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Typically Tropical: Portsmouth Report
By: Tony Butcher
A MISERABLE, cold, grey old bank holiday with a wicked wind swirling around the ground. The Osmond Stand was two thirds full of chiming Portsmouthians, inclusive of annoying bell. The ice cream van never stopped, by the way.
Grimsby Town 0 Portsmouth 1
26 Aug 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
Nothing very interesting to note about the pre-match warm up. Except Linvoy Primusâ€™ hair which, like the Burnley defence, was all over the place, heading north, west, east and south at the same time. Marvellous floppage and flappage.
But something interesting was about to occur. Town did NOT line up in the usual 4-4-2 formation, but in a sort of 4-1-4-1, as shown. Coldicott seemed to have a man-marking job on Paul Merson, with Groves in central midfield, playing as a sweeper in front of the back four. Ford and Chettle were the pace and brains at the back, with Kabba the pace and brawn as the lone front man. Campbell seemed to have a more forward central midfield role. It all looked very solid defensively, but as for attack, that may be a different matter.
Ah, Paul Merson, the colonel blimp of Division One. Heckled mercilessly precisely because he is *any good*, he had obviously ignored the coastguardâ€™s advice. All weekend they had warned that strong winds were a danger to inflatables, causing them to drift and become lost at sea. But here he was. We could hope, couldnâ€™t we?
And today the scoreboard decided Town were playing "tsmouth". As Columbo says "just one more thing", the referee and his linesman were wearing a new kit, vibrant yellow with black shorts. Itâ€™s not the Tour De France, you know.
Portsmouth kicked off towards the Pontoon, immediately causing our gallant left back to panic. Merson received the ball in the middle of the pitch, drove forward towards the Town left and dinked a curved pass towards their right wing-back, Crowe.
The exceedingly quick Crowe. Gallimore stood by him, then ran away, allowing Crowe to receive the ball and dribble forward to the edge of the box. Gallimore just retreated, flapping his arms like a pigeon. The cross was blocked and cleared. Is Gallimore still traumatised by his Prosinecki mauling?
Well, maybe not, for the next 20 minutes were quite pleasant. It was virtually all Town, with the very, very infrequent Pompey break, which petered out on the Ford and Chettle rocks. If they got that far, for Groves was having a total stormer as the protection for the back four. He was everywhere - stopping, blocking, passing, surging. The very first effort on goal, after about 7 minutes, was by the reborn midfielder. Kabba muscled his way past a defender deep down the Town left to receive a simple "channel ball". He turned the ball back to Gallimore who clipped a low cross into the centre of the penalty area. Groves raced in and attempted to steer a volley into Hislopâ€™s right hand corner. The ball skidded off the turf but safely into the huge hand of Hislop. Five minutes later another Town effort, after a breakaway induced by Groves; Campbell surged across the area and pinged a right foot shot straight at Hislop from about 20 yards, to the right of centre.
Another five minutes, another decent Town effort. Kabba ran from behind and dispossessed a defender about 25 yards out on the Town right, then turned and slipped a cute little pass down the line for Campbell who managed to cross from near the touchline. The ball swept majestically across the face of goal and Barnard raced in and side footed a few inches wide of Hislopâ€™s right hand post. The referee then called play back and awarded Town a free kick for a late foul on Campbell. What excellent refereeing we thought. Leaving aside his tendency to allow free kicks to be taken anywhere within 10 yards of a foul, heâ€™d been "ok". He even booked the Portsmouth number 9, Todorov (who we all agreed was a right Bulgar) for doing a stamp tackle in front of the police box.
Town were playing some lovely possession football, not just tapping the ball back to Gallimore for a lump upfield. There was a purpose, confidence and pace in this passing, with several super crossfield passes to the wingers and full backs. The right hand side was quite lively, with several great one touch passing movements down that flank exposing their full back. The ball was pinged across the area a few times, with perhaps half a dozen corners resulting. Kabba, Macca and Cooka were fabba down the righta.
