I'm sorry I haven't a clue

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

28 January 2022

A showery day, with a cold breeze blowing down the pitch, fortunately from behind the stand in which the Town support was ensconced. A downpour an hour before the game left the pitch in its usual state for a Town fixture – about to cut up with a skiddy service. About 220-250 Town supporters gathered in the corner of the stand on the right as seen on TV (and I hope you didn't see this game on TV). The pre-match entertainment was the usual loud 60s/70s fare with Hi Ho Silver Lining as the come on for the Wolves.

Town played in the silly double blue hooped kit and lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Butterfield, Gallimore, R Smith, Lever, D Smith, Hamilton, Groves, Coldicott, Lester and Ashcroft. The subs were Croudson, Black, Allen, A Buckley and Burnett. Groves and Coldicott were reunited in central midfield with D Smith on the left, and Hamilton on the right. Hamilton is built like an identikit Buckley player, runs like one, but I'm not sure about his haircut – there is the hint of a curl to his quiff.

1st Half
Town kicked off away from the Town support. And that's as positive as it gets. Nothing particularly happened in the first five minutes, except that the pattern of the game was established. Wolves hit the ball forward in a direct fashion to their big man, little man front partnership and looked to get the ball to Sinton (playing left wing) as quickly as possible.

A couple of crosses were just about dealt with, Hamliton committed a couple of fouls and then Wolves broke through the centre. The ball was played out to their left and no Town player went out to confront the Wolves player. The ball was chipped into the box, from a position about 30 yards out near the touch-line. Lever challenged the little man and the ball skidded off Bananaman and over R Smith to the unmarked Akinbiyi, about 12 yards out. There was a hint of handball in his control, but he advanced and slid the ball slightly to the right of Coyne and into the right-hand side of the goal. Poor marking, poor positional play, and poor organisation on the right and in the centre of defence.

As this move was happening the Town supporters were muttering "Why isn't someone marking that bloke on the right?" "Why doesn't Butterfield go out to him?" "Where is Hamilton?" "Why is Lever marking the small one?" and (throughout) "Akinbiyi is unmarked". You could say that we could see the goal coming.

Town's response was unremarkable and quite forgettable. In other words we didn't do owt. After 15 or so minutes Hamilton was booked for winning the ball cleanly and failing to touch a Wolves player. Wolves continued to pepper the centre of Town's area with crosses, though they rarely resulted in chances. There were a multitude of moments of danger as Town were defending quite desperately, and sometimes abysmally, but Wolves were not shooting very well. Coyne didn't make another save in the first half, although he did punch a couple of crosses out and collect a couple of overhit through balls. In fact Wolves best chance fell in this period, after about 25 minutes, when Akinbiyi received the ball about eight yards out and hooked the ball wide as he turned. The referee gave a goal kick even though Akinbiyi (a) was offside and (b) handballed when controlling it.

Town started to string some passes together around the 25-30th minute. After one break down the Town right the ball was swung over to Ashcroft, who'd got into an unmarked position to the left of goal inside the penalty area. Of course Ashcroft didn't shoot, but played a cushion volley to Coldicott who was easily dispossessed as he tried to control the ball.

Lester dribbled past three Wolves defenders and won a goal kick – he ran straight out of play. Some neat build up and possession football resulted in Groves hitting a shot a yard over from just outside the box. Town's best, and only, chance of the game fell to Groves. Butterfield whipped in a cross from the right, from near the bye-line, which skimmed the face of the cross bar. Ashcroft laid the ball back to Groves, who hit a twisting volley high over the bar from a position to the left of goal, about 10 yards out. Town's best effort was an Ashcroft twisting diving header which the goalkeeper saved brilliantly, but the linesman had already flagged for offside. So it was a redundant moment.

That seems an appropriate way to start talking about Hamilton again. For the last 20 minutes of the half he didn't touch the ball (or seem to go near it). I, quite literally, forgot he was on the pitch. It's like having two David Smiths in the team. And I haven't mentioned him either. I can confirm that he was on the pitch but other than that I can add no more.

