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Taking Candy from a Baby: Portsmouth Report
By: Tony Butcher
A surprisingly pleasant afternoon by the sunny Solent, though a lurking chill caught the unwary amongst the 150 or so Town fans (inclusive of half a dozen displaced locals) scrunched together in a corner, under the floodlight, behind the bike sheds, in the back garden of the house next door.
Portsmouth 3 Grimsby Town 0
01 Feb 2003, Nationwide League Division 1
After some premiership class stewarding, where they insisted we sat in an even tinier section until they realised that theyâ€™d sold more tickets than there were seats, the unhopeful travellers settled down to play I-spy. And we spied with several little eyes that todayâ€™s missing players began with the letter "B". No Barnard, no Boulding, oh bug... Cooke, for those dedicated followers of fashion, was dressed in a frilly nylon tracksuit, pulled right up tight, which indicated he would be absent from the starting XI. So another spatchcock, patched up collection of the young and the infirm.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, as shown. Bolder played as a left midfielder, Santos in central midfield, all of which seemed very odd, especially considering that Portsmouth lined up in a 3-5-2 formation. So we were awaiting a swamped midfield. Ah, I see, Mansaram. Flash, ah-ha, played in a strange left sided role which was neither one thing nor the other. Perhaps heâ€™d misread his collected works of Craig Shakespeare - neither a striker, nor a midfielder be.
The pre-match entertainment was provided by a big bug eyed Cookie Monster a-like, blue frog, which muppet fans werenâ€™t in love with, that stalked some small children as they walked around the perimeter. Not forgetting the two Chinese dragons which pranced about in front of the main stand, cynically churning up the pitch in an attempt to halt Mr Tony Gallimore rampaging down the wings in search of lupins. He robs from the poor, and gives to the rich, Gallimore, Galimore, Gallimore. Or perhaps Pompey were using psychological warfare techniques on our back four; two fluorescent dragons is some acid flashback, man.
Enough peripheral nonsense and abstract mental doodling (and Iâ€™m not referring to Livvo or Vincent Pericardâ€™s hair). The game.
Town kicked off away from the massed mariners, with a twist. Instead of whacking the ball straight out for a throw in, Groves lumped it downfield for a goal kick.
Already preparing for division two, I see. Within a minute, Pompey had sliced through the melting snowmen in Townâ€™s defence. The ball broke to Portsmouth on their centre left, a few quick exchanges of passes, a surge forward from Aiyegbeni and pass outside Ford to Todorov, on the right corner of the Town area. He swayed left, right, wiggled his hips and curled a right footed shot around his marker towards the top left hand corner. Coyne stretched and plucked the dead chicken from the production line, sealing it in a cellophane wrapper with slight concern, but little fuss.
Town totally dominated the next eight or nine seconds, even getting up towards the Portsmouth area. The pattern of the first half was already set - Portsmouth were content for Town to play the ball around in midfield, merely awaiting a loose pass or clearance to set up a counter-attack, where they flayed Town mercilessly. They had power and pace (Aiyegbeni), perception and poise (Merson), allied to Todorov, the Bulgarian Lee Nogan (whose full name, Todorovside, is too long for his shirt), together with raiding wingbacks. What shall they do to fill the empty spaces? Fill them with fast men running. I shall leave aside the moments when Portsmouth didnâ€™t shoot, but still unpicked Chettle and Ford like a curious child with a large daisy, and concentrate on the chances created. Ah, four minutes gone and Town gone.
Bolder, on the middle left near the half way line played a poor pass across field straight to Todorov who surged forward, and flipped the ball into a huge space on the right corner of the Town box. Aiyegbeni ran behind Chettle and across Ford, zoomed outside Ford towards the bye-line and then cut back inside. From the corner of the 6 yards box Aiyegbeni placed a shot low past Coyne. The ball trundled across goal towards the far post and Gorgeous Georges arrived, late for the train and carrying bags of shopping overflowing with comestibles. SANTOS attempted to hook the ball away with his right foot, missed, and the ball bounced off his left ankle and into the net. The ball was probably going to hit the post (the Town fans were directly in line with the shot), so, strictly speaking, it was an own goal. Even a tap-in by Georges is a net buster, for as he fell into the goal he pulled down the chord which held that corner of the net up. Thus a three minute delay was caused by the referee fussing about the collapsed goal. Pah, didnâ€™t he consider abandoning the game and, if not, why not? After a minute or so, with no activity observed, the referee decided to tie it up himself, very poorly. Eventually two slow men with a ladder appeared, walking across the pitch as Town prepared to kick off. Pitch invasion, abandon ship! Darn, they fixed it. Game continued.
