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25/09 Pompey 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Portsmouth 1 Grimsby Town 2
25 Sep 1999, Nationwide League Division 1
Weather forecast - Frequent, heavy rainstorms in the South, with strong gusts of wind (the sort of rain where you'd be dryer having a bath). Portsmouth have an open terrace for away supporters. Town form - dreadful. The portents were ominous. Why go? It could be the turning point. It is, after all, a perverse sport, with Town the most perverse team.
The weather was clear, with an occasional breeze, but with grey clouds in the distance. Town warmed up in the old fashioned way (no fancy team building nonsense this week). The "build up" to the game included taped interviews with players and Alan Ball piped over the tannoy. The Portsmouth player identified Town as "one of those teams that puts together 5 or 6 wins on the run and is up there" and that Town are the "Dark force of the 1st Division" - or it might have been "Dark Horse", but I prefer the misheard version.
Usual 4-4-2 formation with Groves at Centre Back and everyone else in their usual positions. Burnett was pronounced "Burn-it" by the burring announcer, with Butterrrrrrrrfield too. Around 150-170 Town supporters sat in little groups around the open seating.
Town kicked off away from their supporters, towards the left as seen on TV. Within 30 seconds Town should have been 1-0 up. A headed clearance bounced over a centre back and Ashcroft was away, bearing down on the Portsmouth 'keeper (A Mr Andrew Pettersen). Pettersen spread himself low way too early and Ashcroft, centrally placed and from the edge of the area, sliced a toe poke 6 or 7 yards wide.
Town started very brightly and looked to be "professional". The defence was very well organised and the attack looked dangerous. After 10 minutes Coldicott intercepted a loose pass on the right of midfield near the centre circle. He passed forward to Lester, who had drifted away from his marker. Lester turned and threaded a pass outside the retreating centre half to Ashcroft, who had run between the centre backs. Ashcroft took the ball to the edge of the area, awaited Pettersen's challenge and drifted past him, to the 'keepers right. It seemed to take an eternity for ASHCROFT to place the ball into the net, but he did so. A thoroughly deserved lead as Portsmouth, up to that point, had not had a shot - merely a couple of weak crosses which had gone out for goal kicks. Town on the other hand had looked dangerous on the counter attack, with a couple of "moments of danger" caused by Ashcroft and Lester linking well down the middle.
For the next 20 minutes Town continued to have the game under control, and
were the only team threatening to score. During this period Town had the
following chances :-
a) Lester spun away from his marker, to the left of goal, and flashed a left footed drive across the face of the goal;
b) A corner on the Town left was headed back across goal by Groves to Burnett who, with his back to goal, flicked it with the outside of his left boot about 1 foot over the angle of post and bar;
c) Lester and Ashcroft linked down the centre, with Ashcroft eventually chipping over the back of the defence to D Smith whose attempt to bundle the ball towards the goal was blocked; and
d) A penalty claim by Ashcroft after he fell under a double challenge. It was at the other end so I couldn't see clearly. So it was obviously a penalty. Obviously.
After 30 minutes Portsmouth broke down their right and crossed to the centre, about 12 yards out. The resulting header went 3 yards high over the bar. That was their first attempt on goal. Two minutes later Town easily broke up another "flowing" Pompey move and Groves rolled the ball back to Coyne. Coyne casually stroked a pass towards Gallimore, except he massively underhit it, and it went straight to the right winger Panopoulos. He advanced towards Coyne, rolled it sideways past him, and fell over Coyne as he dived (this may read ambiguously and that's deliberate - there were two dives by two players). As Coyne had missed the ball it was a penalty, despite the obvious dive by the Pompey player, but Coyne shouldn't have been sent off. The ball had gone to Groves and R Smith anyway, and there was a Town player back on the line. The referee (Mr Olivier) did not have a clear view of the incident yet had no hesitation in sending Coyne off. With a name like that you'd have though he would have recognised theatrics when he saw it.
Croudson replaced D Smith (with Town eventually going to a 4-3-2 formation) and very nearly saved MCLOUGHLIN's penalty, which was hit at waist height to his right. Portsmouth visibly attempted to raise the "tempo" of the game, which resulted in some frantic play down the wings, with a couple of crosses flashing in, but only one attempt at goal. Some pressure down the Town left resulted in a cross to the centre right of the area, where a header was sent straight at Croudson - I think I'll put that down to great positioning by the "Kitten". Town reached half time comfortably, despite the referee somehow finding 5 minutes of extras.
In all Portsmouth had "created" only two headers and a penalty in the first half. A pathetic number of efforts for a home team (even on the bad days Town produce more than this!). Portsmouth attempted to play football through midfield but went sideways all the time. When it was 11 against 11 they never got near the Town penalty area, and, frankly, never looked like scoring. Town, in contrast, had been superbly organised in defence (including the midfield) and looked dangerous on the break, even when they were down to 10 men. They were playing as a team, a whole unit, with team spirit. This was apparent before the sending off. It was heartening, but hugely frustrating as Town (or rather Coyne) had allowed an inferior team a chance to save a game they deserved nothing from. 1-1 was much more than Portsmouth deserved at half time and the (numerical) advantage lay with them.
One more word about the referee. Poor. He failed to book Burnett for elbowing and kicking in a flying challenge, nor did he spot two (accidental) handballs by Town defenders; similarly he was lenient on Portsmouth challenges and failed to play "advantage" when Town attacked.
The Town supporters were a little despondent at half time, thinking that Town had blown it.
Well it hadn't rained by half time.
Half time: Portsmouth 1 Grimsby Town 1
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