Somehow Town managed to obtain three corners in the first half, but they just acted as launch pads for Wolves counter-attacks. Wolves continued to hit the ball in to the channels, with their forwards running tirelessly into space, with midfielders supporting quickly. There were at least three occasions when Town were saved from further ignominy by the non-skills of the Wolves players. Midfielders were unmarked down the centre, but passes were fluffed badly.

This may be reported in the GET as good individual defending, I tend to think the ball just kept hitting Lever and R Smith. Town's flanks were very badly exposed, with the full-backs receiving ineffective support from the wide midfielders. This was compounded by the full-backs' determination to allow the Wolves players as much time and space as they needed to get in a cross. Fortunately most of the crosses were rubbish. The Wolves supporters were singing the praises of Super Andy Sinton, as he was constantly receiving the ball and whipping crosses in. They are easily pleased in the Black Country. Sinton had sufficient skill to pick out Lever's head, leg and back or, failing that, one particular seat in the crowd behind the goal. A cynic would say he displayed all the skills that persuaded Graham Taylor to pick him for England. Low praise indeed.

With a minute to go in the first half Town had a breakaway attack, and the ball was eventually rolled across the face of the penalty area to Groves. His shot was blocked by two Wolves players, one sliding in from sideways/behind. The ball was cleared down the Wolves right. Groves and a Wolves player (Osborn, I think) remained entangled, with the Wolves player seemingly holding Groves down. As he got up Groves flicked his boot out, but missed any part of the Wolves player. The crowd roared, the player stayed down, then got up to remonstrate, Sedgley came steaming in and the referee turned round. As he approached Groves and the Wolves player the referee consulted his assistant, Mr Steve Sedgley, who indicated a stamp. The referee immediately flashed the red card at Groves. Nice to see the officials working as a team. The referee didn't see the incident as he was running away watching the ball in the other half and neither of the linesmen flagged either. The referee needed help and he gratefully received it from an unbiased source. The Town players were furious, with Coldicott the most prominent angry young man.

No added time was played, that was that. Except it wasn't. As the players were leaving the pitch Lever and Lester discussed the incident with the Wolves players. This resulted in an almighty barny at the entrance to the tunnel with around 10 players all pushing and shoving, not to mention the police and stewards. There were at least three separate scrums at one point. I also observed a golden-shirted arm raise itself into Lever's chin.

The Town supporters were most displeased. Firstly Town were useless. Secondly Wolves were not particularly good. Thirdly Groves had been sent off. We were absolutely stunned by this, especially as most people (like the referee) didn't see the incident. We were unable to make any sort of noise for several minutes. We literally couldn’t believe what we’d seen. And then despondency set in. Looking at the players on the pitch we couldn't see where a goal was coming from, nor who would lead the team. The players too looked stunned by Groves' dismissal.

Being about 90 yards from the incident I cannot state categorically what happened but it looked like Groves retaliated and missed. In essence it was a similar offence to the one where Futcher got sent off at Tranmere (where John Aldridge elbowed Futcher in the mouth, Futcher swung an arm and missed, but got sent off anyway). There must be nothing more galling than being sent off for failing to hit someone.

And it started raining.

2nd Half
Town made no changes in personnel at half time, though there was one small change. Lever was handed the captain's arm band. The team lined up in a 4-3-2 formation, like the one that was so successful at Portsmouth under similar circumstances. However a middle three of Hamilton, D Smith and Coldicott may not, to some observers (ie anyone), be quite as formidable as Pouton, Burnett and Coldicott.

The supporters' fears were confirmed as Town started poorly. Possession was surrendered easily by the light-weight midfield, the front two were not as strong as they were at Portsmouth, and the midfield played far too narrowly. Too much space was ceded to Wolves in wide positions and Town were outnumbered frequently. Wolves continued to try and play down the flanks, and to get crosses in as quickly as possible.

There appeared little belief within the Town players, they played as though they knew they would lose and they were just hoping to keep the score down (this had been apparent from the first minute really). Wolves made the mistake of trying to play football for a 15-minute period in the middle of the half. They got near goal, but failed to create many chances, despite Lever's continued marking of the little one (Corica) whilst R Smith marked the big one (Akinbiyi).

