I can hear the Pontoon sing

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

6 May 2022

Grimsby 0 Bolton 1

A temperate evening with a light breeze blowing inconsistently across the pitch from sea to land. The ground was very empty until just before kick off when a couple of people strolled in. I counted 65 Bolton supporters as the game was about to kick off, though another 100 came after 15 or 20 minutes (they'd got stuck behind slow-moving joskins on the A180). Only one of the five blocks in the Upper Stones/Smiths/Findus was adequately populated, with the Pontoon about half full. Thus the evening started with a 1st-round-of-the-League-Cup-against-a-3rd-Division-team feel about it.

The players warmed up for 15 minutes by jogging across the pitch with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and 10 minutes of kickabouts. No pre-match entertainment and no little drummer boy, par-rum, pa-pum, pum.

Town lined up in the old familiar comfortable slippers and pipe beside the roaring fire formation, 4-4-2, as follows: Coyne, McDermott, D Smith, Raven, Groves, Butterfield, Coldicott, Pouton, Black, Livingstone and Allen. The substitutes were Croudson, Handyside, A Buckley, Clare and Jeffrey. Groves played at centre-back, Butterfield at right midfield and Lightning Livvo up front.

Bolton also played in a 4-4-2 formation in a light and dark blue kit which, oddly, clashed with the Town kit. Their dark blue was almost black and their shorts, socks and the side of the shirt were all dark blue. It was quite difficult to identify the teams, let alone individual players.

1st Half
Town kicked off at 7:50 towards the Pontoon. Within six seconds they'd kicked it out for a Bolton throw-in. The first quarter of an hour was mainly played in midfield, with Town occasionally breaking away down the right and crossing to a Bolton defender's head. Town were busy, combative and looking quite lively in attack, without actually creating anything. They seemed to be concentrating on "keeping their shape" and ensuring Bolton didn't get into the penalty box.

In this period Bolton had three efforts on goal, all by Frandsen and all from outside the penalty area. His first, after three or four minutes, followed a corner on Town's right which was half cleared back to him. From a narrow angle about 15 yards out, he whacked a curling drive into the near-side netting. It was hard, fast, but inaccurate. About five minutes later a half clearance in midfield fell to Frandsen, just inside the Town half. He surged forward to the edge of the penalty area and, from a very central position with no challenge, he sliced a very powerful drive a foot wide of Coyne's left hand post. Three or four minutes later Bolton were given a free kick about 25 yards out, near the right corner of the penalty box. The ball was rolled sideways and Frandsen really wellied a drive straight into Coyne's stomach. Coyne held it.

After that Bolton only had one more effort/chance. A corner on their right was hit lowish and hard to near the penalty spot. Holdsworth ran across the back of the area and headed a couple of feet over, with Raven a couple of yards behind him. That's all folks. Bolton did nothing else of note. A few forays and breakaways, but that's all.

From the 15th minute onwards Town took control of the game and got the crowd singing with feeling and hope.

Town disrupted some Bolton passing in midfield and played the ball up to Livvo, just outside the centre circle. He turned and went towards the Town left, with Allen crossing to the right in front of him. This created some space on the centre left for Black, who had drifted infield slightly. Livvo played a 10-yard pass to Black who advanced into a big hole in front of the Bolton defence. About 20 yards out, just left of centre Black drove in a low hard shot which he sliced slightly. The ball faded a foot past the keeper's right-hand post. A couple of minutes later Allen was set free down the right touchline. He turned into the box looking for a shooting angle. The effect of this was to draw the defenders over to him to block. This enabled three or four Town players to be unmarked inside the area. Allen chose to roll the ball back to Coldicott, on the edge of the penalty box. With a lot of time, and no Bolton player with five yards of him, Coldicott attempted to side-foot the ball. He hit over the top of the ball which resulted in a weak bobbler to the keeper.

After this, Town were constantly on the attack, their prime method being to hit the ball over the right full-back for Allen to run on to. Allen was constantly flagged for offside by a very irritating linesman in front of the Main Stand. Town got quite a few corners from their attacking, but no real efforts on goal. Allen and Livvo broke down the right touch-line a couple of times and whipped in crosses to the centre of the goal which were hacked clear with a little difficulty. There were several 'moments of danger' with attempts to turn in the box and crosses which were cleared under pressure.

The Bolton keeper annoyed the crowd with his time wasting and moaning. He proved a little dodgy under the high ball, especially when under any pressure. He seemed to be a bit unnerved by 'Big' Bradley Allen jumping near him and twice dropped a catch. The first time Allen jumped at him as he dropped it. So the keeper rolled around and moaned at the referee. The second time a deep hanging cross from Butterfield to the back post was dropped with Allen and Black (those really frightening man mountains) close by. The ball dropped onto Black's thigh and bounced back into the keeper's hands as he fell. The only other half chance was when the keeper hooked a fly-kick to Pouton, about 45 yards out. The keeper was stranded to the right of his goal so Pouton attempted a first-time shot, which went a couple of yards wide of the keeper's right post. I don't count a Black cross which landed on the roof of the net as a chance, though it nearly went in.

