Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
5 July 2022
A typical autumnal night, still with the hint of a chill, in Town's bete noir of grounds. The mood amongst the usual Town 200 was dutiful, rather than expectant, though it perked up considerably when we realised what the formation would be. One up to Lawrence there as the Palace Manager stated in his programme notes that "I don't expect Grimsby to come here and take the game to us." Think on, matey boy. The programme also noted that Town struggled to score goals now after the sales of Jack Lester and Tommy Widdrington. An interesting interpretation of the facts available to them.
The teams came on to the pitch to a huge explosion and a shimmering downpour of red and blue foil. The explosion was so loud I nearly dropped my coffee. I nearly dropped my coffee again when I saw that Town were lining up in a 4-3-3 formation, as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Groves, Handyside, Gallimore, Butterfield, Coldicott, Campbell, Nielson, Livingstone and Allen. The substitutes were Croudson, Donovan, D Smith, Clare and Raven. Bold stuff that – certainly fooled Alan Smith (which probably isn't that hard). Palace lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with two speedy wingers and a full-back, Harrison with mentionable hair – a neo-mullet combined with a New Romantic sweeping fringe (just flopping over his left eye). Someone should tell him this is planet earth. He didn't go so far as to wear a ruff, which is a shame.
Town kicked off toward the popular end (the right as seen on TV and the Town supporters were, as usual, sat underneath the TV gantry) and threatened immediately. Most of Town's attacks came down the right, utilising Nielsen's pace and aggression. The first attack, in the first minute saw a little channel ball down the right reach Nielsen, who was in space near the left corner of the Palace area (in a very similar position to his first effort against Blackburn). He seemed a little hesitant when the ball reached him, when he could have raced into the area. This enabled some Palace defenders to get back and clear his cross close to the near post. A couple of minutes later Nielsen did it again, in almost exactly the same fashion, though this time he turned into the area and drove towards the bye-line. His cross was cleared at the near post for a corner as Livingstone and Allen lurked (what better way to describe Livvo).
Just after that Town move, Palace did manage to string a couple of passes together and had what was their clearest chance of the night. The Town defence held the line about 30 yards out as a Palace midfielder received a pass about five yards inside the Town half, on the town left. He chipped a pass down the channel between Gallimore and Handyside for Freedman, who had run from behind Handyside. This left Freedman running alone on to a bouncing ball on the left edge of the Town area. Coyne raced off his line and Freedman's attempted lift over Coyne struck our mustard custodian on the chest and bounced away to Gallimore.
As far as I recall Town responded immediately with another surge down the right. A cross was zipped in to the centre of the goalmouth, near the penalty spot. Nielsen glanced a header comfortably wide of the keeper's right-hand post. A few minutes later Livvo repeated the miss after Nielsen had barged his was through on the right. This was all in the first 15 minutes, with Town taking control of the match. The midfield scampered around and harried Palace into mistakes, with the back four playing as a solid unit.
After about a quarter of an hour Palace started to exert some pressure on the Town goal, after they broke away down the Town left. Their best player, T Black, dribbled around Gallimore and along the bye-line towards the goal. The cross reached Forssell, at the near post, who turned and his shot was deflected away for a corner. As usual Town looked a little rocky at corners, and Palace won two or three in succession. I don't remember any clear chances, just scrambles and stretching clearances – the usual frenetic play engendered by Palace's style, or should that be 'style'. At one of these Coyne saved at his near post after Forssell, again, turned and shot lower. It was with little power and Coyne actually trapped it with his left hand.
After about 20 minutes, Coyne wellied a drop kick straight down the middle towards, and over, big Bradley Allen, Town's only player not in our own penalty box. As the Town fans were bemoaning an aimless punt that was wasting possession needlessly, the ball was left by the centre-back for the goalkeeper. The ball travelled towards the keeper who was standing just outside his area. He shaped to volley back down the pitch but stopped and decided to control it. He seemed to be panicked by the sight of our huge centre-forward trotting towards him. Allen continued forward and poked out his foot as the keeper appeared to miss his kick completely. The ball rolled at what seemed like a crawl towards the left-hand post. It looked like the ball would stop before the goal line, so it became a desperate (and desperately funny) race between Allen and the Baltic blunderer, Kolinko (sounds like a Bond baddie to me: "When he's in town bad things happen"). Kolinko dived full length, Allen slid forward and just managed to toe-poke the ball in from six inches, right next to the post. Cue roars of laughing happiness from the Town 200. A comedy goal, but somehow I think only about 200 people in the ground thought it was funny. I'm still smiling at the memory.
As an attacking force Town were a bit moribund after the goal. The game retreated towards Coyne, though the line was held at the edge of the penalty area. Palace's preferred method was to dink balls over the full-backs for the forwards to run on to and turn, with midfielders charging into the inside left/right positions. Town were staunch (as the geezers say in the Palace Manor), with the less-than-super Eagles rarely getting in to the Town penalty box. When they did there were, of course, moments of great anxiety.
