Corpus Delicti and the slough of despond

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

28 January 2022

A sunny day. Both sets of supporters were pessimistic, though the Brommie’s were a bit more vocal in their desperate support. The portents were not good for Town as the West Brom players all looked big and the Town players looked far too happy when warming up. The Town supporters, of which there was a smaller than expected turnout of around 500, took the corner of the stand they are usually allocated (on the right as seen on TV).

Town lined up, in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott. Gallimore, Lever, Groves, Donovan, Coldicott, Pouton, D Smith, Ashcroft and Allen. The substitutes were Croudson, Bloomer, Butterfield, Clare and Black. Pouton was announced as being in the number 10 jersey, which on close inspection looked suspiciously like number 26. Nothing humorous or interesting happened before the kick off, unless you count Town playing in the blue hooped kit as funny.

1st half
Town kicked off away from their own supporters, and as per usual the opposition got a throw-in within five seconds. The West Brom method became apparent immediately – hustle, bustle and whack the ball behind the full-backs. Within a minute Taylor had a wild shot over the bar from the Town right, from just inside the area. He ran on to a ball over the top and got to it before Groves. After four minutes Flynn was put clear on the Town left, getting to the bye-line and miscuing a cross into the Town supporters. He got free after Gallimore reacted slowly to a ricochet near the touchline and allowed himself to be the piggy in the middle of two Baggies.

From this moment on West Brom modified their subtle game plan – all their whacks over the top went over Gallimore. He either kicked them straight back to a West Brom player or was outpaced. All very undedifying stuff and confirmation that Gallimore has been sussed by our first division rivals.

Early on Groves released some frustration at his wasted year in Baggieland by kicking Sneekes up in the air. Coldicott got booked for stopping Sneekes as he ran though a huge hole in the Town defence 30 yards out, and D Smith ended up in the first row of the stand after chasing and clearing a long ball down the left (covering for Gallimore yet again). It was a slightly comical moment as D Smith disappeared from view for a few moments and then only his head appeared over the wall. It wasn't so comical for him as he was quite groggy and replaced two or three minutes later, on 17 minutes. Black came on in a straight swap, though the Town supporters were ashen faced at the prospect of a Gallimore/Black left-hand side.

Town were moribund as an attacking force and the principal reason for this was the insistence on pumping high balls forward. The main culprits were Gallimore, Groves and Lever. Coupled with Coyne's inability to kick straight (his first two kicks went out for throw-ins, nowhere near Town players), this led to much head hanging and groaning amongst the Town support. It was shaping up to be a typical away performance which, given the circumstances and links between the clubs, was doubly infuriating. The first 15 minutes were awful, as West Brom were not much cop, but ran around a lot, whereas some of the Town players were somewhere else entirely.

After about 15 minutes, West Brom were awarded a highly dubious free kick near the left edge of the penalty area, about 15 yards in from the touchline. Groves cleared the ball away from Sneekes, though slightly from behind. The referee, Mr Frankland, had already displayed an annoying tendency to be harsh on Town challenges, but to look kindly upon robust Baggie tackles. Sneekes clipped in a low cross to the far post, near the edge of the six-yard box, where Taylor had peeled away to be unmarked. He dived full length to head firmly under and across Coyne into the left-hand corner of the goal. Cue much groaning and wailing from Town supporters.

The goal perked Town up no end – no it didn't. Nothing had been seen of Donovan up to that point, and nothing much more would be. I am convinced he spent most of the game sat in the first row of the main stand. He probably had a blue and white scarf on to keep him warm.

Town had a shot after 24 minutes when Allen (remember him?) about 20 yards out, twisted and turned near the West Brom right edge of the penalty box, before hitting a shot a yard wide. Five minutes later Town probably should have scored. A neat build up on the right resulted in the ball going to Allen and (I think) the ball rebounded to Ashcroft, about 12 yards out near the penalty spot, unmarked. He tried to scissor kick the ball from waist height, but hit the ball into the ground and to the right of the keeper, who was able to save easily. Five or so minutes after that Ashcroft cut in from the right and whacked a shot very wide of the keeper's right-hand post. At around the same time McDermott wellied a 25 yarder, with his left foot, about a foot past the keeper's right angle of the post and bar.

