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08/02 Stoke 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
NO changes were made by either team at half time, though Pulis sent his team out a few minutes early to perform light jogging routines in front of the jeering Pontoon (Handyside excepted).
Grimsby Town 2 Stoke City 0
08 Feb 2003, Nationwide League Division 1
The second half didnâ€™t match the first, for Town tired, especially the front two. There were incidents, but they were fleeting moments, mainly packed into the opening few minutes. Stoke managed to string several passes together, which was nice for them, though they were unable, or perhaps unwilling, to replicate it. The string of passes ended with a stringy shot which harmlessly passed its time drifting towards the lone steward to Coyneâ€™s right. The steward was surprised, but not deflected from his duty, as the ball collided with his stool.
A little later Hall, one of at least three Stoke players booked in the first half, surged into the Town penalty area on the right and fell near Cooke. A rather risky strategy, given the rubbishness of his fall. No penalty, no booking for diving, play on. Town broke away and nearly scored. Some fine passing in midfield created some space for Groves, who played a perfectly weighted and placed through ball down the centre right between the central defenders. Boulding raced forward, drifted to the right, cut back and, from about 10 yards dragged a left foot shot between Shtaniukâ€™s legs towards the bottom left hand corner. Banks managed to plunge upon the ball, holding onto it one handed on the goal line.
A few minutes later Boulding was again released, this time in an inside left position, after interplay involving Groves and Pouton, who passed with the outside of his right boot (surely you didnâ€™t think it was his left, did you?). Boulding chested the ball down, surged at the retreating Handyside, got to the bye-line and dragged a cross into the 6 yards box. Unfortunately, a defender shinned the ball away, with Thompson and Cooke lurking behind. A few minutes after that Campbell, remember him, dribbled past a couple of defenders on the right before having his cross charge down by the ubiquitous Handyside.
I am afraid thatâ€™s Town done for a fair few minutes, not that Stoke created any chances, nor accidentally stumbled across anything resembling football. They had the ball, but lumped it forward and produced nothing but heading practise for Gorgeous Georges and his trusty Sancho Panza. As the game wore on, and at times it was wearing, Santos became more overt in his "physical presence", realising that the referee was a bit insipid, booking where a sending off was due, and chatting where a yellow card is normally de rigueur. Perhaps the top Santos moment was when he wrestled Iwelumo out of play, held him down for three seconds to win the contest, and ran off. Or perhaps it was when Iwelumo challenged Coyne for a bouncing ball. Coyne clutched the ball elbows up, which caught Iwelumo a glancing blow. As he fell Santos "stumbled" over him and kicked him up the backside. Lovely - the biter bit. Or perhaps the kicker kicked, and all done in the best possible taste pop-pickers. Harsh? Why no sir, for Iwelumo was involved in the second non-sending off incident. As Pouton stood underneath a loose high ball, Iwelumo came steaming in from behind and flatted our hero. The referee immediately ran across, gave Town a free kick, indicated an elbow had been used and again only waved a yellow card somewhat camply towards the Stokie.
A couple of substitutions were made half way through the half, Stoke replaced Richardson with Gudjonsson and Town the limping Thompson with Soames. Well, at least the Stoke fans got what they wanted, for they had been chanting "Barney, Barney" throughout the second half, which confused several under 10s in the Pontoon, who thought they wanted a stuffed dinosaur to come onto the pitch. But Livvo was banned, wasnâ€™t he? Life is so complicated, isnâ€™t it. Thompson got a deserved standing ovation and, as he was warming down near the Police Box, got a personalised chant for his efforts, which were considerable and with no little skill too. Around the same time Stoke had their chance. A corner from their right was swung into the near post, Iwelumo, unmarked and perhaps six or seven yards out, glanced a header that carefully rolled over the top of the bar. That was it, and they blew it. The Pontoon celebrated with a rousing "Youâ€™re going down with the Wednesday", with a coda "Except you Handyside". And Town celebrated with a shot. Soames pestered a defender near the corner flag, laid a short pass back to McDermott who swung a high, loopy cross which curled back to the unmarked Campbell on the edge of the penalty area, to the left of centre. Campbell stood under the ball like deep square leg under a steepling hook, shaking, shivering, altering position, he wafted his right foot at the ball and miss-hit the volley a yard past the right hand post. No danger, no chance of a cracker. Sir, you are no Gary Childs. Itâ€™s the lack of moustache that gives it away.
