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Wonâ€™t Get Fooled Again: Portsmouth Report
By: Tony Butcher
ANOTHER clear bright day in cold, cold Cleethorpes with 500 or so Portsmouth supporters huddled together in the centre of the Osmond Stand. And you may say to yourself that the rest of the ground was as full as it ever was; less than 5,000 grumbling Grimbarians.
Grimsby Town 3 Portsmouth 1
29 Dec 2001, Nationwide League Division 1
There was no collective mood, just pockets of satisfaction at the fall of the Loan King, some righteous anger at the end of Cockerillâ€™s sinecure (the GET headline certainly stirred up the teenagers) and a general shrug of indifference about Groves. Everyone assumed that weâ€™d see a return to basic principles; 4-4-2, passing and movement, and a 1-0 defeat. There were some people in the ground who were smiling and seemed happy at the new order, but not many. This is Grimsby, where dour pessimism is de rigeur.
The new coat brigade was absent from the stands, the old order had been restored. Would it be so on the pitch too?
Town lined up exactly as against Coventry, in 5-3-2 formation, but with two small changes: "The Destroyer" was restored to the midfield at the expense of Willems (the man from "Holland, Belgium or wherever") with Thompson partnering Jevons up front. None of the town players wore gloves today - obviously Groves has no time for such namby-pamby Southern ways. Portsmouth supplied the wits in the Pontoon with a further opportunity to show off their full range of skills. The verbal dexterity, and subtly, was truly astonishing - they called Crouch "freak" every time he got the ball. Oh how he crumbled at those cruel words, oneâ€™s that he never heard before. Truly that works on so many levels. And Prosinecki played, which the crowd ignored, probably because they couldnâ€™t pronounce his name.
Portsmouth kicked off towards the Pontoon and immediately kicked the ball out of play. Town had obviously changed their method of play. When I say change, I mean they actually had a method - they eschewed the hoof for the old possession game. Unfortunately, it seems the players had forgotten what to do, for the possession just meant there were longer gaps between opposition attacks than we have become used to.
Portsmouth played a very "continental" game, all teasing and waiting, tapping passes sideways and waiting for a gap to appear. It was apparent that Portsmouth had been watching Town closely, as they concentrated most of their attacks down the Town right, where Butterfield was, allegedly. Butterfield was awful in the first 30 odd minutes, not even raising himself to a jog. He walked away from the ball and gave Neilson no support whatsoever. With Prosinecki prowling with intent on the Town right, an accident was waiting to happen. Within the first minute Prosinecki had rolled his foot over the ball twice, a couple of drag backs, and sent Butterfield towards Spurn Point. This allowed him space and time to pick his spot to curl in a cross to the near post, where Gallimore (I think) headed out for a corner on the Portsmouth left. Prosinecki curled it perfectly, the ball dipping over the players at the near post and onto Crouchâ€™s head, about 6 yards out, to the left of centre. Crouch stooped and headed firmly 2 inches over the bar. He did exceptionally well to head over, and for that he received the thanks of the Pontoon.
Well that was a warning, wasnâ€™t it. It wasnâ€™t heeded. The right side (especially) was very dilatory and, almost as a matter of policy, refused to close down the wing backs when they set themselves to cross. On the left there were no difficulties - Gallimore and Chapman were rock solid, an efficient defensive unit, with sufficient support from Burnett and Coldicott. The right was a no-mans land with often three Pompey players promenading gaily in front of the Smiths/Stones/Findus with only Neilson impeding their seaside perambulation. So there was a series of crosses from the Portsmouth left, most of which were cut out by the three centre backs, with Ford very prominent in snuffing out the dangerous moments. The most worrisome moment saw a long, high cross swung in from below the Stones/Smiths/Findus stand to beyond the far post. Coyne and Gallimore left it, but Crouch didnâ€™t. He was alone, about 6 yards out, close to the bye line. Those warning lights were flashing, the klaxon was sounding - all of which must have put him off as he allowed the ball to roll down his shins for a goal kick.
Youâ€™ll have noticed I havenâ€™t described any Town attacks yet. There werenâ€™t any until after about 15 minutes when there was a little bit of passing and movement down the Town right which ended up with Butterfield trying a left foot shot from 20 yards, just to the right of centre. He curled it straight into the goalkeeperâ€™s stomach. A minute or so later there was a bit of Town pressure with a couple of shots from outside the area, the first was half charged down, the second, from Butterfield, dribbled wide. About 5 minutes after that Neilson hooked a volley well wide and high. Nothing very exciting at all. The crowd were getting restless and about 20 teenagers decided to sing anti-board songs, which just riled some older, more world weary soles to rise up an berate them in words of more than two syllables (which confused the children). They were, effectively, told to shut up, sit down and support the team. This little ritual continued every few minutes or so - there was nothing happening on the pitch, so the Pontoon started to argue amongst itself.
