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28/11 Norwich 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Grimsby Town 2 Norwich City 1
28 Nov 1999, Nationwide League Division 1
A temperate day with a stiff cold wind blowing across the pitch from the Findus/Stones/Smiths to the Main Stand. Town ran out prior to the game and immediately formed a circle. They then proceeded to perform the circular passing training exercise that has previously brought a 100% rate in awful performances and results. Coyne wore a red ensemble that was far more pleasing on the eye than his usual yellow peril outfit.
The players had run out too early for SKY, so they were made to hang around kicking their heels for a minute before the referee was given the nod to start play.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation. As against QPR Gallimore played at centre half, with D Smith at left back. A Buckley played wide left and Hamilton played in centre midfield. .
Norwich kicked off towards their supporters in the Osmond Stand and within 30 seconds Butterfield showed why he is highly rated (and why no-one has bought him yet). Butterfield tackled Eadie, won the ball and side stepped two challenges with some "twinkle toes". He then looked up and chipped the ball straight to a Norwich defender. I don't recall too much Town play to mention in the first 10 minutes, apart from Hamilton's first touch which was Widdo-esque in its ineptitude. The play was very untidy with some poor control and passing. Not all of this was due to the wind. Norwich were quite direct, in the sense that they played the ball forward quickly and utilised the pace of Eadie and Forbes to get into the Town area. Not to mention Roberts' elbows, studs and backside - all of which made contact with various parts of various Town players' bodies.
After some Norwich pressure Town conceded the obligatory goal from a header. A corner from the Main Stand side was played flatly to an area about 12 yards out just to the left of centre. The centre half KENTON rose above Buckley (who didn't appear to challenge) and headed powerfully into the bottom right hand corner of the goal. For the last 12 years John McDermott has, at corners, stood in the exact spot the ball entered the net. No-one stood on the near post today. Whoops, groan, mutter, moan. It looked like the referee booked the goal scorer for excessive celebrations.
The next 10 minutes were almost a replay of the first 10, except Norwich didn't score. Then Town suddenly raised the tempo of their game and, more importantly, started to pass to each other. Town were no longer in torpor. The catalyst for this appeared to be when Buckley intercepted an attempted pass out of defence, in front of the Lower Stones. He raced on to the loose ball and whipped in a low, swinging cross to the edge of the 6 yard box. The ball was hacked out for a corner on the Main Stand side. The corner was played in to the near post area but was headed out by a Norwich defender to A Buckley, about 20 yards out to the left of centre. Buckley hit the ball on the volley and it smacked against the angle of the 'keeper's left post and bar.
After interplay involving Lester, Coldicott and Ashcroft, the ball was crossed to the right hand side of the penalty box where Donovan challenged the defender. The ball went behind both and Donovan fell as if he had been pulled back. The fall was a little too theatrical and the referee waved play on. Donovan was also played in behind the defence by Lester with his cross being cut out at the near post.
After 25 minutes Town produced a concerted move down the centre right involving Butterfield and Lester. The ball was flicked on towards the onrushing Donovan, a couple of yards inside the area, who had his legs whisked away from him by a central defender. A penalty so obvious the referee seemed to eschew pointing to the penalty spot. ASHCROFT rolled the ball to the 'keeper's right, as the 'keeper dived to his left. The ball rolled in off the inside of the post much to the delight and relief of most in Blundell Park. I presume the 200 or so Norwich fans were not delighted or relieved.
The rest of the half seemed to fly by, with the occasional danger moments created by both sides. Town's only other chances in the first half was created and missed by Lester. The ball was played into him, right on the bye-line on the Town left in front of the Pontoon. Lester beat two players before clipping a shot to the near top corner. The goalkeeper held it comfortably. Some in the Pontoon observed that 3 of the 5 Town players in the area were unmarked and to cross would have been a wiser decision. Apart from that I can only recall one other contribution from Lester in the first half (when he flicked the ball on for Donovan to cross). His first 45 minutes were what one might charitably call "subdued", with numerous moments when he either failed to react when the ball was close to him, or he reacted very slowly.
On the other hand Norwich created two chances. Firstly the ball was played into the box and seemed to bounce around, with no Town defender attacking the ball to clear. Roberts, with his back to goal, about 15 yards out, centrally placed, controlled the ball and turned it behind and between Gallimore and Lever. A Norwich player looked to be free with just Coyne to beat. As if by magic D Smith appeared with a sliding block to clear for a corner. Phew, what a scorching tackle. Late in the half, Eadie was set free inside the Town half and he advanced in to the area with only Coyne betwixt him and net. Coyne closed him down quickly and blocked the shot. The rebound was played back across goal by Eadie and hacked off the line by Lever, but the Linesman flagged for a goal kick anyway.
And that was, effectively, that - although this bald description of the chances does not particularly give the full flavour of the game. Town's defence was, generally, individually acceptable, but collectively very loose. Only last ditch tackling and harrying had stopped more efforts on goal with their pace being the major threat. Towards the end of the half Eadie ran from inside his own half past three or four Town players before being "crowded out". Coyne had been sufficiently confident to venture off his line to catch a corner. He even tried this with a huge swinging cross from the Norwich right which went high across the goal. The wind carried the ball further and further way from the goal towards the Main Stand, but Coyne kept following it. Even when it had gone out of the penalty box. He ended up shielding the ball as it went out for a Town throw. When I say shield I actually mean he threw himself between the ball and a Norwich player to ensure the ball went out. Apart from that moment, he had been fine.
Butterfield was laid out flat twice, it looked as though he had been singled out for "special" treatment. He must be a star then. The second of these tackles resulted in a booking for Roberts as he slid late across Butterfield from 90 degrees. He was lucky it was only a booking, and doubly lucky as a few minutes earlier he'd given away a foul through some rough play and moaned on and on and on at the referee. He probably should have been booked for that as well.
I have not mentioned two Town "direct" free kicks near the edge of the penalty box (one of which was won by Ashcroft with the most comically miss-timed dive I have seen. He started to dive after the referee had blown his whistle). They were awful (Gallimore softly into the wall and Ashcroft dribbled a shot underneath the wall). My money is still on Dave Gilbert, to quote Roly and John. Lever had yet to make his miss-hit clearance. Well there was still 45 minutes to come. We knew he wouldn't let us down.
Half time: Grimsby Town 1 Norwich City 1
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