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Talk Amongst Yourselves: Norwich Report
By: Tony Butcher
A WARM evening with a stiff, swirling wind that seemed to billow inconsistently down, across and around the pitch. The ground was virtually empty until the last few minutes before kick off, so there was barely any kind of atmosphere prior to the game.
Grimsby Town 0 Norwich City 2
30 Oct 2001, Nationwide League Division 1
The players ambled through their warm up routines without much enthusiasm, which may have been down to the latest wheeze by the fitness guru. At one point the players walked forward, then bent down on one knee, doing those little stretches that Alan Knott used to do, then repeated it for 10 yards as they strolled on. A mass recreation of Monty Python sketches? Nobody expects the Norwich Inquisition.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. The starting XI was, with the exception of Chapman at right back, exactly the same as on Friday against Birmingham. Norwich had no remarkable hairstyles, or weird looking players, though their exotic French striker wore gloves (it wasnâ€™t even that cold!). The crowd didnâ€™t even taunt him for that, such was the level of interest. Their goalkeeper wore a green top with "Green" written across his back. It turned out that that is his name, not a helpful indication of the colour of his shirt.
Town kicked off away from the Pontoon and hardly anyone noticed. There were lots of little conversations going on, with the game almost incidental. I half expected someone to shout out "Do you mind! Iâ€™m talking to my friend". Town started at a stroll, with players very obviously concentrating on keeping their position and jogging around the pitch. They certainly didnâ€™t have the manic intensity of Friday. Norwich looked organised, fluid and mobile. In the first 15 minutes they didnâ€™t really threaten, but always looked on the point of creating chances. Their strikers were always mobile, and were supported by at least two midfield runners. They showed that they knew what they were supposed to be doing. They had a plan.
Town had the better of the game in the first 10-15 minutes, creating a few moments of danger and shots. Everything seemed to be aimed towards Boulding, with the other players designating him as "the one to do it". After 15 minutes Norwich realised that Boulding was very quick and tricky, so they stationed two men on him and tried to force him in field, into a third and fourth defender. Twice within the opening 10 minutes Boulding dribbled past three players, only for the fourth defender to tackle him in the centre of the pitch. He also managed to get in a couple of crosses, neither of which reached the head, or foot, of Allen, but nearly did. Butterfield was making a virtue of 50 yard cross-field passes to the unmarked Boulding. As the game wore on we realised that that was the only thing Butterfield intended to do all match. I have a vague recollection that Allen turned and shot weakly at their â€˜keeper from about 20 yards, but he did this fairly regularly during his time on the pitch, so just factor that into your mental picture of this game. And every game, as he tries it every time - back to goal, shimmy right, drag ball back the other way, turn and miss-hit straight to the goalkeeper.
Norwich seemed to overhit passes and stray offside in the first quarter of an hour. Then they didnâ€™t. Townâ€™s full backs, especially Chapman, started to have great difficulties when Norwich broke away, as they always had a player free overlapping. Neither of the Town wide midfielders were consistent in tracking back, but most importantly Pouton and Coldicott were not flying across the pitch to protect the defence. The result was that space and time was available to any yellow clad traveller in our part of the Galaxy. They boldly went where many men had gone before. Coyne had to make one save on the edge of his 6 yard box, when a cross shot was placed too close to him, there were also a couple of miss-hit shots from outside the area. We rather got the feeling that Norwich were finding their range. After 18 or 19 minutes Norwich broke away down the Town right. The ball was crossed to the far post where a little winger (McVeigh) was unmarked. He headed the ball back across goal and the ball hung up in the wind, dropping almost vertically on the 6 yard box, near Coyneâ€™s right hand post. Coyne came, stopped and stared. Coldicott and Beharall appeared to go towards the ball, then stopped. Coldicott, with his back to goal, seemed to stumble as he challenged the on-strolling Mulryne. Coldicott fell over and MULRYNE prodded the ball into the bottom right hand corner. A pathetic goal to concede, a mixture of a swirling wind and indecision by three Town players allowing Norwich a very simple goal. The air of resigned fatalism descended on the Pontoon, with the occasional defiant "Come on Town".