And then things went really wrong. Portsmouth started to dominate Town and camped out in the Town half, about 30 yards from goal. They moved the ball across the pitch from right to left to right to left, waiting for a Town player to jog out of position. Danny B obliged several times. On the half hour their left wing back was allowed to clip in a low hard cross from 25 yards out and level with the edge of the penalty area. The ball whizzed through the area towards Crouch, about 8 yards out, just to the right of centre. Groves, running behind Crouch, managed to divert the ball a couple of inches wide of Coyneâ€™s right hand post. A couple of minutes later Town, yet again, were under-populated on the right, with Butterfield disgracefully absent, Pitt was allowed time to control the ball, adjust his feet, then clip in a flat, head high cross into the centre of the penalty area. CROUCH, about 8 yards out, just to the right of centre, leant in front of Groves and headed down firmly, nutmegging Coyne, with the ball flying into the net off Coyneâ€™s left heel. A few seconds of silence, then the teenagers started singing "sack the board", "Furneaux out", "Thereâ€™s only one Lennie Lawrence" and "Oh Johnnie Cockerill". Perhaps 50 at most sang, whilst an equal number jumped up and harangued them for their "support". The atmosphere was heated and fractious, with the stewards "having words" with a few people.
The goal galvanised Town. Weird. Instead of the slumped shoulders and air of resigned apathy all the players (yes, even the hitherto dreadful Danny B) zipped around the pitch, flew into tackles and started to pass the ball. And move. For the next 10 minutes, although no direct chances were created, the signs were good. The front two started to hold the ball up, with players running up in support - there were even a couple of old style winger-to-forward-winger-runs-on-and-receives-return-pass moves. Jevons started to turn his centre backs, especially down in the corners of the penalty area, near the bye line. Silky, tricky turns leading to promising positions where his cross was intercepted, desperately, by the defenders stretching and swiping the ball out for corners. With 5 or so minutes left, after Burnett had broken into the area following a flowing 4 man move and his cross was cut out at the near post, Town got a corner on the right. Butterfield clipped it high towards the far post. Their goalkeeper jumped with Groves (I think) and missed it. The ball dropped behind the â€˜keeper and there was a bit of a scramble in front of the right hand post. After a couple of swipes, JEVONS poked the bouncing ball in from somewhere close to the line. A moment of silence, then a roar. A roar of disbelief.
And Town continued to sweep forward with waves of fast attacks, with Burnett prominent in support of the tricky twosome up front. Thompson (after a very Ashcroftianly lazy start) began to make very intelligent flicks and "reverse passes" and Jevons began to react to them. Portsmouth were overwhelmed by the Town reaction to conceding; perhaps the Portsmouth players were a little complacent in their arrogant continentalisms, with too many showboating step-overs, drag backs and flicks? Frankly my dear, I donâ€™t give a damn, thatâ€™s their problem. With about a minute left, Town won another corner on the right (after a Groves shot had ballooned off a defender and into the scoreboard). Again Butterfield clipped it high, but flat-ish, to the far post. Again the goalkeeper came out and missed the ball, with the unmarked FORD rising, rising, rising above the Pompey flapper to powerfully head into the top of the net. Another brief moment in time where the Town support collected their thoughts before leaping as high as Ford and roaring in roof raising intensity. We were pleased, we were excited, we were shocked and stunned. Town just donâ€™t do this sort of thing, do they?
And the half ended, though the reception at half time was a little grudging, given the verve and character shown by the whole Town team in the last 10 minutes of the half. Perhaps we thought it couldnâ€™t last, so why raise hopes? Perhaps we hadnâ€™t forgiven them for 30 minutes of dross?
Half time: Grimsby Town 2 Portsmouth 1
Taken in isolation, the last 10 minutes or so (certainly after Portsmouth scored) were most exhilarating and showed that the players still have it in them to play football, as opposed to the hoofball of the last few weeks. I suppose thatâ€™s down to tactics. They were told to pass it and they did. The concession of a goal didnâ€™t deflate them either. But oh those first 30 minutes were exactly what weâ€™ve become accustomed to. There was one thing noticeable about the formation - the drowning plughole was abandoned, with no rotation. Players stayed in their positions (except Butterfield, who induced Coldicott into playing both in the centre and the right - sometimes at the same time!). Oh yes, we always score from a corner.
Now, what would the second half bring? Was there magic deep within Grovesâ€™ dour midland drone?
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"I donâ€™t understand whatâ€™s going off out there".
The report continues in the second half.
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