Not much extra time was added by the referee and that was it for the first half. Town had been energetic (especially Allen and Livingstone who played as if their contracts depended on it) and more than a match for Bolton, who were a lot worse than they were six months ago. Allen was so up for it he was constantly flagged offside, though he didn't always look offside. The linesman in front of the Main Stand was getting a lot of stick for his decisions. One particularly poor one was just before half time when he gave Livingstone offside for controlling the ball behind the defence. The referee had been fine, just one occasion when Holdsworth conned him into giving a free kick, but all other decisions were correct.

Bolton's game plan appeared to be to hit long diagonal balls over D Smith's head. He coped most of the time, but on two occasions he managed to produced beautiful headed lay offs for Bolton – both times he headed across into the centre of the Town penalty area. Groves was required to cover, which he did with little fuss.

The Pontoon was quite pleased at half time. Town were not recognisable from the shambles of Saturday, there were no huge gaping holes for Bolton to saunter into, the tackling was firm and quick and the forwards were causing the Bolton defence to hack panicky clearances for corners. But we still don't score from corners. Handyside was given an ovation for warming up near us, which he acknowledged with a cheery wave and a smile on his face (and no, doubt a song in his heart too). No-one had stood out, and no-one was having a stinker. They were a team again and the crowd made some noise.

2nd half
There were no substitutions made by either team at half time, though the referee was replaced by the ropey linesman. This had some effect on the game and, ultimately, the blood pressure of the crowd.

The second half started a little like the first, with Town having most of the possession and Bolton breaking away through Frandsen. The first action of note was after 48 minutes when Bolton picked up a loose ball in midfield and Frandsen advanced 25 yards down the centre of the pitch. As he was about to shoot, from just outside the box, Raven extended a Lever-like leg to deflect the ball away for a corner.

The next action occurred in the 54th minute and it was, possibly, the defining moment of the game. Frandsen ponced around with the ball in front of the Findus/Smiths/Stones Stand. He ponced around so long he attracted four Town players to him (Butterfield, McDermott, Pouton and Coldicott), who harried him enough to make him fall over his own feet. The ball ran to Butterfield, who turned round and hit a first-time ball over the Bolton defence to Livvo, totally and utterly unmarked 40 yards out, right in the centre. There were no Bolton players within 10 yards of the Lord of Elbows. He galloped forward to the edge of the penalty box with the keeper visibly undecided whether to come forward or stay back (he came forward stopped, went back, came forward again and flapped his arms a couple of times). Livvo decided to score a spectacular left-footed curling volley with the outside of his boot. He sliced his volley a couple of feet wide of the keeper's right-hand post. The whole ground (except the 150 Bolton supporters) were on their feet with their heads in the hands. Livvo was on his knees with his head in his hands. A really bad miss. At about the same time Bolton replaced Holdsworth (big and fat) with Ricketts (big and fast).

A couple of minutes later a rather aimless high ball into the right side of the Bolton penalty box produced another chance. Livvo challenged in his own style (launching his body towards the area where the ball might go, if it landed on the defender's nose). The ball dropped about 12 yards out, about 10 yards to the right of goal. Allen spun and hit a first-time twisting volley with his left foot. The shot went across the keeper low, to his left. The result? Reader, he parried it. The ball fell to the left-back who scuttled it away for a Town throw.

At around this point the referee (that is the former useless linesman) became noticeable. He booked Pouton for dissent when Pouton complained about being fouled (he was and didn't get a free kick). The referee then proceeded to give everything Bolton's way and to come down hard on any Town misdemeanours (especially if there wasn't one). Around the hour mark Allen, some other players and the crowd claimed a penalty when Allen attempted to knock the ball past and over a defender in the left corner of the penalty box. The ball hit the Bolton defender and came down at a very suspiciously sharp angle. Of course no penalty was given.

Pouton started to get a bit of space in midfield and tried a couple of surges (no stepovers this time): the first one saw him get to the edge of the box and his shot was charged down, the second was….exactly the same. Bolton's (all ex-Premiership) defenders were efficient and intelligent enough to block shots from the edge of the area. None of the Town players were given time to set themselves for a shot within 25 yards of goal.

Bolton did manage a couple of attacks, mostly through breakaways (as Town were dominating the possession). The nearest they came was from a corner on the Town right. The ball was played to the far post, there was a bit of a scramble and the ball fell to Rankin, with his back to goal, about five yards out. McDermott ensured he couldn't turn and Coyne came over the top and punched the ball away to the left. The ball didn't go out, it was crossed back and Ricketts tried a spectacular flying overhead kick from eight yards out. He mishit it and the ball skewed off way to the right. The ball stayed in play, was crossed back and eventually cleared. When I said nearest I literally meant the nearest Bolton came to the goal, not as in they nearly scored.

