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26/08 Portsmouth 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
NO CHANGES were made by either team at half time and with Town attacking the Pontoon things could only get better, couldnâ€™t they?
Grimsby Town 0 Portsmouth 1
26 Aug 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
Portsmouth started at a much higher tempo than the first half, which seemed to surprise Town. Portsmouth also seemed to concentrate a bit more on the Town left where Barnard was one-paced and a little slow in reacting to events and Gallimore was having one of his less aware afternoon. Perhaps heâ€™d being having a siesta. Within a couple of minutes Galli had been roasted, toasted and posted first class to Knutsford by Crowe, who ran at him at high speed. Galli retreated, stumbled and watched as Crowe cut across the face of the penalty area and whacked a left foot shot a few feet wide of Coyneâ€™s right hand post. Phew, was this the shape of things to come?
Yeah, it was, but not quite yet. Town exerted pressure, but somehow never quite managed to create a chance, or even a half chance. Crosses came in, possession was maintained, but Hislop remained untroubled by the ball, and especially by the terrace wits. "Whoâ€™s the Shaka in the grey?" Around the 50th minute Town had some great pressure, crosses from the left, crosses from the right. An attempted Groves overhead kick which skewed off to the right touchline, was kept in by Cooke, crossed and headed away at the far post for a corner. More of the same to follow...., but no shots. Kabba spent a lot of the second half spinning around on the periphery of the Portsmouth penalty area, he simply wasnâ€™t in the box when crosses came in. I suppose he couldnâ€™t be expected to work the opening for a cross and then convert it. He canâ€™t do everything (though he tried). The best Town move of the second half came within the first quarter of an hour. McDermott and Cooke combined down the right with Kabba, a series of one-twos and McDermott (I think, or it may have been Cooke) crossed into the centre. Campbell had, unfortunately, been a bit too aggressive in his forward run, and the ball went just behind him in the centre of the goal. Another in a long line of nearly moments.
About 10 minutes into the second half Gallimore redeemed himself with a fantastic tackle. Todorov received the ball just outside the Town penalty area on the right with his back to goal. He twisted right, left, then right again, past a couple of Town defenders. He got to the bye-line and crossed to the near post. One striker let the ball run and another (probably Burton) had his shot blocked by the Flying Mickey Finn. A few minutes later Gallimoreâ€™s bottom came in handy when he placed his derriere in the way of a shot from the edge of the area. You could probably feel the aftershocks in Sydney.
The moment the game seemed to turn was right on the hour. A bit of Town pressure, with crosses in, clearances and more crosses, saw the ball fall to Kabba, who turned on the centre right of the Pompey area. Kabba took on Festa for pace. Festa, wisely eschewed a sprint and slid across to clear. He got the faintest of touches on the ball, sending it towards the bye-line. Festa then made the faintest of touches on Kabbaâ€™s ankles. Kabba declined the opportunity to remain upright deciding, after a few micro-seconds, to allow himself to fall in the most theatrical fashion. Festa and his (experienced) team-mates immediately jumped around claiming a dive. Their management of the referee (which had gone on all game, you have to hand it to them) worked. The sensible decision (and correct one) would have been a Town corner, and nothing else. Instead, he booked Kabba for diving and awarded a free kick to Portsmouth. Of course, this got the home crowd baying for blood, with every decision hoarsely contested. The ref turned at this moment, seemingly now looking more kindly upon the blue shirted ones.
Kabba went down well again a few minutes later, but only a corner resulted. This was a correct decision, despite the full frontal wailing from the Pontoon, for Festa clearly swiped the ball away cleanly. More Town crosses, more Town corners, still no more efforts on goal. Always, always a Pompey head or foot diverted danger. Portsmouth attacked vigorously and kept having half chances. One of their bojangled players cut in from their left saw a shot fizz through the area and a foot or so wide of Coyneâ€™s left hand post. The substitute, Burchill, turned and hit a shot off Fordâ€™s ankles a foot wide of Coyneâ€™s right hand post. Canâ€™t argue with the referee here - he gave a goalkick! Coyne flapped at a corner, rabbit punching thin air as the ball flew through to the far post and out for a goalkick, and a couple more Pompey corners caused a bit of difficulty, but no effort on goal.
