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15/01 Forest 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Grimsby Town 4 Nottm Forest 3
15 Jan 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
A clear day with little wind and a chill in the air. The pitch looked ready to cut up, and duly did in the player warm up - it looked like a game had been played on it even before the start. The Forest players warmed up in continental style, with organised jogs and stretches, Town warmed up in the usual way. Ashcroft was deadly in the warm up - scoring from every angle and distance. Conversely Coyne managed to save only two or three shots, mainly from Croudson. Groves was the first player to come out for his pre-match warm up, at 2.20, and it looked like he was testing his back. He didn't do anything too strenuous and was moving gingerly at times.
The crowd tried to get behind the players by chanting "Mariners, Mariners" a couple of times before the game kicked off - it wasn't wholehearted, but it was an effort and a decent noise was made.
Town lined up in the usual formation The crowd were as mystified as anyone by Lester's appearance. Definitely out must mean definitely in these days.
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon and the game was a cracker from the start. In the first minute Lester was fouled near the Lower Stones, about 30 yards out. Black swung a cross over to the penalty spot where Livingstone glanced a header to Beasant's left. A Forest defender stuck a leg out and diverted the ball to Beasant's right, whereupon he changed direction and saved with his right hand on the goal-line, just holding onto the ball as Groves slid in. The crowd went "ooooh" and roared their approval. A minute later Forest nearly scored when a ball was lifted over McDermott's head from a position on the centre of the field and Rogers (their left wing back) sprinted into the area and crossed low to the near post. Somehow the ball went behind for a corner as two Forest and two Town players threw themselves at the ball.
In the 6th minute Town attacked at speed down the centre and right. Donovan and Ashcroft linked superbly, with Ashcroft skillfully (and with great determination) beating the defender near their left hand corner. He crossed slightly behind the first "line" of players to a position about 15 yards out level with the 'keeper's right hand post. Groves controlled the ball and hit a first time half volley with the outside of his right boot. The ball hit the post about 1 foot below the angle and bounced out. A scramble followed and the ball eventually flew to Black on the left edge of the penalty area. His shot was half charged down by a defender and saved by Beasant on his goal line.
The game was fast and sometimes very skilful, though the defending on both sides was very fraught. It wasn't going to be 0-0. Lever managed to get two "Lever moments" into the first 5 minutes - both times when he, in effect, challenged a Town player for a Forest cross/pass. One resulted in a corner and another in a cross which was cleared. Remember, this all happened in the first 5 or 6 minutes and I haven't mentioned everything. Like Coyne coming out and catching a corner, or Beasant dropping a corner.
Lester and, particularly, Ashcroft were causing the Forest central defenders a lot of problems with one-twos and their constant chasing of "channel balls". If you thought Town's central defence was bad you obviously haven't seen Forest's. Forest were very fast when breaking away and their principal attacking weapon appeared to be diagonal balls over McDermott's head for Rogers. For the first 10 minutes Macca was being skinned very easily. In this period at least three crosses from inside the Town area came through this ploy and each time it was Rogers being faster and stronger than Macca which brought the opportunity. Fortunately their centre forwards didn't shoot straight or, in the case of Freedman, get near the ball.
So for the first half hour the match was even and could have been 2-2, as sometime in this period Coyne was forced into a diving save to his left when a Forest break saw Rogers (I think) whack a cross shot in from the edge of the area; Scimeca had curled a half volley with the outside of his right boot, just wide of Coyne;s right hand post from a position 20 yards out to the Town left (unmarked, of course); and another break away saw a cross be half stopped at the Town near post and Livingstone welly the ball off the line for a throw in. Plus they had 3 or 4 corners which were cleared from inside the 6 yard box or Coyne caught (yes another one).
After a brief period of Town pressure, Town finally scored. Town were awarded a free kick about 25 yards out to the Town right. The ball was rolled forward to Ashcroft on the right side of the box, about 20 yards out. He seemed to have lost the momentum (as he had done 2 minutes earlier when in exactly the same position he had messed up and Forest had broken away and nearly scored) but then produced a superb turn and flick to go past his marker. He got to a position about 3 yards from the bye-line and hit a hard, low cross to the near post, where LESTER ran across his marker and diverted the ball into the side of the net, on Beasant's right. Beasant didn't have time to move. This was already the third occasion when Ashcroft had "done" his marker with skill, speed and aggression.
Three minutes later Town cleared the ball over the top of the Forest back line, in from to the Stones/Findus, about 30 yards out and 15 yards in from the touchline. It was, essentially, an up and under. Ashcroft chased after it and harried the defender into falling over (i.e. gave him a bit of a nudge with his bottom). This left Ashcroft free with just Beasant to beat, and Lester and two defenders hurtling after him. ASHCROFT advanced and calmly rolled the ball under Beasant. It was a bit like Lester's goal against Crystal Palace last year when he helped Dean Austin miss a bouncing ball. 2-0 to Town and life was wonderful.
Straight from the kick off Forest knocked the ball in the air towards the right edge of the Town box. Stern John challenged with Lever (I think) and the ball was nodded back to Rogers, who had sprinted across from left back to a position right in the centre of the field about 25 yards out. ROGERS hit a first time half volley with the outside of his right boot into the top right hand corner of Coyne's goal. It was unstoppable, once hit. It was hit so hard that the ball came back out of the net and some Town fans thought it had hit the post.
The remaining 12 minutes of the half were just as frantic and exciting. Town's more noteworthy efforts were when Beasant dropped a corner and Groves turned and crossed straight back to Beasant; a very neat and concerted attack down the left saw Black get to the bye-line and chip a cross into the middle of the goal, about 8 yards out, with Ashcroft flying in and heading a yard wide of the left post; and when Ashcroft and Donovan again combined with flicks and tricks on the right side of the penalty box resulting in Ashcroft's cross being blocked by a Forest defender's hands. A corner was given. The defender had put both hands up in front of his face, effectively punching the ball out.
Forest continued to attack as they had done through out - mainly down the Town right. The nearest they came was in the last couple of minutes of the half when a midfielder was played in behind McDermott and he hit a firm shot low to Coyne's right and Coyne firmly punched the ball aside. And Coyne came out and caught another cross.
The half time whistle came as a relief and a disappointment. A relief as the match had been so exciting (due in part to two bad defences) and the Forest attacks had been very dangerous. A disappointment as Town had looked so positive. I can't recall when a Town team had gone for the opposition with such gusto. The old mantra of "attack, attack, attack, attack, attack" was being made flesh. There wasn't, on either side, much attempt at keeping a defensive shape.
Ashcroft, to the universal delight and agreement of Town fans present, was playing like a player worth Â£500,000. He gave 45 minutes of commitment and skill. He was quite unstoppable. He produced at least three turns that had the crowd cooing and purring. Black hadn't produced one pirouette and had crossed well, together with some determination and (dare I say) spatial awareness. Groves really got stuck in and had played positively, looking to spread play at times and was using the ball quickly. Lester had linked well, but tired towards the end of the half, and Coldicott destroyed effectively. Ah yes, the centre of defence. Some things are best left unsaid.
The score could have been anything between 2-1 and 4-4 at half time and no-one could have complained too much. It was exciting and, at that stage, enjoyable.
Half time: Grimsby Town 2 Nottm Forest 1
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