Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

19 January 2022

A swelteringly hot, humid day and a crowd of just over 6,000. Just prior to the teams coming out the crowd was entertained by a 40-year old mascot failing to score a penalty against the nine-year old mascot.

Town lined up as predicted, in the usual 4-4-2 formation: Coyne, Coldicott, Gallimore, R Smith, Livingstone, Donovan, Groves, Pouton, D Smith, Lester and Ashcroft. Subs were Allen, Croudson, Clare, Black and Butterfield. Coldicott played at right-back and Pouton in central midfield. The rest were where you'd expect them to be.

Walsall tuned up in all blue with yellow flashings; their red shirts would, obviously, have clashed with black and white stripes. Obviously. And Darren Wrack played right-wing for them.

1st Half
Town kicked off away from the Pontoon and, for the first 20 minutes, played fluently and incisively. Walsall were unable to keep the ball for any length of time and only got into Town's penalty area once when, after a breakaway, Wrack played a cross back across goal to Robins, who laid the ball back from the six-yard box to a midfielder who poked the ball over from 20 yards.

I counted nine attempts at goal from Town in the first 20 minutes, forcing four saves from the keeper. They were:

a) After two minutes Gallimore chipped the ball over the defence into a space in between the centre-backs and right-back, into which Ashcroft had drifted. Ashcroft turned inside and fired a half volley, low, to the keeper's left. The ball ran loose across the six-yard box, but the keeper picked the ball up;
b) Livingstone flicked on Donovan's corner from the Town right. The ball travelled across the six-yard box, but Lester's flick was blocked as he tried to get the ball and it was cleared;
c) A deep cross from the left was headed back, away from goal by Groves, and Pouton lashed a volley straight at the keeper, who caught the ball comfortably;
d) After interplay around the edge of the box, after Donovan had run at the defence from a wide position, Groves tried to chip the keeper (who is very small, a bit like wee Jimmy Krankie), but again it was straight at him, and a bit too low;
e) Ashcroft cut in from the right and shot straight at the keeper, from just outside the box;
f) Donovan played a ball in to Lester, who dummied and turned into the box, Ashcroft played a return ball inside to Donovan who advanced, beat a defender and tried a low cross shot. The shot was diverted for a corner by a defender throwing himself in the way; and
g) three attempts that don't deserve much description as they went wide (Pouton by 16 yards), weakly to the keeper (Ashcroft), or I forgot who did what but it wasn't exciting and never looked like going in (the other one).

Town had played with discipline and, especially from Pouton, commitment. Pouton was a very prominent figure in the middle of the park, both winning tackles and being involved in attacks. If anyone was beating out the rhythm of the game it was him. Lester and Ashcroft were working effectively as a partnership and the back four were a solid unit. This was very encouraging, enjoyable, and entertaining.

Then after 20 minutes the game went completely flat. It was like someone had turned off a switch. The crowd had got behind the team in the first 20 minutes, making mucho noiso, even singing "Mariners" and "Alan Buckley's Black and White Army" a couple of times. There was a lot of applause and general encouragement. But then Walsall had a breakaway where a ball was played in to the box and Coyne hesitated, before R Smith blocked for a corner and there was a short delay in play. You could feel the game disappearing as a spectacle. The crowd felt it, and you could almost see the players feel it. It might have been the heat and humidity "catching up" with the players - this break was the first. But whatever the reason, the game deteriorated and the rest of the half was, mainly, Walsall defenders clearing the ball for throw-ins.

I cannot recall Town producing anything of note on the last 25 minutes of the first half apart from a brief flurry in injury time when they won a corner. And all Walsall produced was a powerful shot from outside the area in the 44th minute, which was hit quite close to Coyne, though he held the ball cleanly.

Ashcroft and, especially, Lester stopped playing after 20 minutes. There was no movement at all up front, and they both started to lose simple challenges when the ball was rolled directly to them. They both looked mentally and physically slow, and were starting to display the commitment levels of Alan Shearer. Groves and Pouton had started to look like a formidable pairing, but Groves began to make simple passing errors as the half progressed. Pouton became an instant crowd favourite with his sliding hook tackles, especially when he scooped the ball away from Wrack. Now Wrack looked a lot faster than he did when he played for Town, and he did manage to pass to his own players a couple of times. He was in Gallimore's (wide) pocket.

