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Out of the Blue: Coventry Report
By: Tony Butcher
A CLEAR, sunny day with a cold wind in the concrete capital of the midlands. Highfield Road is the sort of stadium Blundell Park could have been, being enclosed and interesting. It's the sort of stadium Blundell Park is, in that it wasn't very full.
Coventry City 0 Grimsby Town 1
08 Sep 2001, Nationwide League Division 1
Town brought about 6-700 supporters who spread themselves around 3 blocks of the stand underneath the TV gantry (we were on the bottom right as you view on television). The Town fans poured in and the Coventry supporters seeped in rather slowly, like a leaking tap.
The pre-match warm up routine is now pretty fixed, much to the amusement of the home team's family stand. Skipping and dressage was how it was described by the youth of Coventry. The Coventry players ran slowly across the pitch, looking big but bored, less of a warm up than a chill out. There was some great Premiership-style hair in their squad. Ah, they've yet to learn that hairstyles don't win matches. O'Neill had a hair band, much flapping beyond the neck and the air of a louche Sicilian waiter, Bothroyd (a slightly smaller version of Peter Crouch) had the hint of the upturned spaghetti-on-the-bonce look, and Chippo's hair needs no description, being world famous in its own right.
Why is the Coventry mascot a fluffy blue elephant?
The tannoy announcer had a superb gravelly voice, low and slow. He announced the teams with great deliberation and, so low was his voice, that the sound system hardly coped. They obviously need to sort out their woofers from their tweeters. How low was his voice? Well, I think he was born under a wandering star.
The teams ran out to the accompaniment of loud music and one of those irritating pitch-side microphone men, though he came over all Norman Collier," he's breaking up, he's breaking up". He roused the crowd with "please welcome Coventry City and Grim Bee Town".
At 3:04 Coventry kicked off towards the left. Funny game, can't remember anything happening in the first 15 minutes. Coventry had a few rubbish attacks where the ball didn't go anywhere near goal. They constantly probed down the Town right. They weren't going to get anywhere with that, were they? Pouton and McDermott were far too good for the appalling O'Neill, who started to flap his arms in frustration very early on. Perhaps in response to the arm (and hand) flapping that the Coventry supporters were making towards him? O'Neill wasn't very popular with the home throng, though he was with us. He's our kind of opposition winger. Love 'em. It rapidly became clear that Coventry had no real game plan, little cohesion, and were just 11 blokes fulfilling the basic terms of their employment contract. They were all bigger than Town players, but didn't really use their physique, they didn't even run fast. They were very good at "hand-offs" and nudging Tow players off the ball (ah, those Premier tricks) but the ball was not a friend to their feet.
It took nearly 20 minutes for anything memorable to happen and it was an old fashioned Town pass and move that brought 700 people to their feet. After Town retained the ball in midfield, Pouton passed inside the full back for McDermott to whip in a low cross to the near post. Jevons spun past his marker and advanced towards the bye-line. His cross was deflected for a corner on the Town right. Hedman missed the corner and the ball glanced off Groves' head just beyond the far post.
A few minutes later Pouton, about 35 yards out in an inside right position, received the ball back from a Town striker. He drifted forward a couple of yards and poked a perfectly weighted short pass through the gap between the Coventry centre back and left back. Jevons ran on into a huge, huge space, with the defenders trailing way behind him. He ran forward in a straight line until about 10 yards out. Having succeeded in narrowing the angle, Jevons placed the ball against Hedman's legs in an attempt to roll inside the near post. Bad miss, as he had a lot of time and space; he actually made it easy for the 'keeper. It looked as though Jevons didn't know what to do. Thinking time is a bad thing for him. Still, it showed some attacking intent and was a passing move.
Town had eschewed the long "channel balls" and were seemingly attempting to pass the ball to Rowan and Jevons. Now that's confidence for you. A few minutes later Town should have scored again. A flowing one-touch pass-and-move session by Town moved the ball across the pitch from left to right. Pouton stepped inside his marker and (from almost the same position as before) dinked another perfectly weight pass, this time between the two centre backs. Jevons, about 30 yards out, ran on, right down the centre. He ambled forward, then slowed to a trudge and, when on the edge of the area, slap bang in the middle started to bring his right boot back to shoot. A defender slid in from behind and toe poked the ball a few inches wide of the 'keepers right hand post. Exciting? Yes!
Amid the cheers there were mutterings about how slow Jevons had been. Again. The corner (which was one of about 8 Town had in the first half) was half cleared by the goalkeeper's weak punch out to Butterfield, 25 yards from goal, in the centre. He miss-hit a volley into the ground. The ball bounced over the advancing defenders, over the goalkeeper towards the goal. Rowan helpfully jumped up and headed into the completely empty net. Offside. As we were on the side, it is impossible to say whether the miss-hit volley was going in anyway, and should we criticise a striker for scoring?
