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Barber Report

By: Sarah Barber
Date: 30/08/2000

'That eerie feeling' Crewe Alexandra 2 Grimsby Town 0 This will not be a match report of the Tony type, and all the poorer for that, but how Tony, still abed this night, will curse he was not here to say.... 'Town lined up in the far from usual 3-5-2 formation'.

This was the one big difference from the corresponding match of last season; also played on a warm August evening. On that occasion (Tony missed that one too), Town managed a 1-1 draw and hit 21st in the table. This evening, Grimsby lost - badly if one merely reads the scoreline - and now bump along the bottom of the table. However, it is rather early for the doom-merchants yet. Just as at Crewe last year, there were positive spells, encouraging signs and room for hope. That's why hardy handfuls of masochistic spirits keep travelling to these games: Grimsby give one enough frustration to throw one close to the Scylla of depression, whilst being tossed just short of the Charybdis of despair. Oops, a little Stuart Hall moment there. Worth then, spending a few moments to take in that momentous change, presumably Lawrence's opening shot at moulding the rather stale and tired dough he has inherited. This is how I think it's supposed to work. The fact that Town went floppy a few minutes into the second half, and some players didn't quite fulfil their part of the bargain, made following the formation tricky sometimes. There were three posts in front of Coyne. Town only has three players over six-feet, so best to line them up like a breakwater along the back. Raven's job was to hold the right, Livvo the left and Groves in the centre. On either side of them, playing (supposedly) up the wing, was McDermott and Smith. Both had a good game and seem to suit this role. They attacked, they found space, and they made gaps for the front players. They even managed to get decent crosses in. But some things are harder to change, and there wasn't anyone in the centre to latch onto them. Coldicott and Black were busy in midfield. Kingsley was the man substituted, though Coldicott was the one who looked vulnerable, making several tackling errors and being rather slow to cover, which, given Crewe's fast-break game, was telling. Incidentally, Black is known as K.Black. How many players called Black does Town have? For a moment, when it got dull, this sparked a psychedelic conversation about Jet in goal and Cilla at the centre of midfield. It was good to see Bradley Allen start a game and stay on the pitch for ninety minutes. He didn't shine, but he may have been disorientated by the unusual circumstances. Pouton and Jeffrey were supposed to be the front players. There were very few Grimsby shots, and even fewer on target. The only one that sticks in the mind (this is where you miss Tony: they would be epoxied to his), was a swerving attempt by Groves on 35 minutes, when he attempted to hit a ball across goal and place it in the top right hand corner, but put too much of a spin on it and in swerved away from the post. Last year, almost to the day, I wrote that there was one period of the game in which Grimsby put accurate, flowing passes together and might really have looked like Juve. And so it was in 2000. Unfortunately, Town had already gone behind after just thirteen minutes. Crewe was playing a fast break technique, which, with a team as slow as Grimsby, is always likely to be a danger. Particularly, I have to put this first goal down to Raven (first time I've seen him: he had a poor game, but I'll try not to damn him on one viewing). If Crewe managed to get the ball down their left wing (ironically, their weaker side, since Rodney Jack was having a storming time down the right), they met Raven, who was generally caught wrong-side and spent too much time out of position staring upwards with his mouth open (I did a decent impression in a traffic island after the game in the futile search for a good pub). On this occasion the ball made it down 'Raven's wing', was slotted across the goal, low to Coyne's left, where Town's 'keeper encountered Raven out of position. The ball thus poorly sighted, an otherwise quiet RIVERS could score from close range. The cross had come in from Crewe's effective left back, David Wright. There was another scare ten minutes later, when Coyne parried a fierce shot away from his goal, as it was heading for the top right corner. The first half was marked by Grimsby's possession football. It was often quite nice to watch, but it broke down too easily, did not encourage players to attack forward, eagerly awaiting that goal-scoring opportunity, and left them vulnerable to the break. Jeffrey, the butt of some disparaging comments, looked OK - not sparkling, but not incompetent. I suspect he may have been made to look good by Smith, whose attacks down Grimsby's left wing made room for himself and put Jeffrey in space up to the bye-line on the left hand side. Crosses were made: reception there was none. In the second half the shape went. There was scurrying and circling but without form or purpose. Crewe exploited this. Without ever playing well, they were able to combine too many fiery fast runs from Jack up the wing with too many blasted shots that caused quite a breeze round the Grimsby goal. On one occasion, Jack decided to do the whole thing himself, and took the ball upfield to hurl a twenty-five yard shot at Coyne's goal. That followed what depressingly seemed like the inevitable second Crewe goal. Frustration, and the powerlessness to affect their own circumstances, got to the Town players and when Wright again managed to cut through midfield, he placed a precision cross to JACK who was just ten yards in front of goal and could fire home a safe shot (75 mins). Minutes later, Rivers was allowed acres of space from which he could have scored a late third, but fired it well wide. Actually, to be fair to Raven, it may have been a timely foot which caused the swerve to go astray, but the jeering Town fans, arms outstretched in derision, should have pondered the number of times their team had left themselves vulnerable to this type of power-shooting. Grimsby, notoriously, lack such fire up front. Given a piteously small squad, injuries, and penury, there doesn't seem an obvious solution. Livingstone could hover up front, but only if Town completely changed their playing style. If they continue to build it up from the back - and on this showing, they should, and there doesn't seem much likelihood that Lawrence will change this format - then Livingstone's age, lack of pace and ability to be stranded off-side would be exposed. Dario Gradi summed it up: Grimsby played better football but 'lacked the end product'. Obviously: haven't we all been saying this for as long as you all can remember? Still, there were positive things to take away from this game. The new formation looks interesting, and could well work, giving a new lease of life to McDermott and Smith. Improve the fitness and do some work at goal scoring and Grimsby does not deserve to be at the bottom of the table. It's too early in the season, and Lawrence has not proven any points yet (all puns entirely intentional). Gresty Road also provides some food for thought (but don't eat there!). It's on-street parking is vulnerable if Crewe were playing Fulham, for example, and this balmy night only 5,305 people rattled around their new, perpendicular stands. The away end facilities weren't up to much, the pubs were awful and the beer was worse. I complained about the quality of the fish and chips last year. But they are making the most of what a small, impecunious club like Crewe (and Grimsby?) can in their straightened circumstances. Coyne, McDermott, Raven, Groves, Livingstone, D.Smith, Coldicott, Black (sub. Clare), Allen, Pouton, Jeffrey.

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