The half time talk of the Pontoon was WHEN Buckley would bring on Bradley Allen. The first 20 minutes had been very good, the rest of the half quite dire. Town were playing opponents who looked like they might scrape a goal on a breakaway, but were generally good second Division standard. A team can't expect to stay in this division if it keeps passing the ball out of play. We should have been beating them.

No changes at half-time.

2nd half
And the pattern of the game didn't change. Disjointed, scrappy, annoying. The longer the game went on the worse Lester and Ashcroft (especially Ashcroft) became.

Let's get Walsall's chances out of the way first:

a) A centre-half headed straight to Coyne after a long throw from Neil Pointon (who it took the Pontoon 80 minutes to remember used to play for Scunthorpe);
b) With five minutes left a deep cross from their right reached the far post, about eight yards out. Either Coldicott or Donovan slid in with their player and the ball dribbled slowly to Coyne;
c) No, that's it.

On the other hand, in between the long periods of tedium, Town did produce moments of danger, and the occasional flowing move:

a) Donovan raced down the right, beating a player. His cross from the bye-line was set up for Groves to welly in, from a central position, but he miscontrolled. He helped the ball along to D Smith who hit a volley with the outside of his left boot straight at the keeper, from about 12 yards, just to the left of the goal;
b) Groves had a weak shot from 20 yards which was so bad the goalkeeper injured his ankle after diving several hours too soon;
c) After an hour Ashcroft released Lester just inside the area, on the Town right. Lester sidestepped three defenders and was about 10 yards out, just to the left of centre, with just the goalkeeper between him and net. The goalkeeper went down low, very early, so Lester chipped the ball high and wide of the right-hand post. It was, in effect, an open goal and was a terrible miss. Not so "Super" today.
d) Ashcroft was set free, very close to the bye-line on the Town right, and shot low, straight at the goalkeeper from about 10 yards; and
e) In injury time (of which there was five minutes) Black cut onto his right foot, about 15 yards out, to the left of the goal, and curled a shot just wide of the post. Just like his free-kicks.

And then, of course, there is the goal. During a particularly inauspicious period of play (after about 70 minutes) Bradley Allen was sent on to replace D Smith. The crowd were a little unhappy at this change as, though they wanted Allen on, they definitely wanted Ashcroft off. Allen went up front with Lester and Ashcroft played as a left-winger. Within two minutes of coming on Allen had cemented his status amongst the Blundell Park hordes as "Super Sub".

Lester received a throw-in just inside the Walsall area, to the Town right, about four yards from the bye-line. He was allowed to turn and he got to the bye-line and whipped in a cross. The goalkeeper only parried the ball high up into the air. Allen, just to the left of centre and about eight yards out hooked in a volley from slightly behind him. And the crowd went wild. For once Town had a striker poaching/sniffing, rather than hanging about the far post.

With about 10 minutes left Ashcroft was finally taken off and replaced by Black. Ashcroft was very fortunate that he wasn't booed off the pitch as his display in the second half had been awful. I think Buckley decided to take him off after Ashcroft produced a Reesian flick to a high ball on the halfway line when he was the last man. The ball nearly bounced to a Walsall attacker, with Gallimore clearing.

Town deserved the win, for they were the only team with any sustained attacking intent, and in the first 20 minutes had played some very good football. In all Town had over a dozen attempts on goal, whilst Walsall had two. The defence was reasonably solid and played as a unit, with Coldicott proving a more than adequate short-term replacement for McDermott. Even Coldicott's crossing was okay. He has truly grown to become Jobling Mark II. Pouton looks like he can do everything apart from shoot. His shooting is terrible - York fans were right about that. His tracking back and recovery tackles were exceptional and real crowd pleasers. Now Burnett and Pouton together. Mmmmmm tasty thoughts.

Ashcroft and Lester were good for 20 minutes. Unfortunately the next 70 were shocking. Neither looked fit or committed. And neither remotely looked like they would score a goal.

But to quote from virtually every person in Blundell Park "Well, it's 3 points, isn't it". Ultimately who cares how we got them. We got them.