Things didnâ€™t get better, as more holes appeared in the Town defence. Broomes and Beharall were dragged out of position, neither being unable to deal with the Norwich strikers (Roberts and Libbra). Chapman was left to fend for himself, which he did manfully. Clearances began to be ballooned upwards, then sliced backwards. At times it was like a park game, as Norwichâ€™s defenders were just as guilty in the shambolic wild hoofing stakes. Beharall was twice forced to clear the ball from inside the 6 yard box, from crosses that travelled beyond Coyne into invitingly spacious living areas with seas views. And Norwich had a goal disallowed too. One of their midfielders tried a shot from 25 yards out, in the centre. The ball hit Pouton (I think) then ricocheted behind the onrushing defence into the area about 15 yards out on the centre left. A small Norwich player ran on and placed the ball under Coyne. Offside! Would this be a turning point in the game, as, after all, the bloke looked on-side. Despite Friday, this is still Town, what do you think?
Town did have efforts on goal, and some seemed exciting at the time, especially when Boulding had the ball. Townâ€™s best bit of play in the first half involved him receiving a cross field pass from Butterfield, then charging towards the penalty area. He beat two players, turning his full back inside out, then thwacked a low drive towards the near post, which the â€˜keeper kicked out. Boulding attempted to volley in the rebound, but a defender flung himself across to block for a corner. Jevons curled a free kick just under the roof of the Osmond Stand and there was a curious incident when a Norwich defender sliced a clearance way up into the starry, starry night. The ball was blown back towards goal and the â€˜keeper ran out and did the bump, yes the bump, with Bradley Allen. Penalty cried the Town fans. Play on said the referee. The ball bounced up and the â€˜keeper caught it. He then held on, and on, and on to the ball, barging Allen out of the way. The Town fans called out "6 seconds, 7 seconds, 8 seconds". The referee awarded Norwich a free kick. Poutonâ€™s best moment of the game, or to be more accurate, only moment of the game, came towards the end of the half when he won the ball in a barging tackle just inside the Norwich half on the Town left. He drove forward through three tackles, then another, before slightly miss-hitting a low shot which skidded and curled away just past the â€˜keeperâ€™s left hand post. Broomes tried to smash an unstoppable shot from 40 yards, which went 10 yards wide.
Apart from a head injury to Ben Chapman (caused by getting too close to Iwan Roberts), nothing else of great interest occurred in the first half. Despite the injury to Chapman there was only one minute added at the end of the half. It made no difference, Town looked far more likely to concede than equalise. The only hope for salvation was a catastrophic electrical failure. The crowdâ€™s hopes were briefly raised when an urgent message was put out over the tannoy for the club electrician to report to the office. Perhaps only he knows where the switch is for the floodlights.
From a Town perspective, it was business as usual. The crowd are getting used to Town being over-run and not looking threatening. There was hardly any movement, nor passing. As the half crawled on (it was a crawl, as the game was a bit turgid), Town started to hit longer and higher balls, just ceding possession to a team who kept it. The only plan Town seemed to have was "give it to Boulding". On the few occasions they did he looked threatening, but as no-one supported him, nor made any runs into the penalty area, it was a bit of a waste of time. Town have rapidly made themselves one-trick ponies. The major problem was that Pouton and Coldicott played like Willems and Butterfield used to - standing back, watching the opposition. Neither made any swingeing, sliding, crunching or sweeping tackles. They hardly made any at all. Which just left Coldicott to remind us that he canâ€™t pass - he had a stinker, eventually being unable to pass accurately over 2 yards - and Pouton to preen himself in the middle. Less an impregnable wall than a mound of soggy mud.
The same set of players as on Friday, yet the performance was unrecognisable. It was almost as if they were going through the motions. It had been a bog standard Town performance, with the emphasis on the bog.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"They only play for the cameras".
The report continues in the second half.
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