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The Final Cut: Walsall Report
By: Tony Butcher
A gloriously sunny, warm afternoon. Ideal for promenading past the pier, chip butty in one hand, candy floss in the other. What more could one ask for, an Easter Parade? Around 350 or so worried Walsallians took a trip far, far away wishin' and hopin' whilst the Town fans gathered for the wake.
Grimsby Town 0 Walsall 1
Dave Boylen was absent, which cheered everyone up, and Livingstone managed to whack the Might Mariner behind the ear, which sent several teenagers into paroxysms of delight, to quote their own words, almost. In such gloomy Town times we have to make our own entertainment, perhaps an old piano placed strategically at the back of the Pontoon would do the trick? Can you play "Flash" please? We need a saviour for our universe.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows :- Coyne, McDermott, Santos, Chettle, Gallimore, Campbell, Groves, Hughes, Keane, Livingstone and Boulding. The substitutes were Cooke, Parker, Mansaram, Bolder and Thompson. So the pre-match no-defenders-scare was just that, though some of our defenders scare us, of course. The hair police were delighted that Zigor Aranalde, the shaking frizz, was playing for Walsall.
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon, which instantly lowered the excitement levels. The first five minutes were quite turgid hustle and bustle, with Walsall proving to be an organised team, little hasslers in midfield and two big free-roaming buffaloes up front. Town looked a bit messy, with Keane all over the place, seemingly playing as both left and right-winger, which was useful given that Campbell had decided to spend the afternoon in the amusement arcades in what was Wonderland. The crowd sporadically cheered on the team, the dying embers of enthusiasm as the flickering flame of first division football fizzled and faded. Most fans used a shorter f-word. Groves had a rather distressing first few minutes, clearly desperate to show leadership, he kept giving the ball away, which brought forth some passionless grizzles.
Walsall managed the first shot on goal, when Leitao wriggled free down their left and wellied a surprising shot into the side netting from a very narrow angle. Surprising to Town fans, anyway, as strikers don't shoot from there, let alone with any power. Strikers fall over their own feet, or slice the ball away for a throw-in. So far, so negative? Well, Town managed to string a few passes together, now and again, and kept winning corners. Or rather Boulding kept being released behind their right back and failing to outpace their huge, old fashioned centre-half. Worrying that, as Boulding seemed to be one of the slowest players on the pitch. At one point, when Keane played a pass behind the right back, Boulding and Gallimore moved towards ball, but Boulding, despite being closer, left it for Galli who was running quicker. Later on in the half something even more shocking. Livvo outpaced Boulding. Either Livvo has been fitted with angels' wings on his new boots (unlikely) or Boulding is nowhere near adequate fitness. It's the only explanation I can find.
Boulding had a shot (rubbish, a Jevons like dribbler from just outside the penalty area on the centre left), Boulding won some more corners, Keane kept nicking the ball off Walsall players, Town started to attack. Boulding steered a header wide from about 12 yards out, in the centre, which plopped between goal and the advancing Livvo, a fearsome sight close up. After about 15 minutes Town should have scored. A corner from the left was curled into the near post, Livvo glanced the ball on, Boulding leapt in front of Walker and, from a couple of yards out, headed high over the bar.
And still Town attacked, winning more corners, which produced, well, not much really. Walsall were very dangerous on the break, with their Latin lovers up front causing Chettle and Santos great difficulties. Junior and Leitao were hard running, bustling, aggressive strikers with some ball skills. Town's biggest defensive worry was Coyne, who started to flap at crosses, particularly from the right. He dropped the ball underneath the crossbar almost onto Junior's big right toe, but fortunately a couple of defenders dived across and blocked the shot.
Towards the end of the half Coyne did it again, cringing under a dipping cross, the scene was repeated, though not ad infinitum. Leitao tried his luck on their right, twisting past Gallimore and thwacking a terrific shot from a narrow angle, which hit the side netting (a journalistic rippler). There were plenty of panic inducing moments as their front two barged past Town defenders, but there always seemed to be someone there to remind me why they were actually employed as footballers, even Gallimore, who did a couple of excellent last ditch tackles deep inside the penalty area.
The game was starting to become relatively flowing and enjoyable, with three-quarter chances at either end. Town started to use the wings, with Campbell, after 24 minutes and 12 seconds, making his only contribution to road safety. The ghost in the Town machine dribbled past two defenders and crossed into the centre of penalty area. The ball was half cleared, a shot blocked and Gallimore raced forward and slightly topped a shot from about 25 yards. The ball zoomed across the goal and Boulding flicked out with the outside of his right boot, sending the ball arcing over the top and into the middle of the Pontoon. Enough to "ooh" about. Another Town attack down the right, this time Hughes skipped free inside the area and crossed from the bye-line. Walker punched the ball away from Livvo and the ball pinged about before being controlled by Lawrence, with his arm, right on the edge of the penalty area. He passed back to Aranalde, who controlled the ball with his hand before lumping it clear. Ah, handballs, they didn't exist for the referee. I think a player would have had to catch the ball before he'd consider stopping play, which was useful, given that Santos appeared to handle the ball inside the Town area. Junior stopped playing, the Walsall fans jumped up as one, Santos appeared to stop playing, but no penalty was given. And you wouldn't find any Town fan disagreeing with that decision, oh no.
Parts of the Pontoon kept singing for Terry Cooke, every time he ran up the touchline, warming up. It's that messiah complex again, the personification of all gripes and grumbles. Like Barnard, his stock rises with every minute's absence from the pitch. One could almost see Groves' annoyance at the Cookian love calling. Towards the end of the half, Walsall should have scored. Leitao bundled down the middle and the ball kept bouncing off him, and forward, as Town defenders tackled. Eventually the ball squirmed behind the last man, into a big space behind Gallimore. Junior stepped forward and, from about 8 yards out and just wide of goal, lobbed the ball over Coyne. The ball looped slowly towards goal and Santos ambled back, stood on the line, controlled the ball with his chest and boomed it upfield with the casualness one associates with style gurus in frock coats and goatees. The Town fans were beginning to get a little frisky and started to indulge in gallows humour. As the ball dropped 30 yards out someone was heard to shout, "shoot Gallimore, shoot". It was unclear whether it was an instruction to a sniper on top of the Smiths/Stones/Findus stand, or to the wayward waddling left back. Whatever, as bored teenagers would say. Gallimore sent a woeful shot spinning wildly into the far reaches of the Pontoon. Gallimore spinning wildly, a sight rarely seen in daylight hours.
And that was just about it for the first half. Not bad, not great, but generally alright. Perhaps 1-1- would have been a fair reflection of the balance of play and chances. Livingstone was trying his hardest, but he wasn't able to use his charm on much bigger centre backs, whilst Boulding was plainly nowhere near an acceptable level of fitness. Keane was a human dynamo, even managing to pass to team-mates, endearing himself even more to the crowd, for he passed rule one of loanees - "at least look like you're trying". Campbell? Seen once, far sighted entrepreneurs are, as you read this, organising specialist safari holidays to search for the great prawn of Corby. Shall we be generous and assume he was injured too? Groves attempted to be as omnipresent as his legs would allow, but they were in very mean mood.
The game had a pitiable inevitability about it, and sort of summed up the season, as rebounds kept going straight to Walsall players and Town just couldn't quite at crucial times.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
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