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22/04 Blackburn 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Grimsby Town 0 Blackburn 0
22 Apr 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
Despite incessant rain during the morning, the afternoon saw bright sunshine with a little wind blowing across the Park into the Stones/Smiths/Findus. The pre-match atmosphere was non existent and the mood was generally calm, but indifferent. The only talking points before the game were whether Livingstone would play to add zest, pace and panache to the front line; and Ashcroft's new sub-Beckham haircut.
Town lined up in the requisite 4-4-2 formation. Livingstone played at centre forward, with Groves at centre back
Town lost the toss (again) and kicked off towards the Pontoon. Blackburn were a very physically solid team and played quite directly, though never long ball. From the start they pressed Town back and we never really got the upper hand, or even periods of control. The first scares started in the 4th minute when Lever fluffed a back pass by slicing it several yards high and wide of Coyne, giving away a needless corner on the Town left (a semi-Lever moment). The corner was swung away from goal to somewhere near the left hand post. Blake stooped and headed firmly, low slightly to Coyne's right. Coyne caught the ball.
A few minutes later Duff, the right winger, edged into the area, as Gallimore backed off, and took on our own Mr G on the outside. The resulting shot, from about 10 yards, hit the side netting, though Coyne had it covered. Town did get near the Blackburn penalty area a couple of times in the first quarter of an hour, but nothing came of them. I recall Livvo winning a challenge, with the ball flying across towards D Smith, who lost out in a very strong sliding tackle from McAteer.
After 15 minutes Blackburn won another corner, this time on their right, which was swung into the centre of the goal mouth, about 12 yards out. Again a Blackburn player headed it firmly towards goal, and again it was straight at Coyne. Blackburn had much the better of the chances in the first half with Coyne having to make a couple of saves, and a few stops. One of his better moments was when he came out and smothered when Blake was racing through, I think this followed an obvious foul by Blake who pushed Groves away to be free. The referee interpreted this as a good old fashioned shoulder barge. This was one of the few decisions that the referee (R Fernandiz, a rotund man) got wrong. He generally let play go on after strong challenges, though he had a tendency to shoot the messenger (especially Pouton who got a couple of niggles after the ball had gone, which resulted in him being admonished for complaining).
Coyne also had to deal with a couple of slightly miss-hit shots from outside the box, which went straight to him and he raced out to the left hand side of his goalmouth to punch away after a Butterfield clearance had ricocheted off a Blackburn attacker towards their winger. Most of the action was at the Â¾ filled Osmond End with many crosses being whipped in and defenders' heads and bodies being thrown in the way. Lever and Groves were particularly prominent.
Town did manage to have a couple of shots which sparked a bit of noise from the faithful, though not much. Ashcroft received a throw in on the (Blackburn) left of the penalty area, about 15 yards out. He allowed the ball to run across him, turned and whipped in a left foot half-ish volley which went a yard high and wide of the 'keeper's left hand post. He had a much better opportunity after about 35 minutes. After another throw, Livingstone, with his back to goal, knocked the ball to Coldicott who, with great presence of mind, stooped low and headed the ball into a large gap right in the centre of the penalty box, which was exactly where Ashcroft was standing. Ashcroft didn't realise how much time and space he had, as he swiveled and hit a left foot volley a couple of yards high and wide of the 'keeper's right hand post. Near the end of the half Town did manage to exert some pressure, mainly as a result of break-aways. Butterfield broke down the right, rolled the ball forward to Ashcroft, who flicked the ball inside the left back to the on-rushing Coldicott. Coldicott was about 10 yards to the left of the goal and attempted to cross by sliding into the ball. Unfortunately his cross deflected off a defender and rolled into the 'keeper's hands. A couple of minutes later, from another breakaway and a cross from the right (by Ashcroft, I think) Livingstone, unmarked about 10 yards out, slightly to the right of the goal, headed firmly against the cross bar. The linesman flagged for offside, so it was irrelevant really.
Around the same time Blackburn replaced Blake with Jansen.
The only other moments of interest on the first half were confrontations between various players, all of which promised a bit of a punch up in the second half. It appeared that the Town players took exception to the firmness and occasional lateness of some challenges. At one point Livvo was holding a centre half by his shirt collars in an attempt to reason with him, no doubt. Ashcroft seemed intent on getting himself sent off. He got away with a late two footed scissor-tackle on Davidson early on, but got himself booked for a shocking late sliding lunge at McAteer. There was a fascinating moment in the first half when Lever and McAteer had a conversation - clash of brainiacs, or what.
Town had been a little outplayed in the first half, having difficulty with Blackburn's power game. They didn't help themselves with their insistence on playing long balls to Livvo's head. He did cause Blackburn problems with his challenges, winning many. However his inability to move negated any benefits his "presence" brought. In truth it was quite painful to watch Livvo, who tried really, really hard, but just can't hack it as an attacker in the first division. There was much discussion in the Pontoon on which is slower - his feet or his brain. At least three opportunities to shoot were squandered because Livvo was unable to react, or move, when free and/or unmarked 30 yards out. Town were a bit lucky to be level at half time, as the defence had had to work very hard. The centre midfielders were unable to do much in attack as the ball was often pinged over their heads to the front two. There had been no opportunities for the Pouton surge, and it was difficult to see how Town would break them down. After all they were all taller, stronger and faster - so how would whacking it up to Livvo's head, or over the top for Livvo's pace, bring a goal?
There wasn't even any half time entertainment to be embarrassed by.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Blackburn 0
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