Silent Drubbings

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

28 June 2022

A beautiful, cloudless day with a windless chill in the air. The pitch looked to be on the verge of cutting up, especially on the Smiths/Stones/Findus side and there were pock marks dotted around. The Osmond Stand was very sparsely populated – the census counter on my right counted 103 Crewe supporters. The rest of the ground wasn't overpopulated either, though the temporary stand betwixt Pontoon and Stones/Smiths/Findus was full of identically clad under-10s. They obviously weren't regulars as they were excited and tried to get the famous Blundell Park rumble going by drumming their feet on the floor. Perhaps they misunderstood – that's the famous Blundell Park grumble.

The players warmed up in their usual way and the 'missing in action' were quickly noted – no McDermott, no Handyside. Nielsen had found his golden boots again and Fostervold's hair had grown another couple of centimetres. Far, far away in the distance a curious sight was observed – one of the Crewe players was wearing a red headscarf! Of course, it was Sodje (his name, not a curse).

Town lined up in Lennie's favoured formation, 4-3-1-2 as follows: Coyne, Butterfield, Gallimore, Groves, Enhua, Coldicott, Burnett, Campbell, Donovan, Livingstone and Nielsen. The substitutes were Croudson, R Smith, Fostervold, Willems and Jeffrey. Butterfield, thankfully, played as a normal right-back and Donovan played in his hole.

Fashion show corner - Coyne wore his lemon top, which contrasted nicely with the referee's green and black 'number'. And the referee was the smallest I've seen; there is obviously no minimum height restriction for association football officials then. The Crewe goalkeeper, Bankole (former bench sitter for Town) wore an extravagant purple top with a broad white stripe across his chest. The Pontoon pondered long upon the appropriate description of his top. Someone came up with "grape", though we were unsure what variety. Finally it was decided that it was Ribena-coloured. I'm sure he'll be passing that shirt on to his children and his children's children.

1st half
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon and, boy, what a start. Town harried, hassled and pressed Crewe from the off. Within one minute Bankole had gathered the ball and calmly thrown it out to Jack, out on their left. Butterfield ran up and intercepted this lazy throw-out and crossed towards Livingstone at the far post. The ball passed over the Lumpen One and rolled out towards the touchline. Campbell ran across in front of a Crewe player and crossed toward the near post. The ball was half cleared out of the area and Donovan attempted a shot from 20 yards. It hit Livingstone and dribbled out for a goal kick. A minute later Bankole finally got around to kicking the ball (every goal kick took a minute as he slowly walked round his goal, picked up the ball and walked back around his goal the other way to the opposite side).

A minute or so later Nielsen tricked and barged his way past Sodje near the corner flag between Pontoon and Main Stand. He crossed low to the near post, too close to the keeper, so no-one challenged. Then Bankole dropped the ball so Livingstone slid in and hurt himself and became the lumpen, limping one. It was already obvious (after 4 minutes) that Livvo was having one of those frequent "Livvo" days when he is always a yard too slow in foot and brain. Willing, but unable.

Crewe got in to the Town half once in the first 10 minutes. Probably by mistake with a misplaced clearance. They were truly awful, by far the most inept team to have visited Blundell Park in many years (and I am including Town on a bad day and Carlisle). It is no exaggeration to say they didn't string two passes together. Town's pressure play (literally running up and harrying the Crewe player in possession) resulted in Crewe simply passing the ball to Town. Bankole, despite being massive, couldn't kick the ball far or with any power or accuracy. This resulted in Town getting possession back before the half way line.

The Pontoon were chortling to themselves how easy it was and how many goals Town were going to score (four was the favourite). Then, after a dozen minutes, Rivers, under the Stones/Findus/Smiths stand, tapped the ball past Gallimore, ran round him and sprinted off down the wing. Enhua ran across and bundled the ball off the impertinent midlander. The next three or four minutes saw Crewe almost spring the offside trap – only badly directed passes stopped the big centre-forward, Hulse, running free at Coyne. As against Sheffield Wednesday, Enhua believed merely raising his arm would deliver an appropriate response from the linesman.

Generally it was still all Town, to an embarrassing degree too. Campbell, in particular, was irrepressible. After 18 or 19 minutes, Nielsen (I think) robbed Sodje near the bye-line on Town's right and pulled the ball across goal. Livingstone came steaming in at Livvo pace and, from 10 yards out, pulled a shot back across the goal, to the keeper's left. The keeper watched as the ball rolled past him, but Sodje ran across and blocked the ball on the line. There should really have been no opportunity for such a clearance as Livvo had, initially, a huge open goal – he just was too slow to get to the ball.

