Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
26 October 2002
Wolverhampton Wanderers 4 Grimsby Town 1
Yet another clear afternoon with a soupcon of wind discernible, to those with feathercuts and new romantic wedges, in the home of nostalgia. Around 250 to 300 Town fans sat in their usual seats (to the right as seen on TV) to hear the usual taunts from the frustrated Wolves fans to our left. But alas: we heard none. Has reality finally struck the perennial Premiership favourites? Just half a dozen youths in woollies (that's knitwear, not the pic 'n' mix emporium) attempted any ‘banter'. "Shall we sing a song for you?". A Town fan requested Quando, Quando, Quando, but they failed to oblige. Don't today's youth have any appreciation of This Island's musical heritage?
Town warmed up by moving gracelessly between cones, followed by graceless missing during shooting practice. There were unsubstantiated reports of kicking practice by Allaway and Coyne, which boded ill for those who have tired of the long ball to near Livvo's head.
Town lined up in the sky-blue kit in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Ward, Ford, Raven, Gallimore, Campbell, Santos, Pouton, Barnard, Kabba and Livingstone. The substitutes were Allaway, Coldicott, Robinson, Mansaram and young Fess Parker. Pouton pronunciation was today Poot'n, though it edged towards the topical Putin. Rootin' tootin' Put'n, the cannonball express.
The pre-match ritual of whipping the crowd into a frenzy seems set in stone: the traditional Hi Ho Silver Lining, and The Liquidator (how appropriate for First Division clubs), which went on, and on, and on, and on, up to 3:03. The game could not, of course, start until the last bar of ska. And why all those balloons and fireworks? A sparkling cascade of fire greeted the teams as they ran onto the pitch. Let's hope Town don't try that nonsense, as it'll only be cascades of sparklers, twirled by a local dance troupe shivering in the wind.
Hopes were low among the Town fans, for history tells us that if Wolves need the points for promotion we always stick a spanner in their spokes. If the manager needs a win to keep his job - well sir, step right this way. And history is very big in Wolverhampton.
In an unusual security alert all bottle tops were confiscated because of "them lot from Sheffield". Don't they do their homework? Sophisticated Sheffielders move to Humberston, so Town fans wouldn't "cause crowd pandemonium that the police can't control" with plastic bottle tops. Or even without them.
Wolves kicked off towards the Town fans and displayed their arrogance and conceit immediately. Ah, Premiership pretensions on show - they didn't kick it out of play within the first 10 seconds. They passed, moved and passed again, working the ball out to their left wing. A cross, an unmarked Nathan Blake, a downward header from near the penalty spot, a Coyne scramble and parry from just inside the left post, a corner. Corner cleared courtesy of Santos, the Mount Vesuvius in the middle of the pitch.
The Town fans perked up a bit after another minute or so of mildly diverting football, with Town passing it along the ground to team-mates. After just a couple of minutes the ball was lofted forward from the right touchline towards Kabba. A Wolves defender half cleared, succeeding only in heading the ball vertically to Santos, about 30 yards out, right in the centre. All stood off and cowered at the sight of the movable man-mountain. He eventually controlled the ball and laid off a pass into space inside the area. KABBA peeled away from his marker, drifted left and seemed to mis-hit a left-footed shot from about 15 yards, to the left of goal, watching as the ball tumbled, bumbled and stumbled across the face of goal, over the goalkeeper's hands and, eventually, into the bottom left-hand corner. The silence was golden, the noise black and white. We laughed a lot in between the joyful jumping.
Wolves' reaction? To continue as they started; a fluid passing game, with midfielders casually infiltrating the spaces between the Town defence and midfield. A tip-tappy game, which caused some problems up to the edge of the area but their unwillingness to cross, and also their inaccuracy when they did, helped Town a lot. The height of Raven and Santos was a big hindrance to them and an asset to us.
