Slip Sliding Away

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

25 February 2022

In the town where it is permanently 1975 the weather was temperate and vaguely autumnal, with grey broken clouds. Town warmed up in the usual way with Lennie Lawrence beaming benignly from a corner flag. There were about 300 Town supporters in the left-hand corner of the big stand behind the goal on the left as viewed on TV. At least we were spared the open toilet and pigeon droppings this time.

There was a very curious tannoy announcement which informed the crowd that the Barnsley Juniors had won Liverpool that morning. We presumed that they beat Liverpool Juniors at football, not won the city in a hoop-la.

Town lined up in what is rapidly becoming the usual away formation – 5-3-2 – as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Bloomer, Groves, Handyside, Gallimore, Butterfield, Coldicott, Campbell, Allen and Clare. Subs were Croudsen, Jeffery, Donovan, Pouton and Rowan. Bloomer played as the left centre-back with Groves in the middle. Coldicott appeared to be the most central of the midfielders, with Butterfield to his right. Barnsley appeared to be playing 4-4-2, with Big Thing Dyer and even Bigger Thing Shipperley up front. Appropriate, as the Barnsley shirt sponsor is, hilariously, Big Thing. That's nearly as bad as Chuppa Chups.

1st Half
Town kicked off away from the Town supporters. As a variation on the usual theme, the ball was eventually passed to Handyside who carefully chipped it out of play for a goal-kick, rather than a throw-in. The game started in an extremely low key atmosphere, with the only crowd noise emanating from a small knot of Town supporters singing a "witty ditty" about hating Yorkies (and Donovan wasn't yet on the pitch). No atmosphere and no intensity on the pitch. It started like an end-of-season kick about and rarely raised itself thereafter.

Town had the better of the first ten minutes, playing occasional neat tidy football through midfield. There were a couple of shots from Allen (weak, straight at the keeper from 20 yards) and Campbell (firmer, but straight at the keeper from 20 yards from the right-hand edge of the penalty area. It was parried for a corner.).

The first chance of any note to either side came in about the eighth minute after Town kept possession on their right in the centre of the pitch. Butterfield chipped a first-time, curling pass over the top of the Barnsley defence in between their left-back and centre-half. Coldicott ran on from midfield with a defender, who missed the ball as it bounced over him, leaving our bullet-headed hero alone on the corner of the six-yard box. Coldicott tried to dink the ball over the keeper, who parried it back. The ball got trapped between Coldicott's legs, which in turn got trapped between the keeper's arms. They all fell over and they couldn't put Humpty together again. The ball was cleared.

If you want to read anything positive about Town's performance, don't bother to read on.

At around the same time, Barnsley had their first opportunity. A cross from the Town right was headed a yard past Coyne's left-hand post by Shipperley. Handyside had leant into Shipperley to knock him off balance, rather than challenging for the ball and the cross had resulted from some very slack play by Town in their own penalty area. Usual story, no-one taking responsibility to clear.

The next 20 minutes were really quite dull. There were incidents and accidents, but neither side looked like scoring. Campbell and Butterfield tried long-range efforts which would have gone in if they'd been on target and the keeper had popped into BHS for a cup of delicious hot chocolate. Town won a few corners after some typical Town interplay, but you know what that means….all together now "We never……."

Barnsley kept trundling forward or rather, in the case of Dyer, sprinting in their usual way. Either whack it to Shipperley's head for Dyer to run on to, or whack it over the top for Dyer to run on to. Their favoured route was down the Town left as it was clear to anyone watching that Gallimore was not at all comfortable as a wing-back. Barnsley had loads of corners, but nothing much came of them, just a couple of long range efforts which didn't go close. Their number 17 was especially Pouton-esque in his ability to slice high and wide from 20 yards. One effort was only a couple of feet away from being a throw-in. The nearest they came to scoring was when a player took on Gallimore and pulled the cross back to about 15 yards out at the near post. The resulting shot was sliced and the ball ballooned up and over Groves at the far post to Dyer, about a yard out. Groves turned and, with Coyne, they forced Dyer to run away from goal. Danger over. For a couple of minutes anyway.

Barnsley resurrected their corner routine of six months ago – have someone standing alone on the edge of the Town box and pass it to them. Town fell for it yet again. From a corner on Town's left, the ball was indeed tapped to an unmarked player, who chipped it towards a bunch of players about five or six yards beyond the far post. From a very, very narrow angle, Chettle, unmarked, headed firmly and high over Coyne, who scrambled across his line. The ball ended in the net along with Coyne and Dyer, who had been standing on the goal line unmarked.

