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16/10 Blackburn 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Blackburn 1 Grimsby Town 1
16 Oct 1999, Nationwide League Division 1
Bright, dry afternoon with a slight chill wind blowing across the pitch. The Town support numbered about 500ish and a jolly loud noise was made by all, mostly. The Town players warmed up in their kicking the ball in the park mode, thankfully they haven't returned to organised drills. Ewood Park is large, the pitch is wide and they have a large screen TV in one corner which, before the match had a "live" programme previewing the game. During the game the match was transmitted live, inclusive of close ups - which were highly amusing. Actually watching Pouton describe his shots, and R Smith describing the referee, using the same words as the fans, was fun.
The Town team lined up in the usual 4-4-2 The change at left midfield was not too popular - Pouton has rapidly established himself as a crowd favourite.
The game started at 2.58. This was not the referee's last mistake. At 2.59 Blackburn (Wilcox) hit the post from a free kick wrongly awarded when Blake fell over. The free kick was on Town's left about 25 yards out and hit Coyne's left post. Blackburn started very quickly and played to their physical strengths - height, power, pace. After 4 minutes they hit the woodwork again. The ball was whacked forward into the area, on the Town right near the edge of the 18 yard box. Coyne came out to catch it and Wilcox collided with him a split second after he caught it. Coyne was poleaxed and the ball rolled loose. The referee put the whistle to his lips, saw Wilcox get up and then waved play on (as the massed ranks of Mariners, behind Coyne's goal, roared in disapproval). Wilcox rolled the ball to Blake, about 12 yards out, who swiveled and smashed the ball against the top of angle of post and bar. Coyne received a couple of minutes of treatment, and the referee received a couple of minutes of ear bashing from Coldicott and R Smith for his failure to give a free kick
For the first 15 minutes Town were not "in" the game at all, they were only defending, desperately at times. Yet again the front two were not holding on to the ball, Lester in particular was playing weakly. It didn't help that Blackburn were very direct and the referee was willing to give them free kicks whenever they fell over. Wilcox had another free kick from almost the exact position as the one described earlier which was hit low, but straight to Coyne (Town fans would call that good positioning by Coyne). In the first quarter of an hour there were two or three dangerous moments in and around the Town box which did not lead to chances, Groves and R Smith blocked or produced strong tackles.
After about 20 minutes the pattern of the game started to change. Lester and Ashcroft were finding more room, principally because they subtly changed their game. As they had done against Portsmouth and Ipswich one of them started to drop into the space between the opposition's midfield and defence (and the defenders left them alone). This allowed them to turn and play in (mostly) D Smith, or run at the defence. Increasingly Town pressed and caused difficulties on the counter attack. Town didn't actually have a shot until the 34th minute, when Lester, with his back to goal about 25 yards out, allowed the ball to run across him. He passed to Donovan, running into the corner of the area, who hit a firm low drive slightly to Filan's right. In the next 5 or 6 minutes Town pressed more and advanced further into the Blackburn area, causing their defenders to throw themselves into last ditch tackles. It was obvious that Town were beginning to expose the spaces in and around the Blackburn central defenders. Blackburn's only response was a long ball over the top which allowed Blake to use his pace and power. Fortunately Coyne timed his rush from his area beautifully to hack clear.
After about 40 minutes Groves hit a long curvy pass from 10 yards inside the Town half, on the right, over the top of the defence on to the right "channel". The ball kept on rolling and Lester got to it before Short. Lester allowed the ball to roll into the area, and he "rolled" around Short, who hauled him down as he got near the 6 yard box. An obvious penalty and we thought the referee would chicken out of sending Short off (as he was the last man, and the referee wasn't to know that for Lester that doesn't really count as a goal scoring opportunity). But the referee did send him off. Hurrah, Hurrah cheered the Town 500. ASHCROFT waddled up and stroked the penalty low into the goalkeeper's left hand corner, whilst the goalie leapt to his right. The Blackburn fans fulminated against the referee, but we didn't care - then.
Blackburn's response was to launch a few more long balls and roll over to win free kicks. A couple of minutes before the referee finally blew for half time he made up for awarding us a penalty by making a disgraceful decision that embarrassed the Blackburn players (the TV close ups showed that). A cross was flung in from the Blackburn right and half cleared to the edge of the Town area, on the left about 20 yards out. It was immediately swung back in across goal. Frandsen, about 8 yards out, dived in to head the equaliser, but missed. The referee immediately pointed to the spot to the disgust of the Town fans, players and any other sentient beings in the ground. No Town player appeared to be near Frandsen, his face was a picture of embarrassment. I don't recall seeing anyone appeal for a penalty either. The referee did not book any Town player for the "challenge" presumably because he couldn't identify who "pushed" Frandsen. Perhaps that's because no one did. CARSLEY whacked the penalty highish to Coyne's right, and Coyne nearly got to it too.
Town still had time to have a flowing move down the right resulting in Coldicott curling a shot from the edge of the area. The goalkeeper saved at his right hand post, though it would have gone a foot wide.
The half finished about 3.50 and the reception given to the referee by both sets of supporters was "hot".
The standard of play had not been high, and the half had three distinct phases - Blackburn power dominating, Town organising a dull stand-off, and finally Town starting to take over. A draw at half time was not unsatisfactory, and possibly a little flattering to Town on "chances made". But for the ref Town would have been leading. He managed to book Lester (rightly for landing on a defenders calf) and R Smith (incorrectly as he had got a half boot on a challenge on the half way line, but Blake "rolled"), but failed to book a couple of Blackburn players who took out D Smith and Ashcroft from behind - he even spoke to one of them after he left D Smith in a heap a minute after he had booked R Smith for a far less cynical or bad challenge. He also managed to play advantage to Town a couple of times when Blackburn had the ball and were attacking.
At half time the talk of the supporters was of how many players would remain on the pitch. We were certain the ref wouldn't let Town keep 11 on.
No changes made at half time.
Half time: Blackburn 1 Grimsby Town 1
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