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15/04 Man City 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Grimsby Town 1 Manchester City 1
15 Apr 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
A cold (5 degrees Celsius on the GET building) slab grey day with a breeze swirling around on the Smiths/Findus/Stones side of Blundell Park only. The Osmond and open corner were packed solid with over confident Mancunians, though there were a few empty seats elsewhere, with the open corners remaining a sea of green seats.
The official pre-match entertainment was a group of teenage girls "dancing" - not a pretty sight. Has everybody's sister now danced on Blundell Park ? The unofficial pre match entertainment was the Man City squad limbering up by dancing and skipping around the centre circle, inadvertently in time to "the Final Countdown" by Swedish rock sensations, Europe. Their backroom staff then proceeded to place dozens of fluorescent disks on the pitch, just in front of the Stones. The players ambled over and played a sort of one bounce/one touch game of imaginary table tennis. It didn't look very convincing. Town warmed up in the usual disparate, disinterested way, nothing organised - everyone just doing their own thing.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows employing the same team that started last week's game against Sheffield United. A one minute silence (for Hillsborough) was impeccably observed within Blundell Park - the only sounds heard were Man City supporters singing outside the ground.
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon with Coldicott whacking the ball high towards big Kevin Donovan's forehead. It wasn't such a daft tactic as the Man City left back was very small and round. A bit like a Weeble. Nothing particularly exciting happened in the first 5 minutes. Town had possession most of the time and were trying to pass to feet, Man City either wellied it down the middle or wellied it down the left to Mark Kennedy. The first action was after 5 minutes when D Smith hit a first time shot from 25 yards, to the (Town) right of goal, which comfortably cleared the crossbar by 2 or 3 feet.
Within a minute Man City had their first attempt at goal (indeed their first steps inside the Town penalty box). The ball was played to Kennedy about 20 yards out , a couple of yards from the angle of the penalty area. Butterfield attempted a sliding tackle as Kennedy flicked the ball inside. The flick went to Lever, who cleared, and Kennedy ended on the floor after Butterfield just caught him. The referee gave Man City a free kick, to some protestations from Town players and crowd. The free kick was hit deep into the area, past the far post, where it was headed back to a central-ish position about 8 or so yards out. Coyne came out to catch the ball and bounced off Prior, re-adjusted his feet, and tried to punch the ball away. PRIOR, being very large, simply stood his ground and headed the ball gently over Coyne. It was a very soft goal and there was more than an arguable case for a free kick to have been awarded to Town for impeding the 'keeper. But then Town are a small, unimportant team. The referee's name? Laws. We had trouble with a referee with that name before.
Town's response was not to give up, but to carry on hassling and harrying the so-called better team. So effective were Town that Man City only had a couple more efforts at goal in the first half. After 12 minutes a cross was half cleared to a midfielder (Whitley), unmarked about 25 yards out and centrally placed. He whacked in a drive that went across Coyne towards the top left hand corner. Coyne punched it away with his right hand as he leapt acrobatically to his left. After about half an hour someone (Kennedy I think) had a cross shot from the edge of the area on the Town left which went a couple of feet wide of Coyne's right hand post. I don't count Kennedy's free kick which he sliced yards high and wide. They didn't create much at all, mainly because they displayed little wit - they were just like Huddersfield.
Around the 15th minute Town exerted a lot of pressure, principally down the right. At least 3 or 4 "thrusts" were half repelled by City, each time a Town player retrieved the ball with solid crunching interceptions. I particularly remember Lever and Coldicott winning the ball back through sheer determination. The ball was eventually worked up to the back line of defenders, about 20 yards out, just to the left of the City penalty box. Donovan crossed and the ball was flicked on at the near post, whereupon POUTON steamed in and hit a swiveling right foot volley into the centre right of the goal. The Town fans erupted, with an ovation very similar to the one given to Mr Ivano for his goal against West Brom. Pouton went wild, skipping around and generally showing happiness.
After this Town pressed relentlessly and created many moments of danger, if not clear cut chances (Hey, isn't that Town to a T). The best chance fell to Ashcroft, who was set free behind the City defence on their right. He hurtled into the area, cutting in towards the goal. With Coldicott and Clare racing into the area, and Coldicott unmarked at the far post, Ashcroft decided to place a shot inside the 'keeper's near post. It hit a defender's shin and went out for a corner, with Coldicott furiously shouting at Ashcroft for being greedy. Ashcroft also hit a weak free kick, from 25 yards out to the right of the City area, through the wall. Had the goalkeeper remained in Manchester it would have gone in.
The Town forwards were creating problems for the big defenders with their twisting and turning. Amazingly they were even winning some headers. City appeared to have greater difficulties with Clare, as Ashcroft seemed to be playing for himself and made some poor decisions - shooting when he should pass and passing when he should have shot. The most blatant of these poor decisions caused some panic in the Man City defence - a cross from the left reached Ashcroft, unmarked 8 yards out on the right, just beyond the corner of the 6 yard box. Instead of shooting he attempted to lay off a cushion volley to Clare, who was about 8 yards out near the centre but marked and with his back to goal. Clare wasn't expecting a pass, but still controlled the ball and attempted to turn. The defenders blocked him but the ball got stuck between his legs as he fell. This resulted in one of those cup-tie free for all's, which eventually saw the ball hacked clear.
That is the extent of the goal mouth action on the first half, it doesn't sound much but it had been an exciting game, helped by a throbbing atmosphere. The atmosphere was assisted by the referee and linesman on the Main Stand side (ruining the Town attacks). Both seemed intent on protecting Man City. The linesman flagged whenever a Town player received the ball in space, almost regardless of the facts (he did manage to get a couple right). The referee wound every Mariner up with his interpretations of events. For example, Donovan won a tackle in front of the dug out, with the ball rolling to Pouton. This left three Town players against one Man City player. As Pouton advanced, the referee gave Town a free kick. In the last minute of the half Clare allowed a clearance to go past him, the Man City defender missed the ball and fell over, thus allowing Clare a free run on goal. A free kick was given to Man City. Worst of all were the referee's belief that Man City players never ever controlled the ball with their hands. After half an hour or so a Town cross from the left zipped across the edge of the penalty area. One of the Man City defenders nudged the ball away with his left arm - according to the referee this was his super large chest. It wasn't.
Note this is only the first half and only the major bad decisions. Town didn't get any decisions in their favour within 35 yards of the City goal. The half time whistle saw Town get a roaring ovation and the referee was roaringly derided. Town had had much the better of the game - any football came from the striped ones. Man City were very limited and looked a little arrogant (in that they didn't appear to be playing at full pace or commitment). It was as if they felt they didn't have to try too hard. Their style, which is a word not easily sitting in proximity to Man City, was basic - long towards a big player, or long to a winger with a reputation. I can't remember either of their strikers getting anywhere near goal in the first half, or having shots of any kind. That is a compliment to Lever and Groves, who were generally untroubled. Oh, I forgot. The only time Town were troubled was when Groves intercepted a long cross field ball by heading back to Coyne, who came off his line and dropped the ball as he fell on it. Lever (I think) cleared.
Town were pleasingly good. Competitive, solid and with a hint of danger. Man City looked like a good 2nd division side. And that is what the Pontoon were saying, man for man, at half time.
The half time mini match was between two sets of girls. It was good. Much better than the little boys games they usually put on. Amazingly both teams had their own "Mark Lever" and when they tackled each other the Blundell Park shuddered.
Half time: Grimsby Town 1 Manchester City 1
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