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19/10 Tranmere 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
Tranmere Rovers 3 Grimsby Town 2
19 Oct 1999, Nationwide League Division 1
Neither team made any changes at half time.
Of course what Town needed to do was to hold on to the ball, take the pace out of (Tranmere's) game, and above all KEEP THE BALL IN PLAY. Within 2 minutes Town had carelessly tapped the ball out for a Tranmere throw near the left corner flag. Coyne completely missed the ball and it bounced away past everyone. Just the thing to calm any nerves, some more flapping.
After 15 minutes of tedious hoofing and throw ins Tranmere got a third goal. The ball was headed on after innocuous play in midfield to Allison, who came back from an offside position to stand underneath R Smith. R Smith fell over the top of Allison and the referee gave free kick to Tranmere, The free kick was swung in low, from the Town right half way inside the half, to somewhere near the penalty spot. R Smith lost his tussle with JONES, who glanced a header low past Coyne, from about 2 foot off the ground. So Town were 3-1 down from a free kick that should have been Town's, after an offside that wasn't given.
Right after this Buckley took off Burnett and A Buckley, replacing them with Black and Pouton. Black went to the left, Pouton played centrally. I don't recall the pattern of the game changing too much. Tranmere had even more throw ins, though for variation they let someone else take them. The other player's throw's were just long, that is they went to the near post only ! With about 20 minutes left Town seemed to have hit upon a strategy to save the game. If they kicked enough balls out of the ground the game might be abandoned. In a 5 minute period they kicked the ball over the small stand to our left 4 times. Unfortunately Tranmere Rovers appear to be well endowed in the ball department.
In the last 15 minutes Town seemed to step up a gear (ie into neutral, from reverse). Lester, in particular found more space and began to turn the defenders more. On a least 3 occasions he "got free", only to mess up the opportunity when it came to pass or shoot. " Whenever two or more are gathered together Jack Lester shall dribble the ball into them". Finally, with 10 minutes left, the ball was played over the top (by Coldicott I think), down the "left channel". Lester was free, behind the defence, with only the 'keeper to beat. Somehow the ball was played to the right (some say Lester looked up and passed, others that it was a terribly misdirected shot, others still that the defender did it when tackling), where ALLEN side footed into an empty net. Never have I seen a Town goal drenched in so much disdain and apathy. Four youngsters got up and shouted "Yes", waived their deflated Harry Haddock and sat down. Everyone else remained rooted to their seats, the merest flicker of an eyebrow the only discernible reaction. The battle hardened regulars were not going to be fooled by a late goal, Town have done it to us so many times in the past, raising false hope.
Suddenly the Town players woke up and started to run around a bit more. I haven't mentioned Donovan yet have I ? And I won't again, as he did not do anything all night. I can't remember him touching the ball. With a couple of minutes left Lester hooked a volley low to the 'keeper's left (when Allen was free 3 yards away), and R Smith launched a couple of long throws into the area. Coyne finally earned some of his wages when he dived low to his left to divert a 20 yard drive round the post for a corner.
The so called 4th official held up the board to show 1 minute of added time, which was an insult - there had been 3 separate substitutions (counting the Town double substitution as one), and a couple of long injury delays. Nothing happened in the "extra time" and that was that.
A really awful game with virtually no football played. Their centre back played like a quarterback with his incredibly flat and fast long throws. Tranmere, of course, played to this "strength", and organised the ground for this purpose. Every 10 yards their was a gap in the advertising hoarding for him to get a long run up, and the ball boys carried towels for his convenience. At one stage Town's substitutes blocked the gap when he went off to do his run. Several supporters were imploring Black to trip him up (logic - Black injures him so he can't do it anymore, Black gets sent off, but as he's not on the pitch we still have 11 men, and Black won't be missed anyway). But he didn't. Now if Town were not such a sporting team, someone would have nobbled Challinor "early doors", or at least stood on his fingers after a challenge. Of course, the other way to combat this weapon is to keep the ball in play, or at least ensure that the ball goes out of play in their half. Town's football was physically and mentally lazy, and none of the players can be absolved.
It was a "turn up and see what happens" sort of performance, and typical of a midweek, away from home against non-sexy opposition fixture. For Tranmere read Southend in many previous seasons. Town have an annoying habit of playing at the same level as the opposition - if someone beats us that normally means they are rubbish. A weird kind of endorsement. With any luck Tranmere will go down this year- they would not be out of place in the second division playing so crudely.
Oh - the positives from this game - Sniffer Allen's goals and that is it.
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