to pick it up.

After some careless play by Town down the left, principally by the pusillanimous Black, a cross was curled into the near post, on the edge of the six-yard box. The Swindon striker attempted to steer the ball past Coyne on the volley, but only succeeded in passing it gently into Coyne's midriff. I have a vague recollection of a couple of long shots and Coyne came out and caught a cross. Swindon also got a free kick right on half time, again down the Town left when Livvo missed an attempted clearance and wellied the Swindon player instead. The free kick was floated to the middle of the goal and scrambled away by Town.

Yes - that's Swindon’s attacking, mostly balls knocked over the top of the full backs for the big bloke, or balls into the box which were cleared, though often in a laboured fashion. Livingstone was the major culprit in the lackadaisical stakes.

Within five minutes Town had carved Swindon to pieces down our right twice, with McDermott and Donovan roaming around at will. It was all too easy with our rightists playing give-and-gos, and making effective triangles to isolate the left-back. McDermott won a couple of corners with his surging runs.

Within the first 15 minutes Allen had missed two easy chances. He looked as though he was trying not score (and he succeeded). The first came after a corner on the right was half cleared and Donovan returned the ball in a big, high loop. Ashcroft looked yards offside, but wasn't flagged, so, from a position about six yards out beyond the far post, headed back across goal to the unmarked Allen. Somehow Allen managed to knee the ball five yards wide. A little later, after a long ball down the Town left was allowed to run by the defence, Ashcroft powered past the defence and rolled the ball across to Allen, in the centre of the goal about 15 yards out. Allen side-stepped one man and had a clear run/shot at goal. He dallied so long that a defender came sliding in and his shot hit the defender's chest and rolled away.

The Swindon keeper, though on his line, missed a Donovan volleyed cross from the bye line and it just evaded a Town player (Groves I think) at the far post. A fine Town link down the right and centre eventually resulted in Ashcroft rolling the ball out to Black, about 12 yards out, just to the left of goal. He blasted the ball over. Allen controlled a clearance inside the Swindon half, turned and advanced five yards and hit a dipping shot from 25 yards out which cleared the bar by a yard.

And Town had a goal disallowed. Coldicott won a challenge just inside the Swindon half on our right. The ball was played to Allen who knocked the ball over the defence to the on-rushing Ashcroft who, from 15 yards near the right corner of the Swindon area, firmly drove the ball across the keeper and into the right-hand corner of the net. Being 80 yards away and at the side it was impossible to make any comment on this particular decision. However, some of the other offsides by the same linesman were so obviously wrong I am prepared to throw an element of doubt on the decision. He once gave Ashcroft offside when Ashcroft ran across and behind a defender, when yet another defender was three yards nearer the Swindon goal. He had a tendency to flag when a Town player got the ball and was free, which resulted in some late, wrong, decisions. They defied logic and the laws of geometry.

The referee started okay, but gradually became more and more tolerant of Swindon's swinging boots, with Ashcroft (in particular) coming in for some rough treatment. But only a couple of free kicks were awarded. The Swindon defence took it in turns to kick Ashcroft from behind, and I am sure they enjoyed it too.

At 3.42 on the big clock (i.e. after 46 minutes play) the fourth official put up the board saying three minutes of extra time. So four were played. Just enough time for that "Lever moment" when he totally misjudged a long punt and glanced a header, rather fortuitously, with just enough strength to reach Coyne. In the last minute Donovan sliced a first-time shot just over the angle of the keeper's left-hand post/bar, from about 20 yards, after a Town break down the left was worked across via Ashcroft and Allen.

Compliments, or even medals, must go to the Grimsby Town players. They did the impossible in holding Swindon to 0-0. It took a mighty effort, and no little skill, to avoid leading Swindon, who are a team begging to be put down. The general malaise at Swindon seemed to seep into the Town players – as the half progressed they played more and more like a training game. It all seemed a little too easy.

When Swindon played at Blundell Park their players looked as though they couldn't be bothered. The players they put out today looked very bothered, but incompetent. Town should have been three up at half time.

2nd half
No changes were made at half-time by either side. Town kicked off and looked eager and promising for at least 30 seconds, again down the right. Swindon hoofed the ball clear and hustled the Town defence into a jittery half clearance which resulted in some pressure. When I say Town defence, I mean Livvo and Lever, of course.

For the first 15 minutes of the second half Town were largely empty of threat, and began to leave a few gaps in defence. The nearest Swindon got was after a break down the Town right resulted in a cross to the near post which was steered wide, from 10 yards out. Swindon again tried two or three longs shots, none of which caused Coyne to do anything. The nearest was two yards high.

Town only threatened on the break and nearly scored when Livvo hit a 50-yard left-footed crossfield pass from left to right, which went between the centre-backs and left-back, releasing Donovan down the touchline. Donovan took the ball in his stride, got to the byeline and whipped over a deep dipping cross which went over the keeper. Allen sprinted in and just missed an attempted hook volley from beyond the far post. And then there was the penalty.

