The law is an ass

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

5 January 2022

A cold (5 degrees Celsius on the GET building) slab-grey day with a breeze swirling around on the Smiths/Findus/Stones side of Blundell Park only. The Osmond and open corner were packed solid with over-confident Mancunians, though there were a few empty seats elsewhere, with the open corners remaining a sea of green seats.

The official pre-match entertainment was a group of teenage girls dancing - not a pretty sight. Has everybody's sister now danced on Blundell Park? The unofficial pre-match entertainment was the Man City squad limbering up by dancing and skipping around the centre circle, inadvertently in time to The Final Countdown by Swedish rock sensations, Europe. Their backroom staff then proceeded to place dozens of fluorescent disks on the pitch, just in front of the Stones. The players ambled over and played a sort of one-bounce/one-touch game of imaginary table tennis. It didn't look very convincing. Town warmed up in the usual disparate, disinterested way, nothing organised, everyone just doing their own thing.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Butterfield, Gallimore, Lever, Groves, Donovan, Coldicott, Pouton, D Smith, Ashcroft, Clare. The substitutes were Croudson, Black, Allen, Bloomer and Livingstone. In other words the same team that started last week's game against Sheffield United. A one minute silence (for Hillsborough) was impeccably observed within Blundell Park – the only sounds heard were Man City supporters singing outside the ground.

1st half
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon with Coldicott whacking the ball high towards big Kevin Donovan’s forehead. It wasn't such a daft tactic as the Man City left back was very small and round. A bit like a Weeble. Nothing particularly exciting happened in the first five minutes. Town had possession most of the time and were trying to pass to feet, Man City either wellied it down the middle or wellied it down the left to Mark Kennedy. The first action was after five minutes when D Smith hit a first-time shot from 25 yards, to the (Town) right of goal, which comfortably cleared the crossbar by two or three feet.

Within a minute Man City had their first attempt at goal (indeed their first steps inside the Town penalty box). The ball was played to Kennedy about 20 yards out, a couple of yards from the angle of the penalty area. Butterfield attempted a sliding tackle as Kennedy flicked the ball inside. The flick went to Lever, who cleared, and Kennedy ended on the floor after Butterfield just caught him. The referee gave Man City a free kick, to some protestations from Town players and crowd. The free kick was hit deep into the area, past the far post, where it was headed back to a central-ish position about eight or so yards out. Coyne came out to catch the ball and bounced off Prior, re-adjusted his feet, and tried to punch the ball away. Prior, being very large, simply stood his ground and headed the ball gently over Coyne. It was a very soft goal and there was more than an arguable case for a free kick to have been awarded to Town for impeding the keeper. But then Town are a small, unimportant team. The referee's name? Laws. We had trouble with a referee with that name before.

Town's response was not to give up, but to carry on hassling and harrying the so-called better team. So effective were Town that Man City only had a couple more efforts at goal in the first half. After 12 minutes a cross was half cleared to a midfielder (Whitley), unmarked about 25 yards out and centrally placed. He whacked in a drive that went across Coyne towards the top left-hand corner. Coyne punched it away with his right hand as he leapt acrobatically to his left. After about half an hour someone (Kennedy I think) had a cross shot from the edge of the area on the Town left which went a couple of feet wide of Coyne's right-hand post. I don't count Kennedy's free kick which he sliced yards high and wide. They didn't create much at all, mainly because they displayed little wit - they were just like Huddersfield.

Around the 15th minute Town exerted a lot of pressure, principally down the right. At least three or four thrusts were half repelled by City, each time a Town player retrieved the ball with solid crunching interceptions. I particularly remember Lever and Coldicott winning the ball back through sheer determination. The ball was eventually worked up to the back line of defenders, about 20 yards out, just to the left of the City penalty box. The ball was flicked past the full-back (sorry I can't remember who did it) for Ashcroft to race on to. He got to the bye-line and whipped over a cross which the keeper, close to his line, flapped away. The ball fell about 10 yards out and bounced at hip height. Pouton steamed in and hit a swivelling right-foot volley into the centre right of the goal. The Town fans erupted, with an ovation very similar to the one given to Mr Ivano for his goal against West Brom. Pouton went wild, skipping around and generally showing happiness.

After this Town pressed relentlessly and created many moments of danger, if not clear-cut chances (Hey, isn't that Town to a T). The best chance fell to Ashcroft, who was set free behind the City defence on their right. He hurtled into the area, cutting in towards the goal. With Coldicott and Clare racing into the area, and Coldicott unmarked at the far post, Ashcroft decided to place a shot inside the keeper's near post. It hit a defender's shin and went out for a corner, with Coldicott furiously shouting at Ashcroft for being greedy. Ashcroft also hit a weak free kick, from 25 yards out to the right of the City area, through the wall. Had the goalkeeper remained in Manchester it would have gone in.

