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Question of the Week
How long before new manager arrives?
The Road to Wigan Nears: Coventry Report
By: Tony Butcher
A CLEAR, bright, bitingly cold day down the Grimsby Road. The pitch looked bone hard, with the players warming up very gingerly, and that wasnâ€™t just Willems, who, as usual, was completely immersed in wool during the pre-match festivities.
Grimsby Town 0 Coventry City 1
26 Dec 2001, Nationwide League Division 1
I'm sure the pre-teen girls dancing on the pitch would have appreciated a donation from his knitwear collection, they were turning as blue as the Coventry kit by the time their "number" ended. Their number was nearly up. Oh what a metaphor for the club. Perishing it was, and perishing Town'll be.
The Town warm up routine has now become that: routine, with barely a wiggle or a woggle on show, just a few basic turns and sprints. A big bloke, which looked suspiciously like Raven, struggled to turn and even move. This suspicious Raven-a-like wasn't seen again. Coyne wore a grey top, yet when the teams ran out he was wearing a royal blue shirt. Odd. There was the expected sniggersome hair in the Coventry team - Shaw's head looks like a mop in search of a bucket, whilst Chippo has added length to the mirth. Around the ground there was the sound of new jackets being zipped up for the very first time. Fleecetastic, with some interesting interpretations of the concept of style. Since when has a pair of your granny's curtains been fashionable leisurewear? And there was a white rasta in the Pontoon. Boxing Day fixtures always tease something strange from the woodwork. And larger crowds too - mostly full, with one of the open corners (between Pontoon and Main Stand) in use.
Town lined up in what some claimed was a formation, though they were unable to satisfactorily describe it. Sometimes there were 4 at the back, mostly 3, often 5. There were other players hanging around too, elsewhere on the pitch. A liberal interpretation of their positioning would attach labels such as "midfield" and "striker" to them. I shall attempt to be liberal: eleven players started and the substitutes were in an easily interpreted 0-5 formation.
It appeared that the basic formation was Ford and Gallimore flanking Groves at the back, with Chapman and Neilson as proto-wing backs. Burnett was flanked by Willems and Butterfield in midfield with the be-gloved Jevons and Boulding up front. That formation lasted several seconds. It was never the same again.
Coventry kicked off towards their own supporters, who filled the central section of the Osmond Stand. It was immediately obvious that the game was not going to be a festive feast of flowing fun football. Most of the players looked like they were playing on stilts, it seemed almost impossible to stop or turn. Just the sort of game that shouldn't have even been started (if Town lose).
The first 5 minutes was a series of misplaced passes and punts. Misplaced being more than 6 inches away from the intended receiver. Town's game plan was pretty obvious too, and it was a plan which the team tried to implement. The back three were instructed to hit long curling passes behind the Coventry defence between the centre backs and full backs. Those boring old "channel balls". Burnett was almost playing as a striker, often being the furthest forward, making late runs from midfield. It was rotten stuff, as each "pass" was perfectly placed upon Shaw's head, or Konjic's chest. If those two missed it, the ball sailed majestically beyond infinity to the stars for a goal kick. Each time Town launched a speculative "channel ball" Coventry got the ball. They had, at least, some idea how to cause problems on an icy pitch. They simply (mainly D Thompson) ran forward into the huge, huge spaces left by the Town "midfield" who had gallumphed forward to chase the ball over the top.
It took them 6 minutes to break through the Town defence - Chippo played a one-two down their left and crossed from the bye-line to the near post, where Ford swiped the ball away in true Lever style. Thirty seconds later Coventry chipped the ball over Gallimore (who had rotated into a left backish position), Hughes raced free near the corner of the penalty box and smacked a low drive against Coyne's legs from a narrow angle, about 8 or 9 yards wide of the goal. The ball rebounded out towards the centre of the goal and Lee Mills tried a flying right footed scissors volley which went a yard high and wide of Coyne's left hand post. A few minutes later Hughes, again near the left hand corner of the penalty box, suddenly swivelled and hooked a hard right footed volley straight into Coyne's midriff. Oh dear, Hughes was back to his "best", which means he was a right royal pain in the backside all afternoon.
And what of the Town efforts? Yeah, what of them? Willems received a throw in about 30 yards out and tried a dipping, looping half volley into the top left hand corner. The ball looped. The ball dipped. Hedman combed his hair and then caught the ball as it plopped up onto his chest after bouncing on the 6 yard line. Town got a free kick about 25 yards out, just to the left of centre. Neilson crept around the back and was free, alone and waving his arms in the air, pushing pineapples and shaking trees. Butterfield saw him, looked down at his own boots, then hit the ball into the shins of the player second from the left in the wall. Do you think they practise that free kick routine in training? It can't be through luck that every Town free kick hits the same spot. That's dedication, that's what separates the pros from the Sunday morning cloggers. If you want to be the best, if you want to beat the rest, dedication's what you need.
