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None But The Rave - Walsall Report
By: Tony Butcher
A COLD, bright day in the bleak midwinter, with expectations as low as the setting sun, from both sets of supporters. About 150-200 Town supporters slunk into the seats behind the goal to the right (as seen on TV), some defiantly singing, most practising their excuses.
Walsall 4 Grimsby Town 0
15 Dec 2001, Nationwide League Division 1
The Town players warmed up with arbitrary jogs and stretches, followed by a vigorous sprint for 5 yards. Well, Gallimore was vigorous, the others more sedate. Willems kept his woolly hat, gloves and tracksuit bottoms on throughout the pre-match festivities. The tannoy played a selection of hits from 1984, which was nostalgic for some, annoying for others.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Raven got a big, hearty cheer when he ran out, which was nice. For some inexplicable reason Town played in the hideously bright orangey-yellow kit. With Walsall in all red it was difficult to follow the logic of Townâ€™s enforced stripeless condition.
Walsall kicked off towards the Town supporters and it only took them a minute to create a half-chance. Gallimore dallied before trying to tackle Wrack. The dally by Galli merely put him in no mans land, allowing Wrack to tap the ball past and run off down the line unimpeded. Wrack crossed and Groves managed to glance the ball away from Angell at the far post. So far, so normal.
We then had 5 minutes of utter rubbish, particularly from Willems, resplendent in strange boots that seemed half white, half black, who kept under-hitting short passes straight to Walsall players. Town played the ball around the back four, before hoofing it forward to Walsallâ€™s back four, who kept the ball for a while before hoofing it back. Then Town got themselves into an awful tizz on the right hand side of the penalty area. A couple of wild, high slices (by Groves and Neilson, I think) sent the ball out towards the right corner.
The ball ended up at Coldicott who passed it out of play. Walsall took a simple, quick throw in and played a little "triangle" to send a player behind Neilson. He crossed to Angell, about 7 or 8 yards out, to the left of centre. He headed back across Coyne and the ball tapped against the crossbar, bouncing out to Matias 12 yards out the right of goal. He sliced a shot very high and very wide.
Iâ€™d love to be describing some wonderful pieces of football, but there werenâ€™t any. At all. The Town players stood in vague formation in front of the Walsall players, who tried to pass their way through, then use Angellâ€™s aerial superiority to flick on high passes for the nimble Byfield. All foundered upon Grovesâ€™ experience (he was adept at stepping back a pace and collecting the flick on) or Ravenâ€™s tenacity and strength. Raven was superb during this period, simply marvellous and he was earning several personalised chants, being "Raven, Raven" as we couldnâ€™t think of anything else. Like the team, we were seriously lacking in imagination and creativity. Ravenâ€™s best moment was a last ditch carving, sweeping, sliding tackle from (nearly) behind which caressed the ball off Byfieldâ€™s boot as he was about to shoot following a flick on by Angell.
Offensively Town were inept. The "tactic", if that be not too intellectual a phrase to use, seemed to be to kick it forwards as quickly as possible. At one point Town managed to string three passes together before someone whacked it aimlessly towards the Walsall half. The referee only encouraged such dire football by awarding Town an endless stream of free kicks in the Walsall half for little shoves and pushes on Jevons and Jeffrey. The best Town did from this was a Groves header safely, tamely and boringly wide. We may have had the referee, but Walsall had the linesmen, so I suppose it evened itself out. After 20 minutes, one of the Town forwards got into the Walsall penalty area. He didnâ€™t have the ball, you understand, but he was physically within the box. Which was a start. There was also, at some indefinable point during the tedium, a cross from Neilson which whizzed through the air with the greatest of ease towards a Walsall defender. Again a Town striker was within tripping distance of the penalty area. I shall be charitable and say this was "Town pressure". Town increased the pressure further by winning a succession of throw-ins on the half way line. Only the bravest of the brave resist such intensity.
