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A Taxi for Mr Groves: Millwall Report
By: Tony Butcher
AN afternoon of sunshine and grey, cold with a swirling chill wind battering the ears. Around 150-200 Millwallians lounged louchely around the Osmond Stand, with great big bare patches in the Town stands, and Iâ€™m not referring to the hairstyles of the rich and famous.
Grimsby Town 0 Millwall 2
18 Jan 2003, Nationwide League Division 1
There was no buzz of anticipation in the ground, with the atmosphere akin to the Burnley game; it was flatter than the pitch, which had a big bare, sandy patch below the Findus/Smiths/Stones stand. The more world weary Townites were already contemplating writing to the football league requesting a replay of the game should Town lose. How can we be expected to play football on that!
Or should that be "with that"? Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows :- Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Chettle, Gallimore, Cooke, Groves, Campbell, Barnard, Livingstone and Boulding. The substitutes were Allaway, Ward, Bolder, Soames and Mansaram. Boulding was given the reception he, and you, would expect. Hail the return of another prodigal son. A lot stronger than the ramshackle outfit that trotted out at Turf Moor, the team looked potentially capable, which is rather like a description of Hull City - "We aspire to be adequate".
During the warm up Santos and Croudson wandered across the pitch towards the Main Stand dressed in civvies. Santos wore narrow framed specs and a big duffel coat, taking all the terror from his aura, itâ€™s a good job he doesnâ€™t play in it, as he looked like a sociology student who caught the wrong bus. At 32 youâ€™d expect a little less concern for the coat du jour, which would look rather silly on the Cote Dâ€™Azure. But enough cod psychology (the only sort to be found in Grimsby, of course) the big news that spread through the Pontoon was that he told the autograph hunters that heâ€™d be back next week.
And Town had the smallest match-day mascot ever, smaller than the ball, but determined in the tackle, as the Mighty Mariner found out. A midfield Chihuahua for the future, ie next week.
Millwall kicked off towards the Pontoon with a false start, as Ifill sneaked down the touchline 20 yards before the ball had been touched. Start again. Disappointingly, they didnâ€™t kick it out of play, but to Town, which is always a dangerous tactic.
But Town didnâ€™t waste it, for football followed, in brief spurts, like a faulty pump. Within the first minute Town got a series of corners, the first of which was curled out from the left by Barnard, cleared back to him and whipped back in again. Some head tennis followed inside the Millwall area and finally Groves soared and headed firmly towards the top centre left of the goal. Warner rose a couple of inches and comfortably tipped the ball over the bar for another corner. Again, the corner was half cleared and Ford, yes Ford, 20 yards out just off centre, curled a right footed shot towards the bottom left hand corner. Warner shuffled across and plopped on the ball, again with little fuss. Two decent efforts on goal, neither of which should have gone past a competent â€˜keeper but, still, itâ€™s a start.
Millwall roamed with hints of danger, but nothing of consequence. Claridge twisted, turned, ran around, being a constant pest, but he spent the first 20 minutes doing a fine footballing impression of old man Steptoe, gnarled facial expressions and frustrated with life. The only moment that caused any worry was after about a dozen minutes when an attempted clearance up the right touchline rebounded off an attackerâ€™s backside, squirmed out back across the face of the penalty area and Coyne had to sprint off his line to fly kick clear as Old Man Steptoe coaxed his ageing limbs into action. Anyone but Claridge would have got there first. Apart from Livvo. And Chettle. And Barnard. And Groves. Well, any opponent then.
The game was, so far, not bad, just very mediocre, with Town firmly in the ascendancy. The Town machine was spluttering forward with, well, spluttering forwards. Boulding was, as against the Milton Keynes Mercenaries, like the little boy that Santa Clause forgot. He didnâ€™t have the turbo charger plugged in, and he just bounced off defenders. Some young men with binoculars and obtrusive headwear, high in the Upper Smiths/Stones/Findus Stand, later claimed to have sighted the duck billed Livvopus. Such a shy creature too. Town continued to pootle forward, with Campbell and Cooke causing considerable anxiety to Millwall. Campbell received a pass inside the town half, spun around twice and caused Wise to fall on his bottom, causing much pleasure to all right thinking people. I said right thinking? I meant thinking people. Campbell had a huge space in front of him, so he carried on, and on, and on, with a defender finally standing his ground on the edge of the penalty area. Campbell drifted slightly to his right then dragged a shot across the face of goal, the ball dribbling a couple of yards wide. Worth an "ooh", so we "oohed". Cooke was perky and brought the unwary to their feet with a zip and a zap down the right, taking on his full back and knocking the ball past him on the very edge of the area. The defender legged him up, Cooke was flattened, the referee gave a free kick a foot outside the area and didnâ€™t appear to book the alliterative Robbie Ryan. The free kick didnâ€™t bring any joy and happiness to mankind.