It was all very messy, but the ball appeared to cross the line before it hit Dyer. A pathetic goal to concede. Not for the first time, Town players had switched off at a set piece and seemed amazed that Barnsley had not taken five minutes to get ready. The very next attack almost brought another Barnsley goal. I cannot remember which incident it was as I, like most of the Town fans, lost some interest in the game – 'cos we'd lost, right?

The rest of the half was a little tedious, Barnsley breakaways after Town possession. Dyer should have scored a couple before half time. Firstly, he tried to curl a right-footed chip over Coyne into the top right-hand corner. Coyne easily tipped the ball over the bar. It was a good save, but not difficult. Dyer then produced a fine turn in the area after Shipperley had headed on another long punt. Dyer, with his back to goal, turned inside Handyside (who fell over) and, from around the penalty spot, hooked a volley a few inches past Coyne's right-hand post. As Trevor Brooking would say "He’s done all the hard work…." But I wasn't a little disappointed with it.

Clare produced a couple of superb turns just before half time. The first resulted in a throw-in and the second in a cross to the near post, just behind Allen. The ball rolled out to Campbell, who sliced a shot wide. The only other danger that Town created was when a deep cross from the left bounced beyond Barnsley's far post. McDermott sprinted into the area and headed across goal towards the other post. There was a bit of a scramble and the ball ended up in Row V, after Butterfield tried a shot from the edge of the area. A high spot for any Town supporter was a quite brilliant recovery tackle by McDermott after Dyer was set free inside the Town half. This followed a terrible pass from Campbell which set up a Barnsley counter-attack.

It was tediously predictable stuff from both teams. Town eventually conceded a goal to dull, organised opponents in a typical away performance. Neat and tidy, but never getting anywhere near goal. The lack of width, especially on the left, hindered the attacking momentum. Allen was constantly making darting runs up front, but either the pass was poor, not made, late, or he was eased away by bigger, faster defenders. Bloomer was the only Town defender to match Dyer for pace and distinguished himself with some tenacious tackling and tracking.

Three questions puzzled the Town supporters at half time – where was Campbell on the pitch? why was Clare on the pitch? and would Town players put longer studs in their boots? (as they were constantly slipping over)

2nd Half
No changes were made by either team at half time, though it was noticeable that Barnsley played more quickly and hustled Town more.

Nothing at all happened in the first five minutes, until the Barnsley keeper fly-kicked straight down the middle. Groves strode forward, alone with no challengers, and missed the ball. It bounced towards the edge of Town's penalty area, with Shipperley and Handyside running across from the Town right. Shipperley chested the ball and moved across to the Town left, Handyside slipped (that answered the question about the studs). From about 15 yards, Shipperley hit a low right-foot shot across Coyne into the right-hand corner of the net. We might as well have gone home then but, as it had started raining, we thought we'd stay and keep dry.

Lawrence's response was to take off our fastest and most effective central defender. Bloomer was replaced by Donovan and Town switched to 4-4-2. Butterfield played right-wing with Donovan on the left-wing. Brilliant Holmes, that'll fool 'em. Donovan put in one of his specialist away performances, summed up in an incident where his jellyfish and scarecrow tendencies combined. Set free on the left, he ambled forward until a Barnsley player got near him, when he looked up to pick out someone to cross to, swung at the ball, slipped over and sliced the cross not even into the stand – it barely reached the advertising boards.

Town actually played a bit better in this formation, as they gained more possession and looked dangerous until they reached the edge of the penalty. Are you getting a sense of déjà vu reading that sentence?

After about 55 to 60 minutes, Clare was replaced by Rowan in a straight swap. This certainly perked Town's play up as Rowan was more direct and more aware of the position of his team-mates. You could say he was spatially aware – oh, I just did. He actually looked up and passed. He had a very good first 10 minutes on the pitch, linking well with Allen in particular. Unfortunately, although these links got the ball from defence to attacking positions, the crosses, mainly from Butterfield and Donovan, were poor. Déjà vu again, eh.

The best Town move of the match came from a series of one-touch passes, with movement, involving Allen, Rowan and McDermott. This resulted in Campbell, from the edge of the box and in the centre, volleying a yard over the bar. Rowan was particularly involved in this move. He's a hit!

