Isn't this where we came in?

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

18 January 2022

It started out dull and grey, but by kick off there was an azure sky of deepest blue, as clear as an unmuddied lake. Well, the sun shone.

Prior to the game the atmosphere inside Blundell Park can best be described as somnabulent, with only the Tranmere 100 making any noise (they gave Coyne a decent round of applause when he ran on to the pitch). There was a frisson of excitement when the crowd realised that Donovan wasn't warming up, but that was dulled when they realised that Nicholls was on the pitch, as was A Buckley.

An unusual Town team lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Lever, Livingstone, Chapman, Pouton, Groves, Coldicott, Black, Ashcroft and Clare. The substitutes were Croudson, Allen, A Buckley, Bloomer and Nicholls. Diddy Ben Chapman played at left-back, with Lever and Livvo at centre-back. Groves partnered Coldicott in centre-midfield and Pouton played at right-wing. Tranmere started off with only Wayne Allison up front, with five in midfield. The portents were not good for a free flowing, open, attacking match, with the ball on the ground at least some of the time.

1st half
For the umpteenth time in a row Town lost the toss and kicked off towards the Pontoon. Within a minute Tranmere had achieved their first objective – a throw in Town's half. Fortunately, little old Blundell Park rather cramped Challinor's style and he couldn't get the monumental distances on his throws. They were just really long. Town had no difficulties with them at all, with Lever's head coming in useful on many occasions.

Nothing happened at all for 10 minutes or so. Nothing. Tranmere kicked it in the air and Town did the same. Groves looked old and immobile whilst Tranmere peppered Chapman with high balls, which he dealt with most proficiently. They hadn't taken into account the iron springs in his legs. Boy, does he jump high for a tiny tot.

On 12 minutes Tranmere won a free kick after Chapman was put in difficulty by Lever under the Findus/Stones/Smiths Stand, about 10 yards from the bye line. Lever had given him a short return pass when two Tranmere players were right on top of him. Chapman lost out in a challenge and lunged in from the side/behind, knocking the ball out for a corner. Except the referee decided it was a foul, near (Town's) left-hand corner flag. Mahon whipped in a lowish left-footed cross, with pace towards the near post, about 10-12 yards out. Challinor flicked the ball on and it looped in to Coyne's right-hand side netting. A loud tut was emitted by the Pontoon, with accompanying groans from the other stands. Eyebrows were raised too. Typical defending at a set piece.

I cannot recall Town making any response. The game carried on as before with Tranmere hassling and harrying Town players when they had possession, sometimes legally. There was no flow to the game as the referee seemed to blow for free kicks every few seconds and Town were rubbish. For the first 30 minutes Ashcroft was a disgrace, putting in less effort than at West Brom. Some thought that would be difficult. The crowd were starting to heckle the Podgemeister and he suddenly perked up a bit and at least ran around until half time. One should not take this to mean he played well for 15 minutes, just that he tried a bit harder and passed to Town players, occasionally moving too.

The Town attacks, if they can be called that, principally involved Clare and Pouton (who looked not only unfit, but unwell). Clare was adept at knicking the ball away from Tranmere and generally being a pest to them. However, his decision making was again poor, with him being guilty on several occasion of holding on to the ball for far too long and turning into players, rather than space.

The best Town move of the first half an hour involved Clare stealing the ball on the halfway line, with some determined harrying, and releasing Pouton behind the full-back. Pouton was visibly struggling to run, but still got there. He was brought down, about three yards to the right of the penalty area, five yards from the bye line. In fact an almost identical position to that from which Tranmere scored. Our deadly dead ball expert chipped the ball with precision and perfection to a position two yards above and beyond Groves at the far post. Mr Black (wasn't he the murder victim in Cluedo?) had another opportunity from almost the same position a few minutes later. I cannot recall exactly what happened, though I can guarantee it wasn't exciting. Either the keeper punched it away or a defender headed it away. The usual, in other words.

On 37 minutes Town had a passing move down the left. The ball eventually reached Black, near the touchline about 25 yards out. He cut in and rolled the ball to Ashcroft, continuing his lateral run. Ashcroft rolled the ball back to Black who, about 25 yards out just to the left of centre, dinked a little pass through a big gap in the Tranmere defence. Clare ran on and clipped a low shot over the goalkeeper and into bottom left-hand corner of the goal. One shot, one goal. The goalkeeper went mad and ran out flailing his arms around and ran up to Ashcroft going chest to chest in an oh-so-macho confrontation. Lever was involved in the peacemaking. It must have been the humiliation of conceding a goal to Town in open play. It must almost be a sackable offence these days.

That's just about all the action in the first half. Tranmere had one other shot, when Mahon ran through on their right through two challenges. The ball bounced back to him both times and when he got to the edge of the area he scuffed a shot straight at Coyne. Town had two other efforts (and I do mean only two, there weren't even any awful long-range shots or crosses which might have lead to anything). Groves, at the far post, headed a corner from the left past the right-hand post. Clare was a little slow in moving and was a yard short of the ball as it passed the post. Lever had a header from 15 yard which was saved easily by the keeper at the right-hand post. Again this was from a cross from the left. I think it was from a free kick.

The only other thing to happen was that Ashcroft hurt his leg in a slide tackle after about 40 minutes. Yes, the game was that dull that Ashcroft getting hurt is a highlight. Despite a couple of stoppages of at least two minutes the referee didn't appear to allow any extra time, blowing his whistle just as Clare was set free from the halfway line.

