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The Ace of Stace - Birmingham Report
By: Tony Butcher
AFTER a day full of torrential rain, the evening was clear, but crisp. The pitch looked firm, despite the deluge. The Birmingham end was surprisingly sparse, though the rest of the ground was well populated, especially with youngsters. This generated a more raucous, anarchic atmosphere.
Grimsby Town 3 Birmingham City 1
26 Oct 2001, Nationwide League Division 1
More hope than despair. Although the cheerleader needs to brush up on his spelling "Give us a G. R. I. M. S. Y. What have you got?" The first house in Harte Street had decided that tonight was the optimum time to have a giant bonfire, sending huge plumes of smoke across Cleethorpes Road, down into Blundell Park. Perhaps the game would be called off through poor visibility?
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as shown. Mmmmmm, thereâ€™s a name missing there, isnâ€™t there. The missing name was the subject of the turnstile queue gossip. A stunned, hushed, "No Groves!" spread like a wave down the line. People looked confused and apprehensive, this really was a leap into a new era. The tannoy was, as usual, barely audible, so I think the substitutes were Croudson, Chapman, Groves, Willems and Rowan. Ying and yang for the Lawrence sceptics, as Pouton and Coldicott had, at last, been re-united in the centre of midfield with Butterfield on the right. Weâ€™ll soon find out if the answer is Boulding on the pitch too. So who would be the leader on the pitch? Gallimore!
Due to events beyond my control (the game being memorable and exciting, where recently they have been exacting) I cannot remember who kicked off, though as Birmingham attacked the Pontoon end I suspect that they kicked off. Birmingham players looked mightily surprised by this, but not half as surprised as the crowd. And we loved it. Within 2 or 3 minutes Town nearly scored.
From the off Town looked different, the players were standing in the right places, in straight lines. They moved, they tackled, they really, really tackled. In managerspeak they started at a high tempo.
A quickly taken throw, about 25 yards out on the right was looped into a huge space in the Birmingham penalty area. Jevons bounded forward and just managed to poke the ball under the in-rushing goalkeeper. The ball was cleared off the line, close to the near post. The crowd roared.
A couple of minutes later another incisive attack down the right. One touch passing, movement from several players, men running into space. Ah, sweet memories. A hard cross from the right, deep into the centre of the penalty area was firmly flicked towards the â€˜keepers bottom right hand corner. He leap to his right and managed to palm the ball away. From the Pontoon stand it looked to be a very good save. Wahay! Five minutes gone and two great Town attacks, Birmingham had hardly touched the ball. When they did look like getting near it, Pouton and Coldicott simply swept them away, usually in tandem.
A couple of minutes later another good Town attack, this time down the left. Town retained possession, moving the ball quickly between players and Gallimore fizzed the ball forward, low to Jevons on the edge of the penalty area, who played a superb flick pass between the full back and centre back. Allan had spun away from his marker, lopping a run around Jevons. He burst through and hit a low shot across the face of goal. The crowd were starting to believe what they were seeing.
Birmingham? They did get into the Town half a couple of times, and they had a shot, of sorts, which was nice for their supporters. Marcello (I think) turned about 25 yards out and slammed a wild shot onto the roof of the Pontoon. After 15 minutes or so Birmingham did have a spell of pressure, when Town couldnâ€™t quite clear the ball out of play. The ball eventually dribbled wide after a long shot from a full back. It was a quite dangerous moment as the ball went very close to two forwards as it meandered towards its inevitable fate. A goal kick.
The next 10 minutes were a little more even, though Town still looked very dangerous when they broke. The Pontoon was purring over the passing and movement. Every single player looked to be concentrating and committed. Neilson looked a fine attacking full back, Butterfield an assured wide midfielder, but the centre was rock solid, unbeatable, impassable. From this base Town probed down the flanks, with Jevons and Allen interchanging position and playing like a strike force. Yes, this is still the first 25 minutes.