Ohh, hang on - a shot on goal. Not from Town though. After about 25 minutes (at least it felt as though it was), Gallimore was nut-megged and Wrack ran down the line, firing a low cross into the middle of the penalty area. A Walsall striker turned and hit a low, first time, half volley which screamed through a couple of legs and hit Coyneâ€™s left boot. Matias (I think), from the right edge of the penalty area, spooned the follow up shot into the same section of unpopulated stand as he had done before. At least it reminded the crowd that there was a professional football match going on nearby, as the preceding minutes had been taken up with Town fans taunting a man in full Father Christmas gear and the Walsall mascot (a dumpy Robin), who kept baring his backside at the taunting Town teenagers.
Just after the half hour mark Town won a corner on the left. The ball was cleared out towards the half way line and the Walsall players all steamed out of defence. The ball fell in an empty part of the pitch and there was then what can only be described as a Benny Hill farce. Town defenders seemed to run towards the ball from the Town half as the Walsall player ran forward. There was a great big scrummage of a tackle about 10 yards inside the Walsall half (involving Coldicott, I think) and the ball ricocheted into the Town half, on the left. The momentum of the two sets of players was such that Walsall headed South as Town headed North, thus they were free. Angell ran on, with Byfield down the left hand side, crossed slowly and lowly. The ball bumbled through the penalty area about 8 or 9 yards out behind the retreating defenders and in front of the on-rushing Walsall midfield. The ball rolled out to right hand side and BIANCALANI trotted forward, unmarked, and casually stroked the ball with his right foot across Coyne and into the bottom left hand corner. A daft, silly goal to concede. It was like watching 8 year olds.
The Town fans were remarkably quiet, with little recrimination. That would come later.
A further 10 minutes of rubbish followed, with the merest hint that Town had sorted out some sort of pattern to their play. On a couple of occasions Jeffrey dropped deep into a Sheringham-like position, turned and started off a passing movement. The first one foundered after 7 passes as Butterfield lofted a delicate crossfield ball directly to a Walsall defender. The second almost brought a chance, as Jevons played a pass between the two central defenders for Boulding, who was only just stopped by two players on the edge of the area. Thatâ€™s Townâ€™s whole attacking described. It was mainly aimless kicking over the top of the two central defenders. Neither Jevons nor Jeffrey got anywhere near the ball. The only way Town would score was if the Walsall â€˜keeper had fly-kicked the ball against his own defenders. As it turned out Walker was a very poor kicker (sub-Crichtonian) and fluffed a couple, but straight to his own players. Some would call that luck, but then theyâ€™d lose their grip on the straws they were clutching. So there you have it - Townâ€™s method boils down to this - kick it to their â€˜keeper and hope he falls over.
In the final minutes of the first half Walsall had another couple of dangerous moments. The first came when Byfield, on the centre edge of the penalty area with his back to goal, swivelled and hit a screaming right foot volley just to Coyneâ€™s right, about shoulder high. Danny, of course, punched the ball away towards the left hand corner flag. Gallimore then ambled over and legged up Wrack, giving them a free kick. Idiocy. The ball was half cleared to the right, then returned to the left. Gallimore then legged up another Walsall player, about 30 yards out, allowing them another opportunity to pressurise Town. Double idiocy.
Half time: Walsall 1 Grimsby Town 0
And then, thankfully, a rotten half ended. Both sides were poor, with Town the poorer by a distance. Defensively adequate, offensively witless, Town werenâ€™t doing anything other than hoping. The Town fans werenâ€™t even doing that. Not everyone was bad; Groves and Raven had performed well, Willems had improved and er, well, erm, the others were still on the pitch. The fact I havenâ€™t mentioned them is not a sign of adequacy. Neilson did manage one good tackle when he slid into dispossess Byfield after heâ€™d turned past Raven deep inside the Town penalty area on the right. I do try to find one good thing to say about everybody. Sometimes it is very difficult.
What would half time bring? A stiff talking to from the man in charge? Changed tactics? Managerial magic? Anything? Surely Town could not get worse? Walsall werenâ€™t bad, just very, very ordinary. They are a good 2nd division team. Which was half a division above the standard of the team in yellow.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Ravenâ€™s playing really well, isnâ€™t he".
The report continues in the second half.
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