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Diving for Dear Life: Norwich Report
By: Tony Butcher
A CLEAR, bright, windless and temperate afternoon in a jam packed Blundell Park, even the seats twixt Pontoon and Main Stand were occupied. As usual with a big Town crowd, the atmosphere was inversely related to the size of the home support.
Grimsby Town 1 Norwich City 1
28 Dec 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
Quiet, contemplative and rather too content with life, with the usual ranters and ravers sitting with beatific smiles and benign intent.
Town lined up in the old 4-4-2 formation, as shown. Just for once, everyone was where youâ€™d expect them to be, if you expect Campbell to be on the left and Oster the right, that is. Oh, and Groves in the centre of midfield, with Santos at centre half. And Coyne in goal, of course. The contentment levels rose off the scale with the sight of McDermott trotting out, allâ€™s well in the world when McDâ€™s in black and white stripes. You donâ€™t know what youâ€™ve got â€˜til itâ€™s gone. A quick glance through the Norwich line up revealed a happy sight - no Iwan Roberts, but Nielsen was there, as was the fantastically haired Daryl Russell, a latter day Stig of the Dump.
Thatâ€™s it for the pre-match festivities, weâ€™re off.
Norwich kicked off towards the Pontoon and managed to knock it straight out of play. A good solid, Nationwide start. Less than two seconds, almost a seasonâ€™s best.
There then followed 30 minutes of Town putting on the style: lovely, sumptuous free flowing football with Oster at the centre of the universe, teasing, pleasing, rocking and rolling. Within the first minute he dribbled down the right, cut in, cut out, cut past the full back, drifted towards the goal and, from a narrow angle, poked a cross shot through the 6 yards box. A bundle of bodies converged on the same spot, sneezed and all fell down as the ball rolled slowly across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.
From the restart Norwich buzzed, like only canaries can, flicking and tricking their way upfield and into the Town penalty area. Daryl Hair dived spectacularly over a challenge by McDermott, earning a stiff rebuke from Coldicott, and a little talking to by the referee, who appeared to have bought Mark Lawrensonâ€™s old moustache in a car boot sale.
And Norwich "scored", though the referee had long since given Town a free kick for a foul and/or offside. The Norwich supporters were oblivious to the facts, celebrating without cause. Town played their way upfield, with power and pace, one touch passing and a looping cross from McDermott, 25 yards out. Groves rose at the far post like Zeus, for it was briefly 1994, and powerfully headed over the goalkeeper. The ball smacked against the underside of the crossbar, dropped down near the line, straight to a defender who hooked clear. The Pontoon awoke briefly, as did the Scoreboard, which initially showed the score as "~~17 1 Norwich 1", later "Grimsby 0 Norwich1" and after about quarter of an hour simply packed up completely. So it got the right score lines, but not necessarily in the right order, sunshine.
Norwich had a couple of menacing breakaways which produced nothing but boos for Nielsen, who is still considered an avaricious foundling by the elephantine section of the Pontoon. Nielsen provided more reasons to be tearful with a series of late challenges that produced free kicks and some finger wagging from the referee. But the crowd rose in glee when Barnard pursued Nielsen down the touchline, slid across and did a Poutonian hooking tackle, scooping the ball up like an old carp in a net. Nielsen fell face down in the dirt, whilst Barnard got up and hared down the wing, cut past a tackle, played a one-two and carried on. And on, and on. When he was at the corner of the penalty area he whipped in a dipping, curling cross, which the goalkeeper clawed away from near his top left hand corner. Hey, hey, hey, Barnard! Town drove forward, pinning Norwich back with controlled passion. The defence looked solid, with enough pace and height to deal with the tricky forwards. Nielsen we know all about, and all he did was run around and foul. The other striker, Zema Abbey a tallish, wiry slippery eel, was occasionally tricky, but was kept out of the penalty area. So all Norwich could do was try long shots, which were so ordinary I canâ€™t remember how many yards wide and high they went. It wasnâ€™t totally comfortable viewing, as there was an underlying threat, hints of danger, for Norwich looked dangerous. It was merely that Town were defending professionally. Except when they werenâ€™t. Thereâ€™s always one moment isnâ€™t there, and here it is. From a Town corner, cleared easily, Norwich broke at pace after a misunderstanding between Groves and Mr A.N. Other (not a new loanee, I just canâ€™t remember which of our dark haired little players mucked up). Henderson ran forward from his own half, down their centre right , exchanged passes with Abbey and was behind the Town defence with just Coyne to beat. Coldicott and McDermott were like chalk marks in the rain, you could just make them out in the distance. Henderson approached Coyne and knocked the ball to the left. Coyne dived, but withdrew his hands and swivelled to avoid contact. Henderson, late of Pablo Fanques fair, fell over hoops and garters and lastly through a hogs head of real fire. The Norwich supporters bellowed for a penalty, and Henderson was booked and received a severe tongue lashing from Coldicott. A clearer dive you will not see, not even worthy of Jack Lester.