Just as the crowd started to fret that Town had been so dominant, but had not scored, their fretting times ended. After about 28 minutes, Neilson played a pass to Allen, on the right edge of the penalty area, and continued a strong forward run. Allen made a little space for himself by shimmying to his left, then turning right. He then played a perfectly weighted pass into the corner of the penalty area. Neilson surged on and curled a fast low cross through the 6 yard box. BOULDING, about 4 yards out, just past the far post, slid on his back side and steered the ball into the net off the underside of the crossbar. The attack was so swift none of the Birmingham defenders had time to move. The goal so stunning there was a secondâ€™s silence in the ground, then the crowd erupted in joy. Not only a goal, but a superbly crafted one. Town were back to being Town, not some bunch of lower division dopes.
The crowd sung and sung, and cheered and cheered. Just as the teenagers started to taunt the ever increasing numbers of Birmingham supporters (most of their fans arrived late because of some terrible traffic jams on the motorways), Birmingham has a goal disallowed, a couple of minutes after the Town goal. A spell of pressure on the Town right saw the ball half cleared, but it rebounded to one of their midfielders. He whipped in a low cross from out near the touchline, about 20 yards out. Horsefield, at the near post, flicked the ball on into the 6 yard box and Marcello, right in the centre of goal, headed firmly over Coyne. Despair to joy in 2 seconds - the linesman flagged for offside. Quite rightly too, whatever the TV replays said! The Mighty Mariner was stood behind the linesman applauding him, if not controlling him. Town got two or three favourable decision from this linesman. All when the foam fool was standing a couple of feet behind him. Perhaps the club should use this tactic more often.
I remember Coyne having to make a couple of plunging saves from cross shots, but canâ€™t remember exactly when in the first half, one was an excellent save as the ball was hit firmly through a thicket of defenders, with two strikers rushing at him as he dived. The other was a routine plunge to intercept a low cross at his near post.
Thatâ€™s the dull opposition stuff out of the way, hereâ€™s some more of what you really want to hear - Town shots, Town chances, above all Town being just darn good. After about 35 minutes, Town attacked down the left and the ball eventually made its way to Allen, about 20 yards out, near the edge of the penalty area. He turned and clipped a wonderful pass over the Birmingham defence, into a huge space in front of the goalkeeper. Jevons ran into the oh-so inviting space and, about 7 or so yards out, stretched forward and volleyed the ball. The goalkeeper blocked by doing what appeared to be a star jump at Jevons. The ball rebounded out to Butterfield who smacked a drive over the bar. Corner! Pouton, on the Town left, swung in a low corner towards the edge of the 6 yard box. JEVONS sneaked in front of his marker and sent a firm glancing header into the â€˜keepers bottom left corner. The crowd roared again, with some almost speechless, they just couldnâ€™t believe it. Big brutish Birmingham were being bullied off the ball themselves and they were unable to cope with fast flowing one touch football.
The rest of the half was just the same as the previous 35 minutes - Townâ€™s midfield duo snapped, harried and snarled away, stopping them, and starting us. It was like the end of last season all over again. Oh yes, it was the first time these two had played together since the Fulham game, wasnâ€™t it. I think Town had a couple more half chance, but to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost count myself. I just recall that the crowd had a great big collective smile. Except the Birmingham supporters, of course.
Half time: Grimsby Town 2 Birmingham City 0
Pouton and Coldicott, may they be wrapped in cotton wool and granted the freedom of Freshney Place, were simply magnificent. From the very first seconds they formed an impregnable barrier in the centre of the pitch. They ganged up on the Birmingham player in possession, like Cerberus guarding the underworld. Pouton was so intense that he even dispossessed Butterfield at one point to keep an attack moving. Birmingham didnâ€™t realise what they were dealing with. The structural perfection was only matched by the hostility. The rest of the team followed their lead and played with gusto and guts. Gallimore played like a captain, being strong, deliberate and a great team player. He was even seen ordering, organising and encouraging his men. The back 4 played like a unit, with Beharall and Broomes looking relatively solid against very strong mobile strikers. Broomesâ€™ occasional positional lapses were rescued by his pace and determination. Vroomes indeed.
I could go on eulogising the first 45 minutes, everyone performed well, including Ben Chapman who replaced Neilson with 6 or 7 minutes left. Neilson had taken a knock on his calf (I think) in making an excellent sliding block challenge on a Birmingham striker. Shame, as heâ€™d played very well, especially going forward. Birmingham were made to look very average by old style Town play. "Get into them (and pass the ball)". They did, and they did. Marvellous.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
The report continues in the second half.
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