As usual, Town had a great 20 minutes, but hadnâ€™t scored. The clubâ€™s solution? In a stroke of genius they froze the scoreboard clock at 21 minutes, where it remained for the entire first half. It didnâ€™t work for, despite the territorial dominance, Townâ€™s attacking receded as the game wended its way towards half time. Portsmouth had looked very dangerous on the break, with Merson playing a series of very clever passes with the outside of his boot, curling, swirling, bending, dipping and wobbling through and over the Town defence. Fortunately, Coyne was alert, Ford quick of foot, Chettle quick of mind and the wind arbitrarily puffing the ball away from the very fast Portsmouth strikers. There were moments of potential danger, rather than dangerous moments. The most worrisome moment came when Town had a corner, which was half cleared to Coldicott. He simply passed the ball back into the area, straight to a Portsmouth defender. The ball was zipped up the touchline to Burton. Never fear, Galli was there. He slid majestically across the turf, missing ball and man. Burton was free, free as a bird down the Town left, racing up the infield. Coldicott sprinted back and was the last man, about 25 yards out. He simply stood in Burtonâ€™s way, inflated his chest like an amorous peacock, and blocked. The ball remained at his feet as Burton spun away towards Scunthorpe. Not a place to spin towards.
It took Portsmouth 39 minutes to have a shot, and they probably should have scored from it. The ball was teased over the Town defence, over and between Ford and McDermott. Burton tugged Fordâ€™s shirt, momentarily causing Ford to lose balance, and then Burton was around him and free. With just Coyne to beat and 12 yards out, about 8 yards wide of goal, Burton dragged a shot a foot wide of the left hand post, via Fordâ€™s studs. The remainder of the half was, essentially, Portsmouth attacks. Town were a little unfortunate at times, with "50-50" challenges seeing the ball rebound to the men in blue. From a series of such challenges the ball kept popping up to Pompey 25 yards from the Town goal, travelling from left to right. They had two players free on their left, but fortunately the cross fizzed though the box in front of everyone. Just after Burtonâ€™s shot, Foxe, near the penalty spot, back flicked a low cross from the Pompey left a foot or two wide of Coyneâ€™s left hand post. Ooooh, cheeky!
Just about the last thing of note that happened in the first half was a further Pompey surge. They had not really attacked much down the Town left (which is always helpful), but towards half time they realised that for Gallimore the day was not a moment of clarity. Crowe received a pass on the Pompey right just inside the Town half, and ran forward, and forward, and forward. Galli did his soft shoe shuffle, retreating like fearful aardvark. Crowe was, by this time, at the corner of the penalty area. With Barnard and another defender around, providing cover towards the centre, Galli decided to turn his back on Crowe and run towards the penalty spot, thus leaving a massive space for Crowe to run into. He did, he crossed. It flew low through the 6 yard box and out for a goal kick. Coyne went barmy at Galli, who studiously avoided turning his head towards the irate â€˜keeper and ran off like a schoolboy caught scrumping apples.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Portsmouth 0
That was the action, doesnâ€™t sound much, but it was a very interesting half. Portsmouth were by far the best Pompey team seen at Blundell Park since colour televisions were first sold in Freeman Street. And Town matched them, physically and tactically. The switch in formation had worked a treat, with Town looking a very decent unit for most of the half, even attacking with intent. Campbell was liberated from defensive duties, benefiting from the Coldicott/Groves shield and was beginning to carry the ball forward dangerously.
Kabba was all muscle and pace upfront, which worried the opposition greatly. There were many fine flowing football moments from Town, principally down the right, which was occasionally wondrous to behold. The crowd was pleased with the performance, if not the blank scoreline. But Portsmouth were very threatening, they just looked likely to score at any moment, which wasnâ€™t a reflection on any deficiencies in Town. Portsmouth had pace, they had strength, they had organisation, they had a method and they had Merson. Town werenâ€™t being outclassed, but Pompey had a little something extra available to them. Itâ€™s called millions of pounds, isnâ€™t it.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Thatâ€™ll teach you to wear sandals".
The report continues in the second half.
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