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18/01 Millwall 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
IT started. It eventually finished and between the two never a Town player would meet. There was no change of personnel at halftime by either team, but Millwall came flying out, racing into tackles, harrying, hassling and generally stopping Town getting any sort of passing rhythm going.
Grimsby Town 0 Millwall 2
18 Jan 2003, Nationwide League Division 1
We shall never know if Town would have been capable of passing to each other anyway.
The second half was an absolute disaster as far as Town were concerned, everything went wrong. Passes were not made, clearances muffed, crosses crazily skewed anywhere but towards goal. It was a shocker. Perhaps not quite as shocking as the Reading game, for the Town players were at least trying today, but they were just incapable. That is probably more worrying in the long run. The crowd sensed this early on, and it is almost at breaking point. It was not a happy, or pleasant, place to be during the second half, unless you were from Sarf Landon. With Coldicott absent, Groves has taken over as the focal point of disenchantment. His performance didnâ€™t cause anyone to stop heckling either and it is rather sad to see him bowing out in such fashion. This is no dignified exit from a professional playing career. You will have noticed that there has, so far, been no description of "events" in the second half. There were none of note for a Town fan. A balloon didnâ€™t descend from the sky delivering Oster and Todd to us, as angels in our hour of need. The floodlights didnâ€™t fail, a fog didnâ€™t helpfully roll in from the Humber, the fire alarms resolutely failed to ring, the police stayed inside their little brick hut and refused to call the game off on the grounds of public safety.
Briefly, in the 48th minute, a fleeting moment which might have raised and roused the crowd. Boulding turned in the centre circle and dribbled at speed towards the Millwall goal. He knocked the ball past one defender, who grabbed him around the waist, then neck, before stumbling and leaving last seasonâ€™s hero a clear sight of goal. Boulding tried to outpace the final defender, but bounced off him, falling to the ground clutching his face. No free kick given, the crowd briefly apoplectic.
It didnâ€™t last, a couple of misplaced passes and that was that. It isnâ€™t possible to describe the mind-numbing awfulness of the second half without having been there. Not only Town, but Millwall too, were constantly slicing the ball up in the air, out of play, over the stands. Somewhere around the 55th minute, or it may have been later (the game was an indefinable stodgy porridge where time was an abstract concept) Town strung at least three passes together, resulting in Groves, from the edge of the penalty area, dragging a shot a yard or two wide of the left hand post. A few minutes later Town had an appeal for a penalty turned down. A cross, a bundle of players, a rebound, a poked shot and a claimed handball near the penalty spot. That was it until the last minute or so. Town never got near the goal. Terrible isnâ€™t it.
Millwall concentrated on stopping Town for great swathes of the half, even resorting to blatant time wasting from a very early stage. They had more faith in Town than we did. Claridge continued to torment his tormentors with his all action performance. In the middle of the half, Millwall suddenly decided to attack, which was a bit much really, a second goal was hardly needed and would just rub salt into some very deep wounds. Some rather ordinary play down the Millwall left was transformed by Claridge suddenly leaping up and whacking a hooking bicycle kick from the right corner of the penalty area. The ball raced towards the top right hand corner and hit something hard, either Coyneâ€™s hand or, more likely, the post. The ball bounced back into the middle of the penalty area and was scrambled away, more through luck than judgement. A few minutes later Reid dribbled past a couple of Town defenders, on a straight line from touchline to penalty area, before shooting across Coyne and just wide of the left hard post for a corner. So I presume Coyne saved it. Ifill, on the left, managed to dribble past many and cross out for a throw in. Claridge toe poked a first time shot at Coyne from a dozen yards, after a clearance was lumped back over the defence. The ball, again, lollopped around the middle of the penalty area for aeons, as the goal was open, before someone bothered to clear. There were more Millwall attacks which brought dread to the dwindling diehard, crosses, shots, nearly this, nearly that, it seemed only a matter of time before a second goal arrived. I have a vague memory of Coyne nearly allowing a weak long shot through his arms, over his shoulder and through his legs. Well two of the three, anyway.
The restless natives began chanting for Mansaram and, finally, they got their way, with just less than 20 minutes left. Soames and Mansaram replaced Boulding and Cooke in a straight swap, Soames going to the right wing. The crowdâ€™s reaction was exactly as you would expect. They booed and they hooed, for they wanted Groves and someone else, as yet unidentified, off. The replacement of Boulding was expected, as he is not yet the man who left us, Cooke, on the other hand, was at least trying to do something positive, and appeared the only Town player capable of prising open the blue wall. Who said Stuart Campbell? More like where was Stuart Campbell? Perhaps the Livvopus had eaten him at half time? Perhaps aliens had abducted him? The man was not visible, for McGhee realised that Campbell had been the principle threat in the first half and ensured that his players didnâ€™t allow the urban spaceman any freedom. Iâ€™m not even certain that he touched the ball in the second half, but then I canâ€™t recall Barnard either, except the occasional glimpse of his shirt flapping as he trundled away from the Pontoon as Millwall broke away.
Any more? Well, they scored again. With just over 5 minutes left Claridge, on the right edge of the Town area with his back to goal, back-heeled the ball behind McDermott. Reid ran in, dribbled toward goal at speed and McDermott followed in his wake. Reid fell, McDermott flapped his arms and the referee gave a penalty. No-one complained much. Well, not at the decision. The seats started to tip up in readiness for an early exit. The throng of frustration gathered in front of the Pontoon waiting to see if Danny could save the day again. He couldnâ€™t. CLARIDGE placed the ball to Coyneâ€™s left as the grey goose dived right. The howling started, the arguments started, the brittleness in the team was matched by the support. In the last minute, Mansaram was free inside the area on the left, having run past the full back onto a chipped pass. He cut inside and, from 10 yards out, carefully passed the ball into Warnerâ€™s hands.
Letâ€™s hope this is as bad as it gets, there are no straws to clutch here. The first half was almost adequate, the second abysmal. The players and crowd looked thoroughly deflated, dispirited and defeated. There was nothing to make the fans get behind the players, nor did the crowd seek to galvanise the players. The mid-winter blues have returned, with an uncanny echo of last year â€“ two rank performances in the cup followed by a shocker in the league. Never were Pouton and Santos so sorely missed. I suppose weâ€™ll have to be patient with Boulding too. The days are dark again.
But Town arenâ€™t yet in the relegation spots. Next week, oh next, week that could well be the season maker or breaker. Are all your fingers crossed?
Nickoâ€™s Man of the Match
No-one covered themselves in glory, Campbell had a very good first half, but after substituting himself for a mannequin at half time, the shirt disappeared from view. Chettle was largely adequate, mostly, but he always does something to get the crowd a-barracking. If pushed, only Danny Coyne emerged with any reason to feel close to content with his efforts.
Mr E Ilderton. Started alright, but slowly, slowly, fell for the cheeky cockernee charms of Mr Wise. So a bit like Town, average in the first half, poor in the second. The only score likely to satisfy no-one is 5.697, so thatâ€™s what he gets.
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