Question of the Week
How long before new manager arrives?
By: Tony Butcher
A warm afternoon and a small crowd. There were huge holes in the Town support with the Lower Stones/Findus/Smiths sparsely populated. The Upper sections were about one third full. The players warmed up in their usual way and there was no discernible pre-match entertainment.
Grimsby Town 1 Gillingham 0
09 Sep 2000, Nationwide League Division 1
An air of disinterest hung over Blundell Park.The players warmed up in their usual way and there was no discernible pre-match entertainment. An air of disinterest hung over Blundell Park. Oh, and there is a new drummer in the Pontoon, with a nice new snare drum. He can play it a lot better than the previous bloke, though there is a distinct whiff of the boys brigade band about it - I half expected a kazoo to start up with the theme from "Top of the Form".
Town lined up in a strange 4-3-1-2 formation. Groves played at centre back with Raven. The centre three (who played very close together) were Black, Coldicott and Pouton. Jeffrey moved about between the midfield and the two strikers (Livingstone and Allen). The new manager started the match in the directors' box, not on the bench.
Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand with great gusto. The first minute saw Town players really get stuck in with some fine movement off the ball. After a couple of thrusts had been repelled the ball ended up with McDermott, about 5 yards inside the town half underneath the Stones/Findus/Smiths Stand. He knocked the ball over the Gillingham defence into their penalty area, on their left. The goalkeeper half came off his line to collect the overhit pass, then realised that Livingstone's pace had left him unmarked and closer to the ball. As the ball dropped, LIVINGSTONE stuck out a leg and delicately volleyed the ball over the 'keeper into the far right corner of the net. Of course he meant it! One minute gone and one nil to Town. The crowd was, of course, delighted, though most had hardly seen the goal as they were still chatting to each other and they, like the Gillingham defence, had not "settled".
Town had completely overun Gillingham in the opening minute and the crowd looked forward to an entertaining goalfest. Yeah, right. This is still Town. After a couple more Town surges, which led to nothing more than a couple of throw-ins and a easy catch for the 'keeper, Gillingham should have equalised. A breakaway down the Town left saw Groves outpaced and turned. The ball was whipped in from the Town left to the near post where a Gillingham player, from 5 yards out, sliced a volley a couple of yards wide and high. Town had been warned previously as Asaba had shown that he was both faster and stronger than the Town centre backs when chasing a long ball.
Asaba proved to be a huge problem for the Town centre backs, running them ragged in the first half and requiring two markers. Raven got himself booked when Hessenthaler ran through the centre of the park, knocked the ball past Raven and then ran into him (as Raven stepped across to rugby tackle him). 15 minutes later Groves was booked for complaining that Asaba had held his shirt when they ran for a ball over the top. Asaba had, but then proceeded to sprint into the right side of the Town area, get to very close to the bye line and side foot a shot just wide of Coyne's left hand post. The angle was so narrow that the ball went out for a Town throw in.
These two incidents give a glimpse of the problems Town were encountering. They were beginning to be overrun in midfield and outpaced in defence. Alarmingly huge holes were appearing everywhere in the Town team. In attacking Town never had any width, they relied on McDermott ALL the time to provide width and an outlet, and were horribly misshapen. Everyone seemed to be down the centre, with Coldicott, Pouton and Black virtually standing on each others toes. The effect of this was to stunt attacks and, when possession was relinquished, leave the defence exposed. Gillingham always had two players free on the right hand side, with only McDermott to stop them. After 15 minutes they seemed to cotton on to this and started to concentrate attacks down that flank. In the centre of defence Groves and Raven were unable to match Asaba's pace and aggression, leaving them floundering when Gillingham whacked (and even sometimes passed) the ball "over the top", or "down the channels". Gillingham always seemed to pick up the loose balls in midfield , advancing through the gaps with ease. Whenever Gillingham attacked, their players invariably had time and space in the penalty area. Similarly, Town left them unmarked beyond the back post at free kicks, corners and open play. It is difficult to think of an area of the pitch where Town didn't leave gaps. Town were a total shambles. A disorganised rabble.
Gillingham only had 10 players for a 10 minute period after their big number 4 assaulted Livingstone's elbow with his forehead. They still appeared to have more players on the pitch than Town.
Town's only "chances" in the first half were when Allen twisted and turned on the edge of the area and scuffed a shot through a thicket of players from 20 yards. The shot went straight to the 'keeper with little power. Five minutes from the end of the half a rather aimless punt into the penalty area bounced very high and nearly went over the 'keeper, who dropped the ball but caught it as he fell backwards. That's it. Allen peeled away at the far post when Black swung over a free kick from the left. He was momentarily free just beyond the far post, but he stood on the ball as he attempted to control it. Chance gone. I have a vague recollection of couple of crosses causing a bit of thrashing around in the centre of the Gillingham defence, and an Allen reverse pass which nearly sent Jeffrey through, but nothing came of these moments.
Gillingham should really have scored 2 or 3 in the first half. After a quarter of an hour, a corner from the Town right was swung in to about 7 or 8 yards out, just to the left of centre. A centre half came steaming in and headed powerfully, but fortunately, straight at Coyne. Coyne just threw himself towards the player (Hope), the ball hit him and was bundled away. Another scramble in the Town box saw the ball roll out to the edge of the box where their big number 4 smacked a swirling drive from 25 yards. Coyne tipped the shot over, from a central position. Groves nearly scored an own goal when twisting and flicking a dinked cross away from a couple of on rushing Gillingham players. It was very, very close to the top left hand corner of Coyne's goal. There were numerous occasions when Gillingham burst forward with 3 against 2 and 4 against 3. Town were lucky that either a defender would make a desperate last second block, or Gillingham players would fail to look up. I particularly remember a couple of terrific sliding blocks by Raven on the edge of the box, and a couple of McDermott tidy ups near the far post.
The best player by far was Andy Hessenthaler, who was everywhere. He tricked all the defenders (apart from McDermott) into giving away free kicks around the edge of the box, and cleverly ensured Raven was booked. He was astute enough to time his forward runs, and to run into the vacant spaces on the centre left and right (where, formerly, Donovan and D Smith would have been providing cover). Despite being totally overrun by a more organised team, Town somehow managed to go in at half time leading. The applause and cheers were of relief, rather than appreciation. The principle reaction in the Pontoon seemed to be raised eyebrows and thumbs down. The formation was a disaster (apart from the first minute) and a better team than Gillingham (and aren't they all in this division) would have be three or four up by half time. Lennie Lawrence descended from the directors box after about 30 minutes. He spent the rest of the game stood on the touchline bellowing at the team. His principle instruction appeared to be "push up", though all that did was encourage Gillingham to knock the ball over the top, thus utilising Asaba's pace and exposing (the already booked) Groves and Raven.
Jeffrey had a very effective first minute. Thereafter he was Donovanesque in his contribution. Oh and Pouton was abysmal in every way. Shocking. Positively shocking.
It had been awful. We hoped that the manager would have an effective 15 minute "chat" with the players and change the formation.
Half time: Grimsby Town 1 Gillingham 0
Click here for the 2nd half report.
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