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The Road to Muckley Corner: Walsall Report
By: Tony Butcher
A GLOOMY, cold, damp, miserable midland afternoon in a concrete shed by a concrete motorway. Around 150 Town fans sprinkled themselves over the seats like a dusting of pre-Christmas snow. Can you hear what I hear? A song, a song, a song about some fish and long periods of silence.
Walsall 3 Grimsby Town 1
07 Dec 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
More pertinently, can you see what I see? A brown-striped mudheap on which the players were gingerly warming up, once again in those "lucky" green bibs. It wasnâ€™t like an old style Blundell Park churn but, by todayâ€™s standards, it was a muddy mess, which was close to how it was being described by the more world weary away support.
Gazing across the sea of brown something caught the eye - a brand spanking new stand at the other end. Walsall have built a second tier for the home end and named it the Purple Stand. Will they have to amend its name every time fashions change? Sure, purple is currently the new black, but what about next spring?
Town lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation as shown.
After the miniature wingerâ€™s steaming burger at Selhurst Park, he was espied sitting at the periphery of the Town support, munching his way through a pie. A balti pie, using a wooden chip fork to scoop out each bit of meat individually. He studied each bit before digesting. Have we any amateur psychologists in the house? I bet he straightens towels too. Reports filtered through of Mansaramâ€™s Bovril, Rowanâ€™s fasting for a night out in Nunsthorpe and the youth team playersâ€™ bag of nuts. Top athletes, top food. Youâ€™d have thought theyâ€™d have brought their own packed lunch.
Walsall kicked off towards the Town fans and failed in their attempt to welly the ball out of play without passing "go". McDermott intercepted, headed it back to them and then they kicked it out. Poor show Walsall.
Within the first couple of minutes Walsall had made two pathetic attempts at claiming penalties. A bit of interplay outside the town box between Junior and Leitao ended with Gavin sliding across to nick the ball back towards Coyne who ran out and smothered it. Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Leitao was struck down by Ming the Mercilessâ€™s invisible death ray, for alone, with no human within two yards of his fragile frame, he stumbled and fell forward theatrically. Gavin gave him an Irish earful, and the referee, of course, admonished Gavin. Leitao should have been booked for a rubbish, and embarrassingly rubbish, dive. A minute or so later Junior tried the same trick, falling over the back of Gavin as our loanee headed the ball back to Coyne. Thatâ€™s headed the ball when it was about 18 inches off the ground having been shoved in the back by the most unlikely Brazilian. There was much mirth amongst the Town fans at the sight of "their Brazilian". Tall, angular, lumpy, uncoordinated, he looked like heâ€™d been discovered in a soft furnishings warehouse in Barnsley. He looked, and played, like Andy Rammell. His strike partner, the goalmachine Leitao, was erroneously named, for he looked a bit portly around the waistband, using his strong hips to good effect in nudging and knocking Ford off the ball a couple of times.
Apart from an overhead kick by Junior from about 10 yards out, which looped comfortingly wide of Coyneâ€™s left hand post, nothing happened. Even that "attempt" was irrelevant, as the linesman with the lovely grey crimped hair had flagged for offside. Bored as they were, the Walsall fans still "oohed". The silence in the stadium was rarely punctured by any noise other than the players shouting at each other. Coyne and Coldicott in particular, were vocal. "Shall we sing a song for you" sang 14 Town teenagers. They didnâ€™t respond to the deluge of seasonal requests. "Bright Eyes" seemed to be the number one choice of the terrace, if not the sound of the suburb.
Ah, weâ€™re up to the 15 minute mark now. Nothing of any consequence had happened, though Town had got into the Walsall half a couple of times, which was very nice indeed, only for Oster to waste possession with physical, then mental, weakness. He just kept trying to show off with post Reesian flicks in extremely dangerous positions. Dangerous to Town that is. As the gloom gloomified and the eyes started to stray towards the advertising hoardings (Non-Ferrous Metal Stockholders? A warehouse full of metal, you mean), Town strung three passes together down the right, after McDermott had intercepted a fey pass towards Wrack, the Ghost of Grimsby Past. Coldicott, half way inside the Walsall half, about 15 yards in from the touchline, swung his right boot lazily to arc a high bending pass down an inside right channel. The ball looped behind the lumpy centre back, bounced and spun around him to Oster, near the corner of the penalty area. Oster looked up and caressed a perfectly weighted cross to Livingstone, about 10 yard out at the near post. Livvo side footed a right foot shot to Walkerâ€™s left. Walker was making his way back across goal, changed direction, hung out his left hand and magnificently parried the ball away for a corner. Walsall responded by...not doing anything remotely interesting. Coyne had to come off his line a couple of times to smother through balls, but no shots, no moments of danger, no worries.
