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22/04 Blackburn 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
Grimsby Town 0 Blackburn 0
22 Apr 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
No changes were made by either team at half time. Town started quite ponderously and nearly conceded a goal within a couple of minutes. Lever, about 35 yards out, near the centre, received a short pass (after a flowing 5 man Town move had made the ball go forward by 5 yards). Lever hesitated and a Blackburn player harried him. Lever passed straight to another Blackburn player and they were off on a quick break, as Lever complained to the referee that he had been held. The ball was worked up to Ward who beat Groves and hit a shot to Coyne's right, from about 15 yard out on the (Town) right. Coyne pushed it away for a corner.
I don't particularly remember anything happening for the next 25 minutes, with the exception of McDermott replacing Butterfield (who had fallen awkwardly after 50 minutes, holding his bottom and limping). Town got in a couple of crosses which were headed away, with D Smith being a bit more gung ho on the left, actually taking on and beating the right back, even if it was only Jason McAteer. Blackburn had most of the possession, with Town being quite woeful up front. Livvo and Ashcroft spent the first part of the second half missing the ball a lot, and when they did get it, controlling it badly. The best Town moment came when Pouton picked up a loose ball just outside the Town area, did a step over, advanced 5 yards and hit an inch perfect 50 yards cross field passed to the unmarked Ashcroft. If I recall correctly, Town got a throw in at the end of it.
After a bit of a move down the Town left the ball was crossed to Ashcroft, near the centre on the edge of the area. He flicked the ball on to Donovan, who was totally unmarked. No Town supporter rose in anticipation as they knew nothing would come of it. It didn't, as Donovan volleyed very high and wide.
Town had a lucky escape with about 15-20 minutes left when, after a bit of pressure and a scramble, a Blackburn player tried a shot from the Town right about 8 yards out, near the edge of the 6 yard box. The ball took a deflection and looped over Coyne towards the far post. The Blackburn left winger (Dunn) stood next to the post and cleared the ball over the bar. It was a fantastic goal line clearance, almost impossible to achieve. It defied the laws of geometry, and thank goodness for that.
The last 20 minutes contained most of the action, though most of it was at the Pontoon end. Coyne was forced to make 3 or 4 brilliant saves which surely cemented his position as one of Wales foremost goalkeeper's called Danny. With about 20 minutes left, after a breakaway on Blackburn's left Coyne dived low to his left at full stretch and pushed away a hard shot from about 10 yards out. It was a very good save, but what made it great was that Ward and Groves were running towards him (and were about a yard away when he saved it) and that he punched the ball up and over the bar from about a foot above the ground. He also had to block another shot that came through a thicket of players a little later, which he did comfortably. It was comfortable principally because of his positioning and reactions, which were excellent.
His next contribution to the fun and excitement was not so clever. Groves, near the left edge of the penalty area, about 8 yards from the bye-line, rolled the ball back to Coyne. A Blackburn player had sneaked up the blindside and was almost on Coyne as he fly-kicked. His kick was low and weak, reaching Ward about 16 yards out, just to the left of centre. Fortunately the ball was eventually cleared after some pretty desperate lunges and blocks by Groves and Lever. Phew. Within a couple of minutes Coyne had committed another blooper with his kicking. He hit one of his drop kicks straight to the left winger, about 30 yards out. Gallimore was right next to where the ball landed but was so startled he simply stared vacantly at Coyne. So no change there then. The winger advanced and had a shot from about 25 yards. It was weakly miss-hit, but Coyne had a Crichton moment as he allowed the ball to squirm underneath him. He had to spring back and hold the ball as it trickled towards goal.