What else did Stoke do? A couple of long range shot which drifted easily wide at least got a couple of Stoke fans off their feet. Or perhaps they were going to the toilet? Gunnarson managed to head wide when hardly marked about eight yards out, following a corner from their left. There was a big hoo-hah amongst the Stokies, who wanted another corner. They didnâ€™t get it, like most of their wishes today. I am, of course, assuming that Stoke fans donâ€™t want their team to play like a glorified pub side. Mills almost managed to get behind the Town defence and have a shot, but Santos read the run brilliantly, easing back, oozing forward and placing his big left boot across the path of the shot. Most of the second half was played in front of the Stoke fans, who must have been enthralled. They never looked like scoring, with no movement up front, thoughtless crosses and, after they started to put substitutes on, a confused approach. The substitutes wanted to pass, the rest to whack, the result was an endless stream of misplaced passes and, wonderfully, a schoolyard scrap. Bjarni, the crowdâ€™s favourite childrenâ€™s character, wasted possession with a 50 yard pass out of play. Oâ€™Connor turned around and let fly with a verbal volley more accurate than any he did with the ball. A couple more joined him and Gudjonnson argued back, merely inducing a roughing up which almost came to a trading of punches. Now that would have rounded off our day of perfectly. Who could ask for anything more, the opposition beating each other up. Only Handysideâ€™s intervention seemed to avert a bout of fisticuffs. Shame on you for spoiling our fun.
With quarter of an hour left, Pouton, who had wilted a bit in the second half, was replaced by Bolder, who kept up the tackling quotient. Still Stoke had the ball, with Town sat back in two lines of four, awaiting the next cross. Stoke got relatively close a couple of times. A Greenacre stooping header at the far post was saved by Coyne low to his right. It didnâ€™t seem to be going in, as Coyne saved it but carried the ball out for a corner. Hoekstra, the man who embarrassed Ward in November, finally got free of McDermott and curled a shot from the edge of the penalty area just high and wide of Coyneâ€™s left hand post. That was in the 89th minute In injury time a swinging cross from their right bounced through the 6 yards box and Mills threw himself near the ball. And that was Stoke. It would be tempting fate to say go back to your kilns and prepare for relegation. They have the style to roll over the uncommitted and, towards the end of the season, there are plenty of teams like that.
Rowan replaced Boulding in the last minute and looked even skinnier than before, the lad is wasting away. Rowanâ€™s contribution was to not run into the penalty area when Town had a couple of breakaways. With Soames and Cooke free on the wings and wanting to pass inside, Rowan ambled around conspicuously not going towards goal. In the last minute of the four added (which was odd as the board clearly showed 3 minutes as Rowan was being substituted, which 10 seconds later became 4) the onomatopoeic Shtaniuk hauled down Soames as the little scuffler drifted past him on the edge of the penalty area. Last man, must go, did go, but only after a shouting match with the referee. And then he wouldnâ€™t walk off the pitch, ambling towards the goal, rather than the changing rooms. Handyside order him off. Cooke curled the free kick over the wall and a foot or so over the bar. Then the game, like the Cookeâ€™s shot, was over.
Three points, two goals, one sending off, none conceded. Who could ask for anything more? The first half was super, the second a bit of a damp squib, but without the real fear of loss. Just like the game against them at their own ground, one never felt like theyâ€™d score. They had the aura of permanent missing about them. The Town defence looked solid, with Santos a reassuring block of granite in the centre. Ford was very impressive, back to something like his best and the centre of midfield was a compact unit, the destroyer and the organiser, the hustler and the dribbler. But it was upfront where the difference showed. Gone were the days of lumping to the lump. Thompson played in a style similar to Clive Mendonca, being a languid creator with some tricks. His previous appearances have been most troubling, this one most encouraging, though 90 minutes would be nice. Ah, if only Boulding was fit, for even Handyside managed to outpace him. But he scored again, so can we complain?
Now this was just what Dr Panic ordered.
Nickoâ€™s Man of the Match
No-one played badly, with perhaps Gallimore and Campbell the weakest section of the team, as they disappeared towards the end. Santos and Ford - fine, Cooke a right pain in the derriere to Stoke, as was the tricksy Thompson. Groves was cool and effective as he had Alan Pouton to do the running, jumping, laughing and tackling. Without Pouton, Cooke and Thompson would not have had the stage on which to twinkle. Pouton was the adrenalin soaked personification of determination.
C Wilkes. Superficially a homer, he was relatively kind to Stoke. It would be very difficult for a coherent, rational, sane and/or sober human to argue that Stoke should not have had two more players sent off. How ironic that last week, when he refereed Bradford v Ipswich, he sent off an Ipswich player for an unseen elbow. He gets 5.21, as he lost 2 points each for his pusillanimous approach when faced by a steaming Pulis.
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