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06/11 Wolves 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Grimsby Town 0
06 Nov 1999, Nationwide League Division 1
A showery day, with a cold breeze blowing down the pitch, fortunately from behind the stand in which the Town support was ensconced. A downpour an hour before the game left the pitch in its usual state for a Town fixture - about to cut up with a skiddy service. About 220-250 Town supporters gathered in the corner of the stand on the right as seen on TV (and I hope you didn't see this game on TV). The pre-match entertainment was the usual loud 60's/70's fare with "Hi Ho Silver Lining" as the "come on" for the Wolves.
Town played in the silly double blue hooped kit and lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation. Groves and Coldicott were reunited in central midfield with D Smith on the left, and Hamilton on the right. Hamilton is built like an identikit Buckley player, runs like one, but I'm not sure about his haircut - there is the hint of a curl to his quiff.
Town kicked off away from the Town support. And that's as positive as it gets. Nothing particularly happened in the first 5 minutes, except that the pattern of the game was established. Wolves hit the ball forward in a "direct" fashion to their "Big man, little man" front partnership and looked to get the ball to Sinton (playing left wing) as quickly as possible. A couple of crosses were just about dealt with, Hamilton committed a couple of fouls and then Wolves broke through the centre. The ball was played out to their left and no Town player went out to confront the Wolves player. The ball was chipped into the box, from a position about 30 yards out near the touch-line. Lever challenged the "little man" and the ball skidded off Bananaman and over R Smith to the unmarked AKINBIYI, about 12 yards out. There was a hint of handball in his control, but he advanced and slid the ball slightly to the right of Coyne and into the right hand side of the goal. Poor marking, poor positional play, and poor organisation on the right and in the centre of defence. As this "move" was happening the Town supporters were muttering "Why isn't someone marking that bloke on the right?" " Why doesn't Butterfield go out to him?" "Where is Hamilton?" "Why is Lever marking the small one?" and (throughout) "Akinbiyi is unmarked". You could say that we could see the goal coming.
Town's response was unremarkable and quite forgettable. In other words we didn't do 'owt. After 15 or so minutes Hamilton was booked for winning the ball cleanly and failing to touch a Wolves player. Wolves continued to pepper the centre of Town's area with crosses, though they rarely resulted in chances. There were a multitude of "moments of danger" as Town were defending quite desperately, and sometimes abysmally, but Wolves were not shooting very well. Coyne didn't make another save in the first half, although he did punch a couple of crosses out and collect a couple of over-hit through balls. In fact Wolves' best chance fell in this period, after about 25 minutes, when Akinbiyi received the ball about 8 yards out and hooked the ball wide as he turned. The referee gave a goal kick even though Akinbiyi (a) was offside and (b) handballed when controlling it.
Town started to string some passes together around the 25-30th minute. After one break down the Town right the ball was swung over to Ashcroft, who'd got into an unmarked position to the left of goal inside the penalty area. Of course Ashcroft didn't shoot, but played a cushion volley to Coldicott who was easily dispossessed as he tried to control the ball. Lester dribbled past three Wolves defenders and won a goal kick - he ran straight out of play. Some neat build up and possession football resulted in Groves hitting a shot a yard over from just outside the box. Town's best, and only, chance of the game fell to Groves. Butterfield whipped in a cross from the right, from near the bye-line, which skimmed the face of the cross bar. Ashcroft laid the ball back to Groves, who hit a twisting volley high over the bar from a position to the left of goal, about 10 yards out. Town's best "effort" was an Ashcroft twisting diving header which the goalkeeper saved brilliantly, but the linesman had already flagged for offside. So it was a redundant moment.
That seems an appropriate way to start talking about Hamilton again. For the last 20 minutes of the half he didn't touch the ball (or seem to go near it). I, quite literally, forgot he was on the pitch. It's like having two David Smith's in the team. And I haven't mentioned him either. I can confirm that he was on the pitch but other than that I can add no more.
Somehow Town managed to obtain 3 corners in the first half, but they just acted as launch pads for Wolves counter attacks. Wolves continued to hit the ball in to the channels, with their forwards running tirelessly into space, with midfielders supporting quickly. There were at least three occasions when Town were saved from further ignominy by the non-skills of the Wolves players. Midfielders were unmarked down the centre, but passes were fluffed badly. This may be reported in the GET as good individual defending, I tend to think the ball just kept hitting Lever and R Smith. Town's flanks were very badly exposed, with the full backs receiving ineffective support from the wide midfielders. This was compounded by the full backs' determination to allow the Wolves players as much time and space as they needed to get in a cross. Fortunately most of the crosses were rubbish. The Wolves supporters were singing the praises of "Super Andy Sinton", as he was constantly receiving the ball and whipping crosses in. They are easily pleased in the Black Country. Sinton had sufficient skill to pick out Lever's head, leg and back or, failing that, one particular seat in the crowd behind the goal. A cynic would say he displayed all the skills that persuaded Graham Taylor to pick him for England. Low praise indeed.
With a minute to go in the first half Town had a break away attack, and the ball was eventually rolled across the face of the penalty area to Groves. His shot was blocked by two Wolves players, one sliding in from sideways/behind. The ball was cleared down the Wolves right. Groves and a Wolves player (Osborn, I think) remained entangled, with the Wolves player seemingly holding Groves down. As he got up Groves flicked his boot out, but missed any part of the Wolves player. The crowd roared, the player stayed down, then got up to "remonstrate", Sedgley came steaming in and the referee turned round. As he approached Groves and the Wolves player the referee consulted his assistant, Mr Steve Sedgley, who indicated a stamp. The referee immediately flashed the red card at Groves. Nice to see the officials working as a team. The referee didn't see the incident as he was running away watching the ball in the other half and neither of the linesmen flagged either. The referee needed help and he gratefully received it from an unbiased source. The Town players were furious, with Coldicott the most prominent angry young man.
No added time was played, that was that. Except it wasn't. As the players were leaving the pitch Lever and Lester "discussed" the incident with the Wolves players. This resulted in an almighty barny at the entrance to the tunnel with around 10 players all pushing and shoving, not to mention the police and stewards. There were at least 3 separate scrums at one point. I also observed a golden shirted arm raise itself into Lever's chin.
The Town supporters were most displeased. Firstly Town were useless. Secondly Wolves were not particularly good. Thirdly Groves had been sent off. We were absolutely stunned by this, especially as most people (like the referee) didn't see the incident. We were unable to make any sort of noise for several minutes. We literally couldn't believe what we'd seen. And then despondency set in. Looking at the players on the pitch we couldn't see where a goal was coming from, nor who would lead the team. The players too looked stunned by Groves' dismissal.
Being about 90 yards from the incident I cannot state categorically what happened but it looked like Groves retaliated and missed. In essence it was a similar "offence" to the one where Futcher got sent off at Tranmere (where John Aldridge elbowed Futcher in the mouth, Futcher swung an arm and missed, but got sent off anyway). There must be nothing more galling than being sent off for failing to hit someone.
And it started raining.
Half time: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Grimsby Town 0
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