No long balls please, we’re Grimsby

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

3 April 2022

A bright, clear afternoon with no discernible wind. The pitch looked a bit sodden, which was borne out by the number of times the players (especially Handyside) slipped. The Town contingent numbered around 250-300, clustered together in the lower tier of the stand to the right as seen on TV. The giant Jumbotron TV screen listed the teams but, as usual, there were errors. Coldicott was displayed as Caldicott, with both Butterfield and Livvo shown as wearing the same number. Standards must be slipping at the once mighty.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Gallimore, Groves, Handyside, Donovan, Coldicott, Butterfield, D Smith, Livingstone, Nielsen. Substitutes were Croudson, Burnett, Clare, Raven, Allen. Bizarrely, Butterfield played in central midfield with Coldicott, and Livvo played up front. The rest were where you'd expect them to be. Like last year, Town played in their full first team kit – none of this nonsense about changing kits because of clashing socks. The referee was Uriah Rennie's competent and fair younger brother. I cannot recall him making a poor decision all game.

1st Half

Blackburn kicked off towards the Town support and piddled about for a while. Nothing much happened in the first couple of minutes and the first action came about through inept play by their defence. The centre-backs played the ball about to each other and, finally, Short, about 30 yards out, put his foot on the ball, thinking he was some kind of Handyside-esque playmaker. He stumbled and Nielsen immediately pounced and ran off with the ball towards the left corner of the penalty box. Nielsen scuffed a right-footed shot from about 16 yards and the ball rolled easily into Filan's midriff as he leant lazily to his right. The Dude should have done better.

There weren't many more Town efforts on goal in the first half, so I might as well reel them off now. After about 15 minutes, Nielsen received the ball about 10 yards inside the Blackburn half, on the right. He turned and ran at the defence, beating a couple of players, ran into a couple more, checked back, turned again, rode a couple of wrestling challenges, took on the right-back, beat him and ran into the area. He crossed from the bye-line and it was hacked away at the near post by a couple of Blackburn defenders. It was a replica of his first Town moment, I suppose it was a "Nielsen moment", which we will all be looking forward to.

About five minutes later, he did it again; breaking into the area on the Town right and crossing to the near post, this time it was hacked away for a corner. The only other time Town threatened was when another move down the right (this time involving Coldicott and Donovan with some that old-style religion, one-touch passing and movement) resulted in a cross to the far post. It was half cleared and the ball was worked back to Livvo about 20 yards out to the left of goal. His attempted half volley deflected off a defender and looped straight to Filan.

During the middle of the half, Town played some decent possession football which saw Blackburn's defence exposed on the flanks a few times. Unfortunately, they managed to block crosses for corners or intercept at the near post. It will take me rather longer to describe what happened at the other end. Blackburn caused Town a lot of problems with a lot of running from midfielders past their strikers. Town were stretched on numerous occasions and Groves, in particular, was having an extremely difficult afternoon, rarely getting the better of Ostenstad.

Their first chance came in the first 10 minutes after they retained possession on the Town left and drew the Town defence across. The ball, of course, was swiftly moved to the right, with their left-back driving into the penalty area. He attempted a cross shot from near the corner of the area, which hit Groves and dropped into a big space about 12 yards out, just to the right of goal. Hignett smashed a first-time drive across Coyne towards the left side of the goal. Coyne flung himself full length across to his left and parried the ball away. Brilliant save No. 1.

More pressure was put on Town as the game retreated closer and closer to Coyne's goal. The next chance fell to Ostenstad, who received a high dinked pass about 15 yards out on the right of the penalty area. He turned and barged his way past Groves and McDermott, getting in a low hard shot to the near post. Coyne spread himself to his right and punched the ball aside. Good save, though one he should have made.

Blackburn started to win lots of corners which, of course, Town struggled to clear. Most were sent to the far post towards Short and Berg, with most resulting in miscued headers or nick of time glancing headers from the Town defence. McDermott had to clear at least one off the line, following a scramble at the far post. I think this was very close to half time.

Coyne had to make several more superb stops. He nearly ruined one of these – Blackburn retained possession on the Town left and a little channel ball between Gallimore and Groves released someone to the bye-line. He (whoever he was) pulled the ball back to somewhere beyond the penalty spot at the far post. Another one of their expensive, but curiously anonymous, midfielders ran in and tried to side-foot a precise shot into the top left-hand corner. Coyne leapt, yet again, to his left and caught the ball whilst horizontal, dropped it but managed to fall on the ball as he landed.

