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19/10 Tranmere 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Tranmere Rovers 3 Grimsby Town 2
19 Oct 1999, Nationwide League Division 1
A clear, cold night with a bitter wind blowing down the Mersey. The Town players strolled out for their warm up with barely 100 spectators in the stadium, and most of them were hiding from the wind underneath the stands. The 11th to 24th Town spectators to arrive were the Junior team led by Ian Knight. They made a bee-line for the drinks machine and loaded in their pocket money. They wondered why no drinks were being dispensed, until one of them noticed that it hadn't been turned on. The Town future is safe with minds like these. You'll be happy to hear they got their money back, after a steward rocked the machine, and then found someone with a key. No tears before bedtime here.
There was a major surprise in the Town line up, which I must confess, I did not notice for 20 minutes. We were remarking upon Pouton's invisibility when we noticed it wasn't Pouton on the left, but Adam Buckley. This may give you a clue to how many times the ball went out there in the first half. Anyway, the Town team lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation.
Town played in the first kit, which is fortunate as the "reserve" kits would have clashed with Tranmere's white shirts with blue shorts.
Yet again the referee (Stephen Lodge from Barnsley) started the game before the "official" time, at 7.44. Town kicked off towards the (fool)hardy 100. There appeared to be barely 3,000 spectators, though we felt sure they would claim the "psychologically important" 5,000 mark had been breached. The early skirmishes were not encouraging. The Town players looked lethargic and definitely not a coherent unit. There was no urgency and they were reacting to Tranmere's play, rather than imposing Town's style. Tranmere's "style" is awful. It's like watching American Football in that they have one tactic - launch it upfield to the big men. Plan A is "get a throw-in", Plan B is "get a free-kick", and Plan C is "repeat ad-nauseum". The huge number 5, Challinor, has a throw in that can only be appreciated by being present. Absolutely anywhere in Town's half resulted in him lumbering up and launching a throw that travelled well beyond the far post. What Town needed was a tall bloke who can head - where were you Mark Lever in the one game you were required ?
After about 10 minutes of torturous trash, in which the only "notable" moments were 2 long throws (the first was headed wide by Allison, the second missed everybody), a Town supporter ran up the stairs and walked in front of me. At this moment Tranmere scored. It appeared to come down Town's left, where a full back was left unmarked near the edge of the box and he swung over a high cross, which was nodded to Coyne's left by the unmarked ALLISON.
Town's response was a long ball headed on by Lester to Ashcroft, who drifted by his "marker". Ashcroft was free 20 yards out, centrally placed, so he wafted the ball 5 yards over the bar. About 8 Town fans bothered to stand up in anticipation. The other 100 knew it wasn't going anywhere near the goal. A couple of minutes later Ashcroft got his third whack from behind and, after a 2 minute delay, he carried on for another minute before being replaced by Allen. After another 10 minutes of throw ins to Tranmere, Town got another opportunity. Yet another ball over the top of the Tranmere defence, down the "left channel", found Lester rolling into the penalty area and around the defender. He got to the 6 yard box, a couple of yards from the touchline, and dragged a weak shot a yard wide of the right hand post. About 50 Town supporters were suckered into hope on this occasion.
After another 5 minutes of Tranmere throw-ins, during which Coyne became increasingly erratic, Town, to everyone's shock, equalised. Another ball over the top saw Lester free and bearing down on goal. Lester shot weakly against the 'keepers body and the ball ricocheted back and hit Lester near his left shoulder. The ball squirmed across goal and virtually stopped 7 yards out. Lester looked nonplussed by an open goal and a stationary ball, fortunately BRADLEY ALLEN knows how to "sniff" and he wellied the ball in gleefully. The Town fans rose as one to laugh as Town had been terrible up to that point. Maybe a lucky goal would change the course of the game ?
Enter Mr Danny Coyne, or should that be exit Mr Danny Coyne. Straight from the restart Tranmere whacked the ball down the Town left. One of the Town defenders needlessly kicked the ball out for a throw in. Challinor launched a flat throw beyond the far post and ALLISON headed in to an open goal. Where was Coyne you ask ? Strangely enough that is exactly the question the rest of the Town players were asking. As the throw in came in you could see Coyne wandering around with the obvious intent of catching the ball, wherever it went. He didn't, obviously. The Tranmere supporters taunted him with "You'll never play for Wales" - some Town fans sotto voce muttered "he should never play for Grimsby".
The remaining 15 minutes of the half stretched to over 20 with injury time. Tranmere had a couple of long shots way off target, a low drive from Mahon, from about 25 yards, which skidded a few inches past Coyne's left hand post, and loads of long throws. Town's efforts were - a Richard Smith header that "rolled" just over the angle of the right hand post and bar from a free kick on the Town left, and nothing else.
The first half had been laughable torture, with not enough team spirit or individual commitment from many Town players. Adam Buckley did not do anything (good or bad), in fact he looked overawed or frightened. Whenever he did get the ball (about 3 times) he passed it backwards immediately. He never once attempted to get past his full back. He had no confidence at all and the crowd were very unhappy that he had been chosen before Pouton, D Smith and even Black. No one heckled or booed him. The Town method of attacking Tranmere was to chip balls over the top of the defence, or on to the forwards' heads. Surprisingly "big" Bradley and "jumping" Jack didn't win many headers against defenders a foot taller. Defensively Town were just plain stupid. Every player played without any gorm, taking the easy option of knocking balls out for throw ins. Either Town failed to do any homework, or the players are very dim. I suspect the players are dim as Tranmere's only tactic was to launch long throw's - they should have realised this by about the 8th minute at latest.
Town had been hampered by a very poor linesman. Lester and (when on) Ashcroft were constantly flagged for offside when, incredibly for them, they weren't. The linesman only put his flag up when a Town player received the ball, he was definitely ball watching and a coward. The referee also had a habit of giving offsides which aided Tranmere territorially, but not for Town. When a ball was played over the top, the linesman (invariably) flagged for offside, even when the ball had gone to a Tranmere player or their 'keeper, and there was no Town player within 20 yards. The result was to bring play 40 yards upfield. When that happened "the other way round", the referee was content for play to continue, thus keeping play 40 yards back into the Town penalty area. That's when they bothered to give Tranmere offside, of course.
Buckley's half time tea dispensing would do the trick. Wouldn't it?
Half time: Tranmere Rovers 2 Grimsby Town 1
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