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Smells Like Town Spirit - Sheffield Utd Report
By: Tony Butcher
A BRIGHT, clear, warm spring like afternoon, just the sort of day to spend walking the dog, or small children, along the seafront. Two thousand South Yorkists got lost and wandered into an old wooden hut by the railway line.
Grimsby Town 1 Sheffield United 0
16 Feb 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
Still, they looked happy enough to beside the seaside, beside the sea. Perhaps they thought it would be their last chance to come to Blundell Park. It all meant that the Osmond Stand and temporary seating were completely full of all singing, all dancing Blades. Itâ€™s de rigueur for the amused visitor to offer to sing for us - they all seem to reject the proposals that sail towards them. This lot specifically refused to sing a song called "Mariners, Mariners". Ungrateful guests!
There was an attempt to whip up the crowd into a frenzied fervour at the start of the "Save the Mariners' campaign. In truth it sounded a bit desperate, which only added to the Osmond mirth, as the Town supporters cheered, but without too much enthusiasm. Sheffield United were, as usual, full of big blokes who can run fast, some with white boots too. So they must be really good, eh? They turned up in red and white stripes, white shorts and white socks. The white socks made them look a bit like a girlsâ€™ hockey team, to be honest. Their goalkeeper turned up in green top and black shorts. And so did the referee. But no-one complained about this, a regular source of cheer for the terminally morose Pontoonites.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Jeffrey (who was dynamite with a laser beam in the pre-match kick-a-bout, curling every shot beyond the leaping kitten) was named amongst the substitutes. Butterfield was in the wide right midfield "slot', with Campbell on the left. And we had two massive, hulking animals up front. Grrr! There were no tears for Willems at his demotion, but there were cheers for Ford at his return. We like him, we want him, so sign him.
The pitch was green, but soft, the air clear, the atmosphere unusual. It was as if the Town fans had kicked off their shoes, loosened their collars, reclined gracefully in their seats and were waiting for a particularly satisfying pudding. But weâ€™d let Robert Taylor go home last week!
Town kicked off towards the Yorkshire hordes. It took three seconds to kick the ball out of play down the left. There was the usual hacking and whackings in the first couple of minutes - just midfield barging really, nothing too exciting. Then Groves and Coyne got themselves in a little bit of a pickle, when a long high ball over the top, right down the centre, appeared to be bouncing casually towards Coyne. Groves left it, Coyne hesitated and Asaba stretched forward, tipping the ball towards goal. The ball rebounded off Coyne and he flopped on it as Asaba slid towards the corner flag after losing his footing. Out of nothing Sheffield had a chance, all through Town players losing concentration. It had hardly been a high tempo start.
And out of nothing Town had an excellent opportunity a couple of minutes later. The ball was hooked high down the right touchline. It appeared to be going out of play about 35 yards out, underneath the Stones/Smiths/Findus Stand and a Sheffield defender trotted back and shielded the ball rather lazily. Boulding nipped round the side, headed the ball down the line and hared off towards goal. He cut inside and beat two defenders inside the penalty area and, from about 12 yards out, a few yards wide of goal, he tried a low shot, which ballooned away off the â€˜keeperâ€™s shins. Two Town players raised their hands in exasperation, but Boulding was free and it was worth a go, it would be churlish to criticise him on this occasion. But Town fans love a good churl.
The next 10 minutes had quite a few efforts on goal, all of which seemed to come as a surprise, not quite in keeping with the general play. The Osmond Stand "Ooooed' when Furlong, at the far post, about 10 yards out, rose above Groves and headed across Coyne and wide of the left hand post. The Pontoon Stand was unmoved as they watched the ball slowly, slowly trundle across goal and three yards wide. No eyelids were batted, no-one was concerned. And then it was the Pontoonâ€™s turn to "Ooooo' promiscuously. Boulding careered down the left on a long, long dribble. As usual he ran straight into the third defender, with the ball slicing away across the face of the penalty area. Allen stepped forward, swivelled and sliced a right foot half volley four or five yards wide of Traceyâ€™s left hand post. Montgomery, about 8 yards wide of Coyneâ€™s left hand post and a couple of yards from the bye-line, managed to place the ball into the side netting, exactly in the middle of the stanchion, after Asaba had flicked on a free kick behind Gallimore. It probably looked close to most in the ground, but again the Pontoon was unconcerned by such fripperies. Oh, hang on, another long shot by Allen. One day he will score when he turns quickly about 25 yards out. The law of averages dictates that not every "shot' will dribble slowly along the ground straight to the goalkeeper. Maybe next week Brad, thereâ€™s always next week.