Town advanced neatly down the right and the ball was passed to Allen by Ashcroft. Allen turned inside the centre left of the area, about 15 yards out and went past a defender, leaving him just the keeper to beat. The defender lunged and brought Allen down. Err – no penalty. Again a decision that defied logic. Humans don't dive like that. Allen stayed down for a minute in what looked like a deliberate act of contempt towards the referee – he was definitely making a point by remaining on the ground "injured".

The early part of the second half was awful, with many misplaced passes and aimless hoofs, until about 20-25 minutes in, when Quinn brought himself on. This really galvanised Swindon for 5-10 minutes and rocked Town. Quinn added some passion and muscle to their attack. The first thing he did was push D Smith over and get stuck in. The rest of his team suddenly started to play with more urgency and commitment and they caused several moments of danger. The most dangerous of these was a break, again down our right, which resulted in a cross from the byeline into the centre of the goal, about eight yards out. Two Swindon players were unmarked, with Quinn a couple of yards behind D Smith, who, fortunately, timed his jump perfectly to flick it over Quinn and out for a throw-in. They started to throw more high balls in, especially to the far post where Quinn was always lurking. Lever and McDermott twice cleared under pressure from Quinn.

Buckley countered by taking off Black (who was back to his timid old self, always facing the Town goal and playing backwards) and sending on Clare. Town switched to 4-3-3 and this won the game for Town. Swindon's rather aimless hit and hope football resulted in many clearances flying towards the halfway line. The Town forward line were generally first to the ball and caused panic whenever they turned and ran at the Swindon defence. Clare played like he did last week – with intelligence, determination and as part of a team. Again he was looking to pass rather than dribble like a puppy.

Soon after Clare came on there was a further piece of crass refereeing. Town broke down the left with Clare holding the ball up, beating a man and then being fouled. As he was fouled Clare threaded a perfect ball through the defence to Allen, on the edge of the penalty area and totally unmarked. The referee decided to award Town the free kick. Allen received a ticking off for his obvious annoyance (he whacked the ball against the advertising hoardings and shouted at the ref).

After about 75 minutes Ashcroft was released down the centre of the pitch by an Allen hooked pass. Ashcroft was alone, with three Swindon defenders about a couple of yards behind him. He advanced into the area and tapped a shot against the keeper's legs. He never looked like scoring it, but should have. A few minutes later Town broke away again down the left, with the ball eventually being released to Ashcroft (by Allen, I think, though both he and Clare were involved in the move). Ashcroft was just in front of the Town supporters, advancing to the right hand corner of the Swindon area. Ashcroft turned inside his marker, cutting on to his right foot, and cunningly played the ball off the defender's toe. The ball lopped over the keeper into the top left corner of his goal. Ashcroft ran towards the Town supporters and gestured. The gesture was obscured by his team-mates mobbing him, and I noticed young Mr Clare pretending to shine Ashcroft's boots. Oh dear, he seems to have picked up some bad habits from Northampton – extravagant goal celebrations. He should remember that Town players shake hands and nod.

Within a couple of minutes Town should have scored again. After yet another breakaway involving Clare, Ashcroft and Allen the ball was played across the penalty area from the Town left to Coldicott, alone and advancing towards the keeper. He took an age and allowed a defender to slide in to block near the penalty spot. A couple of minutes later, following yet another breakaway, someone (sorry, can't remember who, the game was getting too exciting now) had a powerful shot from 20 yards which the keeper punched out. And a further minute or two later the Swindon keeper made a remarkable reaction save with his feet after a D Smith snap shot came through a wedge of players, leaving him unsighted. It may have got a slight deflection too.

With five or so minutes left Allen was replaced by Butterfield and Town went back to 4-4-2, with Butterfield at left-back and D Smith at left-midfield. This did cause the game to become tighter, less stretched, and stopped Swindon having the freedom to swing in crosses (which 4-3-3 had allowed their full-backs to do). Coyne actually came out and caught a cross, and later punched away another (Coyne leaves line shock sensation). The fourth official indicated two minutes of extra time, so three were played. Swindon's only concerted attack in the added time saw the centre-half head a yard over from six yards, after a cross from the right. They had a couple of corners and free kicks, but no shots. The last action of the game was a free kick after their player elbowed Butterfield.

The players waltzed off and saluted The Town supporters (perhaps 200) who were very happy. Unlike the supporters of A Town, who were just silent. The official crowd figure was over 5,700 which looked a little optimistic by at least 1,000. The Swindon supporters only came to life when Quinn came on, and only then for five minutes. They really do seem to have had the stuffing knocked out of them.

D Smith did not have a good game, and neither did Livvo, who was far too casual. At half-time it seemed that Swindon had realised our weakness on the left and everything went down that side. Too much space was given to their full-backs, allowing them to cross with impunity. Fortunately the Swindon right-sided players were rubbish. Black stayed on the pitch too long as he caused most of our defensive problems in the first half. Clare's introduction had the same effect as last week and the forward three looked very dangerous together.

This game was so reminiscent of the Port Vale game last season, when the opposition were so poor it was embarrassing. It looked like Town were trying not to humiliate Swindon, as various players dithered when all alone in the penalty area. Town should have won by at least four or five, without playing convincingly, and certainly not at 100%. Enough was done, just.