After about 25 minutes the Town fans got very mildly excited. Only mildly mind. Butterfield was teed up for a shot 25 yards out, in a central position. He miss-hit the shot, dragging it wide of the goal, but the ball careered off Jevons' shins and rolled slowly into the penalty area. Into a very large space. No-one moved. A chance? No, Jevons was the slowest of all to react and Hedman managed to get to the ball before our gloved gladiator. When Jevons crosses the white line into the penalty area his legs, and mind, turn to mush.
After about 25-30 minutes Willems and Gallimore managed to get Hughes booked as they all chased a ball over the top. Gallimore fended off Hughes with his "upper body" and strolled off down the pitch with the ball. Then Willems formed an impenetrable obstacle with his left arm as Hughes tried to hassle Gallimore, leaving Hughes hanging like a chad from his arm. Hughes, for some inexplicable reason, took exception to the "Grimsby Grip", taking a little swipe at Willems with his feet.
There then followed a 10 minute period when Town's stars were in the ascendant. Coventry had to withstand what, in the context of the day, was intense Town pressure. I would add that much of the pressure was self inflicted as Hedman was a laughable kicker of the ball. He had the Pontoon in fits of laughter - at one point he appeared to toe poke a goal kick. He received a steady stream of sarcastic advice - "Use your instep". "Knee over the ball and follow through", but still his banana kicks kept on swerving this way and that. It all added up to a lot of Town throw-ins within 30 yards of the Coventry goal. Hedman couldn't catch either - he allowed a corner from the Town right, swung in by Willems, to go straight through his hands and curl just past the far post. This followed the Town moment of the match, not so much a champagne moment, more a rum and coke. Coventry had broken away quickly down the centre and the ball was chipped over the Town defence for Hughes to bound free, with just Gallimore to beat. Just Gallimore? To the surprise and delight of all Gallimore, facing his own goal, oozed Hughes away from the ball and turned. He turned directly into the path of another Coventry player. Don't panic! He didn't. He shook his hips and mesmerised the attacker with wobbling flesh. The Coventry player fell over and Galli stroked the ball forward to Boulding, near the half way line. Boulding turned and dribbled straight towards goal. About 30 yards out, after he had attracted a couple of defenders away from the centre, he clipped a short pass inside to Jevons, who carried the ball towards the edge of the area. The Coventry left back was forced across to stop Jevons, leaving a vast, cavernous space into which Butterfield ran (yes ran, not jogged briskly). Jevons laid the ball into the space and Butterfield, from about 9 yards out, almost level with the left hand post, clipped the ball over the goalkeeper as Hedman went down low to his left. As the crowd rose to acclaim the goal Hedman raised his right arm and managed to flip the ball a few inches wide of the left hand post. A great save. We didn't want to see a great save though.
The period of Town pressure ended when Willems tried a shot from 25 yards which went a couple of feet wide of Hedman's left hand post. The Pontoon continued their Swede bashing, content that his kick was going into the directors' box when a funny thing happened. He kicked it dead straight. It went straight down the middle. Mills outjumped Ford and simply helped the ball on in a big loopy arc over the top and into the no-mans land between Coyne and the defence. Hughes had anticipated the flick on and had run behind Groves and seemed to be free. But a saviour was on hand. Galllimore appeared to be nearest the ball, but it bounced very high and he wasn't able to turn. It looked as though Gallimore then tried to body check Hughes, but missed him by several yards. HUGHES lobbed the ball over Coyne from somewhere near the edge of the area in a central position, with the ball going into the right hand side of the goal.
The last five minutes of the half were just playing out time. The crowd was deflated, the team visibly wilted and Coventry had a couple more efforts towards goal, both from Mills. Firstly, from somewhere near the penalty spot he glanced a header a foot or two wide of Coyne's right hand post following a deep cross from the Coventry right. His second, which brought an "Ooooh" from the midlanders behind Coyne's goal, was a snapshot from 20 yards which went a yard wide of Coyne's left hand post. They only "Ooohed" to keep warm.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Coventry City 1
And the half ended with the usual whimper and the usual scoreline. Town had, at times, been ok, with neither side particularly relishing the playing surface. But Coventry had a little bit of oomph up-front. And an idea or two elsewhere. Town's method was little more than hit and hope, with the players following instructions to the letter. It was very apparent what they had been told to do. The problem was that those "tactics" were just plain daft in the circumstances and conditions.
Town had the players on the pitch to cause Coventry defenders problems, if only they would pass the ball through the midfield
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Is it always like this? No, sometimes they are merely incompetent".
The report continues in the second half.
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