Despite the occasional break, it was Town dominant, with Oster the wizard: Merlin to Grovesâ€™ King Arthur. Oster decided to roam where he pleased, which was invariably to the left, safe in the knowledge that McD was on the pitch, the comforting blanket at right back. More Oster the magician, the alchemist on the wing, pulling bunches of flowers from behind the fullbackâ€™s ears, and bunting from their nose The "oohs" and "ahhs" resounded around the stands as he continued to torment and terrorise. Oster crosses fizzed though the box, with legs flailing desperately at the ball, but Norwich legs were longer. Livvo was present, but not quite a presence today, failing to win headers and only effective when the ball was pinged straight to him, allowing him to be dainty and deft in link up play. Now Mansaram was something different; a real pest, twisting and turning, a constant thorn in the side. After about 20 minutes something happened to really make the Town fans perk up. Livvo knocked the ball out to McDermott, who immediately rolled the ball infield to Mansaram, about 25 yards out near the corner of the penalty area, with his back to goal. Mansaram shimmied left and allowed the ball to roll across. In one movement he turned and wellied a left footed curling drive towards the right hand corner. Green, spectacularly and excellently, plunged to his right and parried the ball around the post. He is supposed to be a good â€˜keeper, and obviously is. Now that isnâ€™t the sort of thing we pay our money for, is it.
In this period - still the opening half an hour - Town had several more efforts on goal. A sweet one touch movement down the left ended with Coldicott, on the edge of the penalty area, hitting a shot a yard over the bar. Another Oster inspired move ended with a little dink into the centre of the penalty area. Livvo with his back to goal looked set for one of his once a season Copacabana goals. Would he flick it up and do a bicycle kick? A back heel? No, he lost control rather feebly, dissolving like a sandcastle at high tide, only less spectacularly. Barnard was having a superb game, looking like a full back, looking fit, looking good. It couldnâ€™t last - it didnâ€™t. Norwich appeared to target him (and later Santos) for some professional challenges. You know the sort, slightly late, just enough to get a free kick but not enough for a booking. Either Nielsen or the Hairman (both of whom were chief ankle tormentors) clattered Barnard and he was left in a heap. A couple of minutes from half time Barnard just walked off and down the tunnel, replaced by Gavin.
I seem to have jumped 15 minutes here. Well, thatâ€™s because Norwich took control, with their midfield mauler, Holt, taking over the game. Norwich twittered around the Town box, but didnâ€™t create anything other than an Abbey header straight to Coyne, right near half time. Unmarked, 10 yards out at the far post he headed softly to Danny Boy. Earlier, Walesâ€™ No. 4 made a small blooper, when a miss-hit shot from the Norwich left bounced up off his chest. Fortunately no-one was around to pounce upon his mistake.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Norwich City 0
And thatâ€™s just about it for the first half, Nielsen committed at least four fouls, and Stig at least three, causing a certain grizzling amongst the Town support, particularly when Nielsenâ€™s hand caught Santos in the face. For once it was an accident, so we, like the referee, will let him off for that.
A rather good football match, with two decent teams thrusting and parrying. Town controlled the first 30 minutes, Norwich the remainder. It was very pleasing to see Town play with such poise, calm and verve against one of the better teams in this rotten division. But Town hadnâ€™t scored during the period of total dominance, and that was the gnawing worry deep in the bowel of Blundell Park.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
""Do you think Iâ€™m the sort of man would buy a chocolate orange McFlurry?".
The report continues in the second half.
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