The most 'phewsome' moment came about 10 minutes before half time when a raid down the Town right resulted in a hard, low cross to the near post. Forssell, about eight yards out, five yards to the right of the post, hit a first-time half volley that rippled the side netting and bounced off the advertising hoarding to roll across the back of the back of the net. The Palace fans sitting 10 yards away were all up cheering, we were down peering at the floor in despair. Oh the parallax view plays tricks, doesn't it.
About five minutes later the laughable Latvian almost did it again, coming off his line and almost colliding with his centre-back. He appeared to perform a traditional Latvian folk dance (dip the knees to the left, then to the right and hop) with said centre-back before one of them finally decided to hoof the ball away.
There were a couple more shots that hit the side net from extremely narrow angles. They never looked like going in as Superdan had them covered. And then there was his, now trademark, brilliant flying save. Palace attacked down the Town left (again), with Black getting to the bye-line and crossing flat and hard to somewhere just beyond the penalty spot, about 10 yards out. Forssell headed firmly down towards Coyne's right-hand post. Coyne sailed majestically across his goal to punch the ball away from the foot of the post. A wonderful save that had the whole of the Town support leaping up and cheering.
I don't remember any more chances for either side before half time, just the usual ebb and flow of games here – Place fling forward and Town counter-attack (which breaks down 30 yards out). As the half wore on Palace were allowed more and more space and time around the edge of the penalty box, with the defence standing in the their thin black and white line 20 yards out. Town seemed, alarmingly, content for Place players do what they liked in front of them. In tactical terms the midfield was a little too far away from the defence. It meant that when Town did attack they did it in numbers, with the midfield quickly up to support the three musketeers. However there were gaps that Palace infiltrated. Freedman, especially, dropped off the front and picked up many passes and knock-downs about 25 yards out. Town were a little fortunate in that no Palace player was able to weight his pass, nor do it accurately.
No-one was having a bad game, with Coldicott having a stormer – back to being the Omnipotent Destroyer. Campbell made some fine forward runs and scurried around to great effect in defence. The centre of defence looked rock solid, with Groves making some important blocks and interceptions at crosses. Gallimore, though up against a very good player, was not roasted, and marshalled Black away from danger intelligently. He also made a virtue of leaving some long Palace passes that went out for goal kicks – he left them like they were a bad pint.
The referee was very inconsistent. He didn't allow a Palace substitution for ages, then wouldn't allow one of their players to come back on after receiving some treatment for a minute or so. When he did, during open play, McDermott had the ball near the dug out. So the bloke just ran on and dispossessed him, with Macca looking most perplexed.
So half time arrived with hope in our heart. The weaknesses in Town's formation (the midfield three were all physically small and at times there were large gaps on the wings) had not been exposed by Palace, despite them playing with two old-fashioned wingers. But this is Selhurst, home of Town despair. Something would go wrong, it was bound to, wasn't it. It was all going far too well.
No changes in personnel were made by either team, though Palace did noticeably up their pace and flung in more crosses in from deep. In other words, back to their old percentages type football. This half was mainly Palace pressure and the isolated (very isolated) Town break. I think their keeper only made one save in the whole of the second half, and that in the last 10 minutes when Campbell intercepted a Palace pass 40 yards out, advanced 10 yards and smashed a half volley low to the foot of the keeper's right-hand post.
There were three or four moments of danger created. Allen wriggled through a couple of challenges on the right side of the penalty box and was almost trampled on by three defenders when about to shoot at the corner of the six-yard box. Livingstone, late on, burst through three challenges, again on the right hand side, and was dispossessed when about to shoot, 10 yards out. Truly Ronaldo-esque play by the delicate, talismanic battering ram. After a chipped pass by Butterfield (I think) Nielsen ran in to the penalty area and, in almost exactly the same position as Freedman was for his clear chance early in the first half, a Palace defender just slid across to clear as he was about to turn and shoot.
Perhaps Town's best move of the game, involving one-touch passing and movement by Coldicott, Campbell, Allen and Livvo on the Town right 40 yards out, saw Butterfield run through the outside right position as Coldicott chipped a 20-yard through ball down the line. Butterfield was alone beyond the defence and headed into the penalty area and towards the bye-line. He looked up, saw Allen and Livvo steaming into the centre of the goal and missed them by 20 yards. That's it as far as Town attacks go. A few potential breaks were snuffed out by miscued passes, and passes left so late the front players were offside by the time the ball was released. Livvo in particular raged against the failure to pass early enough. Oh yes, and Staunton was booked for handball when a ball down the right touchline sailed over his slightly ginger bouffant. He hung out his left hand and caught the ball as Nielsen was about to hurtle down the wing with no-one between him and goal.