There's more. Yet again, Blackburn attacked in numbers on the Town left, a ball was returned to a player about 25 yards out near the corner of the penalty box. He sent in a low, curling cross towards the near post. Several players ran into the six-yard box, Ostenstad got in front of Groves, swung a boot, missed and the ball deflected off his knee. Coyne sort of spread himself and the ball hit his legs and was scrambled away to the left of goal. And there's still more from our heroic Custardian. For the umpteenth time, Blackburn had players unmarked near the edge of the penalty box on the left. Someone hit a low drive through a crowd of players, to Coyne's right. Coyne did not appear to see the ball until very late, but still managed to divert the ball past the right-hand post with his right foot. It was a blinding reaction stop. Brilliant save No. 2.

I know what you’re thinking "Did he save six shots or only five….." To tell you the truth I forgot myself in all that excitement. Town were feeling lucky.

These were all Coyne's most show-stopping saves; he also had to do the usual blocks and stops and scrambles, mainly in the six-yard box near both posts. As you can probably tell, the first half was Blackburn against Coyne, with others mucking in occasionally. Only Handyside of the back four was getting the better of his opponent, Hignett, who was peripheral to the action. Gallimore and Groves were having torrid times. Gallimore, for the sheer number of opponents he had to cope with (it was as if they had decided he was the weak link), and Groves because Ostenstad was higher, stronger and faster.

As regards other action, well Livvo went off for a couple of minutes after being laid out in a clash of heads with Berg – Livvo now knows what it's like to be "Livvo’d". That's it, nothing else. Town were not always inept, just often. Most of Town's possession was wasted with aimless long balls, the worst culprits being Groves, Gallimore and Butterfield. What pressure Town did apply came about through the application of some basic Town principles – passing along the grounds. There were moments of hope with D Smith and Donovan occasionally attacking the full-backs and, when Town did pass the ball to each other, Blackburn were a bit jittery. Of all the Town players, Butterfield was the worst and looked like a little boy lost. He was far too slow in mind and foot and rarely near the ball. His first contribution to the game sums up his performance – with the ball bouncing on the edge of the area, he dillied and dallied (and lost his way and didn't know where to roam), allowing a Blackburn player to nip in and shoot. Fortunately, it hit someone's back and went over.

Town were very lucky to be equal at halt time. Without Coyne's outstanding performance they would have been four down at least. If changes were to be made (and they should have been) at half time, Butterfield had to come off. Town were like a team with a player short, as opposed to a team with short players.

2nd Half

No changes were made by either team at half time, although the scoreboard finally got around to correcting Butterfield's shirt number, just so the home supporters could identify our least effective player.

As in the first half the first chance fell to Town. A neat breakaway down the Town right, involving Nielsen, Coldicott and Donovan ended with Donovan knocking a 10-yard pass down the inside right channel to Nielsen about 25 yards out. Nielsen turned into the area, outpaced the defender and hit a hard cross low to Livingstone six yards beyond the far post. Livvo side-footed wide as the keeper and a defender threw themselves before him.

Forget about Town for the next 20 minutes, I can't remember more than two passes being strung together. I have a vague recollection of a bit of a scramble at the foot of Coyne's left-hand post after about 50 minutes. I think, probably, following an attack on our left (after all, most of them were). Although Blackburn didn't create many more chances, they still totally dominated the game as Town got worse and worse. The distribution from the back, if anything, deteriorated. That didn't seem possible, but it happened.

After 55 or so minutes, Blackburn finally scored. They played some one-touch passes on the Town right about 30 yards out and won a free kick. They took it quickly, so some of the Town players were out of position. The ball was chipped to the bottom right-hand corner of the penalty area. Ostenstad had lost Groves, which enabled him to control the ball, drag it back to his right foot and place a deep cross eight or nine yards beyond the far post. Flitcroft ran in and stretched forward to side foot a volley across Coyne into the right-hand side of the goal. That familiar sinking feeling returned to the Town supporters. It had been coming.

Town just did not look like scoring but no blame should be attached to the front two – the service was atrocious. Town required a midfielder who could pass accurately and see openings – someone like…mmmm Burnett? Obviously, when the substitution was finally made after about 70 minutes, Allen came on for D Smith. As some Town supporters said "I can't believe it's not Butterfield". The substitution resulted in Town switching to a 4-3-3 formation with Butterfield still at the very centre of midfield. The poor lad didn't get any better and I can't recall Town threatening from open play after this. In fact, the only two chances Town had in the second half were very close to the end when Groves, at the far post 10 yards out, rose above a defender and glanced a header a very long way wide. Livvo also sent a header a long way wide from a cross from the Town right.

