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11/09 Walsall 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Grimsby Town 1 Walsall 0
11 Sep 1999, Nationwide League Division 1
A swelteringly hot, humid day and a crowd of just over 6,000. Just prior to the teams coming out the crowd was entertained by a 40 year old mascot failing to score a penalty against the 9 year old mascot (Swin says .... ).
Town lined up as predicted, in the usual 4-4-2 formation : - Coyne, Coldicott, Gallimore, R Smith, Livingstone, Donovan, Groves, Pouton, D Smith, Lester and Ashcroft. Subs were :- Allen, Croudson, Clare, Black and Butterfield. Coldicott played at right back and Pouton in central midfield. The rest were where you'd expect them to be.
Walsall tuned up in all blue with yellow "flashings", their red shirts would, obviously, have clashed with black and white stripes. Obviously. And Darren Wrack played right wing for them.
Town kicked off away from the Pontoon and, for the first 20 minutes, played fluently and incisively. Walsall were unable to keep the ball for any length of time and only got into Town's penalty area once (when, after a breakaway, Wrack played a cross back across goal to Robins, who laid the ball back from the 6 yard box to a midfielder who poked the ball over from 20 yards). I counted 9 attempts at goal from Town in the first 20 minutes, forcing 4 saves from the 'keeper. They were :-
a) After 2 minutes Gallimore chipped the ball over the defence, into a space in between the centre backs and right back, into which Ashcroft had drifted. Ashcroft turned inside and fired a half volley, low, to the 'keepers left. The ball ran loose across the 6 yard box, but the 'keeper picked the ball up; b) Livingstone flicked on Donovan's corner from the Town right. The ball travelled across the 6 yard box, but Lester's flick was blocked as he tried to get the ball and it was cleared; c) A deep cross from the left was headed back, away from goal by Groves, and Pouton "lashed" a volley straight at the 'keeper, who caught the ball comfortably; d) After interplay around the edge of the box, after Donovan had run at the defence from a wide position, Groves tried to chip the 'keeper (who is very small, a bit like wee Jimmy Krankie), but again it was straight at him, and a bit too low; e) Ashcroft cut in from the right and shot straight at the 'keeper, from just outside the box; f) Donovan played a ball in to Lester, who dummied and turned into the box, Ashcroft played a return ball inside to Donovan who advanced, beat a defender and tried a low cross shot. The shot was diverted for a corner by a defender throwing himself in the way; and g) three attempts that don't deserve much description as they went wide (Pouton by 16 yards), weakly to the 'keeper (Ashcroft), or I forgot who did what but it wasn't exciting and never looked like going in (the other one).
Town had played with discipline and, especially from Pouton, commitment. Pouton was a very prominent figure on the middle of the park both winning tackles and being involved in attacks. If anyone was beating out the rhythm of the game it was him. Lester and Ashcroft were working effectively as a partnership and the back 4 were a solid unit. This was very encouraging, enjoyable, and entertaining.
Then after 20 minutes the game went completely flat. It was like someone had turned off a switch. The crowd had got behind the team in the first 20 minutes, making mucho noiso, even singing "Mariners", "Alan Buckley's Black and White Army" a couple of times. There was a lot of applause and general encouragement. But then Walsall had a breakaway (where a ball was played in to the box and Coyne hesitated, before R Smith blocked for a corner) and there was a short delay in play. You could feel the game disappearing as a spectacle. The crowd felt it, and you could almost see the players feel it. It might have been the heat and humidity "catching up" with the players - this break was the first. But whatever the reason, the game deterioated and the rest of the half was, mainly, Walsall defenders clearing the ball for throw ins.
I cannot recall Town producing anything of note on the last 25 minutes of the first half (apart from a brief flurry in injury time when they won a corner). And all Walsall produced was a powerful shot from outside the area in the 44th minute, which was hit quite close to Coyne, though he held the ball cleanly.
Ashcroft and, especially, Lester stopped playing after 20 minutes. There was no movement at all up front, and they both started to lose simple challenges when the ball was rolled directly to them. They both looked mentally and physically slow, and were starting to display the commitment levels of Alan Shearer. Groves and Pouton had started to look like a formidable pairing, but Groves began to make simple passing errors as the half progressed. Pouton became an instant crowd favourite with his sliding hook tackles, especially when he scooped the ball away from Wrack. Now Wrack looked a lot faster than he did when he played for Town, and he did manage to pass to his own players a couple of times. He was in Gallimore's (wide) pocket.
The half time talk of the Pontoon was WHEN Buckley would bring on Bradley Allen. The first 20 minutes had been very good, the rest of the half quite dire. Town were playing opponents who looked like they might scrape a goal on a breakway, but were generally "good 2nd Division standard". A team can't expect to stay in this division if it keeps passing the ball out of play. We should have been beating them.
No changes at half time.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Walsall 0
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