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26/12 Coventry 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
NEITHER team made any changes at half time, neither tactically nor physically. Town kicked off and played some possession football for 3 seconds, before Ford curled a long pass to Konjic. The rest of that opening minute is a blur of inactivity.
Grimsby Town 0 Coventry City 1
26 Dec 2001, Nationwide League Division 1
The crowd was awoken from their post Christmas stupor by Thompson, their Thompson, collecting a pass on the half way line and surging forward down the middle. He didn't stop, like a slow train he just kept-on-a-comin' at the centre of Town's defence. He dribbled past Groves (I think) 20 yards out, then shimmied inside, beating another weak tackle on the edge of the penalty area. He was then behind the Town defence, bearing down upon Coyne, who rushed out and smothered the shot. The ball ballooned up and over Coyne, with 5 or 6 Town defenders swarming around the goalmouth. Willems and Groves between them managed to clear the ball, though it took an absolute age for Willems to stop and turn. Fortunately no Coventry player was within 5 yards of the woolly mammoth. This display of Dutch cool made one Town fan lose his temper, urging Willems to go back to "...Holland. Or Belgium. Or wherever you're from". Such in depth knowledge of the team is what sets the Town fan apart from the average football supporter. We can pinpoint the exact continent on which each and everyone of our players was born.
Town's response was to kick the ball higher. One day Michael Boulding will win a header, that is the ultimate goal for this season. We had 5 minutes of utter dross before the next incident. I do mean next incident, as I don't call kicking the ball over the Main Stand a highlight. Incident? Should have been the game ending moment. D Thompson received the ball in midfield about 30 yards out, to the right of goal. He zoomed forward, taking on Chapman, successfully swaying inside as Chapman shuffled towards the corner flag. Thompson was thus inside the penalty area, with Willems blocking his way. Thompson went left then right, knocking the ball towards the bye-line. Willems hung out his left leg and Thompson ran into, then over, the dangling Dutch elm. Penalty. Hughes licked his lips, hugged the ball, placed it precisely upon the spot and chipped it 2 yards over the bar, to the left of centre, with the ball being joyously batted around the back of the Pontoon in celebration. For the avoidance of any doubt, and for the full facts to be placed before the jury, Coyne went the right way.
Was this the return of Lennie's Luck? Honey don't be silly, it's been dead since 1929 and oh, how you've cried at night. I'm racking the canyons of my mind to recall anything positive from Town in the first 15 minutes of the second half. A super sliding tackle from Ford, down on the right of the Town penalty area. That's it. Even Boulding was subdued and failed to have his lung busting dribble down the left in the 51st minute before miss-hitting a right foot shot straight at the â€˜keeper. He waited until 63rd minute and did it down the right, before having a left foot shot straight at the â€˜keeper from 20 yards. He didn't miss-hit it though. The game was bereft of events, save for the isolated Coventry attacks, from which Hughes kept slicing shots over the bar. He sliced one 5 yards high and wide from the edge of the penalty area, in the middle of the "D", after a pass from the Coventry left had curled behind Groves. Hughes then sliced another shot 3 yards high when in the penalty area on the Town left, after a breakaway had pulled Town defenders, one by one from left to right.
There were a couple of moments which should have brought excitement and hope to the Town supporters. A Jevons free kick from the left, about level with the edge of the penalty area, was curled into the middle of the 6 yard box. The ball missed most swinging legs and ricocheted off an unusual body part, bouncing free in the area. No Town player anywhere near. A corner from the Town left was swung into the near post, at chest height. Everyone missed it and it went straight into Hedman's arms. And out again. No Town player anywhere near. Boulding (who for some reason was playing on the right side of the front two) managed, for once, to stay on his feet, then turn past his marker. He reached the bye-line, stretched and pulled the cross back to the near post. Jevons has ambled off to the far post when it was obvious that Boulding was not going to hit it that long. He can't. We all know he can't, so why did Jevons think that that would be the one moment when Boulding's right boot would move with perfect timing to arc a delicate cross over two tall defenders, a goalkeeper with inspector gadget's arms, and onto to his forehead?
Then puff, Jevons was gone, replaced by C Thompson with 20 minutes left. As he traipsed off the crowd were applauding. Applauding his replacement, that is. As Thompson ran on that Kestrel re-appeared, swooping low in front of the Pontoon, taunting us, before gliding off to perch upon the floodlight in the corner between Main Stand and Osmond Stand. Coventry were preparing to take a free kick during this substitution and Town seemed to switch off. The free kick was about 8 yards from the bye-line out on the Town left. The wall was Butterfield, who turned his back as it was being taken, to have a little chat with his mates. The ball was swung across the face of goal. No Town players moved. Three Coventry players ran on and all missed the ball. There was a couple more Coventry long shots, neither of which was on target, and I have a vague recollection of a header. The game had reached the point where you just knew Town would not score even if the opposition popped round to Ramsden's for a cup of tea and a muffin (it wouldn't have been worth it. Ramsden's was closed). The crowd had slumped into morose self introspection (that is never very far from the surface anyway) and we were all just waiting for the game to end.