But chances? They had 'em. A huge moment of danger was created by a break down their right and a deep hanging cross to the far post. The ball dropped over Ward, and Blake brought the ball down on his chest, three or four yards out, just beyond Coyne's right post. Ward spun round and hooked the ball away for a corner as Blake was about to shoot. A few minutes later another swift break down their centre-right saw the ball whizzed out to Cameron, about 20 yards out, just to the left of centre. Ward slipped as the ball was passed to Cameron, allowing the big bulky Scot to glide past the Waltham waif. Ward half recovered and slid across as Cameron was about to shoot, but Cameron checked back to set up a shooting chance from about 10 yards out, level with the six-yard box. The ball fizzed across the grass, took a slight deflection and went over Coyne; and, as if by magic, the Raven appeared, almost on the goal-line itself to flick the ball over the bar and far, far away. Another cross from their left was headed, again by Blake, a yard or so wide of Coyne's right post. The home fans "oooh”-ed mightily, but it was always drifting wide. We were as happy as a teapot.
Town were almost overrun on occasions, but overall quite comfortable, playing some fine football (the Santos-inspired triangles to clear danger were most smilesome). And a few chances were being created on the break, especially down the right. A Ward surge and cross was pulled back towards Campbell eight yards out at the near post. His attempted hook was diverted wide by a sliding, slicing gold boot. The corner was glanced uninterestingly wide by Raven. One Town fan "ooh”-ed, just for the sake of it. But only one.
After 20 minutes or so Town almost, almost sneaked a second goal. A corner from the left was hit beyond the far post to Livingstone (almost his first, and only, touch in the first half), who headed down, across the face of goal. The ball was hacked half clear to Vlad the impaler Pouton, just inside the penalty area on the right. His shot was typically Poutonian, dragged wide, but it sneaked through several legs to Kabba, about 10 yards out, almost level with the far post. Kabba did a Zola-like hop and flick with his right foot, sending the ball towards the bottom right hand corner. The ball bounced like a beach ball between the groynes, slowly wending its merry way towards the net. The goalkeeper, the huge goalkeeper, suddenly sprawled across and just managed to tip the ball away at the very last moment.
Around the same time Ince was booked for moaning, which I understand is a FIFA regulation, number 98(d)(ii), as amended in 2001. His third moan of the afternoon was over a goal kick, claiming far too vociferously for a corner, with "kinell" inserted at every third word. As some Town fan deep, deep, inside the bowels of the Town support shouted: "Oh shut up you tart," which rather summed it up nicely.
So far, so good. Then not. After half an hour, some Wolves pressure resulted in a midfielder lining up a shot from about 25 yards out, just to the left of centre. Ford flung himself at the ball and it struck him on the hand. The referee immediately gave a direct free kick as the Town players complained that it was not intentional blah, blah, blah. Too late, decision made and an air of inevitability settled upon the stadium. Coyne's Seamanesque weakness at free kicks was the subject of much muttering, especially when we realised who was about to take the free kick - Denis Irwin, popping his head up for almost the first time in the game. IRWIN carefully placed the ball, making sure the maker's name lined up with the goal, and drove a curling, dipping right-foot shot over the wall and high into the centre-right of Coyne's goal. Finally, the Wolves fans made some concerted noise, with a Pavlovian chant of "you're not singing anymore". “We weren't anyway” was the gist of the Town fans' collective response. We are far too used to fleeting moments of hope dissolving into dusty disaster for a premature rooster roster. Oh yes, and it looked like Kabba was booked for complaining to the referee about the awarding of the free kick.
More crosses, more shots from Wolves, none too close, so not worth describing. Just a bit more pressure from them, though it was Town who came nearer to scoring. The ball was dinked around between the centre circle and the edge of the Wolves penalty area, with a final lofted pass over the defence for Livvo to sprint onto (when you have stopped laughing at that concept please continue reading). A Wolves defender, just inside the penalty area in the centre, headed very weakly away as their keeper came off his line. The ball dropped right in the centre, right on the edge of the penalty area for Barnard, who hit a first-time, right-footed half-volley down the centre of the goal. The goalkeeper leaned back, leapt up and spectacularly tipped the ball over for a corner. On such moments games turn.