This was only the start of the torture as, just like last season, Townâ€™s cherries were hand picked by an expert. This time Merson, not Prosinecki, was the leader of the gang. The timings are irrelevant, as Town were not really a presence in the first half. I can get out of the way all Townâ€™s "highlights". Livvo helped a cross by Campbell through the penalty area and out to their right wing back, thus setting up a counter attack. McDermott released Campbell down the right, who spun past his marker, raced for the bye-line and crossed to the near post, where Mansaram was beaten to the ball by Foxe. Someone had a header at a corner which went towards goal for a yard. McDermott thought about shooting once. Groves stood near the penalty spot a couple of times, Santos punted the ball forward from the half way line and it bounced actually inside the penalty area. Looking comfortable in possession in non-threatening areas, Town were suckered every few minutes. Town attack, Town at their most vulnerable. Waves of blue, crashing, smashing and almost thrashing Town.
Here we go. In a virtual replay of the first goal, set up by a Town corner, and a handball by Todorov, Aiygebeni was again one-on-one with Ford on the right edge of the penalty area Again he zoomed, stopped, zoomed and cut back inside, before poking a shot with the outside of his foot over and round Coyne, the ball kissing off the far post for a goal kick. Thereâ€™s no point in describing the same move again, letâ€™s just say McDermott, Chettle and Ford all managed to block Aiyegbeni after he got into the exact spot from which the goal was scored and the post was struck. Coyneâ€™s first save of the game came after a corner was cleared to Harper, 25 yards out on the centre left. His low shot ghosted through the bunch of players rushing out of the penalty area and Danny delayed the pain a while longer with a fine save low to his left, scooping the ball up and over the on-rushing trio of Pompey players. And again, he-e-e-e-e-e-e-reâ€™s Danny. Aiyegbeni chased a pass dinked beyond the defence into the left hand side of the penalty area. Coyne raced out and the big man managed to get to the ball, but Danny boy forced him wide. Aiyegbeni turned quickly and, from the bottom left hand corner of the penalty area, tried to chip the ball over Coyne as Our Little Secret ran back. Coyne rose like a satisfying soufflÃ© and caught the ball at the near post. Coyne sprinted and slid to clutch the ball away from on-rushing strikers a couple of time, a couple of crosses went through the 6 yards box. The normal, hum-drum happenings in the Town defence, itâ€™s rather expected these days.
Is there more? Of course there is, thatâ€™s just the surface scratchings. After 30 minutes, Santos bundled Merson over after the 20th or was it the 35th fast break by Portsmouth. Just about 20 yards out, in the centre, a goal was certain. Coyne stood in the middle of his goal and Merson caressed the ball over the wall and towards the top left hand corner. Coyne flew, Coyne flapped, the ball crawled around the angle of post and bar. Five minutes later, a Pompey corner which was half cleared and returned back into the centre of the goal. Sherwood, unmarked and eight yards out, swivelled and half volleyed the ball down the middle. Coyne raised a hand and flipped the ball over the bar. Gallimore hasnâ€™t been mentioned yet, has he. He was in trundle and backtrack mode. Relieved to be up against sheer pace rather than a Croatian water torturer, Galli did what he does best, run backwards, allowing Harper to get to the bye-line and cross at will. From one of Galliâ€™s 100 yards backward dashes Harper swept past him, into the area and smacked a low drive across goal, which was blocked away by one of Coyneâ€™s shins. Another Harper surge past the hapless and hopeless Galli resulted in Ford miss-kicking the ball two yards out and McDermott donning his brown overalls, picking up a trusty broom and sweeping up after the youngsters. Stood in front of the Town support, Galli grizzled and growled, raging at the floodlights in frustration. Or was that us? Fortunately, the refereeâ€™s back was turned when Galli leant into Todorov brushing his head down the Bulgarâ€™s neck at a throw in. Harper, like Taylor their other wing back, spent most of the first half alone, like the shyest of teenagers at the sixth form discotheque. Always willing, rarely asked.
Half time: Portsmouth 1 Grimsby Town 0
There you are, thatâ€™s the major incidents of the first half, the half that nearly didnâ€™t end. For, in addition to the collapsed net, we had the collapsed vet; Chettle crumpling and clutching his back. Yet again, his bad back, which always seems to coincide with a tonking. Portsmouth were almost irresistible, just bad finishing and some fine goal-keeping kept the score down to one. Just the one, and there was the faint hope. It was only 1-0, although should have been at least 3, probably 4. It was highly likely that Town would have a shot in the second half and, you never know, it might take a huge deflection and go in. What Town attacking did go on was frequently ended by the linesmanâ€™s flag. Oh the irony, the only person in the ground able to see Campbell was the linesman. Some Town fans have spent a lifetime in search of the abominable no-man. Poor old McDermott was frequently exposed to two and three Portsmouth players running at him at speed, as Campbell was frequently absent, or perhaps obscured by clouds.
No matter how many times we re-arrange the deckchairs, it came down to one plain, simple fact. They were better than us. Individually and collectively. They had Aiyegbeni, pumping powerhouse eager to please on his debut. We had Livvo. They had Merson, full of vim and verve, we had Santos playing tippy-tappy, pretty-pretty football, shrugging very Gallicly whenever tackled. Perhaps 20 minutes of intelligent conversation deep within the away dressing room would change things?
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"The steward canâ€™t complain, my orange peel piles are arranged in an orderly fashion".
The report continues in the second half.
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