Changes were made, after 78 minutes Coldicott replaced Willems (who looked as though he signalled to Lawrence to come off), and two minutes later Iron Mike Jeffrey replaced Ford. This resulted in a change of notional formation, with a flat-ish back four, three little piggies in the middle, and Thompson in the Black Hole behind Jeffrey and Boulding. Within a minute of coming on, Jeffrey had his chance for glory. He fluffed it. The ball was knocked down the right hand side behind the Coventry defence towards the corner of the penalty area. Burnett ran through and slightly overran the ball. Adjusting his footing and with his back to goal he back flipped the ball behind him into space on the edge of the area. Jeffrey ran through and hit a first time right volley into the scoreboard. Who hit the "t" in Coventry? Jeffrey. A few minutes later there was a fleeting moment of potential interest when the ball was lobbed forward and Jeffrey flicked the ball on into the middle of the area. The ball went near a small Town player in the air. Near meaning within 6 foot.
With 5 minutes left the ball went out of play in the open corner between Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus and Pontoon. Two supporters caught the ball and, instead of throwing it back to Neilson quickly, held on to it then, threw it deliberately over his head, stuck two fingers up at him and "mouthed obscenities", as the GET would say. Neilson responded in kind and a couple of policemen escorted the two moaners out of the ground. They left 7,000 behind.
The game was petering out into another pathetic loss when, with only a couple of minutes left, Coventry had the ball in midfield on the Town left. Hughes, standing in the Town right back position (nice of him to fill that gap) tried to make a ran across the back four behind Groves. Neilson ran with Hughes and Hughes raised his left elbow to shoulder height, then jerked it back horizontally. Neilson's head jerked back horizontally and the linesman flagged for offside. And kept on flagging, the referee eventually trotted over, had a cosy chat and showed the red card to Hughes (not another yellow, it was a straight red). Hughes complained, of course, as did his team mates. Strangely none of them looked at Neilson's face - disfigured nose and blood everywhere. Remember - the clues are there.
This changed the game completely and Town flowed forward like a pack of ravenous beasts, tearing at the limp midlanders limbs, and inducing fear at every turn. How could they cope with the pressure, the sheer white heat of furious, frenzied passion? In the whole of the three minutes of added time I can find no explanation within the laws of physics for the failure of Town to turn a series of retreating throw-ins into goals. The game ended with a 35 yard volley from Butterfield which went 5 yards wide. Believe me, that sounds closer than it was.
The game ended. We got up from our seats and walked home. No moaning, no cat-calls. We know there is no point in that anymore.
Individually Neilson, Chapman, Willems, Groves, Ford and Gallimore had played well - but they were all Town's defensive players. Jevons has exhausted his brownie point quotient for his Liverpool goal, one by one the crowd is turning agin him. He's like Neil Woods but without the redeeming qualities. Butterfield doesn't need anymore analysis, he played like you'd expect. Burnett was absent for most of the game, though this was less him hiding, more the so-called tactics employed. He was clearly under instructions to bomb forward all the time. So he did. But the ball only went to him once. With him being way up field it left a huge chasm in the middle for Willems and Butterfield to fill. Sorry, my mistake, for Willems to fill, which he did admirably under the circumstances.
The awful truth is that Town are appalling. They have been reduced to schoolboy tactics - hit it forward and run after it. Shocking. There was what appeared to be an interesting tactical change in the formation - a revolving back 3/4/5. Some described the system as a circular saw, some as the plughole. Town are drowning, going down the plughole fast.
It's not the despair, we can take the despair, it's the hope. And we are beyond that now.
Nicko's Man of the Match
Paradoxically, given the ineffective tosh served up, there were several decent displays - all by defensive players. Willems was rock solid for an hour, Groves seemed to play well, as did Neilson and Chunky thighed Chapman (who did one brilliant 50 yard crossfield pass to Neilson and some excellent scurrying tackles) but it has to be Mr Tony Gallimore. I excuse his inability to stop the goal; his all round display was superb. Given the conditions (where it was very difficult even to stand up) he gave a masterclass. He could stand up for falling down.
Mr P Danson. Can't complain really. A bit fussy over "foot up", but generally handled the game well. Must get a 7.4. Would have got 10 if he'd called the game off after an hour.
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