During this period Coyne made his only meaningful save of the match after Wolves pressure resulted in the ball falling to a player just inside the area, on the Town left. A firm half-volley went through a thicket of players, and Coyne saved low at the foot of his left-hand post. Lever managed to get his obligatory injury when he produced a half-turning sliding challenge on the edge of the Wolves area. His tackling technique is very poor as he always comes off worse, no matter how small his foe.

Town were holding on as Wolves came at them in waves of attacks. As soon as one was repulsed Wolves got the ball back and pressed again. I recall at least three free headers that were headed far over and wide, mainly from crosses from Town's right. These crosses were not from the bye-line, but from the support player 15-20 yards in. Time and again Wolves were allowed too much space to set up a cross. The Town defenders (and I mean every single one of them) allowed opponents to do what they wished.

With about 20 minutes left Wolves took off the little one, Corica, and sent on a midfielder. They then went Route Zero by sending Neil Emblem up front. Within a minute they should have scored. A throw-in was taken quickly on the Town left, inside the Wolves half. The ball was headed on twice and Lever was outpaced by Emblem, who ran on to Akinbiyi's back heel. Emblem seemed to be about to shoot from the edge of the area when Butterfield raced across to block. Emblem rolled the ball sideways for the on-rushing Sinton, who toe-poked the ball a foot wide from 15 yards. Emblem then missed two more free headers from about 10 yards, and another was glanced to Coyne.

After 78 minutes Ashcroft was replaced by Allen. Ashcroft had contributed little, but arguably more than Lester. Within a minute Wolves scored. A long punt by their keeper went towards R Smith and Emblem, to the right inside Town's half, about 35 yards out. R Smith rose to head the ball, but Emblem ducked underneath and allowed R Smith to roll over the top (and the ball to run on). Emblem then ran on, exchanged passes with Sinton, and the ball was eventually flung into the Town area from a position about 25 yards out and five yards inside the touch line on the Town right. Of course there was no Town closing down at all. The ball went to a position about 12 yards out, close to the penalty spot. There were four or five players near the ball, but Akinbiyi, facing away from goal, twisted and looped a firm header into Coyne's top right-hand corner.

Town's response was their only shot on target all game. Allen received a pass 25 yards out, turned and hit a firm half volley low to the keeper's right, which was saved comfortably. The only other times Town got near the Wolves goal were a free kick five minutes from the end which was headed clear from a yard out, and early on in the half when a flowing (yes there was one) Town move involving Lester, Coldicott and Butterfield resulted in Coldicott rolling the ball into a huge space within the penalty area, about 15 yards out and five yards to the left of goal. Gallimore came waddling in and all Town got was a corner, as a Wolves defender slid across whilst Gallimore couldn't make up his mind what to do.

In the last minute a cross from Town right drifted over the defence and, about 8-10 yards out, the unmarked Akinbiyi headed in, low to Coyne's right. R Smith failed to follow Akinbiyi on this occasion. Another minute or two of forgettable nonsense followed and the referee finished the game. Thankfully for us the torture had ended.

When a defence allows a striker to be unmarked inside the penalty area, you should expect the worst. To do so three times is unforgivable. The defence was not organised at all, they played as individuals. Far too many times Lever simply stayed back and kept Wolves onside. The midfield runners were not picked up, and the four Town wide players never closed down potential crossers. All in all Town defending was the exact opposite of what was required to stop Wolves. It isn't any secret how Wolves play – simple, direct football. To quote Mike Channon "Ball in the box", that's all they do. If you stop them putting balls in the box they are flummoxed. They are no better than previous Wolves teams – they are a physically strong team who will just miss out on the play-offs.

As for Town offensively, the centre of the park was devoid of creativity, and there was no threat from the flanks. The front two were intermittent contributors and constant whingers. Too many times Lester and Ashcroft chose to plead for fouls rather than compete for the ball. Once again, neither had a shot, though Lester (in the first half) got into a position to shoot three times but stopped and lost the ball.

Coyne was not at fault for any of the goals and the strange situation is that he is getting better as the defence gets worse. Doesn't seem to do us much good though. The Town men of the match were McDermott, Pouton and Burnett. Their stature and importance can only have increased through absence.

Are there any positives from this game? No.

At least it's over for another season.