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Blowing it in the Wind - Walsall Report
By: Tony Butcher
A MIGHTY chilly, extremely windy day for the 1st divisionâ€™s glamour fixture. There were squalls and storms all afternoon, with the Humber looking as ripe as the Big Sur. The pitch still had grass on it, but a patch near the half way line under the Stones/Smiths/Findus Stand appeared heavily sanded.
Grimsby Town 2 Walsall 2
09 Mar 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
All in all it wasnâ€™t a pleasant afternoon, but at least the storm was blowing down the pitch and into the Osmond Stand, where about 300 morose midlanders huddled together for warmth.
The now usual pre-match warm up routine was observed, with Dave Boylen and Brian Hill cheerleading (which consists of getting each stand to cheer "one, two, threeâ€¦wahey". Tim Harvey read out a letter from Martin Pringle thanking the Town supporters for their, well, support and sending warm greetings to the team. So there was the potential for a bit of atmosphere, and I do stress the word potential, for as normally happens the Pontoon sing "Mariners, Mariners" twice at 2:56 and run out of steam by 2:57. Still, nice to see the open corner between Pontoon and Main Stand containing humans. Very wet and very cold humans.
And at this point a moment of light relief. Just who is that man? No, not that one over there. That one! For out of the swirling mists of time emerged the wild man of Borneo? No. Mungo Jerry Don Goodman, old Don, has now metamorphised into Mungo Jerry, riding along on a pushbike honey. With the wind a-blowing it was an amazing sight, with many a Main Stander complaining to the stewards about the hedge. Goodmanâ€™s hair stood on end as if heâ€™d just been plugged in.
Ah, back to the football. Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Everyone played where youâ€™d expect them to. No surprises, just a solid, no frills, 4-4-2.
Walsall kicked off into the howling gale towards the Pontoon. The first 5 minutes were taken up with overhit Town passes and ineffectual meanderings from Walsall. The sum total of 5 minutes of professional football was 3 goal kicks and 5 throw ins. And everyone was wet, for it fair chucked it down as the game started.
The Walsall fans seemed to be singing "Walking down the Grimsby Road to see the Buckleyâ€™s aces". Surely not, or were they being super, dooper ironic? Letâ€™s blame the wind for bad acoustics.
Ah, at last something to remember. In the fifth minute Boulding was released down the inside left channel. He bobbed, he weaved, he looked up and passed inside to the unmarked Allen, just outside the area near the left hand corner of the penalty area. Allen controlled the ball, swished past an imaginary defender into the penalty area and hit a low, left footed shot across goal, which the â€˜keeper saved easily to his left. Again, yet a-flippin-gain Allen had miss-hit a shot, "topping" it. Shouldnâ€™t complain, nice move, Boulding looked up and if you donâ€™t shoot you donâ€™t score, apparently.
Another five minutes of nothing, unless you count a whacking great Pouton tackle, about 25 yards out in the centre, which flew out of play for a throw in. Strange cove Pouton. He tackles like heâ€™s shooting, but shoots like heâ€™s tackling. Either way the ball always ends up very wide and high of the goal. Still, if you donâ€™t tackle, you donâ€™t score, apparently. In the tenth minute Town were awarded a free kick way out on the left, about 30/35 yards from goal. Some of the Pontoon were urging Gallimore to whack it high over the tiny Walsall â€˜keeper, Junior Walker (or is it Jimmy). But Gallimore is the man with arguably the best left foot on Gallimore. He looked up and sent a lowish, firm free kick into the centre of the penalty area, just beyond the penalty spot. GROVES leapt above his marker, Mr Invisible, and steered a perfect header into the â€˜keeperâ€™s top left hand corner. Unstoppable (if you are 4 foot 6, and possibly if you are 6 foot 4 too). Delirius est Pontoonus.
The Town crowd sung, smiles on empty faces, children skipped gaily to get another celebratory pie. It stopped raining. What a wonderful, wonderful world. Woah, hold that horse firmly by a realistic rein. A couple of minutes after Townâ€™s goal, from a position near the half way line on the right hand side, the ball was chipped over Groves, who stretched his head, then neck, then body, but missed the ball. Corica ran beyond the Town defence and approached the penalty area in a centre right position. Coyne sprinted off his line and jumped high at Corica as the Aussie ambler lifted the ball up, up and away like a beautiful balloon. The ball wobbled over Coyne and bumbled across the area and a yard past the left hand post. A klaxon sounded as the Town fans looked at each other and raised eyebrows in relief.
We then had another 10 minutes of really bad football, with Walsall unable to get out of their own half, and Town unable to keep the ball on the pitch. During this period Butterfield managed to overhit a cross, then put another one into the Osmond Stand. Pouton hit a left foot shot straight at the â€˜keeper after he cut in from the right hand side, just outside the area. Scrappy, nondescript, uninteresting stuff. Pouton and Bennett were booked after a bit of continental slapping behind the refereeâ€™s back. Pouton was, perhaps, a little fortunate to merely get booked, as the referee only saw him shove Bennett in the chest. The linesman didnâ€™t flag, though he was looking at the incident. Or maybe we had Arsene Wenger as the linesman, though he didnâ€™t wear that ill-fitting blue anorak, so it couldnâ€™t have been him.