About this time Coventry had some attacks. After a bout of head tennis and keepy-uppy, which sent the ball from the left to right and back to the left again of the Town penalty area, Chippo dinked a little volleyed pass into the centre of the goal, about 8 yards out. Bothroyd volleyed a million miles over the bar. Didn't matter as he was offside, though it did show what Coventry could do if they tried. Really Coventry's best attacking moments came via the boot of Coyne. Firstly he took a free kick a yard or two from the right corner flag. As he tried to welly it upfield he slipped, making the ball dribble straight to Bothroyd about 25 yards out.
Big Bo' eventually controlled the ball and stroked a pathetic back pass straight to Coyne, who had sprinted back towards his goal. Phew. Less than 10 minutes later Coyne fluffed a clearance from a back pass, chipping the ball into the air, straight to O'Neill about 25 yards out. Fortunately, O'Neill decided to surge forward and hit an unstoppable drive into the top corner. In other words it dribbled along the ground and rolled into Coyne's arms.
Apart from a couple of headers from corners which went nowhere near the goal and a couple of scuffed shots from outside the box, Coventry had only one more dangerous moment in the first half. Chippo managed to drift past Gallimore down the left and the ball was rolled in to the unmarked Joachim, about 12 yards out, to the left of the goal. He mis-controlled the ball and it slipped off his instep and continued towards goal. Coyne had raced off his line to close Joachim down and had not anticipated the lack of control. The ball almost drifted past Coyne and into the net, but fortunately he managed to scramble across his 6 yard line and just get to the ball before Joachim.
The only other goal attempt in the first half was from Town. Campbell jinked his way determinedly past three players down the left before cutting inside and, from 25 yards out, hit a looping right footed shot which went straight to Hedman. This attempt summed up Campbell's display; determined, enthusiastic, some skill and a willingness to go forward. The three Coventry players were much bigger than him, but he never gave up and literally wrestled himself free to have the shot. There was only 1 minute of added time, which passed away peacefully, in its sleep.
Town were roared off at half time, the roar tinged with a bit of annoyance that we weren't at least one up. Coventry were roared off in a different manner, their fans' roars tinged with annoyance that they weren't beating the "likes of Grimsby". There's no-one quite like Gwimsby.
This had been so far, by several planets, the best Town performance this season. Organised and committed in defence, there was none of the aimless hoofing towards Rowan and Jevons. The attacks were built on traditional lines, to feet, with supporting runs from midfielders. Being side on we could see that the Town 4-4-2 was in three perfectly laid out lines.
Coventry were all higgledy-piggledy, and that included the defence, where the centre backs seemed like strangers. Whenever a Coventry player got the ball, at least one (and in defence it was sometimes three) Town players would hassle and harry. The Coventry players didn't like that, it seemed an affront to their pay packets to have to "work". Why weren't these little fishy folk laying down before their superiority?
Willems was a moving brick wall. "They shall not pass". They didn't. I would say that Butterfield didn't stand out, I hardly noticed him, except when he legged up O'Neill right below the Town fans. The Coventry supporters bayed, but no card was issued. Butterfield had been totally "kippered" by skill, he tackled where the ball would have been if it had gone where he thought it would. He was only 180 degrees out in his mental geometry. Everyone else did what they had to do very well. Except Jevons didn't score when he was twice free one-on-one with the 'keeper, and Coyne's kicking was Crichtonesque.
Half time: Coventry City 0 Grimsby Town 0
All in all a satisfying half. Surely Strachan would have realised our weakness down the left and that there were several occasions when they had two players unmarked beyond our full backs?. We hoped he is a bad a manager as the Coventry supporters claim.
The half time entertainment was supplied by the fluffy blue elephant being the goalkeeper in a fan's penalty shoot out. The lucky fan held up a "Richardson Out" poster, so the elephant ran out of the goal and kicked the fan up the backside. The elephant ran back, so the fan took the first penalty and scored off the elephant's bottom. The elephant ran out the goal again to threaten the fan.
The second penalty was taken and the fan ran up to the goal and held up a "Richardson Out" poster again to the supportive supporters behind the goal. The elephant swiped the poster and ripped it up. The crowd booed, the fan squared up to the elephant and we all lived happily ever after. At least the Town fans did. The other entertainment was a dozen turquoise clad girls twirling in the centre circle. They were as organised as the Coventry defence - they need lessons from Groves and Beharall.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Jevons can't shoot".
The report continues in the second half.
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