And there's more. Donovan clipped a bouncing half volley straight at Bankole from 20 yards. Coldicott hit a firm cross across the face of the goal at head height, with no heads near. Gallimore, from 25 yards out on the left, played a curling cross towards the near post and Nielsen sprinted across his marker to glance a header…straight into Bankole's hands. There were also two or three scrambles in the area as Crewe simply filled the box with red-shirted bodies. And Donovan smacked a right foot drive a foot past Bankole's left-hand post from 20 yards

You see, it was total Town domination. But somehow it just felt that Town were never going to score. The play was concentrated between the penalty areas, with no Town players regularly taking up wide positions. Hence, Town attacks were stymied by the unavailability of the wide option. There were oceans of space out on the left and right, but no striped ones near. Then Town had a right fright. Gallimore was outpaced again down the left and Enhua had to block the resulting cross for a corner on Town's left. The corner was swung into the near post and Livingstone jumped with Hulse, about five or six yards out. The ball twanged against the bar and rebounded out past the edge of the penalty area. Whoever headed it headed it mighty hard.

A minute or so later, after about half an hour, Crewe took the lead, against the run of play, but not unexpectedly. Nothing much was happening around the half way line, on the Town left. Crewe gained possession and simply chipped the ball over the defence through the gap between Gallimore and Enhua. Enhua, as always, stood hand aloft, whilst Gallimore chugged back. Rivers sprinted down the inside left, got into the area and pulled a low cross to the middle left of the goal where Hulse, unmarked, tapped the ball in. A faint cheer was heard towards Wonderland which was the sound of the Crewe supporters suddenly believing their luck. Three sides of the ground were just silent. Totally silent. No sound. That's silent. Nothing.

Town had another attack, with Livingstone zipping a shot from the edge of the area, on the Town left, low towards the right-hand corner. Bankole tipped the ball aside for a corner. Somewhere around this time Nielsen was felled on the left-hand corner of the penalty area, next to the touchline. Try as he might he just could not dive far enough into the area. Campbell swung in the free kick to the far post where Groves headed well over.

Crewe broke away after this short spell of Town pressure, with Rivers again tricking Gallimore. The ball was played around by Crewe outside the Town penalty area and they finally returned the ball to Rivers who, from 20 yards, tried a right-foot drive. The ball was going wide but Coyne leapt to his left and pushed it away for a corner. Oh dear. Read that bit about them hitting the bar and replace the word "bar" with "back of the net". Hulse leant into Livingstone and headed powerfully into the roof of the net. Livingstone was too weak and slow. He, and Town, failed to learn from the previous corner. It was an exact replica. If it was possible for the Town supporters to be more silent, they were. I didn't hear the usual 'stand up and slag' after a goal was conceded. Just sitting and seething.

So there we are – 2-0 down after three opposition attacks and an embarrassing domination of the first half an hour. The only other things that happened in the remaining 10 minutes were that Gallimore got booked for kicking Rivers up in the air, Town had an attack where the ball ricocheted around their area and bounced back straight into the arms of Bankole and Enhua kept raising his arm.

Half time – a bit of booing, but mostly resigned but angry silence. A one sided first half with the wrong team winning. On the plus side Butterfield had played very well, keeping Jack in his pocket, and showing some exemplary skill in intercepting passes and initiating attacks. I can’t believe it is Butterfield I’m talking about, but ‘tis true (of his first half performance). Crewe had two fast wingers, a couple of tricky midfielder and a forward (Hulse) who made a lot of intelligent runs behind the centre-backs who, fortunately for Crewe, were not interested in what he was doing. Once the second goal went in Town started to go a bit long ball. And we all know where that leads.

Stu's half time toilet talk: Silence. Utter silence. Concentrating on the matter in hand, as it were.

2nd half
As predicted in many seats in the Pontoon, Coldicott (who had been invisible in a Donovan sort of way) and Gallimore (who didn't look fit, physically or mentally) were replaced by Fostervold and Willems. What we gained with Gallimore going off, we lost with Fostervold coming on. There was a slight tactical change with Donovan playing out on the right. He saw more of the ball and had one of his 'looking dangerous' periods.

Town didn't tear into Crewe so much as continue to muddle through. Livvo sliced a shot wide of the keeper's left-hand post from the edge of the area and, a few minutes later, made Bankole dive low to his left and push the ball away for a corner. Now that was a good save, credit where credit is due. Sandwiched in between these moments Crewe should have had a penalty. For the umpteenth time a ball over the top caught Enhua out. Hulse got behind him and Enhua hauled him down with a rolling maul. Perhaps Town's luck had changed?

After 56 minutes it did. Nielsen received a throw-in on the Town right, twisted, turned and hit a hard low pass across the face of the penalty area to Campbell, just to the left of centre. Campbell laid the ball off first time into a big space on the centre right edge of the area and Donovan ran in and hit a superb first-time drive into the keeper's top right-hand corner. Unstoppable and a great goal. But even then the Town support didn't believe we'd equalise.

