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04/03 Walsall 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
Walsall 1 Grimsby Town 0
04 Mar 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
The half time entertainment was a group of Walsall and Grimsby kids taking it turns to run from the half way line and shoot. Needless to say the Grimsby kids were hopeless at shooting, despite having a midget keeper to beat. Only a couple of them (one of them a girl) had the nous to chip the 'keeper. At the other end the "Town" 'keeper let everything in, seemingly determined to keep his kit clean. Two of the Walsall kids were so small the ball came up above their knees.
The professional game? It was very poor for 40 minutes, with not many efforts of any note towards either goal. I recall a Walsall breakaway resulting in a shot from the left edge of the Town area. The ball was not hit very hard, and was straight at Coyne. Coyne managed to drop the ball over his head, turn round, knock it between his legs and eventually fall on it. It was like having Alf Ippititimus in goal (anyone under 40 ask your parents). Lever also produced an excellent sliding tackle in the penalty box to dispossess Ricketts as he was about to shoot.
After about 55ish minutes Town produced a fine move, starting in their own half on the left and ending with the ball with McDermott, just inside the Walsall half. He surged forward, in a sort of inside right channel and played a one-two with Nicholls, got to the edge of the area and whacked in a low shot, slightly across the 'keeper. The shot was blocked by the 'keeper and rebounded between three Town players, straight to a Walsall defender, who cleared. This moment rather summed up Town's day. Fleeting moments of decent football, but the ball never really ran to them. The rebounds, challenges and decisions all seemed to go Walsall's way. Small things, but they all added up to frustration and a sense that Town weren't going to get a bit of luck.
On 60 minutes Nicholls was replaced by Pouton, who went to right wing, with Donovan at centre forward. This had no tangible effect whatsoever apart from a penalty appeal 15 minutes from time. A Town break down the left saw the ball run to Donovan down the centre. He eventually rolled the ball out wide to Pouton. Pouton curled in a cross, from near the bye line, and Matias raised his arm and knocked the ball into the Town supporters with a forearm smash. At least the referee was consistent in favouring Walsall.
With about 10 minutes left McDermott was replaced by Butterfield and Black by A Buckley. Groves went to centre forward, Donovan right wing, and Pouton to centre midfield. Town played the ball a little more directly, but no chances. With 5 minutes to go Livvo went to centre forward as well, with Town almost playing a 3 2 5 formation. Now the game did, finally, get a bit exciting. Town effectively went "route one", with Livvo flicking on for Groves and Clare. Within a minute or so of the switch to all out attack Livvo had headed on a high ball to a position 12 yards out, just to the right of goal. Groves ran on, controlled it on his chest a whacked a bicycle kick a coupe of yards over. Well it looked exciting to the frozen fans huddled miserably behind that goal. A couple of minutes later Coldicott dragged a shot wide from near the penalty spot after a corner fell loose to him. This was about the only decision to go Town's way as the referee gave a corner despite it clearly missing everyone and everything. The corner only produced a chance for Walsall as it was cleared and they ran off towards Coyne and had a shot that went a yard over the bar.
As well as the Town "pressure" in the last 10 minutes, Walsall had three of four opportunities. Bukran smashed a swinging drive from 20 yards about a foot over the bar, Robins glanced a header very wide, and a header was cleared off the line following a corner on their left. The game ended with a shrug from the Town support. It was just one of those days. It had "narrow defeat" written all over it from the first minute. It was annoying because Walsall are merely a good 2nd Division side, as Town showed in the first part of the first half. However the paucity of strength and nous up front is most debilitating. The rest of the team wasn't that bad. The defence coped relatively well, with Coyne being forced to make only three or four saves all game. Nicholls hasn't shown anything yet (apart from a Lester-esqe capacity to fall). He looks like he wants to play "off" the forwards and act as a playmaker a la Totti. He has the same hairstyle, but nothing else. Clare didn't have a shot (unless you count his drop kick which hit the referee on his backside and earned a "talking to". It was definitely intended and his most accurate shot/pass for several weeks) and was largely an irrelevance. He ran around a lot, but to no effect.
It was largely shapeless, mundane stuff. Very forgettable, but, strangely, better than the performance against Palace. This game should have been a draw, probably 0-0. But then again last week's should have been as well. So Town are a point up on the deal. How's that for straw clutching
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