Town got near their goal on only a couple of other occasions. One was when a ball was lobbed to Livvo at the far post, he controlled it with his hand and promptly fell over. His plea for a penalty was more than a little cheeky. The other was when D Smith had a shot from the edge of the area which deflected wide for a corner, this came after a good move down the right when Nielsen sent Donovan free inside the area. Donovan rolled the ball back to a huge space in the middle, 20 yards out, D Smith ran across Coldicott to shoot when he should really have left it to the lethal bullet-headed destroyer. That is all from Town. Obviously, this happened before D Smith was substituted.

Blackburn had three or four more good chances, the first of which came from a cross to the near post from Town's, left about 20 yards out. Ostenstad again ran in front of Groves and glanced a header towards the far post. Coyne sprung to his left and punched the ball away spectacularly. Brilliant save No. 3. Some considered Coyne to be showing off by now. Livvo hooked a cross away from the line at the near post after Gallimore had allowed the right winger to run into the penalty area. Typically, Gallimore backed off for 15 to 20 yards, refusing to stand his ground. The winger got to the bye-line and crossed to a big bunch of players at the near post. Fortunately for us, Livvo was the biggest of the bunch, though perhaps not the pick.

It wasn't until Jansen replaced McAteer that Blackburn threatened again. I don't count a Bjornebye free kick from 30 yards which sliced away as it never looked like going in and, to quote Alan Green, "It was woeful". Jansen's first threat came a few minutes after he trotted onto the pitch. He was allowed several aeons of time and hectares of space about 25 yards out to the right of goal. He zapped a very, very hard shot just past the angle of Coyne's left-hand post. Coyne at that moment started to look very small in comparison to the goal.

With about 10 to 15 minutes to go, Burnett replaced Donovan in a straight swap with Butterfield still remaining in the centre of midfield. He touched the ball two or three times only, mainly through tackles. Town were just not playing through midfield. As Town pressed by lumping the ball forward and sending more and more players further up the pitch, Blackburn threatened on the counterattack. Coldicott was dispossessed near the half-way line on the Town left and the ball was eventually played to Ostenstad about 10 yards inside the Town half. He turned and ran at the heart of defence, drawing McDermott over. As he reached the centre, he played the ball into the space which McDermott had just vacated. Jansen ran on and took the ball into the area, two Town defenders threw themselves towards him as he tried a shot from 10 yards, the ball hit Coyne on the chest as he spread himself at the near post and the ball was hacked clear. There were a couple more dangerous moments on the break but, fortunately, the passes were poor and, on one occasion, their forward stood on the ball and fell over.

With about 5 minutes left, Raven (stop shaking your head) replaced McDermott and Town appeared to go to a 3-4-3 formation. Immediately he came on the pitch, Raven was turned and beaten for pace on the Town right with the ball being intercepted at the near post. Raven was not seen near the Town goal again as he spent the last five minutes encamped in the Blackburn goalmouth as Town lumped high balls forward. Town won a lot of free kicks and corners but none of the resulting headers.

As the minutes went by, Town seemed to have less and less players in defence, such that by the end they seemed to be playing in a 2-2-6 formation, making them ripe for a sucker punch on the break. At the start of the two minutes of added time, Carsley (their Coldicott look-a-like who'd only been on the pitch a couple of minutes) robbed the genuine article just inside the Blackburn half on the Town left. He ran forward a few yards, spotted that Jansen was totally unmarked on the Town right and stroked a pass over to him. Butterfield, the last Town player between Carsley and goal, was clearly panic-stricken and froze with fear. He neither ran towards Carsley nor made his way over to cover Jansen. So Jansen had 30 yards to run into with no-one near. He took the ball into the area and, as Coyne came out, Jansen smashed a drive over Coyne into the top corner. Of course, that really did seal the game.

Town didn't deserve anything from this game. Apart from Coyne and Handyside, Town were inferior in every department. The strikers had no service whatsoever, just aimless punts, which is one way of describing the midfield. Butterfield was, quite simply, out of his depth in central midfield and the manager should have dealt with that very early on. The failure to act did Town, and Butterfield, no favours. The last five minutes were weird, what with Town ending with six strikers and playing route-one football (but without style). This game is best forgotten about. The thing that really hurt was the hope, the false hope, raised by holding them to 0-0 at half time and only being 1-0 down up to the 90th minute. Holding out hope for a lucky goal that we knew, really, wouldn’t come. But it might…..but it never does, does it?

Still, Coyne was brilliant.

Man of the match – obviously it is Butter…. Coyne.