In contrast, West Brom had lots of pressure but no shots, with Coyne not making any saves in the first half. His action moments were to come out and collect through balls and fly-kick back passes. The bald facts appear to show Town having more of the game, but the opposite is true. They were awful, with two or three players showing a distinct lack of commitment. Ashcroft, in particular, was playing like his detractors claim. All his little flick-ons were just over-indulgent nonsense. On days like this I just wish he would flick off. He didn't show much determination and, on the few occasions that Town broke away, could be seen jogging in the centre circle. Allen was almost alone up front and was guilty of being six inches too short. Can't the man grow during a game?

The centre of midfield was okay, with Coldicott producing the sort of display one expects from him, but with added zeal. He played with the enthusiasm one would expect of a returnee. Pouton had little opportunity to attack, as the ball was constantly passing over his head from their centre-backs to our defence (and back again), though he did get one surge in, which was stopped by Sneekes hacking him down from behind. He had left three Baggies trailing in a 25-yard run from the halfway line. The centre of defence didn't do too badly, even if Lever started to look like the Lever of old. We felt a Lever moment coming on any second. Poor old Gallimore was, well, poor. He was incapable of kicking the ball to a Town player, stumbling and bumbling his way through to half-time with several calamitous moments, which were cleared up by Coldicott (who seemed to be doing three jobs in one).

Town were, collectively, poor. There were at least three players who might as well not have been there for all the contribution they made. So the Town eight had done well to keep it down to 1-0 by half time.

2nd half
No changes were made by either side at half time, with Town coming back on to the pitch a couple of minutes early. It was difficult to see who had the reddest ears from the half time "talk".

Town started the second half lackadaisically, failing to clear several crosses. After three minutes of the half, again after failing to properly clear, another calamity befell Gallimore. West Brom whacked in a deep cross from the Town right, which went over their attacker to Gallimore, all alone inside the penalty area. He controlled it poorly and allowed the ball to run back to the West Brom player. Black ran back and rugby tackled the West Brom player to the ground about three yards outside the area, near the edge of box. It was in almost an identical position to the one from which they scored in the first half. Sneekes clipped in a low cross towards Taylor, who was stood about eight yards out, slightly to the right of centre. His first attempt was blocked and as he fell he hooked the ball into the goal. In some ways it was fortunate (as the ball fell to where he had fallen as Coldicott went the other way), but again it was very slack defending.

Town did put some pressure on West Brom after they scored, but I don't recall any shots. I do, though, recall a break away and period of concerted pressure during which Ashcroft stood in the same spot 25 yards out for about 20 seconds. It was almost as if he was deliberately avoiding the ball and/or penalty box.

About five minutes after they scored their second, Town got a free kick about 25 yards out on the (Town) right of their penalty area, near the corner of the box. It would be more accurate to say Ashcroft won the free kick – all those weeks of stumbling pathetically asking for a free kick finally paid off, Mr Podgy. Black curled the free kick into the keeper's top left-hand corner. Shocked and stunned were we, Black curling a free kick just under the bar. The goalie hurt himself in missing the ball - it was his leg, not his pride, apparently.

West Brom shrivelled a bit after Town's goal, though it would be wildly inaccurate to say Town dominated and pressed hard. The game was still very poor. Neither keeper had a save to make until the 74th minute, when Coyne beat away (literally so) a powerful drive from a central position, 25 yards out. It was almost straight at him, but he had very little time to react. Before that West Brom had had a couple of long shots (wide and very wide) and a couple of uninteresting headers.

Pouton started to pick the ball up more and did a couple more surges, both of which were stopped by fouls. After about 10ish minutes of the half Gallimore was finally replaced by Butterfield. He had played miserably and his substitution had arguably been 10 minutes too late - we wouldn't have conceded the second goal if Butterfield had been at left-back.

After about 20 or so minutes Allen was replaced by Clare. Allen received an appreciative round of applause as he hadn't done anything wrong, and had visibly tried. Town appeared to change formation with Donovan playing on the left of a three man forward line. At least that's what it looked like, he may be described elsewhere as playing in the hole (as opposed to supporters wishing he was in a hole), but he was always on the left. It meant Town were strangely lopsided with three players on the left, two of which were right-footed, whereas there was virtually nothing down the right. McDermott and Pouton did try and attack down there, but it meant they had a double workload. West Brom eventually twigged that we were undermanned on the right and started to whack the ball down that channel.