After about 65 minutes, Butterfield was replaced by Jeffery. This enabled Donovan to stand idly on the right-wing rather than the left. Of course, Jeffery, being a right-footed centre-forward, played as a left-winger. No criticism for Jeffery as he worked very hard, tracking back and doing all the things you'd expect someone to do in that position – defensively. He still can't cross or shoot though. He did have a shot, but it went wide. No-one showed any interest as it never looked like going anywhere near the goal.

Barnsley efforts. Or should that be the Dyer efforts. Or should that be the dire efforts. He really should have scored a hat trick. He headed a couple of yards wide when he was eight yards out and unmarked following a cross from the Town left. Again, unmarked, and about 10 yards out right in the centre, he hooked a flying volley a couple of yards wide of Coyne's right hand post. His third miss was when he was set free down the Town centre right, he cut inside the centre half (Groves, I think) and sliced the ball wide of Coyne's left-hand post.

His fourth failure to score in the second half was really a good save by Coyne, rather than a miss (he only made two in the entire game). Town lost the ball on their right and it was quickly chipped into the space behind McDermott, who had gone forward to attack at this time. Dyer outpaced Groves (I think), cut inside and hit a low shot across Coyne to his left. Coyne parried the ball and it rolled slowly towards the goal. Gallimore jogged back and performed a Beardsley-esque stepover (not to be confused with a Pouton stepover) and chipped a clearance to Jeffery on the halfway line. Jeffery turned and ran at the full-back and…….well nothing happened as the ball eventually reached Donovan.

I have a vague recollection of Dyer skewing another shot wide from the edge of the penalty area – it's only a vague recollection. I just wanted the game to end by that point. The last Barnsley attempt was in the last few minutes when the substitute, Corbo (some kind of South American full-back with the appropriate hair), drove a snap shot wide of Coyne's left-hand post from about 25 yards.

In the last five or six minutes Town exerted some pressure and had a couple of shots from outside the area which didn't go anywhere near goal. Perhaps the worst of these was when Groves hit a superb 50-yard pass out of defence straight to Allen's toe. Allen turned inside the defender, ran into space about 20 yards out from goal and dragged his shot 10 yards wide. That moment summed up Town. Quite capable of getting there but not capable of doing anything positive when they do.

The very last action of the game, at the end of three minutes' stoppage time, was a Town corner on our right. It was hit to the far post, where Groves headed firmly towards the centre of the goal. The keeper parried and the ball fell loose, four or five yards out. As Allen and Rowan advanced, the referee blew for full time. At least we didn't waste a precious goal, then.

A curious game played in a curious atmosphere – it was as if the result didn't matter to either team or set of fans. The Barnsley supporters created an atmosphere as soporific as Blundell Park on a particularly somnambulant afternoon. As for the two teams, one looked like a team that would finish ninth and the other looked like a decent second division team – make your own mind up which was which. Barnsley were not as good as they were last season, and they weren't even impressive then. Without Hignett they are nothing special. We should have got a 0-0 draw out of this, but two moments of pathetic defending literally gave Barnsley the game. Town were solid-ish for half an hour at 5-3-2, but once Barnsley scored they started to look a little disorganised, unsure whether to push up or not. The switch to 4-4-2 initially sparked Town into looking more dangerous but, as usual, it rather petered out.

Individually, I have to say that Campbell had a very poor game and didn't do anything to suggest he is better than Pouton with the ball and he is not as strong, physically. The rescue helicopters are still sweeping the Pennines looking for Donovan, who was missing in action. Butterfield had a tendency to hit first-time balls forward without looking and this resulted in our "big" forwards failing to out-jump Barnsley's big things. His crossing was up to its usual standard and he was far too willing to shoot from 30 yards, wasting quite a few attacking possibilities by wildly whacking it into the stands. McDermott and Allen, in particular, took a dim view of his inability to look up. The introduction of Rowan raised interest and lowered the ball. The conclusion to draw from this game is – sell Clare, keep Rowan.

Handyside and Groves had inconsistent games as they both had moments where they lost concentration and could not recover through lack of speed. Handyside looked about two thirds of the way back to full effectiveness, but he had no pace and struggled in the last 15 minutes. However, his use of the ball is still good and he brought the ball out of defence well. It's a pity that no-one (except Allen) further up the pitch bothered to move so that he could pass to them.

Forgettable game, forgettable result in what is already a season we want to forget.

Man of the Match – John McDermott. Faultless.