The Town forwards were creating problems for the big defenders with their twisting and turning. Amazingly they were even winning some headers. City appeared to have greater difficulties with Clare, as Ashcroft seemed to be playing for himself and made some poor decisions – shooting when he should pass and passing when he should have shot. The most blatant of these poor decisions caused some panic in the Man City defence – a cross from the left reached Ashcroft, unmarked eight yards out on the right, just beyond the corner of the six-yard box. Instead of shooting he attempted to lay off a cushion volley to Clare, who was about eight yards out near the centre but marked and with his back to goal. Clare wasn't expecting a pass, but still controlled the ball and attempted to turn. The defenders blocked him but the ball got stuck between his legs as he fell. This resulted in one of those cup-tie free-for-alls, which eventually saw the ball hacked clear.

That is the extent of the goal mouth action on the first half. It doesn't sound much but it had been an exciting game, helped by a throbbing atmosphere. The atmosphere was assisted by the referee and linesman on the Main Stand side (ruining the Town attacks). Both seemed intent on protecting Man City. The linesman flagged whenever a Town player received the ball in space, almost regardless of the facts (he did manage to get a couple right). The referee wound every Mariner up with his interpretations of events. For example, Donovan won a tackle in front of the dug out, with the ball rolling to Pouton. This left three Town players against one Man City player. As Pouton advanced, the referee gave Town a free kick.

In the last minute of the half Clare allowed a clearance to go past him, the Man City defender missed the ball and fell over, thus allowing Clare a free run on goal. A free kick was given to Man City. Worst of all was the referee's belief that Man City players never ever controlled the ball with their hands. After half an hour or so a Town cross from the left zipped across the edge of the penalty area. One of the Man City defenders nudged the ball away with his left arm – according to the referee this was his super large chest. It wasn't.

Note: this is only the first half and only the major bad decisions. Town didn't get any decisions in their favour within 35 yards of the City goal. The half time whistle saw Town get a roaring ovation and the referee was roaringly derided. Town had had much the better of the game – any football came from the striped ones.

Man City were very limited and looked a little arrogant in that they didn't appear to be playing at full pace or commitment. It was as if they felt they didn't have to try too hard. Their style, which is a word not easily sitting in proximity to Man City, was basic – long towards a big player, or long to a winger with a reputation. I can't remember either of their strikers getting anywhere near goal in the first half, or having shots of any kind. That is a compliment to Lever and Groves, who were generally untroubled. Oh, I forgot. The only time Town were troubled was when Groves intercepted a long crossfield ball by heading back to Coyne, who came off his line and dropped the ball as he fell on it. Lever (I think) cleared.

Town were pleasingly good. Competitive, solid and with a hint of danger. Man City looked like a good second division side. And that is what the Pontoon were saying, man for man, at half time.

The half time mini-match was between two sets of girls. It was good. Much better than the little boys games they usually put on. Amazingly both teams had their own Mark Lever and when they tackled each other the Blundell Park shuddered.

2nd half
The game restarted with the Mighty Mariner still on the pitch, at right-back. He didn’t get off for seven or eight seconds. At one point he was keeping City onside as they attacked down his wing. After 47 minutes we saw our first (and only) Pouton surge. He collected the ball about 30 yards out on the Town left and headed towards the penalty box at speed, beating two or three challenges before a last-ditch tackle got the ball away.

There wasn't much action for the first 15 minutes of the half. Man City had the ball a bit more, though they never created any chances. Their best opportunity came when they broke away quickly down their centre left and worked the ball over to Kennedy, in an inside right position about 20 yards out. He had a team mate running outside him, and only Gallimore left to beat. Instead of passing outside Gallimore (and thus re-creating Bolton's goal of a month ago) he decided to cut across to the right, thus running into five Town players. The ball was eventually blocked and cleared. Phew.

After 56 minutes Clare was replaced by Livingstone in a straight swap. Clare was unfortunate to be taken off as he had looked the livelier of the two forwards, and certainly the less inclined to flounce about. Ashcroft had been singularly unable to obtain free kicks – the referee had taken every fall to be a dive or a clean tackle (despite a few whacks and pushes). At the same time they took off Horlock and replaced him with Bishop, giving the intellectuals amongst the Town support the chance to taunt him for his Romany hair. Bishop didn't do anything, unlike Livvo who, incredibly, won nearly everything in the air (although they were able to cope with his gazelle-like pace).