There was a nagging feeling at the back of every Town supporterâ€™s mind that something was going to happen. It just felt like a game where the opposition would sneak a goal. And they did, but in very controversial circumstances, or rather the lead up to the goal was controversial. It all started in the Pompey half, about 5 minutes from full time. The ball was lobbed down the Town left. Barnard chased the ball towards the open corner betwixt Pontoon and Findus/Stones/Smiths Stand. He cleverly stopped and tricked the Portsmouth defender into continuing his chase, clattering into the ball and knocking it out for a Town throw, about 10 yards from the bye-line. Utterly amazingly, the referee awarded a free kick to Portsmouth! Bizarre, just plain wrong, totally illogical too.
Compounding this refereeing error he allowed Hislop to take the free kick a couple of yards to the right of the penalty area. Thatâ€™s around 9 yards infield from where the so called foul occurred. The Town fans were as one, railing at the moon, a seething cauldron calling for the refereeâ€™s head. Hislop whacked it up field, Todorov flicked the ball on and BURCHILL ran into space, turned and, from the edge of the area, just the left centre steered a volley around Coyne and into the bottom left hand corner of the net. Three-quarters of the ground erupted in anger, neatly avoiding any complaint at the Town players for not cutting out the danger from a simple punt upfield. The conditions were laid by the referee, but Town should still have dealt with this most basic of plays. After all, they had dealt with all the silky skills and wonderfully creative flicks and tricks from Merson. The goal was simple third division stuff - hoof, flick, whack. How ironic.
The last few minutes (it is very difficult to work out how many minutes were actually played as they were taken up with some peripheral nonsense) were a desperate attempt by Town to reclaim their lost point, leaving massive holes for Pompey, which they failed to exploit. Robinson and Rowan came on for Coldicott and Barnard with 3 or 4 minutes left. Town started to hoof more, but nothing actually came of all the huffing and puffing. A few corners, a few free kicks. Some crosses, but lots of Portsmouth clearances and breakaways. There were moments to savour for the footballing purist, but nothing for those hard nosed realists who look for goals. Kabba, Campbell, Cooke and McDermott had a fantastic one touch passing movement down the right, at high speed, which ended up with a cross being deflected for a corner. Exciting for those who were there, but just another manic Monday for the absent ones.
In total, Town had one shot in the second half (I am ignoring a Cooke cross which went just over the bar, a Gallimore cross which was deflected into Hislopâ€™s arms very slowly) and that is being generous. McDermott surged forward, exchanged passes with Cooke and had a shot charged down. The ball spun slowly to Hislop. That was it. As against Bradford, the game seemed to revolve around the referee. In the last few minutes he seemed to be totally incapable of exerting control over the game, responding to the players and crowd in turn. There was a two minute hold up to play whilst the referee discussed an off the ball incident with the linesman down at the Town end. The word on the street was that Groves had *delicately* placed his hand upon the face of a Portsmouth player. The result was a booking for Groves and Harper. Immediately after this Hislop picked up the ball and belted it down field towards the managersâ€™ dug-out, despite the referee wanting the ball on the left edge of the Town penalty area. The crowd, already in a high state of agitation, bellowed and brayed. Hislop was then booked. It didnâ€™t feel as though the correct amount of time was added, whatever it should have been. But Town wouldnâ€™t have equalised anyway, it just had "slightly unfortunate 1-0 defeat to a good team"" written all over it.
Another defeat, but nothing that should cause too much despair; that team, playing that formation will win some games away from Blundell Park this year. We should not forget that Portsmouth were by some distance the best team played so far this season, and Town matched them for great swathes of this game. It was noticeable that the Town players were beginning to struggle physically from about the 70th minute, but they were never outclassed. Ford, Chettle and Groves were superb, with Kabba really enthusiastic and on the cusp of creating something. He just needs a partner.
The tactical bravery of Groves is to be applauded, as is the way the players enacted his plan. It didnâ€™t quite work, but you could see a method, and some intelligence from the management. That was interesting, that is positive.
We have to have straws to clutch at, donâ€™t we?
Nickoâ€™s Man of the Match
Chettle and Ford were very good, and against some of the better strikers theyâ€™ll face this season, but Nicko has thought long and hard about this. The performance of MR PAUL GROVES in midfield was awe inspiring at times. He actually ran the game for most of the first half. Top man, top marks.
Mr Messias. Got along very well with all those famous Portsmouth players. The main complaint was his erratic implementation of some basic rules, like where free kicks could be taken from (it did work both ways, by the way, Town benefited too, but didnâ€™t take advantage). He wasnâ€™t the reason why Town lost, but his inconsistency reduces his score from the acceptable to the frankly worrying 4.89 out of 10. Not to be trusted.
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