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Walsall Report - 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
Neither team made any changes at half time and, for those who are interested in such things, the Town players were applauded politely on to the pitch, with a final rousing chant to send them off.
Within two minutes the game was over, relegation confirmed, right in front of the Pontoon, with a goal, which was the very epitome of Town's season. Campbell, 30 yards out, right in the centre of the Town half, gave a terrible pass towards Groves. Junior bundled the ball away and charged towards goal. A few collisions, incidents and accidents, saw the ball squirm sideways to Leitao, to the left of goal and just inside the area. Three Town defenders tried to block his path, but the ball ricocheted off a hand and onwards towards goal, into the flight path of the Portuguese pootler. Wide of the goal and about eight yards out, Leitao lashed a shot across Coyne, who parried superbly. The ball trickled across goal into a vacant space behind McDermott. JUNIOR ambled forward and, from six yards out, side footed the ball into the net off the underside of the crossbar. Walsall celebrated like they thought they were in danger of going down, which only they thought was possible, and the Town crowd fell silent, the players visibly deflating before our very eyes.
There isn't much else to describe. Everyone in the ground knew this was the moment that finally ended the torture. The Pontoon gave a final rendition of "we are Town", before sinking into their seats. Town were quite awful for the remainder of the game, it was painful to watch. Groves again tried to lead from the front, becoming the fulcrum of every Town move. Really only he and McDermott of the old stagers kept going unto the very end, with Keane incapable of standing still. The rest were various degrees of inadequacy, mentally and/or physically. Even Santos was incredibly erratic, mixing stirring surges forward with shrugging when an attacker got past him. Walsall should have had more goals, for they had several one-on-ones with Coyne. O'Connor missed the easiest. After a Town corner was cleared, Walsall broke quickly down their right, with Town only having McDermott and, nominally, Gallimore back to defend (Gallimore ran away from the his marker as the ball was played forward). Leitao rolled the ball infield and out to the unmarked O'Connor, eight yards out and level with the far post. Coyne hurtled out of goal and O'Connor tapped the ball against Danny Boy's chest. Leitao was sent free behind the Town defence on the centre right of the area. As Coyne star jumped at him Leitao tipped the ball over Coyne and three yards wide of goal. The substitute, Matias, wasted two more easy chances when, in virtually the same position as O'Connor and Leitao, he blasted high, and then wide when unmarked. All the Walsall chances were on the break, when Town had thrown players forward. In the end Town were playing with just two defenders.
After about 65 minutes, Mansaram replaced Hughes, which got the restless natives a-booing. It looked like Hughes had signalled that he was injured, for he had spent the previous couple of minutes on the left wing, in front of the manager's dugout. Or perhaps he had tired of the ineffectual thrashings he had allowed himself to be associated with. With Mansaram on, Town reverted to 4-3-3, which didn't improve things. Boulding disappeared completely, and Livvo didn't, unfortunately. Town did, at some point, have a shot, or rather a double shot. Town were awarded a free kick about 25 yards out. Gallimore took an age to adjust his run up, pick his spot and whack it into the ankles of the second person from the left. The ball rebounded straight to him and he smashed a superb shot that hit the "o" in the Optician's advert above at the top of the Osmond Stand. He won a goldfish for that, so at least he didn't leave Blundell Park empty handed.
At some stage Keane had a shot from the edge of the area, which went low, and straight to Walker, his first and only save of the afternoon. No one could be bothered to ironically cheer, but then, no one could be bothered to taunt Walsall's "Grimsby reject" or "Lincoln reject". But people could be bothered to cheer Terry Cooke, again, and again, and again, and eventually they got their hearts' desire for, with 15 minutes left, on bounded the bouncy right winger. His first pass went straight to a Walsall player. As did his second, but his third didn't, which was a much higher success rate than the man he replaced, Campbell. Why some Town fans booed him being taken off, and chanted "There's only one Stuart Campbell" mystified many of the more sentient amongst the Pontoon. There's only one Stuart Campbell? Where? Cooke produced two or three decent crosses, which was a waste of everyone's time as none of the three Town strikers had a clue as to what to do when they entered the penalty area. Town did nearly score though, or rather, Walsall nearly scored a comedy own goal. A cross from the Town left was glanced goal wards by one of their centre backs and the ball skipped off the face of the crossbar, back to a defender. No-one even "oohed" at that, just a raised eyebrow and a chuckle or two. Groves marched on, taking three pot shots from the edge of the area, all of which deflected away for corners and Mansaram finally found time and space to do what he does best, turning and flashing a cross-shot out for a throw in. So that's why they call him "Flash".
With a couple of minutes left, Thompson replaced Boulding, and there isn't anything to report after that, no seagulls dive bombing the referee, nor kittens playfully biting Graham Rodger's ankles. No big ships a-sailing by, interesting cloud formations or amusing tannoy messages. No one fell over in comical fashion, the soufflÃ© had collapsed long ago. The crazy odyssey that was Town's return to the first division ended more in sorrow than anger. Groves went straight down the tunnel, tearing his shirt off and chucking it away, whilst the rest of the team gathered meekly in the centre circle. The crowd didn't boo, just applauded quietly, and trudged off home.
That's it, literally. Only two more car crashes to go and we're off on another mission to seek out strange new worlds and civilisations. Have you been to Hartlepool, it makes Grimsby look glamorous. To follow the advice of the New Christie Minstrels at the back of the Pontoon: look on the bright side of life.
Nicko's Man of the Match
Or least worst man of the match. The sole criteria here is who ran around most. Groves and McDermott really, really tried, and even Gallimore was finally joining the attack as an overlapping full back. Times were desperate, eh? But in recognition of his running a complete marathon during the game, Michael Keane, who was an effective pest to Walsall, though not much more than that.
Whatever his performance, he gets a low score by default, for being rubbish in 1998 against Port Vale. The sins of the past will always catch up with you. Not particularly obtrusive, though he did have a blind spot to handballs. He gets 5.172, as this time I cannot bring myself to give him a better than average score.
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