And that resulted in their only other shot on target. With about 15 minutes left a couple of ricochets resulted in McDermott being turned on the right of the area, about 10 yards wide of the goal. The substitute (Evans) was through but Coyne came out quickly to block with his legs.

Around this point the referee finally lost control. He had been weak, some say pusillanimous, all afternoon, taking the easy option all the time (which rarely favoured Town). A whole series of little decisions infuriated the Town players and Coldicott snapped with about five minutes left. McDermott tried to play the ball up the right hand touchline, but a West Brom player stopped it with his hand. The town players stopped for the free kick, but the referee just flapped his arms. West Brom ran up the touchline and put in a dangerous cross which was cleared in front of goal, the ball eventually going out for a throw-in on the halfway line. Pouton and Coldicott ran after the referee complaining and the yellow card was waved at Coldicott, who walked off. Pouton ran after Coldicott and kept him on the pitch. Play continued and the ball went out for another throw. The town supporters were singing "you don't know what you're doing", and so were the Baggies. The referee then realised that he had already booked Coldicott and got the red card out.

A couple of minutes later Pouton surged down the right and was cynically hacked by Sneekes. Just a free kick given and, as it was the third time he done it, this further incensed the Town players and crowd.

A couple of minutes later Sneekes ran with the ball across the middle of the pitch pursued by Clare, who knocked him down. It was almost like a helping nudge as he passed, though with his shoulder. Sneekes fell down as if shot by several snipers and a hullabaloo ensued. The players congregated around Sneekes, with Pouton bestowing knowledge and wisdom freely upon all. The West Bromn full-back (Clements, who is only on loan) ran 20 yards at full speed and pushed Pouton in the chest. More tussling amongst the players, with Lever spending an awfully long time discussing the incident with Sneekes, who, incidentally, looks like Michael Bolton. The result was a yellow card to Clare only. Frankly, Mr Frankland you were a weasel. Sneekes should have been booked for his hair alone.

With a minute or two left, (it was hard to keep track of time in the last 10 minutes as the game went a bit potty) Town won a free kick in an almost identical position to that from which Black had scored. Again Black lined up the free kick. As he did so the referee took an interminable time to arrange the wall to his liking. At the same time Clement and Donovan were running backwards and forwards between the wall and the left-hand post. Black curled the free kick to just under the angle of post and bar. Unfortunately Clement had gone back and headed the ball off the line as the keeper flapped his hands either side of his head. The ball went sideways across the goal and an almighty scramble ensued.

Lever steamed in and won a challenge, pushing the ball forward towards a thicket of players. The Town players jumped up claiming hand ball, a West Brom player lay on the ground and the referee stopped play for ages whilst he received treatment. At the same time as this Butterfield had been off the pitch having his hamstring sprayed. He then limped back. Lever took this break in play as an opportunity to wind up the West Brom keeper, reminding him of his flap at the free kick by crossing his arms and…flapping.

Town had played the last five minutes with two at the back, even Lever went up front, with the usual effect. No further chances fell to either side and West Brom got the victory they wanted, but didn't deserve. Town certainly didn't perform well, and a couple of the team barely tried. There was very little football played, with far too many aimless punts to our "big men" up front. Ashcroft didn't even challenge - is he a closet Baggieboy?

We really have a problem with our left-back. My mother saw a picture of him in a programme and observed that he looked a bit like Norman Wisdom. He doesn't have to play like him. I felt like shouting "Mr Grimsdale" at him today. The Walsall result was announced at the end and there wasn’t much celebrating going on in the Town end. There was anger that we had performed so timidly and, once again, performed a service to a team in trouble. Do we have to be so charitable every year?

Some Town supporters couldn’t even bring themselves to cheer the goal, it had been such an anger-inducing display. It was reminiscent of the Tranmere away game in that respect. The overwhelming feeling "why are we losing to this dross?"

Man of the match was undoubtedly Stacy Coldicott.