Just one more worrying moment after that, somewhere in the last couple of minutes of the half. Wolves counterattacked quickly down their right. The ball was played up to Blake, just outside the area, who attempted to control the ball with the outside of his knee, thus knocking the ball on into a gap behind Ford and Raven. Rae ran on from midfield and hit a right-footed toe-poke three yards wide of Coyne's right post. Don't worry, Coyne had it covered. There were five minutes of added time, for a couple of long injury hold-ups, mostly after a Wolves defender headed the back of Kabba's head inside the first ten minutes. Clyde ran back with a bandage round his head, Kabba continued after a shrug.
There you are, fifty minutes of fun. The scoreline was probably fair, as both teams had good chances, though neither was totally dominant. Wolves had by far the greater proportion of play, but didn't do that much with it, while Town looked lively and threatening on the break. Until the ball went near Livvo, that is. Poor, poor Livvo: the legend and the reality sit uncomfortably upon the same rocking chair. Perhaps the fans should club together and buy him a pair of slippers and a nice thick tartan blanket for Christmas, so he'll take the hint. But apart from him, the Town players had looked OK, though Pouton was beginning to get a bit ratty and angry with the referee for all the small decisions that weren't going his way. Especially when Rae kept tripping him up and getting away with it.
It was going far too well. There must be some kind of disaster round the corner. After all, something has gone wrong in virtually every game this season. We've had the freak own goal, we had the mad referee; what next?
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Who said Santos is a cycle path?"
"Not too bad eh? Apart from Livvo. Someone put him down please.”
"I didn't tell him the hem of his jacket was dangling in the trough. It was nylon, you see."
"Did you see? Rowan didn't smile when we scored."
"It was arbitrary only in the sense that it was randomly selected.”
The half-time entertainment was a parade of stars from yesteryear, to the strains of Mary Hopkin. Indeed, those were the days, when you were any good. 1950s, wasn't it?. So we had Emlyn Hughes walking and waving vaguely. The coffee is still impregnated with chlorine, which even piles of nostalgic sugar couldn't hide. Yes, even the sugar harks back to the glorious past, with great things from history emblazoned on the back of the pack. James Watt (1736-1819) - developed the steam engine which made the industrial revolution possible. Or perhaps they act as a crib sheet for a pub quiz?
No changes were made by either team at half time.
Town kicked off and it was obvious that Wolves had had a good old rollicking at half time, for they played with more pace and wit, and a different method too. Their wingers hugged the touchline and crosses were whipped in as soon as possible. All of which meant that Town were on the back foot from the start.
The first five or so minutes were just crosses and clearances, crosses and clearances. The ball occasionally strayed near Livvo, so it simply meant Wolves got it back without too much fuss. Or any fuss to be honest. The first inkling of the deluge to come arrived after about 50 minutes. Rae flashed in a firm, low drive from 25 yards, to the left of goal. The ball zipped through a bunch of players on the edge of the area and Coyne saved with his knees near his right post. The ball squirmed out to the centre of goal and Blake slid in. Coyne managed to pick the ball up in time, though the referee gave a free kick for the challenge.
In the next 15 minutes Wolves started to have digs at goal at every opportunity. Some bounced off defenders' bottoms, some their feet; others flashed through and wide, through and high. Some probably went straight to Coyne. To be honest they had so many they all seemed to blur into one. However, none were that close. It was a typical Town second-half performance away from home, being forced back by a direct, physical opposition.
And after 20 minutes or so, the cracks cracked. Initially, it seemed Town had struck lucky, for a Wolves attack down the centre had seen Raven slide in to divert danger, only for a cross to be flung in to the unmarked Blake, eight yards out, level with the near post. He headed horribly, wonderfully, wide. Town prepared for a substitution. A minute later another Wolves attack, another Wolves corner, cleared up towards Barnard 30 yards out, to the left of centre. Barnard challenged very weakly, getting right underneath the bouncing ball and allowing the defender to jump over and past him. The ball was knocked forward to Ince, about 25 yards out to the right of goal, who hit a whacking great hooking volley towards Coyne's right. Coyne flew across and punch-parried the ball back into the centre of the goalmouth, about eight yards out, straight to MILLER, who swept the ball into the middle of the goal. Not Wales' number 1 now. It was a bit of a surprise that Wolves had scored, for despite their pressure it didn't feel as though a goal was a-coming. But it did, and with it the game, for Wolves players visibly grew in confidence.