In the 70th minute Town broke forward on the left. The ball was worked across to Pouton, in space on the centre right. He advanced 10 yards to somewhere near the edge of the penalty area. He tried a drive which hit a Bolton defender (Frandsen, I think) the ball rebounded back past Pouton to a Bolton attacker. Frandsen's momentum took him past Pouton to receive the ball back. He ran 50 yards down the centre of the pitch with the Town defenders retreating with the strikers. When Frandsen got 25 yards out he slowed, awaited some movement from the strikers and slipped a perfectly weighted pass down the centre, between the centre-backs, for Ricketts who had run across Raven. Ricketts took the ball on five yards, just to the (Town) left of centre and hit a low right-footed shot just to the right of Coyne. A classic counterattack and one where it is hard to fault any individual, after all Raven is a slower runner that Ricketts. Ricketts celebrated his goal by slowly walking to the Pontoon with his hands outstretched in a 'come on' gesture, he then cupped his hands to his ears and gave a subtle gesture again. This did not endear him to the Town support and should have resulted in him being booked – so, obviously the referee booked Raven. I presume for dissent, though it could well have been for playing in a striped shirt.

Two minutes later, after a Bolton corner from the right was cleared to the left of the penalty area, Ricketts ran into the back of Pouton and bundled him over. The referee gave Town a free kick. Ricketts then proceeded to jab his finger at Pouton, push him back down, walk away, turn round and verbally assault him. Pouton is not slow to join in some verbal argy bargy and responded in kind from a prostrate position. When he got up and walked past, Ricketts raised his right elbow and rubbed it in Pouton's face. Pouton went down on his haunches holding his face. Now I am sure you are expecting the rest of this paragraph to include the words "and Ricketts was sent off". Don't be silly. The referee and linesman were five yards away, staring at the entire incident, with unobstructed views. The referee walked over to the linesman, had a short discussion and……walked away. He didn't even speak to Ricketts. The non-decision was so crass the Pontoon could barely raise an indignant roar, such was the brazen cowardice of the replacement referee. The elbow may not have been Livvo-esque in its ferocity, it was a rub and a dink, rather than a whack, but it was still an elbow. And everyone in the ground saw it. We all felt like Fred Trueman: I don't know what’s going off out there.

A couple of minutes later Town made two substitutions – Clare and Jeffrey for Black and Allen. This resulted in a change of formation to 4-3-3, with Jeffrey on the left, Clare the right up front. This also saw Town go even more direct with a lot more high balls to Livvo's head.

Immediately after the substitutions, a high ball into the centre saw the ball bounce off to Livvo, who, from 20 yards, hit the clock with a swinging right-foot volley. In the last 10 minutes Jeffrey hit a dipping volley over the keeper's left angle of post and bar, from the right corner of the box; Clare hooked a volleyed cross over from the right and Livvo (I think) headed wide. In the last minute Raven headed straight, and weakly, at the keeper from 12 yards out from a corner on Town's right. These were half chances really, Town didn't particularly create anything substantial when they went to 4-3-3 and whacked the ball forward. During the four minutes of added time Town's only effort was the Raven header, the ball was wellied forward to no avail.

Bolton did a lot of time wasting on Town's left, winning a succession of throw-ins when D Smith kept heading the ball out. Sometime in the last 10 minutes Coyne had to make a save, when a Bolton free kick from the right was flicked on at the near post by Coldicott. Coyne flung himself horizontally to his left and clawed the ball away from inside of the post for a corner.

The last five minutes were played in a fine drizzle, which is an inconsequential matter, but you may wish to know that. The replacement referee was booed off the pitch at the end, as you would expect, and the Town players got an appreciative round of applause. Both were just rewards for their efforts. Groves and McDermott were probably the most proficient Town players, though they were not spectacular. Coldicott destroyed superbly, but distributed dreadfully; Livvo ran tirelessly, was a constant thorn in Bolton's side, but never looked like scoring. Pouton was better, though by no means great. Butterfield was largely anonymous, but he did form a solid wedge with McDermott that was unpassable. It was what managers call a hard-working and honest performance from Town; in other words it was okay, like under Buckley but with a bit for directness.

It was one of those games where Town deserved the point more than the opposition, who barely deserved anything. Take away Frandsen and they are very, very average. On a par with Sheffield Wednesday. But, there again, Town deserved nothing from the Gillingham game. That was an "appalling victory", this was a "good defeat". Swings and roundabouts, eh?

The most important thing from last night was the performance – they got the crowd singing and roaring again. That's what's been missing recently, hasn't it.