There had been no pattern or style to the game, just bump and grind. There was very little pace either and the half-time score was flattering to both sides. It should have been 0-0. The Town performance had been patchy. Groves provided yet more evidence that he is past it as a first division midfielder, Clare was back to head down mode and Ashcroft was infuriating. Black was invisible, except when he chipped corners and free kicks towards Tranmere players. Pouton looked as though he was unable to move freely. He didn't have any pace and looked gaunt and pale (more so than normal). The only positives (that is non-negatives) were in defence where Chapman looked very comfortable. Nobody was missing Mr Gallimore. Stacy ran around a lot and won most tackles.

A typical end of season game. Everyone seemed to be going through the motions. The only interest was who Buckley would bring on and when.

The wit of Grimsby was on display – chants of "two world wars and one world cup" to taunt Achterburg the Tranmere goalkeeper. Who is Dutch.

2nd half
Once again there was no half time entertainment, just two blokes from Lincs FM gibbering. One of them tried to whip up the crowd by saying something about Town "getting to the Premiership next year", which resulted in the crowd simply laughing at him.

No changes were made by either team at half-time.

There was absolutely no goalmouth action of any kind until the 71st minute. After 10 or so minutes of the half Pouton was legged up from behind by Mahon, who was booked. This was the third or fourth time in the match that Pouton had got past a Tranmere player and been brought down. They seemed to have realised that he was a danger and he was stopped as far away as possible, by whatever means. Pouton received a minute or two of treatment, after which he was limping heavily for a few minutes.

In the 71st minute Pouton, on the half way line, under the Findus/Smiths/Stones stand, did a quadruple step over followed by a surge past the full-back. He whipped in a low cross to the near post, about 12 yards out, where Lever headed firmly down. The ball went a few inches wide of the keeper's left-hand post.

A minute or so later Clare was replaced by Allen, and Black by A Buckley. One substitute received a huge cheer, the other some boos. No clues needed to guess which was which and who is who. We thus had the unusual spectacle of both teams containing the managers' respective sons (as Aldridge had sent his son on a substitute a few minutes earlier). The first thing that A Buckley did was take a corner on the Town left. He curled it away from goal to somewhere near the corner of the six-yard box, about 8-10 yards out. Lever flicked the ball on firmly towards the far post where Allen, running backwards into space, hooked the ball over the bar from eight yards out. Five minute later A Buckley was booked for a jumping slide tackle, which was almost a stamp. Around the same time John Aldridge was told off by the referee, presumably for being a Bandy Scouse Git.

In the last 10-15 minutes Tranmere abandoned their gay, carefree adventurous formation of one man up and seemed to go to a 4-3-3. It didn't seem to make much difference.

On 80 minutes Ashcroft was replaced by Bloomer. For some reason Ashcroft was applauded off the pitch. Something he didn’t deserve on today’s performance. This resulted in Livvo going to centre-forward with Bloomer, of course, at right centre-back.

In the 82nd minute Tranmere got a free kick on their left, about 30 yards out, eight or so yards in from the touchline, after McDermott wrestled Mahon to the floor. The free kick was touched sideways and Mahon hit a deep cross curling away from goal. Allison wrestled and nudged Lever away and headed into the roof of the net from five yards out, just to the inside of Coyne's left-hand post. It was Tranmere's first attack of the half, and the only time all game that Lever failed to mark, or otherwise deal with, Allison.

More tuts and groans, but this time we knew Town wouldn't come back and equalise. A couple of "Buckley Out" chants emanated from the deeper bowels of the Pontoon, though with little support or conviction. The team lost all shape and played aimlessly in the remaining minutes. I can't remember them getting within 25 yards of the Tranmere goal.

On the other hand, Tranmere could have gone on to record an even more empthatic undeserved victory. In the 85th minute Aldridge slightly mishit a shot from the edge of the area, centrally placed, which Coyne saved low to his left by pushing it away for a corner. In the last minute Tranmere got a free kick about 25 yards out, just to the (Town) left of centre. After much too-ing and fro-ing, with Chapman standing on the goal line and then running up to the wall, whilst Tranmere players ran up to him and back again, Mahon curled the free kick on to the left-hand post. The ball hit Chapman on the way out, bouncing in front of goal. Bloomer calmly launched it into the Findus/Stones/Smiths stand. He had done something similar a couple of minutes earlier when a cross fell into the six-yard box, just in front of him, when he was facing goal. He calmly assessed the situation before whacking it down the pitch. Bloomer, in the 10 minutes he was on, looked very assured and calm. He always seemed to have time, almost like a composed Handyside.

After two further minutes of boredom the referee allowed us to go home. Nobody booed and a couple of players got some applause (Chapman and Pouton). Overall the game really should have been 0-0, as neither team were much use, nor created anything. The most that can be said about this game is that both teams fulfilled a contractual obligation.

As for performances, that is a misnomer for the most part. Pouton perked up in the second half and looked a bit more dangerous. There was one positive in the solidity and confidence of Chapman. He is definitely an asset and one for the very near future. Say…next season? The others were a mixture of the okay and the dreadful. Groves is no longer an option in midfield. There was no creativity from the centre and he acted as a hindrance to attacks through his slowness to react and pass.

Town started the season with a home loss against organised dross from the North West under a grey sky, they ended it in exactly the same way against the same type of opponents. But the sun shone. That wasn't a consolation.