On the restart Coldicott replaced Ward in a straight swap. Ward had had great difficulty dealing with Millar, who was adept at the rolling turn. Ward was just not strong enough, though he had, generally, performed adequately, especially when supporting or instigating counterattacks. Town had been moribund as an attacking force, with just Kabba's unquenchable desire to run as the glimmer of hope. He managed to bundle and barge his way past Lescott, down the right touchline, along the by-line, up to the edge of the six-yard box, but he had no support and ended up being dispossessed as he awaited Big Bertha Livingstone's arrival. As he approached goal he slowed down and opened up his arms to say, "Where are you?" He hasn't been here long enough to know Livvo.
Still Wolves rolled forward, they were coming through in waves. Moments of danger piled up like old fridges and, with 20 minutes left, Wolves brought on Ndah, who played on the right of attack. Within a minute he'd scored. A Wolves break down the left seemingly petered out on the edge of the Town box, with a short pass aimed for Blake, but hit behind him. The ball rolled gently through into the centre, just inside the Town box. Raven left it, Gallimore stopped, and NDAH sprinted through the gap to whisk the ball away to the side, and caress it into the empty net as Coyne flapped in no man's land. Game really and truly over. It looked like some of the Town players switched off, and were just waiting for the game to end, perhaps saving themselves for Tuesday.
From this moment on, Wolves just piled forward and should have scored several more. The third goal gave them sufficient confidence to start playing showboat football, knocking one-twos, flicks and tricks, trying to score the perfect showbiz goal. Given time and space, they have the players to do it too. Rae banged a right-footed curler from 25 yards high to Coyne's left. Saved comfortably. Rae smacked a long shot wide from 25 yards. Miller toe-poked a shot three yards wide from the middle of the penalty area after the whole Town defence played like zombies, lazily stroking the ball between them, mis-hitting clearances and not bothering to mark. A superb one-touch passing movement down their left saw at least five passes zing around, with a final runner surging into the penalty area behind the Town defence, with yet another toe-poke well wide of the far post, from about ten yards out and a few yards to the right of Coyne's goal.
Blake was replaced by Sturridge and the chances kept on a-coming; crosses, flaps, slaps, slashes and crashes inside the Town penalty area. Wolves wanted more goals; Town wanted to go home. Pouton had virtually given up by this time, sulking at the referee for never giving him any decisions. The very moment of Pouton's surrender to sulkdom came when Rae legged him up from behind. Again. The referee gave Town a free kick; Pouton complained that it was at least the fourth time Rae had done it without being booked. So the referee booked Pouton and awarded a drop-ball, which he placed on the ground next to a Wolves player, who ran off with it.
Wolves continued to try and humiliate Town with audacious attempts at scoring. Ince, on the halfway line, spun around and hit a huge lob over Coyne, who slipped and prayed. The ball sailed over the prostrate goalkeeper and missed the top left corner of the goal by a few inches. A further Wolves break down their left resulted in a deep cross into the penalty area to Sturridge, near the penalty spot. He headed firmly back towards goal, the ball hitting Raven on the hand. Penalty given; no card for Raven, it appeared. Sturridge strolled forward and as Coyne leapt to his left chipped the ball slowly down the centre. The ball caught a thermal and rose above the crossbar, rolling over the wood and onto the top of the net. Coyne was not amused by this cheeky chip, though the Wolves fans were so relaxed they could afford to laugh along with the now resigned Town fans.
Oh yes, here's another near miss - Rae smacked a 25-yard piledriver across the face of goal and onto the top of the crossbar. Which made a change from him smacking Kabba, for he left an elbow in Kabba's face as they challenged for the ball near the halfway line. Rae wasn't even spoken to, of course.
