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22/01 Fulham 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
Fulham 0 Grimsby Town 1
22 Jan 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
Town made a change at half time with Ashcroft being replaced by Pouton. Town then lined up, to start with, in a 4-5-1 formation with Lester alone up front. It was not possible to discern if Black was playing "behind" Lester as Town didn't have the ball for the first 5 minutes and the defending and organisation was a little awry. Within the first couple of minutes Fulham had a couple of half chances, the major one being a cross shot from just inside the penalty area on Town's left, which went a yard wide of Coyne's right hand post. Fulham had started to dictate the play, with Clark sitting in front of the Town midfield and lobbing balls over the full backs. Town sat back too much in the first 5 -10 minutes of the second half and allowed Fulham to initiate wave upon wave of attacks, with clearances only going straight back to the Fulham defensive players. The Town midfield sat about 5 yards further back than they had ion the first half, just in front of the back four, and the players seemed to leave responsibility to others too often. Fulham got a couple of corners out of this, neither of which resulted in chances. Town initiated a subtle tactical change with Groves sweeping up in front of the back four (thus pushing the midfield four a few yards further up the pitch). This change coincided with a brief 5 minute period during which the match was played around the half way line (rather than Town's 18 yard line) and occasionally in the Fulham half.
After about 10 minutes Lever, about 10 yards inside the Town half, to the right, intercepted an aimless punt by heading the ball (miraculously) straight to Groves, near the half way line, again to the right of centre. Groves turned and played the ball into space down the Town right with Donovan running through unmarked. Donovan got to near the right corner of the penalty box, drawing Coleman to him, and hit a sideways pass to Lester, unmarked on the centre right edge of the box. LESTER nonchalantly stroked a first time shot across the 'keeper, with the inside of his right boot. The ball hit the 'keeper's right hand post and rolled in. Just like a natural goalscorer! Yes it really was Lester. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes.
The rest of the half was a siege with incessant pressure from Fulham resulting in Groves sinking back to be a third centre back/sweeper for the last 30 minutes. Town didn't create any (more) chances after the goal, not that they had created any before it either. Lester did dribble into area and hit a weak cross shot straight at the 'keeper, and like wise in the last 10 minutes Kingsley Black did the same after a Town breakaway. These two chances were welcome oases in a second half attacking desert. Except Town would have had a shot if the linesman had not waved his flag when Pouton was through on goal - Lester was offside but was nowhere near play, and was walking back too. It was probably the only bad decision by the referee.
However Fulham huffed and puffed and should, really, have blown Town's house down. Early on in the half Peschisolido wriggled clear of Livvo after a ball was dinked over the his (Livvo's) head. From a position about 15 yards out, level with Coyne's left hand post, the diving dwarf shinned a shot across the face of goal and wide by about 2 yards. A shocking miss and how pleasing too. With the ball lobbed up and bouncing high, and from a position on the 6 yard box, Riedle attempted a sort of backwards hook shot with the outside of his right boot which went a yard over and wide. Groves headed a short corner from the Fulham left about an inch wide of the angle of post and bar, just in front of Coyne.
I seem to recall another couple of cross shots from the Fulham right which went a yard wide of Coyne's right hand post, together with a deep cross from their right to the back post, which McDermott hooked away from a Fulham player. All three came from Fulham playing across the front of the Town defence, from our right to left, and them releasing a player into the spaces between Gallimore and Livvo. During this period (about 20 minutes to go) Town's defence had started to lose a little concentration as Fulham players were being left unmarked on the edge of the area. Fulham's forced eventually forced Coyne to make a save in the last 15 minute when Peschisolido turned near the Town left bye line, about 15 yards out and hit a hard curling shot with the outside of his right boot. Coyne had expected a cross and it was going into the top left of his goal. Coyne leapt to his left and produced a good one handed diving punch up in the air and the ball landed on the roof of the net. For a second it looked like it was dropping into the goal, which caused some alarm on the terrace, followed by much relief. A scramble about 6 yards out, near Coyne's left hand post resulted in a last ditch block by Gallimore as a Fulham player was about to shoot. The Town support were starting to make some noise and plucked up the mental courage to issue a chant or two. A rather mournful rendition of "Mariners, Mariners" and a slightly worried "sing when we're fishing".
And then came the wonderful Riedle miss. A Fulham break resulted in a cross from their right to the near post, about 3 yards out. With Coyne riveted to his line, Riedle came ambling in and headed firmly but wide of the near post. Truly Nogan-esque in its execution.
With about 10 or so minutes left Lester was replaced by Allen, who did little except run around and harry the Fulham defenders when Town cleared danger. But it was an important "little" as it occupied precious seconds. Committed and determined defending saw Town keep Fulham away from the goal, despite a few balls flung in. Riedle was causing difficulties with his movement and intelligent chesting down to onrushing players but Town players mostly went with the runners and blocked effectively. After playing 3 minutes of added time (when the board said 2) the referee ended Fulham's pain and allowed the Town support to let rip with some hearty singing.
Town won despite only having a couple of shots. Fulham should have scored three - but didn't. It was a reward for the organisation, spirit and commitment displayed by the team. That is something we haven't been able to say too often this season. The heart of the side is now Coldicott, who was the man of the match by far. Omnipotent and omnipresent. Groves played very well when he dropped back in to defence and Lever was fine. No "Lever moments" from him. Even Donovan was getting stuck in. The last time he tried so much away from home was against Portsmouth - which just happens to be the last time we won an away game.
This was even more pleasing than the Forest game - an away win, with all the things that were missing from Town in 1999. They seem bothered again and had some luck.
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