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07/05 Brum 1st Half
By: Tony Butcher
Birmingham City 0 Grimsby Town 0
07 May 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
A greyish day with a very slight wind blowing across from the Main Stand, though quite temperate for the time of year. All in all a perfect day for football. Birmingham brought about 700 supporters who made the occasional chant, but mostly sang "Keep right on to the end of the World" (they'll have to with Francis in charge). The drummer made an unspecial guest appearance in his corner of the Pontoon, and kept up a solid 4/4 rhythm for most of the first half. The Town support was extremely muted, mostly apprehension through memories of last year's stuffing.
The Town team showed several changes, which added to the crowd's fears. Groves returned to centre midfield, with Pouton wide right and (at last) Allen starting a game. The crowd awaited developments before deciding upon the merits of Lever's return. There was hardly any cheering of the players names as they were read out, which added to the tension in the stands. Birmingham's kit is horrible, strange white stripes down the centre of the shirt, at front and back.
Town kicked off away from the Pontoon and nothing much happened for 30 seconds. Then Birmingham launched a clearance down the Town left and R Smith allowed the ball to trickle out for a goal kick. Unfortunately the referee was "so good" he noticed something no-one else saw - a glance off a Town player's head. The corner was headed over at the far post by one of the centre backs. A couple of minutes later Birmingham broke down the Town right, with Johnstone getting to the bye-line within the area. Pouton received a triumphant purr from the crowd by tracking back and simply easing Johnstone away and dribbling out of defence. Such was Pouton and Butterfield's dominance on the right that Johnstone was later substituted.
There were no particular chances created by either team in the first 15 minutes, though Town were beginning to create space down the right with Pouton prominent. The first real effort on goal from Town came after about 20 minutes when Lester and Allen combined down the centre, with Lester trying a shot from a central position 20 yards out. It deflected off the defender and was saved comfortably by Bennett, low to his left. Lester and Allen had begun to forge a bit of an understanding. This effort had been created when Lester left a ball rolled to him from the right, Allen spun to provide a wall pass which Lester ran on to. Allen had drifted into an unmarked position on the edge of the area when Lester shot. Birmingham's only effort was a 35 yard snap shot from Wreh which lacked the pace to get past Coyne (who had cut off the floppy bits from his hair. A sensible hair cut and a sensible display).
The next moment of discomfiture in the Birmingham defence was created by, of all people, Lever. His deep through ball/cross from the right curved around the first defender, in between him and the 'keeper. The second centre back had to lunge and divert the ball over the bar for a corner. Sniffer Allen was lurking unmarked behind the last defender. After 27 minutes (so said the intermittently working scoreboard) the ball fell loose 20 yards out just left of centre. Allen swivel led and hit a low first time right footed shot about a foot wide of the 'keeper's right hand post. Town were beginning to control the middle of the pitch and to advance into the Birmingham area more. They had already forced 4 corners of which only one plopped gently in to the 'keepers hands. Pouton's corners from the right were low and "flatly hit", and were penetrating the centre of the defence (though, of course, no Town player touched them either).
After 34 minutes something tangible occurred. The ball was knocked up to Lester, about 30 yards out on the Town centre right. He was pushed and the referee awarded a free-kick, which was taken immediately. The ball was rolled to Butterfield who advanced 5 yards, drew the defender and passed to Pouton (who had been hugging the touchline in front of the Findus). Pouton hit a curling first time cross, about head height, between the goalkeeper and defenders to ALLEN, about 7 yards out, near the centre of goal. A simple flick from his head and the ball glided into the side of the net on the 'keepers right. His finish was very similar to his goal against Port Vale, as was the move. The Birmingham left side had played very "narrowly" and Pouton's line hugging had created the space, and his cross was superb. So the Master Sniffer struck again.
The response from Birmingham was immediate. They stepped up the pace of play and most certainly increased their commitment levels. Prior to the goal they had strolled around playing complacently, afterwards they "put themselves about", utilising their superior strength, speed and height. Their modus operandi changed too. Instead of short passing and "flicks and tricks", they went more direct and tried to hit Adebole's head as often and as quickly as possible. This caused Town 10 minutes of difficulty, during which Birmingham scored. A couple of minutes after the Allen goal Birmingham pressed down the centre left, the ball was half cleared and the defence advanced past the 18 yards line. Unfortunately Lever didn't and Rowett ran on from right back, past Gallimore and D Smith. The ball was flipped over the top and Rowett got to near the bye-line and crossed behind the defence to Wreh, about 10 yards out. He controlled the ball shimmied and feinted, waited for R Smith to commit himself to a block and shimmied again. WREH then calmly rolled the ball inside Coyne's left hand post.
A couple of minutes later Adebole headed a deep cross back across goal from the Town left to Wreh, who shimmied and feinted again. From a central position 12 yards out Wreh lifted the ball a foot over the bar. The referee gave a corner, despite no Town body parts being involved. In the next 5 minutes Birmingham repeated that move a couple more time, fortunately R Smith and Burnett blocked the shots. Town had to defend rather desperately during this period, but they survived until half time with no further scares. The last 5 minutes of the half went back to the previous pattern - Town having possession with Birmingham breaking away halfheartedly.
The referee had managed to book several players in the first half, including Lester and D Smith. He seemed to take the view that if a player remained on the ground after a tackle, then a yellow card is mandatory. Though neither Lester or D Smith can complain as they left their feet in late.
Overall the Pontoon (and presumably the rest of the Town supporters) were content with the scoreline. Town probably shaded the first half, though not in terms of shots on goal. Birmingham could have scored 3 by half time, but they had not really impressed. Compared to last year's performance they had been timid and not committed. Apart from the 10 minutes after Town scored they didn't impose their "style" of play on Town, one that we know is likely to succeed against us. On the plus side Pouton had been very good. His crosses were causing difficulties and he had displayed great commitment in tracking back and tackling. Allen and Lester had looked a promising partnership, with the signs of an "understanding" developing. Allen's movement around the box had been very noticeable, he always seems to be free and unmarked, and he always follows in shots looking for rebounds. His link play outside the box had been adequate too. Burnett and D Smith had had a "quiet" half. D Smith particularly looked a little lost and behind the pace of play. However both had contributed defensively, both at least stayed in their positions so that Town "kept their shape". Birmingham's midfield had not got through to the Town box once.
1-1 at half time was acceptable, and the performance had been ok. The Town supporters would have settled for that being the full time score too.
No changes made at half time by either side.
Half time: Birmingham City 0 Grimsby Town 0
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