Kabba - what does he make of all this? With about 10 minutes left Barnard was replaced by Mansaram and Town went to a 4-3-3 formation. We know what that means - and it did. More Wolves attacks, more Wolves chances, as described above. But there was one small twinkling star that carried hope. With two or three minutes left Santos lobbed the ball down the Town right. Kabba sprinted past Lescott, rolled around him, barged him away like an irritating gnat, and was free inside the penalty area. He drove in towards the goal and forced the goalkeeper to come off his line towards him. Kabba looked up, saw Livingstone unmarked ten yards out and passed slowly, deliberately to the Livvosaurus Rex. Livingstone leant back and curled the ball a yard over the bar with the goal open. The Wolves fans, unnecessarily, made donkey noises. Like we don't know. Livvo passed into history at this moment, with him being thanked loudly for his contribution to the club, and comments that it was a privilege to be at his last game. A glorious opportunity to induce the famous Wolves Wobble spurned.
Mansaram did one thing - a twist, turn and burst down the left and a low cross into middle of the penalty area towards Livingstone. Apart, that is, from a innovative form of physical comedy, perhaps to be premiered at next year's Edinburgh festival: the human Pinocchio - you can't see the strings.
Any more? Yeah, a fourth goal, totally expected in an unexpected sort of way. Within the five minutes of added time Wolves got a corner on their left. It was taken short, crossed low into the near post and STURRIDGE glided in front of his marker and steered the ball over Coyne's head into the top near corner. Not many in the stadium were watching; any tension in the game had long, long gone. The last thing to happen was a Pouton mis-hit from 20 yards, which passed into touch inside the penalty area. Well done that man.
A stuffing on paper and, in the end, a stuffing it was. Up until half time the game was even, with Town performing pleasingly. The last 50 minutes were pretty dire. It wasn't so much Town being dreadful, as them allowing Wolves the opportunity to show what they are paid to do. One got the feeling that Wolves were very brittle, and were very capable of imploding once the crowd starts to grumble. With Ince and Rae in the centre of midfield they don't have much pace or calmness. Town needed Santos and Pouton to crack them; instead Pouton cracked.
And I haven't got onto Livingstone yet. One could say Town did well for about an hour with 10 men. Why he was on the pitch is another great unsolved mystery. He was embarrassingly poor, even by his own standards. He tried, he really tried; but he wasn't physically able to compete. Always slow to move, slow to react, he touched the ball perhaps five times during the game. For him to have any chance of making contact with inflatable plastic it has to be hit hard right at him. If he needs to move, forgetaboutit. He was less the fifth Beatle, more Wolves' 12th man. As a Town fan grizzled on the way out, "Livvo couldn't hit a banjo with a cow's backside". Neatly inverting the famous Chelsea insult, and accurately summing up his effectiveness. I'm sure he could do a decent job for someone like Scunthorpe. Please.
Elsewhere, Coyne was proving why he is a decent first division keeper and not a Premiership reserve. Ward struggled; Raven was superb for about an hour then went to pot; Campbell was his usual self - a phantom menace popping up every 20 minutes to remind you of his presence. Barnard ambled and lazily wasted free kicks; Gallimore backed off a lot, otherwise wasn't a liability; and Ford didn't seem overrun.
We lost in the usual way to Wolves. History repeats itself. Indeed those were the days. If there is one positive to come from this game it should be that Livingstone will soon become just a name on the back of a sachet of sugar.
Man of the match
Only two candidates really. Santos was an imperious, imposing figure for an hour, but his contribution in the last 30 minutes was to head the ball away a lot; he couldn't turn the flow of the game on his own. He even kept cool when chopped and provoked. But fractionally ahead, overall, is STEVE KABBA, for the way he ran Wolves ragged on his own, when he eventually got the ball. Right up to the final whistle he kept on sprinting, and diving for pearls.
Initially he seemed very even handed, as he managed to get the locals moaning for booking Ince. But as the game wore on he started to look more kindly upon Wolves tackles, and sternly upon any kind of complaint from a Town player. He gets bonus points for not sending off Raven for the handball, but loses the same number of bonus points for inconsistency. A minute before the Raven handball he let play go on when a Wolves defender blocked a cross with his hands in exactly the same fashion as Ford in the first half and Raven in the second. A small indication of the referee's mindset - he seemed to take the safe option (don't antagonise the home team too much). He should have sent off Livingstone for an awful two-footed hack at Ince, but he only booked him (despite the imploring Town fans calling for a straight red). You want the numbers? 5.315. Poor in a lot of very small ways, eventually. He had no personality, as they say.