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08/04 Sheff Utd 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Sheffield Utd 0 Grimsby Town 0
08 Apr 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
A dull, slate grey sky with no wind and no home supporters in sight until just before the kick off. The attendance was later announced as over 11,000 - I think they must have played their joker on that one as the word "sparse" is leaping up and down demanding to be used in conjunction with the word "crowd". It was a terribly bland stadium on a terribly bland day, with no atmosphere at all. And this, surely, must have been their biggest game of the season! A few Town fans amused themselves with close quarter baiting of the Mascot (a pirate type spongey-man)
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation. Butterfield was the only different starter from the last game. Town played in the cheap T-shirt strip of two-tone blue hoops.
The game kicked off and we hardly noticed. It was as if no-one in the ground was interested.
Sheffield United kicked off towards the Town fans (about double the contingent at Barnsley) in the usual Warnock style - a high hoof towards a big bloke running down the touchline. It went out for a Town throw in. Town slowly worked their way up the left and the ball eventually reached Clare, about 20 yards out near the edge of the penalty box. He held off a challenge, running across the box and hit a low right foot shot straight at the 'keeper, to the right of the goal. The next 4 or 5 minutes saw many, many throw ins with the ball knocked high towards the Town defenders, who simply headed the ball away. The monotony was broken by, firstly, Marcus Bent falling over the advertising boards right in front of the Town supporters and, secondly, Clare replicating his earlier effort, beating two challengers and shooting a yard wide of the 'keeper's right hand post.
The match was interminable, with time marching slowly through thick treacle. After several hours (that were really only a further 10 minutes) Town had another inconsequential effort. Fine interplay down the right involving Butterfield, Donovan and Clare saw the ball crossed to Ashcroft, about 15 yards out, to the (Town) right of the goal. He controlled it on his chest, swivelled, and hooked a right foot volley 3 or 4 yards over the bar. He had another shot a couple of minutes later, which was equally wayward, but even less interesting to describe. Around the same time Pouton was seen for the first time when he reacted to a miss-control 25 yards out and hit a first time right foot shot quite weakly straight at the 'keeper.
Sheffield United had started the game by attacking down the Town right, but had got nowhere. Their first thrust down the left resulted in Gallimore dallying and failing to run after the ball when it was played past him. The winger crossed to somewhere near the penalty spot, where a midfielder hurtled in and, unmarked, headed firmly but high slightly to Coyne's left. Coyne arched back and tipped the ball just over the bar for a corner.
There wasn't much football being played, with the midfielders largely redundant as an attacking force (save for the occasional run by a Blade which was dealt with by Coldicott the destroyer. He knows how to block runs by accidentally colliding with someone). Nothing much was seen of Pouton, well what can you do when the ball is constantly 10 feet above your head? Then, near the half hour, he produced one of his stirring , surging 30 yard dribbles, starting with his famous "step-over", and ending with a fall in the area. Pouton wanted a penalty and, strangely, so did the Town fans, though being over 100 yards away we couldn't really see it. So we all agreed anyway - it was a definite penalty. Why let the lack of evidence get in the way of blind allegiance?
The Blades were about the same standard as Huddersfield (damning with faint praise indeed), playing the same ugly game. They only had a couple more efforts in the first half - a 20 yard drive which sliced a yard wide (Coyne had it covered anyway); and another 20 yarder, following a corner, which Coyne pushed aside low to his right. The shot came through a rather crowded penalty box and so, as such, was a very good save. Apart from 2 or 3 deep crosses which their players failed to head properly (they didn't jump high enough under pressure from Lever and Groves, so the ball never went near goal or with any power) and a couple of poor dives in the penalty area they did nothing, and with little urgency either. In fact their ball boys showed more urgency and commitment, throwing a new ball to a Sheffield United player immediately the ball went out of play (something they never did for us of course). The Town midfield and full backs closed down Blades in wide areas, rarely allowing them time and space to get in crosses. Although Gallimore was exposed a few times throughbad positioning and mental slowness he did manage to get parts of his considerable body in the way of the resulting crosses most of the time. Those penalty "claims" should have resulted in bookings as both were dives (after D Smith and Lever had won tackles cleanly) and were both with a few yards of the referee. They were either dives or fouls. Either way the referee should have been taking action. Still it was nice to see Lever plant his knee in the second United player's chest and wag his finger very threateningly. That player never dived again (or went near Lever). Our Yorkies are harder than their Yorkies.
If anything Town had the better of the first half, even producing a couple of decent moves. From one such, again down the right, Clare and Ashcroft linked 25 yards out, with first time flicks. Ashcroft, just outside the area, near the centre, chested a lay off in to the path of Butterfield, who had sprinted into a big space between the centre backs and the left back. Butterfield hit the ball first time, on the half volley, and the ball flew 3 or 4 feet over the bar. A couple of minutes later Butterfield tried an extremely speculative volley from 35 yards out which bounced twice before reaching the 'keeper. I have another vague recollection of Ashcroft shooting tamely wide or high from the left side of the penalty box.
The best opportunity for anyone arrived about 10 minutes before half time. A free kick about 30 yards out on the Town left was clipped in by D Smith into the middle of the penalty area. Clare was unmarked about 15 yards out but failed to control the ball (it got stuck between his legs) and it was hacked away.
Half time arrived at 3.51, following some long stoppages for injuries. At least three of these stoppages resulted in Town playing with 10 men, firstly when Pouton was treated, secondly when a Sheffield United player crumpled in the middle of the pitch (bizarrely the Blade stayed on and Lever went off) and finally when Gallimore was injured making a sliding tackle in extra time. There was relief all round that the half was ended as it had been really boring. The Sheffield supporters only made some noise following the penalty "appeals", but then only half heartedly. Excitement? - well there were a couple of foul throws.
Even the half time entertainment lacked - it wasn't even risible. There were a dozen teenage girls dressed in red and white dancing to an undistinguished sub standard dance track and, to the side of the pitch, half a dozen schoolboys kicking balls through a tyre. It was like everyone involved with Sheffield United was going through the motions of finishing this season. Been there, done that, haven't we.
Half time: Sheffield Utd 0 Grimsby Town 0
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