Within a minute or two Crewe should have scored again. Rivers replicated his torture of Gallimore by tricking and outsprinting Fostervold. He raced into the area and pulled a low pass across the face of the goal as Coyne came out to narrow his shooting angle. Groves just got in front of Hulse and produced the most audacious piece of skill you'll ever see. He threw an outrageous dummy to make the ball bounce off Hulse's shins and back to Coyne via a deflection off Butterfield. Or maybe he miskicked. Even then Enhua nearly got in the way of Coyne's fly kick.

Then the moment that really killed the game. Just after the hour Crewe had a half-hearted attack down the Town centre left. The ball was half stopped and Sorvel was allowed to control the ball on his chest and dink a little pass between Fostervold and Groves. Rivers ran past Groves and tipped the ball over Coyne and into the right-hand side of the net. Yet again the line was not held and an opposition player had strolled through the defence. Coyne was a bit slow to come off his line, but the blame lies further out.

I am sorry to say the next half an hour were possibly the slowest 30 minutes ever. Time really did drag, the crowd were not animated, just numb. Possibly contemplating why they came out and paid money. Or comparing this season with the last relegation season. Some frittered away the minutes by watching the boats on the Humber. Some entered into a heated discussion on the colour of the sky. The left of the Pontoon claimed it was pink, the centre thought salmon pink, the ones on the right, after sucking a thoughtful tooth, plumped for mauve. Anyway. It was a lovely sky. Well, you know the old saying "mauve sky in the afternoon, Town heading for doom".

Town attacks? Think hoof. Think disorganised meanderings. Think eight players in the middle. Willems had a low screaming right-foot shot from 20 yards pushed aside by Bankole. Another very good save. And that's about it from Town. A couple of corners and one free kick in Willems range that, unbelievably, was taken quickly before our hard-footed hero could get near the ball.

Crewe broke away sporadically and the back four stretched further and further apart across the pitch, ending up looking like four blokes in a field. Enhua got worse and worse. He spent the last 20 minutes trying to play 50-yard passes (intercepted all) or to dribble his way from the edge of our penalty area to theirs. Towards the end that nearly resulted in another Crewe goal when he was dispossessed 30 yards out by two Crewe players who, fortunately, fell over.

With 10 minutes to go, Fostervold was outpaced by Rivers down the Town left, who crossed low to the far post, about five yards out. Jack hared in and smacked a first-time shot towards Coyne's left-hand corner. Coyne threw himself across the goal and somehow managed to tip the ball onto the underside of the crossbar, with the ball being scrambled away in a very undignified fashion.

With five minutes left Jeffrey replaced Burnett to no effect. It is very difficult to know what formation Town went to as there were, in essence, 11 striped-shirted men on the pitch in a variety of positions. Jeffrey seemed to be hanging around the left touchline, with Donovan on the right. This suggest it may have been a 4-2-4, or possibly 4-4-2. Does it matter? Whatever it was, it was a mess. At times Town had two players back, which again saw Crewe players run past the centre-backs alone, with just Coyne to beat. On one occasion Coyne ran out and hacked the ball away, on another their substitute striker chipped the ball over Coyne and five yards wide after Enhua had been caught hand waving.

Three minutes of injury time and, apart from a Jeffrey shot which forced Bankole to touch the ball (for another goal kick), nothing to report. The game ended with the proverbial wimper. A slight boo emanated from those Town fans who hadn't slunk off home, and a few clapped Coyne. The most exciting thing that happened for a Town supporter in the last half an hour was that the referee eventually booked Bankole for time wasting at goal kicks.

The performance was turgid, dire, shapeless, insipid, dreadful, uncommitted and deeply worrying. It had relegation stamped all over it. In the first 20 minutes Town were massively superior – we were almost laughing at Crewe, who looked like a top 10 division two team – like Walsall were last year. The faults that have been endlessly analysed in the last few weeks were all there again. Enhua showed he is a good individual footballer but not a central defender, the two left-backs were both donkeys (there is no other way to describe them). Donovan playing behind the front two narrows the options and slows down play – making it so easy to defend against Town. Nielsen, for the first time at home, didn't play with much passion, Livvo is far too slow when he starts a game. The defence was not a unit, looking appalling at the end, the midfield is a waste of time when Town start launching balls up to Livvo's head or for Nielsen to chase.

There were no moments of individual skill to make up for the structural deficiencies, and it increasingly looks like madness to continue to keep R Smith and Handyside out of the first XI. The last 20 minutes was a succession of terrible crosses from Fostervold and Butterfield from 30 yards out – like an inferior Wimbledon. That's not Town. That's relegation.

There are always low points in any season. Perhaps this is the nadir. Let's hope so, otherwise there are some right spankings to come.