Palace huffed and puffed but never looked like blowing Town's relatively stably constructed house down. Groves and Handyside were even more rock like in the centre, with Groves in particular making some exceptionally well-timed interceptions at the near post. Palace put the ball in the box a heck of a lot, with the emphasis on the full backs clipping in diagonal balls from 20 yards out. They seemed to have noticed that, as Town only had three small players in the midfield, Town were playing 'narrow' football. There were massive spaces on the wings which their full-backs dutifully stepped into. This pressure saw the Town midfield settle back about five yards closer to the defence than in the first half, meaning that the front three became quite isolated from the rest of the team. They came further and further back themselves to try and get the ball, and to assist in defence. They all worked like billio, with at one time Livvo playing as an auxiliary right-back.
Chances? Plenty of wobble-inducing moments, mainly from set pieces, which the referee (D'Urso) was happy to give them. He made two or three appalling decisions to give Palace free kicks close to the edge of the area. Fortunately for Town, Steve Staunton played like an old man who hadn't kicked a ball for several years. His best opportunity was about 25 yards out, right in the centre of goal. The referee ensured the wall was at least 10 yards away, to give Staunton as much space as he needed to bend the ball powerfully.…..into the 15th row of the stand. Staunton also failed to produce accurate crosses when given free kicks near the right side of the penalty area, a few yards from the touchline. He also fluffed a couple of attempted drives from the edge of the box, scuffing them weakly wide.
During the middle of the half Donovan was seen standing on the touchline, ready to come on. After a minute or two he went back and sat down. This was during a period when Palace were seemingly turning the screw with cross after cross, challenge after challenge and hoof after hoof, all raining down on the middle of the penalty box. The atmosphere was getting more like a cup-tie, with Palace fans roaring them on and the Town fans cheering rapturously at every clearance, mishit shot and catch by Coyne. Campbell produced a fantastic last-ditch blocking tackle after T Black had dribbled down the wing past McDermott, got to the bye-line about 10 yards to the Town right of goal, and pulled the ball back towards the penalty spot. About six players were all in a line inside the six-yard box, with two Palace players steaming in from outside the box. Campbell raced across and flung himself between men and ball, injuring himself in the process.
Palace threatened most from a series of corners on Town's right, flung to the far post. Coyne half punched a couple away (and even caught one under very heavy pressure, right next to the post) with the one of these punches only reaching a Palace player about 10 yards out. A combination of several small Town players became an impassable wedge which swept the ball away from danger for a while. One of Coyne's punches turned out to be a fine save after another scramble in the middle of the area saw a Palace player head firmly toward the top right corner, with several players between Coyne and ball. Coyne punched it away as a reaction stop.
With 10 minutes left McDermott (who had just started limping after twisting whilst clearing) was replaced by Donovan. Town kept the same formation with Butterfield retreating to right-back. Donovan ran around and made two or three vital interceptions. Two minutes later Raven replaced Allen and Town reverted to 5-3-2, with Raven right in the centre. This was a reaction to Palace's substitutions and panicky route-one play, which was starting to create danger. Apart from once (when the back four moved up for an offside, forgetting Raven was on the pitch) they all worked as a perfect unit. They moved as one, with the midfield moving with them. At times we could see that the Town back eight were acting like bellows, squeezing the Palace players in the middle when they did get the ball.
During the last frantic minutes Palace had a couple of opportunities. Their substitute C Morrison (who was very tricky) met a cross at Coyne's right-hand post with a flying hooked half volley. Coyne dived to his right slightly and parried the ball to exactly where Morrison had fallen. Morrison, whilst stumbling, volleyed the ball back immediately and Coyne caught the ball in his midriff as he spread himself. It was a little fortunate in that the second shot went straight to him, but the speed of Coyne's reaction made it a great double save. One of their forwards managed to head about an inch wide from 10 yards out after a cross from their right resulted in half clearances, bibbles and bobbles in the heart of the Town box. Groves, on the line, waved his boot at the ball as it bounced just past the post.
In the last minute of the three added (and no-one could work out where they came from) Black wriggled free down the Town right, along the bye-line and shot from about eight yards out. Coyne stuck out his boot and toe poked it wide. And finally it was over – the game and Town's Selhurst hoodoo.
It was an excellent team performance, everyone contributed something, even Butterfield who at least ran around and harried Palace. His distribution was still poor, as was his positioning in the second half, but he did form part of the three midfield snappers. Coldicott was immense, forming a one-man barrier at times. He completely dominated the middle of the pitch, such that Palace had to take off their star youngster (Mullins) and Jamie Pollock (or as someone asked "Is that player really called pillock?") was ephemeral. Coldicott just brushed him aside. Allen's link play and lay-offs contributed greatly to the transition from defence to attack, and Nilesen and Livvo played excellent defensive games (by running back down the left and right when Palace started to overload the wings).
Most of the plaudits go to the defence, especially the centre. Stoic. For all Palace's pressure they didn't get many shots in on goal. And when they did, there's always Superdan. From first to last Palace were outwitted and outfought. From manager downwards Town were superior.
Leaving Selhurst Park smiling is a new experience, let's hope it becomes a habit. The Palace supporters sang Glad All Over throughout the game but, curiously, not at the end. I wonder why?