A quarter of an hour gone and it wasnâ€™t a bad game, just a bit mid table end of season. It was noticeable that the Sheffield United players were not going for it full pelt, there was an awful lot of jogging going on, and, for once, I am not referring to Butterfield, who occasionally broke into a trot. The crowd, and players, roused themselves from the spring stroll when Furlong slid across Groves as the man of a thousand jobs chipped the ball forward. Why is the word "as' in that sentence? The ball was already heading towards Tracey when Furlong eventually managed to place his big foot on Grovesâ€™ right instep. Groves stayed down, writhing around, then got up again when he saw that Furlong was being booked. Furlong then proceeded to lecture the referee, presumably along the lines of "but I play for the big team'.
We then had five or so minutes of faster football, particularly from Town, during which Burnett managed to hit a spectacular flying left foot volley a few inches inside the right hand corner of...the penalty area. This followed a bit of Town pressure emanating from a typical McDermott surge. You can trust Macca, heâ€™s still da man! In the 20th minute there was a rather curious incident when the ball was played forward down the centre right. Boulding seemed to outpace Curle and get behind the defence with only the onrushing â€˜keeper to beat. Curle made a desperate sliding tackle which appeared to poke the ball under Tracey, with Tracey and Curle then colliding on the edge of the area. Boulding skipped gaily over Tracey and scampered after the ball. When he realised he couldnâ€™t catch it he was cynically felled by an imaginary divot, for there was no-one within five yards of him. He got up rather sheepishly, and so he should.
Just as we were thinking that Sheffield hadnâ€™t done anything, they nearly scored. A long punt upfield drifted over Groves and Asaba towards the right hand corner of the penalty area. McDermott took one step towards the ball and then watched it bounce over his head. Ndlovu bounded forward and, from about 20 yards out, near the corner of the area, hit a swirling left foot volley. The ball dipped and curled over Coyne, who took two steps back then leapt backwards, twisting his back and punching the ball over from right underneath the bar. Now that sir, was an excellent save.
The rest of the half was less eventful, with many "nearlys'. Boulding continued to pester their defence with scurrying dribbles down the flanks - they were most uncomfortable with his pace - from one of his runs Ullathorne hacked him down as he was about to break through on the right hand side. Campbell and Allen had another couple of shots from outside the area, Campbell even got his on target. Just before half time a pass down the right hand touchline appeared to send Boulding free, but Tracey ran out and hacked the ball into the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. As Tracey floundered near the touchline the Town supporters failed to catch the ball and give it back to Boulding, so the moment was lost. Shame on you Lower Smiths! Youâ€™re rubbish, you are. Sheffield did create one quite worrying moment, about 10 minutes from the end of the half, when a dinked pass into the space behind and between Groves and McDermott saw Asaba breaking free inside the Town penalty area, about a dozen yards wide of Coyneâ€™s right hand post. Groves was a little slow to react and Asaba had plenty of time to look up, see three fellow Blades inside the six yard box, and carefully volley a cross between all three. Thanks matey boy, youâ€™re a star. A few minutes later Brown curled a free kick a couple of yards wide of Coyneâ€™s left hand post, from 20 yards out, to the right of the area. Again the Osmond "Oooed', but it was very slow and Coyne had it covered. No worries mate, as a stray antipodean exclaimed from deep inside the Pontoon.
A special mention to Townâ€™s new corner routine - much hurrying and scurrying in the area. They all stand at the near post, two run to the back post, a couple to the centre. Butterfield then passes the ball to an opponent at the near post, missing the nearest Town players by, oh, 15 yards.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Sheffield United 0
And that was the first half. Not bad, with Town slightly having the better of it overall, with Sheffield having the slightly better chances. Neither side could complain about parity, and they didnâ€™t. Townâ€™s defence had not been pulled apart, nor walked over. Raven was totally solid, unbeatable even, with the other three taking their cue from him. No worries indeed for the Town defence. The midfield kept their "shape', with both Campbell and Butterfield adding to the defensive solidity, Campbell even managed to put in a couple of tricky dribbles, circa last season. Allen and Boulding had not been wonderful, but certainly competent. Allenâ€™s movement was causing some difficulties to the central defenders, pulling them out of the centre to create space for Boulding to run into. Which he did. It would be a gross exaggeration to say Town looked like scoring, but they didnâ€™t look lightweight and inept. Town looked like they "might' score, which is better than most of this season. They even looked like they had a plan. The biggest danger to Town seemed to be Asabaâ€™s hands, which were forever in surrender position, to intercept clearances and rebounds.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Isnâ€™t it a lovely day".
The report continues in the second half.
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