A Tale of Two Keepers: Midlands Floodlit Cup semi-final report

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tony Butcher

14 April 2007

Myspace Mariners 0 www.wobblywalsall.com 2

A-ha, young Danny North - he doesn't wear orange trainers on civvy street then. It's good to see such professionalism. On his days off he adheres to a strict sports diet: he walks, he talks, he eats a macrobiotic chicken McNugget and drinks a high-energy slush puppy.

On a still, chill evening around 200 mums, dads, girlfriends, scouts, cubs and Girl Guides observed Town's tiny tots line up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Morton; Foulkes, Bennett, Britteon, Quinn; Normington, Burge, Would, Shahin; Davis (S) and Taylor. The substitutes were Bird, Overton, Rhodes, Davis (L) and Emson. Ah, my eyes still grow damp to realise his Majesty Sir Alan has put his own rubber stamp back on the club. Small keeper, small defenders, small midfielders and small attackers in a strict 4-4-2 formation. No hoofing: just pass and move, kids, just pass and move.

Walsall were bigger and older, on the verge of adulthood, whilst Town's kids were still in their ill-fitting blazers. One of the Midlanders almost had a beard, he was that old.

The pre-match entertainment was provided by Dale Ladson and his collapsible tripod. There's a summer season supporting the Chuckle Brothers just waiting for you, somewhere.

Both teams got into a huggle and screamed thy last scream with a hugga-wugga chant. Tuh, kids today.

First half

Walsall wellied and chased, then they hoofed and hoped. Yeah, they're bigger, but not better. Ha ha, their left-back, Sansara, controlled the ball out of play, then again, and again! Maybe he's befuddled by the beauty of Blundell Park, the Dock Tower glowing in the distance, and that abstract modern art big cold store hanging on the wall of gloom.

Town ticking nicely: they pass to each other, they move over short distances. They can't kick it a long way at their age. Ah, lovely, lovely, lovely: sweeping, swirling, tickles and teases, the Towny tots play football just like the first team. Mmm, yes, just like the first team, they dominate, but don't penetrate.

Shahin Shahin, we've got a crush on you. The right footed left winger fantastically jinked and dinked, slapping a low flat chip from 30 yards which McKeown flapped down, then swaying past three to pitch and putt from inside the D. McKeown, again, hurtled back and fingertipped the ball over the bar for a corner.

Shahin Shahin - didn't he assassinate Bobby Kennedy,the ex-Town manager?

Shahin had poise in possession and stroked perfectly weighted passes to his mates. Walsall feared him. Wait, wait, yes, here's another free-flowing Town attack down the left. Shahin nudged as Quinn tickled and teased his way into the penalty area. He rode one challenge, got up and rolled on towards goal as a manic midlander slid across and felled our boy. The crowd groaned in derision as the fussypotty ref just let play go on. The Myspace Mariners just got on with things - no backchat or complaints.

Have Walsall had a shot yet? No.

Have Walsall passed it yet? Not really.

Town pressed on with Taylor eventually freeing himself from inner doubt to lash a shot across the face of goal as Davis lurked. Corner after corner, Walsall wibbling slightly, McKeown finally not doing something perfectly, flap-punching down to Bennett, a dozen yards out. One touch, one volley, one superb flying save from that boy McKeown.

At the end of the half Walsall managed to whack a few long balls towards the empty Pontoon and exert some pressure. Morton dropped a corner, causing minor peril inside the Town box, and there was a little scramblette after another bit of Mortonian meandering. And finally Cyril, Walsall had a shot after 43 minutes, straight at our keeper.

Town were collectively superior, and individually better footballers. They were just half the size of these brutes. Morton was a worry, Burge was a little flabby (perhaps he's worried about which secondary school to choose next year) and Taylor looked like he was trying to avoid physical contact. Bennett was a rock, and Britteon was a little Lever-like - a strong tackler who occasionally drifts into a nether world. The full-backs looked like footballers rather than defenders, with Quinn a Neweyian raider.

They all kicked with their right foot.

Second half

Meet the second half, same as the first half. Walsall huffed and puffed, but Town eased and pleased. We pass, they smash.

After five minutes or so Walsall wellied a long clearance down their right, way into the Town half. Britteon was caught watching the Pigeon of Promise flutter through the Main Stand. Harris bundled on, caught up with the ball and trundled into the area. Morton shivered, Harris shot low, Morton collapsed and the ball went underneath him at the near post. One shot, one undeserved goal. Meet the youth team, same as the first team.

The script won't change, it's still the same old, same old. Town this, Town that, wonderful one-touch wing play, shredding the Saddlers' right side, lacerating their left. It's Town triangles, with Taylor tippling to Shahin on the right corner of their penalty area. A dummy, stepover and turn and Shahin wriggled behind the defence and only Doran's big backside ended this passion play five yards out.

Town aren't going to score, it's official. Bennett caressed a long pass up to Shahin, just outside the penalty are on the centre right. A wonderful cushioned lay-off released Taylor, who wrestled past his marker and tapped a short pass back to the on-rushing Normington, who has a straw boater for hair. From just inside the area he lamped a first time shot which cracked against the underside of the crossbar, down onto the line and out.

After some more Town triangles Taylor was sent free behind the defence on the left. He rushed into the area and passed the ball against McKeown's legs. It's all about the keepers.

Town's tots started to seize up, one by one. Quinn fell and got cramp, but was kept on. Big mistake. A few minutes later another long ball down their right saw Quinn limping back boyfully in pursuit, but unable to keep pace with Harris, who crossed high. Morton crept forward but flapped and the ball was half cleared out to C Davies, 25 yards out in the centre, who lashed a slicing half volley into the top left corner.

At this Town made three substitutions, with the full-backs and Normington being replaced by Big Bird, Rhodes and L Davis, with Town going to a 3-4-3 formation. Big Bird was a crowd pleaser, being a hulking shuffler with a hint of the Mel Sterland about him, the flying piglet if you will. The ball may get past Big Bird, but the player won't. He twice deposited Harris into the stands with Poutonian hooking swishes which got the referee worried - he may have to book a boy.

More Town, yet more Town and even more Town. Yes, Town. One-twos behind the defence and scrambles on the line times two. A cross from the right deep, deep into the heart of the penalty area dropped into a vacant spot just eight yards out, Bennett, unmarked, dived forward and powered a header into the ground, the ball bouncing up and over. Oh look, another one-on-one miss, probably Taylor, maybe Rhodes.

Walsall? They had another rinky-dinky cross which Morton flapped and missed underneath the crossbar, which was scrumbled away scraped away by many Mariners munchkins. That's all.

The future? Is small. Town were embarrassingly superior at times yet the result had an air of inevitability. Plus ca change? Shahin and Bennett were the pick of the mop-tops, with Quinn and Bird also impressing. Burge and Would scuffled around a lot, but other than that there isn't much to say. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, as it ever was under the patented Buckley blueprint.

If the goalkeepers had been switched round Town would have won 5-0. That's all.