Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
18 January 2022
A party atmosphere at Blundell Park to celebrate 100 years at the stadium? No - a 12-year old miming to a "song", five teenagers dancing, a big ball of balloons (currently crossing Holland in a V formation), and some balloons on a frame tied up to look like a big 100. Really classy.
A warmish, clear day with a slight breeze. Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, D Smith, Livingstone, R Smith, Donovan, Coldicott, Groves, Black, Lester, Ashcroft. The substitutes were Croudson, Pouton, Allen, Gallimore and Butterfield.
The officials wore the same luminous outfit as worn against Carlisle. The referee was Mr T Heilbron, most memorable from last year's home game against Port Vale. Maybe it was not wise for the club to issue the supporters with clunking great commemorative coins with this referee on the loose.
Swindon kicked off towards the Pontoon and the first 15 minutes were poor. Swindon had one attack of any note, which ended with Coyne plucking the ball off the head of Onoura after a deep cross from the town left was headed back across goal.
Town had no attempts of any consequence. Town started at half speed and there was very little movement. Huge gaps were appearing in between the midfield and defence, particularly on the right, which continued to be a problem right through the half. On 15 minutes Town exerted a two-minute period of pressure. Ashcroft received the ball on the edge of the area, and turned to his left. He fell under the challenge, and the referee gave a free kick, right on the edge of the area, to the left of centre. Black curled the free kick a couple of inches over the bar. D Smith gained possession from the goal kick and ran across the defence, trying a shot that was blocked. The loose ball fell to Donovan who tried a cross shot, which again was blocked.
Another five minutes of dreary football was enlivened by a terrible piece of defending by Town. A corner fell between five Town players about eight yards out on the right, none of them cleared the ball. A Swindon player swivelled and poked a shot a foot wide of Coyne's left post. After half an hour, neat interplay on the Town left resulted in D Smith playing a low ball into Ashcroft, who hit a first-time pass inside the full-back, releasing Lester inside the area. The full-back extended his leg to tackle Lester, and Lester duly obliged by falling over that leg. Groves smashed the penalty high down the centre left of the goal.
The only other events of note in the first half were:
a) R Smith was caught from behind and had to go off the field for a couple of minutes. The ball went through to their keeper from the restart and Lester decided to continue running at the keeper's head, despite him holding the ball. Yellow card for Lester (it wouldn't be a Town game without one of those);
b) Swindon headed the ball over from a corner;
c) Mark Walters sliced a shot 20 yards wide from the edge of the area;
d) The referee ignored a blatant hand ball on the edge of the Swindon area after a corner was half cleared, Swindon broke away, and a Swindon player hacked Black down (no booking). Thr crowd got agitated over that period of play; and
e) Donovan won a tackle 10 yards outside the Swindon area, the ball broke loose to Lester who hit a first-time swirling left footer, which was tipped over the bar in acrobatic fashion.
The first half was mundane, scrappy and generally poor entertainment. Swindon managed to get into the Town penalty area three times and were most content to win corners and throw-ins. They buzzed around in midfield but did not appear too threatening. Town, on the other hand, were rather disorganised. There were too many gaps between the midfield and defence, and the midfield and attack. There was very little cohesion, and virtually no movement off the ball.
Individually D Smith was probably the pick of the players as he seemed the be the only player to lift the pace of the game. His runs from full-back were the most dangerous aspect of Town's (limited) attacking. Defensively the right side was exposed a few times, principally through Donovan and Coldicott failing to track back or generally be aware of what was happening around them. The Pontoon was in agreement that Town were fortunate to be ahead at half-time.
The half time entertainment was a "special" five-a-side game between Youth Team players in the yellow and blue away kit, against other Youth Team players in a 1930's type kit (the goalie even wore a roll neck woolly and flat cap).
At least there weren't anymore 12-year olds miming. Oh I forgot - the drummer reappeared to a "mixed reception". One sustained period of slapping, early in the first half, was the extent of today's gig.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were a continuation of the first. Nothing in particular happened, and the standard of play was low. However, for the last half an hour or so Town slowly took some control over the game and made chances. Swindon had a couple of shots from outside the area and a couple of corners. Coyne had no saves to make, and only had to catch a couple of crosses.
Town had a number of chances/shots in the second half:
a) Lester turned his defender on the edge of the box and fell over the defender's hip. Black curled the resultant free kick from 20 yards slightly to the left of the goal, a couple of inches past the goalkeeper's left-hand post. The crowd went Oooh;
b) D Smith got to the bye-line and crossed to the near post, where Ashcroft, about eight yards out, a couple of yards to the right of the goal, flicked a glancing header a few inches wide of the keeper's left-hand post;
c) A flowing move out of defence resulted in D Smith whipping in a cross to Donovan about 10 yards out, just to the right of centre. He glanced the header a few inches wide of the keeper's left-hand post;
d) A Town breakaway was half cleared, but the ball was immediately returned to Ashcroft, to the right of the penalty area. He waited for the keeper and passed it under him. Alas - disallowed for offside. None of the crowd level with Ashcroft moaned too much at the linesman, so he probably was offside;
e) Town intercepted a cross field ball on the left. Gallimore and D Smith sprinted forward, the ball was passed inside the full-back to Ashcroft, to the right of the area. He awaited the keeper and defender and passed the ball across the six-yard line to just past the far post where Donovan slid in with a defender and grazed the outside of the keeper's left post;
f) From 20 yards to the left of the Swindon goal, Coldicott drove a half clearance low across the face of the keeper. The keeper just managed to get a fingertip to the shot and it went a couple of inches wide of his right-hand post;
g) Donovan got to the bye-line and delivered a cross to Groves, who outjumped the keeper, but only headed vertically. Swindon scrambled away the clearance; and
h) Interplay between McDermott and Coldicott set Donovan free past his full-back. His cross was played to Lester, stood alone on the six-yard line. Lester tried a hook volley but fell over while trying to do it. He ended up on his bottom having passed the ball back to the keeper.
In between these moments of excitement and good quality play, Town did not produced a lot.
The introduction of Gallimore for Black with about 20 minutes to play certainly livened up Town's attacking and added defensive solidity. D Smith had been Town's most promising attacker when he was playing left-back, his move to left-wing perked up the attack considerably. For the first time this season D Smith was positive in attacking the full back/bye-line and his crossing was good, usually a flat pacey clip, rather than a Blackian hanging chip.
Black had been very anonymous and had not shown the same drive and pace as he had shown against Carlisle. In general Town got better the longer the half had gone on. Donovan again looked like he was returning to his old attacking form, and he was even tracking back a bit (including one vital interception on the edge of the area, late on). The centre midfield was bereft of creativity, and was defensively disorganised. Coldicott tackled well, but his distribution was back to the levels of this time last year.
Groves was again rather absent, his forays into the Swindon box were very limited and his distribution was a little awry at times. Ashcroft, Lester and Groves were almost at a standstill in the last 10 minutes - they all looked totally drained.
It was an odd game played in a flat atmosphere. Town were lucky to be ahead at half time, 0-0 would have been a fairer scoreline. However, after 90 minutes 3-0 would have been a fair reflection of the balance of play. This was a game where Town, in effect, ground out a result and (in the second half) a performance.
Still, we got the three points and produced the result to strike fear into the hearts of opponents - a Grimsby win 1-0 (Groves, pen). Old times indeed.