With about 15 or so minutes left Buckley made a couple of substitutions. As Allen rose to his feet, so did Blundell Park (there were sporadic chants for him all afternoon). These turned to boos when the number 26 was held aloft. Pouton trudged off whilst the Pontoon booed and sang "there's only one Allen Pouton". D Smith was taken off at the same time to be replaced by a Mr K Black. There was a reshuffle with Groves going to centre midfield, Livingstone to centre half. Within 5 minutes Town went to a 4-3-3, with Livingstone joining Allen and Ashcroft up front, and Groves going to centre half (leaving a muscular, all action midfield of Black, Donovan and Coldicott. Within a further 5 minutes Town went back to 4-4-2, with everyone going to where they were originally. In the last 5 minutes it is difficult to say who was where as the game stretched so much with holes everywhere, mainly in the Town defence. Confused? You soon will be. All these tactical changes were presumably to counter Blackburn's 3-4-3 formation in the last 20 minutes.
Before I get on to Coyne's heroics, I should get the Town opportunities out of the way. Half way through the half, after super one touch passing and movement down the Town left (there was some), Ashcroft passed across to Livvo, about 25 yards out, in the centre. Livvo side-stepped the centre back to leave him about 20 yards out with a sight on goal. He dragged a low left foot shot across the keeper, which was held. A few minutes later, after a slick move down the Town right, Ashcroft dummied a pass across the face of the penalty box, allowing the ball to run to Pouton. He was in a similar position to Livvo, but decided to place a first time right foot shot into the top left hand corner, but it curled a yard over the bar. There were two or three other dangerous moments, which only resulted in crosses. They followed some fine one touch passing and movement, but as usual the final cross was poor. Yet again Donovan specialised in looking up and choosing which opposition forehead to hit. Town, or rather loveable lumpen Livvo, wasted an opportunity very close to the end of the game. Livvo had the ball in the Blackburn half with only 2 defenders back, with Allen and Ashcroft in the inside left and right positions. The defenders were neither marking Allen/Ashcroft, nor closing Livvo down, leaving a huge gap down the centre for him to gallop into. About 30 yards out he decide to pass out to the right, hitting the shins of the defender and thus throwing away a chance of a one on one. It rather summed up Livvo's day, good followed immediately by bad (I won't mention the ugly).
In injury time Coyne (literally) saved Town from a big defeat. His best saves were when Blackburn broke away down the Town left and the ball was passed to Jansen, who was unmarked about 15 yards out. Jansen attempted to place a precise low shot inside Coyne's right hand post. Coyne flew across the goal and just got his fingertips to the ball and pushed it a few inches wide of his right hand post. Brilliant. A minute later (after Town had gone up the other end a forced a bit of a scramble in their area) Blackburn won the ball in midfield and knocked a 30 yard pass over the top of the defence. Gallimore sprinted back with Jansen, but Jansen eased Gallimore away from the ball, turned and smacked in a shot from the edge of the penalty area. Gallimore attempted to block, but the ball deflected up off his boot. It looked like the ball was going to loop over Coyne, but he arched his back and leapt backwards to push the balk over for a corner. Another brilliant save from the salmon-like elf in yellow.
I am sure I have forgotten a couple of other saves Coyne made, as well as two or three other shots from Blackburn which went wide (I distinctly remember Flitcroft and Ward slicing shots into the Pontoon from the Town left). But the main plus of today was Coyne's shot stopping which was unsurpassed by a Town custodian for many years. His kicking is still a bit iffy though, but if it wasn't for him Town would have lost by 3 or 4. Blackburn were much better than most teams seen at Blundell Park this year, they looked like a team from a higher division (though not a very good one). It was reminiscent of this year's game against Leicester, with Town largely coping with a bigger, faster, stronger team, though not being able to create much.
Individually, the honours go to the defence and, especially, Coyne. His performance was so good that the Blackburn players made a point of coming over and shaking his hand at the end of the game. In addition to Coyne's super stopping Groves was very tenacious and intelligent in his marking of Ward (who is colossal) and Lever was not bettered by Blake or Jansen. The full backs kept a bit closer to their wingers than usual and only once did Gallimore back away. Butterfield even indulged in a fancy step over flick to set up an attack shortly before his substitution. Not much came from the wings, especially the right, though that says more about them than us.
All in all it was definitely a point gained, as it is difficult to make out a case for anything other than a Blackburn win. And there was a Lever moment too.
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