A few more minor moments of Town interest, with a couple more Campbell long range efforts, one slowly curling past the â€˜keeperâ€™s left hand post (not even a moment of hope it would go in) and another that bombled along the mud straight into Warnerâ€™s ample chest. And Warner had an ample chest, being, as Kevin Keegan once said, as big as those chests that pirates used to store gold in. He didnâ€™t wear a huge earring though. Ah-ha, some fine football with a bit of thought too. Town were given a free kick way out on the left. Barnard and Cooke stood over the ball, then Cooke suddenly raised both arms and sprinted away in the area. Barnard curled the free kick beyond the far post to the now unmarked Campbell, who had peeled away as everyone else had rushed into the centre. Campbell controlled the ball on his chest and, from about ten yards out and a similar distance wide, whacked a half volley into the centre of the 6 yards box. The ball went past the goalkeeper and was wellied clear by a defender from near the line. Now that was worthy of an "ooh" and an "ahh" and a clap and a stamp.
After about 20 or so minutes, the tide was turning. Town lost some grip of the game, with Millwall clearly changing their tactics. Their midfield roughed it up a bit, disgracefully tackling! Thatâ€™s almost cheating, isnâ€™t it? Theyâ€™d be actually trying to score next. The ball was in the air more and, unfortunately, Town contributed to this loss of power by starting to hit longer and higher "passes" from the back. Claridge had been, finally, recognised by the frog chorus in the Pontoon. It took them so long because Millwall just hadnâ€™t been anywhere near Coyne, so they couldnâ€™t read the name on the back of the shirt. They soon did, as Claridge was subject to much verbal attention, his physical resemblance to German centre forward Carsten Janker being relayed to him in urgent tones. Hitherto ineffective, Old Man Diver was spurred on and began to be a thorn in our side. After about 22 minutes, a quick Millwall break saw Claridge released behind the Town defence, with just Coyne to beat. Claridge shot from 6 yards out, to the left of goal, but Coyne managed to block with a fleshy part of his anatomy, and Chettle cleared the rebound. Yes, yes, Janker, Janker, we know. Claridge indulged in a bit of crowd baiting, "chatting" to the massed ranks of parkers and Burberry caps. A couple of minutes later a corner from their left was swung beyond the far post and Claridge, 4 yards out, headed firmly, but straight, at Coyne, who caught the ball with his feet behind the line. More back-chat.
Ten minutes of terminal dross followed. Swipes, slaps, hooks and shanks, barely a player capable of kicking straight. The ball was frequently out of play. Unless you find throw-ins fascinating, it was bad, man. There were sporadic moments that transcended the tedium, with the emphasis on the tedium. Cooke curled a cross from the right hand side to the far post with Groves, in a throw back to 1994, making a late run into the penalty area. Unmarked, but behind a defender and an unknown Town player, he side footed a yard wide. The deteriorating standard of football got the crowd into default mode. The grumbles started, low, barely audible at first, but as each pass went astray, the momentum grew. Frustration was teetering on the edge, it wouldnâ€™t take much to go to a full blown angry heckle. A typical moment of referreeing daftness diverted the crowd. Wise spun past Campbell in midfield, falling pathetically, obviously, with a rotten dive. The referee immediately gave a free kick, 25 yards out, just to the right of centre. Which is a lot closer to the goal than where Wise dived. The straw bales that formed the Town wall served as little protection. Wise tapped the ball sideways and Reid smashed a right foot drive which slapped off someoneâ€™s thigh and onto Coyneâ€™s left hand post. Would this be the little bit of luck that Town have been waiting for?
As the game petered towards a pitiful break, the bells started to toll. Groves made a bit of a hash of a clearance on the right hand touchline, the ball flying sideways. He chased the ball and upended Wise, about 25 yards out, level with the edge of the penalty area. The free kick was curled beyond the far post; so far, so humdrum. Ah, what a shame, Barnard had left Wise alone, preferring to perambulate with Mr Livingstone, catching some bracing sea air. Wise, about 5 yards out on the edge of the 6 yards box, volleyed a shot across Coyne, who stuck out an arm and diverted the ball into the centre of the 6 yards box. The ball looped up, bounced high and just behind Ford. CLARIDGE bundled across and toe poked the ball into the net from a couple of yards. Claridge and Wise stood in front of the Pontoon, cockily pointing out the name of the scorer. The Burberry boys insisted that is was pronounced differently.
Townâ€™s response was to zoom up the other end and win a corner. Curled out from the right, Groves headed powerfully towards the top left hand corner, but Warner clasped the ball to his body with little concern. There was one minute of added time, nothing happened. There was a significant minority booing the team off, slightly unfair given that Millwall arenâ€™t that bad and Town had been adequate for most of the half. But only slightly. Claridge had caused all sorts of problems with his movement and perception, perhaps it wasnâ€™t wise for the Pontoon to start taunting him, as it woke him up. The two Millwall wingers had not really hurt Town, but their presence had forced McDermott and Gallimore to remain in defence, rather than helping out in attack. The biggest problems for Town were the strikers (non-existent) and the misfiring midfield, where Groves was ailing and Barnard failing. Town were half a team, certainly they were half the team they used to be.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Millwall 1
The game wasnâ€™t lost yet, there had been sparks of hope, but something had to change to ruffle the Millwall feathers.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Groves is like a traction engine without any steam".
The report continues in the second half.
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