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04/03 Walsall 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Walsall 1 Grimsby Town 0
04 Mar 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
A very bright, very clear, very cold day in the beautiful shed that is the Bescot "Stadium". It is exactly like Scunthorpe's ground, except the seats are red. The pitch looked like it would cut up quite easily. And it did. As Walsall were playing in red shirts Town, of course, played in the blue hooped monstrosity. The players were led on to the pitch by the Walsall Mascot - a pretty ropey looking bird costume. It resembled a badly constructed fat Emu. As it had the word "Swifty" blazoned across the back I suspect it was supposed to be that native British bird, the swift. A man (or woman) dressed as a saddle would have looked even more stupid.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation. Gallimore returned at left back looking sleek and slender(ish), with the fearsome twosome of Clare and Nicholls again up-front.
Walsall were a motley collection of shockingly haired foreigners and British cast offs. I half expected the referee to book two of their players for outrageous hair - slick backed into a bunch (Vlachos) and like some kind of Inca (the long haired and head-banded Padula). They could have had someone's eye out with a flick of their coiffeurs. Walsall played 4-4-2 as well with Wrack on their right, and a little man/big man routine up front (Ricketts and Robins).
Walsall kicked off towards the 200 or so Town supporters (who were congregated behind the goal on the right as seen on TV) and nothing happened at all for 5 minutes. The ball was kicked between various players and various ball boys for a series of throw ins. After about 5 or 6 minutes Walsall had a shot from outside the area, following a half cleared corner, which was deflected 5 yards over the bar.
For the next 20 minutes Town took control of the game, especially in midfield. Town started this period with a couple of moves which broke down through Nicholls being offside. On one occasion he continued play and finished terribly, slicing 5 yards wide with only the 'keeper to beat. After 15 or 20-ish minutes Town exerted some pressure which nearly brought a goal. It all started when a Walsall attack was broken up by a bizarre Livvo interception. He smashed a clearance low across the face of the Town area, fortunately straight to Groves who half controlled/prodded it to Coldicott. The ball was moved at full Town pace (i.e. leisurely) up the middle and left to the edge of the Walsall area. Town retained possession on the left, between Clare, Coldicott, Black and Gallimore and the ball was eventually crossed over the Donovan, who, about 10 yards out, cut in across the full back. Unfortunately, his touch was a little heavy and the ball ran through to the 'keeper. Within a couple of minutes or Town had another attack which resulted in Nicholls drifting off the centre backs and playing a reverse pass between centre back and left back. Donovan ran on to the ball and, from about 12 yards out and 8 or 9 to the right of goal, dragged a shot across the 'keeper. It hit the 'keeper's right hand post and bounced out towards Black. He missed the ball and kicked the Walsall defender, resulting in a free kick to them.
A few minutes after that, Donovan lashed in a cross from near the right corner flag to Groves, on the edge of the area, centrally placed. Groves hit a swivelling hooked volley high, but straight at the 'keeper, who pushed it over for another corner. And after that Town did not threaten any more in the first half.
Walsall had a breakaway after about 25/30 minutes, down the Town left. Gallimore and Black were slow to react to a one-two, which left a midfielder (Matias) free near the bye-line, just inside the area. He crossed to the near post, about 8 yards out. Coyne dived towards the ball, but missed as Ricketts did a low, leaning back header which looped towards the net. Fortunately Lever was running back and the ball got stuck between his legs as he turned around, and it was whacked away for a throw in. Inelegant, maybe inadvertent, but effective. Hey, that's Lever.
A few minutes later the flow of the game seemed to change after another rubbish decision by the referee (who kept falling for Walsall's falling. An intense stare was enough to make some of their players to fall over). Ricketts attempted to run between Black and Lever, about 20 yards out slightly to the left of the Town goal. He kicked it too hard and with the ball running away and being cleared, he decided to fail to stop himself falling over an invisible foot. The resultant free kick was hit firmly, but centrally, and Coyne pushed it over easily for a corner. After this Town never produced any flowing football, or even control over the game.
5 or 6 minutes from half time Walsall counter attacked down the centre right. Gallimore came across to cover the centre backs as a Walsall player advanced, leaving acres of space on the Town left. Black was very slow to track back, and even slower to react to a stroll forward by Matias. The ball was eventually rolled over to Matias, who had loads of time to wander forward and cross to the unmarked Robins, about 10 yards out, just to the left of the penalty spot. ROBINS firmly headed the ball just inside Coyne's left hand post. Despite getting a hand to it, Coyne couldn't stop it going in. Coyne was actually moving to his right as Robins re-directed the ball to his left, so it was a clever header. Darren Wrack endeared himself to the Town crowd by running in to the goal, picking the ball up and moving towards the advertising boards, gesturing with his right hand. I think a couple of Town fans complained to the stewards about this.
Walsall got a bit excited and pressured Town a bit more after the goal, but no more efforts on goal resulted, just more vigorous thrusts from their forwards, together with some more theatrical falls which kept producing free kicks.
And so half time came to pass with a feeling that it should have been 0-0, but there was a certain inevitability about the score-line. Town just did not look like scoring. They had played a lot better than last week against Palace, especially in that 15-20 minute period in the middle of the half, but there was no conviction in the forwards. Nicholls spent his time either drifting offside (not so much hanging on the defender's shoulder as the goalkeeper's), or drifting off the centre backs into the famous Kingsley hole. With even less effect. He barely rose above a trot and was easily shrugged away from the ball by the defenders. Yet again he did a passable impression of a disinterested Ashcroft. A couple of flicks and one excellent pass aside, he had done nothing. In the last 10 minutes or so Town reverted to high balls to Clare and Nicholls (who were both several inches smaller, and a stone or so lighter, than their markers). You may be surprised to hear that this was not very successful. Groves and Coldicott had been effective for half the half, but Groves was slow and loose in his passing as the half continued, allowing Walsall more opportunity to break through the centre. The defence had been generally ok, with the exception of the usual Lever/Livvo flutters. The evidence of the last couple of games suggests that we should be waiting for that "Livvo moment", rather than Lever. At one point Livvo cleared a through ball with a wild swipe which ballooned the ball in an arc across the back line. Luckily it went straight to McDermott. One could say that even Livvo's mistakes are perfect.
The heads were down at half time as no-one could see where a goal would come from.
Half time: Walsall 1 Grimsby Town 0
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