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29/04 Tranmere 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Grimsby Town 1 Tranmere Rovers 2
29 Apr 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
It started out dull and grey, but by kick off there was an azure sky of deepest blue, as clear as an unmuddied lake. Well, the sun shone.
Prior to the game the atmosphere inside Blundell Park can best be described as somnambulant, with only the Tranmere 100 making any noise (they gave Coyne a decent round of applause when he ran on to the pitch). There was a frisson of excitement when the crowd realised that Donovan wasn't warming up, but that was dulled when they realised that Nicholls was on the pitch, as was A Buckley.
An unusual Town team lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation. Diddy Ben Chapman played at left back, with Lever and Livvo at centre back. Groves partnered Coldicott in centre midfield and Pouton played at right wing. Tranmere started off with only Wayne Allison up front, with 5 in midfield. The portents were not good for a free flowing, open, attacking match, with the ball on the ground at least some of the time.
For the umpteenth time in a row Town lost the toss and kicked off towards the Pontoon. Within a minute Tranmere had achieved their first objective - a throw in Town's half. Fortunately little old Blundell Park rather cramped Challinor's style and he couldn't get the monumental distances on his throws. They were just really long. Town had no difficulties with them at all, with Lever's head coming in useful on many occasions.
Nothing happened at all for 10 minutes or so. Nothing. Tranmere kicked it in the air and Town did the same. Groves looked old and immobile whilst Tranmere peppered Chapman with high balls, which he dealt with most proficiently. They hadn't taken into account the iron springs in his legs. Boy, does he jump high for a tiny tot. On 12 minutes Tranmere won a free kick after Chapman was put in difficulty by Lever under the Findus/Stones/Smiths Stand, about 10 yards from the bye line. Lever had given him a short return pass when two Tranmere players were right on top of him. Chapman lost out in a challenge and lunged in from the side/behind, knocking the ball out for a corner. Except the referee decided it was a foul, near (Town's) left hand corner flag. Mahon whipped in a lowish left footed cross, with pace towards the near post, about 10-12 yards out. CHALLINOR flicked the ball on and it looped in to Coyne's right hand side netting. A loud "tut" was emitted by the Pontoon, with accompanying groans from the other stands. Eyebrows were raised too. Typical defending at a set piece.
I cannot recall Town making any response. The game carried on as before with Tranmere hassling and harrying Town players when they had possession, sometimes legally. There was no flow to the game as the referee seemed to blow for free kicks every few seconds and Town were rubbish. For the first 30 minutes Ashcroft was a disgrace, putting in less effort than at West Brom. Some thought that would be difficult. The crowd were starting to heckle the Podgemeister and he suddenly perked up a bit and at least ran around until half time. One should not take this to mean he played well for 15 minutes, just that he tried a bit harder and passed to Town players, occasionally moving too.
The Town "attacks", if they can be called that, principally involved Clare and Pouton (who looked not only unfit, but unwell). Clare was adept at nicking the ball away from Tranmere and generally being a pest to them. However, his decision making was again poor, with him being guilty on several occasion of holding on to the ball for far too long and turning into players, rather than space. The best Town move of the first half an hour involved Clare stealing the ball on the half way line, with some determined harrying, and releasing Pouton behind the full back. Pouton was visibly struggling to run, but still got there. He was brought down, about 3 yards to the right of the penalty area, 5 yards from the bye line. In fact an almost identical position to that from which Tranmere scored. Our deadly dead ball expert chipped the ball with precision and perfection to a position 2 yards above and beyond Groves at the far post. Mr Black (wasn't he the murder victim in Cluedo?) had another opportunity from almost the same position a few minutes later. I cannot recall exactly what happened, though I can guarantee it wasn't exciting. Either the 'keeper punched it away or a defender headed it away. The usual, in other words.
On 37 minutes Town had a passing move down the left. The ball eventually reached Black, near the touchline about 25 yards out. He cut in and rolled the ball to Ashcroft, continuing his lateral run. Ashcroft rolled the ball back to Black who, about 25 yards out just to the left of centre, dinked a little pass through a big gap in the Tranmere defence. CLARE ran on and clipped a low shot over the goalkeeper and into bottom left hand corner of the goal. One shot, one goal. The goalkeeper went mad and ran out flailing his arms around and ran up to Ashcroft going chest to chest in an oh so macho confrontation. Lever was involved in the peacemaking. It must have been the humiliation of conceding a goal to Town in open play. It must almost be a sackable offence these days.
That's just about all the action in the first half. Tranmere had one other shot, when Mahon ran through on their right through two challenges. The ball bounced back to him both times and when he got to the edge of the area he scuffed a shot straight at Coyne. Town had two other efforts (and I do mean only 2, there weren't even any awful long range shots or crosses which might have lead to anything). Groves, at the far post, headed a corner from the left past the right hand post. Clare was a little slow in moving and was a yard short of the ball as it passed the post. Lever had a header from 15 yard which was saved easily by the 'keeper at the right hand post. Again this was from a cross from the left. I think it was from a free kick.
The only other thing to happen was that Ashcroft hurt his leg in a slide tackle after about 40 minutes. Yes, the game was that dull that Ashcroft getting hurt is a highlight. Despite a couple of stoppages of at least 2 minutes the referee didn't appear to allow any extra time, blowing his whistle just as Clare was set free from the half way line.
There had been no "pattern" or style to the game, just bump and grind. There was very little pace either and the half time score was flattering to both sides. It should have been 0-0. The Town performance had been patchy. Groves provided yet more evidence that he is past it as a first division midfielder, Clare was back to head down mode and Ashcroft was infuriating. Black was invisible, except when he chipped corners and free kicks towards Tranmere players. Pouton looked as though he was unable to move freely. He didn't have any pace and looked gaunt and pale (more so than normal). The only positives (that is non-negatives) were in defence where Chapman looked very comfortable. Nobody was missing Mr Gallimore. Stacy ran around a lot and won most tackles.
A typical end of season game. Everyone seemed to be going through the motions. The only interest was who Buckley would bring on and when.
The wit of Grimsby was on display - chants of "two world wars and one world cup" to taunt, Achterburg, the Tranmere goalkeeper. Who is Dutch.
Half time: Grimsby Town 1 Tranmere Rovers 1
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