Town picked up the pace of the game after Livvo's introduction, and slightly altered their style of play, utilising Livvo's forehead. Town began to infiltrate the penalty area and have chances. After about an hour D Smith was played inside the full-back, after an Ashcroft flick, and advanced to the bye-line. His cross to the centre of the goal was headed away at full stretch by Jobson for a corner, as Livvo lurked behind. A few minutes later Ashcroft was released into the area, to the (Town) left of goal by a Livvo flick on. As Ashcroft was about to shoot, with the keeper spreading himself, a defender slid across and diverted the right-foot flicked shot away for a corner. Coldicott hit a right-foot volley straight at the keeper following a Town corner on the left which was half cleared to him near the edge of the penalty area on the centre right. Ashcroft, Coldicott and Donovan combined down the Town right with Coldicott crossing to the near post. A defender slid in to hoof away for another corner, again as Livvo lurked. Groves tried a spectacular overhead scissor kick which went 20 yards wide. These were exciting moments of danger and half chances, but Town did have a golden opportunity to win.

With about quarter of an hour left a City clearance ricocheted off a Town player on the Town right, across the pitch to Livvo. He was right in the centre of the pitch, about 30 yards out and totally alone. He lumbered towards goal and, near the edge of the penalty area, tried to place a shot to the keeper's right. He hit it too weakly and too close the keeper, who stuck out his right foot and kicked it away. It was a little odd as all the players were moving as if the whistle had gone for a free kick (it hadn't), the keeper stayed totally upright, and it was all in slow motion (well it would be with Livvo, wouldn't it).

With five or so minutes left their keeper, for the umpteenth time, miskicked straight down the middle. The ball was returned to Ashcroft, about 30 yards out with his back to goal. As he laid the ball back to Livvo he was fouled from behind. Livvo immaculately chipped the keeper (who was still retreating) just like Beckham. Unfortunately, the referee had given Town a free kick. In the last minute a free kick from Town's right was clipped low towards the right of the Man City box. Livvo, on the edge of the box, swivelled and steered a right-foot volley across the face of the keeper's right-hand post.

The most controversial period of the game came about with 10 or so minutes left. A Town cross from the right was headed on near the edge of the box towards a gap on the centre right of the penalty area. As the ball was about to go through, a Man City hand stopped the ball. All the Town players jumped up for a penalty. None given. The referee ran off pointing to his chest. The ball was cleared down their left. The winger controlled the ball out of play. No throw-in given to Town. More hoots and roars from the Town support. and the Lower Stones was really losing its temper. The winger went on and crossed into the centre. Goater stepped across the centre-backs and miskicked the ball into the net. Fortunately, the linesman flagged for offside (the Pontoon was not totally convinced that Goater was offside, but was totally convinced that Town should have had a penalty and a throw-in). Goater's only other involvement in the game was 20 minutes earlier when he miskicked again when free 15 yards out. Again he was flagged offside.

Man City's other attempts on goal where a free kick from Kennedy 30 yards out, centrally placed. He strolled up and side-footed it a few inches wide of Coyne's right-hand post. Fortunately, he did not curl the ball enough. Kennedy also had another cross shot from their left which went a yard wide of Coyne's left-hand post, an almost identical move to one in the first half. In the last minute of extra time a cross from Man City's right to the far post was flicked on to Kennedy, about eight yards out and eight yards to the right of the goal. He chested it down and drove a powerful shot straight at Coyne, who beat it away for a corner.

The final whistle brought a standing ovation and smiles for the Town performances, together with raging boos for the referee. He only gave one handball all day – against Ashcroft when the ball was smashed across him and it may have struck him. I counted five blatant and very obvious handballs from Man City, including two penalties. In addition to his belief that Man City players have the widest chests in football, the referee also looked charitably upon the (otherwise very good) left-back Tiatto, the Weeble. With 10 minutes or so left Ashcroft had turned just inside the City half, on the Town left and played a superbly weighted low pass behind the defence for Donovan. As Donovan ran on towards goal, about 30 yards out, with only the keeper to beat, the left-back slid in from behind. Donovan crumpled (not unusual, I know) and the ground expected a free kick and sending off. Play on, of course. Livid we were. And Buckley got very animated.

Apart from that the only other moments to savour where when the City forward, Dickov, lost his left boot when chasing for a ball with Lever. Seeing this, Lever decide to take a huge swipe at his naked foot. Being Lever he missed. And the City keeper was the worst fly kicker seen at Blundell Park this year – he's an accident waiting to happen. But at least he's someone else's accident.

Generally there cannot be any complaints about any member of the team. They all contributed something. Despite a couple of loose moments in the first half (the goal and a dropped head back) Coyne handled most of the crosses very well – again coming out and catching a couple. Lever and Groves were rock solid and Butterfield dealt effectively with Kennedy, who hardly got a cross in all day. It was a fine team performance and one which deserved more than just a point. No complaints today.