After about 20 or so minutes something else happened worth describing. And again it was from Town. Oster won a free kick by getting himself scythed down from behind, about 20 yards out, towards the right hand corner of the Walsall penalty area. The cognoscenti advised their less experienced colleagues to sit down and relax as Oster was about to curl the ball over the wall and into the crowd. But what do the cognoscenti know? Just because something has happened before, doesnâ€™t mean it is going to happen again. Oster was sent away with several fleas in his ears by those nasty boys in the upper sixth, Pouton and Barnard. Pouton had an acid flash back to the heady days of summer, smacking an identical shot to the (non) goal at Brighton. Same position, same aim, same everything, except Walker flew across and superbly tipped the ball away for a corner from the very, very top left hand angle of post and bar. The corner was flung high to the far post, where Gavinâ€™s header hit a defender, dropped back at his feet, but his second attempt, from about 6 yards out, is still rolling slowly towards the post.
The match was not very good, but Town were the least bad of the two teams. Walsall were all hustle and bustle, with their two Latin loafers up front using all those continental tricks to gain an edge, forever obstructing and pulling behind the teacherâ€™s, I mean refereeâ€™s, back. After 27 minutes Walsall bored us with another chip down the right. Leitao used his big waist to nudge Ford out of the way, but McDermott halted him about 30 yards out. The ball went back to a Walsall player near the touchline and was lobbed down the touchline again. Leitao was free, but Gavin ran across and chested down the weak cross, spun, looked up and from about 15 yards out near the corner of the penalty area, stroked a pass up to Oster near the half way line. Oster feebled his way towards the ball and allowed the Walsall defender to clump the ball back down the touchline. Boring. Danger! Panic! Gavin was ambling forward whilst the rest of the defence were 10 yards in front of him, flat footed and ball watching. Three Walsall players had filled that huge void twixt Gavin and the rest and the ball was now back with Leitao near the corner flag. Gavin trotted over, no Town defenders bothered to run back and Leitao simply lobbed the ball into the middle of the penalty area to the horribly unmarked JUNIOR, who, from about 8 yards out, tapped the ball past Coyne as both jumped at the ball. A few Town players harangued the linesman for not giving offside, all of which was a poor attempt at diverting attention away from their extreme collective and individual sloppiness. Town had conceded a third division goal, and whatâ€™s more that was the first shot on target from the home team. How irritating.
Walsall perked up after this, with an attack which produced a bit of a goalmouth flurry, but again no shot on target. It is possible that the ball went towards the Town goal, as I remember hearing an "ooooh" from the distant home support. But they were kidding themselves, or perhaps carried away with premature yuletide spirit. Just past the half hour mark there was a worrying moment, worthy of noise from even the most miserable midlander present. A sustained period of Walsall pressure, with corners, crosses, jokes old and new. Coyne punched away a corner to the edge of the area and Walsall made a couple of attempts at crossing, the second of which saw Junior head towards goal. The ball was chested away by a Town defender with hair (ie not Coldicott) to a Town player without hair (ie Coldicott) who calmly played the ball away. Oh, and then there was that mix up between Gallimore and Gavin, each hoping the other would chase Leitao, or that the linesman would give an offside. A simple high ball over the top into the Town area, on the left. The two G-men stood and watched as Leitao lollopped forward. Coyne came off his line, star jumped at the porky Portuguese as Leitao, 8 yards wide of goal and 6 from the bye-line, attempted to hook the ball over and in. The ball went 4 yards wide of the near post. Fleeting danger only; it probably looked more exciting, and closer, if you were wearing a red and white scarf and a bobble hat.
With about 7 or 8 minutes left to half time doubters, neâ€™er-do-wells and professional cynics whose hearts aint innit were all left to reflect on their negativity. A patient Town build up on the right was suddenly transformed into a whirling dervish by the emergence of Barnard, who sprinted across from left to right. The ball was curled around the left back and Barnard controlled the ball, spun, dinked, jinked and from about 12 yards out, wide of the penalty area, crossed right footed into the middle, about a dozen yards out. LIVINGSTONE ran in towards the near post, leant back, twisted by the pool and headed over Walker into the centre left of the goal. Thank heavens for little girlkeepers (as they say in â€˜Ull), as anyone above 5 foot 4 would have been able to reach Livvoâ€™s looper. Cooke had probably just finished eating his pie by then.
The rest of the half was lost in a haze of non-alcoholic soft middle age. The only really memorable moment was an Oster cross from the right which fizzed through the area and was somewhat desperately hacked over his own crossbar by their right back, as Barnard waited in the shadows beyond. Yeah, that was the half that was. Poor stuff, hardly any shots, but a couple of goals. The Town fans were still trying to work out how Walsall had managed to score, as they looked so average. Town hadnâ€™t exactly set the pulses racing with free flowing one touch total football, but at least weâ€™d passed it and had some shots on target. The first quarter of an hour was quite appalling, with lots of little casual passes to no-one, slippings and sloppings, thoughtless, wasted whacks and some awful Coyne fly-kicks straight to Walsall players. One moment summed up the shoddiness - Town were given a free kick 10 yards inside the Town half. Gavin looked up, spotted the Walsall â€˜keeper near his line and whacked the ball straight down the middle for a goal kick, whilst every other outfield player was walking back up field. Was it a shot? Was it a pass? What was the point?
Half time: Walsall 1 Grimsby Town 1
There were three points available to any one who could be bothered. Or, more likely, stay awake.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Why do we bother coming here, we always lose".
The report continues in the second half.
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