League Two Form Guide
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28/12 Norwich 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
NEITHER side made any changes at half time. Town started as they had done in the first half, one-touch, passing and movement revolving around Oster. Corners, but no chances, unless you count Osterâ€™s corner drifting towards the top right hand corner, flicked over with difficulty, as a chance.
Grimsby Town 1 Norwich City 1
28 Dec 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
With our little pearl diver, anything is possible. The game then settled down into Town huffing and Norwich fouling, with Nielsen, again, the chief culprit. After 50 minutes Santos eased the Danish pastry away with the most Gallic of shrugs, on the half way line near the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. Nielsen slid in from behind, slaying Asterix, with Santos clearly hurt and requiring urgent medical attention. He got the physio, which I suppose counts as the same thing. After a minute or so Santos limped back on. Norwich knocked the ball back to Green who whacked a huge steepling drop kick way into the Town half. Santos misjudged the flight, the ball dropping over his head and bouncing about 25 yards out, right in the centre. ABBEY ran across Ford, controlled it on his chest and hooked a shot across Coyne and into the bottom right hand corner. Mmm, they needed to cripple Santos to score.
Santos had a very poor next 10 minutes, giving the ball away, stumbling, fumbling and generally looking like he was confused by the pace of modern life. But still Norwich didnâ€™t have any particular efforts on goal. Sure, there was a long shot or two, one even made its way through the pack to Coyne, but went slowly and straight to him. They looked very dangerous on the break, using their pace to great effect, but not using their feet very well when contact with the ball was required. As the game is *foot* ball youâ€™d have thought theyâ€™d have at least practiced kicking. Not that Town were much better. The goal appeared to knock a bit of confidence from the team, players visibly snatching at half chances, seeming a bit anxious. Norwich had clearly decided to hold on to what theyâ€™d got, with Holt becoming even more prominent, so much so that Groves was reduced to tapping Holtâ€™s ankles like he was checking the air in his back tyres. When the referee wasnâ€™t looking, of course. I think the Town players had decided the referee would allow a free for all, as he absolutely refused to book the persistent offenders. Rodger stood on the touchline counting the tackles and gesticulating wildly. He needed three hands for Nielsen by the end.
Town didnâ€™t give in, continuing to pummel the ramparts, with again Oster the playmaker; the ball attracted to his twinkling toes like small children to an ice cream van. But Norwich had finally realised that he was The Man for Town, and so hounded him in packs, snapping and yapping at his legs. Ban hunting now, for the sake of Town. The half chances were few, but the excitement still high. Mansaram was briefly free inside the area after some jiggery pokery on the Town right, but shinned his shot high and wide from just a dozen yards out. Some more hocus pocus by Oster on the right, led to some Reesian twists and turns. The ball was passed sideways to Coldicott, about 20 yards out in the centre. His delicate, scooped shot drifted a foot high and wide. A corner from the right was half cleared and Groves, leaning back just inside the penalty area near to the left of the penalty spot, hooked a shot towards the top left hand corner. The goalkeeper shuffled across his line and comfortably plucked the ball from the sky, like a furtive apple scrumper.
The game seemed to be drifting to one of those irritating 1-0 defeats where Town *should*, but *didnâ€™t*. Mansaram, after treatment, raced back on and nearly, so nearly, completed a fine flowing move down the right. Oster crossed, Livvo approached, Mansaram blasted over and wide (via a deflection) from the corner of the 6 yards box. With about quarter of an hour to go, a Campbell cross led to a half chance for Oster, following pressure from Town down the left. Oster danced into space at the far post, seven yards out, and headed straight into the â€˜keeperâ€™s arms. The Pontoon fell silent, resigned to fate. Not even the consistent cloggings from Norwich defenders roused the ire. Around this time Mansaram was replaced by Soames. The fearful battering taken by Mansaram over the past two games finally told, as he wearily trudged off to a deserved standing ovation. Time, the game, was drifting. Then something wonderful happened. The ball was knocked up the middle and Livvo stepped across Mackay, clattering *accidentally*, leaving Mackay grounded and injured. Play continued, with Oster being freed on the left by Coldicott (I think). Oster was just inside the Town half but zipped forward, toying with his marker. A swivel of his hips, a shake of his shoulders, a spin, a sidestep, then into the area. OSTER cut back inside and, from about 15 yards, curled a right footed shot around his marker and over the â€˜keeper into the left hand side netting. Oster was so cute he deliberately looped the ball in off the defenderâ€™s boot. Such awareness, such skill, such a vital part of the cause. Groves celebrated the goal in most aggressive fashion, turning towards his own goal and doing a quick one-two into an imaginary opponentâ€™s stomach. Mackay and Livvo squared up and had to be separated. What could Mackay have been complaining about? Livvo is such a gentleman.