The direness and dullness must have sent a couple of Walsall players to sleep as in the 24th minute Town should have scored again. The Walsall left back, Aranalde, who was rubbish all game, did a Todd-like back pass to Walker. It was short, it was inaccurate, it was straight to Allen, who "pounced". Walker raced out and slid at Allen, as a defender slid from the side. Allen toe poked the ball a yard wide of the â€˜keeperâ€™s left hand post from about 14 yards out, almost level with the left hand post. Allen appeared to hobble after this.
The game really became quite tedious for the next 15 or 20 minutes, punctuated by brief encounters with skill, and even briefer encounters with excitement. Walsall had a shot from outside the area which dipped a couple of feet over Coyneâ€™s left hand post. Barely worth mentioning, though Walsall supporters would have perceived this as "close". Especially if they were sat behind one of the big red girders in the Osmond. The only other moments of concern for Town in the rest of the first half were a cross from the Walsall right which took a couple of deflections and flicks before McDermott swept across and passed to Pouton, on the left edge of the Town area; and a free kick from their left, about 30 yards out, which hung up in the wind and dropped down vertically about 12 yards out in the centre. No Town defender made any positive move towards the ball (especially Gallimore, who was stood next to the thing) and Byfield attempted to bundle his way through. A crowd of Town defenders blocked him and Coyne ran off his line to sweep the ball into the comfort of his grey jumper. A crowd of Town defenders, now what would the collective noun be? A somnambulance, perhaps?
Town had the majority of possession and majority of efforts on goal, which is only what should happen, as we were at home. Butterfield cut in from the right touchline, drifted across the turf like a particularly haughty swan, and caressed a left foot shot into the goalkeeperâ€™s midriff from 20 yards. Pouton made another block tackle which flew towards goal, much closer than his attempted shots, and Allen had another 25 yard dribbler. Is it in his contract? And, with 5 minutes left of the half the wind became stronger and stronger, with the Walsall â€˜keeperâ€™s goal kicks boomeranging back towards him. Similarly, attempted clearances were flying forward 5 yards then crazily bending backwards and off for corners. Butterfield under, then over, hit his corners, so those chances were wasted. He did manage to cross perfectly to Boulding, just beyond the far post, who rose above his marker, that man Mr Invisible again, and headed a yard or so wide of the â€˜keeperâ€™s right hand post. The crowd were getting a little impatient, as the players were not taking advantage of the perverse weather conditions (which Town would have to defend against in the second half, of course), especially as Walsall had such a tiny â€˜keeper. The wind was blowing the corner flags almost flat, with goal kicks, corners and free kicks delayed for ages because the ball kept rolling away.
And then the moment came. Two dreadful fly hacks from Walsall defenders (the last by Aranalde) resulted in the ball firstly going across the face of the Walsall area, then back towards Walker. Walker froze on his line, almost visibly panicking as Burnett and Allen sprinted forward to pounce on Aranaldeâ€™s sliced clearance, as it zoomed in towards goal. The ball went high above the stands and the crowd started to roar. Burnett and Allen stood together, about 7 or 8 yards out, Allen hung out his right boot and volleyed the ball yards over the bar. Burnett hung his head in frustration, as he was much the better placed of the two. Now that should have been a second goal.
In the remaining couple of minutes Gallimore wasted a free kick, about 20 yards out in a central right position, by leaning back and chipping the ball onto the scoreboard. Perhaps he was trying to fix it the old fashioned way (a quick, short, sharp shock). Pouton was forced to hold the ball for Gallimore, as the wind sent the ball scurrying towards Harrington Street. So strong was the wind that it blew Poutonâ€™s shirt over his head. And in added time a McDermott through ball from the half way line was totally inaccurate and far too strong. The ball bounced oddly and almost over the goalkeeper, thus almost justifying the sarcastic comment of "have a dig" by frustrated Pontoonites.
Half time: Grimsby Town 1 Walsall 0
And then it was half time. A mixture of contentment, frustration and worry descended upon the Town support. Walsall really had not looked threatening, or quite frankly, any good. They kept passing the ball out of play and had several players who considered the ball to be an occupational hazard, to be avoided at all costs. Yet it was only 1-0, and the wind was immensely strong. It was obvious that the second half would be played mostly in the Town half and that Walsall would simply welly the ball into the area. Then itâ€™s down to luck.
Gallimore had been a bit hesitant on his return, with Campbell an occasional presence on the pitch. His sole contribution these days seems to be the ability to win free kicks by falling convincingly. Pouton got better and better after a diffident opening 10 minutes. It took a crunching shot/tackle to get him fired up. The others were on the pitch, doing neither good nor bad. The defence was largely untested, and the attack rarely received any decent passes. The midfield was a mass of heaving, barging bodies, with little football permitted. With the wind being so inconsistently strong it all added up to an aesthetically ugly occasion. And Don Goodman wasnâ€™t even on the pitch yet.
Still, leading at half time is better than drawing, and as the text messages bleeped around the ground the realisation that Town would get out of the relegation places put a jaunty skip into the step as people headed for the toilets.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Weâ€™ve never lost when Iâ€™ve eaten a sausage roll".
The report continues in the second half.
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