The last 15 minutes were full of incident, but no chances. Norwich had another couple of long shots, one of which reached Coyne. Town buzzed around without ever looking like scoring a winner. The story of the last few minutes was the refereeâ€™s sudden decision to book players. Thatâ€™s Town players, not Canaries. Livvo was booked for a scything attack on Russell, Cooke was booked, ridiculously, for winning the ball fairly in front of the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. Ah yes, Cooke. He came on for the visibly tiring Groves with a few minutes left. Cooke played at left wing, with Campbell sent to the centre. Norwich made a substitution and the player walked off at about half the speed of Mansaram at Derby. No booking, of course. But then it shouldnâ€™t be, should it. There were three minutes of added time, quite stingy given the number of substitutions and injuries (Santos and Mansaram alone took up at least three minutes receiving treatment).
And that was that. Except it wasnâ€™t quite. For when the whistle blew Livingstone turned round and pushed his chest at Mackay, jumped up and down and gave little "come on" gestures to the huge Scot. As he was, very obviously, challenging Mackay to a duel, letâ€™s hope it wasnâ€™t shooting. I wouldnâ€™t back Livvo for pistols at dawn. Groves, like Poseidon holding back the clashing rocks, raced onto the pitch to separate the rutting bison. Two points lost and yet one gained, ultimately. The scintillating opening half hour drifted away to a midfield morass, as Norwich adjusted their tactics to bog the game down. They were also very *professional* in working out the limits of the referee. A daft goal conceded, their only real effort on target all game, yet Town did come back and equalise where, in the past, we have often seen a game dribble away with a whimper. And for that we can, again, thank Oster, who was by several squillion miles the best player on the pitch, virtually untouchable and unapproachable. Back home, heâ€™s magnificent. That isnâ€™t to take anything away from the other players. No-one was awful, perhaps Livvo and Gavin were the least effective. Both have excuses. Livvo because he is Livvo (and who else on earth can claim that), and Gavin because of his very right footedness, which was noted early on by his opponent. Groves, until Holt outlasted him, was an important cog, whilst Campbell continued his rejuvenation, buzzing, snapping, harrying and fizzing up and down the wings, Santos (until he was clobbered) looked assured and Ford seemed to be calmness personified. Still, we canâ€™t complain about the quality and the desire throughout the team. No-one would walk out of Blundell Park thinking Town were doomed. In essence, the game was between two decent upper mid-table teams.
Town are starting to tick over nicely. Now for the big one, letâ€™s hope the clock keeps going.
Nickoâ€™s man of the Match
Quite an easy one, that may have been guessed already. Remember, the clues are there. Join me, through the key hole, to reveal Mr John Oster. His most complete game yet since returning to his spiritual home. He made fair maidens swoon with his every move. If only we could keep him, there would be world peace too, courtesy of those golden boots.
S Baines. And a warning it is. In a complete inversion from the usual stance taken, this referee was a weirdo for opposite reasons to normal. He wasnâ€™t officious or petty. At half time he was heading for a 9, so sensible had he been, allowing play to flow, not booking rashly. But he didnâ€™t cross the Rubicon, allowing Norwich (particularly, though sometimes Town too) to get dirtier and more cynical as the game progressed. His failure to book for persistent fouling irked and eventually led to a bit of a kickfest. How he managed to book more Town players than Norwich is a mystery to the sane members of the Pontoon, and also the insane ones too, I would guess. Ah, he used to play for Scunthorpe, so what would he know about professional football!
He gets 8.7 for the first half and 5 for the second. An average of 6.85. No way, thatâ€™s shockingly high. He loses another point for annoying me whilst I am writing this. Those painful memories. So 5.85. I feel mean.
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